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[Let's Read] Freedom City: Every Edition!

Libertad

Adventurer
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Hello everyone! I’m back in the reviewing game today! Looking back this past year…scratch that, year and a half, I realized that the overwhelming majority of my reviewed content has been Dungeons & Dragons books, especially 5th Edition. I do enjoy the system, but after a while it got monotonous. When I came upon this review on RPGnet, it inspired me to try something different for a change: covering the evolution of the setting for one of the most popular superhero RPGs on the marketplace.

When the D20 System was still hot and fresh, all sorts of products and genres were being thrown at it. There were a few superhero RPGs made for it, like Silver Age Sentinels, but virtually all of them sank pretty quickly for a variety of reasons. Mutants & Masterminds was the standout: its First Edition of 2002 was still very D20ish, but it didn’t take long for the designers to realize that a faithful ode to the genre would require greater departures from the fantasy dungeon-crawling the D20 System is optimized for, so in 2005 they released a Second Edition which went on to be incredibly popular. The current Third Edition was released in 2011, and there is some debate among the fanbase as to whether 2nd or 3rd is better, although the latter seems to be winning out. Borrowing inspiration from Champions, Mutants & Masterminds is a crunchy open-ended “build your own superhero/powers” system where the D20 is the sole die used for every means of resolution. Every Edition moved further away from 3rd Edition D&D, to the point that M&M 3e is almost its own thing.

Freedom City is the official flagship setting for Mutants & Masterminds, with a new version made for every Edition; the world it takes place in is officially known as Earth-Prime and has been expanded on in further supplements. Unlike typical comic book universes that go by Marvel’s “Sliding Timescale,” each edition of Freedom City more or less advanced in real time based on the product’s publication date: 2003 for 1e, 2005 for 2e, and 2017 for 3e. As you can imagine, the greatest amount of changes came during 3rd Edition, and while there’s definitely a metaplot it tends to avoid the White Wolf follies of making godlike NPCs tower over PCs who can only watch rather than change things on their own. On the contrary, starting-level PCs can be easily built to be the equal match of many of Earth-Prime’s most prominent superheroes. So rather than reviewing an individual book, I decided to be different and illustrate the evolution of the setting, noting where I can on what things changed while still giving a comprehensive overview. Interesting features specific to a certain Edition will be marked as 1e, 2e, and 3e.

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Introduction to Freedom City

I’ll note that each book differs in terms of chapters and separation, so I won’t be separating things by numbered Chapters. However, huge portions of the book have been repeated, plus or minus a few tweaks and metaplot/rules updates, so much of the information covered in this review can accurately summarize any of them.

The book opens up with a Foreward by creator Steve Kenson, explaining the comic book influences and how the Freedom City setting came to be: basically it existed before Mutants & Masterminds as a concept for a now-defunct superhero RPG. Originating for Steve’s private amusement, it soon proved useful in providing a proper world to play around in for the new Mutants & Masterminds RPG. What follows are Basic Premises for the setting that maps closely to Marvel/DC tropes: people with superpowers always existed but “went public” around WW2, superpowers are diverse in origin and function, the State no longer has a monopoly on violence due to permissive vigilante laws, etc.

We also have details on the overall history of the world, which more or less mirrors real-world history save for things such as prehistoric civilizations like Atlantis and the Serpent People of Lemuria, a lamp-bearing ghost fighting British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, and Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt and Winston Churchill creating state-sanctioned superhero teams (the Liberty League and Allies of Freedom) to fight fascism in World War II.

The 20th and 21st Centuries get the lion’s share of content, and are divided thematically based on the Ages of Superhero Comics. The Golden Age premiered with the advent of the Centurion* smashing a bank robber’s car, and the Nazis deploying their own superpowered der Übermensch as a supposed Aryan** answer to America’s Centurion.

*Think Superman, but whose homeworld was an alternate dimension destroyed by Omega, the Thanos/Darkseid Expy.

**He was actually not human at all, but an exile from a race of cosmic energy wielders known as the Ultima.

The Golden Age came to an end when Joe McCarthy convinced Americans that mask-wearing mystery men were Communist spies, and summoned the Liberty League before the HUAC to intimidate them into unmasking and ratting on their fellows. Instead they gave Tailgunner Joe the finger and went independent, with only the Centurion and Lady Liberty remaining active throughout the entirety of the 50s.

The Silver Age began when the Greek God Hades invaded Freedom City in 1960 with an undead army, and the Centurion and other heroes got together to send them back to Tartarus. They formed the Freedom League, which was like the Liberty League but supported by private donations instead of government approval. The public welcomed them back whole-heartedly, and the mixture of Golden Age veterans and new superheroes went on to fight a new generation of threats. AEGIS (American Elite Government Intervention Service) was also formed, a US government agency tasked with dealing with superhuman threats.

The cost of crime-fighting took its toll on heroes by the Bronze Age of the 1970s, with a rise in more violent vigilantes, occult threats, and the deaths or retirement of superheroes. By the Iron Age of the 1980s, many Americans felt threatened by the new crop of bloodthirsty anti-heroes that seemed to predominate. Politician Franklin Moore* ran on a zero tolerance policy against vigilantism and made private superheroing illegal in Freedom City. He was highly corrupt and ran the police like his own private army, and both sides of the law were influenced by organized crime.

*who is definitely not an homage to Watchman Nixon and named after that comic’s acclaimed writer.

The Modern Age began in 1993 with the Terminus Invasion, where Omega sent his extradimensional army to invade Freedom City. Much like Hades’ invasion this united the superhero community, but unlike those times the Freedom League would lose something precious. The Centurion perished in battle against Omega, who was believed to have died as well in the aftermath but in reality had to retreat. The Centurion’s death was mourned throughout the world, but this sorrow was put to productive use in kicking Moore out of office, making superheroes legal again, and Freedom City was rebuilt with the aid of superpowered help.

Here’s where things differ depending on what book you own: the 90s overall were happier times than the Iron Age, with the premier of the newest generation of the Atom Family (think Fantastic Four), the Raven (Batman) opening up the Claremont Academy as a school for superpowered teenagers, and the undersea nation of Atlantis got mass mind-controlled to invade the surface world before the Freedom League and Atom Family destroyed the MacGuffin (the Serpent Scepter) and drove off the masterminds (the Deep Ones).

By 2nd Edition Omega tried to destroy reality by seeding cosmic bombs through various dimensions and was stopped by a band of new-time heroes (the PCs) in the published adventure Time of Crisis. The Grue (Skrull) Unity also invaded Earth, and the Freedom League gained some new members and built a satellite headquarters orbiting Earth.

By 3rd Edition, several 2nd Edition material and events were added to the metaplot such as Claremont Academy getting its own superhero team, an increase in supervillains of a magical nature, and an alien robot mass-empowering humans randomly in the otherwise superhuman-free metropolis of Emerald City. Which is the other big setting book and also an adventure path for 3rd Edition. Earth-Prime also got its own Marvel-style “oppressed people with superpowers” trope in the form of…groan…illegal aliens. A cosmic force of oblivion known as Collapsar devouring worlds and the tyrannical Stellar Khanate taking over the democratic Lor Republic caused a galactico-political crisis, forcing many alien refugees to head towards Earth. This Age’s right-wing anti-superhero politician, Freedom City Mayor and big-time business mogul Jonathan Grant, started rounding up refugees and claiming their technology for personal profit. He was implicated in the creation of an alien-human hybrid assassin to murder his daughter, a prominent alien rights activist, but before he could spill anything further on his associates he got murdered in confinement. The position of Earth’s Master Mage became vacant (think the head of all mages), and Daedalus (Ancient Greek Iron Man) created a colony on Europa for the alien refugees to resettle.

Beyond the history, the introduction details the city in very broad strokes, with much of the information covered in more detail in the following chapters. Although we do get rumors of a “Phantom Cab” that seems to appear at random beyond mortal comprehension, known to get people safely out of dangerous situations. 3e is written like a travel brochure, including in-character quotes and pictures by notable residents telling readers about the wonders of their home along with some hand-written style editorial notes.

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Life in Freedom

1e and 2e had outlines for Freedom City demographics. I decided to compare its population to other US cities in 2005, and it’s around the population of Los Angeles. It’s also slightly smaller than New York City (302.6 square miles/487 square kilometers) and far smaller than Los Angeles (503 square miles/809.5 square kilometers).

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Those 2005 rent prices, tho.

Amateur Discourse on Demographics from a US Citizen! A few observations. First off, there’s a massive amount of Libertarian voters. In most elections at the local and national levels, third parties squeak out miniscule amounts. Additionally a lot of self-defined Libertarians end up voting for Republicans, where the actual Libertarian Parties tend to be very ideologically different than Libertarian-Republicans,* so you’re splitting up an already-tiny movement. In terms of racial demographics Freedom City is closest to New York City in going by the largest US cities at the time, albeit with a much higher white population and smaller percentages of Asians and Latinos. Another thing to note is that generally speaking Hispanic/Latino people have their own separate category in US Census surveys due to having a multi-ethnic history, although this is more of an Anglo tradition borne out of US racial perceptions (Latin American countries tend to group people differently).

