Mork Borg: A Modern RPG

My mercifully succinct and somewhat crude description—though I will of course delve into agonizing detail—of Mork Borg: it is an overhyped, incomplete trash game, a fantasy heartbreaker without any heart, and I am of the firm belief that it was solely created by someone in order to mislead others into thinking they are some sort of game designer. 

Despite being at least three times longer than it has any right to be, Mork Borg offers little to nothing in terms of either innovation or interest, instead attempting to distract you through a combination of ill-conceived, shallow ideas, as well as inconsistent, atrocious, and at many times excessive art, font, and layout choices.

In other words it's the rpg equivalent of the worst of modern art, demanding considerably more discipline and effort to read than it did to create. It at best half-heartedly tries—but ultimately, cataclysmically fails—to emphasize a disjointed, amateur "style" over wannabe punk substance, which is not paved but sloppily smeared atop a weathered and barely recognizable Dungeons & Dragons foundation.

Unsurprisingly it bills itself as OSR, but I suppose there aren't many games that use a d20 and hit points that don't. Despite its failings, which are as numerous as they are pervasive, it does however achieve one goal, albeit inadvertently, and that is serving as the prime example of how different is not at all better.

The mechanics are what you'd expect: roll a d20, apply modifiers, and try to meet-or-beat a number. Mind you, there's nothing inherently wrong with this as a core mechanic, so long as what you wrap around it is at the very least engaging, something that makes you actually want to utilize the game more or less as-written, as opposed to perhaps mining it for an idea or two for another game that competently scratches those itches.

But that's not Mork Borg, no no no. Mork Borg is heavily diluted, foully re-flavored Dungeons & Dragons, with seemingly random changes to procedures and prose, all done in the vain hope that the sum of these minor and mediocre adjustments will, when immersed in a setting with all the depth of a puddle of piss on a hot Texas sidewalk, somehow come close to justifying even the pittance of participation.

And we might as well talk about the setting, not just because its streaked so thinly across seven pages (three would have been more than adequate), but because it's for some reason the first part. It vaguely reminds me of Dark Souls, or perhaps Bloodborne, but in the same way a chunk of spoiled, rotten beef might remind you of a steak. Basically, the world sucks.

But, why settle for a cheap imitation? Just go to their respective wiki pages, take some notes, stat out some monsters and magic items: you'll quickly walk away with something far more robust and useful.

Mork Borg starts you off with three pages of history, which could have possibly fit onto one page with a bit of squeezing, easily two, followed by what I suppose was once possibly intended to be a map, slapped together by a lazy, wannabe punk grunge-lord seemingly trying and definitely failing to imitate the works of Stephen Gammell, apparently and unsurprisingly not understanding the purpose of a map:


This isn't your "normal", "mainstream" fantasy RPG, where the map is legible. No, here the text is arbitrarily oriented, there's a billion different font choices, the land mass is just a black splotch with some white texturing (Terrain? What's that?), there's a block of X's, and a river that somehow flows in like four different directions.

Following the trend of this "game" in general, this map is also utterly useless, except for perhaps knowing the vague direction of something related to some other place, but without a sense of scale or terrain, there's no way or knowing how long it will take you to venture from A to B, nor what you'll have to contend with en route.

The following page briefly describes Galgenbeck, purportedly the greatest city that ever was...which obviously explains why it is allocated less than half of a digest page's worth of text:


Actually it's just a single sentence, after which it goes on about someone named Josilfa. She apparently rules the city. A city that is so important that you have no idea what it looks like, what the people are like, how big it is, what adventuring locales might be about or within, or anyone else of importance that the characters might actually interact with.

The other half of the page is dedicated to a forest called Sarkash. For some reason the font style changes halfway through the description. Basically it's a forest with a cemetery inside. You'd think the author would provide more details on both. I mean, the cemetery would be an opportunity for a random encounter table, noteworthy caretakers and dead, at least one good dungeon map, etc. 

