Monday, November 28, 2022

REVIEW: Mörk Borg Cult: Heretic

Much like Dungeon Crawl Classics – another fantasy roleplaying game that sometimes catches flak for its deviations from old school orthodoxy – a remarkably creative community has sprung up around Mörk Borg. Dubbed the "Mörk Borg cult," this community has produced an abundance of new material for the game, some of which can be found on its official website, as well as scattered across forums and blogs across the Internet. Periodically, some of the best material from these sources is collected into a printed 'zine, the first of which I reviewed last year.

Heretic is the second such 'zine and, like its predecessor, it contains a varied selection of material for use by players and Game Masters alike, though, as is usually the case with products of this sort, it's generally of more immediate interest to GMs. Also like its predecessor, Heretic employs an anarchic graphic design suffused with arresting colors and cacographic fonts to assault the eyes of its readers. Like it or not, this is an essential part of Mörk Borg's appeal; the game and its supplements simply wouldn't be the same if they were more visually self-restrained. 

Heretic is a 62-page staple-bound book with a gatefold cover on which content is also included, such as "Seeds of a Cult," a series of random tables to aid the Game Master in generating a villainous secret society. Everything from the cult's name to its headquarters to enemies can be quickly determined with a handful of rolls, "Unheroic Feats," meanwhile, details thirty-six unusual abilities that a character might acquire when getting better, Mörk Borg's version of leveling up. Examples include Beastly Scholar, which gives a character the ability to scry by means a dead animal's viscera, and Piper, which enables a character to befriend and speak with rats. Most of these feats provide only a small mechanical benefit but all of them are fairly flavorful. Heretic also presents two new classes, the Sacrilegious Songbird, a bard who's made a demonic pact, and the Shedding Vicar, a religious devotee who sheds his flesh to gain power.

"Graves Left Wanting" describes the cemetery of Graven-Tosk and its weird inhabitants. "Bloat" is a much smaller (6-room) dungeon that was once an underground temple dedicated to an obscure goddess of fat and plenty. "Sepulchre of the Swamp Witch" presents the lair of a drug-fueled serpent cult found within the final resting place of an ancient sorceress. None of these are ready-to-run scenarios so much as locales that could serve as the basis for scenarios with some additional context provided by the GM. That's fine by me, since I prefer having a store of raw materials from which to build my own adventures and each of these gives me just that, with "Graves Left Wanting" being the best of the bunch.

"You Are Cursed" is a useful – and fun – collection of random tables for handling the nature and effects of curses upon a character, in addition to the method of lifting it. "The Merchant" offers an example of a cursed individual, Wretched Old Mikhael, an undead seller of peculiar goods. Just what he sells depends on where he is found and the results of rolls on a random table. Mikhael's an intriguing NPC and I can easily see him becoming an important part of a Mörk Borg campaign. "Blackpowder Weapons for the Rich and Foolhardy" are some simple rules for introducing primitive firearms into your game. As this variant's title suggests, such firearms are expensive but using them is not nearly as foolish as I had hoped they'd be. Mostly, they they're loud and slow to reload rather than potentially harmful to their own users, which seems like an opportunity missed to me.

"The Bone Bowyer" is a unique monster, a bogeyman said to slay children and fashion clothing and weapons from their bodies. Though simple in concept, the presentation is well done, complete with a creepy nursery rhyme to accompany it. The "Borg Bitor" is a giant centipede-like monster whose presentation is less compelling. More effective is the "Rotten Nurse," the risen corpse of a nurse executed for aiding and abetting the necrobutcher, Vretul Kanth. The creature is showcased in a short adventure, "Nurse the Rot," that sees the characters pay a visit a ruined chapel.

Also included with Heretic is "The Hexed Gauntlet of Kagel-Secht," which takes the form of a fold-out poster consisting of a series of comic panels that seem to tell a story involving the discovery and use of the titular magic item. Interspersed throughout the comic panels are game stats for monsters, traps, and the Hexed Gauntlet itself. There's also a "word map" of Necrohell Manor; rather than being a graphic map, it employs words, lines, and arrows to show spatial relations. I'm honestly not entirely sure what to make of this last bit of Heretic, which seems more an exercise in idiosyncratic design than a useful piece of game material. Indeed, it's almost a parody of Mörk Borg and its unorthodox approach to both content and (especially) presentation.

Ultimately, Heretic is probably of most use to those who play or intend to play Mörk Borg, though it contains a number of ideas, such as the monsters, NPCs, and locales that could easily be used with other old school fantasy games. That said, the book's style and content are still very much in line with Mörk Borg's garish, irreverent, and occasionally puerile sensibilities, which will certainly limit its appeal to those not already sold on them. I don't mean that as a criticism. One of the things that I appreciate about Mörk Borg is that it's a game that knows what it's about and makes no apologies for that. It's not trying to be a crowd-pleasing lowest common denominator fantasy RPG but instead a brash and quirky take on "doom metal fantasy" and all that entails. If that's up your alley, Heretic is well worth it.


  1. Never heard of it, but looks amazing. I have to check it out.

  2. I think one of the reasons why I've come to like Mörk Börg is that it's basically a Dying Earth/Zothique set-up with Heavy Metal and loads of black humour