Designer Journal: Beyond Freeport
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.