Oh, wait, I guess there's also the Palace of the...Shadow King. Right. How evocative. Almost as evocative as this part of the description:

“None dare dream what might lie under the rubble covered catacombs and cellars.”

I'm sure to someone, likely a child (or child-brained adult), this was at least somewhat spooky and foreboding. I'm guessing that, were the author to bother mapping any of this out and describing it, it would just be bog-standard catacomb tunnels with skeletons and such. Not that it means much, it's not as stupid as the sons of the Shadow King, all of whom apparently hang out in the ruins in disguise, “engaging in games and tricking travelers, multiplying the miseries of their people”.

If that's what they do, imagine what the Shadow King gets up to. No, seriously, because even though “the slaves of the servants of the courtiers” come forth and do his will, it's never explained. I'm guessing he hides behind doors, and tries to jump scare anyone that bothers to show up. Not sure why you would, as with much alleged OSR stuff I've read there's no reason to go there in the first place.

Maybe so you can roll on the woefully understocked tables at the front of the book? The ones with a grand total of thirty-six unique results between them, which range from "pocket full of broken glass, take d2 damage" to "map to a place that cannot possibly exist" (okay, so throw that away), to a bird cage that kills and animates whatever is placed inside as an undead creature, twice as strong?

Note that that last one is on a table with only ten results. How many necromantic bird cages are there in this place? What about black pearls that roll toward the nearest exit? Rings that destroy whatever is placed through them? Not only are these tables largely useless if for some reason you plan on running more than a few sessions, but so are many of the items (which seems to be a common trope in OSR crap).

Anyway, back to the, ahem, setting. Next up is Kergus, a cold place ruled by someone named Anthelia, who is “as youthful as a drop of melting ice”, whatever that means. The writing here is especially awful:


Anthelia sounds like a vampire-by-another-name. She wants color and warmth so that she can drain it, which she can apparently do so with a glance. Her description is equally bad: she promises great rewards if you bring her vibrant life...yet “all fear to do so”. Which is of course bullshit, because anyone that bothers playing this trash game will do so at the earliest opportunity, if only to see what the GM will do.

But then, if they would do it, so would others, meaning that obviously not everyone is too afraid to do so. It's essentially a cringy, cliché rumor along the lines of “no one goes there” or “no one that goes there comes back”. You know full well the players are going to go there, and at least someone is going to come back. Unless of course you actually kill the players off which, if it meant you could play something else would be a kindness.

The western kingdom gets about half a page. The entire western kingdom. Unlike Galgenbeck you learn that it used to be a great place to live, now it sucks, and about half of the description is devoted to the ruler who also sucks. Seems to be yet another OSR theme: everything sucks. Or, rather, everything sucks and there's nothing you can do about it. Explains a lot about them, actually.

Mind you, I'm only saying OSR because it calls itself OSR. Frankly I feel like 99% of these so-called game designers just use the label for recognition. I don't think Mork Borg is OSR at all. Really the only similarities between this and actual D&D is the d20 mechanic, and that it has hit points.


"Few wish to speak of the Valley of the Unfortunate Undead", another unceremoniously eye-rolling name. It's mysterious because the author wished it to be so, and the air and soil might be lethal, might not. The ground might also swallow you up and take you to the land of the dead. Who knows...besides everyone that's already ventured there and returned to tell the tale.

There's some pink text blocked off for its own sake describing suicide cults, and that people are stupid for leaving offerings without explaining why. It then ends by stating, “Gloom grows, obscuring the world like an oil-stained image”. Seriously, who wrote this shit?

And that's it for the entire world. Now, if for some reason you want to bother rolling up a character, here's what you do: roll for random gear, roll stats. That's it. The list says that, while you can name your character, "it will not save you." Spooky, I'm sure. Of course, this is Mork Borg, so here's what the first two pages for character generation looks like:


Gotta put that arrow there to point you to the tables. Couldn't have thought of a better way to do that? No, of course you couldn't. This is how a child would layout a book, drawing lines and arrows to direct you here and there, instead of just writing things in an organized manner. 