2e and 3e has a side-bar discussing in laymen’s terms the legal alterations in Earth-Prime that allow superheroes to operate in the United States. Costumed identities are treated as separate legal entities so superheroes can do things like testifying in court without unmasking, mind-reading and super-senses can violate the 4th and 5th Amendments depending on context and evidence acquired solely through them cannot be admissible in court, superheroes don’t have to follow criminal procedures unless they work for law enforcement, and generally speaking superheroes can reasonably get away with using superpowers as weapons provided they don’t do more than the minimum force needed. The law cracks down hard on superheroes who kill and maim criminals, which is likely in part due to the negative social stigma of the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Oddly there’s no mention of the legal status of nonhuman yet intelligent entities, such as the “personhood” status of AI or self-aware pets. I’d imagine that this would be a big one to cover.

The bulk of the section covers notable (mostly non-superpowered) people and places, from local restaurant chains, media institutions, major corporations, and more. Many entries have little in the way of foul plots or direct ties to the superhero community, and are meant more to “fill in” Freedom City.

The largest Businesses in Freedom City include DeCosta Construction which may or may not have ties to the Italian Mafia, not one but three “evil corporations” managed by CEOs who have extensive criminal contacts via Delphic Indutries (shipping), Grant Conglomerates (biotechnology), and Majestic Industries (chemicals and heavy industry), and the Rhodes Foundation whose CEO is waiting for the return of the Scarab,* the former CEO and Freedom League member who has reincarnated throughout human history to wage a never-ending battle against his evil rival the sorcerer Tan-Aktor. We also get two major banks (to rob or protect from robbers), three law firms and one whose criminal defense attorneys have made pacts with infernal entities, and two private security firms to act as cannon fodder, mercenaries, or even for more profit-driven superheroes to work for.

*And that reincarnation can very easily be a PC!

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The Educational institutions are split into high schools and colleges for our Spider-Man aged PCs to frequent, including the rough and tumble Joseph Clark high school that has long been plagued by drugs and gang violence, and the esteemed Claremont Academy that looks for superpowered teenagers around the world to enroll and teach them the responsible use of their powers. The Hanover Institute of Technology competes with MIT for budding young minds to create wondrous scientific marvels, and Master Lee’s School of Self-Defense is managed by a disciple of esoteric martial arts techniques. But after one of his pupils turned evil, Master Lee is reluctant to teach unless someone proves themselves of moral worth.

Libraries and “fine art” installations include some interesting spins, such as a museum of history that also has alien and non-human artifacts on display, a Super Museum dedicated to masked mystery men (and the villains they fought) of all stripes. The Healthcare industry is state of the art on account of necessity for all the collateral damage that comes from Freedom City being the epicenter of so many world-defining events, and the Freedom Medical Center has doctors who specialize in superpowers and their medical applications. There’s also Providence Asylum, which in the 90s received approval to treat mentally ill superhumans.

In 1e the Asylum sat upon a Native American holy ground which was responsible for an increase in supernatural activity, although later editions removed this. The 3e texts for mentally ill superhumans are different from prior editions, which indirectly linked mental illness and criminality, whereas the current edition uses more neutral language.

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The Media is given a pretty thorough write-up in comparison to other entries, likely to encourage PCs that want to go Clark Kenting. We learn a bit about what superhero comic books look like in Earth-Prime. Castle Comics is the most prominent publisher, and superhero comic books primarily focus on the (in-universe) real-world events of superheroes and supervillains, and thus have their own newswire services to keep up with current events.

For print media, the Daily Herald is a right-wing newspaper who is constantly critical of superheroes and reserves particular ire for ones who operate in poorer communities, who they described as armed thugs who “should be taken off the streets. In 1e and 2e they were very homophobic, questioning why the League let the “sexual deviant” Johnny Rocket join their organization. The more liberal Freedom Ledger is the oldest newspaper and is overall more supportive of superheroes, given that its Beaumont family owners have traditionally borne the mantle of Bowman throughout the ages. They earned acclaim for reporting during Omega’s invasion and the death of the Centurion. The other newspapers focus on more specialized topics, such as the gossipy Daily Word and the financially-focused Wading Way Bulletin.

Radio and Television are more personality-focused due to the host-based nature, such as the news reporter Amy Fend who is known for being brave enough to try and interview super-villains in the middle of their crimes, and Super-Vision is a multi-media franchise dedicated to all things superpowered. 1e and 2e had a write-up for a reality show star, Richard “Voyeur” Royer, who was a super-powered mutant who had the ability to project whatever he sees and hears as a radio signal that can be picked up and recorded by electronic devices. I suppose that with the ubiquitous presence of smartphones in 2017, he long passed his 15 minutes of fame by 3rd Edition.

The US Military has a presence in Freedom City, although they generally let superheroes handle the “smaller-scale” supervillains and instead focus on helping repel larger invasions. Star Island used to serve as a command center for space-related research, although it hosted a large refugee camp of aliens in the 2010s, and is now under the watch of AEGIS who guards the teleportal platform that connects to the colony in Europa.

The Parks and Aquariums serve as good places to host big battles for adventures, and two of them even have maps! Lake MacKenzie once served as home to lake monsters, giant crocodiles, and serial killers…although those are supposedly urban legends. Liberty Park saw its fair share of incidents, such as the Green Man transforming it into a deadly headquarters full of floral soldiers. Riverside Park has a 100 foot tall statue of the Centurion, constructed after his death. And Happanuk Hill was a burial ground to the (fictional) Indigenous tribe of the same name, preserved as an historical site and mystic experts claim that there are lingering traces of power.

2e had advice for using Ocean Heights Amusement Parks in campaigns, such as ideas for converted deathtraps, circus and entertainment-themed supervillains, as well a place for PCs to have some fun in their secret identities.

1e had its own section on Politics, which is absent in later Editions. There’s a write-up for a Republican Representative who is finding her platform increasingly out of touch with newer constituents, a Southside political activist who “reports from the outside” and covers economic issues such as homelessness and uneven infrastructural funding, a Democratic Senator who is trying to convince several scientifically-inclined superheroes to mass-produce their inventions and is head of the Senate Committee on Superhuman affairs, the leader of an LGBT rights organization, and a write-up on CODE or Citizens for Order, Decency, & Ethics. CODE was a media watchdog group that formed during the early 80s and helped elect Franklin More towards mayordom, and their mission statement is that independent superheroes not part of the State do more ill than harm, such as the property damage from battles with supervillains and encouraging children to emulate their risky behavior as role models. Unsurprisingly they’re not very popular in Freedom City, but draw the most support in Midwestern and Southern states.

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Religion explains that Freedom City is predominantly Christian, although it is home to a higher than normal portion of Voodoo and neopagan practitioners, the former due to the Loa known as Siren being a Freedom League member. The Islamic Center of Freedom City recently faced attempted arson by a Neo-Nazi gang led by the white supremacist supervillain Knightfire, although this attack united the neighborhood together to help them rebuild. A peculiar new religion known as the Pinnacle Path began in Freedom City, a mostly-spiritual self-help movement that proclaims that people with superpowers are pseudo-divine beings that reflect the best and worst archetypes of humanity. They also teach that anyone can gain superpowers through the proper rituals. It’s up to the GM whether the Path largely means well or is a scam. There’s also a brief write-up on the Mayombe, a Voodoo criminal cult that makes use of practices forbidden by the mainstream branch of the religion for self-empowerment.

Restaurants, Bars, & Clubs mostly contains one-to-two paragraph entries for a variety of restaurants and recreational places. Most aren’t anything to write home about, save that gambling is legal in Freedom City and thus there are four casinos in Southside that long had ties to the Freedom City Mob.

Science & Technology covers two major institutions. The Albright Institute is dedicated towards the research of superpowers in general, and its owner Langston Albright was the light-controlling superhero known as Beacon during the post-WW2 40s and 50s. By 3rd Edition he’s in his 90s and is looking for the next successor to his legacy.* The other institution is ASTRO (Applied Scientific and Technical Research Organization) Labs, which had its start in developing weapons during World War II to use against the Axis Powers. It’s now the largest scientific research company in the world, and is a good way to introduce just about any super-science device into the campaign. One of its more notable inventions is Impervium, a superhard “living metal” that can heal its own structural damage over time and is used in the construction of government facilities as well as Blackstone Prison for cells and restraints to contain superhumans.

*who can also be a PC!

Social Life includes some interesting entries, such as the Cape and Cowl Club which is an invitation-only secret society for superheroes to destress and relax, the Legion which is an online group of mercenary hackers who sell information and services to the highest bidder, and the Midnight Society that includes some of the most wealthiest and influential people in the world. While it’s not an official rule, the Midnight Society doesn’t invite any superhumans as members. In 1e it was a front for the villainous organization SHADOW, although later Editions made its true purpose vague with several suggestions for the GM.

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Sports lists Freedom City’s professional sports teams as well as the Ultimate Wrestling League, notable for hiring wrestlers with superpowers.

