By Ripley Caldwell Self Published Mork Borg Level 1
Within the Manor is the Pit, a hole in reality that spews out hordes of otherworldly monkeys. The Manor has done its job and killed them, over and over again, for decades upon decades. As the woods darkened and the blood was spilled and the Manor was forgotten, something changed. It grew bitter and hateful, and now the seal has been broken.
This 59 page digest adventure features two levels on dungeon with about 35 rooms. A good format, interesting situations and an evocative writing style help overcome the absurdity of what is essentially a funhouse dungeon. Not the usual Mork Borgian shovelware. Not at all.
The Mork Borgians do NOT have a good reputation at this point. I’m sure, upon seeing “Mork Borg” listed, a great number of my readers, rolled their eyes and said to themselves “Ug! Not again!” Basically, it has devolved in to a system that a large art community has gravitated towards. These folks are moderately interested in interesting layout and art designs and less interested in creating something that can be played. It reminds me for the 3e/3.5e days when loads of shovelware came out. A system so popular and welcoming that it attracts a certain element, that then tends to gain a niche reputation, that then becomes the reputation of the system, leading to less “normal” product and even more niche product. Which, I guess, is fine? But your eyes then tend to gloss over products for the system because so many are crap. I don’t dislike Mork Borg, I just dislike that SO. FUCKING. MANY. Mork Borg adventures are not actually adventures but just circle jerk wank off art projects. Go sell the fucking thing like that instead of calling it an adventure and I’d be fine. Or, maybe they think they are, since they list as Mork Borg?
But this adventure ain’t like that. It is, essentially, a real adventure. With a few caveats. I’m going to turn things around and cover those issues up front, and then follow with the positives. Keep in mind though, that the positives are very positive and I’m going to ultimately recommend this adventure. With Dick Cavetts. They came in two basic forms: why the fuck are we doing this and the absurdity of the situation. They both involve the suspension of disbelief and the first, at least, is a common issue with adventures.
Starting with the absurdity seems like the right thing to do. I’m a big fan of the absurd. But I like the absurd specifically because of the hubris involved in the suspension of disbelief. That’s what its toying with, in general, in film, tv, books, and other media types. I’m not sure, though, that the absurdity, and the suspension of disbelief, or lack thereof, that it engenders, works in a D&D environment. Comedy, and that’s what absurdity ultimately is, is a VERY hard thing to pull of fin RPG’s. The best Paranoia adventures don’t go for comedy but simply set up a situation. When Paranoia tries to be silly it fails, and, I think, ultimately led to the failure of the system. I’ve seen this time and again in D&D as well. ASE1 works. It keeps it straight. And then the clowns show up in ASE2 and things fall apart. I don’t believe anymore. It’s not a Bioshock vibe anymore. I don’t give a shit.
In this adventure we have a kind of hell pit that disgorges evil corrupted things. A wizard builds a house over it to research and help contain things. Then he goes away and we’re left with a manor home on autopilot. Pretty classic trope; wizards do love to build their houses on places of power. But in this case the things being disgorged are monkeys. Look, I’m in TOTAL agreement that monkeys are evil little shits. I think I’ve had three wild encounters with monkeys and they’ve always ended up with me coming away with the impression that monkeys are evil little shits. So, yeah, I’m with you man. But, as an adventure element it strains disbelief. The name, itself, makes me groan and think “Ug! This is gonna be crap …” As a genre, also, I’m not sure were this fits. Not as a modern adventure, or in any genre other than fantasy, I think. But while I’m usually a fan of the mundane as monsters in fantasy, I don’t see this working. I’m not sure why. Maybe people, even me, think monkeys are cute? It’s just that it comes off as an absurd premise. And, yet, I’d also be pretty pissy if it were goblins or some such? Something FEELS off. Maybe it’s just me? I’d be interested in others opinions of this. It both feels like a real issue and a made up issue, so there must be some framing I’m not understanding.