And yeah, the character generation steps are on the right-hand side, in the lower-right hand corner. For some reason. Probably because you reasonably, rightfully expected it to be on the other page, in the upper left-hand corner. You know, where a normal person would put it so that you could conveniently see what you were supposed to do right from the start.

As you can see, the gear tables are about as underwhelming as the treasure and loot tables: too few options, with equal chances of getting a grappling hook, crowbar, a "life elixir", and the lol-so-random result of 1d4 monkeys that simultaneous love and ignore you. As bad as that is, weapons are even worse:


That's four pages. Four. Pages. For all of ten weapons. This would easily fit on a single page, even with illustrations and some description.

Just try to imagine the shit WotC or Paizo would get, if they plastered semi-adequate illustrations of three weapons, across two entire pages. People would be furious, and rightfully so, because they would have to eat that cost of excess with no payoff. It's not even visually engaging, but three flat, static weapons, with only names and damage dice attached.

If you're wondering where the weight or cost is, the former doesn't exist in Mork Borg, while the latter can be found two pages later, along with repeated damage dice. Which just begs the question (applicable to the entire book, really): why did they bother doing this?

Note that there's no club or mace, even though the creative commons graphic on the page with most of the weapons clearly indicates a club, along with some other strangely absent weapons such as an arming sword (swords just skip the d8 damage die) and spear. Apparently you can bonk someone with a bone, but not a stick (or a long stick with something pointy stuck to it).

Armor comes in both categories and tiers. For example, no armor is tier 0, light armor is tier 1, medium is tier 2, and heavy is tier 3. One of those is redundant, I'd say the tiers, because from what I could tell they weren't tied to any kind of modifier. There are shields, which oddly reduce damage, and have this really stupid rule that I've seen before, where you can avoid all damage from an attack by somehow declaring that your shield is utterly destroyed.

After gear we finally get to ability scores (called abilities), and ability/skill checks (called tests):


Only four ability scores, most renamed. Does a similar thing to Dungeons & Delvers, where you roll but then only use the modifier once the game gets going. Oddly, 17-20 is a +3, and I'm not sure how you'd roll a 19 or 20 on 3d6.

It tries to be witty by describing a DR of 6 as “so simple people laugh at you for failing), even though the average person will fail at that about a fourth of the time. So will monsters, because monsters don't have ability scores, and so roll a straight d20 for everything. This means that a puny human with a Strength of +1 will have better odds of succeeding at Strength-based tasks than a big-ass troll. 

Conversely, a DR of 18 is a task described as something that “should not be possible”, even though the average person (or monster) will succeed at it 15% of the time. There is a reason that in adequately designed games, that legendary or nearly impossible things tend to both require a natural 20 as well as a considerable modifier. Something like, say, a 30, so that there's no chance of pulling it off without a +10 bonus.

Here if you have a Strength of +6, which is the max, you'll do things that “shouldn't be possible” nearly half the time! 

Nothing to write home about—it's just stats and a DC table—but plenty to mock. Too much, really.

There's a gimmicky encumbrance mechanic that I've seen before, where you just track items, because some people are too stupid and lazy to track other numbers (a trait that I'm noticing is consistent with a certain demographic of the "OSR" crowd). You might think that, given all the available space on the previous page, there was no need to slap carrying capacity in the middle of it's own page: wait until you see hit points...


Yes, this definitely needed its own page. I mean, where else would you put all of that? With carrying capacity? What, you think you could fit abilities, tests, carrying capacity, and hit points on all of one page? Come on, m—

Oh. 

Yeah, I even forgot about the "broken" table on the page following hit points and managed to drop that in, putting all of this related information in one place. This would have meant that they could have saved a page from the "violence" spread, but do you really think that would have stopped them from devoting yet another page to a tiny bit of text?


So, let's look at how combat works. You either roll a d6 to see which side goes first, or roll Agility + d6 if you want to have everyone roll their own initiative. Not sure how this works for enemies, as they don't have an Agility stat. Everything is against DR 12, except when it's not, as some enemies require a higher roll to hit them and/or evade attacks.

