Freeport: The City of Adventure

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Freeport: The City of Adventure in the Freeport Designer Journals category. They are listed from newest to oldest.

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June 18, 2007

Designer Journal: Beyond Freeport

Chris Pramas

I don’t even think it took a week after the release of Death in Freeport for people to start asking if I was going to blow Freeport out into a full campaign setting. I resisted the urge for many, many years. Part of Freeport’s appeal, after all, was that you could drop it into any campaign setting, and the feedback I got from gamers told me they were doing just that. Nonetheless, I started keeping notes on what I’d do if ever the time came to detail the world beyond Freeport. Whenever I had a random idea, I’d jot it down or write up a little something and save it. One of these days, I told myself, I’ll do something with all these ideas.

That day came last year when work began on the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. Since one of our stated goals was to make the book as deluxe as possible, I decided to dedicate a chapter to the larger world. Before I go on, let me point out that this entire chapter is optional. If you want to use Freeport with the setting of your choice, that’s just what the Pirate’s Guide is designed for and you need have no worries. References to the Continent and the gods are still generic throughout the book. However, the Beyond Freeport chapter is there for you if you are in the market for a larger campaign setting.

The chapter starts with a bit of cosmic history and then zooms in to focus on the Continent. The basic idea is that Yig created the world in the time before time and the serpent people were his chosen champions. Yig sent his power and his followers out into the cosmic soup, conquered other realities, and made them part of his world. When the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign summoned the Unspeakable One, however, it was a complete disaster for Yig and his followers. The serpent person empire of Valossa was destroyed and Yig sent into a torpor from which he has not recovered. The spot where Freeport stands is the center of Yig’s former domains. The further one gets from the center, the more difficult it is to navigate the waters. Getting to the Continent is easy but getting to a distant realm like Hamunaptra is hard and requires the skills of a "mystic navigator".

The remainder of the Beyond Freeport chapter provides full details (and a gorgeous map by Andy Law) of the Continent. The rest of the world is left mysterious. This was done for two reasons. First, it allows GMs to run games that really are voyages of discovery. Who knows what might be beyond the horizon? Second, it allows the easy integration of other setting material. If you want to create another continent of your own, it’s easy to fit into this framework. If you want a region that is largely unknown to the people of Freeport, you can place it on the borders of Yig’s domains. The idea is that the most distant realms where never conquered by the serpent people because of the Valossan apocalypse, so it’s easy to have distant lands that have never even heard of Yig. Settings that already have some ties to Freeport, like Mindshadows and Hamunaptra, can also be used at your option. In a sense this setup is similar to the way we treat Freeport and the Serpent’s Teeth in the rest of the book, but the detailed area is much larger.

The big reveal for longtime Freeport fans is the Continent itself. This is the core of the campaign setting. Putting this together was tricky because I felt like it had to have classic fantasy elements, but I also wanted to play up aspects that made the City of Adventure unique. Freeport, of course, began as a D&D campaign setting, so the Continent needed to be recognizable as such. However, there are also had to be plenty of room for Lovecraftian elements, piracy, and swashbuckling. As I was putting my notes together, I made a list of features I wanted for the Continent. These included:

1. A history and feel that would integrate well with existing Freeport lore. In Black Sails Over Freeport, for example, barbarians attack Freeport. Well, who are those barbarians and where did they come from?
2. Multiple places for good adventuring. This included border regions, monster-haunted wastelands, and regions unexplored by the civilized races. If this was going to be a fantasy campaign setting, there had to be room for adventures, right?
3. Ancient empires and epochs of history about which little is recorded. Again, this is great adventure fodder. With Freeport it was pretty easy to do because there was such chaos after the fall of Valossa. That’s not the only anarchic period though.
4. A lot of seafaring nations. This was pretty much a must; otherwise Freeport made little sense. In particular, I wanted some outward looking realms that were heavily dependent on the sea. The best example is the Ivory Ports, a collection of city states that not only rely on seaborne trade but also have colonies in other parts of the world.
5. Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.
6. Plenty of conflict amongst the various nations. I also didn’t want too many nations that were clearly "evil".
7. A strong framework for GMs that would still leave room for their creativity.

