Pirates Guide to Freeport

It is rare to see a setting get reinvented by throwing the rules out. Most settings seem to be defined by the rules and the exceptions to them they demand. And then to just release the setting with no rules attached at all is not something commonly seen in the gaming industry. Not many companies can really do this and expect success.

Pirates Guide to Freeport is the latest installation of the setting. It has come a long ways since Death in Freeport a module released at the same time as the 3e Players Handbook. The full city did not get a book till 2002 and the Pirates Guide is the twelfth book in the series not counting a few odds and ends done by other publishers. I was prepared to do the research to include a bit of the settings history in the review but lucky for me a two page Publishing History is included in the book.

Freeport is a city founded and used by pirates. It has a good history in the first chapter. The time line of Pirates Guide to Freeport assumes that the modules have already happened. There are spoilers for some of the bigger events that happened in some of the modules in the history. The history of the city is bloody and filled with conflict and intrigue. But it really shows how a pirate city survives and manages to not get destroyed by the many external and internal forces that want it.

The book is mostly black and white. The second chapter though is done in color. In it some of the cover pictures from other books are included and it is nice to see them here. There is plenty of original art work in the book. The mix of color and black and white looks good here. Freeport is not a city of vibrant colors so contrast between the sections is not as apparent as other books I have seen this in. The lay out and cartography are of a similar high standard Green Ronin has had in many of their products. The color map on the inside covers would make a great poster map. Hopefully, one will eventually be released.

The feel of the setting is a good mix of dirty and gritty Pirates with a bit of horror here and there. The city is a functioning city with honest people and businesses. The underlying villainy of it all though is not even attempted to be hidden. The place is a free haven for pirates and criminals. They try to follow the pirate’s code in the city. That is none of the different factions attack each other. There is a Captain’s Council and Sea Lord that serve as the heads of the city. But the city watch is there to protect the city a little more then its citizens. They are not always going to take an interest in every little or kind of big crime that goes on. It is one of the reasons even before Green Ronin got the license that Freeport reminded me of Sanctuary.

The city does have one item though that I think pulls it out of the grim and gritty feeling it does a great job of projecting. It is mentioned on a sidebar and it is easy to ignore. The city is protected by magical siege cannons. It explains how they got them and that is a big mystery of its own. They were recovered from some inner planar ship is what is thought. It takes the souls of three people to fire the things and that is not commonly known. A single shot from one cannon can destroy a full sized ship. It is one element but the piece in the book I found to be the least fitting for the setting.

The city is divided into different districts and each one gets its own chapter. A few key places are defined in each district and some of the chapters have very nicely written up ghost stories for them. Each chapter is well written and easy to locate things in. A great care has been giving to make each section feel unique and really makes each district feel like its own smaller city within the Freeport.

There is a chapter on the Denizens of Freeport. It is a place to find the key NPCs of the city. I love this chapter. It is great to see a chapter of people and not have to read through stat blocks. It does not matter what the game is having no stat blocks is just nice. Each NPC has a well done background, appearance, personality, secrets and goals, and adventure hooks for them. It is a place filled with ideas and when looking for a simple adventure idea there are many to choose from here.

Freeport is mostly designed to be placed into an existing fantasy setting. There is information on how to do that. There is also some basic information for its own fantasy setting if one does not already have one in mind. A near by continent is mapped out and the countries are described in short yet informative section.

Freeport is known as the City of Adventure and this book really shows why that is. The book is not just useful for the City of Freeport though. Anyone running an urban fantasy game can find some good ideas for characters and places in this book. It is very easy to use this book piecemeal like that taking only the best from each section one likes. With a little work it will work in other genres as well.

Freeport has been one of the most popular new settings since it came out. This book opens the setting up for people that were not fans of the D&D game. I really like how they did this book without stats or rules. It is easier to read without the interference of rules.