This is yet another lazy gimmick, as monsters have so much space they could have put in an attack and defend DR individually. It would have, at the least, made it almost seem like you're getting more content for your money. Not nearly enough to justify any price, mind you, but it would have felt slightly less insulting.

Another page of bad art later and we're at leveling up. 

DM decides when you level up, but only after an adventure, killing something, or finding loot. You roll 6d10 against your HP, and if the total is higher gain 1d6 HP. Far more elegant than just giving people 1d6 hit points every level, and then reducing or eliminating it at a certain point (as 2nd Edition AD&D does).

You also for some reason might gain money or a magic scroll. No explanation, you just do, randomly, in your pocket, or perhaps you literally pull it out of your ass. But perhaps that's the “point”: unlike other, actually competent, at least mostly complete games, where things happen for discernible reasons, this game does the opposite for its own sake.

Finally, you roll a d6 against all your stats to see if they go up or down, because in the world of Mork Borg characters are just in a constant state of flux like that, becoming suddenly, randomly stronger, smarter, weaker, stupider, etc. Honestly surprised that you don't roll to see if you randomly lose loot.

After leveling up we get to magic, which are called powers, but are only found on scrolls. "Scrolls are the twisted magic of Mork Borg." No, no they're not. These people love slapping these sorts of descriptors on things without backing them up with mechanics. There's nothing twisted about any of this. It's trite. It's boring. It's uninspired. It's not twisted. 

You can only use scrolls a random number of times each day, modified by Presence, which your character somehow knows in advance. "Hey guys, I can only use scrolls three times today." Curious if you need to have a scroll on hand before you make this roll, or do characters roll every day, no matter what.

There is no explanation provided for this, and like pseudo-Vancian magic it just feels like an arbitrary mechanic shoehorned in place for "game balance", if there is such a thing. You have to make a check, and if you fail become dizzy, which imposes no mechanical effects besides making all scroll uses auto-fail for an hour. It also states that they will fail in the “worst possible way”, but since they'll auto-fail, why would a player bother trying?

There's only twenty scrolls to find, and this is a section that could have greatly benefitted from all the space that's been thus far squandered on excessive font-sizes and terrible art. Instead all twenty spells are crammed onto a single page:


What does a confused creature do? Can you move while hovering? In what directions? How quickly? Good thing Death specifies a distance. Would have been nice to see that for the other spells. Or weapon ranges.

There's a page spread about the basilisks demand:


You probably forgot about it, but it's at the start. It gets a sentence or two in the "setting", but it's located deep underground, and there's no benefit to giving it whatever random crap it wants, so there's no reason to go out of your way to visit it. Worthless, like so much from the "punk" OSR camp.

There's something called Omens. You gain d2 every six hours and spend them for banal, purely mechanical buffs. There's no basis in-game as to how they are earned or used. They remind me of 3rd Edition D&D action points, and make about as much sense. 

You can also roll on a "terrible trait" table, in case you lack the creativity to concoct a bland personality trait of your own. It follows the trend of all the tables by being marvelously underwhelming. Of course a normal-brained game designer would have done a table with two columns of 10, so here they have to be wonky and uneven, with two traits on the same line. Even though despite the space wasted by an unnecessarily large paragraph of text, there was still plenty of space leftover.

The only way you'd know that you were in the optional classes section, is if you happened to notice the very tiny heading in the upper left-hand corner. I'm surprised it's even here, given so many sections don't have any sort of indicator. Not for lack of space, of course, but because...different?

Each optional class is fairly bland and feels rushed. Some of their "abilities" aren't due to natural skill or capability, but centered wholly around gear or an animal. Sometimes this gear is magic or likely unique, but others are commonplace. This would cause an actually intelligent, creative player to ask, for example, if they could make their own "crumpled monster mask", like the one the fanged deserter can start with. Or wizard teeth.

