Cy_Borg will provide the cyberpunk apocalypse our society truly deserves
Mörk Borg, the award-winning rules-light role-playing game, is getting a high-concept spinoff. Titled Cy_Borg, the 160-page book is written by Christian Sahlén, with art by franchise illustrator Johan Nohr, and in partnership with the Stockholm Kartell. Described by Free League Publishing as a “deck-hacking, brick-throwing upheaval of a game,” it will be crowdfunded on Kickstarter beginning Nov. 13.
Polygon sat down with the creatives behind it for an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at what promises to be one of the biggest tabletop releases of 2022.
To understand Cy_Borg, you first need to get your head around Mörk Borg and how it’s different from other tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) like Dungeons & Dragons. Designed by Pelle Nilsson, the 80-page hardcover book is part of the Old School Renaissance, also known as OSR. It’s a movement among TTRPG creators to streamline the role-play experience, paring it down to its most basic elements. Flipping through the book, you find lots of randomized tables used for telling stories on the fly. There are fewer stats, and smaller stat blocks. Sessions are nasty, brutish, and short.
Nilsson tells Polygon that the goal of OSR isn’t to fetishize the work of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, and the other luminaries who helped create TTRPGs. Instead, the goal is to make these kinds of games more approachable.
“I think [the fifth edition of D&D] made it simpler,” Nilsson said, “and that was the impression that I got when I read it first. But it’s still very complex as you climb the levels. I think by level 10 or something it becomes too much for me, at least, to keep track of everything.”
“I did run a lot of Pathfinder and [third edition D&D],” added Sahlén, “and just the amount of time I had to spend learning monsters stat blocks. Once the characters got up to level 12, or something, it just took me hours.”
The end result, the pair explained, is that Mörk Borg is a game about rulings, not rules.
“Not everything has to be written down in the book,” Sahlén continued. “Just figure it out as you go along. You have the basic core concept: This is how you hit someone with a sword, and this is how you avoid falling into a death trap of some sort. But everything else […] just make it up. Roll something that feels right, right now.”
That’s not to say that Mörk Borg is missing context or clarity. But what it lacks in fluff it makes up for with stunning art and graphic design. Every corner of the slim, 80-page manual is crammed with visual spectacle, with treatments that range from 16th-century wood carvings to pen-and-ink demons that look like Satan’s own Rorschach test.
But the tone of the game is also what makes it unique. It’s not a post-apocalyptic game. Instead, the apocalypse is happening all around you. Your characters, pulled from the dregs of society, are guaranteed to meet a violent end.
“Your character is not having a happy life,” Sahlén said, “and they’re not the big heroes, because when the campaign ends, the world ends, and you burn the book. And that’s it.” Players shouldn’t expect apotheosis, but if they’re lucky they’ll get some chuckles and a little catharsis out of the ordeal.
Cy_Borg was inspired by Mörk Borg, but also by Sahlén’s own day job working in IT and risk compliance. Every day he grapples with the front-line realities of living in a late-capitalist digital dystopia. His vision is for a game that more accurately reflects the doomsday scenarios of where we’re heading as a society than, say, Cybepunk 2077 did.
Cy_Borg started out as one part pun and two parts shitpost. It resolved itself out of Sahlén’s desire to run a Cyberpunk 2020-style game, to celebrate the release of R. Talsorian Games’ seminal TTRPG with a modern, rules-light system instead of its own revamped new edition, Cyberpunk Red. But Sahlén couldn’t find a system that was light enough to meet his needs, so he rolled his own. One thing led to another, and now he and Nohr are off to the races.
If D&D traditionally starts in a tavern, then Nohr says Mörk Borg is more likely to start in the gutter with characters hung-over and bloodied from the debauchery of the night before. Cy_Borg, on the other hand, might start in a seedy dive bar. One thing is certain: Your characters will begin the game amid utter financial ruin.
“Maybe [they’ve stumbled into] a weird, darknet forum,” Nohr said, “and a mysterious avatar comes with a data package for them. The characters will all start with massive debt that they have to clear. You have this heavy economical burden on you that you have to get rid of, and so you have a real incentive to go out there and try to do something.”
“That means that you also have people that may ask you for favors,” Sahlén said, “because you already owe them a lot of money. So, we’re gonna raise the interest here if you don’t do a favor for us. Or do this and we write off part of the debt.”
What happens next is largely up to the game master and the players at the table. The Cy_Borg manual, such as it is, will include many more tables than Mörk Borg did. The art will also be just as lavish and strange, but hewing more to glitched stock and digital graphics.
“I think the punk part is extremely vital in this game, and very important,” Nohr said. “This game is about rebellion and upheaval, breaking the systems that are. […] There’s a fury in the art style, I think, and in the writing as well. […] You can tell in the text that the narrator in this game really hates this place, and that’s very important.”
You can sign up to follow the Cy_Borg campaign today on Kickstarter.
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