Hello! Today we are doing something a little different. Today, we will be looking at a TTRPG supplement that is on Kickstarter's most recent Zinequest. That part is not new. No, rather the new bit is that today is Hessan's County first official interview!
Please note before we continue on. This interview was requested by the creators I am about to introduce and does promote their zine. However, I have not asked or been offered any compensation for this post. Any views or options expressed by the zine creators during the interview are their own thoughts and words relayed without modification.
The game we will be looking at is Beyond Deep. Created by Wes Ascolese & C. J. Koger under the name Spooky Bell Games and with amazing art by P. Cassa, this is a +80 page setting and adventure guide created for use with the Mörk Borg TTRPG. Contained within are the various resources that you would need to use this as a source of adventure inspiration or a stand-alone campaign with still more to be added as stretch goals are reached.T
The company town of Bereleah is lorded over by the bosses of Thunder Trove Mining. As if
toiling underground for company script far from civilization wasn't bad enough, horrors abound both around and below. This is no ordinary mine, after all. Psalm 5:5 recorded that:
The sky shall weep fire and a great stone shall plummet as a city fallen from heaven. Its gift is Death and madness is its herald.
A great stone you are indeed mining. It certainly continues to gift death and grief upon its unfortunate victims. Is there anything you can do about it? Let's here some more from our creators and find out!
Hessan: If you don’t mind me asking, what brought Spooky Bell Games together?
Wes: Earlier this year I had some thoughts for an adventure rolling around in my head. Originally I was going to write it myself, use some creative commons stuff, and print it out at home. Really emulating the zine experience from the 70s and 80s and speaking to my passion for book binding as is. As I was writing it I bounced some ideas off Chris and he mentioned a cool idea about a Necromancer and I politely told him I was stealing it. As the writing progressed I realized that Chris' idea and experience would be a boon to the project. I asked him if he wanted to collaborate and then asked him if he had a company name he liked. The rest is history.
Chris: I published a mini-rpg at https://criticalmist.itch.io earlier this year, and really wanted to do a physical game next. I was excited to team up with Wes to not only bring this project to life, but to start a working relationship to go along with our friendship. Things just fell in place step by step and here we are, with many things to come in the future.
Hessan: Why Mörk Borg? With so many other Mörk Borg supplements out there, what do you feel makes Beyond Deep stand out from the crowd?
Wes: Mork Borg suits the downtrodden feel I wanted for the story. It emulates the crushing weight of the real world with its over-the-top apocalypse that has people still attempting to live their lives. Most Mork Borg modules I have run across (I own probably a good dozen) tend to follow the formula of various adventure trope, which is fine and needed. I wanted Beyond Deep to express some social hardship aspects of the real world. Games in general can help contextualize hard topics while creating a buffer for hard emotions.
Chris: I love the Mörk Borg system and setting, and Free League offers a super generous license to their third party creators. When we started to really dig into what we wanted to do with Beyond Deep, it seemed like a great fit. Not only could we make gross creatures and bizarre items, but we could tap into a dark setting in the middle of an actual apocalypse, and use that to push ideas we wanted to talk about, like worker exploitation, to the extreme.
Hessan: What inspired the mining company town aspect of Beyond Deep’s setting? For example, is there a personal/family connection to mining, the iconic connection to corporate exploitation & conflict, or because it fits into Psalm 5:5?
Wes: So having family in and around Appalachia inspired me to pick up and listen to a horror anthology podcast by the name of Old Gods of Appalachia. Now originally I was afraid that my work would be too derivative of their work and wouldn't pass muster. We have done some unique things, but more importantly we have presented a seemingly American experience in a fantasy world based on medieval Europe. As someone who has worked in America, worker exploitation is still alive and well, but when looking back one hundred years or so it's fascinating to see how far we've come and the changes that came about from literal bloodshed.
Chris: My dad didn't work coal, but he was a blue collar man that worked oil fields from a young age until he retired at almost 60 years old, starting off as a roughneck. The history of company towns, the union wars, and that entire part of US history also fascinates me. There is so much being talked about today around the edges of workers rights and unions, but I feel like we have lost so much of our history and awareness on the subject. Being able to tie in some of those ideas, with part of the existing lore of Mörk Borg was exciting.
Hessan: If you have not already touched on it, what do you feel were the biggest media, history, or gaming inspirations for Beyond Deep while you were writing it?
Wes: Beyond Old Gods of Appalachia, mainly the horrific parts of American history that are almost never brought up in the education system of today.
Chris: There are a number of cool Mork Borg zines and one pagers, like Bloat, Devil’s Tomb, Sepulchre of the Swamp Witch, Psalm IV:I that I checked out for style and feel. I also dug into more history around the layouts of mines and mining towns, and the union wars.
Hessan: Is there a monster or opposition NPC that you are really proud of that you would like to show off?
Wes: Avery is the NPC that came out of nowhere and made the biggest impact. They spawned a location, several sets of npc interactions, a countdown to drive the players forward, and a clear moral choice for the players to stand by.
Chris: I really like so many. I’ll talk about the Ore Devil.
This parasite looks like a huge, spiked silverfish with an oozing maw. It lives in large numbers in the darker levels of the mines. Ore devils usually sneak on to larger animals and excrete numbing chemicals that give a slight sense of euphoria before biting and latching on to a host. Once latched on, an Ore Devil will send tentacle-like tendrils up and down veins and arteries of its host to anchor itself. Once anchored, the Ore Devil does intense damage to the host when removed. Over time the Ore Devil’s skin melds with the host's skin and their blood vessels begin to combine, as the Ore Devil morphs into a large growth on the host.
Imagine one of these little guys crawling under your shirt and latching on. You feel a little numbness and a sense of relaxation while it melts into your skin and latches on permanently to feed off your body.
Hessan: Not to count the chickens before they hatch, but do you have any ideas on where Spooky Bell Games or you each might go next? More Mörk Borg or maybe some materials for the D6 Danger System?
Wes: My next idea lies in addressing bodily autonomy (perhaps spurred on my recent Supreme Court rulings). This could fit into Mork Borg but I thinking might fit in a more science fiction oriented setting. That being said I'm interested in anything that has an OGL and am particularly fascinated with the Cypher System announcement last month.
Chris: I have three projects lined up for next year, and Wes and I are starting to discuss putting together a smaller standalone rpg for later this year, with sales that would benefit a charity. My next projects include 3rd party material for existing games, and new self-contained systems.
Hessan: Bonus Question! Since Mörk Borg was inspired so much by black metal and the like, what song do you feel best describes the setting or feel of Beyond Deep?
Metal -> March of the Lor by The Sword
Other -> Sleeping on the Black Top by Colter Wall
Chris: This is literally the worst kind of question for me, because I hate having favorites, and I love too much music. I’ll say something that I listened to while I worked on this, that is heavy and can fit the Mörk Borg feel is A Tear in the Fabric of Life, by Knocked Loose, particularly the last track Permanent. The album has an animated film that goes along with it as well that is really interesting.
Thank you Wes and Chris for joining me for this interview! If it has peaked your interest in their project, you can find their Kickstarter for Beyond Deep here. It will be live until August 31 2022 11:00 AM UTC, so you will have some time to consider your choice, but don't dawdle too long!