Left Out In The Cold With The Price Of Freedom RPG
  • Left Out In The Cold With The Price Of Freedom RPG


    It seems like Russia is everywhere these days. Old Cold War paranoias are resurfacing. Combine that with the 80's aesthetic revival reflected in new games like Tales From The Loop, Unmasked and Sigmata: This Signal Kills Facsists, it looks like it might be time to dust off an old forgotten gem.


    In 1986, West End Games released the Price Of Freedom. A game about Guerilla fighters in a soviet occupied America. At the time, it suffered in part because of its own zeitgeist-seizing. Many took its then right wing -style branding at face value and found the idea of taking a soviet land invasion seriously a bit silly. Looking at the product in 2018, it's clear that the game is purposefully overblown and more interested in giving the players a toolkit for aping Red Dawn than working as cold war propaganda. But is it a well oiled fighting machine, or has the doomsday clock run out on it as a game?

    Compared to games of the time, there's not that much like it. A lot of games with a military bent tended to be focused on making 'realistic' representations of war. The obvious comparison is Twilight 2000, a game that played as written should involve some heavy meditations on power and war. Price embraces more of a pulpy tone, with players feeling like they were there to 'kick ass and chew bubblegum' unironically. At the same time, it keeps things fairly grounded, avoiding to 'cyber' up the conflict like later games, Cyborg Commando & Reich Star. This refusal to embrace the then emergent cyberpunk zeitgeist allows the game today to still function on a lightweight ruleset that you could easily apply to any tale of human resistance.

    Aesthetically, the game is still quite fun and due to its 80's setting, has aged well – things that would seem outmoded now seem 'era specific'. The components are ooze feeling, with the character sheet taking the form of ID papers and the rules are plastered with slogans like 'I'd rather Die on my feet than live on my knees' creating specific atmosphere.

    As well as a 2 base books, you are given a series of 'freedom files' that allow you run the game with a two minute skim read. The system really gets itself out of the way with character creation being points spend and the system being a very quick 'roll under x stat on a D20' for most resolutions. The amazing part for me is that in a game of this era the complexities of combat, often the most crunchy part of any system, are resolved in a couple of pages. There's far more pages here on genre and ideology. I am really surprised that younger me didn't play more of this game when I struggled for years with games that had complex systems that slowed everything down.

    There's a number of mechanics I like but one of note is that melee weapons have a 'Bushwack number' - meaning if you surprise someone and roll under that number on a D20, you kill them outright. It's a masterful idea that really recreates that 'Hollywood stealth kill' and allows the players to effectively use stealth tactics rather than just opening fire every time.

    Also, the game combat rounds work with everyone deciding what they are going to do, then the combat round plays out. Normally I'd hate that, with some players actions wasted or some combat being an exercise in misjudgement. But as a way of representing the total chaos of guerrilla warfare, I think it's pretty fitting.

    Sadly, this game didn't do too well in the long run. A handful of sourcebooks, then obscurity. I can see why – The game has a very niche audience. I want to give it a chance but the truth is it's sat on my shelf since the early 90's and while the occasional player really likes the idea, the rest of the group look at it like it's actually written in Russian. I think at the time it was viewed as too relevant and now it's viewed as almost irrelevant. The tone of the book suggests that with the right group the game can raise interesting questions about at what level violence solves violence. I'd love to hear if anyone actually played a campaign, how it ended and if it turned out to be deep and meaningful in any way.

    contributed by Benjamin Jackson
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. lyle.spade's Avatar
      lyle.spade -
      I have that game, too, and read through it again just a few weeks ago while watching Red Dawn (the original, of course) and thinking about running a short story arc for my group. I don't know if it'll happen, but it's certainly a nostalgia throwback...to a better decade.
    1. Flexor the Mighty! -
      I need a Better Dead than Red shirt....and that headband.
    1. ScaleyBob's Avatar
      ScaleyBob -
      I remember it coming out in the 80's and the amusing contraversy it caused in the White Dwarf letters page. Looking back at it now (and the few times it's been reviewed) it does appear to be a more of a satire than anything else. The fact it's by Greg Costikyan who also wrote Paranoia and several other light hearted games gives credence to this theory.
      It's a game I've always wanted to get, but it was fairly rare even when it was first released.
    1. lyle.spade's Avatar
      lyle.spade -
      Quote Originally Posted by Flexor the Mighty! View Post
      I need a Better Dead than Red shirt....and that headband.
      I picked up a shirt last year - navy blue with a red outline of the kid with the AK held aloft, and under it, with the beast head outline: WOLVERINES

