The Third Man
“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.