Freeport Trilogy Five Year Anniversary Edition PDF
We've posted the PDF version of our Freeport Trilogy Five Year Anniversary Edition to our Green Ronin Online Store.
We've posted the PDF version of our Freeport Trilogy Five Year Anniversary Edition to our Green Ronin Online Store.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Back in mid-2005, I wrapped up work on the Thieves World RPG line (available from all fine game stores in your neighbourhood) – and, I thought, on RPG writing once and for all. I’d worked on multiple games for multiple companies in the previous few years, I’d finished on a high note with an excellent book (the Thieves World Gazetteer, buy a copy today), and it was time to take on new projects. Close chapter, move on.
A year later, Rob Schwalb messaged me: “Green Ronin are working on a new project, and we want you to work on it. Chris Pramas and I agree that you have to work on it. I’m begging you. Hell, I’m dancing naked in front of the computer right now to entice you into saying yes!”
After ordering Rob to stop dancing naked on the other side of the world, I told him that I was retired, out of the game; I’d hung up my spurs and wasn’t about to ride the range again. Out of sheer politeness, I asked what the project was, but I already knew I’d turn it down.
“We’re relaunching Freeport with a new city guide and a new beginning for the whole line.”
…five seconds later I said I was in.
Death, Madness, Terror and other Good Times
It was back in 2001 that I picked up the 3rd edition Player’s Handbook, largely on a whim. I hadn’t played D&D since I was 13 or 14, having gravitated towards other games and systems in the intervening years – but the new edition looked cool and everyone was playing it, so I thought I’d give it a try. But to run a game, I needed an adventure or two – and on the shelf next to the PHB was a slim, exciting-looking book called Death in Freeport.
That decision kicked off my first-ever D&D campaign (at the grand old age of 30!), an epic swashbuckling tale in the mean streets of Freeport. My players battled serpent cultists in the city sewers, explored lost temples in the depths of A’Val, got caught up in barroom brawls and enmeshed in political intrigues; they braved the horrors of the Freeport Lighthouse to stop Milton Drac’s mad schemes and foil the Cult of the Yellow Sign once and for all. It was wild and crazy action adventure, it was triumph and tragedy, it was looking up the grapple rules again and again and again; it was awesome.
Five years later, there had been other groups, other adventures, other campaigns, but Freeport still had a place in my imagination as the best place for grubby, irreverent swashbuckling fantasy. And now I was being offered the chance to help redefine that city, and in a way that would let even more gamers discover its power and character.
There was no way I could say no. I was hooked.
Pinning Down the Freeport Flavour
Chris and Rob gave me a lot of room to move on this project – a lot of latitude to come up with ideas and give my input into the grand vision of Freeport.
So what do I think Freeport is all about? To my eye, it’s a sword-and-sorcery setting, not a high-fantasy setting, more Conan than Lord of the Rings. Sword-and-sorcery occupies a strange middle ground between the horror and fantasy genres, stealing bits from each and mixing them together. It isn’t necessarily dark (although Freeport has shadows aplenty), but it’s… unpredictable.
I’d already spent a lot of time thinking about sword-and-sorcery fantasy for Thieves World (insert gratuitous plug), and I wanted to bring some (but not all) of those ideas over to Freeport. I re-read all of the original Freeport books and adventures, getting the feel of the city down as well as I could, and thinking about how to tweak things more towards the S&S tone. Capturing that feel was my number-one priority when working on the Pirate’s Guide; to look at every location, every NPC, every plot hook through that lens of genre and work out how to make it just right. Thanks to the decision to advance the timeline of the city, I could insert, remove or modify many elements to bring them closer to that sword-and-sorcery ideal – and God bless ‘em, Chris and Rob let me get away with it time and time again.
What is Freeport? It’s a place of grubby action and desperate adventure, where the supernatural is real but not easily controlled, where crime and greed have more sway than curses and spells, where pirates may be more dangerous than monsters, and where you live on rum and sea biscuits, not waybread and nectar. It’s horror. It’s fantasy. It’s high adventure. It’s low comedy. It’s piracy and black magic and sunken cities and mad alchemists and thievery and evil cults and political corruption and gang warfare and suspicious lumps in your fish pie.
It’s the City of Adventure. No lie.
I’m 100% certain that the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport is going to knock your socks off. If it doesn’t, Rob Schwalb will dance naked for you until you change your mind. I promise.
We've added four Freeport books to our ongoing Lucky 7 Sale in our Green Ronin Online Store. The top two are d20 System v.3.5-rules-compatible, and the bottom two are classic v.3.0 Freeport products.
The Freeport Trilogy Five Year Anniversary Edition (normally $27.95, now $17).
Crisis in Freeport (normally $16.95, now $7).
Freeport: The City of Adventure (normally $29.95, now $17).
Tales of Freeport (normally $18.95, now $7).
26th February 2007
When Hal Mangold contacted me to draft some maps for The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, I was hesitant. Cartography, like all of my rpg work, is my hobby, albeit one I get paid for; so I only accept jobs I really like. In Freeport’s case, my hesitancy was born of ignorance: I’d never read the setting before, so was unsure if I wanted to be involved.
