Review by Stephen Mingo
“Lurking at the edge of vision. Watching. Waiting. Unseen by most, but not by you. You see them for what they really are, Vaesen.”
The tagline on the back of the core rulebook entices you in to a world of Nordic mythologically inspired horror roleplaying, and right away Free League publishing’s Vaesen looks to be everything I am looking for in an RPG this side of All Hallow’s Eve. In this review, we’ll look at the product itself as well as the artwork and the lore surrounding it. As with most RPGs, we feel that the mechanics deserve to be put through their paces accordingly, so we will be following up with a second review where we also be touching on Vaesen’s brand new expansion (more on that below).
Produced by the same company who released the cult hit “Alien” roleplaying game, Vaesen is based on the book of the same name by author Johan Egerkrans. In fact, the wonderfully well worded preface by Johan himself dated March 10th 2020 sets the book off to a flying start. A cursory flick through will be a feast for the eyes as the illustrations by Johan and his team leap off the page and straight into the imagination. Looking closer, the writing by lead writer Nils Hintze and his team is just as wonderfully creative. At its core, Vaesen is about a world populated with mysterious creatures seen only by certain humans. Set in the Mythic North, in and around the town of Upsala, the bestiary pleasantly surprises with creatures such as the Brook Horse (don’t try to pet it), a Lindworm (just run away) and a Myling (nope, nope, a thousand times nope). To give you an example the latter of which, assuming the form of a creepy little girl, is the spirit of a child murdered by its Mother. The book states, “In the 19th century, infanticide is punishable by death, and the Myling often wants to see its mother punished”. These creatures aren’t your average goblin, bugbear or cyclops. The artwork is so astoundingly creepy that I felt I had to close the book before finishing this paragraph, here have a look yourself.
There doesn’t appear to be a dull and grinding combat system either. Rather, there are clues to follow and a mystery to solve in each scenario which maintain most of the focus. Creatures often have secrets or rituals which must be discovered and completed in order to put them to rest. Fans of the Witcher will be getting a little excited right about now. Yes, in a world dominated by Wizards of the Coast’s dungeon crawler, this is a breath of fresh air. A certain facebook group I follow called “I’m begging you to play another RPG” will be jumping for joy at a game is unique and special as Vaesen. The game mechanics use an adapted version of the Year Zero Engine which was created by in house by Free League Publishing originally for the game Mutant: Year Zero.
Character creation was a joy. My Wife Emma and I sat down and created a rich family’s disowned servant girl who had formed a long term bond with the daughter. For a bit of variety, there is a resources table you can roll on to determine your standard of living and a mementos table to provide you with a creepy trinket to take with you on your journey. Such trinkets include but are not limited to “strange animal preserved in a glass jar” and “worn dice made of bone”. Speaking of dice, there are optional extras too such as a beautiful GM screen, player cards and a set of custom Vaesen themed dice which I don’t think are made of bone but… Anyway. The quality of the screen, the cards and the core book itself is tremendous. I’m not normally one to get too excited about paper but it’s printed on some pretty decent stuff and feels satisfying to hold in your hands.
Free League recently released at the digital version of SPEIL this week an expansion to Vaesen entitled “A Wicked Secret & Other Mysteries” which we hope to be getting to grips with soon. It contains four standalone scenarios, or mysteries as the game refers to them, which can be combined to form the basis of a campaign if you like. The mysteries, in addition to the titular one, are named The Silver of the Sea, The Night Sow and The Song of the Falling Star. The description for Wicked Secret alone screams classic horror roleplaying to me, “Travel to the deep forests of northern Sweden and investigate rumors of a murderous beast in a remote village. What ancient evil lurks there?”. The game is full of brilliant and astounding descriptions complimented by extracts from fictional witchcraft diaries, such as the below gem which I will take great pleasure in reading out at the gaming table.
Of course, it is hard to get together and play a game in the midst of a pandemic (great board game, terrible in real life) so the verdict remains out on the gameplay of Vaesen. We are striving to plan an evening soon, possibly accompanied by appropriate outfits, candlelight and wine in goblets as only seems fitting. There will be a further write up by EDT Gaming, so keep an eye on our website, but a first glance suggests this game is destined to take on the roleplaying scene in a big way. In the meantime, if you like the sound of Vaesen and want to find out more, you can visit Free League’s official website over at https://frialigan.se/en/games/vaesen/. You can pick up a copy of the core book for around £32, or the full bundle for £71. Trust me when I say the book itself is a beautiful, physical object to add to your collection. However, if you want the digital version you can actually pick it up on Drive Thru RPG right now for around £15 https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/319119/Vaesen–Nordic-Horror-Roleplaying.
We’ll be back to dive into the deep, dark swamps of the cold North once we’ve found our gas lantern and our revolver. Until then, sleep with the light on folks.
Images displayed in this review for review purposes are Copyright 2020 Fria Ligan AB and Johan Egerkrans