Funeral Rites

The Capricious Gifts Found in Portents of a Dying God

This feature is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #176. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


This series of articles is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Exalted Funeral. While Exalted Funeral puts us in touch with our subjects, they have no input or approval in the final story.

A black-and-white photo of an gothic castle turret in ruins. "Funeral Rites presented by Exalted Funeral" is inscribe on top of the image in a rockin' gold font.

There is something satisfying about how sets of things sit on a shelf. Whether it’s a series of books with their spines and trims all uniformly sized, your set of Kubrick DVD’s from 2002 that all have the same white spine (except for, infuriatingly, Paths of Glory),  the aesthetics of a product’s package almost always needs to be in consideration when considering how to sell something. So Matt Johnson’s choice for his new Omen Sacrifice Deck for MÖRK BORG, The Portents of a Dying God, to sit perfectly next to his previous deck, Portents of the Degloved Hand (see more on that here), make it an ideal pairing for any shelf, and many games.

Specifically designed to sit next to other MÖRK BORG zines and books, Portents of a Dying God has several components. It’s clear that when Johnson told me “I really love working on packaging and appreciate packaging that has nesting components,” he is speaking from the heart. From the artwork to the boxes, the whole project looks phenomenal. The Omen cards are clearly the most critical element, and yet they have taken on a more subtle style. Johnson said that in this set, “I deliberately stayed away from using as much color as with Degloved,” but also “leaned into creating images at are almost stencil-like – something that felt more iconic in nature.” The results are striking. Whether it’s the black and white skeleton on the card’s back with a pink starburst blasting from its eye socket, or black raven, hovering across the yellow folder, the entire package feels both in tune with MÖRK BORG’s overarching aesthetic, but also building its own lore and mythos.

A giant hard-shelled insect trudges on, a tortured-looking man strapped to its back.

And just so you don’t think this is a reprint of The Degloved Hand, Johnson tried to vary the way that players interact with the cards in the newest set. As opposed to activating the “Portents when a PC chooses on their turn,” in Dying God, “there’s a decent chance the Portent won’t happen at all or won’t be fully implemented.” Rather than rolling the d4 when the Omen is sacrificed to figure out what deck to choose from, in Dying God, the card is drawn from a single deck, and then the d2 or d4 is rolled when they choose to use it. To sum it up, Johnson says “with Dying God, it’s less likely to be a ‘play with fire and get burned’ proposition (as in Degloved Hand) and more of a ‘hope it works out for you when you really need it’ scenario. Really leaning into the bleakness of recurring disappointment.”

He continues: “I wanted to explore this idea that the act of using a Portent obtained by sacrificing an Omen could be like a prayer or act of supplication with the soul-crushing reality that sometimes the answer from the gods is ‘no.’” Soul-crushing realities are something that MÖRK BORG tends to revel in, so it’s nice to see that Johnson’s new deck offers the same type of disastrous opportunities. For instance, you draw the Devil-Thorned Bird, and perhaps you gain two or three hit points, or perhaps you are broken or just plain die instantly. Is the risk worth the reward? Only the cards and the dice can tell you that.

Speaking of dice, included in this devastating set are a pair specially designed to match the aesthetics of the rest of the package. These elongated d4 feature thorns and look especially gnarly, almost like one of the weapons you might get your face smashed in with during the game. Johnson packaged these up along with the cards because “when you’re putting the level of detail into something like this, it just makes sense to make that extra effort. Make it special for the people who want it.” And this box does feel special, much like getting that next record that you’ve really had your eye on, or that newest Funko on my shelf, Jim Halpert, who stares, unblinkingly down at me, beckoning me to join him and Pam in the next plane, where nothingness envelopes your very soul and sears itself into your veins for eternity. 

A demonic frog with pink tufted eyes and veiny throat sac sits with its long, sharp tongue lolling from its mouth.

With something as visually sumptuous as Portents of a Dying God, a scenario crafted to match the dice and the cards feels particularly appropriate, and lucky for us one is also included in the box: “The Sarkash Forest.” Of course, as is the case with all things MÖRK BORG, “The Sarkash Forest” is designed to kill you, whether by mythical monsters or simply starving to death. As the characters move through random encounters in the early open world part of the adventure, they are slowly compelled to become acolytes to this dying god, or perhaps even the god, Trå Trollkarl himself. Johnson developed a solid chunk of lore to help “claw out a deeper mysterious history of the MÖRK BORG setting. There’s already quite a bit of content around the idea of there being a multitude of dead gods, including but not limited to the character class Dead God’s Prophet. Because the mystery of being vague about this has intentional value – it allows for a referee to concoct their own spin, that’s precisely what I used as a jumping off point. This is an opportunity to uncover a mystery with at least a little more detail.”

But there is also even more depth to the one-shot than just adding to MÖRK BORG. Johnson said that the adventure harkens to a much older TTRPG, Star Frontiers. Now for all of you who haven’t picked up Stu’s book yet, Star Frontiers was a space opera RPG released by TSR in 1982. Anticipating aspects of the Mass Effect videogames two to three decades later, Star Frontiers features space federations, a percentile mechanic system, and “intelligent worm things that occasionally ride dinosaurs.” Although TSR scuttled it not too long after its release, it was long enough to stick around in Johnson’s mind and impact his work. “The Sarkash Forest” contains an homage to Sundown on Starmist, Johnson’s “all-time favorite Star Frontiers module.” His new one-shot “does the same thing for MÖRK BORG that it did for Star Frontiers: introducing the base mechanics for an entire party to coordinate running a large contraption.” Without getting too into the history of RPGs, I think that even some of these less successful products can continue to help us better understand and connect with some of the innovative work happening today.

Wicked-looking dice, sharp points rising from two of the faces, are rendered in a bold black and yellow color scheme.

It’s clear from Portents of a Dying God that Matt Johnson cares about this work. The amount of detail put into the mechanics, the aesthetics and how it gels with the history of both MÖRK BORG and the history of RPGs pays off in this humble reviewer’s opinion. This looks like it will make a not only great addition to both the growing landscape of MÖRK BORG third-party materials, but a great addition to your shelf. Or, at least, maybe it can distract me from the pitch-black eyes, begging me to join them in the eternal nothingness, etching their call in the back of my dreams like a mania, calling… calling… 

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Find Portents of a Dying God on Exalted Funeral here.


Noah Springer is a writer and editor based in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @noahjspringer.


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