      Yeah. Oh yeah.
    1. lyle.spade's Avatar
      lyle.spade -
      Quote Originally Posted by ScaleyBob View Post
      I remember it coming out in the 80's and the amusing contraversy it caused in the White Dwarf letters page. Looking back at it now (and the few times it's been reviewed) it does appear to be a more of a satire than anything else. The fact it's by Greg Costikyan who also wrote Paranoia and several other light hearted games gives credence to this theory.
      It's a game I've always wanted to get, but it was fairly rare even when it was first released.
      The author doesn't frame it so much as satire as intentionally over the top in its presentation of the story, which is part of the fun that it seeks to facilitate at the table.
    1. hawkeyefan's Avatar
      hawkeyefan -
      I had this game when I was a kid. My folks got it for me for Christmas. I played many times with a couple of friends. It was a boxed set that came with a couple of maps and some small square pawns. We had a lot of fun playing Red Dawn style games.

      It was very early in my days as a GM, and I’m sure I botched a lot of rules, but I remember them being pretty simple for the most part. If I remember correctly, the characters had no hit points but instead getting hit inflicted a wound. The better the hit the more severe the wound.

      I even recall that there were pregenerated characters. My favorite was an old Jewish guy named Moishe. He seemed like such an odd choice of character that I loved it.

      No idea if it would hold up today, but I remember it being a lot of fun.
    1. bedir than's Avatar
      bedir than -
      "The Price of Freedom is 19.99"

      That bit right there would be enough to convince me to buy it now
    1. LuisCarlos17f's Avatar
      LuisCarlos17f -
      Today with help by internet we know a lot of things about the communist dictatorships, for example the Ucranian Holodomor, or Mao's cultural revolution, or the war between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1978, both communist regimes (and like this Pol Pot's genocide ended), or the tortures in the chekas were worse than Catholic Inquisition, or the shootings in the Cuban stronghold of "la Cabaña" by order of Ché Guevara. I mean the anti-communism isn't ridiculous or stupy, but there were good reasons to think they were the true "evil empire". Don't you know anything about the tortures in the Rumanian prison of Pistesti? Do you understand it or do we need a book like "Animal Farm" by George Orwell to explain it?

      Do you know the cartoons of Pepa Pig has just been censored in China? A cartoon for children!! And their plan with cameras in all streets, and the social credit system, the "Black Mirror" nightmare in the real world.
    1. fantasmamore's Avatar
      fantasmamore -
      Quote Originally Posted by LuisCarlos17f View Post
      Today with help by internet we know a lot of things about the communist dictatorships[...]
      History is written by the winners. There are a lot of crimes committed by both sides. Today we only have one side and war crimes haven't stopped. It doesn't really matters who was the worst; there were no angels in this fight, only monsters. Maybe we should all keep our political comments to ourselves.
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      Twilight 2000 was grim business. The Price of Freedom was more like the Cannon Films version. The ads were certainly eye-catching back during the Cold War. Never played it, but it sounds like it’d be fun to revisit.
    1. LuisCarlos17f's Avatar
      LuisCarlos17f -
      Usually History is written by the winners, but about the Spanish civil war it is like written by who lost it. If I say "My Lai", lots of Northamericans know about I talk, and they feel uncomfortable, but if I say "Huế Massacre" almost all body has no idea. Do you know what means "Chistka" (= Stalin's purges) or dekukalization? Did you know the evolution theory wasn't allowed to be taught in Stalin's age because it was against Trofin Lysenko's pseudoscientific theories? Do you know nothing about the Katyn massacre in Poland? A clue: it wasn't by the nazis. And about Vietnamese boat people? In China if you are Christian you can't put a crucifix in your sitting room, but Xi Jipiang's image. (I wonder about if Blade, Buffy Summer or Van Hellsing had to use his photo against Chinese vampire)

      In the last times (after Reagan's age at least) the "anti-communist" has a poor or bad image in the main media, and we aren't told about the reasons East Europe broke links with Kremlin and moved to the other side, changed side, they didn't thank Moscow because they were saved from the capitalists' claws. Today East Europeans are the most fierce anti-communists because they didn't forget what they lived.

      It is really curious, Hollywood usually make us to remember about the horrible things happened in the dark age, but almost never about the nightmare of living in a communist dictatorship. Who remembers the film "Red Dawn", the 2012 remake with Chris Hemworth (who plays god Thor in marvel movies) as main character?
    1. marcoasalazarm -
      Isn't there this roleplaying game where PCs are the Resistance to a U.S. invasion, the rules could be switched for the opposing force to be either "Red Dawn"-style world war or aliens? Think there was, but can't remember the name.
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