'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A First Impression of the Vaesen RPG by Free League

VAESEN: väsen n. supernatural being or creature.

Recently the Vaesen BETA rules were released to the backers of the Kickstarter project, and I wanted to write down some first thoughts on the book and game.  Like Tales from the Loop, the game itself comes from extremely evocative art.  Tales from the Loop takes it's setting from the Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, while the Vaesen RPG take's it's setting from the book of the Swedish artist Johan Egerkrans, Vaesen

Some people probably question basing games on the work of an artist, but some art is so distinctive and evocative that it immediately transports you to another world, and if that doesn't scream RPG, I do not know what does. In the case of Johan we are shown the creatures of Scandinavian Folklore: fairies, trolls, lindworms and everything in between. Which doesn't mean Johan hasn't drawn other fantastic works of art, he is just more well known for his creatures of myth and legend.

The Book

The current Beta rules have 232 pages including the character sheet and index. Roughly the first 100 pages are dedicated to the basic rules and character creation.  The basic rules will be familiar to anyone that has played a Year Zero Engine game. The remaining 100 pages are dedicated to setting, lore, how to set up an adventure, a sample adventure and of course the Vaesen themselves. All of this is interspersed with art from small sketches to full page color renditions of Johan's art.

I backed this game largely based on it being a Free League game, it having beautiful art, and the potential behind it.  I knew very little about what the game would be like beyond the kickstarter descriptions.  That is to say I knew it was going to be centered around fantastic creatures that were beyond the general persons's ability to perceive.  Judging from the art I could guess it would probably be late 1800s to the Early 1900s, generally the Victorian era.  From the book itself, "The idea is that you
and your friends will use it to tell – or play – mystery stories together in mythic Scandinavia of the nineteenth century."  Beyond that I didn't know what was in store for me.  

The Game

In Scandinavia of old there are creatures, faeries and trolls and such, that existed outside the perception of humanity, but were very real.  The people were aware of them through folk knowledge and knew how to make them happy, leaving offerings for them.  In return the beings were largely benevolent and lived in relative harmony with humanity.  

As humans advanced and industrialized much of this knowledge was lost.  People moved into towns and cities, and the rituals and offerings to the Vaesen were forgotten.  The Vaesen still exist and some have become less benevolent for various reasons, which the game lays out as adventure idea hooks with each of the Vaesen descriptions.  for example a wood based Vaesen might be wreaking havoc because of deforestation and logging.

You and your compatriots all have the ability to see the Vaesen and so stumble across an ancient society dedicated to fighting the Vaesen, and protecting humanity.  If you are playing in a campaign the Society and it's headquarters are more than just a part of the background and lore of the game, it is itself a character in the game. As the players grow in power and resources, they are able to add abilities to the Society that will grant them more ability to glean information about the Vaesen they are dealing with.

A secret society set in Victorian times isn't a new idea.  A secret society dedicated to fighting the supernatural isn't new either.  Still I think the idea the players can grow the Society back to it's former glory, which is in turn a usable resource for the players is a pretty cool idea to add to the campaign play.


Overall this book will be a beautiful addition to any RPG library and should delight fans of Free League and the Year Zero Engine.  It is full of amazing art and cool lore ready to open up a new world of Nordic horror for you and your players.  If you are a fan of monsters of the week, mysteries and the unknown, then I think this will make an excellent addition to your game library.  

If you are not part of the kickstarter look for this when it hits the shelves!

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