Friday, December 11, 2020

Interview: Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr

The Swedish old school roleplaying game, Mörk Borg, is dear to my heart. Reading it for the first time this past summer inspired me far more than I had any reason to expect it would, so much so that I sat down and wrote a review of it, resulting in the first new entry on this blog in nearly eight years. In a very real sense, Mörk Borg is responsible for the resurrection of Grognardia and for that I'll always be grateful. Consequently, I sought out its creators, Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr, for an interview as another way to help spread the word about this remarkable game. They kindly agreed and the results of our conversation follow.

1. How did you first become involved in the hobby of roleplaying?

Johan: I must have been 10 or 11 when the nerdiest of my friends—the guy with Warhammer minis and posters at home—showed me his big brother’s copy of Mutant (the Swedish post-apocalyptic RPG that would later evolve into Mutant Chronicles and Mutant: Year Zero). We really had no idea how to play it but the game had cool illustrations of anthropomorphic rabbits with hockey sticks, scythes and machine guns and that was enough to get our imagination going. Since then I played, wrote and designed for mostly Swedish games up until maybe ten years ago when I was first introduced to D&D and the OSR. I was hooked! Obviously not for nostalgic reasons but for the scene’s compatibility, the hackability and modularity where you didn’t have to limit yourself to one particular game or system. That kind of DIY mindset that thrived on Google+ and the blogs back then really resonated with me I think. 

Pelle: It was back in the mid 80s, and I was about 10 years old. The first games I ran into was Swedish games. For example the first version of Mutant (based on Gamma World with a Scandinavian setting) and a game called Drakar & Demoner (based on Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing). We used the rules a little bit but mostly made playing characters, drew maps and played some short adventures, often starting at some inn with an old man with a beard asking the players to get rid of an evil necromancer in a tower. Already then I started to make my first games and made huge labyrinths with many rooms and several floors. After a long break from role-playing games the OSR movement felt natural to approach together with some modern versions of my old favourites, like Mutant: Year Zero etc.

2. Since most of my readers are English speakers, they're likely unfamiliar with the world of Swedish roleplaying games. How would you compare the Swedish and English language scenes? What are the similarities and differences between them, particularly when it comes to subject matter?

Johan: The Swedish RPG scene is on fire, in a good way I mean. The community is small, everyone knows everyone, but the quality of the stuff that’s being produced is really high and the atmosphere is positive (mostly), constructive (I mean...) and supportive (…it’s still people on the Internet, so...). Since the hobby was so strong even back in the 80s, those games and designers have left a huge mark and a lot of designers today will probably be inspired by those old Swedish games in one way or another. Traditionally there’s been a lot of fantasy games but lately, it seems like there’s some sort of a horror game boom going on.

Pelle: Like Johan says, for me it's also a very special feeling to be in the same webcasts as some of the olden goldies writers from the 80s, to somehow close the circle and meet up with your childhood heroes. 

3. What was the origin of Mörk Borg? What inspired you to create the game?

Pelle: Rules-wise, I was inspired by the old books from 1974 and its clones from recent years. I wanted to create an even more rules light game, a portable game you can bring to the pub or cabin, possible to start playing in like 15 minutes. So I cut off all (what I found) unnecessary details and add a grim setting to all this. The femur weapon was one of the first things in the text! I was very inspired by zines and wanted to do something new and completely out of the box kind of thing and asked Johan if he would like to do this with my text. Since we have made one book together before MÖRK BORG (Barkhäxan, Nordic wood-horror in a modern setting (2018)) , and collaborated very well together, I was happy when he agreed. 

Johan: To me,   is just as much an art project and an experiment as it is a game, and when we made the core book we basically wanted to see what would happen if we broke a lot of rules and challenged a lot of norms when it comes to book design. We had no idea if it would work or not, but we wanted to get people’s minds going and wanted to show that you can go a completely different way than we usually do. It’s still a fully playable game, mind you, but the art aspect is important. And we plan to keep trying things out and experimenting, challenging ourselves and not get too comfortable. We want to explore new ideas and concepts and see what will happen. It might or might not work, time will tell.  

4. Is there anything you wanted to do with the rule book, in terms of art, layout, or content, that you weren't able to do? Did you have any ideas that were so "out there" that they didn't make the final cut?