This last point in particular was important to me. There are some campaign settings that are overly detailed and I think this actually makes them harder to use. I wanted this chapter to feel more like the original Greyhawk folio (though those looking for the exact amount of heavy cavalry that each nation has will be disappointed). I wanted to give GMs plenty of material to work with and then let them fill in the blanks and really make the setting their own. One feature of the text and the map, for example, is Important Landmarks. They are listed but not detailed, so the GM can use them as seeds for adventures or just as bits of flavor to help evoke the world. This sort of customization is in the best spirit of Freeport and roleplaying in general.

Late in the process I had a final brainstorm. I thought it’d be fun to give Freeport a rival city. I wanted it to be a commercial and military rival, but more than that I wanted it to represent an opposing ethos. And what do Freeporters hate above all else? That’s right, slavery. There’s nothing worse to the free spirited sons and daughters of Freeport than the denial of liberty. Thus I created the city-state of Mazin. I placed it in the distant south and modeled it on the Barbary states of the Mediterranean. Mazin’s galleys prey on the shipping lanes, so the city’s giant slave markets can be fed. In the past Freeport and Mazin went to war and Freeport won the first round. Since it is some distance away, there has not been a second clash…yet.

So that’s a little taste of the world beyond Freeport. If you want to read more about what the World of Freeport has to offer, check out the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, which is coming soon. The book is at print for a July release and we'll be releasing the PDF next week. Not long now until all is revealed.

May 7, 2007

Designer Journal: Location, Location, Location

Chris Pramas

The Pirate's Guide to Freeport includes a lot of information, from history and personalities to plots and GM advice. The heart of the book though is the nine chapters that describe the city's districts and key locations. Astute readers may have noticed that I mentioned nine chapters, when the city previously only had eight districts. This is because Freeport has a new district, Bloodsalt, which sprang up after a nearly cataclysmic event called the Great Green Fire. The expansion of the city is just one of the ways that we tried to reflect the passage of five years in the world of Freeport.

Within each district chapter you'll find a general overview of the place, with notes on its history, characteristics, and flavor. This is followed by a string of detailed locations, and it is these descriptions that the city really comes alive. Rob Schwalb created a basic template that every location follows. This organizes the information in a standard way, so GMs can quickly reference what they need to know. A sample location follows. This is a new business that I added to the Eastern District, Strebeck's Beer Hall. Every location in the Pirate's Guide to Freeport follows this same format.

Strebeck’s Beer Hall

“Why is it called Battleaxe Brew? Because my head felt like I’d been hit with one when I overindulged on the first batch, that’s why.”
—Nathan Strebeck

Strebeck’s Beer Hall is an Eastern District institution. Hundreds of Freeporters drink and eat there every day, just as they’ve done for the past century. While the place has always been popular, the introduction of a new beer, Battleaxe Brew, fifteen years ago ensured its tables would be crowded every night.

History
Audley Strebeck, an entrepreneur from the Continent, founded his beer hall over one hundred years ago. He bought up several buildings near the East Gate of the Old City, demolished them, and then began construction. Local tavern owners predicted Strebeck would go out of business in less than a year. Audley proved them wrong, and by the time he died, he had a thriving business to pass on to his family.

Two more generations of Strebecks took their turns running the beer hall. Some forty years ago, Hayley Strebeck, granddaughter of Audley, had an affair with an elven privateer. The product of this union was a half-elf bastard named Nathan. Like his siblings, he was brought up working in the family business. Unlike them, he wanted to see what was beyond Freeport.

