Vaesen – Why You Should Be Enjoying Nordic Horror Roleplaying

October 21, 2023 by brennon

Supported by (Turn Off)

Free League Publishing originally published Vaesen: Nordic Horror Roleplaying back in 2020 and whilst it has been a long time coming, I thought that since it's the spooky season, I would discuss why you need to be enjoying this awesome tabletop roleplaying game with your friends.

vaesen article coverimage

Featuring artwork by the wonderfully talented Johan Egerkrans, Vaesen takes the mechanics from the Year Zero Engine (made popular by the likes of Mutant, Tales From The Loop and more) and layers on awesome monster hunting in a world where all of those myths, legends and folklore tales are worked into the tapestry of your stories.

What Is Vaesen?

In Vaesen, you take on the role of a player character who has been "gifted" with The Sight. Whether that ended up being a good thing or a bad thing when it first happened is up to you but it means that you've become one of the few people who can see the elusive Vaesen and the goings on behind the veil of reality.

Vaesen Cover - Free League Publishing

Alongside fellow investigators, you are charged with restoring The Soviety either in Scandinavia or perhaps in the British Isles whereby you can head out into the wilderness, tracking down the Vaesen and combating them if they pose a threat to humanity.

Set during the 1800s, Vaesen finds itself positioned in a fascinating time period where progress and industrialisation of Europe are on the rise but folklore, mysticism and such are still very much intertwined with daily life, especially for those out in the countryside. What this does is bring the two clashing together and ask you, as the characters, to weigh up the needs of humanity but also the reasoning behind why the Vaesen are behaving as they are. Are the ghosts, ghouls, trolls and other creatures acting like they are out of Fae-like spite or has something that humanity has done pushed them over the edge and they are simply reacting to an incursion into their territory?

This should strike a chord with a lot of tabletop gamers, especially those who are fans of Fantasy. Many of us will know of interesting tales, urban legends, folklore tales and more that have been told around a campfire or perhaps were told at school about your local woods or that eerie house on the hill. It means that when stepping into Vaesen, you've already got a good grounding as to the kind of stories you're going to experience and that can help a lot, especially when diving into something as personal and often intimate of an experience as roleplaying.

Embrace The Horror

Horror is really hard to do in a roleplaying game and a lot of it comes down to the way the storyteller brings that to the tabletop and sets the mood. What's nice about Vaesen is that it does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the story that is told from session to session.

Vaesen Art #3

One core element of this is the investigation itself. Vaesen isn't a game where you can go in all guns blazing. Well, it could be but the game isn't really meant to represent that. Instead, you get a Poirot-esque note from someone who has invited you to work out what is going on in their local town, at the mill in the valley or on the grounds of their stately home. They can't work out what is the cause of their ill fortune and perhaps you could end up solving the mystery.

Having that immediate "whodunit" vibe percolating helps to ramp up the tension and get you wondering about what strange (and most likely creepy!) monster you're going to face later on down the line.

Another of the reasons why I think Vasen manages to enhance the horror vibes so much is that you're not superheroes. You play regular men and women who have The Sight and, for better or worse, you're looking to make a difference. Knowing that a fateful encounter with something probably much more powerful than you could be your death sentence will have you second-guessing every door you open and every forest you wander into at night with only a lantern and your wits to aid you.

The Mythic North - Vaesen

Going back to that absence of gunslinging, I like that Vaesen reinforces the cerebral vibe where it's much more about thinking and deduction than it is simply slaying the beast that threatens the locals at the local factory. You're encouraged to roleplay and dive into the emotional side of things in your adventures and piece together the clues from both human NPCs and the monsters that you encounter. The intensity that you get from some of the stories that are uncovered can be as unsettling as the description of some terrible deaths witnessed at the hands of some cruel beast.

This obviously means that Vaesen isn't going to be for everyone but if you're looking for a horror roleplaying game that tests you in a very different way then I reckon that you should be giving Vaesen a go. I love that it's dark and brooding but also with a touch of the "shades of grey" that some other roleplaying games in this genre lack. Placing it in the time period and using the mechanics that it does really enhances this.

The Mechanics Of The Mystery

Now that we've talked about the vibe of Vaesen and why it's so alluring, I should mention the mechanics of Vaesen. Much like other Year Zero Engine games, you'll be looking for sixes in order to succeed in actions and your pool of dice dependant on your Attributes and Skills. In most cases, you'll only be looking for one success but if you get more than you require then you might end up being able to do something extra impressive, allowing you to get the upper hand in a situation be it a conflict or a social or deductive situation.

