Like most people, I spent the year of 2020 making grandiose emergency plans for what I’d do with all my free time. All the models I would paint, all the games I would learn and play solo or co-op with people trapped indoors with me, all the progress I would make. And, like most people, I accomplished… pretty much nothing. In fact, I actually made less gaming and hobby progress than I did in any other month of 2019.
Unlike a lot of people, though, I also spent a lot of time reading TTRPG books. I knew I’d never get to play them, as TTRPGs are not even something I play in a normal year. Howevr, the relative explosion of zine style games seemed to coincide with a lot of people wanting to escape the real world. Accordingly, I found myself reading about and learning about absolutely wild places. One of the most interesting, MÖRK BORG, grabbed my attention with its garish, beautiful rulebook and unique, imaginative world. While a lot of games go for grim or dark fantasy, MORK BORG’s take on the idea seems almost “fun”, in the sense that the world is quite literally dying and your campaigns will likely end badly (one of the actual endings can be that the world just, well, ends.). What really matters is how your characters deal with living in this world. The key component of MORK BORG, compared to other grim settings, is that the game is very obviously trying to have fun with a grim setting; a current expansion for the RPG, FISK BORG, is literally about fishing.
In a year where everything seemed to be on fire, and in many cases now in a world where those fires are still burning, MORK BORG became a comfortable world for me to dream of escaping in to. It presented an almost comforting idea of living on the precipice of the ground literally swallowing me whole, and I came to appreciate the whimsy and beauty in a game world that seems cruel and dark.
But, alas, TTRPGs are not my bread and butter. I have no gaming group, and my friends do not enjoy RPGs, let alone even light roleplaying in board games. So, MORK BORG was just an idea, a fun diversion, but one I kept thinking of as something that would be fun to actually play.
Enter Forbidden Psalm.
Soloing the Apocalypse
Forbidden Psalm is an unofficial MORK BORG miniature game, created by Kevin Rahman, using MORK BORGs unique Third Party License system. Using the setting of the MORK BORG rpg, Forbidden Psalm allows players to create a warband and embark on a 10 scenario campaign, and even create their own scenarios in the event that they desire more grim, heavy metal fantasy. For the sake of disclosure, Kevin was kind enough to extend a PDF copy of the game to us for the review, and provided some of the pictures you’ll see in this review.
One of the most unique aspects of Forbidden Psalm is also what made it an instant hit for me: the ability to play the game solo. Solo miniature games are increasingly popular, with titles like Rangers of Shadowdeep being common favorites. Forbidden Psalm offers solo, versus or co-op play, and includes rules tweaks to scenarios depending on how you’re playing. For fans of the MORK BORG RPG, there are even prompts for using the scenarios as either RPG elements, or for rolling your MORK BORG campaign into the miniature game, which is a fairly unique twist in terms of narrative play. Forbidden Psalm requires very little table space, asking for a 2×2 play area, and uses 28mm miniatures to play with; if you don’t have miniatures, the pdf version even includes a page of paper standees that you can use.
As far as playing, well, the game is fairly solid in terms of being a small, narrative skirmish game. That may sound somewhat bland, but I don’t really think the combat system is what makes this game interesting or unique, nor does it do anything particularly world shattering in comparison to most other small games. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that combat is fairly risky, as one might expect in a world as dark and foreboding as MORK BORGs. It sells the idea that your characters are not particularly superhuman. For example, during close combat, attacking characters can find themselves on the receiving end of a counterattack, as defenders get to roll with a -3 modifier. This means that even when you think your victory is in the bag, the skeleton you recklessly charged might put an end to your favorite character with a fairly good roll. There are other little changes to combat and magic that are flavorful with the game and setting, but otherwise most players familiar with small skirmish games will find the actual gameplay of Forbidden Psalm easy to pick up.
If a Narrative Happens at the End of the World, Does it Matter?
What makes Forbidden Psalm stand out, at least for me, was the narrative element. That isn’t to say that the game is filled with huge chunks of text that you’ll read before, during, and after battle, but instead the emergent ways the scenarios, and your characters, react to what happens. Since death is cheap and your characters likely to suffer grave consequences, this isn’t a story in which everyone will likely make it out alive, or at the very least, unscathed. Which is fine, because creating characters is perhaps my favorite part of the whole game.