When Nathan was twenty, he joined a company of adventurers and traveled to the Continent. He apprenticed with a sorcerer and learned how to harness magic. A few years later, he accompanied his master to the lost dwarf hold of Urmanrog. The expedition was successful, and his master brought back many priceless treasures. Nathan got a small cut of the profits but none of the magic items discovered. He was not bitter, however, because he had secreted out something more valuable than gold to the son of brewing family: a sample of Urmanrog’s beer yeast.

Nathan returned to Freeport and reunited with his family. Urmanrog had been famous for its beer, and he hoped the yeast he brought home was that of the dwarf brewers. It didn’t take long for Nathan to have his answer. The first test batch of beer made the family’s traditional recipe taste like dishwater. Nathan dubbed it Battleaxe Brew, and it was introduced at Strebeck’s Beer Hall fifteen years ago. It was an instant hit, and since its debut, the brew and the beer hall have become legendary.

Description
Strebeck’s Beer Hall is a large, brick building next to the East Gate of the Old City. It has two main sections: a three-story brewery and the beer hall proper. The beer-making process starts on the top floor of the brewery and proceeds in stages down through the building until the finished barrels are deposited in the deep, cool beer cellar. The beer hall is attached to the brewery. It’s two stories tall—though really only one story with a high, vaulted ceiling. The beer hall has three public rooms: a main taproom and two smaller rooms that are sometimes rented for private functions. All of them are crammed with pine tables and chairs; a kitchen and several storerooms are in the back of the building. All told, the beer hall can seat four hundred customers.

Key Figures
The following characters can be found at Strebeck’s Beer Hall.

Ethlyn Strebeck
Ethlyn (female human journeyman) is Nathan’s older sister and the current proprietor of the Strebeck Beer Hall. Her job keeps her on her feet for twelve hours a day, and this active life has kept her fit despite her age. She jokes that her graying hair gives her an air of authority. In truth, she’s had that air for decades. Ethlyn runs a tight crew that can service hundreds of customers, day in and day out. She pays a fair wage and expects hard work in return. Long-time patrons call her Ethie, her childhood nickname, but others do so at their peril.

Nathan Strebeck
Nathan (male half-elf master) is Strebeck’s brew master. He doesn’t practice magic as actively as he used to, but it comes in handy when fights get out of hand. Nathan has never revealed the source of the yeast he brought back from his travels, not even to Ethlyn. If dwarven brewers knew what he had, they would stop at nothing to get it. While he will sometimes tell stories of his adventuring days in the beer hall, he never talks about the expedition to Urmanrog.

Adventure Hooks
An unspoken truce reigns at the Strebeck Beer Hall. There’s an occasional brawl, but the various gangs keep their clashes to the streets, by and large. But when two of these groups start having regular confrontations in the beer hall, Ethlyn needs help to sort it out. She doesn’t want to get in the middle of a gang war, nor does she want to lose business because her taproom turns into an arena. She needs the help of people who know how to deal with unruly gangers without arousing the wrath of the crime lords.

Nathan’s elven father returns to Freeport looking for his son. At first, Nathan is glad to see him. Soon he comes to realize his father has an agenda. He wants to use Strebeck’s as part of a scheme, hiding men and equipment in the beer cellar. Nathan does not want to endanger the family business, but he doesn’t know how to get his father to leave town. An elf privateer of vast experience, the father will not go gently.

March 23, 2007

The Third Man

Patrick O'Duffy

“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.

March 12, 2007

X Marks the Spot

Andy Law
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.

March 5, 2007

The Freeport Question

Rob Schwalb

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…

February 21, 2007

Freeport Designer Journal, Part 1

Chris Pramas

"What did I want? Danger, pleasure, the chance to simply look and sniff and imagine. Port towns have a pungent density of smells and sights; yet they are open, too, one whole wall removed and exposed to the sea, a place of comings and goings, dreams hatched and dreams dashed."
—Barbara Sjoholm

The Pirate Queen: In Search of Grace O'Malley and Other Legendary Women of the Sea

This spring Green Ronin is releasing the Pirate's Guide to Freeport, a new beginning for the famous "City of Adventure." Over the following weeks we're going to be telling you a lot about the book and our other plans for Freeport. Before I get into all the whys and wherefores, however, I'd like to start by giving you a basic overview of the book.

