Forbidden Lands is a new take on classic fantasy roleplaying. In this sandbox survival roleplaying game, you’re not heroes sent on missions dictated by others—instead, you are raiders and rogues bent on making your own mark on a cursed world. You will discover lost tombs, fight terrible monsters, wander the wild lands, and if you live long enough, build your own stronghold to defend.
In 2019 Forbidden Lands was awarded product of the year, gold for production and cartography, and silver for best rules. It beat out Invisible Sun for production values! Can you believe that?
The game combines an old school RPG feel with slick modern rules and the legacy mechanics of new hit board games. The box set comes with a hex crawl map and a sticker sheet to make the Forbidden Lands your own. And if a character dies, you put down a little grave marker sticker!
The setting is a medieval fantasy region surrounded by impassable mountains and ocean, but that's not the worst part. For the last three hundred years, the Ravenlands have been covered by the Blood Mist every night. Anyone caught in the mist died horribly, so people pretty much only ever travelled about a half day from their homes—enough time to go somewhere but make it home before dark. But now! The Blood Mist is gone, and all those people who grew up unable to explore are striking out to see what survives of the world.
Ruleswise it's very simple. It uses the Year Zero Engine like Tales from the Loop and ALIEN. The core mechanic is rolling a pool of d6s and trying to get at least one six. Your dice pool is built using the four attributes—Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy—and any additional dice you get from skills. There are four skills linked to each attribute.
Attributes give you base dice, skills give you skill dice, and gear gives you gear dice. You roll successes, and if you push yourself and roll banes, then you suffer negative consequences.
Everything about the game is wonderful and well thought out—except for maybe the magic system. It's locked to spending Willpower for your spells, and you only get Willpower when you suffer damage from Banes. I do like the way gear bonuses degrade from Banes though. It's a really clever and intuitive little subsystem.
The world very much focuses on pushing out past what you know and discovering things—making them your own. It's a pure hexcrawler that way. I love that there's a comprehensive system for generating ruins, villages, and strongholds, and I particularly love how they've designed campaigns.
The campaigns—The Raven's Purge and The Bitter Reach—give game masters dozens of new locations that can be dropped down anywhere. Basically, the players say where the characters are going, and you put a location there. If they have to revisit a narrative point later in the campaign, they have to go back to the location that was identified. It sort of railroads, but not in a linear way, in a way that ensures players experience the campaign while still letting them define how the campaign shapes their world. I love it.
Physically—gorgeous books. Wonderful map. Super cool cards. The design and writing inside are superb.
Does it beat Invisible Sun out on production though, like the ENnies said? Not in my opinion—I would've voted for IS. But I cannot deny that Forbidden Lands is a close second in design, immersion, and theme.
I would absolutely play this game again. I would absolutely play an entire campaign in the Forbidden Lands—and I should! I bought all of the books from all of their Kickstarters.
Free League Publishing