Using a table of 1-100, your first job is to name your characters. I personally always hate naming people, so this table was a far more fun way of doing things; after getting a name, you then roll for your title, meaning you can end up with characters such as “Krust the Baby legs”, “Quix The Great Wyrm”, or my favorite, “[Not applicable] [Not applicable]”. You can, of course, always just pick names yourself, but I find rolling for them made things a lot more fun. You are then asked to assign statistics to your characters, choosing from 1 of 2 statlines: +3, +1, 0, -3, or +2, +2, -1, -2, which are then divided amongst Agility, Presence, Strength, and Toughness. I found this a unique way of making characters distinct without having character creation take too long.
Your characters then roll on a Flaws chart, using a D20 to find out whether your character might have a “Putrid Smell”, is “Scared of Monsters”, or is a “Newbie”. Each of these gives your character a negative modifier of some sort, which helps continue the idea of unique, almost randomly assembled characters that are under your control. Flaws are followed by Feats, which give your character a positive trade-off, such as being a “Medic”, having a “Lucky Goblin’s Foot”, or being “Hard to See”. From my own experience, my character that had a Putrid Smell but was Hard to See was almost comical, inspiring the idea of a person that was almost imperceptible except for the fact that they smelled like literal garbage.
If you’re a fan of video games such as Darkest Dungeon, some of this character creation method might seem a little familiar; these are very much roguelike style characters, randomly assembled from various tables and then forced into the world for you to play with. In my experience, characters died fairly often, which meant I got to have the fun of creating new characters all over again, which wasn’t as frustrating as it might be in other campaign based miniature games; at the very least, each time I had to go back to the tables, I always came out with something new and interesting. Which brings me to the most interesting table of all: Forbidden Psalm offers a table that lets you randomly build a miniature, from head selections, light sources, to unique things like tails, bloody details, or other interesting features.
Telling a Story to Yourself
Forbidden Psalm is a great game, but it does have some limitations. Firstly, players who aren’t interested in organic narratives akin to roleplaying will probably not find a lot to this game to separate it from other skirmish level games. And, frankly, taken solely for the combat, this game is fairly thin in comparison to other systems such as Moonstone, Relic Blade, or Rangers of Shadowdeep, which place heavier emphasis on combat.
That said, players looking for a dark, heavy metal fantasy world will find a lot to love in the pages of Forbidden Psalm. Since it is a miniatures agnostic game, this game is really a fantasy kitbasher’s dream and—unlike some miniature agnostic games—Games Workshop miniatures would likely work fantastically. Age of Sigmar already has weird, baroque aesthetic; it would fit the world of Forbidden Psalm fairly easily. Older models, such as Mordheim, would be even more at home here. Frankly, the joy of miniature agnostic games is that you don’t really even need to have miniatures to play them with; some readers may note that none of the pictures in this review are mine, and that’s because during the playtesting of this game, my post-COVID living situation prevents me from having, well, miniatures in ready supply. You can use basically anything, if your imagination works, and that’s really what makes the end result special and personalized. As an actual lament, I think the fact that Cursed City is so hard to get a hold of is a huge bummer, because almost every model in that entire kit would make for an amazing Forbidden Psalm player or enemy.
Finding Fun at the End of Everything
This last year and a half have probably not been everyone’s favorite Top 10 Best Years Ever, and while it may seem like an odd way to end a review of a product, I have to admit that MORK BORG and, by extension, Forbidden Psalm have given me a lot of joy in a time when things are genuinely terrible personally and globally. There are not a lot of games that interact with the idea of Things Falling Apart in particularly nuanced ways. Games Workshop’s grim darkness is really just unpleasant bureaucracy and cruelty wrapped in increasingly uncomfortable fascism apologia, and most other games focus on settings that are “post” apocalyptic, but not quite literally “the world is going to end, maybe tomorrow”, and when they do, your characters are generally poised to stop or prevent that. Not so in this world–your character, quite frankly, would likely be relieved to survive long enough to see the apocalypse happen. A lot of stories about the end of everything miss out on the banality of it all, of how pointless life might seem when literal gods exist to tell you the jig is up, but that’s what makes MORK BORG’s world so interesting and fun to play in. Forbidden Psalm gives miniature based players a chance to experience that world for themselves, and the huge amount of MORK BORG spin-offs and expansions means that there’s plenty of material to use for building one’s own campaigns, or even adapting the main rulebook into something miniature friendly.
At the time of this review, physical copies of Forbidden Psalm are making their ways to various retailers, and the game is gearing up for it’s first expansion, heading to Kickstarter soon. If you’re eager to dive into the dying world as soon as possible, PDF versions are available at various retailers. As for me, I think once I get a better set up I’m going to start rolling on that table to create my first actual band of miscreants; my only hope is that they don’t all die in their first combat after being born!