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Get 7 Aboard the Shackel from World of Game Design:
Read more about Mörk Borg and the 2020 Ennies:
The Dölja, a Mörk Borg Monster
Zac Goins: [00:00:00] I would describe this as a creature that is only seen in shadows. It is this fur coat of an individual that, when you notice them, the first thought might be some sort of ape or some sort of other shaggy beast. But then you notice the horns and you notice the elongated nose and you realize that it has the face of a ram.
But it is, it is reclusive. It avoids you, it avoids eye contact. It flees from you until it is pressed into a corner, at which point there is a transformation.
Lucas: Hello, and welcome back to Making a Monster. This is another episode recorded at GenCon 2022. See, back in 2020, Swedish TTRPG powerhouse the Free League created an RPG so wild, so committed to its aesthetic, and so removed from the heroic fantasy of D&D that it can’t help, but circle the conversation like the dark mirror-self antagonist, the “nega-D&D.”
It’s called Mörk Borg, and Free League’s slogan for it is “a doom metal album of a game, a spiked flail to the face, rules light, heavy everything else.” Writing for Polygon in 2020, games journalist Charlie Hall described the game as a pitch black apocalyptic fantasy game in the old school revivals genre for fans of first edition D&D and Dark Souls.
I spoke with Zach Goins, the Creative Director at World of Game Design about his Mörk Borg adventure “Seven Aboard the Shackle” and the gaming experience it creates for both players and game masters alike.
Zac Goins: The first thing that I do is I helm our publishing division. So all the books that we make, we make supplements for D&D 5E, Mörk Borg, Mothership, and um, some system neutral stuff. And then the second half of my job is I do, uh, Kickstarter consultation and Kickstarter, like team leading on our own projects and also on a bunch of client project.
So [00:02:00] the book that I’ve got with you today is called, uh, Seven Aboard the Shackle. It is a Mörk Borg compatible adventure.
Understanding Mörk Borg
I bought the original Mörk Borg book like two years ago. I cracked it open and I read through it and I’m like, I don’t understand what’s going on. This is weird. But I put it on my shelf and I forgot about it for like a year. Right. And then, uh, I was talking with a creator at another booth across from us at a, at a, a local con. And I said, What is Mörk Borg? And like, What, what am I missing here? Because it’s just a bunch of like crazy tables and weird stuff. And I’m like, How, how do I parse all this? And he said, Mörk Borg is 100% style and zero substance. And I’m like, All right, well that makes sense. And so he started talking to me for a while and I reapproached the book that way. And it made a, it was great. It was fantastic, really. It’s just a really simple D 20 based system. So if you’re familiar with D&D, most of the rules are gonna feel right at home. It’s very small. Modifiers positive, and. Adjusting those roles. And then the big things about it is that, uh, from a mechanic side of things is that the players roll almost all the dice. So the GM doesn’t roll for monsters. You roll a defense check as a player, and you can even roll the damage for the monster as a player. And everything is you. And the DM is just there to arbitrate the dice rolls.
Uh, thematically it is this doom metal, black apocalyptic setting where the world is coming to an end. We know this, the, there’s a two-headed basilisk who speaks prophecy, and he’s prophesied the world’s end. And so all the empires and, and people of the world are in disarray and chaos, and it’s just a dark place to be. And you are not playing an adventurer in Mörk Borg. You are playing one of these people who are on their way to doom. And so the adventures have a really fun flare. You know, it’s balls to the wall craziness. Um, death is a reality that is ever on the horizon. And so why not just throw yourself at [00:04:00] crazy impossible tasks either trying to just relish in these last days, or maybe you have an idea or you’ve been presented with an opportunity that might stop the apocalypse. And so, um, a big part of it is maybe pushing against that coming doom and trying to extend the life cycle of this world a little bit.
So Seven Aboard the Shackle imagines a world where there was a prison barge off the coast of one of these empires, and it has been recaptured by the captives aborted. And these captives are near demigod like entities. And it has been said, it has been prophesied that when these entities set foot on solid ground, One of the chimes of doom will sound and we’ll be one step closer to the apocalypse. And so your job as a party is to get onto that ship and make sure that no one steps off the ship again.
So I would like to present you with. Uh, goat, like humanoid, weird monstrosity called the Dölja, also known as That-which-bleats. So I would describe this as a creature that is only seen in shadows. It is this fur coat of an individual that, when you notice them, the first thought might be some sort of ape or some sort of other shaggy beast. But then you notice the horns and you notice the elongated nose and you realize that it has the face of a ram. But it is, it is reclusive. It avoids you, it avoids eye contact. It flees from you until it is pressed into a corner, at which point there is a transformation. It was originally thrown on board because this creature is more than it appears, the Dölja is this reclusive, I almost think of it like a, a cryptid sort of a feel, right? But it is hiding a much more sinister aspect of itself, which is that when it gets riled up, when it [00:06:00] gets agitated, when it becomes something else in order to survive, it has a transformation into another, uh, goat like entity that we’re all familiar with, which is, uh, uh, Lucifer himself.
