Unleashing Dragonbane: An Exclusive Interview with Tomas Harenstam

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At Gen Con 2023, we had the pleasure of meeting the mind behind Dragonbane, a classic fantasy tabletop roleplaying game that has quickly become a favorite among enthusiasts. Tomas Harenstam, lead designer and co-founder/CEO has not only crafted a world of magic and adventure but has also brought a unique perspective to the realm of game design. In our exclusive interview, we explore everything from the challenges faced during the design process to what sets Dragonbane apart from other RPGs, and even delve into Tomas’ geeky side.

GeekPost: We met you at Gen Con. Firstly, how was the convention for you? Do you have plans to return?

Tomas: It was amazing! This was the biggest Gen Con so far for us, and we’re definitely coming back in full force next year.

GeekPost: You have a background as a foreign news journalist. How did your career path lead you from journalism to the realm of game design?

Tomas: Yes, it’s been quite a journey! I’ve had a passion for roleplaying games since an early age, but after going into a journalism career I didn’t have much time to pursue gaming. I worked at the national Swedish agency TT from 2002 until 2013.

Toward the end of that period, I picked up roleplaying again, and found that I still enjoyed it just as much as before. I even started writing some very small community stuff for the edition of Mutant that was being published at the time (the edition before Free League’s Mutant: Year Zero). That eventually led to the creation of Free League, first as a group of creators and then as a company. In the early days, it was still very much a hobby thing, but it led to me being offered a job at the video game company Paradox Interactive as an editor in 2013. Free League kept growing in the following years, and in 2018 I took the step to leave Paradox and spend all my time at Free League. 

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GeekPost: What sparked the concept for Dragonbane, and how did your initial inspirations contribute to forming the game’s current design?

Tomas: Dragonbane is actually a new edition of an old Swedish RPG called Drakar och Demoner, first published in 1982. It was like the D&D of Sweden, but actually based on early Chaosium designs – the first edition was a translation of their game Fantasy World. Drakar och Demoner has gone through many editions since then, and this new edition is both an homage to the past and modern design, influenced by our own philosophies for game design from the last decade of creating RPGs.

GeekPost: What kinds of challenges did you face in the design process? What can you tell us about pitfalls that you dealt with, that other game designers can learn from?

Tomas: It’s important to stay focused and true to your vision for a game, and not try to include every cool thing you can think of – that will just lead to a bloated and unfocused game.

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GeekPost: How did you develop and choose the illustrated playing cards and custom-designed D20s to enhance the gameplay?

Tomas: At Free League, we enjoy features like custom cards and dice, and like to include them in our games. Drawing a card to see what treasure you found is a lot of fun! The D20 dice have custom symbols on the 1 and 20 side – one representing demons and the other dragons, to emphasize the theme of the game.

GeekPost: How does Dragonbane differ from other RPGS? What makes it stand out the most?

Tomas: Dragonbane is a fun and lighthearted – but sometimes brutal – fantasy RPG. It’s easy to get into for new players and perfect for one-shots, but it works well for longer campaigns as well. And you can play a duck! Never forget the ducks – they have been part of Drakar och Demoner lore since the early 80s.

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

Tomas: Playtest your game early, and playtest it a lot! Get it in front of players, to build a community and to get feedback.

GeekPost: How does Dragonbane appeal to both experienced RPG players and newcomers to the genre?

Tomas: It’s a fun and accessible game for newcomers, but experienced players will find there is quite a bit of tactical depth to combat, as well as character development. And there will be expansions, lots of them!

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GeekPost: What feedback have you received from players and how has that shaped your approach to both design and business strategies, including the future of what we can expect from Dragonbane?

Tomas: Mostly, player seems to just want more content for the game! And that’s great, because that’s exactly what we are doing.

GeekPost: Do you consider yourself a geek? What does that mean to you?

Tomas: Absolutely! To me, being a geek means taking these games that we play very seriously. It’s a badge I wear with pride.

From the primordial forces of dragons and demons to the meticulous details of the Misty Vale adventure setting, Dragonbane’s lead designer has taken us on an incredible journey. The blend of innovation, passion, and commitment to the craft is a testament to the role of a designer who wears many hats, including that of a CEO and co-founder. With a game that continues to enthrall and challenge players, Dragonbane stands as a remarkable achievement in the world of tabletop RPGs. We eagerly look forward to the next exciting chapter in Tomas Harenstam’s creative odyssey. Thank you for sharing your insights with The Geek Post community!

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