Vaesen: Seasons of Mystery Review


01 July 2024
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Winter is coming in Seasons Of Mystery, an atmospheric expansion for folk horror-adjacent RPG Vaesen. So, too, are spring, summer and autumn as Free League delves deeper into the spooky, quasi-steampunk world of Vaesen with four thematically linked adventures revolving around the changing of the seasons. 

Written by Ed Power

What is Vaesen?

Vaesen is a game of exploration and deduction set largely in a fantastical 19th-century Scandinavia. Here, otherworldly supernatural beings (“vaesen” – a sort of Nordic equivalent of Japanese yokai ) weave mischief on the margins of society. To these Midsommar trappings, the game adds a delicious cosy crime component. A typical scenario will require the players to unpick a tricky mystery and work out whodunit and why.  

Related article: How to play Vaesen

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What is Vaesen: Seasons of Mystery?

Seasons of Mystery doesn’t bring anything radical to that formula. The book contains a quartet of adventures, each taking place in one of the four seasons. There is no overarching story while the pace never rises above gently ambling. In other words, an average session won’t have you at the edge of your seat so much as sitting back comfortably and soaking up the vibes (with the possible exception of scenario two, which has the potential to reach a fiery conclusion). 

But the low-stakes nature of the scenarios makes for a rewarding experience. Not every roleplaying expansion has to be a Masks of Nyarlathotep-esque tale of world-shaking events. In Vaesen, the only things shaken are small rural communities confronted by forces beyond the understanding.

That has the curious effect of making the characters feel all the more significant. In the opening scenario, A Dance With Death, springtime in Dalarna in central Sweden is overshadowed by a series of suspicious drownings. Someone – something? – is luring young women to their deaths. The authorities are powerless to do anything. In desperation, a local woman turns to the heroes, who possess the “Sight” – a rare ability to see Vaesen walking among us. 

The second adventure, Fireheart, doubles down on that sense of the PCs as a supernatural A-team coming to the rescue of bereft communities. This time, amid an unusual heatwave, they are summoned to Smolandia in southern Sweden by the owner of an ironworks. He fears for his estranged brother and his obsession with wealth. As this is Vaesen rather than an economics textbook, that fixation with finances has a supernatural origin, connected to an ancient lake.

The familiar Vaesen backdrop of Sweden is left behind in the autumnal third scenario, The Devil on the Moor. It is set on the barren “Danish heath” of  Northern Jutland. Buckle up for a trip to a wind-whipped wold of scrub brush, bog and unholy spirits from beyond the grave seeking revenge against the living who let them down. 

Finally, it’s winter. What better time for a trip to Russia’s border with Finland? A Winter’s Tale maroons the party in a remote inn for an adventure that plays out like an eerie take on the Quentin Tarantino movie The Hateful Eight

Related review: Try Vaesen: Mythic Britain and Ireland, which takes the Swedish setting to a new geography, or Vaesen: A Wicked Secret, which adds to the original game, much like Seasons of Mystery!

Should you play Vaesen: Seasons of Mystery?

Yes. These four scenarios dial up Vaesen’s signature atmosphere to spine-tingling effect.

Vaesen knows exactly what sort of roleplaying game it is. Each scenario follows the same structure. Players arrive at the scene of mystery, where they piece together clues scattered about for them to discover. All going well they will finally uncover a supernatural explanation. Obviously, there’s some dice chucking thrown in, too. The game uses a variation of Free League’s Year Zero System. Core attributes and specialist skills determine how many D6s are rolled for ability checks, with each six marking a success. 

But, really, it’s all about the atmosphere – the ambience heightened, as in other Vaesen books, by Johan Egerkrans’s beautifully unsettling illustrations. Under the covers, Vaesen is ultimately just an arty, Swedish Scooby-Doo – or a highly esoteric Cluedo. But the marriage of ambience and game structure is unsurpassed. Seasons of Mystery puts extra flesh on its wonderfully engaging universe, where a bump in the night is never just a bump in the night, and hidden forces lurk everywhere. At any time of year, it’s a worthwhile investment fans of the base game. 

Related ArticleTalking Alien: The Roleplaying Game with Free League Publishing

Try Vaesen if you liked Kult: Divinity Lost - Fourth Edition, another ambience-heavy Swedish RPG with a unique twist on horror roleplaying. 

About Vaesen

Designer: Nils Hitnze

Publisher: Free League

Pages: 104

Ages: 14+

Price: £32

 

 

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