So, uh, if you push this goat, you back him into a corner, which you have to do in order to stop the apocalypse. You have to rid this ship of its entities. You will force this transformation of this goat man into. Uh, what we call Lucy-fire. , he’ll shed his, uh, shaggy coat. He’ll have the red skin underneath and he will, become the thing that he was always meant to be, um, somewhat unwillingly.
Mörk Borg and the Seven Deadly Sins
So Mörk Borg likes to take just like D&D and other things, like it likes to take inspiration from real world mythologies and things like that. So of course there’s, there’s some influence there. Um, but one of the key components of this adventure is that there was going to be seven, uh, uh, Demigod like entities on this ship, and there’s one for each of the seven deadly sins, right? And it’s very subtle. You’re not gonna get into it, and you’ll, you’ll probably pick up on it, but it’s not, it’s not ever overtly said.
Lucas: The seven deadly sins are a classification of vices from early Christian tradition, possibly best known for their inclusion in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica or Dante’s divine comedy. The standard list is lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.
Zac Goins: And so I wanted one that is, uh, around the sin of sloth. Or, or, And so you get into that and you start reading about like what was that sin originally meant to represent? And it’s a lot of it is about the idea of being reclusive and not engaging with society and things of that nature, and kind of keeping to one’s self.
So how do we turn that into a interesting villain that’s unique from everything else? Well, a lot of these other villains like Wrath and Lust and all these are very like, action-oriented, engaging. They’re gonna come at the players. This is a great opportunity for us to create a monster, to create a creature that the players are gonna actually have to pursue themselves.
[00:08:00] And so a lot of its abilities and things like that are about avoiding confrontation until pressed into that corner, and then it scales quick, very quickly into a, a much more, uh, dire threat.
Mörk Borg uses a morale system. So as you get into encounters, creatures are more or less likely to flee based on their morale score, right?
So this creature has a very low morale score. It’s going to flee very quickly. And that’s a system mechanic that everybody with Mörk Borg’s gonna be familiar with. Um, the other thing is that its touch is repulsive. So if it attacks you, if you, it is backed to a corner initially gonna, you know, swipe at you.
And as it does things like that, you have to make saves in order to avoid recoiling away from it cuz it doesn’t want to transform. Um, so there’s some aspects there. And then the big thing that I love about Mörk Borg bad guys is that they have random tables of powers that they utilize. So imagine like if your dragon in 5E didn’t just have a fire breath weapon, but could also have four other area abilities and you as the dungeon master never got to determine which one it was gonna utilize when, Right. And so maybe, you know, it would do breath four times in a row, but maybe it would use a wing attack and do something that crazy that way.
Or maybe it would have this poison stinger on its tail and do something that way. Or maybe it would have a, a voice command and be able to command players. Same thing. Where you as the DM get to experience what is happening alongside the players, and you don’t always get to make the decision. So sometimes this fight might be very simple because the rolls that it’s just happens to get are some of its lesser abilities, not dealing a lot of damage, things like that, which is great for this character build by the way, But so, The dice are gonna fall in a certain way and it’s gonna roll its best ability Four times in a row, you’re gonna wipe your party and you’re all gonna say like, That was real. It happened and it was awesome. Um, so yeah, that’s, that’s fun. [00:10:00]
Uh, I think the thing that I like most about this one though, is that this one has a random table that actually has unlocks built into it. So initially the, Dölja can’t transform, but if it rolls high on its random table chart a couple of times, it unlocks extra options on that chart that lead to its transformation. So the more you engage with it in combat, the more times you’re rolling on that table, the more likely it is to trigger that transformation and to unlock those higher damage dealing crazy abilities that it has later on.
We have these great, like these seven villains, which are really fun and part of the adventure design and part of Mörk Borg is I wanted to take this adventure and exponentially increase that sense of GM discovery. That’s kind of already built into the monsters, but we could go further with it. Right? So the adventure is my idea of what a dungeon crawl would look like on a prison barge. That’s been a worship in its heyday, and that then was a prison barge now is whatever these dimming gods have made of it.
So part of the adventure is that you, every time the party enters a new section of the ship, you. Or you draw cards to discover right there in the moment. What is in this section? What is the area? What does it look like? What has it been rebuilt as? Right? Is it a shrine? Is it a trash pit? Is it a whatever?
