Welcome to Freeport, the city of pirates! Okay, how cool is that? Sure, many other settings have offered similar ideas, but I’ve never seen one with as much polish. Anyone can design a pirate city that is nothing but a gathering of thugs, but to be truly cool, it must behave like a real city. It’s gotta have sewers that work and bureaucrats to collect taxes. There must be nice, safe neighborhoods for middle class folks, and churches and vegetable markets. However, while it must have all those things, it can never lose its piratical flavor. Not an easy challenge, but one that Green Ronin Publishing met when it designed its Freeport setting.
The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport has everything you need to run a pirate campaign using your fantasy roleplaying system of choice. A rich premise, interesting characters, plot ideas. But it didn’t germinate overnight — the setting has been around for years. It debuted in 2000 with Death in Freeport, which went on to win an ENnie and an Origins award. A d20 product, it followed basically the same rules as Dungeons & Dragons. Nine years and eleven books later, Freeport has developed its own rich history. It has also ceased using the d20 rules, meaning that it serves as more of a systemless resource for any fantasy game. Characters found in the book are classified as apprentice, journeyman and master to reflect their general skill level. Familiar spells are referenced only by description, rather than by name. While this may be understandable because of the realities of being a small game publisher, I couldn’t help but wish for more details. What magic items do the NPCs have? What monsters lurk in the sewers?
Of course, systemless resources intended for D&D players have been around forever (think Flying Buffalo’s fabulous Citybook series from the ’80s) but it’s not often that they’re done with this much detail and style. Everything about the Freeport setting oozes history. Many similar products shoehorn a token backstory onto the setting, because they suspect that you’ll want to drop the city into your own campaign. This may be true, but in order to have real-seeming complexity, you must have some story. Conversely, a lot of older settings have so much history that they cannot decide what to cut, and the product becomes too overburdened with needless backstory. Freeport felt just right, with plenty of pirate history, politics, legend, and rumor.
The Pirate’s Guide to Freeport comes hardcover bound, with a very cool full color map of the city on the inside cover. Chapter 1 recounts the city’s history, which as I mentioned, is plentiful and rich. Chapter 2, titled "The City of Adventure" provides something you don’t see very often, where the sights and sounds, the "feel" of the city are covered. Then the book covers the various neighborhoods, one per chapter: The Docks, Scurvytown, Bloodsalt, and so on. Needless to say, no proper fantasy city can exist without gloriously convoluted and monstrously teeming sewer tunnels, and Freeport doesn’t disappoint. Next the book describes some of the notable NPCs of the city. Helpfully, an entire chapter is devoted to merging Freeport into your campaign.
Chapter 15 covers the world of Freeport. The description begins with a creation myth telling the story of Yig, serpent god who gathered together an island out of the primordial soup, and populated it with snake people. Eventually, a cult worshipping a forgotten god ("The Unspeakable One") laid Yig’s empire low by manifesting their god in the center of Yig’s island, Valossa. The island crumbled and the empire was finished. Millennia later, Freeport was established in the ruins of the Valossan Empire. Beyond this island, the primary adventuring area of the World of Freeport is the Continent, a much larger land mass with its own nations and history. Its denizens are humans, demihumans and humanoids, the descendants of the snake peoples’ slaves. Now established with cities and armies, it is these nations that the pirates of Freeport pillage. Little do they know that beneath Freeport, Yig slumbers and dreams.
On its ninth year and still going strong, Pirate’s Guide has been nominated for four ENnies this year, showing that this puppy isn’t going away anytime soon. With great writing, wonderful details and a rich history, expect lots of cool supplements for years to come.
Like the book and wanna read more? As mentioned, Pirate’s Guide has numerous products available from Green Ronin’s store. Also, if you’re a D&D fan, make sure to check out their Guide for Converting Freeport to D&D 4th Edition. Or if you’d rather play True20, the Freeport Companion (also nominated for a ENnie) fills in the stats for the various NPCs, as well as providing a full True20 adventure. And finally, if you prefer Warhammer FRP when getting medieval, the Green Ronin cats have a blog entry detailing WFRP conversion tips.