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Interview: Free League Publishing

Free League Publishing may be Scandinavian, thanks to its extensive English-language catalogue it has cemented its reputation as a major tabletop game company. We join with Free League to talk about some of their newest titles at Essen.

So, we talked about the changing landscape, particularly Dragonbane, earlier at Essen, but now we're focusing on The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying. How has the reception been so far?

Free League Publishing: I think The Walking Dead has a very specific market. I'm really interested to see how it will sell, especially compared to Dragonbane. It's a real experiment; will it even sell at all? We went to Comic Con to promote the game, but that didn’t go as well as we would have hoped for.

Do you have any idea why? Was the audience not a good fit for you?

We realized that while Comic Con attracts a large crowd, only a small proportion are interested in local or niche games like ours.

Our positioning at the event was poor. We were located in a dead-end alley, which reduced our visibility and foot traffic significantly. Despite that, we expect today's sales to surpass those of the entire first day at Comic Con.

How do you think The Walking Dead will compare with your other games, and how is it different from your other licenses? It uses the same core system, right?

Yes, The Walking Dead is closest to Alien. If you've played Alien, you'll find it familiar. It's cinematic and gritty. In campaign mode, it features a unique mechanic where zombies are treated as a swarm, not as individuals, making the combat experience very different.

So, it's a bit more abstract?

Yes, slightly. We use a stress mechanic similar to Alien's, but when you mess up, it increases the threat level, adding more zombies or bringing them closer. We're still balancing this mechanic to ensure it doesn’t escalate too quickly. The focus is more on role-playing, inter-player politics, and NPC interactions, which is what the game is really about.

Do you think The Walking Dead will attract the same audience as your other games?

No, I think it will attract a different audience. Personally, I'm not a big fan of zombie apocalypse settings. I prefer fantasy apocalypses like Forbidden Lands or gritty settings like Twilight 2000.

However, some of our team members, like Dave, who got us into Free League by buying Mutant Year Zero, are very excited about it.

Your range of games is expanding. Can people expect you to continue supporting all of your game lines, or will some get less support over time?

As fans, we're always nervous about this. Free League was founded by fans to make games they love, and they want to stay close to the creation process. This means there will be more time between releases. For example, a new edition of Coriolis might come out eventually, but it's not a priority right now. Games like Alien, which have strong fan demand, will see more frequent updates and supplements.

Regarding The Walking Dead, will there be a core rulebook and a starter set?

Yes. Unlike Dragonbane, which is a full game, the starter set for The Walking Dead is a stripped-down version to introduce players to the game.

Why did you choose this approach? Dragonbane received rave reviews for its comprehensive content.

People love our boxed sets, and the demand for Dragonbane has led us to consider a hardback version. The principle behind Dragonbane is that it's a game for families and young people. I remember saving up for my first D&D set as a kid, and if I had found Dragonbane back then, I would still be playing it now. The Walking Dead Core Set ntroduces the game effectively, but the Dragonbane Rulebook is what fans will want for its lore and depth.

So, a core set is more for dedicated fans, while a starter set is for new players?

Exactly. The starter set is a great way to get into the game, but the core book has all the detailed lore that fans will appreciate. It’s similar to how we handle Alien. The starter set for The Walking Dead includes visual aids, a threat meter, NPC cards, and beautiful maps, making it a compelling entry point for new players.

Are you planning to tap deeper into Swedish games that haven't been translated into English yet?

We've already translated classics like Mutant Year Zero and Tales From the Loop. There's a beautifully designed game called Oktoberlandet that I would love to see translated, but Thomas isn't keen on it right now. However, you never know. Magnus Seter, the author of Forbidden Lands, is about to publish a book for an American audience about the global impact of Swedish role-playing games, which is exciting.

With your expanding range of games, can fans expect continued support for all game lines, or will some receive less attention over time?

As a fan, I understand the concern. Free League is named after a faction in Coriolis because we love it so much. However, as the company grows, the team’s time will be spread more thinly. While there might be longer waits between releases, we're committed to supporting all our games. Fan demand greatly influences this; for example, Alien is well-supported because of its strong fanbase. Other games, like Coriolis, may take longer to see new supplements.

It sounds like The Walking will have a strong start with both the core rulebook and starter set.

Yes, the core book will be essential for fans of The Walking Dead, similar to Alien. The starter set is a great way to introduce new players to the game, but the core book is where the detailed lore and advanced rules are. We always recommend getting both for the full experience.

So, you have a pretty clear plan for the release and support of The Walking Dead. Are there any other upcoming projects or releases that fans should be excited about?

Absolutely. We're constantly working on new projects. One exciting upcoming release is the new expansion for Twilight 2000, which will introduce new scenarios and content. We're also planning a major update for Forbidden Lands and some new content for Vaesen. Plus, we have a few surprises in store that we’re not ready to announce just yet.

That sounds fantastic. How do you decide which projects to prioritize?

It’s a combination of factors. Fan demand plays a huge role; we listen closely to what our community wants. We also consider the creative inspiration and passion of our team. If someone has a strong vision for a new game or expansion, we try to make that a reality. Market trends and opportunities also influence our decisions, but at the core, it’s about creating games we believe in and are excited to play ourselves.

Your community engagement seems to be a big part of your success. Can you talk more about how you interact with your fans and incorporate their feedback?

Community engagement is essential for us. We have an active presence on social media, forums, and our website, where we regularly interact with our fans. We also host events, both online and in-person, where we can connect directly with our community. Feedback from our players is invaluable; it helps us improve our games and understand what people are looking for. For example, many of the updates and expansions we've released were inspired by fan suggestions and feedback.

What advice would you give to aspiring game designers who want to create their own tabletop RPGs?

My advice would be to start small and focus on what you're passionate about. Create something you would love to play. Playtest your game extensively and be open to feedback. Don't be afraid to make changes and iterate on your design. Also, engage with the community – join forums, attend conventions, and connect with other designers. The tabletop RPG community is very supportive, and there’s a lot to learn from others. Finally, stay persistent. Designing a game is a long process, but if you stay committed, it can be incredibly rewarding.

That's great advice. Lastly, what can we expect from Free League Publishing in the next few years? Where do you see the company heading?

In the next few years, we plan to continue expanding our range of games and exploring new genres. We’re also looking at innovative ways to enhance the gaming experience, whether through digital tools, new storytelling techniques, or collaborative projects. Our goal is to keep pushing the boundaries of what tabletop RPGs can offer and to bring more people into the hobby. We’re excited about the future and can’t wait to share what we’re working on with our fans.

Thank you so much for your time and insights. We’re looking forward to all the exciting things coming from Free League Publishing.

Thank you, Dirk. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. We appreciate the support from LifeBytes Magazine and all our fans out there.

Dirk Vandereyken


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