It is a late summer evening in 1988 and I’m seven. I’m lying on a sofa at my grandparents’ house in a small town in northern Iceland and I’ve been reading non-stop for hours in a book I just received. I can’t stop. Every page is more and more exciting and fills my mind with ideas, even though it’s not in my native language and I have trouble with a lot of the new and complicated terms in the book.

What exciting thriller is this?

It’s a battered and heavily used copy of the AD&D 1e player’s handbook and I’m excited at all the possibilities and I just want to play, to try it right now.

Almost 30 years later, I’ve thumbed through countless other RPG books, new and old and from a bunch of different systems. I’ve often gotten excited and curious about the contents of these books and sometimes I want to try out their possibilities as soon as possible and try to gather some friends that might also want to try something new. But it’s never been quite the same feeling of wonder.

It’s the beginning of February 2018, it’s the high point of the Icelandic winter and I’m days away from my 37th birthday. And that feeling has returned…

I’m reading through the upcoming Forbidden Lands from Fria Ligan (Free League) and on almost every page I find something new that excites me more and more and more.

And I want to share why.

forbidden lands, Forbidden Lands First Impressions: Character Creation, Yawning Portal

The Basics

It’s no secret that we here at Yawning Portal are shameless fanboys of Fria Ligan. We have on several occasions raved at their work (and the flourishing scene of the Nordic countries). You can look at some of our coverage of Coriolis and Tales from the Loop.

It all started with Mutant Year Zero, a post-apocalyptic look at exploration in a wasteland with a simple but deep set of rules. To put it in as simple terms as possible, it’s a fairly simple system D6 dice pool system. You have attributes, add your skill points and that’s basically what you roll for success. Sixes are good, ones are not.

Coriolis and Tales from the Loop are built from this solid base. So is Forbidden Lands. But all have their own twists on the formula that makes them unique, aside from the vast differences of the gaming worlds.

Before getting further, it is very important to note that we are looking through the alpha version of Forbidden Lands. It isn’t ready yet and there will be some changes from the version we’re looking at. It should also be noted that we don’t have access to all that will be included once released so we may miss some of the finer points – but the important elements have taken shape.

The, big obvious difference in Forbidden Lands from a purely mechanical standpoint is the addition of other dice. For a full set, you’d want several D6 plus a D4, D8, D10 and D12. Because of the addition of magic and magic items, the higher valued dice will represent escalating levels of success on a high roll. For example a roll of 12 on a D12 is equivalent to four successes.

You want to be an adventurer, kid?

It’s always been my experience that the best way to quickly pick up the inner workings of a system, whether you are a player or a GM, is to sit down and create a bunch of characters.

Just reading through the chapters relevant for character creation makes it clear how this system is dripping with old-school flavours, and the good ones at that. This is a system where interpretation is far more important than the letter of the law and to put it mildly, I love that. This was the first thing that attracted me.

In Forbidden Lands, creating a character is a twelve stage process. Half of it is the mechanical aspect – assigning points and making adjustments according to your choices. The rest takes you far deeper into the character and is where the real fun begins.

You start by choosing your kin, or race. There are seven possibilities – human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, halfling, orc or wolfkin. All of these are fairly familiar apart from the wolfkin but the name says it all, a race of nomadic wolf people that are used to roughing it in the wild. Orcs are generally hated and feared in the world of the Forbidden Lands, so choosing one should be discussed with the group.

Then you choose your profession, which is effectively your class. There are eight possibilities – druid, fighter, hunter, minstrel, peddler, rider, rogue and sorcerer. Most of these sound familiar or seem fairly obvious except perhaps the peddler. If you want to play a smooth talking swindler or someone that always seems to be carrying just what you need, than the peddler is for you. It may not seem that most exciting profession, but it’s actually among my favourites.

forbidden lands, Forbidden Lands First Impressions: Character Creation, Yawning Portal

Old don’t mean useless

Next up is choosing your age. There is a tendency in RPG’s to either reward youth or ignore age while often punishing you for wanting to play an older character.

Not so in the Forbidden Lands and this was the second thing that really impressed me. You can choose between being young, adult or old and each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. A younger character has more attribute points, but less skill points while an old one is the reverse. An older character has also picked up more talents than a younger one. This is something I feel is not only a good representation of how you get less fit with age but learn more, but also rewards you for making a more interesting choice, since no age category comes out on top. Do you want to be the grizzled old warrior who has lost a step, but knows a trick or two or the young warrior in his physical peak but not experienced in tactics? You might think that playing an adult is then the best of both worlds, but it really isn’t, it’s just a matter of choice.

Since you’ve chosen your age, now you have all you need to assign points.

First you assign attribute points to one of your four attributes. There is a limit to how many (and few) points you can assign to each, but your kin and profession raise the limit of their relevant attributes. Should they both be the same, than you can even raise it by two.

Then you assign your skill points. There are sixteen skills total, four each tied to an attribute. Each profession has five relevant skills. You can assign your points to any skill, but only a single point unless they are profession skills. Later on when you start gaining experience, you can assign points however you will.

You’re quite handy with that sword…

Now it’s time to choose your talents. You start with 3-5 talent slots, one from your kin, one chosen from your list of profession talents and one or more general talents. Most talents are effectively your specialisations, passive abilities that make you stronger in a chosen field. However, kin and profession talents are more powerful and can make a huge difference in a tight spot but cannot be used at will. You can sacrifice a general talent slot to start with an advanced level of another talent. A notable exception from the other talents are the talents for the spellcasting professions – druids and sorcerers. Their talents grant access to magic, although you need to find a teacher to learn new spells.

You also get some starting gear dependent on your profession and that’s where I spotted the next thing that I think is so brilliant that I’m seriously considering stealing it for all other games hereon. Forbidden Lands has a resource mechanic that means you can easily track food, water, ammunition etc. with a minimum of fuss but still must be aware of your supplies.

You don’t get excessive gear, but more than enough and you don’t start off weak.

forbidden lands, Forbidden Lands First Impressions: Character Creation, Yawning Portal

Now the real fun begins

The next three steps of character creation further convinced me that I would want to visit the Forbidden Lands. Each character must select a pride, a dark secret and define relationships with other party members. All can and will affect how much XP you earn.

Pride represents some ability or knowledge your character is proud of. You can occasionally ask to activate your pride, provided it is relevant to the action. If you do, you get a massive boost to your roll but if it fails, so does your pride and you must choose a new one – once you have recovered from the shock of failure.

Dark Secret is some dark secret that only you and the GM know of, unless it comes into play and once that happens, you earn XP.

Finally, your relationships are important not only for roleplaying, but can be used to advance the story and gain XP.

And then there came the eureka moment

The moment where I finally and completely fell in love with the Forbidden Lands came when I looked at the experience table. It is completely and utterly focused on two things – roleplaying and exploration. You earn XP for doing things like travelling, finding adventure sites and treasure and when your pride or dark secrets come into play. You do get XP for combat, but you don’t get XP for each monster killed but simply for having taken part in a winning fight. Also, the distribution of XP is discussed by the group and the GM, not simply handed down as it generally is.

So, you’ve got your XP after a tough ol’ gaming session. Now you can use it to advance or learn new skills and talents. It’s quite easy to advance your character but you won’t be a superhero any time soon. You’re in for the long haul and there’s a big world out there…

If you’re not salivating yet, just wait…

Right, we’ve gone through the character creation process. Next up we’ll look at what happens when the action starts – combat, magic and exploration.