Tuesday, July 05, 2011


Take one part Lankhmar, one part Sanctuary, and one part Port Royal, mix in some Dungeons & Dragons and season with some Cthulhu Mythos and you end up with Freeport. I'm a relative newcomer to Freeport, a setting originally created for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. In fact, Death In Freeport was one of only two d20 books released on the same day as the 3rd Edition Player's Handbook back in 2000 (that's according to Green Ronin, the company that publishes Freeport).

The setting developed over the years with a number of adventures and sourcebooks until the approaching 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, with the accompanying changes in licensing, caused the folks at Green Ronin to divorce the system from D&D and make it a systemless setting designed to either be used on its own or dropped into another world at the choice of the people using it.

As a result they produced The Pirate's Guide to Freeport, a system neutral setting book describing the city, and to a lesser extent its immediate surroundings as well as the overall world it exists in. Since then they have released a number of Companion books that provide rules to adapt the setting to different systems, including True 20, D&D 3.5, Savage Worlds, Castles & Crusades, Pathfinder, and D&D 4th Edition (although this last is from another publisher, apparently for legal reasons).

I have the Pathfinder Freeport Companion, but haven't really looked at it much yet, and I'm not sure I'll ever use it. I'm not really sure it's that necessary, although it does offer rules for gunpowder weapons and other things that aren't in the Pathfinder Core Rules, so it would probably be nice to have if running Freeport in Pathfinder.

The reason I don't think the Companion is all that necessary is that the setting stands on its own even without detailed stats, and should be useable in any D&D inspired game system with little work, and any Fantasy RPG with just a bit more creativity. The city is predominantly human, but has representatives of all the other standard fantasy RPG races: dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings as well as goblins, orcs and hobgoblins. It also has one or two unique races that could be easily statted up, or simply left out.

The fantasy elements are really well done in that they offer flavor without being so specific as to make it difficult to insert them into a different world. For example, there's Bloodsalt. Bloodsalt is the goblinoid ghetto where all the orcs, goblins and hobgoblins have been forced to relocate. There's a plot hook involving the animosity between hobgoblins and orcs, but if you don't have hobgoblins in your world it could be two rival orc tribes instead. If you don't have goblinoids at all it could be some other sort of ghetto. The point is that in most places where the setting involves racial distinctions, it should't be too difficult to tweak things if those races aren't in your world, or they behave differently. Part of what makes this easy is the very lack of system specific details.

In fact, the ease with which one element can be dropped out of the mix without messing up the rest of the picture is probably the setting's biggest strength. Everything works together, but most elements can be taken out or ignored without causing gaping holes in the logic of the rest of the setting.

The biggest problem I have is the pantheon of gods in Freeport, and it's because they took this idea of interchangeability a bit too far. At some point they decided to leave the gods unnamed. They just say "god of war" or "god of the sea" and let you fill it in with the most appropriate god from the setting you're dropping Freeport into. There are two problems with this. The first is that if you're not dropping it into a setting at all, but using the default Freeport setting, then you have to come up with names and other details on your own. The second is when the details of the pantheon for the setting you're dropping it into doesn't match up with what is needed for Freeport.

There are only four major gods worshiped in Freeport: knowledge, war, the sea, and pirates. The first problem is that out of several established fantasy pantheons I've gone through only one has a god of pirates. The second problem is related to the fact that there are at least another eleven gods mentioned in parts of the text (not counting silly gods, like the god of hinges). That's fifteen gods total. Most fantasy pantheons I'm familiar with simply don't have that many gods.

It would have been more useful if they had gone ahead and named the gods. Those gods could still be replaced with ones more appropriate to the setting you're dropping it into, while providing details for any gods that don't appear in that setting.

Still, it's a minor point in an otherwise excellent setting. I'm unlikely to ever use it as it stands in my own games, but I've already been inspired by it to create a short Burning Wheel adventure featuring pirate characters based out of a similar setting. If you like reading about original fantasy settings then you should check out The Pirate's Guide to Freeport.


librarian said...

It's the pirate thing that keeps me from Freeport. I'm more of a ninja guy myself. God of Pirates indeed. Heh. I'd probably name him Jack Sparrow and be done.

Fulminata said...

I'm more of a ninja guy as well, but pirates still have their place ;-)

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