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…