Many of these benefits don't make sense, but that's to be expected. For example, the occult herbmaster, which is really just an alchemist or apothecary, always somehow acquires the materials to make random potions each day. Kind of like spontaneously finding cash and scrolls after a level up. But either the materials or potions become useless after 24 hours. Doesn't specify.

The wretched royalty class can give you access to a guy who carries a sword, that you might not be able to use at all, and if you do there's a good chance you will kill the guy who carts the sword around (why?), which for some reason causes the sword to vanish (again, why?). You can only do so "once per combat" (whyyy?).

There's a 1 in 6 chance of having this ability, so if you bother playing this game for any length of time, expect to see more of these guys scrambling about, possibly at the same time, with the same, named sword. There's also a 1-in-6 chance to get a dagger that instantly auto-kills anything you stab 25% of the time. I get that getting things perfectly balanced is impossible, and not even desirable, but one of these is cleary superior to the other.

I don't see any reason why you wouldn't take an optional class: while they might modify your stats for the worse, these are easily increased via leveling up, and you gain random abilities to boot. This of course assumes I would bother playing this game in the first place, however.

The book transitions abruptly from optional classes to monsters. Each is generally a description, usually sparse if present at all, poorly written, with barebones statistics consisting primarily of hit points, Morale, and damage. Some monsters seemingly have two names. For example, the page on goblin also says Seth, and the entry for scum says bent. This isn't consistent, which isn't surprising, and neither is the wasted page space:



They tried to be clever by associating values for bringing back monsters dead or alive (no idea who is buying them, or why), but the values are absolutely bizarre, with no correlation between anything. For example, goblins/Seth is worth 150, while a lich is only worth 200, and a berserker/Zukuma is valued at a measly 55, despite having are twice as many HP an being far more dangerous. Their blood is also worth 3 per liter, but no idea how many liters each one has.

Otherwise the monsters aren't anything to write home about: goblins/Seth have 6 HP, and deal 1d4 damage whether using a knife or bow. Wraiths/Wrat have 15 HP, no real immunities or resistances, and their touch drains some stats, but only until the fight is over, then you're completely back to normal. The blood-drenched skeleton/Belze differs from a normal skeleton, I suppose, in that it is "impossibly soundless" and can mimic voices. That's really it.

There are only a dozen monsters, but given that the so-called lich—a normally powerful, nigh-unkillable, undead wizard that players have grown to fear over the past decades—has been reduced to 15 HP, a pitifully paralyzing touch, and only able to use magic that it steals from scrolls you bother bringing to it? Yeah, you're better off just making and using monsters you come up with on the fly. Also probably better off just making up and playing an entire RPG that you come up with on the fly.

Now, there's an adventure in the back, and I was waffling on whether to even mention it because, well, it's trash. Content-wise. It's boring and nonsensical, and most anyone that's not a lazy indie hipster slapping OSR on everything they crank out could do so, so much better. But the reason I wanted to bring it up is that it's uncharacteristically consistent and clean.

Bad art, yes, but no incomprehensible font choices. Blocks of text are well organized. The same sort of lines are used to divide information. Relatively it's unremarkable, but compared to the rest of this book it's a welcome, glorious sight to behold:


 

Again, the actual content is trash. The whole point is to find some kid named Aldon, who is in an "infamous underground locale, a place no free man would willingly go" called, wait for it, the Accursed Den. What's in here? Remember earlier when I said that, were the author to map out the catacombs in the Shadow King's lair, that it would probably just be some tunnels with skeletons? Well, I was wrong.

Technically.

It's somehow worse.

One room has a guy that won't do anything, period, unless you all sit at a table with him, after which he'll tell unspecified stories and then quiet down again. You can kill him, but he won't defend himself and nothing happens. He serves no meaningful purpose. He's just there for the lol-so-random factor.

The very next room has an invulnerable demon and some skeletons. The demon can escape by draining text from a scroll, but there's a scroll in the room. So the demon is just there for no reason. How the books are handled is how the worst, laziest GMs handle lots of books: none of the contents of any of the books are described (in fact, there's a 1-in-4 chance that the text is incomprehensible).