Street Life is our last major entry for this chapter/section, and discusses a variety of social issues plaguing the city’s less fortunate. The West End once served as an immigrant community through much of its existence, although rising property values are pushing all but the most stubborn residents out, and there’s tension between affluent criminals moving in and local gangs that aren’t fond of outsiders in general. Southside is the poor section of Freedom City, and most of its residents make their living working in retail at the Boardwalk’s casinos and hotels. Many homeless people live here, with most of them teenage runaways coming from all over the country in hopes of making better lives for themselves by meeting with or becoming superheroes. Our Lady of Mercy is a shelter and soup kitchen that has the peculiar situation of being under protection from the Mob; any ill-doers who target the shelter’s staff must answer to them, which means most find easier targets elsewhere. The Lincoln Youth Center is a community center for Lincoln and Southside youth, running programs to provide kids a place to go instead of being on the streets or forced into gangs. Finally there’s Weird Maggie, a homeless woman who is dismissed as a crazy person but claims to have some kind of supernatural insight into things.

1e had NPC entries for two more characters in Street Life. Sandra Rayne is a sex worker who managed to make a good living for herself, and has a friendship with the local superhero Foreshadow who pays her for information. The other is Nathan “the Knife” Korthu, who is the leader of a gang of homeless teenagers. He hasn’t killed anyone and privately hopes he never has to. In 2nd and 3rd Edition he was moved into the Freedom City Underworld section, but this came at the expense of his backstory.

Note: Introduction/Chapter 1 has stats for the Centurion. I plan to cover him with the other superheroes in Heroes of Freedom City later on, as I feel that this would be better in measuring him against his peers rather than doing so in isolation.

Thoughts So Far: Freedom City comes out strong, managing to bridge the line between being down-to-earth enough for a plausible contemporary American city while also showing how superpowered people have shaped and influenced the local culture. With a few exceptions, most of the people are “normal,” and those who have a part to play in the superpowered community have a less direct and more advisory role. There’s still room for GMs to fill in details of their own, and the lengthiest sections are those that’d be of most interests to the PCs which is also a good choice.

Join us next time as we cover Law & Order, the Freedom City Underworld, and the Freedom City Series!
 

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Davies

Hero
The 2nd edition book is set after the events of the adventure Time of Crisis, the first published adventure for M&M. It's ... okay, but suffers a bit for trying to tell a multiversal story before the original universe had been really explored.

Freedom City is intended to be set down wherever the GM would prefer, though its physical geography is largely based on New Jersey. If set there, that would make the Centurion the first superhero from New Jersey in this particular universe.

Don't worry if you didn't get it, that's probably a good thing all told.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Law & Order

It is inevitable that superheroes will interact with both sides of the law, so sections on government and law enforcement get some decent entries. Freedom City’s government has an elected mayor and eight city council members who serve four-year terms, with the mayor acting as a tie-breaking vote when the council finds itself split on an issue. During 1e and 2e the mayor was Michael O’Connor Jr., who won a landslide against Franklin Moore due to that one’s unpopular history of corruption, and unlike his predecessor he made good on promises to fight organized crime. In 3e the mayor is Calliope Summers, who was the previous Raven. Now retired from superheroing, she has found another way to do good in Freedom City. Michael O’Connor Jr. is now a Senator for the state in which Freedom City is located.* We also have write-ups for three city council members who have been the same for all editions as well as three city Commissions focusing on various interest groups (civil rights, law enforcement, and economic development). There’s also write-ups of government departments, including one of interest to superheroes: the Medical Examiner’s Office which can help PCs investigate strange deaths, and in 3e gets a named NPC as a coroner!

*Somewhere on the East Coast but otherwise left to the GM’s discretion.

Now we move on to law enforcement proper. The local Freedom City Police Department used to be riddled with graft and corruption during the Iron Age, but things are better now after a thorough clean-up and replacement of the Commissioner with Barbara Kane, a cop who more than proved herself in defending Bayview against a group of Omegadrones during the Terminus Invasion. The police also have a special department known as the STAR (Superhuman Tactics and Regulation) Squad, who basically act as a SWAT team but with more advanced technology. As of 3e many other American cities and states developed their own STAR Squads.

AEGIS (American Elite Government Intervention Service) is the SHIELD equivalent of Earth-Prime, although they primarily have national rather than international jurisdiction. They’re a federal agency which recruits the bulk of its members from other law enforcement departments, and while they specialize in dealing with all things superhuman most of their agents are non-powered yet well-trained. AEGIS agents don’t go toe-to-toe with super-powered opponents unless necessary, although if the need arises the organization has access to MAX (Man-Amplifying eXoskeleton) power armor suits. And yes there are stats for such armor; they grant the typical “battlesuit” abilities such as enhanced strength, protection, radio communicators, and an array of weapons that are a kinetic blast, capture net, and blinding beam. AEGIS also has write-ups and stat blocks for three notable agents: AEGIS’ Director, Horatio “Harry” Powers, has the ability to sense the presence of superpowers of all types at a distance which he masks as “hunches.” Then there’s Patriot,* a Golden Age hero enhanced with super-soldier serum whose mind has been transplanted into a cyborg body by the US government and now acts as a secret weapon against terrorists and criminals of the super-powered variety. Finally there’s Stewart “Rockstar” Bonham, Chief Administrator of AEGIS’ Freedom City branch, who tends to engender a love-hate relationship due to his habits of glory-hogging, dating superhumans, and performing in rock bands in his free time. We also have a full-page map and details on the Iceberg, AEGIS’ underground lair in Freedom City. It contains all of the accouterments appropriate to a comic book government agency, such as labs to analyze supervillain gadgets, a hangar with helicopters and fighter jets that can fold into far smaller forms, and an advanced computer system that may or may not be a fully-developed AI.

In 1e and 2e he had stats, although by 3e he was moved into the Atlas of Earth-Prime sourcebook.

There’s also smaller write-ups on real-world law enforcement organizations, local emergency services, and the court system. Some of the more interesting entries include the firefighter June “Asbestos” Abados, a woman who is immune to all forms of heat and fire whose powers gave her minor celebrity status (accompanied by a less than-amicable marriage turned divorce), the head of the Probation Department Harriet Wainwright who proposed a “work release” program for superhuman criminals to use their powers for public service in exchange for commuted sentences,* and “Judge Joe” of the hit show “Video Justice” which is basically like Judge Judy. Our section wraps up with the four major prisons in which Freedom City houses its criminals, although the only one of note that gets any detail and a full-page map is Blackstone Federal Penitentiary. Located on an island off the coast of Freedom City, it is dedicated to housing super-criminals exclusively, with most of its facilities moved underground after Omegadrones decimated its foundations during the Terminus Invasion. We have stats for several security features and traps, write-ups of 2 named NPCs (Warden Joshua Drummer who has the ability to nullify superpowers and Abigail Wallace who helped design specialized security and once had an affair with the prison-obsessed supervillain Warden), and the Blackguard security guards who are non-powered but have access to AEGIS MAX suits.

*In 1e and 2e it was approved as a limited program, but as of 3e it’s been overall successful.

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Freedom City Underworld

This section is surprisingly short, and focuses more on the non-superpowered side of organized crime and gangs although there is some crossover with supervillains. The most powerful organized crime syndicate is the Italian Mafia, aka the Freedom City Mob, who specialize in drugs, smuggling contraband, vice trades, and using legitimate businesses such as labor unions and casinos to launder their dirty money. The Mob’s upper ranks are overall non-powered, although their ace in the hole is a fortune teller known as Tarot who their leader “Big Al” Driogano consults before doing anything riskier than usual for a mob boss. 2e noted that Tarot had trouble predicting the actions of superpowered people, particularly the vigilantes Foreshadow and the Silencer.

The other real-world crime syndicates who have a smaller presence in Freedom City are the Russian Mafiya who specialize in smuggling Soviet super-science gadgets, the Triads whose local branch is loyal to the supervillain Dr. Sin, and the Yakuza who mostly focus on corporate crimes and money-laundering but otherwise leave the city alone due to the Mob’s prominence. Street gangs tend to be disportionately teenagers, as older and more experienced criminals join the Mafia or get killed by them. There’s the Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang who are particularly dangerous due to being allied with the supervillain Knightfire, the Malanti who operate in the West End and mostly do petty crimes such as vandalism, and the Lincoln-based Southside C’s who make most of their money dealing drugs.

We have write-ups on three illegal drugs that can grant or interact with super-powers: Max which can grant increased physical abilities although the withdrawal symptoms can cause immediate heart failure, Zombie Powder which is brewed by the followers of Baron Samedi that can act as a painkiller but can also make one vulnerable against magical mind control and raise the addict as a zombie upon death, and Zoom which can grant super-speed but also risks immediate heart failure.

A more unusual “mob element” is the Toon Gang, fictional cartoon characters brought to life by the supervillain Toy-Boy. They look like short living cartoons and act on genre-appropriate logic. This means that they’re virtually immortal to most forms of harm even though they can still feel pain, and they don’t have a head for any crimes more complicated than robbing businesses at gun or knife-point. They’re considered small-time distractions on the scale of super-powered threats, although given a recent scheme with a truckload of marbles they’re taken more seriously after the deaths of 15 mobsters.* There’s also the Circuit Maximus, an illegal underground superhuman fighting ring. In 1e and 2e they were led by August Roman, the Centurion’s arch-enemy and self-styled Emperor of Crime. But as of 3e his daughter Saturnalia Roman has inherited the family business as her father has grown too sick and bedridden to do much of anything. Finally there are rumors of a covert mobile clinic known as the “Power-House,” which specializes in cybernetic and biochemical enhancements that can “juice up” people with super-powers for the right price…and unpleasant side effects requiring regular treatments to avoid them.