The Pirate's Guide to Freeport is a 256-page hardback book that fully details a city that can be used in any campaign setting and with any fantasy roleplaying game. Freeport takes classic fantasy elements and mixes them with pirates and Lovecraftian horror to create a unique city with a dangerous flavor. Unlike most game books, the Pirate's Guide is not tied to a particular game system. Every page of the book is dedicated to describing the city and giving you ideas on how to use as the backdrop of your campaign. Its features include:

  • An overview of the city, including its customs, politics, and laws.
  • A 16-page color section that includes beautiful paintings by renowned fantasy artist Wayne Reynolds.
  • A complete history and timeline of Freeport.
  • Over 100 fully detailed locations, from taverns and beer halls to prisons and asylums.
  • Details on Freeport’s many gangs, organizations, and cults.
  • A district by district breakdown of the city.
  • Over 200 characters, from pirates and priests to minstrels and mercenaries.
  • Details on the Serpent’s Teeth, the island group where Freeport is situated.
  • Beyond Freeport, an optional chapter that turns Freeport into a full campaign setting and offers details on “the Continent” for the very first time.
  • End papers with fantastic full color maps of the city, the Serpent’s Teeth, and the Continent by cartographer Andy Law.
  • Plenty of campaign advice, so GMs can make the most of Freeport.
  • Hundreds of adventure hooks that make all this material as easy to use as possible.

Some people have described Freeport as a cross between Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu but that's not quite right. If D&D and CoC went on a date and conceived an unholy progeny while watching Pirates of the Caribbean, THAT would be Freeport. Sound like fun yet?

Support Plans
With the Pirate's Guide to Freeport, the City of Adventure enters a major new phase, so it's only natural that we have plenty of support lined up. This consists of three major types of products: rules companions, setting books, and adventures.

Let me start with the rules companions first. Originally, Freeport was tied to one game system exclusively, but we decided to take a different approach this time around. While the Pirate's Guide details the setting, a series of companion books will tackle the rules. Each companion book will provide all the rules support you need for a specific system. The first of these is the True20 Freeport Companion and it will be followed this summer by the d20 Freeport Companion. Each one is tailored for the system it supports. The d20 adaptation will have new core and prestige classes, for example, but such things are not required in the True20 version. Every companion will include a short adventure that can be used to kick off a new campaign, as well as stats for important NPCs. We are planning Freeport companions for other rules systems as well, some in print and some in PDF format. Watch for future announcements to see what systems we’ll be supporting.

The second type of support we have planned is setting books. These will be similar in format to the Pirate’s Guide but focusing in on a single topic. At the moment two of these are in design. The first is Cults of Freeport, which will detail many of the city’s vilest organizations (including the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign). The second is Buccaneers of Freeport, which provides a pack of vicious pirates for use in your games and includes full details on their crews and ships. Rules support for these books will appear either in the companions or as free PDF downloads from greenronin.com.

The last type of support is adventures. These take a more traditional approach and include game stats for a single system. Support for other systems will be available as free downloads. Right now Green Ronin’s major adventure line, the Bleeding Edge series, is designed for the d20 System but there are True20 conversions on true20.com. The Bleeding Edge adventures take place on “the Continent,” the major land mass nearest to Freeport. Bleeding Edge #7 will take place in Freeport itself. You may also see some Freeport adventures in PDF form.

Let’s Go!
Stay tuned for more of my design diaries, as well as those of my co-designers on the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, Robert J. Schwalb and Patrick O’Duffy. We’ll be talking about the design decisions of the book, how new and old elements were blended together, and just how the whole thing came together. We’ll also be putting some art previews and doing a special installment on the new, jaw-droppingly beautiful maps.

Welcome to the City of Adventure, mates. This is the just the beginning.