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Tomas Härenstam, Lead Designer for Mutant: Year Zero, Talks Free League RPGs

In 2014, working with Modiphius as co-publisher, Tomas Härenstam led the design for Mutant: Year Zero RPG (MY0) (review) in English by Free League (Fria Liga in Swedish and (overview). His story begins and continues beyond MY0 as he explained in this interview.

Free League was founded in 2011, but the founders were a group of freelancers working together even before that. In 2012 a fantasy game called Svavelvinter (Brimstone Sleep), only published in Swedish, was published. Another fantasy game in Swedish followed in 2013. Mutant: Year Zero was published in 2014, first in Swedish and then in English.

Filled with evocative art, the rulebook for MY0 contains a tight, well constructed RPG of mutants rebuilding after the end of the world even as they slowly rot away. My campaign radiated danger and challenge because of the underlying rules that Tomas guided to completion. The elegance of that design has led me to follow the ongoing RPG releases from Free League.

Starting with MY0 going forward, many Free League RPGs have also been published in English. Tomas helps with the development and has taken a direct hand in writing several of Free League’s RPGs. Their latest kickstarter is for Symbaroum, based on a recent merger.

Free League merged with Järnringen, creators of Symbaroum but also earlier versions of Mutant and Coriolis (review) Mattias Johnsson Haake from the old Järnringen is still the game director for Symbaroum so there are no drastic changes. The recent Kickstarter for the Mother of Darkness campaign book is the first Symbaroum kickstarter since the merger.

Free League has released a fantasy RPG called Forbidden Lands (overview/review). Tomas explained why D&D players might try Forbidden Lands. It is a tribute to classic fantasy roleplaying including rules for stronghold building, but it also incorporates modern game design like unified mechanics. If offers a change of pace with a grimmer, deadlier, and faster game that encourages PC driven exploration of the world.

Free League RPGs include GM tools like adventures as well as optional tools like custom dice, cards, maps, and counters. Tomas explained that Free League wants RPGs to be games, not just pretty books. It's central to Free League’s design philosophy that their RPGs should be easily accessible and immediately playable. Great art and graphic design create a draw to try an RPG, while engaging and useful rules power gameplay.

Free League not only has a great in house design team but also partners with freelancers like Simon Stålenhag on Tales from the Loop[/B (he's now a full partner) and fantasy author Erik Granström for Forbidden Lands. While a recent license video game is out for MY0 and a streaming show is planned for Tales from the Loop, these projects do not currently directly impact RPG design for Free League. Hopefully, they will draw in more players.

Call of Cthulhu the short story with art by Francois Baranger was recently kickstarted. A stretch goal led to a Lovecraft RPG. Tomas said PCs will be able to truly go mad and die. Free League will focus on one-shot scenarios with pregenerated characters rather than campaign play. The RPG will have a global scope, so the focus won't be Arkham but rather expeditions to remote locations. Finally, amazing art by Baranger will feature in the game.

Tomas wrapped up with two things. One, Free League will have a major announcement in April about a new game they have been working on. Two, Tomas says thanks for reading this and reading and playing Free League games! It's only been five years since the first international release and the response has been amazing, so again, thank you so much!

This article was contributed by Charles Dunwoody as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. Please note that Charles is a participant in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to DriveThruRPG. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


First Post
What is that major announcement? We are in the end of April!!! I am looking forward. Free League is my favourite!!!


I am loving the Free League (Year Zero? system). Lot's of fun. I have done a heap of Star Wars conversions on webpage if people interested.

So glad these guys are doing Aliens. Not only are the rules a lot of fun, their settings are fantastic and the completeness of each game is so much fun as a GM.

I also like the way events and encounters are developed. Very old-school, but with many links to an over-arching endgame :)


Let's see what you got man

I used the Coriolis rules as the core for my Star Wars conversion. Only played a couple of times, but I liked it. I hope to do more in future. Link below is to my Sci-Fi Settings website where I have done heaps of conversions. Look in side nav bar for the Year Zero stuff, but ALSO the Species link above it for species conversions :) Happy to do more if there is interest.



I recently picked up Forbidden Lands, and I've been reading through it for several weeks now. While I think it's a graphically beautiful product and very interesting from a game design perspective, I certainly wouldn't call it "easily accessible" or "immediately playable." I'm a veteran gamer since the 1980s, and I've tried numerous systems over the years. I would describe this as a "rules medium" system - less complex than Pathfinder/3.x or Shadowrun; but more than Savage Worlds, 4e or 5e D&D, Numenera/Cypher, 7th Sea, FATE, 13th Age, Call of Cthulhu/BRP, or WHFRPG. I think I would have an easier time explaining any of these systems to new players than Forbidden Lands.

The combat subsystem is ... odd? Playing cards in secret to gain tactical bonuses depending on what combat maneuvers are being played against specific weapon types. There are other examples too, which I would cite if I had my books handy. It's confusing enough that I am considering grafting Forbidden Lands' exploration system onto another combat system, such as 5e.

There are many exception-based rules, which I think harkens back to its OSR design paradigm. A cleaner, more streamlined mechanic would make it fit in better with modern games and make it more approachable by new gamers. If I were going to introduce new players to the hobby, I wouldn't start with this one.


I recently picked up Forbidden Lands, and I've been reading through it for several weeks now.

If I were going to introduce new players to the hobby, I wouldn't start with this one.

Forbidden Lands is FL's most complex RPG. In order of complexity after that, they go Mutant Year Zero, Coriolis and Tales from the Loop. The last is simple and an almost perfect introduction to new players in the hobby and you can use it and the other FL's to step up the complexity over time.

Symbaroum uses a separate system which I would say is on par with Coriolis for complexity.

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