Artpunk (ÄarT-PoonK). An abbreviation of the so-called Einsatzschwerpunkt genre of roleplaying games, originally conceived in the trenches of the Somne in fall 1915. After an equilibrium had been reached on the western front, both sides sought desperately for any advantage that could give a decisive edge to break the stalemate. German High command under Chief of Staff Erich von Falkenhyn launched Operation SchwertTraum on July 5th, 1915, publishing his core ruleset after a 48 hour artillery bombardment along the entire western front. The initial effect was so potent it dealt a lasting and devastating blow to the morale of the allied forces.
With Einsatzschwerpunkt, the generals of the German Imperial Army sought to harden their troops by subjecting them to fantastical conditions that were far more unpleasant then any trench, gas or battlefield. The result was soldiers who were inured to fear, horror, death and ennui and would take on any obstacle if it meant they could avoid another session of Einsatzschwerpunkt. After the detente, Einsatzschwerpunkt became the official roleplaying genre of the Waffen SS and a major part of the overall roleplaying strategy of the Third Reich, alongside such games as Achtüng! Den Englander Kommet!, Sind Sie Jude? and Dark Albion.
In the closing years of the second world war, Einsatzschwerpunkt fell into the hands of the Komitet Gosoedarstvennoj Bezopasnosti, under Colonel-Commissar Samuel Besmenov Hyde, who realized its potential as not only a defensive, but an offensive weapon to combat the newly risen Allied Superpowers. “If we can get Einsatzschwerpunkt over the Iron Curtain its potency cannot be overstated. Prolonged exposure to Einsatzschwerpunkt has a powerful subversive effect that is two-fold; it quenches utterly any higher sort of moral impulse the player might harbor. Protective, patriotic, ambitious […] these are snuffed out and replaced with narcissism, entitlement, sensation seeking and guilt, all attributes that make the person useless in resisting a potential hostile takeover. Einsatzschwerpunkt also erodes the ontological framework of its player base by having barely any hard rules. The desired end result is to make the subject question the fundamental building blocks he requires to navigate the world. Your class, your level, your race, your gender. These are all gone, replaced by something diffuse, indescribable and amorphous. The mind is trapped in a perpetual cycle of anxious introspection and becomes dependent on a higher authority to dictate the parameters of its operating system. This is all the more devastating because of its seemingly innocuous appearance as a minor genre of roleplaying games that appeals to the young and agreeable.”
The current whereabouts of Colonel Hyde and the status of Projekt Schwerttraum remain unknown, though accounts of him operating in Allied territory under an alias have been corroborated by multiple sources. The more important question, how he keeps getting away with it, has never been satisfactorily answered.
– Artpunk: The Secret History, Chapter 9: Who Is Patrick Stuart?
Waist-deep in Mörg Borg 3rd party excreta, I think I have learned all I need to know. 3rd party supplements, especially for smaller lines already derived from another game, are analogous to a telephone game in that with each step some element or attribute is lost or misinterpreted and thus the end result is something different in tone from the model it imitates until the original can no longer be recognized. In the case of Mörk Borg, while the original author clearly has a firm understanding of OSR principles, those entering the hobby via Mörk Borg, often very young, lack that understanding, and any products they have fabricated duplicate only the surface elements. Thus we get an imitation of the atmospheric trappings, focus on originality and if we are lucky, the layout, but we do not get any of the underlying principles of Oldschool games that Mörk Borg does not communicate but requires to operate. Any creativity (which is often present) is released in an uncontrolled burst that remains mostly inert.
A second reason for its failure is its focus on brevity. Brevity in writing is important but requires a precise understanding of what information can be omitted and must be presented. This is why short, evocative writing in the OSR is praised by so many, but successfully implemented by so few. You have to learn how to walk before you can run. Short adventures like Lichway are all the more impressive because of the depth they manage to convey despite their limited page count, but there is a limit on the amount of complexity that can be conveyed in a single page. This is why there are virtually no one-page dungeons that are worth your time.
Let us begin. These are bad but the problem lies partly in that the authors seem very young and inexperienced to me. More time is spent displaying public domain art then thought is put into the adventure. The lack of convention does encourage creativity which is good, but there are no IDEAS and the adventures often feel like they lack a certain significance.
