We caught up with Free League CEO Tomas Harenstam at Gen Con and talked about his view of the RPG market, the impact of Wizards of the Coast’s OGL mis-step, Free League's key fall releases, and plans for 2024.

ICv2: We want to start out with big‑picture questions.  What's your assessment of the RPG market in North America right now?
Tomas Harenstam: As far as I can tell from here, it seems to be doing really.  Gen Con seems busier than I've seen it in at a long time.  We expanded here this year.  That seems to be paying off because we have more people in our booth, than ever.  It seems to be doing well, as far as I can tell.

At the beginning of this year, we had an event related to the OGL, which seemed to really increase sales for everybody other than D&D.  What did you experience?  What are your thoughts on the long‑term impacts?
That was interesting.  Yes, we saw increased sales for a number of titles at that time.  I think that was a general trend that we definitely also saw.

We already had a draft version of our own Year Zero license, an OGL for the Year Zero Engine.  We had been working on an update on that.  When this whole thing happened, that really gave us a push to get that finished and released.  Even though the OGL, in the end, remained, we still felt that maybe we can't be sure it will be there.  The old license we had was based on the OGL.

We made our own license, consulted our own law firm, and launched the Year Zero Engine license.  That has been out now.  I think others are also looking for new licenses.  We decided to go our own way.  We have a license for the Year Zero Engine and one for the Dragonbane game.  Of course, there are many other initiatives with new licenses and different directions.

I do think that if the OGL was the go‑to thing before, it's still there.  We're still using it for Lord of the Rings Roleplaying and other things, but I think it's diversifying that whole licensing scene. I guess it's a healthy thing that it's more options.

Are other developers starting to use the licenses you're making available?
Yeah, there is definitely stuff happening.  On the Dragonbane side (that's the game we're pre-releasing here; officially, it's August 15th, there's already been Kickstarters for third‑party products, one going right now, one finished.  Even before the game is even out, there are Kickstarters for supplements using this license, which is really cool to see.

On the Year Zero side, there's stuff happening.  I actually just picked this one up.  It's called War Stories, from Firelock Games.  This is out. T his was using the previous version of our license, using the Year Zero Engine.  There's cool stuff being done using both licenses already.  That's great to see.

You've got a number of very strong licenses.  What are your best sellers here in North America?
Definitely, the big licenses are doing really well.  Alien, Blade Runner, The One Ring, they're definitely doing really, really well.

Here, today, at this con, of course, Dragonbane, being the new release, is doing really well.  It's great to see since Dragonbane is not a license; it's our own IP (see "Free League Announces ‘Dragonbane’").  Seeing that being received so well and doing well and taking off is really great.

Free League seems to have been expanding its output.  How many releases did you put out this year?  What are you thinking about for next year?
In total, counting both new games and expansions and things, I think it's somewhere around 15, 20 releases.  I think we're probably looking at something similar next year.

We also want to avoid having too many.  We want to consolidate and have every release be a big thing, rather than have many small releases.  For us, the number of releases is not the goal.  It's the quality of those releases.

For our readers, it might help: Can you explain the history of the Borg family of products?
That is a strange and wonderful thing. [laughs] Mörk Borg was a game that was developed and designed not by us internally at Free League.  Otherwise, we normally just release games that we have developed in‑house, so to speak.

Mörk Borg was designed by another group of creators, also Swedish like us.  For that, we only act as a publisher.  We've done that.  We did Death In Space, another one of those. Pirate Borg is a spin‑off of Mörk Borg.  It's done by Limithron Games. Luke Stratton is the guy doing it, an American.

There's a wild amount of third‑party things for Mörk Borg. Pirate Borg is one of those and, I think, one of the very top ones.  That's why we decided to pick that up as well and release it officially as a Free League product as well.  That's coming out now in September (see "’Pirate Borg’").

How about Cy_Borg?  Was that by the original designers?
That is done by the same group of creators as did Mörk Borg.  It's not the same writer, but the graphic designer is the same.  It's the same group of people.

Your other big release for the fall is The Walking Dead. Tell us a little bit about that.
That has been a project we've been working on for a long time now.  We had a Kickstarter earlier this year; that's on track (see "’The Walking Dead Universe’").

It's a horror game, in a sense, but really, the focus of the game is the interpersonal relationships.  It's a very much character‑focused game. It's designed by the same designer who did Vaesen and Tales from the Loop.  He's really into that kind of more interpersonal stuff.  Of course, there will also be horror and action.  I think it really captures the feel of the TV series.  We have had a lot of fun playtesting it and looking forward to that one coming out in December.

The art for that, is that going to be imagery from the TV series?  Are you doing some of your own?
We're doing our own art. It's based on a TV series, so that's what we take our cue from.  We're not using photos or anything from the TV show.  We're just using them as references for our own art.

We have some bonus character sheets that are actually characters from the TV show.  You can play some of the characters from the show or create your own, whatever you prefer.

Anything else you want the retailers that read our site to know about what's coming from Free League?
Like you mentioned there, of course, Dragonbane August 15th.  Then we have Pirate Borg on September 19th.  Then we have a line of expansions that are coming out for The One Ring and Vaesen and Symbaroum in October/November and then The Walking Dead.  We have a bunch of great releases coming out in the fall.

A look ahead to 2024 at all?
Yeah.  We have two releases coming up for Blade Runner.  I'm working on those now, a new case file and a source book.  Also, we have a miniatures game for the Mutant ‑‑ Year Zero universe.  Not an RPG but a miniatures game.  That's coming up as well. Both of those for 2024.

Are you going to do the miniatures yourselves?
Yeah, we're doing those.  That's completely our own game, but we're also discussing some cooperation with Modiphius since they have bigger experience than us when it comes to miniatures in that space.

It's kind of an in‑house thing.  We're trying out that market.  See how that goes.  It's a game that we're really passionate about and really enjoy playing ourselves.  We're having good hopes for that one.  I'm having the first prototypes here now, just checking them out at the show.