Ex Libris Mörk Borg

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death

“We want to encourage people to just go crazy and do their own thing.”

Johan Nohr, Free League Showcase Q&A, 26 September 2020

From 28 September 2020 through 28 February 2022, I curated Ex Libris Mörk Borg, an annotated directory of official, semi-official, and community-made content for everyone’s favorite blackened doom-metal album of an RPG.

It all started when John Power commissioned me to interview Johan Nohr for the inaugural issue of Wyrd Science. John mentioned in passing how impressed he was with the adventures published in Dissident Whispers.

At the time, I hadn’t seen any game content outside the core book. But Mörk Borg Cult: Feretory had already crowdfunded, and a few weeks prior in early September, the third-party license had launched. Mörk Borg was growing, but much of the content was scattered across itch.io, DTRPG, and social media. In a lot of cases, if someone didn’t see a particular release right when it dropped, the platform’s algorithms may have prevented them from ever seeing it.

So I decided to track it—all of it—and make a central directory of everything Mörk Borg.

It started out a little rocky. I initially held all the releases to the standard set by the core rulebook. The expectation that creators were going to—or able to, or even wanted to—emulate Nilsson and Nohr the way creators for other games and systems cleave to a specific brand’s style and presentation was, quite frankly, shortsighted and foolish. I very quickly changed my thinking and my approach.

At first, the amount of community content being released was relatively small. It was pretty manageable. However, I made the same fundamental mistake that Pelle and Johan had: initially and independently, we assumed there couldn’t possibly be that many people making content for this weird-ass game.

The third-party license was issued because MBC couldn’t keep up with the submissions they were getting. The license’s purpose was to provide a pressure-release valve that empowered creators put their content into circulation without having to wait on semi-official production and publication. It succeeded.

The trickle of releases quickly became a steady stream before mutating into a constant deluge punctuated by occasional seismic upheavals of pure, unadulterated doom. For the Fölk-Lore Jam and the 24 Hour Misery Jam, I spent entire weekends keeping pace with the community’s output. Events like these, alongside the otherwise steady third-party output, caused the corpus to explode.

ELMB started in this little post, but it quickly expanded to many, many static pages hosted here on Liber Ludorum. It all rapidly became incredibly cumbersome on the front and back ends.

A close friend of mine put me in touch with a database developer who was going to build something more efficient, but after several months of no progress, he dropped the project. I made passing mention of this in the LL newsletter, and within 24 hours, John Bannister, Matt McGlincy, Heckin Viv, and Benjamin Sherwood assembled themselves and began working on how, exactly, to build a better ELMB. Derek Gustafson also joined the team a bit later down the line and became one of our most vocal advocates.

Four months later, ELMB was reborn screaming in its current form. Originally, I had hoped to keep the directory here on LL, but it quickly became apparent that moving it to a different, custom-built infrastructure was the best solution to the previous iteration’s woes. Along the way, the team realized that, if we were going to build something for Mörk Borg content, we could make the solution viable for any other indie system or brand with a third-party license and the same inherent visibility problems. ELMB now became entwined with a new project: Ex Libris RPG, which would provide a centralized hub for cataloguing indie RPG content.

At this point, after nearly a year of curating ELMB and running the ELRPG crowdfunding campaign in August, the burnout was creeping in. On the first anniversary of the third-party license, lack of time and excessive fatigue caused me to stop writing annotations for each entry. At least I could keep a directory, I told myself, and half of me wanted to do so; the other half, though, knew that this was a job for someone with 110% enthusiasm for it like I’d had at the beginning.

I turned to Ian Long, Mörk Borg’s resident cannibal connoisseur. Ian had started making content shortly after the third-party license initially dropped, and he’d been seeking opportunities to get more involved with the community and provide feedback to creators. Handing ELMB curation over to him was a win-win; he’d be in a position to engage content and creators, and I’d be better able to focus on the larger ELRPG picture.

Creators consistently tell me that ELMB is their top referrer; it generates more traffic for them than any other source (even the platforms that host their products). In that sense, ELMB has succeeded. It has boosted third-party content’s visibility and accessibility to its consumer base, and it’s helped people get paid for their creative work. Mörk Borg inspired many people to create RPG content for the first time ever (myself included), and plenty of them have since gone on to launch successful gigs as indie designers and publishers.

I’d like to think ELMB has also contributed to the Mörk Borg community’s cohesiveness, collective support for one another, and overall fecundity. Maybe it has. Maybe that’s just my own special delusion of grandeur. The only way to know for sure would be to peak into an alternate timeline where ELMB doesn’t exist and then compare the results. The next best thing is to see if ELRPG can produce similar results with other games and systems.

What drives a person to a project like this? Clearly, too much enthusiasm and complete ignorance of where it will lead. I’m glad I had both, and I’m pleased to have inspired others—and to now provide a platform for their diligence and hard work.

I wish I had some bigger takeaway to end with, but the sad truth is that I don’t. Maybe, in the end, ELMB is just like the world of Mörk Borg, and there is no meaning. Maybe everything will one day blacken and burn. But when it does, we’ve got enough content to have one hell of a bonfire.

27 February 2022

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