Swedish company Free League Publishing is coming off a string of successful years in the TTRPG space, not only reaching million+ figures on Kickstarter for titles like The One Ring but also repeated ENNIE wins for fan-favorite publisher, best setting, etc. I recently caught up with CEO Tomas Härenstam to talk about their newest release, Dragonbane, and some of the projects and pitfalls that have come with the success.
DA: Can you talk a bit about Dragonbane, Free League’s Big Release this year?
TH: It’s an interesting game because it’s not a known brand. We did The One Ring and ALIEN , which are big known brands. Dragonbane isn’t that new to us because it’s actually a new edition of an old Swedish RPG that’s been around since the eighties called Drakar och Demoner. But this is the first time we’re actually doing it in English.
It’s an interesting mix between an old familiar game and something completely new. It’s not identical to earlier editions, it’s our own take on it.
We have the Year Zero Engine for most of our other games, but not for Dragonbane. It’s a roll under D20 system like it had in the past and we wanted to keep in line with that. But we did tweak it to fit the Free League standard and add some elements from our other system. It’s a different core engine, but with the Free League twists on it.
Even though it’s a D20 based system we wanted to to still keep that accessibility and speed and approachability of the game mechanics into a D20 based system. And I think it does that job fairly well. For example, when you do a save with modifiers, it’s not plus three, minus five, you have to do all that. It’s just a row under a straight number, and you have the advantage disadvantage thing going on, but that’s your own. So that’s just one example of how we even though it’s Z20, it’s still very fast, and you don’t get stuck in doing a lot of, math on this part.
DA: Can you talk at all about the licenses that Free League have focused on this year?
TH: Yeah, the Year Zero engine has its own fully open license. You can just grab that and create your own game, based on it. And just copy any text you want from the system’s reference document, the SRD, and just do that and create your own game based on it, tweak it, whatever you want to do. I just saw today that there’s a World War II based game that someone else did on, based on this license called Warsaw Race, which was done using this license, and that’s already happening. And then you have the separate license for Dragonbane, and that’s for modules, expansions for Dragonbane. That’s still within the Dragonbane confines. That has a few more limitations. That’s not designed to create your own game based on the Dragonbane rules.
Just having a bunch of different titles has been amazing to work on. For me personally, to work on Blade Runner, ALIEN, stuff like that, is just, a dream. But there’s also the challenge of managing now what we have, like a dozen different game lines. So right now, I think we’re actually looking at consolidating what we have a bit more, working on supporting the lines that we have. Yeah. There will be new games for sure at some point, but right now we’re not really looking to completely new stuff, but really expand and support what we already have.
DA: Has the success of more niche games like Vaesen been surprising at all for you?
TH: Vaesen was a real sleeper hit because it was started as a quirky project. We worked with it started out was an art book by own also does the art for the game. And we just, and we know him and we started working with him. We figured this could be a cool game, but it was really a more of a niche thing doing a game based on like Nordic folklore. These are, strange, fantasy moments.
You can also adapt the game to other settings. And we have already started doing that with a Mythic Britain & Ireland sourcebook, which expands the game away from the Nordic folklore to the kind of British folklore. And we’re planning further regional sourcebooks to expand the game into new areas to kind of it. But I think just the general, the art, the setting, the general, the gameplay and the feel of that game just, game to play. Yeah. It’s not very rules light and it focuses on mood and investigation and it just is fun,
Images via Free League
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