You just roll a d4, and get a random scroll (that, again, the demon could have used to escape whenever he wanted to), or don't know what's in the book, but might gain some arbitrary, unexplained purely mechanical benefit, or scream "you dead, arise", making the skeletons attack.

The next room has 1d4 guards, which means there could just be one guy. But, question is, why haven't the guards dealt with the skeletons? Or the demon that shouldn't be there in the first place? They are blindly obedient to Fletcher, the main bad guy of this scenario, but don't know why, but stick around anyway. Even though they could all just walk away and Fletcher would never know, because he's all the way on the other side of the dungeon.

What's stupider is that they're also trying to find Aldon. Well, they know where he is, but can't open the door. The obvious solution is to smash through the door. Tunnel through. Whatever. Should be easy. But given that this is a poorly written adventure that people will gladly use as an example of why you need to "fail forward", you have to perform a specific action to open the door.

You have to, because if there's an alternative, then the other guys logically would have discovered it already. 

And what's the incredibly specific method? Place an eye in the empty socket of a statue, because that's "gross" or "edgy". Because when someone makes a secret door, the obvious method to make it work is to gouge out an eye. Buttons, levers, even secret phrases? Pffft. That's "normal" and "mainstream". But Aldon still has both eyes, so how did he get in? Who knows? More importantly, who cares?

I'm actually kind of disappointed in how tame it is. They should have gone all out. Like, instead of a statue it's a giant stone head with massive, jagged teeth, and the only way to get through is to use intestines and floss the teeth in a certain order. Popping an eye in? Child's play.

Which is still retarded, because if the players could figure this out, why couldn't Fletcher? After all, he was "hurled into here to die" a long time ago, and this place is allegedly "ruled purely by his will". Fletcher must feel really accomplished, "ruling" a series of rooms filled with random, unrelated contents, like crazy old people, invincible demons hanging around of their own volition, and skeletons playing violins for no reason.

I could go on, I could pick apart every individual page, but it would be redundant at this point. Just more of the same: bad design, bad ideas, bad execution.

But I get it. I get why people like Mork Borg, or at least pretend to: they are drawn to the mediocrity. Like attracts like. It emboldens the hacks, justifies—in their mind, anyway—their laziness and ineptitude. They can emulate it, and use it in an attempt to rationalize their own terrible ideas and art as something good. Something deserving of money and attention.

And if you don't like it? Well that's just, like, your opinion, man (that they will despise you for, secretly or otherwise). You just don't get it. You're just a hater. You're just jealous. The same flippant responses I'd expect from someone pretending that random squares and scribbles are quality art. No real defense. No real justification. Just sneers, excuses, and shunning, all because you challenged their flimsy narrative.

Mork Borg is awful. This is why I describe it as a "modern" RPG: as with modern, so-called art it is equally devoid of passion, substance, and I'd even argue vision. There is absolutely nothing about it to recommend: everything, from the mechanics to the setting to the monsters is either standard, uninspired, or somehow made worse. Things are changed or renamed just for the sake of changing or renaming them.

While I don't expect every game to have wholly unique parts to be enjoyable, I at least expect enough to make me want to play the game, on its own, as-written. You can achieve superior results using any official edition of Dungeons & Dragons (though, for something more inline I'd say go with 2nd Edition or earlier), and combining it with homebrewed content pulled from any Dark Souls wiki.

4 comments:

  1. I find it hilarious how much you despise the game after seeing Adam Koebel's gushing review of it XD

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    1. He helped create Dungeon World, and given its contents I am not surprised. However, I believe some degree of cronyism (or something similar) would account for that.

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  2. At least I'm not the only one who thinks its trash.

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    1. I'm sure many (most?) do, though they might be hesitant to voice their dissent due to fear of backlash. Which is a shame, as I'm terrible at Dark Souls but enjoy the look and feel. I think a setting would be enjoyable, done right. Or at least one or more books describing the monsters and items.

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