And then there’s the Why The Fuck? Issue. Why is the party doing this? Ultimately, it’s always because we want to have fun tonight and D&D is what we selected to have fun. DO you want to play D&D? Then do the fucking adventure choad. I get it. Just lack week I drank some citronella oil and set my face on fire because I was bored. But, also, it’s another element that leads to issues with suspension of disbelief. With little treasure, we’re left with “be a hero” or “it’s what we’re doing tonight.” I’m not saying this is equivalent to Original Sin, but it’s an issue. Just because A LOT of adventures have the issue means nothing. Yes, the players must find motivation for their characters I get that also But, also, there’s a spectrum here and getting too far on to the “fuck you” side of it is an issue. Give us something to work with. Admitidally, gold=xp does this well, as does rumors of gold in place. And Be a Hero can do this. But, we need things that appeal to the players to get them going. Or, maybe, we don’t need that but when an adventure does it then its smarter than your average bear Boo Boo.
Let’s move on to some good things. Of which there are A METRIC FUCK TUN.
And the first is one of the hooks. I frequently talk about hooks needing just a little more to support the DM. “Caravan guards” is boring as fuck ,but if you dump in something interesting, a nextra sentence or two, then it can no longer be a throw-away hook but something interesting. It’s not longer a waste of word-count. One of the hooks in this is: “A teenage boy (his name was Wemut) is found dismembered in the street, still missing a leg, and a trail of gore leads to an abandoned, moss-covered hut. There, the characters will encounter their first (but certainly not last) monkey, a macaque with too many arms, still gnawing on Wemut’s severed leg. It escapes through the window and leads the…”
That’s a fucking hook! Notice the specificity that brings it to like. Dismembered, Missing a leg. Teenage. In the street, still missing a leg. Moss-covered hut. Too many arms, gnawing a leg. This description paints the fucking picture WELL. It’s not too many words, especially considering tha the DM will be running the entire intro hook from it. What you think, maybe 30 minutes of content, maybe more, in that one brief word count? That’s pretty good density. It’s breezy, moves along, creates an evocative picture of the environments/situations. Very good.
And it does this over and over again with its descriptions. The designer has a talent for describing an evocative situation. Something happening.
One room has “A wounded, screeching orangutan dragging itself across the room. A grim-faced butler in trim clothing pursuing the orangutan, knife in hand.
If not interrupted, he finishes stabbing the orangutan to death, wipes his knife off with a handkerchief, and blithely addresses the characters.” Uh … fuck yes! That’s an introduction to what’s going on in the manor! Specific. Paints a picture. This comes over and over again and over again. All with a kind of sly black humor. “Participating in impressive monkey violence” can earn the manor homes favor. Nice. 🙂 An NPC party is wanted for crimes of “excessive blasphemy,” A slyness to it.
Another room has a “A pale wooden box that moves and shudders as if it’s breathing. As soon as a character moves within striking distance, it opens, a mass of spinning saw blades, crossbows, and ropes on twisting articulated limbs. This is interesting because it is both specific AND generic and the genericism itself is leveraged ti create an evocative picture. A mass of spinning saw blades and articulated limb things and crossbows. Your mind races to cartoon like imagery of such things.
Items can be great also. Full wine glass, the wine full of gold flakes. A tiny monkey with insect like wings in a jar. Guess what eating it does? It hits time after time after time.
And the format is easy to scan. Descriptions that work from general to specific. Building. Bullets. A focus on keeping important/obvious things first. There’s a miss or two here, some choices I would make differently, but, that’s BY FAR the minority. It does what an adventure should do, make using it easy. And I wouldn’t say that it’s aggressively minimalistic/terse either. Some of the text FEELS long, looking at it, but, it’s done in such as way that during play I don’t feel like it’s an issue. It’s still a breezy read and easy to scan and get to the players easily.
I could talk more about this. The pointcrawlish manor map. The window/door external issue and so on, but, I’ll skip that. It gets A LOT right. If you can deal with the absurdity of the situation and get the party in and motivated to explore then this is a good adventure. Imagine me, talking about suspension of disbelief in a game where elves fart fireballs.
This is $10 at itch. There are some room preview pages that gives you a good idea of the format. I’d check them out. It’s pretty good format to empulate, if you can match the energy of the writing style and situations presented.