Designer: Chris Koger, Wes Ascolese
Artist: Paula Cassa
Publisher: Spooky Bell Games
Year Published: 2022
No. of Players: 4–6
Playing Time: RPG Adventure
Main mechanic / Theme: Darkness, horror, grimdark, RPG
In this dark world, the stories of wealth and power can’t be ignored.
Find more info on Kickstarter HERE.
Beyond Deep is a grimdark adventure set in the post-apocalyptic world of Mörg Borg published by Spooky Bell Games. This is an “over the top doom-metal, fantasy apocalypse” (Chris) that “The dark and gritty nature of the setting… really just meshed with what I was trying to accomplish” (Wes). I was given an advanced review copy for review purposes.
If you are not familiar with the specifics of Mörg Borg, don’t worry. Even though Beyond Deep is written for placement in the Mörg Borg universe, the story can easily be translated over to a system you are more familiar with. There is plenty of information about the non-player characters (NPCs) and the setting to allow conversions. There is also not so much written into them that would inhibit taking the NPCs into another system
For those who don’t have the Mörg Borg system, there is background from the larger campaign setting that applies to the past and present of the town Bereleah. Again, this is provided to allow you to drop the town right into the Mörg Borg world or your own.
Grimdark settings are usually more adult oriented. Beyond Deep doesn’t delve overly much into the dark setting. There is enough to give the feeling there are some creepy things going on (which fits the chosen system) without having to go into deep descriptions to build the scene. I agree with the developers that this could be played by young adults and if this was a movie it would probably be given a PG-13. It could be easily modified for younger players without losing the story.
Beyond Deep is an open adventure centered on a mining town and the strange substance they are mining. The developers took their inspiration from company towns of our own history where there has been a “God-like power the mining company holds over the town” (Wes). Combining that into a dark fantasy setting provides a level of horror and dread that is easily relatable.
For each of the character classes of Mörg Borg there are detailed plot hooks. The classes represented are different than what most people think about for a fantasy-based game, but this is grimdark. Even though there isn’t the fighter, wizard, bards you might be used to seeing, these paragraphs can be adapted to the classes a system you’re using for your gaming group. At the very least, this section gives a good understanding of what the character are like in the Mörg Borg campaign setting.
This plot line for the story being created at the table is more than a crawl from one encounter to another. This is designed in the open format of needing to search through parts of the town, area, and mine to get more information after talking with the town’s folk. There is a high level of role-playing for the player characters.
There is still plenty of room for the combat for the players to test their strategy with the luck of the rolling dice.
Each of the NPCs are given a writeup about who they are and their motivations. I liked how they provided information that could be easily shared to the player characters and separated the part for the game master. I didn’t have to struggle through to see which part was to be kept private to build the tension and conflict during game play.
There is also plenty of room on the NPCs that a game master could replace one with on ongoing character from their own campaign world with just minor adjustments. The only part you would need to make sure of is how your campaign’s NPC’s motivation would fit into the scenario.
I liked that one of the main NPCs in the adventure used non-gender pronouns in the description. This provides a whole additional level of interaction the GM can use with their players. It gives more depth to the character and their motivations.
More From the Authors
There are some new creatures being introduced in this adventure. I asked about inspirations and along with their interest in company town history I was told how many of the monsters were inspired by animals seen at the zoo. I am hoping these are alterations from what they saw. Otherwise, I don’t want to know what zoo they were taking their kids to.
Both Wes and Chris are creative are long time tabletop RPG gamers. Their desire for publishing their own adventure comes from their joy of gaming. In creating this adventure, it is evident it is spawned from that level of social interaction they enjoy at their own gaming tables over the years. I asked them about advice they would give aspiring authors, especially of RPG adventures and it was simple and direct: Go for it. Read what is out there, write what you like, share it for feedback. Then, go do that again.
This is the first adventure from Spooky Bell Games. It is also the first print copy adventure from either developer. It is clear to see they have experience in tabletop gaming, and they are using that experience in creating an adventure that provides a great storyline. There are already plans for additional adventures, and possibly their own gaming system.
Beyond Deep is an adventure that could be played in a single session or multiple sessions. There is enough information to allow a game master to use the town of Bereleah as a starting point of an ongoing campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the works in progress from Spooky Bell Games is a follow up to the events here—there is the parent company.
The open layout of the adventure allows this work to be used more than once. The information is more about the town, and not about getting through the sequence of rooms and their associated monsters. Once the adventure is finished, the town will still be there. This provides more for the game master to work with.
If you want to use the Mörg Borg system, you will need the parent books. The review copy I was given doesn’t include pre-generated characters. If you have another system you prefer, you can adapt this setting easily. I could see where I could easily place this in one of the Cthulhu settings. It is also adaptable to some of the more popular systems that people are playing.
I recommend Beyond Deep for players and groups that like horror gaming and grimdark fantasy. It is also designed for players who are into more of the character interactions with NPCs instead of combat/strategy based.
Beyond Deep goes live on Kickstarter August 1, 2022.
Additional Content- Interview with Wes and Chris of Spooky Bell Games
--It looks like Spooky Bell Games is new on the scene, is this your first published ttrpg adventure? And with the mainstream ttrpg going with other names, why did you choose to create an adventure for Mörk Borg?