Vaesen Art #1

Another core concept of the Year Zero Engine is that it's very much focused on failing forward. The story never stops going when it comes to Vaesen and even if you fail a check, you're not going to be left swinging in the wind. My go-to example of this is trying to break in through a window. You might not have rolled any successes and so whilst you do get through the window, you break the glass as you go and cause a noise, alerting those inside.

This adds to the cinematic nature of games played with the Year Zero Engine and that works incredibly well with Vaesen. The game has a great TV show/film quality to it and even in the most terrible of circumstances for the protagonists in those kinds of shows, the narrative continues for good or ill!

This is as much a challenge for the storyteller as it is for the players and it's nice that this tends to be worked into the way that the pre-written stories have been put together for Vaesen and how they encourage you to do the same. You're encouraged to come up with the framework for the mystery including the way to solve it but from there, the path is very much guided by the actions of the players. It's a lot like diving into a murder mystery where you're telling the story with your friends rather than running through something heavily railroaded.

Whilst the game helps to keep you invested with the core mechanics and the sense of mystery, I also like that Vaesen helps tie you together with the evolution and growth of The Society. As well as wanting to improve your characters and take on greater and more involved mysteries, you're also encouraged to take your headquarters and build on it, developing peoples and locations within it that can aid you in your investigations.

Vaesen Art #2

I really like that there is this focal point for your adventures and something that everyone can share in the development of. It engendered a lot of communal thinking and ideas that you can use to benefit you later on down the line. It also gives you something to care about! As you start to build your notoriety or fame within this world, perhaps the forces of darkness could come back to strike you within your hearth and home. You could get a very interesting "League Of Shadows in Wayne Manor" thing going on later on down the line.

At the core of all of this, as the mystery unfolds, is the mechanics of how you deal with the Vaesen themselves. Throughout your investigations, you'll learn more and more about the creatures you're coming up against and whilst steel and black powder might be the answer to some of your foes, more often than not, you'll have to use your mind to solve the problem and perhaps vanquish the Vaesen, sending them back into the shadows. It's such a nice move away from the classic monster-slaying mayhem of the likes of Dungeons & Dragons of course but it also sits nicely in a different space next to games like Call Of Cthulhu.

In Call Of Cthulhu, you very often have no chance of surviving what awaits you in the shadows and most people are driven insane by their encounters. Vaesen offers up that mystery and horror-filled danger but also the tools with which to combat it in an interesting way. I know these are broad strokes but it's really interesting how Vaesen sits as a "game" amongst other roleplaying games out there.

Choices, Choices

Another great thing about Vaesen as a game is that whilst it has the core rulebook that deals with the Mythic North and the town of Upsala, you've also got plenty of other ways that you can take your adventures. After you've played through the introductory Mystery, The Dance Of Dreams, you could go off and explore a whole lot more.

Seasons Of Mystery - Vaesen

Maybe you could be tempted by A Wicked Secret & And Other Mysteries which is a great set of additional stories that you can dive into without feeling like you have to come up with too many plans yourself.

There's also Seasons Of Mystery which does much the same as the aforementioned A Wicked Secret & And Other Mysteries where you get more fun mysteries to run through. What's fascinating about these books is that they explore more of the Mythic North whilst also putting out the feeler as to adventures further afield.

If you want to head beyond the Mythic North, there is also an impressive book by Graeme Davis called Mythic Britain & Ireland which is absolutely amazing for those who want to explore the folklore and mysticism of the isles of Albion.

Mythic Britian & Ireland - Vaesen

Mythic Britain & Ireland is a fantastic book which features an entirely new Society for you to build as well as three new Mysteries to delve into and lots for those who love the idea of telling tales in this fae-drenched land. You will need the core Vaesen book to use it but it is well worth it in my opinion, especially if you've got players who would be hooked by those kinds of stories.

Mythic Britain & Ireland - Vaesen

Last but not least, there is the newest expansion for Vaesen which comes from the talented hand of Ellinor DiLorenzo. The Lost Mountain Saga contains a whole host of new adventures that have a wonderful focus on Nordic culture and explore a lot more facets of it that are explored in more depth within its pages.

The Lost Mountain Saga - Vaesen

There is a lot to enjoy about Vaesen and it feels like the perfect roleplaying companion for the spooky season. If my thoughts have hit home with you here, maybe you'll consider at least scooping up the digital rules and giving it a go with your friends over the next few weeks!

Could you be tempted to dive into Vaesen?

Supported by (Turn Off)

Supported by (Turn Off)

Supported by (Turn Off)

Related Games

Related Companies

Related Content Types

Related Content Formats

Related Product Types

Related Genres