The Vault of Refuse and Waking Nightmares (2020)
Tristola – Sanders (Eldritch Tomb Games)
A one-pager from a novice. 6 encounters. The map is better than it has any right to be and avoids linearity for the most part. The paragraph of exposition tells you that the place has been looted long ago but then tells you many abandoned treasures reside there. The idea is that it’s a temple of a sort of mushroom god that Nechrubel killed. There’s a note that the final room exists beyond time and death but no method of finding this secret passage (say, in another part of the dungeon by resolving some puzzle) is provided. There’s a beholder that only kills you if you don’t want to hang out with it, credit for not making it a straightforward combat encounter I guess, some black stuff that just makes you sick if you eat it, a torture device that is not specified and a pile of treasure scrolls unceremoniously dumped in front of the statue of Nechrubel. Tone is uneven, and given the frequent allusions to visions, one would expect the author to add a vision table or implement this in the design somehow. As an idea for an adventure it could maybe work? There is just nothing here that is worth your time even if it were free. You should probably pay people if they ever run this, because they will have done the work of turning it into an adventure.
Graves Left Wanting (2020)
Karl Druid art by Johan Nohr (Mörk Borg Cult)
One of the better adventures in this run, and it should be considering Mork Borg Cult is like their official line, but still not very good. One of the hooks is that you wake up in the gigantic cemetery of Graven-Tosk after you have been TPK’d? Two pages are spent on a map for what is essentially 5 connected rooms with a random starting point. Yikes. Atmosphere is good, but its also almost the only thing that is any good. Rotted skeletons, the Vomitorium, Vultures, fountains, a plague pit, its very atmospheric. “The smell of stagnant water. Whispers of laughing children.” Its also all straightforward combat. Treasure is not hidden. No secret doors no puzzles. There’s the occasional strange occult item like the Unkey or a horn that makes the listeners vomit acid. My favorite part is pillars across an abyss filled with mist and if you fail a test and come across, you wake up in a catacomb corridor with a lifetime of memories not your own -1 to all your stats. I mean it sucks that it’s a fucking diceroll and you can’t be smart and navigate it some other way but its at least interesting.
The end confrontation has an undead gravekeeper, nice unique abilities, show up in a very forced bossfight that is, frankly, embarrassingly ham-handed. Graven-Tosk is so exaggerated it feels like a theme-park or a grave-themed video game level.
Magic items and unique monsters are seen as desirable in the OSR yes? That’s all surface level shit, any 13 year old can come up with a new monster or magic item. Its how you assemble all these building blocks that is the mark of a proper fucking adventure cobbler.
I compare this with something like the Black Gem, by no means a brilliant adventure mind you, and note how much better Black Gem is in comparison. You are trapped and stripped of your equipment, you have a time limit, you must use your environment, you are constantly beleaguered by undead etc. etc.
This is all right for a convention game probably. Layout is good and encounters are indexed well. I still don’t know whether I am down with separating Cardinal Directions. I don’t hate it but there is not that much here. Even a horror game, which doesn’t tend to use very complex maps or encounters, uses scares or revelations to rack up the tension, this doesn’t really do that either.
The Dead City of Pyre-Crypt (2020)
Rugose Kohn (self-published)
An adventure location I guess? The author supports me making it its own but takes pains to note that I am not allowed to “use this content for racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or discriminatory games of any kind. I ain’t down with that.” So many questions arise. Is there a pervasive alt-right Mörk Borg cabal running 24 hour transphobic games that warrants this level of rebuke? Does this mean that by extension Johan Nohr DOES support me using his graveyard for discriminatory games of any kind since he doesn’t explicitly mention it in his adventure? Isn’t the very concept of life, death and undeath inherently discriminatory? What happens if I decide to add this to my PyreCrypt setting:
Hp 5 Morale 7
1d6 stereotypical traits
A creature of incomprehensible urges and alien malice, every time the generic foreigner hits you you must make a Presence check DR 14 or immediately lose your class benefits. The generic foreigner gains any class attributes you had before. If you did not have a class the generic foreigner fucks your wife instead. You are not allowed to complain about this because of the overall benefits to the economy.
And go on from there. How will this edict be enforced? Speaking as a GM, I am all for total 1984-esque control of people’s lives, actions and thoughts for the benefit of mankind, or against the benefit of mankind whatevs, but we need a roadmap, you can’t just throw this out there and expect it to work. Read some 1984. Demoralize and subvert. Demand that people stream any sessions involving pyrecrypt and found a special Trust and Safety commission to investigate any allegations of ‘discriminatory practices.’ Help us be that boot stepping on a human face.
A mysterious walled city whose inhabitants died by plague, that serves as adventure location, Kohn earns the rare merit of fucking up the layout for a Mörk Borg adventure, one of the few things Mörk Borg does consistently well, which is like losing a junior high coloring contest because you weren’t enthusiastic enough. Plain text, centred, paragraph upon paragraph with almost no formatting? Bold.
I say city, but this is a grindingly linear affair. No city map, landmarks, multiple locations you can go etc. Effectively one method of egress. You encounter a “grinning naked man” but no hints are given to help you develop this (rare) non-combat encounter.