Johan: Good question. I think it was actually the other way around--when we first began brainstorming with the printing house they showed us a portfolio, a list of options and some of the things they could do I had never thought of. Like, I didn’t know you could print on the bookmark ribbon and glow-in-the-dark ink was nowhere near as expensive or complicated to get as I had first imagined. But yeah, there’s actually one thing that we wanted to do but couldn’t because of the kind of paper we chose, but you’ll see that eventually in a different product...

5. Were you surprised by the positive response that Mörk Borg has received?

Johan:  Somehow it feels kind of cheesy to say it, but it’s 100% true that this incredible response and engagement has blown us away. We never expected anything like it, I mean the initial idea was to make the game a small print-on-demand zine only in Swedish. We would have sold maybe 100 copies (and I must admit I was very pessimistic about our chances when we made the Kickstarter). But instead we sold out of stock pretty much the day we released the book. We never had any ambitions or plans for getting big or popular, and I still get genuinely excited when I see someone posting about playing the game or making stuff for it. The community that has gathered around the game is -by far- the greatest reward for the hard work. 

Pelle: I haven´t got much to add here! Agree with Johan 100 %. Very thankful and surprised. 

6. I know that Johan worked with Free League before on the Symbaroum core rulebook. Was it because of this connection that the company became involved in publishing Mörk Borg?

Johan: Correct. I was part of a company called Järnringen who made Symbaroum and that later merged with Free League Publishing. Since before this merger I had been doing some freelance work for Free League (Mutant: Year Zero, Forbidden Lands, etc) and we knew each other quite well. So they were our first choice and the only publisher we reached out to when we got the idea of getting MÖRK BORG properly published. And it’s been a really good collaboration ever since. So far they haven’t turned down a single idea we’ve had so either we’ve got good ideas or they’re not reading our emails haha.   

7. Could you talk a little about the Mörk Borg Cult? That's your name for the fan-written content program, which has already produced lots of terrific material, some of which has been collected in Feretory. Was MBC something you intended from the very beginning or did the idea for it evolve over time?

Johan: So the story behind the Cult is kinda funny and a good example of how creative the community is and how quickly people took on the game. A while after the Kickstarter campaign closed we created the MÖRK BORG discord server and invited people to talk to us and brainstorm as we were finalizing the book. We’d ask the members for help with naming monsters, post music links and generally just hanging out. And not long after the first couple of books were shipped to backers you’d see community made content pop up in the chat. The first complete module was Svante Landgraf’s rules and tables for overland travel, which eventually found its way into Feretory, and that thing inspired us to create the Cult. So the Cult and the first modules were released before all backers got their books and by the time the game was properly released in stores, there were already two classes and two modules (hunting/bestiary and travel rules) available for free on our site. Around this time we also managed to get the random character generator Scvmbirther ready, which was initiated and developed by Karl Druid who is another frequent, high-quality contributor to the community. 

8. Do you have any clear future plans for Mörk Borg? That is, what sorts of new material might we expect for the game?

Pelle: We have some things that are clearly planned, and it looks like all those projects will take the whole next year to fulfill. We have something coming up very early next year. This is still kind of a secret I'm afraid, so you´ll have to wait and see.

Johan: We simply can’t stop making new stuff for the game and so you can absolutely expect more to come. We have only just begun. 

9. Beyond Mörk Borg, do either of you have other RPG projects you're working on and that you'd like to share with my readers?

Pelle: The MÖRK BORG thing is just a hobby, I have a full time job and small or semi-small kids …  for me personally there is no time for other things then very small projects. I tend to like one-page RPGs only to relax and zoom out a bit from the big BORG thing.

Johan: I’m in a very similar situation. This is a big side gig and the only real limitation is time. I try to squeeze in the occasional freelance project, but the calendar slots are quickly filling up. I’m currently working on a really interesting project that I believe will interest a few OSR people but I don’t think I’m allowed to spill any kind of beans yet so I’ll just shut up now.   


  1. Your review and the fact that you chose to resurrect Grognardia with it had me ordering Mörk Bork just now. It looks very distinct and might be right up my alley!

    1. I've introduced it to some friends who come from only D&D 5e and Pathfinder 1 and 2, and they adore it.

  2. I finally had the chance to play Mork Borg, it was very good indeed.