*This entry is the same in 3e as 2e, which seems odd given the 15-year time gap.

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The Freedom City Series

This chapter was added into the 2e and 3e versions, talking about how GMs can plan for campaigns and make use of the material for players who want closer ties to the setting “canon.” 2e also included campaign secrets and behind-the-scenes explanations, although as of 3e that entry got lengthy enough to become its own chapter which we’ll cover in a future post.

Freedom City Origins and Legacies are PC-friendly material, compiling a bunch of common origins for broad superpower concepts and their most likely sources in the setting. A few of them have templates, particularly in the cases of certain alien species or human off-shoots such as the Ultima (think flying brick but with “cosmic energy control”). Or heroes with legacy powers, such as the Light-Bearer template for Beacon (flying energy control with light-based power array). Interestingly we have a template for the Scarab appears twice in 3e, in two different places in the book and one with significantly more Power Points than the other. The one here in Origins has 101 points with a variety of telepathy/telekinetic powers, while the one in the Pyramid Plaza entry in Secrets of Freedom City has only 51 points with fewer and cheaper powers. I feel that this is a misprint, as the latter version makes use of the term “feats” which are renamed “advantages” in 3rd Edition.

Series Frameworks provides brief outlines on eight different campaign ideas making use of the Freedom City setting. Quite a few of them are standard: one where the PCs join the Freedom League, one where the PCs are students at Claremont Academy, and one where the PCs are the “local hero team” instead of the Atom Family/Freedom League/Next-Gen. But the more novel suggestions include one where the PCs are street-level vigilantes operating in the poorer neighborhoods or even during the Iron Age Moore Administration, one where the PCs are former supervillains part of Harriet Wainwright’s “Project Freedom” work-release program, and ones where the PCs are non-powered (but gadget-equipped) members of STAR SQUAD or AEGIS, and one where they’re a new government-sanctioned superhero team for AEGIS!

Alternate Freedoms is exclusive to 3e, providing suggestions for different takes on the setting rather than different campaign ideas. The Price of Freedom theorizes a world where vigilantism is still outlawed and Freedom City is ruled by a corrupt government. The Freedom Storm takes the events of Emerald City (alien AI mass-empowering people with nanomachines) and moves the event to Freedom City. The Star District is one where the alien refugees are never relocated to the moon Europa, and instead settle into the least desired parts of the city with a less-than-understanding human populace.

Thoughts So Far: I’m feeling a bit mixed on these sections. The coverage of various groups and peoples varies in length and depth, so one cannot help but feel that something’s missing in certain even if the material that we do get is likely more than enough for a GM. Some parts I feel weird about are the setting’s Captain America Expy becoming a high-ranking federal agent, on account that his inspirational figure has been notable for wishing to champion American values in spite of (and even against) the aims of the government. Barring a few examples, many NPCs don’t have built-in hooks or adventure material, instead primarily serving to populate the world with people the PCs are likely to interact with during their careers as costumed crime-fighters. This isn’t bad in and of itself as it’s merely a different set of game design priorities, although it results in a lot of “okay here’s the health department and who works for them, here’s what the Coast Guard does and they’re also friendly with Siren, etc.” While the Origins and Legacies serve a useful function, the few times they provide templates about half are incredibly expensive for the default PL 10, and I feel that more affordable options would help give players more room to build what they want.

I will say that I’m fond of AEGIS, as they are definitely a group that would have a much larger spotlight in most games than other agencies, and I do like how the book acknowledges how the criminal underworld adapted to a super-powered world even if it’s more brief and simplistic rather than in-depth treatises and theory-crafting. But then again superhero media isn’t usually one to get lost in the details, so going by “rule of cool” more than works.

Join us next time as we cover Secrets of Freedom City and the World of Freedom!
 
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Libertad

Adventurer
The 2nd edition book is set after the events of the adventure Time of Crisis, the first published adventure for M&M. It's ... okay, but suffers a bit for trying to tell a multiversal story before the original universe had been really explored.

Freedom City is intended to be set down wherever the GM would prefer, though its physical geography is largely based on New Jersey. If set there, that would make the Centurion the first superhero from New Jersey in this particular universe.

Don't worry if you didn't get it, that's probably a good thing all told.

I'm aware of that, although I plan on covering that in a later post ideally. I actually noted the fluid nature of Freedom City's location in the post I made just now.
 

Davies

Hero
*This entry is the same in 3e as 2e, which seems odd given the 15-year time gap.
Yes, that is a problem with a LOT of the 3e book; it updates some things, but not quite enough. The DA is still the same guy despite the fact that we've gone through two mayors since then? Well, admittedly, I don't know how often that particular office changes hands in a typical American burgh. And also admittedly, I'm talking as someone who'd made a LOT of changes to Freedom City over the course of a campaign set there.

Some parts I feel weird about are the setting’s Captain America Expy becoming a high-ranking federal agent, on account that his inspirational figure has been notable for wishing to champion American values in spite of (and even against) the aims of the government.
That's one of the ways that the Patriot differs from Cap, in that he wasn't frozen after World War II and lived through all the decades afterwards. He thus became more like Nick Fury. That said, given that his android replica is noted as being more like his WWII era self, it would be easy to run a story where he decides he no longer wants to represent the government but rather the people, and dealing with the rather different consequences of that.
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Secrets of Freedom City

Another 2e and 3e addition, this section covers campaign secrets to be defined by the GM and things not known to the general public, with potential “answers” behind several of them. 3rd Edition greatly expands on this section, and also folds Law & Order and Freedom City Underworld into this section, which we previously covered. The first section covers secret history and the overlapping cosmological implications: the reason why Freedom City, and to a lesser extent the USA, is so superhuman-dense is due to the Centurion’s life pod crashing near Freedom City. This caused an upsurge in other-dimensional energies that both draw upon and grant easier potential to paranormal and superhuman beings and events. Additionally the gods of many cultures are real, but cannot directly interfere on Earth-Prime save by being intentionally summoned by mortals as a result of a magical Pact from a former Master Mage centuries ago. Deities and other powerful entities representative of archetypes can act through a chosen host, such as Lady Liberty being empowered by the Spirit of Liberty or Cassandra Vale being chosen by the Voodoo Loa La Sirène.

The two major pre-human civilizations on Earth-Prime were the Serpent People who created Lemuria, an expansive yet decadent magitech empire, and the Preservers who were a powerful star-spanning alien civilization that conducted genetic experiments on cavemen and “seeded” humanity on countless other planets. The Preservers are long gone, although many impossibly-advanced creations and worlds bear their touch. The Preservers’ interference allowed human civilization to rise and counter Lemuria, most notably the civilization of Atlantis. Both empires destroyed each other, causing Atlantis to sink underwater and the Serpent People to retreat underground. Post-Cataclysm history begins with recorded human history, expanding on the origins of notable immortal/reincarnating superheroes such as Daedalus and Talos.

We also get an expanded backstory on the Centurion: coming from a world where the Roman Empire never fell, he was put in an escape pod as an infant to cross to the dimension of Earth-Prime in 1918 when his home world was invaded and destroyed by the Terminus. He was adopted by the Leeds family, given the name Mark, and learned about his origin and how his powers came to be (cosmic radiation from the dimensional crossing). Mark Leeds adopted a Roman-inspired costume and title to fight crime and injustice while also becoming a professor of Roman history at Freedom City University. He went on to found the Liberty League and later the Freedom League, using advanced skincare to make his secret identity appear to age when it became clear that he was immortal. By the 1980s the death of his wife and the disbanding of the Freedom League made him “retire” his secret identity, acting as the Centurion almost full-time, until 1993 where he died in battle against the man responsible for destroying his home dimension.

We get stats for the Centurion here. He is bar none the most powerful superhero in this book at an impressive Power Level 16. The Freedom League and other heroes don’t even come close, with the rookie teen team the Next-Gen averaging PL 9, and the more powerful Freedom League members and Adrian Eldrich being around PL 12-13.

As for the supervillains, only a few equal or exceed the Centurion’s Power Level: Argo, Meta-Grue, and Omega being the only non-omnipotent villains to meet this qualification. While I hate to put it this way, his power set is like that of a more boring Superman: the Centurion is a flying brick with amazing Strength and Stamina scores along with a host of Immunities. But his Super-Senses don’t include X-Ray vision (he can see in the dark and see farther, though), and he doesn’t have Superman’s non-punchy attacks like heat vision and ice breath. When it comes to non-combat skills he has quite a bit of Expertise skills along with Perception, Technology, and some social skills. The Centurion doesn’t have any Kryptonite-style weaknesses, either.

I do happen to own a copy of the now-discontinued DC Heroes line, which has Mutants & Masterminds stats for Superman. While Superman’s 1 PL lower at 15, he is able to do more things than the Centurion like I listed above.

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Secrets of the City

This section is exclusive to 3e and expands on specific locations, mostly in the form of secret lairs for notable superheroes. And since many are meant to serve as bases for PCs in certain campaigns, they also have headquarters stats for those who want to purchase them with the Equipment advantage.

