In last days, we have had the privilege of being able to interview Erik Granström, an established Swedish fantasy novelist who has also created numerous settings for roleplaying games, including Free League Publishing's Forbidden Lands, in our opinion one of the best fantasy "pen & paper" RPGs born in recent years.
Forbidden Lands is an RPG that aims to offer the playful experience of the old school, enriched by a series of new and interesting mechanics. In Forbidden Lands, players will not play the role of indomitable and valiant heroes but rather those of scoundrels and raiders who will have to do everything to survive in a cursed world. Erik Granström was so kind to tell us what the inspirations and motivations behind the creation of this world were and also to give some advice for those who want to try their hand at creating their own game worlds.
The interview to Erik Granström
Privately I'm a jack of all trades. I'm trained as a veterinarian, but have also worked in marketing and in the computer company MySQL. Since 2009 I spend my time writing fiction and game stuff, also for computer games.
Tell us something about your career as a novelist too, unfortunately it is not possible to find your books in Italy, are they available in English? What are they about?
The Fifth Conflux, which is the name of the series, is dark and allegorical high fantasy with considerable humor thrown in. I like to explore existential, historical and contemporary themes, which I actually found quite possible to do in a fantasy saga.
I hope the books someday will be translated into English, but so far they're only available in Swedish and Danish.
Let's focus now on Forbidden Lands, how did this project come about?
When the project was to be realized, I was commissioned, no doubt as another relic since I was around in Gullikssons days, to write the Forbidden Lands setting and the Raven's Purge campaign. There were some basic instructions about the games' focus, but basically I was given free hands to shape the Forbidden Lands world, provided I used Gullikssons existing illustrations, which appear in the game. Forbidden Lands wanted me to capture the old school feeling but do something new with it. I was immensely thrilled to reshape established concepts of elves, orchs and dwarves, and especially enjoyed bringing down the intolerably jolly halflings. ;-)
The rules of the game were not around at the time, but I've always been more interested in the story anyway.
We found the setting of Forbidden Lands really fascinating, with an "old school" and at the same time modern flavor, moving away from the classic High Fantasy genre while using some of its stylistic features. Since you are the author and we have the opportunity, we would like to ask you: what is Forbidden Lands?
How did the setting of Forbidden Lands come about? What were the sources of inspiration that led you to its creation?
My main sources of inspiration are always history and human behaviour. Partly this has to do with me being somewhat uninterested in the good vs evil aspect. I much more like to understand the incentives of different parties, which makes conflict more understandable and interesting, where everybody thinks they're the good guys. To my surprise, this made the orchs one of the more sympathetic kins of the game.
For the horse riders of Aslene, I needed more hands-on inspiration, since I didn't want to picture them as huns or Dothraki scantily clad hunks or western pulp indians. So for the Aslenes I went to the historical Scythians and Parthians of the asian steppes, that haven't been exploited as often.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in developing Forbidden Lands’ setting?
We found the choices you made in the unusual portrayal of two kins, elves and halflings, which are usually portrayed in an extremely positive way, particularly interesting. What prompted you to make this choice?
With the elves, I tried to picture how an immortal being would see things, and I wouldn't think of them as necessarily noble, but rather as ”why would we care about meaty things that die and rot within a mere two centuries in the first place”. This could easily result in indifference or fascistoid feelings of inherent superiority. I think I got more inspiration for elves from ”Interview with the Vampire” than from Tolkien. Also I was relieved when I realized that even if a being has lived for several thousand years, it doesn't have to remember much of it, especially if it doesn't care much about the passing of time at all and soon gets the feeing of ”seen that, been there, done that!” Their days would blend with each other, as for someone living in an institution.
Concerning the halflings, I from start concluded that their jolliness must be a facade, and then though: OK, so what's really going on behind the curtains here? They must be afraid of the truth obviously, so there's shame and dark secrets. Then I got the idea that goblins are the halflings' dark relatives, the mr Hydes of an entire kin, and the rest sort of rolled along by itself.
We know that you are also the author of Raven's Purge, the first campaign released for Forbidden Lands. It is a decidedly non-linear story, open to numerous possible final situations. Was its creation complex? Are there substantial differences in developing a campaign of this type, rather than a classic one in which the narrative is usually closer to that of a novel?
It's very different to writing a novel, where you control every aspect. It's not easier, but different. As a game constructor, I'm mostly responsible for messing things up, not for sorting them out, which I'm often grateful for.
Most RPGs players at one time or another try to create their own game world, often with disappointing results. What advice can you give to those who are about to take on the role of the creator of worlds? What elements are essential to make an interesting setting?
Incentives and conflicts to me are the core means to raise interest for a setting. These conflicts should not be solvable through a single stroke like in Lord of the Rings, nor should it, in my opinion, be clear who are the good guys and who are the bad ones. Players should be able to understand and identify with different sides, while not necessarily sympathizing.
Also, you shouldn't railroad too much, but focus om how to immerse the players in tricky situations that they have to solve.
For inspiration I recommend looking at anything EXCEPT main stream fantasy. There are usable ideas everywhere. For instance I just worked with an artist on a sort of war elefant that is actually a grotesquely enlarged cat ear mite that I've seen as a veterinarian. They look really disgusting in a microscope. The confluxes of my old setting – critical points in space and time, when the gods reboot the world – are related to releasing version X.0 of any software.
History, though is my major inspiration. Dig anywhere, and you will find endless depth to explore. I've found it useful to create cultures by blending unrelated ones from history. For instance, I made one culture by combining ancient Sumerians, Mayans and Pakistan sources. Stay away from the exploited ones, like traditional vikings or highland scots (with all respect to current scots).
For geography I often use fascinating places from all over the world and tweak them, and again use microscopical vistas.
In recent years, a lot of successful RPGs have come from Sweden (not that there weren't any before, I still remember when Kult came out). What do you think is the reason for this success?
Do you have any other Forbidden Lands projects in the works? If so, will these products further develop the story and the setting?
Any other projects related to the world of roleplaying games?
Thanks again Erik for your time and your friendliness
Do you want to play Forbidden Lands but don't you know were to buy it? At Amazon you can find the physical version of the game, while on DriveThruRPG you can find the digital version one!