We don’t know, right? So we’re gonna discover what the area is and where we’re gonna discover what inhabitants are in there. So maybe it’s one of the seven, or maybe it’s one of their captives, or maybe it’s a specter from someone that died on the ship or died. C or maybe it’s none of those things and it’s just a weird creature that happened to get, uh, make its way on board at some point.
And the GM is going to learn this in the moment at the same time as the party and have to adapt on the fly, be imagined if on the fly to figure out like, okay, I drew a shrine and I drew a captive and that’s it. [00:12:00] But this shrine says that. Sprawling and this captive was the cook. So, uh, maybe he’s like bound to the altar.
Maybe he’s doing something as part of the shrine and cooking something. Like you’re gonna be imagining things and, and, and, and, uh, experiencing a dungeon firsthand with your party. So it’s not a book that you need to prepare for. You just open up the book and you start diving in. Yeah. It’s great. So if, And there’s even been like some hints at the beginning of the adventure that maybe you weren’t the first group to try to do this, right? Because the reality is because it’s all random, you could walk into your first room and it’s kind of stacked against this happening.
But it’s possible that you draw two minions, two villains in the worst possible situation, and you get murdered as soon as you set foot on. That’s possibility. The likelihood that you actually kill all seven in time is very low. So it really is about, um, this experience of this is a last ditch effort to stave off the coming doom.
And, uh, it may be a fools hope, it may be a fools errand, but by golly you’re gonna try. Right?
I’m the type of player that wants the situation to the dice to fall where they may, Right. That’s what I enjoy the most, and I like there being a sense of risk, the sense that there is a stake to be had, there’s consequences for your actions all. So for me, having a party die, having a character die is part of the experience that I enjoy. And so, um, yeah, it’s, it’s gonna, it’s like, I like that sort of feel where we don’t know, this isn’t a guaranteed success when we open up the pages. Um, obviously there’s guidance and you can always adjust the tables to fit your own party, so you might feel like for you do, metal is just an aesthetic of we want to, we.
Experience crazy monsters and we wanna have, you know, heavy metal music playing while we do it. That’s fine. You can do that and that’s awesome and you can make those adjustments super easy. But for me, it, when we talk about doom metal [00:14:00] in apocalyptic settings, it’s the idea that death is always a possibility and it’s always right around the corner.
And honestly, it’s always the likelihood it should be shocking when a party gets to the end of a campaign and is also alive because the world. World is stacked against them. Um, and I don’t know, I, I, I see a lot of my best memories at the table and some of the most meaningful encounters, role play sessions, things like that happened when the stakes all came to a head and something devastating happened, or just the dice fell weird and something crazy happened. Um, and that’s the thing that you talk about four years, five years down the road.
Lucas: I asked Zach whether he thought this adventure was weighted toward those kinds of role-play moments as a player, and his answer pointed me towards this cooperatively scary experience that the game creates for both the player and the game master at the same time.
Zac Goins: You know, it’s always great when your DM has this dramatic role play, political intrigue or whatever, and has it all built and there’s depth and there’s meaning behind a lot of this stuff like that for a player can be very valuable. But for a dm, all of the ex, the discovery happened away from the table for the most part, right. So I guess I would say that this is really trying to get that sense of discovery back into it. So the role play options, the creative aspect for the DM is gonna be much higher than what you would experience maybe in other things. If you’re running a big published hard cover adventure in D&D, you know how it’s gonna progress. You know what the story looks like here, not so much.
Lucas: Zac has created a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, doom metal adventure with Seven Aboard the Shackle, and if you want to explore a world of pitiless chaos alongside your players, here’s how to get it at your table.
Zac Goins: This is actually being released at GenCon, which means it’s in no one’s hands except the hands here. But we’re gonna put it live on drive through rpg. [00:16:00] Very soon. You’ll be able to pick up the PDF pretty much, I think, in the next couple weeks. And then, uh, the print on demand option coming a little. We also have print copies and PDF copies available on our web store, which is store dot w ogd.com.
There’s a core rule book. You can pick it up in a lot of different places. Uh, it’s published by Free League Publishing. There’s also a free version of the rules, on their web store. So if you wanna pick up the pdf, they’ve got a PDF option, that’s on the Mörk Borg site.
Lucas: All those links are in the description and on my website at scintilla.studio/monster. And before we close this episode of Making a Monster, I want to ask you to consider supporting the show through Patreon. Producing this show takes a lot of time, commitment, and an increasing amount of travel as I interview experts on game design, literature, history, and conservation biology. Just a few bucks a month can help keep this show a part of my professional experience and bring you new stories and insights almost every week. Plus it comes with fun bonuses like behind the scenes content, the Making a Monster Discord, and stickers!
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