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Mörk Borg Third-Party Zines Interview: Philip Reed and Ed Bourelle

Phil Reed of Steve Jackson Games and Philip Reed Games and Ed Bourelle of SkeletonKey Games are creating their own third-party Mörk Borg RPG projects via Kickstarter and co-promoting them in November. I’ve spoken with Phil Reed several times (about quickstarters, about The Fantasy Trip, about the Alliance shutdown, and about the GURPS PDF Challenge). Because of the scope of this, I spoke with each creator to learn more about their projects and why creating content for the award-winning Mörk Borg is the right call.

Strange Citizens of the City, a Third-Party Mörk Borg Book.png

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Phil, Ed, thank you for talking with me. Let’s start with the basics, you’re each doing a new RPG Kickstarter, what are they about?
: I've created a 32-page 5.5" x 8.5" booklet/zine titled Strange Citizens of the City. It's a collection of characters/monsters/ideas that gamemasters can build from when devising encounters and adventures. The bulk of the book is eleven two-page spreads (2d6 characters), every one of which is illustrated and describes a character that's a little unusual. Following that are 1d8 hired goons (a four-page section) and 2d6 harmless wanderers (another four pages). Those first eleven characters are murderers, merchants, and maniacs. Every one of these characters would be most at home in a campaign designed by Hunter S. Thompson. (With Lewis Caroll, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne taking the role of the rowdy, destructive players rolling dice and hacking their way through a surreal city that was more dungeon than London.)

The Masticator Gate - A Third Party Mörk Borg Campaign.jpg

ED BOURELLE (ED): My campaign (or SkeletonKey Games campaign to be more precise) is built around a deck of tarot-sized cards called The Masticator Gate. This deck is inspired by the Mighty Men and Monster Maker, one of my favorite toys from the late 70’s with which you combine three plates under a piece of paper, rub them with a crayon, and create some awesome characters. In a similar vein, The Masticator Gate uses three cards to build a demon, complete with art and stats. The second piece to the campaign is a companion book that puts the cards to use, providing demonic lairs, evil companions, adventure hooks, and a guide to the demons in their original form (before The Masticator Gate chewed them up and spit them into our world). It also contains some player options for characters hell-bent on confronting these creatures.

EGG: For those that don’t know about this award winning game, what is Mörk Borg and who is it by?
: In my opinion, Mörk Borg is the OSR-inspired roleplaying game that I didn't know I was missing. It's as rules-light as almost anything I have encountered, and the lack of rigid guidelines means that the only barrier between adventure and imagination is whatever baggage the group brings to the table. If you're playing with an improv group that's happy going for hours without touching the dice, the system strikes me as the perfect one to try. As to the creators, the game's cover divides the workload between Pelle Nilsson (writing) and Johan Nohr (art and graphics), and while I have no inside knowledge of the game's creation, I'd be willing to call the two the co-creators of the game. The visual design is, in my mind, every bit as [important as] the writing. I'm not qualified or ready to write a review of the game (and feel it would be inappropriate to do so, since I've tackled a third-party project for the game), but I am comfortable saying that if you're a stickler for rules, this is likely not the game for you. Inconsistencies and oddities in how the GM interprets and creates rules during play are (and again, this is pure opinion) surprisingly fitting to Mörk Borg. Just because the last skeleton you fought had 10 hit points and was destroyed by smashing it to dust does NOT mean the next one is at all the same. Everything and everyone the PCs meet in the game should be different.
ED: Mörk Borg takes me back to both my AD&D gaming roots and the metal-head art style I used to scrawl across my school notebooks. Creators Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr have made a pen and paper RPG that is dripping with style and nostalgia while feeling very grounded in a simple set of rules themed around the doom of a world.

EGG: Why Mörk Borg supplements as opposed to another system?
: Two reasons for me. Reason the First, they recently published an open license for the game, which made it possible to even give this a shot. Reason the Second, is simply that Mörk Borg gives me the permission to let my imagination loose without need to try and shoehorn ideas into classic fantasy. After writing hundreds of pages of classic RPG fantasy over the last year, a project that took me down a different path was a welcome change.
ED: Going to the same playground every day can get pretty repetitive. Same swings, same merry-go-round, same orcs and dragons. When the third party license for Mörk Borg opened up it expanded the playground at just the right time for me to want to try something different. And I’m curious about how experimenting in this new direction will carry over into my other work once this project is complete.

EGG: As you said, Mörk Borg is known for its art and style. Who is providing the art for your supplements?
: I'm working with stock art sources that are remarkably well-suited to the project. In fact, it is highly unlikely that I would have even tackled this slim booklet if it wasn't for that pre-existing stock art.
ED: Oh, I’m handling the lion’s share of the art on this one. It’s too much fun to hand over those reins. Mörk Borg lends itself well to my personal mixed-media art style that I very rarely get to use in tabletop gaming. I’m deep into the paintings for the cards and the originals will likely be on offer as high-level campaign rewards. Like Phil, we will also be using some stock art in the companion book that we adapt to the darkness of the setting.

