Fria ligan or the Free League is a Swedish publishing house, that has released games like Tales from the Loop and Coriolis to name but a few. The fantasy game Forbidden Lands was successfully Kickstarted last year.

Swedish roleplaying games have experienced enormous success recently. Games like Trudvang Chronicles, Symbaroum and Kult are all games that have gotten a lot of attention from roleplayers all around the globe. Sweden seems to be a sort of hot spot at the moment, with an established and active roleplaying community but first and foremost, very creative developers.

Fria Ligan was founded in 2011 and has since been one of the most interesting RPG developers in Sweden. It has produced games like Mutant: Year Zero and Coriolis, not to mention the awesome Tales from the Loop. Fria Ligan has also published novels and books, most of which are related to some of the many great Swedish RPG’s. In order to get a better understanding of Fria Ligan’s success I reached out to them and got hold of Tomas Härenstam, one of Fria Ligan‘s developers.

On Swedish roleplaying games’ success

Despite the fact that Sweden is a relatively small nation,  with about 10 million inhabitants, Sweden has managed to gain a lot of attention for developing and releasing great roleplaying games. If you compare Sweden’s success to its neighbours, Finland, Denmark and Norway, Sweden really stands out. Do you have a good explanation for this? Why are Swedish roleplaying games so successful?

Sweden has a very strong RPG tradition, dating back to the early 80’s. Back then, a company called Äventyrsspel (Adventure Games) released the two RPGs “Drakar och Demoner” and “Mutant,” which could be found in most homes.

In the late 90’s, the market for tabletop RPGs dwindled, but they never went away, and in the last decade there has been a strong resurgence of Swedish RPGs. The recent wave of international releases of Swedish RPGs actually started with our Mutant: Year Zero (2014), so I would actually say that the Free League led the charge.

Tradition sure plays a huge role but it’s also evident that the roleplaying community in Sweden is not only active but very creative. You also seem to have found a magical formula to great Kickstarter campaigns. Is local success critical to making it big on Kickstarter?

Good question. In my mind, three things are key to a successful Kickstarter.

  1. You need to have a fanbase already there. Our first international release (Mutant: Year Zero) was not Kickstarted – the first international RPG Kickstarter that we did was Mutant: Genlab Alpha in 2016.
  2. You need to be really active and communicate with the community before, during and after the Kickstarter.
  3. Don’t promise too much. It’s easy to get carried away by a successful Kickstarter and add lots of stretch goals that haven’t been fully thought through. We learned that the hard way.

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Mutant: Year Zero

Mutant: Year Zero is a post-apocalyptic RPG that has been well received. It was chosen game of the year in 2014 by Fenix Magazine. In Mutant: Year Zero the players take on the roles of heavily mutated humans living in the Ark, a small and isolated settlement. The characters need to find a way to survive in a hostile environment, whether it is in the Ark itself or out in the wasteland, called The Zone.

Developing a system for a game like this must be challenging. Still, the system is strong and so good that you have adapted it to your other games as well. For how long did you develop the system? Could you tell us a bit more about the process of creating a system usable for such diverse settings?

Sure! This system was originally developed for Mutant: Year Zero, the first Swedish edition was released in the spring of 2014. I had tinkered with this system for a few years. Earlier game systems that I had designed (for the Swedish Svavelvinter and Morwhayle RPG’s) were heavily influenced by the Forge movement of indie RPG’s. For Mutant: Year Zero, the goal was to make a system that was more straight-forward and easier to grasp for traditional players, but still retained the great support for the theme that indie systems do so well.

I wanted the best of both worlds – a system that is dirt-simple on the surface, but has a depth “under the hood” that supports the core themes of the game. For Coriolis and Tales from the Loop, we needed to modify the system quite a bit, as those games have different themes than Mutant: Year Zero. Coriolis added the prayer function to the system, while Tales has a scaled-down system focused on mystery-solving and relationships rather than combat and survival. In the upcoming Forbidden Lands, the rules system is further developed to include magic as well as a deeper system for melee combat, but theme-wise it’s quite close to Mutant: Year Zero.

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Coriolis: The Third Horizon

A few months ago, I was lucky to get my hands on Coriolis: The Third Horizon. Coriolis brings together the atmosphere of the Arabian fables One Thousand and One Nights and space operas, like Star Wars. You take on the role of an interstellar traveller, and travel between some of the over thirty systems that make up the Third Horizon. You will be set in a world where technology and the spiritual clash. In all, this is a superb game for anyone who likes Star Wars or the Fading Suns rpg.

You Kickstarted this game and it was very successful. Coriolis: The Third Horison is however based on an older game, right? Could you tell us a bit about the older version of Coriolis and what changed when you got the publishing rights?

Yes, the original version of Coriolis was published back in 2008 by Järnringen, a previous version of the company that now publishes Symbaroum. The first edition of Coriolis had great art and a great setting, but it was not really fleshed out. Free League – which is named after a faction in Coriolis – was actually started by a group of people writing fan modules for Coriolis, as we felt that the world needed to be fleshed out for the game to fully playable.

The original Järnringen went out of business at 2011, and Free League took over the license and published three modules for the original version of Coriolis. In 2016, we launched our new Swedish edition of the game, and the international edition was launched early last year. The new edition of the game retains the awesome setting, but expands on it a lot – it’s a much thicker book! Also, the rules system was completely replaced.