There’s another instance of fountains were drinking them just makes you sick. I see this more often in Mörk Börg and I wonder if MB fans understand that you can’t just put stuff in there that will fuck you up if you interact with it as it trains players to just avoid interesting objects. The adventure then references a random floorplan and a random treasure generator for content, which is bold considering how little content it produces for itself.
Random encounters are scattered peacemail throughout the text instead of collected in one location, optimized for play. Typical for Mörk Borg, the monsters are superficially very creative, including the terribly transfigured inhabitants of the city, a shoggoth like thing made from men, weird and eerie obelisks etc. But all the hard work, the real work, the work of turning this stuff into an adventure you can run, is left to the reader.
There’s a building in the centre labelled Iron Ziggurat, which has five one room floors labelled such things as “Penthouse” and “Basement.” I am curious whether the author will add “Garage” and “Laundry room” to this already thrilling S&S mixture in the DLC. Random encounters include an unavoidable save or die effect. Straightforward combat and a weird stone that just makes you sick, nothing cool to discover once you enter, not even, I might add, something to loot. “A diary describes the last days of the city.” And then no description. Dude? A rare few noncombat encounters are given no guidance or tips to make them work for the GM.
Also curiously for a Mörk Borg adventure, no unique magic items. 1d4 scrolls in the library seems like a ridiculous amount given that they represent a permanent addition to the character’s magical repertoire. MB really needs more One-off items or items with charges.
This could in some distant future with the addition of two orders of magnitude more work be interesting, the atmosphere is intact at least, but Kohn needs to figure out how to turn it into an adventure, because it isn’t one. **
The City Shall Be Made Hollow (2020)
Mascheo de Escher (self-published)
sigh – 6.66 dollars
An expansion for the aforementioned Pyre-Crypt and maybe the only person that has bought a copy so congratulations I guess? This module unironically states fuck Hitler: “cover image: X-Ray of Hitler’s skull – fuck that guy, fuck all his stupid ideas, and fuck nazis.” Stunning and brave. If only more people had the courage to stand up to Hitler, then maybe finally someone would do something about him.
Masceo the Escher is probably the only person on the planet that is worse at making a useable product then Rugose Kahn and it’s a shame because he appears to be much better at it. In this random collection of bizarre monsters, items and random encounters that really should have been in Pyre Crypt to begin with, the city is re-envisioned as a multi-dimensional dada-esque 1920s surrealist metropol haunted by sinister, indescribable forces. Kafka doing Roadside Picnic as executed by Salvador Dali. A depression era Silent Hill. Abandoned streets, empty street lights, dirigibles and all manner of bizarre horror.
Room full of musicians. Lower halves are ornate, embroidered pillows in different patterns. Painted smiles only partially hide worried looks. A welldressed conductor turns to the sudden interruption. Its head a single, glaring eye
There’s 36 of these and most of them work but its all atmosphere and no stats. A single atmospheric jolt gets the GM going but no follow through is given to turn that idea into a game. The dynamism is minimal. A giant ball of chains that begs for help is the closest thing it comes to a dilemma, for the rest there is barely any interaction.
Sample monsters (these DO have stats), random encounter area is provided: Rusted puppet show automaton that recreates the fall (incomprehensible) of the city. A woman gazing down from a palanquin with legs sticking under it that is actually a single entity. Men with ink-nub limbs whose scratches permanently mark their target. What looks like a human being attached to an umbilical with telepathic attacks. It goes on and its all bizarre and terrifying.
I notice in Mörk Borg the authors have immense trouble writing NPCs in a way that permits dynamic interaction to take place. The only “survivor” in the Pyre-Crypts is a good example. Ask yourself why you are using a random table. What does the NPC want, how does he interact, how does he respond. And then 2 sentences of flavor.
Items too, very interesting. I am reminded of Stalker (or Roadside Picnic). Innocuous objects that have been imbued with supernatural properties, floating rocks, a pyramid that replaces your eye, super glue, some sort of instant wall aerosol, a gemstone that will create a duplicate of the last person that gazed in it if you throw it on the ground but that will turn on the creator in a while. You can imagine (if the city had maps that were worth a damn), the tactical use, the dynamics.
As a collection of random monsters and ideas this one comes close to making the cut. I think 6 bucks is too much for what you are getting, but this does have some nice imagery, and the monsters have been properly statted. You would have to use it for Pyre-crypt, which kind of sucks. I think some sort of focus would have been nice, right now it is only really going to appeal to people that are looking for ‘inspiration’ not something they are going to actually use, which might be a shame.