The first is Lantern Hill, an old and rich neighborhood dating to colonial times with a history of the occult. It is the stomping grounds of Lantern Jack, the ghostly dispenser of justice and vengeance. We have stats for Lantern Jack, and he is a PL 12 character who has ghostly powers (invisibility, incorporeal nature, immune to all Fortitude effects) and bears a mystic lantern with an array of features (blinding attack, paralysis stare, illusion-nullifying light, poltergeist telekinesis, etc). He is primarily intended to be a background character, being more behind-the-scenes save for when the PCs have to inquire into the occult. At which point he’s more prominent as a dispenser of warning and wisdom. We also get descriptions of other notable features in Lantern Hill, but as the home of the demon-allied lawyer Lucius Cabot along with sample adventure opportunities.

The next area is Pyramid Plaza, whose triple towers are one of Freedom City’s most famous landmarks and the site of many historic battles between superheroes and supervillains. The towers are home to a variety of businesses and stores (a few of which are criminal fronts for the evil megacorp CEO characters such as Hieronymus King), but it bears a deep secret. Back during the 1960s the wealthy businessman Alexander Rhodes financed the construction of Pyramid Plaza to conceal a secret lair beneath the foundations. His real identity being the Scarab, this hidden lair is designed in the style of Ancient Egypt, with many high-tech facilities such as teleportation stations and a prison that once housed the Nazi supervillain Nacht-Krieger (who has since escaped with Overshadow’s help). The facility is still functional, although the current CEO of the Rhodes Foundation, Sophia Cruz, is awaiting the Scarab’s next reincarnation to bequeath them the lair. There are of course suggestions on how to use the Scarab’s lair in other ways in case the Scarab doesn’t return, such as it being taken over by a supervillain or the PCs.

Providence Asylum expands upon Freedom City’s primary mental health center, along with named NPC staff members. One of the more interesting NPCs is Dr. Karen Black, a psychologist with a degree in occult and magical studies. This is due to the large number of mentally ill people who claim to interact with the supernatural, and thus she can help determine if the symptoms are mere delusions or they’re actually possessed/haunted/etc. Most of its patients are normal, non-powered people, although it is notable for housing more than a few costumed criminals. The book notes that in prior decades those deemed “criminally insane” were put in with the general prison population, and that the switch to housing them at the Asylum has resulted in better treatment and rehabilitation. But due to the dangers of many superpowers, the metahuman-inclined patients are placed in a Secure Patient Care section. The Asylum has facilities beyond mere containment, such as gardens, a basketball court, and a theater which is used for art therapy and talent shows.

Claremont Academy is a prestigious private school that was purchased and redesigned by Duncan Summers after the original school was destroyed during the Terminus Invasion. It’s pretty much Charles Xavier’s academy, save that it recruits youth with a wide variety of powers rather than just mutants. The Academy’s purpose is a bit of an open secret among superheroes, being used as a funnel for powered teenagers who need help and training, but also fear that the US government may interfere and take over the school “for the good of the children.” The school proper was greatly expanded on in the Hero High sourcebooks for 2e and 3e, so its inclusion here is rather sparse beyond detailing the main grounds and a statblock for the headmaster Duncan Summers (PL 9 non-powered skill-user with non-lethal grenade gadgets).

Other Places and Characters Gives short write-ups for the various locations and NPCs detailed in Life in Freedom. For instance, potential backgrounds for Master Lee’s fallen pupil (assassin for hire, Circuit Maximus gladiator, etc), the dark secret behind the Unlimited Wrestling League (Saturnalia Roman uses it as a recruiting tool for the Power-House), adventure hooks for the Pinnacle Path (such as its leader having the ability to grant people superpowers), and likely places to locate Freedom City (default assumption is that it’s on the East Coast of the United States, although the author based its geography on southern New Jersey). But the most interesting addition is a full-page description of X-Isle, the Living City! This sapient “urban elemental” is located in the Terminus, capable of reaching out to Earth-Prime and other dimensions to absorb structures, roads, and other landmarks. X-Isle’s false metropolis is a jumbled array of buildings of wildly different architectural styles and age, and most of its inhabitants are realistic replicants that are extensions of the city-spirit itself. X-Isle is neither good nor evil, merely lonely, although it has little regard to the people and places it absorbs. Omega and X-Isle are aware of each other, although they may be allies (if Omega promises to spare it and its inhabitants) or enemies otherwise (X-Isle is opposed to Omega’s nihilistic lust for destruction).

2e, oddly enough, has more generic secret content. For instance, the the fate of disgraced Mayor Franklin Moore (likely allied with some group of villains to take revenge on Freedom City), whether the paintings and drawings of imprisoned psychic criminal L’Enfant Terrible are merely creepy artwork or contain a mental “meme virus,” and also entries for areas and groups beyond Freedom City from the World of Freedom chapter. Such places have already been expanded upon or “answered” with the release of the Atlas of Earth-Prime sourcebook for 3rd Edition.

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The World of Freedom

Exclusive to 1e and 2e, the content is superfluous in 3rd Edition due to being moved to a sourcebook all its own. The chapter starts out with covering planet Earth with entries separated by continent. North America is the focus of global superhuman activity, with Freedom City containing the largest superpowered population* followed by other large cities such as NYC and Los Angeles. Canada has less superpowered people, and Mexico the fewest although their masked superheroes are widely loved, having roots in luchadore traditions and romantic outlaws. South and Central America has few superheroes due to a combination of Nazi war criminals via SHADOW, drug kingpins, and military dictatorships leading concerted efforts to kill them off, and Brazil has a portal to a primeval Lost World in a forlorn plateau. There’s a lot of superpowered in France and the United Kingdom, although Germany has a complicated relationship with supers due to historical associations with the Nazi Übermenschen. There have been suggestions to form a single superhero team for the European Union, although politicking has prevented that reality from happening.

*and now has stiff competition with Emerald City in 3rd Edition.

Africa has relatively few superpowered people but a long history of them in the form of Ancient Egypt. There’s also the technologically-advanced nation of Dakana, ruled over by the superhero White Lion and the only source of daka crystals which serve as an all-purpose “Unobtainium fuel source.” South Africa had a secret government program where they’d recruit white supers and assassinate non-white ones both within and beyond their borders. After the collapse of apartheid those affiliated with this program went on to become independent criminals or joined SHADOW. As for Asia, it has a strikingly small number of superhumans for unknown reasons. The USSR and People’s Republic of China have been repressive when it came to superpowered people in general, relying more on scientific experiments to bolster government-sponsored People’s Hero teams. Japan has a lot of technology-focused superheroes and some mutants as a result of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Again, Atlas of Earth-Prime went into further detail about Asia’s low superpowered population. The Soviet Union’s communist ideology was opposed to the existence of superpowered people in general, although it still sought to make use of their abilities either as government agents or slaves powering machinery in science cities. As for China, the government unearthed a shard during the Cultural Revolution which gained the ability to permanently absorb superpowers from a host (along with their memories of having such powers) and the ability to temporarily grant absorbed powers to others who come into contact with the shard. The organization responsible for the apportioning of superpowers is the Central Power Collective, which they use to keep China's superhuman population (and outlying nation’s via kidnapping) low and under control.

Poor Australia has but a single paragraph, merely talking about power sources of mystical energy in the Outback. We also have a write-up for the United Nations, who are far more powerful in Earth-Prime given that they have an organization known as UNISON (UN International Superhuman Oversight Network) which is responsible for international efforts protecting the world from super-criminals and extra-dimensional/planetary invasions. The United Nations does recognize the sovereignty of a few fictional nations such as Atlantis, although Atlantis has chosen not to join the UN.

The UN has of late supported the Freedom League’s efforts to better protect the world at large, although individual member nations have made it clear they retain the right to deal with internal matters as they see fit and to refuse the Freedom League’s aid. The League respects this and only goes where it is invited. Thus far, any international incidents have been avoided.

While this is a good explanation as to why various authoritarian regimes haven’t been overthrown, this makes the Freedom League sound rather ineffective when it comes to punching dictators in the face.

Hidden Lands covers the various regions and countries that don’t exist in the real world, or in places that do exist in ours but aren’t really occupied by people. The Aerie in northern Greenland is home to the Avians, a race of winged humanoids whose homes are threatened by climate change and whose leader Talona has led wars against nations whose corporations are responsible, with a particular ire reserved for Grant Conglomerates. Atlantis is an oceanic kingdom whose populace are the survivors of the prehistoric empire that sank beneath the waves. Their culture bears an uncanny resemblance to the Roman Empire at its height, and makes use of magical and technological artifacts which are in limited supply. They have mixed relations with the surface world, with several skirmishes and wars caused by human pollution of the Earth’s oceans. Kaiju Island is pretty much what you expect, and its proximity to Japan and Russia is an international “no man’s land” on account of attempts to explore or control the beasts ending in disaster each time. Centurion’s Sanctum is located in the Arctic Circle, guarded by robotic replicas of the superhero. The Sanctum contains a mainframe of the virtual reality city Tronik, as well as a portal to the Zero Room that acted as a prison for the hero’s most dangerous foes. Also located in the Arctic Circle is Ultima Thule, a hidden city inhabited by survivors of pre-Cataclysm Atlantis. Although they bear great powers, they choose instead to live lives in contemplation and study. Their most infamous nember Kal-Zed disagreed with this philosophy, and after a group of Nazi explorers came upon the city and had their memories wiped, he ventured out in exile to contact Nazi Germany and sell himself as a stellar “champion of the Aryan Master Race,” becoming the WW2 supervillain der Übermensch.