Wes: This will be my first published anything. Originally I was going to go at it alone and do something much more hand made, and true to the zines of the 70s and 80s. However I've known Chris for a bit of time now and he pitched an idea that really brought the story together and gave it purpose. This brings us to “Why Mork Borg?” The dark and gritty nature of the setting and the open license they offer really just meshed with what I was trying to accomplish. Also being an OSR style TTRPG affords us a rules system that can be learned in 10 minutes and requires next to no investment.
Chris: This will be my first physically printed project, and my first Kickstarter campaign. I’ve done some writing and editing here and there, and I put a small digital ttrpg out at https://criticalmist.itch.io this past year. As for Mork Borg, I really enjoy the streamlined yet flavorful system and the setting is a perfect, over the top doom-metal, fantasy apocalypse of a thing. It fit the nature of what we were trying to create, and like Wes said, the license that Free League Publishing set up is extremely friendly for creators.
--Grimdark fantasy is usually targeted for an older audience, what age group of players are you looking towards for your adventure?
Wes: The Adventure surely isn't targeted towards children, although I believe a PG-13 rating would be adequate. There aren't any sexual situations or cursing. There is a large amount of violence and certainly lends itself to an older person's view point considering the theme of workers rights and the like.
Chris: I think Wes nailed it. Most teenagers would be fine with the content, though some of it does tend toward the gruesome at moments. I think the themes of the game, from violence and exploitation, to resistance and having to weigh multiple options to find the best path through the possibly horrifically difficult circumstances, can be tackled by more mature teens and adults.
--What was your inspiration for Beyond Deep?
Wes: I've always been fascinated with the pop up company towns around a mine. The particularly God-like power the mining company holds over the town, and how once they leave only a corpse of a town is often left behind. Having family near and around Appalachia proper has given me insight into what that world does to a person. Paired with my own political predilections and mind, this was a perfect breeding ground for an adventure based around a mining town. Chris brought up the idea of a necromancer using zombies of deceased workers as a labor force paired with union busting and it really just worked.Chris: I have loved Science Fiction and Fantasy media since I was a kid, and I have always appreciated how within a fantastical story or world, writers could often tackle subjects in a way that people wouldn’t typically at the time. The chance to write an interesting adventure, shoved full of abnormal mysteries and gross creatures, but infused with ideas around worker exploitation and the corruption of power was too much to pass by.
--What is your inspiration for being writers, especially for ttrpgs?
Wes: My inspiration has always been a bit stifled most of my life as a result of using pre-made adventure paths, but in the past year it dawned on me, "I can truly just do this". I realized I never used an adventure path as written and that the more I looked, the more they were simply references from other works combined. So I sat down and thought about useful tropes, subverting non-useful ones, and truly just writing a fun adventure.
Chris: I spoke a little about my love of genre media above, and its inspiration in my life. I have also played and run tabletop roleplaying games for the better part of 25 years now, with a few breaks here and there. When I was younger I also wrote music and played in bands and toured for years. Writing and running games became a larger part of my creative life as I got older and playing live music became a smaller part. I had always written and ran my own adventures and I needed somewhere for all that creative energy to go. Also, playing and running tabletop rpgs is such a communal and creative experience, and I wanted to create something to be used and enjoyed by people in that space.
--During your development/play testing process, what would you consider was a happy and unexpected accident that is now part of the adventure?
Wes: My happiest moment was when it became evident that an entire town needed to be created to support the story. Otherwise, it was nothing more than a dungeon crawl with a bad guy at the end (not that there's anything wrong with that). This development really made the theme of the story stand out and have nuance.
Chris: I tend to find inspiration all around. I took my kids to the zoo and we went through this special exhibit that was all about deep sea creatures. My brain was firing on all cylinders. I was messaging Wes and sending him pictures and talking about how cool it would be to use some of these ideas in a project one day, and he said, “Oh, like for creatures that live deep underground? Like, for the adventure we are working on?” I would have missed it completely. After that, the deep mine creatures all had some level of inspiration from an extremely twisted version of a real life creature.
--For aspiring writers, what would be a point of advice you would give them?
Wes: I'll keep this poignant. Two things. Just do the dang thing. Write it down and sculpt it to your liking. Secondly, and most importantly, get an editor, or at least a second set of eyes.Chris: Read. Write. Show it to people. Repeat. Don’t be afraid to put something out into the world. And learn to be alright with the fact that what you are doing requires a skill set that you have to continually work at. Putting out something that isn’t perfect is better than never putting out anything at all. Keep growing, keep trying.
--What can we look forward to from Spooky Bell Games?
Wes: Regardless of the failure or success of future projects, you can be sure we have at least a dozen adventures that can fit multiple systems, and maybe even some systems of our own.
Chris: Like Wes said, we have lots of projects at various levels of development. You will definitely see at least a couple more things for the ttrpg world coming out in 2023, possibly including some original systems of our own.
About the Author
Daniel Yocom does geeky things at night because his day job wouldn't let him. This dates back to the 1960s through games, books, movies, and stranger things better shared in small groups. He's written hundreds of articles about these topics for his own blog, other websites, and magazines after extensive research along with short stories. His research includes attending conventions, sharing on panels and presentations, and road-tripping with his wife. Join him at guildmastergaming.com.