Suggestion: After M.Escher and R.Kuhn have defeated Hitler they team up, start from day one, put in the WORK and figure out how to actually make a city product that you can run, with different areas, landmarks etc. Get POUR if you want to have a headstart, since it does have an abandoned metropol as its main feature. Or get Gardens of Ynn if you want to see what a surrealist delve into a strange land looks like when executed to perfection (and you get to sponsor Emmy Allen’s creepo tunnel lesbians game). And when I say they team up, I mean that Escher does all the work while Kohn gets coffee, does the laundry, and massages Escher’s shoulders while Escher types it up, pulling his hair, exclaiming “BUT WHAT IF THEY USE THIS FOR DISCRIMINATORY GAMES KOHN?!? THINK OF THE CULPABILITY. WE HAVE AN IMMENSE REPONSIBILITY TO THE PUBLIC DAMNIT.”
Snotsoil Mire (2020)
Sean F. Smith (Chitin Press)
6 dollars lmao
Jesus wept. 4 pages in glaring purple, magenta and sunshine yellow. Each page contains about 3 sentences. Inspired by Goblin Henchmen’s hexcrawl flower theory. You did this. You are now culpable.
As you read it over after snickering at the price tag a narrative starts to form. A 7-year old girl doodles on her computer in paint but does not know how to alter the color scheme so she goes with the default settings.
Witness the contents of but one of these 8 hexes.
Far bogland – northwest hex Encounter (D6) – 1 The landwhale strikes! for D6 rounds – 2 / 3 A strong sweet floral aroma – 4 – 6 The landwhale strikes! for D2 rounds
Or this hex
4. Nearmost bog – southwest hex Encounter (D6) – 1 The landwhale strikes! for D6 rounds – 2 / 3 An overwhelming stink of urine and offal – Toughness DR6 or vomit – 4 – 6 The landwhale strikes! for D2 rounds
I almost…almost paid the 6 dollars myself so I could capture the pain, the feeling of hurt betrayal that one gets when one buys this, hoping for something inspiring to run an evening.
My scale only goes to *, but this is effectively a minus four. The crediting of goblin henchman in this shameless display of oblivious huckstership adds an extra sting to an already shocking blow to one’s self-worth. Get out of my sight. *
Okay, there is good news for MB. The focus on DIY, atmosphere and layout is kind of nice, because those are all components of a decent adventure. The problem is that this is the only thing that MB fans focus on and no one bothers to think about how you actually run an adventure or what an adventure even is. So you get stuff that looks novel and has interesting ideas, but its barely an adventure.
I have a challenge for would be MB adventure cobblers and anyone who thinks themselves reasonably good at it. Don’t do one page dungeons. Don’t try to be artsy and innovate. Write a dungeon, one level, 23 rooms, BOOK MONSTERS ONLY. You get ONE unique monster and ONE magic item that you can come up with yourself. Look at the result and ask yourself, would I pay 2 dollars for this? If the answer is no, you can’t write well enough and you need to work on your fundamentals before throwing your crap online.
Maps; Nonlinear, interesting terrain features, choke-points, multiple passages, look up jaqueying. Then if you want to get funky you can think about secret doors, teleporters, passages that are hard to map, multiple means of egress, one way doors, levers that open doors elsewhere in the dungeon, vertical dungeons whatever.
Treasure; Interesting, possible logistical complications (hard to remove, fragile), hidden, concealed, cursed?
Encounters; Dynamic! I see constant straightforward combat encounters. F. Make some of them too strong so you can use trickery or have to avoid them or lure them away. Make NPCs, or factions of NPCs that are not immediately hostile, that have some goal, so you can play them off against eachother. Sometimes encounters are not what they seem (are they benevolent but actually hostile? Or will you go with the rarer but equally interesting seemingly hostile but actually benevolent?).
If I attack the monsters, do the monsters have a plan? Does the bad guy have some means of escape? If you announce your boss fight by doing it like it’s a fucking video game I will hit you in the face with a belt.
Weirdness: You’d think MB would get this right, but they actually mostly get it wrong. The thing with weird stuff and interacting with it is that in MB its almost always negative, which just trains players to avoid your cool looking strange stuff. There should be a ratio of beneficial to negative effects that keeps people invested in exploring.
This is not fool proof but it’s a START. Don’t go with video games for inspiration. Read books. RPGs are channeling something primordial that we all recognize. Ask yourself what that thing is, where it comes from, what expresses it.
I think I have said enough. In my closing statement, I would like to address something. I think we have all heard some rumors about this guy called Hitler, and I did some research, and it turns out he was a not OK dude!!! So from henceforth I am proud to declare that Age of Dusk is not down with the nefarious Hitler and his dastardly schemes, and in fact condemns him in the strongest possible terms. If you want to express your support for our courageous ongoing crusade to stop Hitler, you should probably buy all my adventures.