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Monday 11 December 2023

The Other OSR: Psalm IV:I

As the world turns and dies and the prophecies of the Two-Headed Basilisk come true one after another, the coming apocalypse edges ever closer. On the last land in the Endless Sea there is no hope for those who have survived the pre-apocalyptic events to date, but for some, faith in the Two-Headed Basilisk and her prophecies can blind them to all else and for others it can lead them away from the prophecies of the Two-Headed Basilisk seeking solace and hope in other gods, false gods. In the family of one priest of one church, both of these things have happened. When her father’s devotion to the Two-Headed Basilisk blinded him to the love she sought, jealousy took root in the daughter and impregnated her, leading to the birth of a demon son. Aghast at the two-headed monstrosity and its wailing from mouth and the heresies whispered from the other, the father’s faith was broken and he cast both daughter and grandson into the earth under his church, where they fell under the influence of the vile-servant of They, the Seamstress. As the boy grew and wailed in the darkness, the Seamstress filled son and daughter with dark dreams until she became the Queen of the Darkest Chamber and he founded the Order of the Two-Headed Man. She wants her son to be worshipped as a god and he wants to take the prophecies of his demonic grandson to the people and the Order of the Two-Headed Man to supplant the Church of the Two-Headed Basilisk. Are their wishes one more heresy against the Church of the Two-Headed Basilisk or do they actually fulfil the prophecies of the Two-Headed Basilisk as was foretold?

This is the set-up for Psalm IV:I, a scenario for Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone designed by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell and published by Free League Publishing. Published by Storeywood following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Psalm IV:I is a short, vile and bloody scenario that interprets ‘Psalm IV:I’ of the Two-Headed Basilisk’s prophecies, enabling the Player Characters to explore its revelations and both its ramifications and those of their actions as events in and under the church of the Two-Headed Man play out. Thus, it is designed around a specific timed event in the pre-apocalypse of Mörk Borg, although the Player Characters—and even the players—will not be aware of this. Alternatively, Psalm IV:I can simply be used as a short encounter in the Game Master’s campaign, easily slotting into that or any one of the various hexcrawl adventures published for Mörk Borg as a singular encounter of its own.

Psalm IV:I includes several hooks to get the Player Characters involved, including a local priest—the Father—beginning to flay and crucify the local townspeople, the Church of the Two-Headed Basilisk hiring them to suppress the Father’s heresy, a priest escaped from the Order of the Two-Headed Man asking them for their help, and their hearing rumours of a Two-Headed Man promising to save them. It provides a detailed background and backstory to the situation at the single church dedicated to the Order of the Two-Headed Man, including a lengthy timeline. Motivations are given for the quartet of involved in the story—the Daughter/Queen of the Darkest Chamber, her son, her Father, and the Seamstress—so that it is possible to interact with them and even side with them depending upon their actions and attitudes. Ways are suggested how such interactions might play out as are the possible effects of the Player Characters’ choices.

As a place to explore Psalm IV:I describes three distinct areas. These consist of the Courtyard with the Father’s crucified victims and the blood-trailed church; the Undercroft, the cramped crypts which have been twisted into the service of worshipping the Queen of the Darkest Chamber even as the Seamstress lurks, and ‘The Darkest Chambers’, where no light can reach or shine, and the Son wails and whispers piteously… The maps to each location are clear and Psalm IV:I adheres to the Mörk Borg format of keying maps and locations and their descriptions on the same page.

Psalm IV:I only introduces the one monster, the ‘Undead Courtier’, drawing primarily upon those in the Mörk Borg rule book. It does provide a guide for handling fear in the Undercroft, which includes exploiting the possible phobias of the Player Characters, which can be accrued either during character creation or through the result of trauma during play. There is also the means detailed to overcome the phobia as well. These phobia rules are optional though.

Physically, Psalm IV:I is a small book. It is mostly done in black with its artwork almost scratched into the pages in white or crayon-like colours. The effect is weird and creepy and adds to the gloom and sense of darkness that pervades the whole book.

Psalm IV:I is a solid scenario for Mörk Borg. The Game Master will need to make sure that she grasps the motivations of the four NPCs in the scenario, but otherwise Psalm IV:I is easy to add to a campaign, drop into a hexcrawl, or run as a one-shot, serving up a helping of spurned love and double heresy.

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