Tales from the Loop, Middle-earth, and Free League Interview with Tomas Härenstam

Tales from the Loop is streaming now on Amazon Prime and, to take advantage of the spotlight, Free League Publishing is launching new products. In addition, their Free League Workshop is growing, and they’re taking over the Middle-earth tabletop roleplaying game license. Free League CEO, Thomas Härenstam, talks to me about those accomplishments, their history with Simon Stålenhag, the creator of TftL, and what else they’re working on.

Tales from the Loop Series 01.jpg

EGG EMBRY (EGG): This is our third interview (ALIEN RPG at EN World and discussing how Free League Publishing supports retailers in GAMA’s Around the Table #2) and I want to thank you for making the time to talk with me. Jumping into this, Simon Stålenhag’s Tales From The Loop art inspired both Free League’s award-winning tabletop roleplaying game and Amazon’s streaming series. What inspired you to turn Simon’s art into this RPG? How did it all start?
: Hello and thank you for having me! Our cooperation with Simon goes a long way back. We, among many others, started to take notice of his art in 2013. At that time, he simply posted his art on his blog. Through a mutual acquaintance we got in touch with Simon, and started to discuss publishing his creations in an artbook format. We soon realized that there was more than just art – Simon had created an entire universe, and written short stories to along with the art. We published the original Tales from the Loop artbook, in Swedish only at first, in 2014. The next year, we did a Kickstarter for the English edition of Tales as well as the next book, Things from the Flood – and that’s when things really took off. As for the RPG – as a game publisher, the idea of creating a roleplaying game based on Simon’s work came very naturally. When we came into contact with Nils Hintze and contracted him as the lead writer on the project, things moved quickly from idea to reality. After the success of Stranger Things in the summer of 2016, we pushed the project into higher gear and ran a Kickstarter for the Tales from the Loop RPG later that year. The game was then released in April 2017.

EGG: Simon Stålenhag’s artwork inspired Tales From The Loop – The Roleplaying Game, Our Friends The Machines & Other Mysteries, Out of Time Mystery Compendium, and Things From The Flood – The Roleplaying Game. With the Amazon series that launched today, what new product are you dropping to take advantage of this spotlight?
: Three things, actually. First, the new Starter Set for the Tales from the Loop RPG, including a complete new Mystery to play with pre-generated characters. It will be launched in April. Second, a new edition of the Tales from the Loop artbook. The third thing has not been announced yet, but it will be very soon…

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Since conducting this interview, Free League announced their third TftL offering. "Next Tuesday April 7 at 3 pm CEST, we will launch the Kickstarter for the TALES FROM THE LOOP BOARD GAME, a cooperative board game set in the universe created by Simon Stålenhag and with miniatures by Paolo Parente's Dust Studio."]

EGG: Tales From The Loop, and the Year Zero Engine that runs it, are highly regarded products as it has garnered multiple awards some of which are listed here and here. Why does that engine work so well at creating fun around the gaming table?
: Good question! The key design goal is a system that is intuitive and easy to learn, doesn’t get in the way of the roleplaying, but at the same supports the key themes of the game in question. I think the Year Zero Engine does that pretty well. It’s also easy to modify and tweak, which is key as we use if for very different games and settings.

EGG: Between the visibility for this RPG and your other games like the ALIEN RPG, are there plans to build an organized play program?
: Another good question! A program for organized play is something we haven’t gotten around to do so far, but we discussed it with several partners now at the GAMA Trade Show recently and things should start to happen on that front pretty soon.
EGG: New players can go from the boxed starter set to the core rulebook and adventures. For those that want more, what is Things From The Flood – The Roleplaying Game about?
: We call Things from the Flood a sequel game to Tales from the Loop. They share the same universe, but Things is set in the ‘90s and focuses on older player characters. The themes are darker and have stronger elements of horror and weirdness. You can even “graduate” your characters from Tales and transfer them over to Things as they get older.