So I popped over to Google and did a little rooting around the ‘net to see what the whole Freeport thing was all about. To say I liked what I read would understate my initial impression. Any setting that has reviewers claiming it successfully merges the best qualities of D&D, WFRP, and Call of Cthulhu with pirates and high adventure deserves attention and it certainly got mine. So I mailed Hal and gave my assent: I would do his maps.
Before I begin any new cartography project, the first thing I do is research the area to be mapped. In this case, the first thing I had to do was I read the new book, so I knew Freeport back to front. Once I devoured that, I then read all the previously published material so I could make sure the new map wouldn’t contradict older sources, and I could get a deeper understanding of the setting. As I’m sure you are aware, Green Ronin have been busy since Freeport: The City of Adventure was released in 2002, so there was a lot to read. But, read it I did, taking notes as I worked my way through it all. Finally, with this done, I reread my brief, and started to plan how I would organise the work.
Hal wanted two colour, two-page spreads. The first spread was to depict the city of Freeport itself. The second spread was to detail the Serpent’s Teeth and the Continent. So, I decided to do Freeport first.
What was clear from all the Freeport maps I’d seen was that previous depictions of the city hadn’t been entirely faithful to the textual descriptions. I intended to resolve this. So if the text said a district had many tight streets, I decided I would map many tight streets. If the text described a building 100-foot wide, I would map the building at exactly that size into the city. Of course, this caused many problems, as this level of accuracy hadn’t been employed with the cartography for Freeport in the past, but I was determined to make it work.
So, with the initial research done, I got started. First, I read over my notes and pored over previous maps of the city and the various locations found within it. Then I drew some sketches incorporating all that material. This done, I then reread the text and compared it to what I’d drawn, making adjustments where necessary. I then read all the old books again to check for contradictions (where this was important—after all, the city has been changed a great deal by fire, war, extreme weather, and the like). This took a long, long time, and I encountered many issues as I tried to make everything work. Fortunately, Rob Schwalb stepped up to support me here, and answered any questions I had regarding conflicting sources or potential problems. Soon, after a great deal of patience from Rob (as I said, I sent him a lot of questions), he had resolved all my concerns, and everything was in place on the map. All I needed to do now was draw it.
I chose an overhead plan for the map to make it easy to reference and use, and to mirror the previous maps of the city. To match the tone of the setting, I drew the map as if it were on faded parchment, and worked with a fairly muted palate. One of the largest issues of this colour choice was making the special locations stand out from the surrounding city. To resolve this, I decided to mark all the special locations in one colour, and to mark the other buildings in another. This really made the locations pop out, and also gave an accurate view of how big (or small) some of those locations were. Soon, all of the many hundreds of buildings were drawn, coloured, and shaded, and all that remained were the details and labels. So, I added these, drawing scrolls, trees, stones, roads, borders, or whatever was necessary to get it all in place, and finished off with the compass (an anchor covered in seaweed sporting a skull with an eye-patch – nice!).
One down, one to go.
The second spread had far less material to reference, so, in comparison to the first map, required little research. For the Serpent’s Teeth part of the map, I again went for a plan of the area mapped, which allowed me to show a miniaturised version of the Freeport city map (which was nice, as it really grounded the city into the surrounding area). This map was very easy to plan, as the text described the area very well, and previous maps gave a good indication of the shapes entailed. So I immediately set to work drawing the islands and surrounding coral reefs. There is not much to comment upon here, barring that it was really fun to draw (especially the dormant volcano of Mount A’Val, and the compass—a ship’s wheel with a serpent entwined through it).
The Continent was a completely different matter. The only reference map I had was a basic hand sketch from Chris Pramas, and it had few details, so he gave me a great deal of latitude to make the map work. So I got to work making the sketch map look pretty, adding rivers where they would naturally drain, and placing major locations and roads as hinted by the text. I kept in constant contact with Chris throughout this process, and requested extra details from him where I felt it was required (names of seas, rivers, forests, passes, and the like). Out of the three, this map was the fastest to draw, as I didn’t have to constantly double-check the references to ensure there were no contradictions (after all, this is the first time the Continent has ever been mapped). It was also the most fun, as I had a far freer hand.
Eventually, with both maps of the second spread completed, I added the scroll details at the bottom of each for the keys and inset maps, and I took care to ensure the scrolls followed the same format as the scrolls from the Freeport map, granting all three some shared elements. I then added a border similar to the Freeport map (but with ship’s wheels in the corners, not little skull and crossbones), further strengthening the ties between the maps. Lastly, I added important ship routes to the Continent map. These not only provided some extra, useful detail, they also helped the aesthetics of the double-page spread, allowing the Continent map to better balance the Serpent’s Teeth map.
With that done, I was finished, and sent the maps to Hal, Rob, and Chris to have a look over; fortunately, they loved them.
