Game: Freedom City
Publisher: Green Ronin
Series: Mutants and Masterminds: d20
Review Dated: 6th, May 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 9
Average Score: 4.50
If you’d ask me to name a top five d20 list then Mutants & Masterminds would be included in it before I had to think. The GM Screen was pretty good too, but we’ll not count that as the first support for the game, Freedom City has the honour and the challenge of being the first book to try and carry on the tradition of excellence.
Excellent? No. Pretty damn good? Yes.
Freedom City is in a style that superhero RPGers will recognise but might just be a little too alien for “We-Only-Play-Fantasy-With-Elves-Dwarves-And-Fighers” RPGers. There are no stats for new monsters – instead there are plenty of stats for individual heroes, villains and mundanes. You’re given the background stories, carefully interwoven with other heroes and villains, for each Freedom City character. That’s what the book does, it gives you the history of key characters throughout the history of the city and, of course, it gives you the history of the city itself.
Freedom City is a campaign setting; it’s an example of why “campaign setting” is a better term than “world setting”. Freedom City is as valid a campaign setting for a Mutants & Masterminds game as Gotham if for a Batman game, New York for Spiderman and Metropolis (or Smallville, say) is for Superman. Except you’d be wrong to assume that Freedom City was defined by a solo hero. More often than not there has been at least one group of heroes working together, mainly as a named group but sometimes unofficially and under the radar. This is true even when there was one dominant – most famous, most powerful – hero that had most of the limelight. It’s a well-oiled clockwork creation where the gears fit snugly together and turn in harmony, as all well written and successful campaign settings are. Introducing something new – such as a group of player characters – to Freedom City can be problematic. There’s not much space between the finely tuned clockworks of the city where you could insert new heroes. In fact, the easiest way to get going is to give the players one of the established heroes each and let them play those. But that’s boooooring. The book has other ideas. There is the dreaded RetCon – taking one group out, inserting the PC group and re-writing history – but that undoes much of Freedom’s hard work. A more likely option is to have the players as youngsters, the trainees or the next generation in waiting. This last option means the established, written up heroes, can stay in the picture and be used as mentors, the old guard or as reluctant retirees.
There’s a story around Freedom City too – but it’s only there because it interests the events in Freedom City. Centurion, the unabashed Superman clone and key Freedom City hero, is from a dimension destroyed by one of the setting’s super villains. There are aliens too. Aliens are responsible for tinkering with human gene way back in pre-history and giving mankind a fighting chance against the dominant race of the time – super intelligent lizard folk. The people in Freedom City are used to heroes and villains flying around. They’re not unfamiliar with giant lizard monsters stomping flat a few buildings either. I suppose it all comes together well enough. Freedom City is the superhero equivalent of high fantasy; it doesn’t shy away from the weird and wonderful.
After going through the city’s history and the roles various heroes and villains played in it the book revisits the heroes and villains again. This time, near the end of the book, we’re given a detailed treatment of each hero or set of heroes (in the case of the Atom family and other groups). Players familiar with the hero genre will be used to seeing the key NPCs receiving this much attention. Players drawn out of the fantasy mould by the success of Mutants & Masterminds might just have seen d20 NPC portfolios that are fairly similar. The chapter gives us the chance to admire wonderful illustrations of each hero and get their stats too. Just as important are the extensive paragraphs on background, personality, tactics and campaign use. The heroes also have a “Villain Option” which provides the background twist needed if you’d rather use the hero as a bad guy. For every set of heroes there’s a set of villains as well, these guys are just as well drawn and given just as much background, personality and campaign use treatment. There’s no “Hero Option” for them though, most are just too screwed up. Readers don’t get any prizes for working out which Marvel or DC hero inspired which Freedom City hero, it’s just too easy and innocent overlaps are just too common. A few of the super villains are too powerful to be used as anything other than a plot device – and no bones are made about that.
The middle of the book is concerned with the mundane facts of Freedom; the airports, the TV stations, clubs, colleges and everything you might expect in a city tour guide. There’s even a colour map. Unlike city tour guides, this section in Freedom city isn’t dreadfully dull, sure, okay, it’s not really something you’ll read in bed at night in place of the latest Stephen King but as a GM in search of plot hooks and interesting locales – it does keep your attention.
More than just the physical spaces in Freedom City are given attention from this comprehensive book. There is a whole chapter on the underworld, gangs and low powered (but still above human) villains. Similarly, there’s a chapter on law and order with stats for police, special agents and even the police chief.
The reader isn’t kept in Freedom City all the time. The book quickly offers information about the ancient human colony on the moon, Kaiju (giant monster) Island, Atlantis, the Lost World, Sub-Tera, Utopia and even galactic regimes – like the Grue Empire, the Lor Republic and the Star Knights. There isn’t really enough on any of these settings to take your scenario there and only use material from the book but there’s enough text there to let you take elements (such as heroes, villains and escaping plot devices) from them and spice up Freedom City with.
The book does well where it counts the most – with the content. You’ve got all you need to run a heroes game in Freedom City. It’s worth mentioning that the book is gorgeous. The Super Unicorn team that made Mutants & Masterminds such a work of art has don it again. The hardback, glossy book is bright with colour and eye catching formatting. It’s a pleasure to visit Freedom City.
Freedom City is a campaign setting defined by the non-playing characters in it as much as by the place itself. This is the traditional approach for the genre and I’ve always seen it as a handicap. I wish Freedom had done more to help ease the problem, especially as there’s likely to be some interest from the fantasy core – but Freedom doesn’t ignore the problem, it does make some effort to help the GM. This potential hassle pales considerably in comparison to the overall effect of the book. It’s an easy book to pick up and get into, it presents a city that wants to host your Mutants & Masterminds game and it certainly gave me a city that I’d want to run a Mutants & Masterminds game in. That’s an important success. If you’ve been enthralled with Mutants & Masterminds then you won’t be disappointed with Freedom City.