EGG: You’ve partnered with Sophisticated Games to publish tabletop RPGs based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Will these be continuations of Adventures in Middle-earth for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and The One Ring?
: Yes, that’s the idea!

EGG: Cubicle 7 published these games, now you’re taking over. How did this deal come about?
: Our agreement is with the license holder Sophisticated Games and Francesco Nepitello, the lead designer of The One Ring. After they and Cubicle 7 went their separate ways – something that we had no part in whatsoever of course – they approached us. We feel we have a very similar philosophy when it comes to game design as Francesco, and he seems to feel the same way about us. We just simply think that The One Ring fits perfectly in our portfolio, and we really look forward to what we can do together.

EGG: I know it’s early, but is there any discussion around using this setting in conjunction with the Year Zero Engine?
: Currently, the plan is to publish a new edition of The One Ring with rules designed by Francesco, further developing the rules in the first edition. It will most likely not be the Year Zero Engine. That said, we will definitely be involved in the design process and have our input on the rules. I look forward to many interesting and rewarding design discussions with Francesco!

EGG: Let’s turn the focus from TFTL and Middle-earth to another project: Free League Workshop (FLW) at DriveThruRPG. This is your community content program. At the FLW, what systems and games can fans write content for? How’s the reaction to it been?
: Currently, the program is open for Forbidden Lands, Symbaroum, Coriolis, and Mutant: Year Zero. Tales from the Loop should follow shortly. The reaction has been great so far! We know that we have a very creative community and we’re very happy to be able to offer this outlet for it.

EGG: Free League’s games have been localized into multiple languages through different publishing partners. Are there localized versions of the Free League Workshop or should all parties creating original work go through that hub?
: At the moment, Free League Workshop products must be in English or Swedish. If possible, we will expand it in the future.

EGG: Beyond Tales From The Loop and the Free League Workshop, what else is Free League working on?
: Lots of things! We have many ALIEN products in the works – first up is a new Starter Set and a new Cinematic scenario called Destroyer of Worlds, and then a Campaign book for Colonial Marines. For Forbidden Lands, we will soon launch a new massive campaign book called The Bitter Reach. We’re also working on the next chapter in the epic Mercy of the Icons campaign for Coriolis, a 5E conversion and more for Symbaroum, and of course the upcoming Gothic Horror RPG Vaesen. And lots more that we’re not quite yet ready to announce!

EGG: That’s a full plate! Thanks for talking with me. Where can fans learn more about Free League Publishing?
: At our website or on Facebook. Thank you!

You can read my review of Free League’s ALIEN RPG (here), Coriolis (here), and Symbaroum (here). The Tales from the Loop RPG Starter Set is available for pre-order (here). The Free League Workshop is available through DriveThruRPG.

Tales from the Loop series streams on Amazon Prime starting April 3rd.

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG and Amazon.

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry


Kobold Enthusiast
This is a very interesting company. The Tales from the Loop rules are incredibly evocative while the production quality of their products is incredible. I look forward to seeing more on both.

I do wonder what Simon Stalenhag is up to nowadays. He used to publish regularly on his art-blog (including most of the art from Tales from the Loop). I suppose he's successful enough he's flooded with contracted no-show no-tell work?


«We’re also working on the next chapter in the epic Mercy of the Icons campaign for Coriolis, a 5E conversion and more for Symbaroum»

A 5e edition of Coriolis? Is that correct or I'm a reading something that is not there?

«We’re also working on the next chapter in the epic Mercy of the Icons campaign for Coriolis, a 5E conversion and more for Symbaroum»

A 5e edition of Coriolis? Is that correct or I'm a reading something that is not there?
Sorry, I don't think that reads as it was intended. I believe this is what relates to Coriolis: "working on the next chapter in the epic Mercy of the Icons campaign for Coriolis".
While this relates to D&D 5e and Symbaroum: "a 5E conversion and more for Symbaroum".
System-wise, Coriolis while stay BAU. Symbaroum will add a 5e conversion.

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