I’ve also noticed that you publish online leaflets or short adventures for Coriolis (see here), something I really like, since not all players like to go through campaigns that take months or even years to complete. Can we expect seeing the same for Tales from the Loop or the upcoming Forbidden Lands? Does online publishing play a huge role for you?

We do have some smaller PDFs, so far only for Mutant: Year Zero and Coriolis. Those are nice additions for sure, but I would say that physical printed games are still the core focus for us.

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Tales from the Loop

Ever since I got my hands on the rulebook for the Swedish RPG Tales from the Loop I’ve been in love with the game. I really like the simple mechanics, the emphasis on the narrative and the cooperative nature of storytelling in the game, not to mention the superb setting which is based on Simon Stålenhag’s artwork (which is awesome).

Many people (including myself) see many things in common with the TV programme Stranger Things. Was that something you were aiming for or just a coincidence?

Ha! Actually, Simon Stålenhag gets a little annoyed whenever this comparison comes up – we published his Tales from the Loop artbook in 2014, long before Stranger Things was known. The Tales from the Loop RPG was also in production before Stranger Things was announced. However, we must admit that Stranger Things did affect the timing for the Kickstarter for the game a little – in the fall of 2016, after the show was a big hit, we really felt that we shouldn’t wait with the Tales campaign.

In the latest supplement for Tales from the Loop, Our Friends the Machines and Other mysteries, you introduced new settings for the Tales from the Loop along with some new mysteries. Will we see more settings in future supplements? Will we see a campaign book in the near future?

Yes, we are working on several expansions and campaign modules for the game. First in line is an expansion based on Simon’s Things from the Flood artbook. It expands the game into the 1990’s and lets you play a little older characters in the upper teens rather than the lower teens. The stories are darker, creepier and weirder!

I must admit, that having the Tales turn a little darker and weirder sounds so good and I can’t wait to see where you will take us. Will the game turn more Lovecraftian or more in the spirit of Neil Gaiman? Or even take on China Miéville’s weirdness? Who knows, only time will tell.

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Forbidden Lands

Forbidden Lands is one of the games that we here at Yawning Portal are very excited about (we will review it soon… very soon!). It looks good and when browsing through the Alpha edition, the game simply seems so much fun to play.

Forbidden Lands is a fantasy exploration game that embraces the spirit of OSR and uses a modified or updated version of the same system as Coriolis, Mutant: Year Zero and Tales. Can you elaborate on these changes?

There is an Alpha version of the game recently released to all backers, including almost the complete rules. The core rules are closer to Mutant: Year Zero than our other games, but there are significant changes:

  • Talents are now tiered, allowing greater customization and improvement options.
  • The system for melee combat has been expanded, making swordplay a core feature of the game.
  • The system for exploring the map is based on Mutant: Year Zero, but it is developed further and has rules for pathfinding, making, camp, hunting, foraging, etc.
  • There is a system for random encounter where each encounter is a mini-scenario, not just “D6 orcs”.
  • There’s a system for building your own stronghold, a little similar to the Ark in Mutant: Year Zero but different in several aspects.
  • There’s magic!

Forbidden Lands is a survival fantasy, where you can build your own strongholds. Can you tell us a bit about how a normal session would play out?

The core gameplay revolves around exploring the huge and beautiful map freely, using a hex grid. The GM can place what we call adventure sites at certain locations on the map – there are three categories of adventure sites, and there are symbols for these categories on the map. So, players will know where they can find a Village, Dungeon or Castle – but the GM can decide which adventure site to actually place there. An adventure site is an approx. 10-page scenario location, complete with maps, illustrations, images, NPC’s, treasures and events.

The core game will contain three complete such scenario locations, as well a guide on how to create your own. The Raven’s Purge campaign book (released alongside the game) will include a further 10 or so adventure sites, as well an epic metaplot connecting these adventure sites to an overarching narrative and including a great campaign finale. It’s similar to the Path to Eden campaign in Mutant: Year Zero, but expanded much more.

To drive players to visit adventure sites, so called legends are used. A legend is a short story, myth or rumour that the PCs can hear or read, and these are given to the players in the form of handouts.

The stronghold is not a core foundation of the game in the same way as the Arks of Mutant: Year Zero. Instead, the players can establish a stronghold when they feel like it, when they come across a suitable location. A stronghold will provide shelter and protection and can give the PC’s different kinds of buffs if developed, but it can also attract attention and lead to new adventure hooks. The PCs can even have several strongholds and move between them as they like.

On other games from Fria Ligan

Fria Ligan has four games in English, all using more or less the same system. You also have a few other games in Swedish, are there plans to introduce these games to the world? Will we see Oktoberlandet or Svavelvinter anytime soon?

Svavelvinter (“Brimstone Sleep”) is our first game, based on the The Fifth Conflux series of fantasy novels by Erik Granström, who worked on “Drakar och Demoner” back in the 80’s and is now the lead setting writer for Forbidden Lands. There is actually an English quick start PDF of Svavelvinter including a complete scenario available to download here. You can read more about Erik and his books here.

Final question, is there an upcoming Hollywood film based on Tales from the Loop or Simon Stalenhag’s setting?

There is a Hollywood film in the works based on Simon’s latest book, The Electric State, yes!

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Thorsteinn Mar

Thorsteinn has for long sailed the Astral Sea, eager to broadcast his heretical gospel to the uninitiated.
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