The Lost World is a primeval jungle in an alternate dimension for all of your pulp-flavored adventures and contains the lost Roman colony of Nova Roma and tribes of Serpent People. Shambala Vale is a hidden yet respected institution for martial artists located in the Himalayan Mountains. Sub-Terra is a vast underground series of caves home to many different races, such as tribes of Serpent People and their enemies the Morlocks, the Magmin who are beings made of liquid rock, and the sickly Sub-Terrans who serve the supervillain Terra-King. Finally we have Utopia Isle, also an outpost of Atlantis survivors who created a harmonious society. They sent an Envoy to the rest of the world during World War II, who joined the Liberty League. Utopia Isle initially saw promise in the gains made from humanity, although the use of atomic bombs made them ultimately decide to retain their isolationism.

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Mysteries in Space covers notable civilizations beyond Earth. Farside City is located on the Moon, populated by genetically-altered humans moved there by the Preservers and was once a dictatorship under the thrall of Lady Lunar before the Atom Family deposed her. The Grue Unity is an interstellar empire populated by a species of hive-minded shapeshifters who use their powers to infiltrate and spy on other worlds. The Lor Republic is a democratic union populated mostly by humans. Although originating from Preserver interference in Earth, their culture rejects the idea that they originated on that planet due to nationalist reasons, instead claiming that Earth humans are a lost colony from a distant glorious age. They declared Earth off-limits until they are “advanced enough” to be worthy of citizenship. Just like Atlantis, their society also resembles the Roman Empire. Finally there is the Stellar Khanate, a collection of worlds ruled over by the dictator Star-Khan. Needless to say, each of the three major galactic empires/confederations are enemies of each other.

We end our entry in space with a write-up on the Star Knights, Freedom City’s Green Lantern equivalent. Their order is based on the planet Citadel, led by a Preserver-designed AI known as Mentor who created the Star Knights and trains new recruits to act as an intergalactic order of peace-keepers. Every Star Knight is gifted a set of armor that comes with a host of super-powers.

Worlds Beyond is our final entry for the World of Freedom, detailing parallel dimensions of all kinds. Reality is often referred to as the Cosmic Coil by mystics, a network of planes of existence connecting to each other in all manner of ways. The pantheons of various deities have their own realms, such as Mount Olympus for the Greek gods and Guinee for the Loa of Voodoo. Some dimensions, such as the Astral Plane and Dream Dimension, connect to many different worlds and can be reached by psychic and magical means, and some “infernal” dimensions such as Tartarus and the Netherworlds are ruled over by fell entities such as Hades. Every dimension has a Master Mage whose duties are as a mystic guardian, although those who become corrupted by power and wickedness become Dark Lords, their realms turning into dread Netherworlds.

Some dimensions are classified as “Other-Earths,” looking much like the reality of Earth-Prime but often with a radically different history. Notable Other-Earths include Ani-Earth (anthropomorphic animals are the dominant species), Anti-Earth (like Earth-Prime but superheroes are villains and supervillains are likely killed off by the ruling Tyranny Syndicate), Erde (Fascists won WWII), Earth-Ape (primates are dominant species), and Terra-Roma (super-science is the only superpower, Earth is ruled over by an advanced Roman Empire that never fell).

Three dimensions special enough to merit their own entries are the Terminus and Zero Zone. The Terminus is a void between all realities, believed to be the “tail end” of the Cosmic Coil. Populated by shattered worlds and castoff bits and pieces from other universes, all things drift towards the Void to be annihilated, and the nihilistic tyrant Omega is the most powerful ruler. He has become obsessed with destroying Earth-Prime in particular, on account of the Centurion and many other superheroes thwarting his attempts multiple times. The other special dimension is the Zero Zone, an unchanging realm of stillness and endless white “mist” which is actually a quantum cloud of probability. When an entity capable of thought enters the Zero Zone, their consciousness interacts with the clouds and can alter the surrounding environment, often becoming a heaven or hell of the subject’s own making. The third dimension is Freeport, home to the pirate-themed city of the same name and Green Ronin’s other flagship product at the time. The villainous organization known as the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign has a presence in both Freeport and Earth-Prime, leading those aware of both dimensions to assume that they began in one reality and somehow bridged the dimensional gulf.

I’d like to note that 2nd Edition introduced more material, particularly in regards to Other Dimensions. Originally 1st Edition only had entries for Anti-Earth, Freeport, and the Terminus, with other unnamed worlds to be developed by the GM.

Templates Galore: This section is home to plenty of templates and stat blocks, mostly detailing the various fictional species and a few notable characters such as Gigantosaur (think Godzilla) and the Grue Meta-Mind (immobile protean being with amazing mental powers). Virtually every creature, from Avians to Ultimen to Grue, have stats, and most are affordable in the building of PCs belonging to them. The exceptions are the Grue Metamorphs (PL 6 but 121 points) and the Star Knight template (104 points).

Thoughts So Far: I do appreciate that even in its infancy, Freedom City had a lot of detail on the rest of the world beyond its metropolitan borders. Ironically the publishing of many sourcebooks over time meant that 3rd Edition had less material due to already-covered ground. But for those with the funds to spare, I’d say that the “missing content” is an overall improvement on the prior Editions of Freedom City. The “secrets” of various people and places are helpful to the GM, and there’s enough interesting places beyond Freedom City proper to serve as inspirational material for GMs and PC origins. I do feel that there is some repetition in places: Atlantis, the Lor Republic, and Terra-Roma have “technologically-advanced Roman Empire” as a common theme, with the colony of Nova Roma in the Lost World making four Roman-themed places (five if we count Centurion’s destroyed home-world). On the one hand I do understand that this is likely due to the Centurion having such a prominent role in the setting, but at some point it can feel monotonous.

Join us next time as we look at Earth-Prime’s greatest defenders in Heroes of Freedom City!
 

Libertad

Adventurer
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Known in 1st Edition as Heroes & Villains and in 2nd Edition as Friends of Freedom, 3rd Edition’s title is the most self-explanatory. This chapter details the notable superheroes of the Earth-Prime setting, and given the metaplot development the entries differ by Edition. The Freedom League’s membership has gained and lost a few members over time, while the Next-Gen got an entirely new membership in 3e but are relegated to that Edition’s Hero High sourcebook. Eldrich is no longer Master Mage in 3e after bequeathing that title to Seven (who then ended up a Dark Lord of the Netherworld). One notable thing exclusive to 1e was listing one-sentence quotes (including for villains) to give a taste of their personality, as well as Rogues Gallery listings to show which supervillains have history with Earth-Prime’s defenders. There were also backstories and stat blocks for non-powered friends and acquaintances for many of the heroes, such as Captain Thunder’s wife and son as well as his old Air Force buddy Dan Cloud who serves as an aeronautic consultant and mechanic for the Freedom League.

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The Freedom League is the longest-lasting and most famous superhero team in the Earth-Prime universe. Their membership changed greatly over the decades, and as of 3rd Edition only Daedalus and Siren have membership stretching back to the Silver Age. Their traditional headquarters used to be Freedom Hall in Freedom City, but as of 2e they launched an orbital space station known as the Lighthouse to serve as that purpose instead. With teleportals and spaceplanes, they can easily go anywhere on Earth and beyond.

In 1e and 2e the Freedom League’s leader was Captain Thunder (Ray Gardener), a former Air Force pilot who gained lightning-based superpowers from a rogue experiment by the mad scientist Dr. Stratos. While he initially had a secret identity, Dr. Stratos captured him and revealed it to the world, and Ray had to relocate his family to Freedom City in order to gain a safer life. As of 3e he retired, with his son Ray Gardener Jr. (formerly Bolt of the Next-Gen) joining the Freedom League as Thunderbolt.

Bowman (Fletcher Beaumont III) is the fourth superhero to bear the legacy title of the Golden Age archer. In 1e he was a member of Claremont Academy’s Next-Gen, but as of later Editions he graduated and joined the Freedom League. Although he is one of the less-powerful members and has no superpowers, he more than makes up for it with his knowledge of tactics and arsenal of gimmick arrows.

Centuria (Katherine Leeds) is unique to 3e, the daughter of an alternate-universe Centurion who also arrived in Earth-Prime via a life pod from space. And like the Centurion that became world-famous on Earth-Prime, her home dimension was destroyed by the Terminus. Her proclaimed backstory and similarities in powers caused a media frenzy, and after some heavy vetting by other superheroes she was happily accepted by her new home. She is the most powerful member at PL 13, with abilities similar to her “father.”

Daedalus was a mainstay in all 3 Editions, being one of the world’s most brilliant scientists with origins dating back to Ancient Greece. He is much like the Daedalus of myth, although the minotaur he was responsible for trapping would eventually become Taurus, head of the Labyrinth. He also earned the enmity of Hades once the gods “gifted” him immortality as a means of making up for his son’s loss, and the ruler of the Underworld took his initial refusal as a personal affront. Ever since, Daedalus has wandered the world, learning from lifetimes’ worth of civilizations and covertly passing on his own findings to others such as Isaac Newton and Leonardo DaVinci. Few people know that Daedalus is the man of myth, and instead he pretends that a succession of “sons” are gifted his trademark battlesuit.