EGG: This is not the first time you’ve worked together/co-promoted your projects, is it?
: Over the summer, we each ran simultaneous Kickstarter campaigns that were interconnected. I compiled a book of dungeon encounters and used Ed's tiles for the maps, and at the same time Ed created new tiles for his own Kickstarter campaign. It was the first time we had cross-promoted work in well over a decade and it reminded me of just how fun those D20 days were when I wrote PDFs that used SkeletonKey Games' tiles as the framework beneath the story.
ED: Yea, Phil and I have done crossover projects for the better part of 15 years. It was great, after a long hiatus, to jump back in this year and start playing around. We are both creators at heart and I find a lot of value in our weekly calls.

EGG: Phil, you have a "secret" reward for this project, correct?
: Not so much a secret (I've teased some info), but definitely a bit of a surprise of sorts. In addition to the three 32-page zines, I've also created a 64-page hardcover book of monsters. The third party license that allows for the creation of supplements that are compatible with Mörk Borg gave me the freedom to do something a little different, so I wrote and designed a 6.25" x 11" hardcover. It's a different form factor that isn't common for RPGs, but since my goal with the project is "have fun," I just went for it.

EGG: What stretch goals do you have in mind?
: I only have two stretch goals, each one of which adds another 32-page 5.5" x 8.5" booklet to the project if they are unlocked. Ultimately, if the campaign is successful and both stretch goals are unlocked, I'll print a total of three new 32-page third-party books for use with the Mörk Borg system.
ED: Our stretch goals will expand the size of The Masticator Gate deck and book. We have plenty of content we can add as we explore the concept.

EGG: Phil, this is 100% done before it launches, yes? Ed, will yours be 100% ready to go before the KS starts?
: My book, as well as the two stretch goal books, are completely written and have been through the print tests. All that remains is the funding and a last reading (to catch the typos that are sure to be hiding in the text) and then everything will be ready to be printed and shipped.
ED: My project will be fairly far along by the time the campaign launches but it is unlikely to be 100% finished at that point. By the end of the campaign, however, we should be pretty close and I expect to be delivering rewards before the end of the year.

EGG: Phil, you’ve been experimenting with constantly selling new RPG zines and products via Kickstarter since their Zine Quest initiative, and, really, even before that via other platforms and channels. You’ve had success with it and taken that back to Steve Jackson Games with the GURPS 2020 PDF Challenge. How would you rate that experiment? Will SJG market more new PDF bundles in this way?
: The GURPS PDF Challenge that we ran on Kickstarter performed better than I had expected or hoped. We had close to 3,000 backers on the project and, best of all, the team handled processing all of the rewards faster than we had thought possible. The project's estimated delivery was for November of this year; we completed fulfillment in September. The experiment was so successful that we're looking at the underlying structure of the project. We may be able to create another GURPS campaign that takes what we learned and improve on that particular approach to PDF publishing.

EGG: Beyond your Mörk Borg supplements, what else are you working on?
: For me, The Book of Collected Rumors is my big project. That Kickstarter campaign closed with over 3,000 backers and I owe all of them the new PDFs that are being created thanks to their generous support. I continue writing those PDFs as I have time and, if all goes well, I'll send out the final rewards ahead of the estimated delivery date.
ED: I’m working on a number of SkeletonKey Games projects for 2021 including expanding our Dossier Decks and Arcane Scrollworks lines and possibly delving into some Fifth Edition material with an expanded team. I’ve got about six thousand ideas and I need to prioritize them. With any luck, Phil and I will figure out another team-up or two as well.

EGG: Thank you both for talking with me. Where can fans find more information about your work and follow you online?
: For office projects, the [Steve Jackson Games website] is the best place to find me. For my personal works, I'm on Twitter as @philipjreed.
ED: The repository for most of my work can be found at [SkeletonKey Games website]. You can follow us on Twitter as @SKGames, Instagram as SkeletonKeyGames, and we have a Facebook page. It is nearly impossible for me to keep them up-to-date but I try.

Strange Citizens of the City, a Third-Party Mörk Borg Book from Philip Reed Games
  • “Created under the third-party license for the Mörk Borg roleplaying game, this supplement details thirty characters you can murder.”
The Masticator Gate - A Third Party Mörk Borg Campaign from SkeletonKey Games
  • “Created under the third-party license for the Mörk Borg RPG, this campaign book and card deck are centered around a demon spewing gate.”
Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG and Amazon.

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