Soon, you will get to see the maps, too (or, perhaps, you already have). I think they represent some of my best published work to date, and I feel they really help bring the Freeport setting to life. Indeed, having completed them, I’m preparing my first campaign in Freeport already.
I should know by now when I say something is going to be a snap, a breeze, a walk through the park so to speak, I should immediately punch myself in the face. I’ve been down this road a few times already (e.g. Black Company, Thieves’ World, and other big, scary projects), but for some reason, when Chris and I were in the early stages about what do with Freeport, I was confident we could kick this book out the door with no trouble. “We’re just collecting information and revising, right?” Oh how wrong I was.
Several years ago, right after Chris hired me to become the new d20 line developer, he mentioned “the Freeport Question,” and we discussed a bit about what we should do with the setting. At that point, we had the original trilogy, Black Sails, Tales, and Denizens, plus a slew of articles on the website, and we had snuck in references to Freeport in a slew of books, ranging from Dezzavold to Mutants and Masterminds. It had even made an impression with other d20 publishers, showing up in Human Head’s Redhurst, Paradigm Concept’s Arcanis, and several other places as well. There was even an adventure in POLYHEDRON magazine. Creatures of Freeport was on the way to print, but there was this big looming question about what we should do next? Should Freeport lay fallow, become swallowed up by the seas as we at Green Ronin charted new courses with new products, or should we go back to those mean streets of one of the d20 system’s most well-known cities, dust off the tables, and pull out the booze? And then there was the question of the Succession Crisis. As big and as sexy and fun as Black Sails was, it didn’t answer the question we were looking for: who was going to be the next Sea Lord? Well, we tossed around some ideas, and we finally settled on shelving it for a while—Chris had WFRP, I had Black Company (and then Thieves’ World, and then WFRP), and that lovely City of Adventure just had to wait.
A year or so later, having gotten our ducks in a row (unruly ducks, stay in your rows!), we revisited the Freeport question. We sat down and put our heads together. Having just about wrapped up Thieves’ World, and comfortable with the model we used for that series, we thought running with the same approach for Freeport would be the best direction. We’d start off with the “Freeport Player’s Manual,” followed by the City book, “Fury in Freeport” (an adventure to relaunch the setting), and finally, the “World of Freeport” to expand the city into a fully realized campaign setting, expanding on the world presented in Mindshadows and Hamunaptra. But before we could kick off this new series, we still needed to deal with the Succession Crisis.
The tension of the Succession Crisis had became something of an albatross for Freeport. It offered GMs a good hook for building a campaign inside the city, making sure the City of Adventure a dynamic place full of intrigue and adventure, but really, Freeport would eventually get a Sea Lord. It had to happen. And until it did, none of us felt like the setting could move forward. The question was who? And so, the idea for Crisis in Freeport was born. The adventure took the darker Freeport elements and ran with them, forming the foundation for the work we would do in the new series.
This is where things got sticky.
I know, I know, you’ve heard a thousand times about how the d20 bubble burst, imploded, and innocent wombats were maimed in the collapse, so I won’t go on about the shrinking (strangulation, more likely) of the d20 market. Given the state of d20, making Freeport a d20 book simply wasn’t viable, and though it pained me to say farewell to the four book arc we had planned, we really didn’t have a choice. So, we were all in Seattle (drawn from our various corners of the country) for our yearly summit, where we gather to make plans, eat, drink, and if possible, squeeze in a bit of gaming, bowling, and making fun of Hal. We had discussed making Freeport a straight True20 setting, but some felt Freeport was primarily a setting for the d20 system and if we went the route of True20, it wouldn’t be as useful for those folks who use Freeport in their d20 games. And really, they were the ones who supported Freeport from the start, right?
Conversation shifted and we started thinking about Freeport’s utility and appeal. Aside from its general awesomeness, Freeport’s biggest feature was that it could plug into any d20 setting, from Greyhawk to Midnight, from Arcanis to Goodman Game’s Known World, from Mystara to even (with a bit of a stretch) to Gamma World. With a few adjustments, Freeport could even work as an alternate reality in the World of Freedom (ok, that’s probably pushing it, or is it?)… it could go anywhere.
One of us asked why are we limiting this to just d20/OGL settings? Couldn’t we present Freeport so it could work with any game system? Wouldn’t it be fun to run Freeport with Rolemaster? Or, how about WFRP? Or Savage Tales? Or Runequest? Or d6? Or Powers & Perils? There was no reason why Freeport couldn’t work with any system at all… even with the old brown box set of yore. Excitement bubbled and the conversation grew more animated as we kicked around the idea of how to handle the nuts and bolts and the rest was (well, really, it will be) history.
So what was so hard, you ask? What deserved the punch in the mouth? Well, I think the biggest hurdle was getting started. We needed the right time, the right window, and then we needed to hammer out the plan. We had big plans, shelved them, pulled them back out, chopped them into little pieces and glued them back together again, and in the end, we picked the right path. When I think back on it though, it wasn’t that hard to do all this. We were just spit-balling. No, the hard part was pulling it all together and getting the ball rolling, but that, I guess, I’ll leave for next time…