Dr. Metropolis’ true origins are unknown, although theories abound that he’s the metaphysical manifestation of the concept of cities. He appeared in the aftermath of Omega’s invasion of Freedom City, using his powers to repair the damage. He was called “Dr. Metropolis” by scientists which he accepted as his own, shortly thereafter joining the Freedom League. On the surface he seems emotionless and has trouble understanding human social cues, although he possesses a deep care for his beloved city. As you can imagine, Dr. Metropolis serves as a good narrative explanation for why Freedom City (and other metropolii of Earth-Prime) aren’t ruined wastelands with all the collateral damage from supervillains.

Johnny Rocket (John Wade) is a speedster who inherited his powers from his grandfather who was the Johnny Rocket of the Golden Age. His powers activated when one of the last surviving villains of the latter’s rogues gallery tracked him down and tried to kill him. Johnny’s powers activated instinctively, and in a manner that left a lot of witnesses, so he never had a secret identity. This would come back to haunt him when he was publicly outed by an angry ex-boyfriend. As this was the early 2000s America (and when the first book was published), this was a lot less socially acceptable then than it is now, so there were a lot of people calling for the Freedom League to kick him out as a “bad influence.” They refused, in fact going on to support him, and the original Johnny Rocket told the press how he was proud of his grandson as a worthy successor.

As of 3e, Johnny Rocket is still a member of the Freedom League, although he recently became an adoptive father and mentor to Jonni Rocket, a female clone of the superhero created by his archenemy Dr. Simian.

Lady Liberty (2e Elizabeth Walton-Wright, 3e Sonia Gutierrez) is not a single superhero so much as a title that has been passed down to generations of worthy women by the Spirit of Liberty. The first one to join the current version of the Freedom League was a liberal lawyer married to a police detective, although her superhero life has put a damper on their marriage. Elizabeth eventually stepped down her role, feeling that she could do more good via charity work and service at a legal clinic, causing the Spirit of Liberty to find a new host. It found that host in Sonia Gutierrez, a transgender woman and daughter of Mexican immigrants. Unlike Donna’s liberal and relative apoliticism, Sonia was well aware of America’s many moral shortcomings on its minority citizens, and while not a patriot like former Lady Liberties she was chosen due to her compassionate nature after she saved a random woman from an attempted murder. The newest member of the Freedom League, Sonia feels a bit in over her head at times although the former Lady Liberty established contact as a mentor.

Pseudo (R’ik Faax) is exclusive to 2e, a member of the shapeshifting Grue. Trained from birth to be a scout for the Grue Unity, he was sent to Earth with the purpose of sabotage, although he went rogue after spending time among humans. Seeing the worthy causes championed by superheroes, R’ik eventually joined the League sometime during the Silver Age, establishing a new identity as freelance journalist Rick Fox when not superheroing. He’s not listed as a member in 3e although that book doesn’t mention his fate. The most I could find is him being mentioned as a reserve member.

The Raven (Callie Summers) is exclusive to 1e and 2e, the daughter of the original Raven. Duncan Summers sought to keep his identity a secret from his family, although after one of his foes kidnapped Callie the secret was out. She did what she could to learn more about her father’s time as the Raven, covertly training in the hopes of becoming like him. Eventually Duncan realized that in spite of his protests he couldn’t deny Callie’s wishes. She is pretty much “female Batman,” having no superpowers but highly trained in a variety of skills and feats with a small arsenal of equipment and non-lethal grenades. As of 3e Callie retired and became Mayor of Freedom City, passing on the mantle of Raven to Elite, formerly of the teenage superhero team the AlterniTeens. That Raven currently operates out of New York City.

Siren (Cassandra Vale/La Siren) is two people in one: the psychologist Cassandra Vale and the Voodoo Loa La Sirene. Cassandra visited the Voodoo communities in Haiti in the 1960s as part of a research paper. She theorized that the power of belief can reshape reality, which is responsible for creating all manner of supernatural beings. She inadvertently came across a drug smuggling ring, and was saved by La Sirene when the smugglers attempted to turn her into shark food. The Loa explained to Cassandra that she was chosen for a special purpose: humans were ultimately good and worthy of aid of the spirits, although one of their peers Baron Samedi disagreed, arguing that humans were little better than animals and worthy only of being slaves to the Loa. So Cassandra was chosen to help settle this cosmic bet, operating as the superhero Siren to make the world a better place and also operating against Baron Samedi’s many plots.

Star Knight (Maria Montoya) is a 2e/3e addition, a child of immigrants and a cop who uncovered Grue spies in her police department when investigating internal corruption. It wasn’t long before Pseudo came to her aid, given that she was now wrapped up in a plot for the aliens to invade Earth. Mentor of the Star Knights approached Maria, offering to appoint her the new Star Knight of Earth’s sector of space. It was only natural that she’d also join the Freedom League, albeit as a reserve member. As of 3e she’s been less active on Earth on account of the interstellar turmoil wrought by Star Khan and Collapsar.

Thunderbolt (Ray Gardener Jr.) is a 3e exclusive, an intangible mass of electrical energy contained within a human-shaped bodysuit. Ray used to be a normal boy, having developed electrical powers during puberty inherited from his father, the great Captain Thunder. He enrolled in Claremont Academy to help manage his powers, joining the Next-Gen as Bolt during his time there. His zest for superheroism didn’t die out upon graduation, and sought to join the Freedom League. Ray got his wish, albeit as a result of recklessness in trying to apprehend Dr. Stratos on his own. Captain Thunder saved his son, albeit at the expense of becoming permanently depowered and Ray Jr.’s body atomized into a “living thunderbolt.” Daedalus and Dr. Atom helped construct a containment suit to let him live something close to a normal life, and he did join the Freedom League. Although he still bears guilt for being responsible for the circumstances that led to his father’s retirement.

Fun Fact: The 2nd Edition book Worlds of Freedom had a chapter covering Freedom City in the “near future” of the 2040s. Several characters mentioned in the 3e sourcebook were part of the team, such as Centuria, Jonni Rocket, and Thunderbolt.

Thoughts: The Freedom League is a pretty decent team. They have an established presence in the world and their various members occupy a diversity of roles that make them feel distinct. Although many are built with far more Power Points than a PC of equivalent Power Level, many of their members are within the bounds of starting PCs for typical PL 10 campaigns. Your average party may not be able to take them all on at once: there’s 8 of them, and over half are above PL 10, but unlike “big names” in other established settings (coughwhitewolfcoughforgottenrealmscough) their capabilities aren’t so far and above beginning PCs to the point that your players will feel useless in comparison.

I will note one peculiar thing on my mind: in the case of Siren, La Sirene is a real-world religious figure in Voodoo. I did read that Steve Kenson wanted to make a superhero setting where Vodouism is prominent in the same way that the Nordic faith is in the Marvel universe or the Greco-Roman pantheon in DC. But unlike those faiths, Voodoo has been under a sustained propaganda campaign, being portrayed as a creepy cult of zombies and black magic in most pop culture portrayals to the detriment of other aspects. The placement of Baron Samedi as a zombie-focused supervillain mirrors this, and from what I read of the actual faith the Baron doesn’t really occupy an “evil” role in Voodoo. That being said, I am not a practitioner nor do I know those who are, so I can only speak as an outside observer going off of what others have said.

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The Atom Family is the second major team of Freedom City. Modeled heavily off of the Fantastic Four with a side of Johnny Quest thrown in, the Atoms are a family of adventuring psychic scientists who travel to all manner of places around Earth-Prime and even other dimensions. Their “membership” dates back to the Golden Age, with Dr. Atom being your typical pulp two-fisted scientist who is now a disembodied AI confined to the family home in Freedom City. He is far from useless, being capable of traveling the Internet and appearing as a holographic advisor anywhere. Dr. Atom also invented and patented morphic molecules, an adaptive fabric made of super-strong material that is an in-universe explanation for how superhero uniforms remain virtually undamaged without the need for regular change.

The Atom Family’s membership remains unchanged between Editions. Besides the disembodied Dr. Atom, there’s Maximus Atom (eldest and leader when in the field, powers include size-changing), Tesla Atom (stereotypical nerdy scientist, energy manipulator), Victoria Atom (optimistic mediator of the family, stretchy-shapeable form), Chase Atom (psychic telepath/illusionist, is great at superhero stuff but has trouble adapting to “normal life”), Jack Wolf (former soldier of fortune who became guardian of the Atom children upon Dr. Atom’s ‘death’ back in the day, has no powers but pilots their flying “Atomobile” and is good with a blaster), Cosmo the Moon Monkey (Chase’s pet, psychic teleporting monkey from Farside City), and ALEX (Artificial Life-form Experiment, robot butler and lab assistant with British accent).

As of 3e, Max Atom became CEO of the family business Atomic Inc and got married and had children, Victoria manages a travelog blog that created the phenomenon known as “V-Spotting” (fans guessing where the Atom family might be traveling in their area). Chase has been approached by Thunderbolt of the Freedom League with an offer to join (an offer he’ll take up in Future Freedom from Worlds of Freedom). And Dr. Atom helped cure Gamma the Atom-Smasher, nuclear-themed supervillain, of his radioactive powers.

