Vaesen is a new Nordic Horror Roleplaying Game by the Swedish publisher Fria Ligan. The uses the same game mechanics as Tales from the Loop, Forbidden Lands and many other games by Fria Ligan and the art is by the great Johan Egerkrans.
It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write and review games and what a better way to get back on my feet running than looking at Fria Ligan’s Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying. Fria Ligan is fast huge in roleplaying games. Their catalog spans many super-successful and great games, such as Tales from the Loop, Forbidden Lands, Symbaroum, The One Ring and Alien. Many of their games use the same game system, the Year Zero Engine, which, as far as I know, was designed by Thomas Härenstram.
Vaesen takes place in the Mythic North – or the northernmost part of Europe in the 19th century. The setting however is vastly different from what we know today, since there are mythological creatures about and the myths are real. This is a setting where industrialization meets the raw untamed wilderness, where a new civilization is dawning in the cities but the countryside still holds fast to their old ways. For the people there, the dark is all too real and they know to fear it.
The Year Zero engine is a game system where you build dice pools using D6. The dice pool can be affected by your attributes, skills, equipment and other circumstantial bonuses. To achieve a success you must roll at least one 6 on a single die. In a way, this is similar to other dice pool games, such as the Storyteller system. Compared to D&D and similar games, the Year Zero engine is relatively rules light and easy to learn.
Nordic Horror and Investigation
I have to admit, I like the game by Fria Ligan when roleplaying and investigation is at the fore. Game system that use dice pools fit perfectly, in my opinion, to such games, since they tend to be not as fast paced or combat reliant as games in other genres, especially fantasy. For veterans, building the pools doesn’t take too long, but for beginners, still learning the ropes and reading the character sheet, it might take a bit longer. Therefore, when using the Year Zero Engine, I’ve found that playing Tales from the Loop more rewarding than Forbidden Lands (more on that below).
In Vaesen you take on the role of an investigator that has the Sight and is a part of the Society. People with the Sight are able to see vaesen, the mythical creatures of the North (trolls, ghosts, lindwurms and so on), even when they are trying to stay hidden. The Society is a group of people that has the Sight and are oathbound to protect humanity fro vaesen. The game is set in the Swedish city Upsala, where the Society was abandoned a decade before the player characters arrive. The player characters have access to a safe house, which they can explore and modify as the game progresses, and their mission is to solve mysteries that involve the vaesen.
To emphasize the horrific nature of vaesen, a system for Fear is a huge part of the game. This addition is a superb one and I think that I will introduce in my Tales from the Loop/Things from the Flood games.
Combat and Action
After playing Forbidden Lands quite much, I’ve found that as a combat system Year Zero engine is not a detailed as I would like. Of course, this is all a matter of perspective, but in games that rely heavily on combat, I like to have more options. In a game, as you do in many fantasy games, where combat is often the solution to many problems posed by the narrative, I would like to have more options, talents and skills, that can affect the outcome of rolls, positions of player characters etc. Of course, when you are building a rules-light game, you have to sacrifice something, and I respect that.
In Vaesen, combat and action is a certainly a part of the game. However, I believe that the setup of Year Zero engine fits more for this kind of game, i.e. investigative horror game where combat might take place. The skills are well laid-out and detailed, and I really like some of the differences in what you can do with extra successes, e.g. if you roll an extra success in Ranged Combat you can exchange initiative cards with your enemy (which is similar to the +2 bonus to initiative in Mutant: Year Zero RPG). Some of these I hope to incorporate to my Forbidden Lands game, which I believe truly shows the strength and versatility of the Year Zero engine.
Character Creation and the Castle
The character creation process is simple and easy to follow. As with other Fria Ligan games, noting down your character’s personality, dark secret, motivation and other roleplaying/narrative aspects is just as important as dividing attribute or skills points. Your age determines how many points you have to divide into either attributes or skills.
There are many interesting archetypes to choose from. You can be a doctor, academic, priest or an occultist, just to name a few. Most of these I really like, but I have to admit I will be hard pressed to see how a vagabond could fit into a group of vaesen hunters.
If you are playing a campaign, you also gain access to a safe house/headquarters, in Upsala this is Castle Gyllencreutz which was the Society’s headquarters. The player characters can explore the castle and make it their own, which adds a great layer to the game.
Characters receive experience points which they can use to further build their character. They also gain development points for the headquarters, which they can use to buy upgrades to it, making it serve its purpose even better.
Vaesen – the Egerkrans effect
Johan Egerkrans is a superb artist. I have a few of his books (The Undead and the Norse Gods) and I really like them. Vaesen roleplaying game is directly linked to one of his books, which has the same name, Vaesen. The art and the setup of the book is really nice, making the book great to both browse and read through.
The book contains information about 20 vaesen and a nice little module called The Dance of Dreams, which is a great start to your adventures in the Mythic North.
One thing I want to mention, and it applies to most of the games by Fria Ligan, is the text. In most cases is the text simple and easy to read. I really like this editorial approach, quality over quantity. By keeping the text and game simple and slim, it is easier to read and understand.
Vaesen is a great game, yet another one for Fria Ligan. The game mechanics are easy to understand and the setting is really interesting (though I admit feeling quite betrayed by the fact the the Swedish designers left out Iceland from the Mythic North). The art is stunning and overall the book is beautiful.