Thoughts: I like the Atom Family. They have a different enough dynamic and place in the world in comparison to the Freedom League, so they don’t feel like a carbon-copy cutout of “Generic Superhero Team B.” About half of their members aren’t that powerful or have complications preventing them from being useful in combat (Dr. Atom, ALEX, and Cosmo the Moon Monkey) but that helps strengthen their theme as a superpowered family who prioritize exploring the mysteries of the world.

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This is the closest “group shot” I could find of the Next-Gen. Several members are also of the AlterniTeens in case it seems like there are “missing entries.”

The Next-Gen are exclusive to 1e/2e, and in the current Edition have an entirely different membership that is detailed in Hero High. The Next-Gen are a team of teenage superheroes from Claremont Academy and operate with the covert support of Duncan Summers. They are overall lower-powered than the Freedom League, with member PLs averaging around 8 or 9 with their strongest member Megastar at PL 10; in 1e they had overall higher PLs, averaging 10.

Bowman was a member in 1e, with Captain Thunder’s son joining in 2e as Bolt. Bowman’s time at the Academy had him as a star student, wanting to help restore the family name after the last generations’ less than noble departure from the Freedom League (namely alcoholism compromising his superhero career).

Bolt (Ray Gardener Jr.) is the newest member of the Next-Gen as of 2e, being eager to enjoy life and is good friends with Chase Atom. He has electrical-themed superpowers and as well as super-speed.

Megastar (Christopher Beck) was a normal high school student who ended up bonding with an alien piece of technology known as MEGAS, or Metamorphic Encephalic Guidance and Attack Suspension. The Grue sought to steal MEGAS from the Lor Republic after its carrier ship crash-landed on Earth. Christopher managed to fend off the Grue after changing into a taller and stronger silver-haired man with super-strength and flight. He was eager to prove himself to the Freedom League, although his age meant that he was sent to the Claremont Academy instead. As of 3e Chris’ life has been rough; personality problems, not being a “team player,” and relying far too much on MEGAS’ powers to coast him through life made him a washed-up superhero turned supervillain working as a galactic enforcer for Tellax in the Rogues Gallery sourcebook.

Nereid (Thetis) is the granddaughter of the original Golden Age Siren, her father being the King of Atlantis. She was sent to the Claremont Academy to gain a greater understanding of the surface world for her eventual role as Queen, being a literal “fish out of water” to this new environment. Although she isn’t overtly arrogant and spoiled, she does have a high opinion of herself in viewing her royal status as making her better than “common folk.” As of 3e she returned to Atlantis and resumed her royal duties, detailed in the Atlas of Earth-Prime.

Seven (Serena Vervain) is quite clearly Raven from Teen Titans, but more extroverted and serves as the Next-Gen’s moral support. She came from a bloodline of witches and has the potential to be the most powerful in her family tree. Her grandmother enrolled her in the Claremont Academy, and she took the name Seven due to that number’s magical powers and being the seventh realized witch in her family (sometimes the magical potential skips generations). Serena also began an apprenticeship under Adrian Eldrich, and her archenemy is the demonic lawyer Lucius Cabot who believes her part of a prophecy that will spell his undoing. As of 3e she took on Eldrich’s role as Earth-Prime’s Master Mage, only to lose it after defeating Una Queen of the Netherworld and accidentally taking her title of Dark Lord. If she refused the role the realm would cease to exist, effectively killing everyone in that reality.

Finally we have Sonic (Lemar Phillips), a young man who grew up in Lincoln and was strong-armed by a friend who sought to prove himself to a local gang. The gang sought to steal an experimental sonic disruptor, only for unforeseen circumstances to trigger it and bestow sound-based powers on Lemar. Startled by this turn of events, he shared what happened with Wilson Jeffers of the Lincoln Youth Center. Wilson in turn revealed his status as the former superhero the Black Avenger, and helped train him. By the time Sonic became a notable superhero in Lincoln and Southside he was offered a spot at the Claremont Academy, although Lemar sought to keep attending his “regular” classes at his local high school and is at Claremont mostly as a member of the Next-Gen.

Thoughts: The Next-Gen has some clear inspiration from the Teen Titans: Bolt is like Kid Flash and Nereid an Atlantean Starfire. Although I can spot other influences: for example, Megastar bears a strong resemblance to Ben Ten (kid uses an alien artifact to gain superpowers), and Sonic sounds similar to Static and has a similar backstory (African-American teenager pressured by gangs and gaining superpowers from weird science experiment). Like the Freedom League, each member has a unique power set and role, although given their lower Power Levels are a bit less multi-talented. Bolt is like Johnny Rocket in being a fragile speedster but with less powers and tricks, Megastar is like Star Knight as a space-themed bruiser but without that one’s universal translator and ranged attacks, etc. Unlike the Freedom League their Power Point totals are well within the bounds of their respective PLs, meaning that they are more on par with typical PL 8 teen superhero PCs if one’s GM opts for a Claremont Academy campaign.

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Solo Heroes is our shortest section, and its entries differ depending on Edition. In 2e Lantern Jack was included among them, although we detailed him already in an earlier post. Dr. Tomorrow wasn’t available in 1e although he was referenced in the history, while as of 3e Adrian Eldrich was destroyed in battle with Una before Seven deposed her as Dark Lord.

Dr. Tomorrow (Tomas Morgen) hails from the dimension of Erde, where the Axis powers won WWII. Tomas was created as part of a eugenics program in the Nationalist States of America to be the perfect Nazi poster boy, although he eventually learned of the horrors his ideology was built upon and made contact with the American Resistance. They raided a military lab to steal an experimental time-travel device in hopes of traveling back in time to prevent the Axis from winning. He made contact with FDR, helping form the Liberty League. Tomas’ dream of defeating the Axis was successful, although his manipulation of the time-stream either put him back in time into the Earth-Prime of the 1940s…or instead created a parallel universe in the timestream as a result of this. Regardless, his original home was still ruled over by fascists, so Tomas returned in the hopes of giving them the freedom that he helped win in Earth-Prime. He was successful in developing weapons and technology to help the Resistance defeat the Nazi’s brain-jar-controlled tanks and fighter jets, and having done his part he now travels through time warning various figures of import about cosmic catastrophes.

Eldrich (Adrian Eldrich) is Freedom City’s Doctor Strange, an all-purpose “superhero wizard” and investigator of the occult. He delved into the world of magic when visiting a lost Temple of Sirrion back in the 1930s, accidentally breaking the protective seals which housed the Atlantean archmage Malador the Mystic. Being a wizard of great evil, Malador imprisoned Eldrich and left him to die, although the temple’s guardians sensed Adrian’s magical potential as the reincarnation of their former master, awakening memories dating back to Atlantis and filling him with magical power.

Eldrich did a lot of good in the world, as much as any superhero, although unlike the more overt cape-bearers a lot of his deeds were done behind the scenes and rarely made it into headline news. In 1977 he made residence in Freedom City, eventually tutoring Serena Vervain in spellcraft. His body died in combat with Una, but his soul lives on in the higher planes.

Foreshadow (David Sloane) was born with the ability to see into the future, a talent he tried hiding. When a vision showed his parents dying in a car crash he tried to warn them, but they didn’t take him seriously and that terrible event came to pass. David was left with a significant inheritance, although he decided to travel the world and learn more about his powers as well as picking up other talents along the way. When he came back to his old neighborhood of Southside he saw how criminals and evildoers had come to prominence and decided to put his training and powers to use as the precognitive superhero, Foreshadow! He’s a street-level vigilante who tangles with the Freedom City Mob, and as of 3e developed a rivalry and mutual attraction with Lady Tarot. The Freedom League has encountered Foreshadow and even offered him membership, although he declined, preferring to operate on his own.

Thoughts: The Solo Heroes are a bit of a mixed bag for me. Dr. Tomorrow and Foreshadow are PL 9 and serve as useful allies for their respective fields (time travel, street level) yet not to the point that their abilities overshadow typical PL 10 parties. Eldrich is a very powerful PL 13 character whose magical array makes him quite multi-talented in what he can do, although I can’t help but feel he’s somehow out of place. I’m guessing that this must be why he was removed in 3rd Edition, and also for the possibility of a PC taking the role of the now-vacant Master Mage title.

Thoughts So Far: I already went over my individual thoughts for the entries above, so this is a more holistic judgment. I will say that Freedom City does a good job of making a setting that is “lived in.” Practically every superhero in this chapter has a solid backstory, personality, relationships, and distinct themes with little in the way of overlapping roles. And such overlap tends to come more from the relative rookie teenage superheroes, like Eldrich to Seven or Bolt to Captain Thunder/Johnny Rocket.

One downside is that the large number of superheroes in a relatively small area means that it’s harder for original PCs to establish themselves in the setting, and inevitably begs the question of what the other superheroes are doing when some city-wide threat comes to Freedom. The books attempt to alleviate this with various explanations and suggestions, such as the Freedom League having a more worldwide sphere of influence, the Atom Family usually traveling abroad, or the PCs joining the teams. Although given the way the characters are written it sounds like they’re a frequent enough presence in Freedom City to the point that they rarely leave the metropolis alone for long periods.

Join us next time as we cover the first part of Foes of Freedom! Yes, there’s a lot.
 
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