Game: Tales of Freeport
Publisher: Green Ronin
Reviewer: Caliban’s Toybox
Review Dated: 6th, September 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
Oh look. “Tales of Freeport.”
Oh look. Ready to run d20 adventures. With “plots and locations” ready for you to “drop into” your own campaign. (So, if I DROP ADVENTURE INTO PIT, my score goes up. Right?)
Oh look. “Rules you can use.” New prestige classes! New spells! New rules about gunpowder – when it gets wet! Right, right – Green Ronin must use the word “new” like I use the phrase “Oh no, not again.”)
Four complete adventures – for character levels 3-9! Oh look. Reviewer going to slee —
Graeme Davis. Now there’s a name to conjure with, if what you want to conjure are the shades of some of the best work done in adventures and sourcebooks. In the late eighties and early nineties at least.
Okay. Graeme Davis? I can do this. Minas Tirith, Bogenhafen, Vampire…Graeme Davis wouldn’t let me down, would he?
FIND OUT IN NEXT WEEK’S EXCITING EPISODE!
(Okay, you’ve had your ‘amusing’ time-wasting introduction – get on with talking about the book or I’ll feed you to the oil beetles. – Ed.)
The meat of the book is probably the four full length adventures. They’re not linked, per se, but background threads are common and there are some suggestions for how the outcome of the earlier plots may affect the resolution of the later. This is not done in a particularly insightful or revelatory way, but it’s the thought that counts. Especially if it’s a thought about a calculator. An overview of each follows; although I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, one or two may slip unfortunately out like a couple of unlucky participants in a skating competition. If you’re likely to have these run for you, you may want to pluck out your eyes to avoid taking in the next few paragraphs.
ADVENTURE ONE – “THE SOUL OF THE SERPENT” – recommended for characters of level 5-7 The longest adventure of the four (at least in terms of page count), “Soul of the Serpent” is a roughly four act affair with a mix of combat, investigation, talky bits, and the probably traditional dungeon crawl finale (crawling optional). There’s plenty of variety during the investigative portion of the adventure – at least in the investigations the players are required to trudge around. Yet the tour around a subterranean tunnel complex – complete with opportunity to get thoroughly duffed up by a SPECIAL GUEST STAR from Out Of Time and Beyond Space – manages to be both entirely setting appropriate and bowel-cloggingly dull.
If you’ve played through the first bunch of Freeport adventures, you’ll no doubt be tickled by an amusing inversion of one of the central conceits of these, and will warmly welcome the chance to catch up with a few of the important NPCs. If you haven’t, no one cares about the likes of you.
Overall, I think the phrase ‘damned with faint phrase’ was invented to describe things like this. Routine. Competent. Workmanlike. You know the kind of thing. Publishers probably want to stop putting out adventures that advise the GM to randomly stage attacks as a way of moving players out of a dead end in investigations, though. There are less clumsy ways of moving pieces to the next space on the board…
ADVENTURE TWO – “THE LAST RESORT” – recommended for characters of any level Okay – this flat out saves the book from anything else I have to say about it. Rather than a bunch of numbered paragraphs which the players have read out to them as they move sequentially from one to the next until they either reach section 14 or 400, “The Last Resort” provides an interesting and detailed backdrop for a sequence of potential events. These events are the realisation of the plots. plans and schemes of a variety of NPCs who will find themselves unwittingly mingling, meshing, and generally horribly complicating things until – well. That’s the beauty of “The Last Resort” – because how it all ends up is up to the players. And we all know what happens when PLAYERS start to interfere…!
It’s reminiscent of a good one-off LARP game, or, for the more devoted tabletoppers, much of the intended structure of the WHFRP adventure ‘Power Behind the Throne.’ As such, it will take a significant investment of DM time and staging since the DM needs to have at least a nodding acquaintance with the various plots and motivations in order to convincingly modify them on the fly in response to player and NPC interaction, but the sheer richness of potential and the clarity with which these things are set out make this a far less unpleasant prospect than it might be.
ADVENTURE THREE – “CUT THROAT’S GOLD” – recommended for characters of level 4-7 The token “meanwhile, outside the city…” adventure. And the token “the PCs aquire a treasure map!” concept. And the token twist on the theme. Although “Soul of the Serpent” catered for a variety of tastes in the investigation that prefigured the dungeon-based climax, “Cut Throat’s Gold” eschews all that pesky interaction and reasoning and opts to have the players gently wheeled through a parade of combat encounters. WITH AXE.
The kindest thing I can say about the adventure is that at least there’s been some thought put into the combat; I imagine that if this sort of thing frosts your cookies, you’re going to appreciate the different backdrops to your bouts of dice rolling and minature-shoving as well as the – potential – variation in tactics and armament employed by your various foes. On the other hand, if you prefer a little more texture to your flights of fancy this is probably going to profoundly disappoint. Worse, it will very likely profoundly bore, too.
ADVENTURE FOUR – “FAIR SALVAGE” – recommended for characters of levels 7-9 Like “The Soul of the Serpent,” “Fair Salvage” leverages several background points from earlier supplements to drive its plot. Unlike “Soul of the Serpent,” it’s actually quite interesting, although it has the potential to quite radically alter the direction of your Freeport-based game (and indeed, although I sincerely doubt it will impact in the slightest, future Freeport releases). What initially appears to be a fairly standard set-up and investigation turns out to be headed in quite a different direction indeed, and the actions of the players in the previous adventures may have a bearing on exactly what that direction is.
Interestingly, “Fair Salvage” doesn’t so much conclude as invite the DM to speculate on possibilities, to consider what has gone before and how it might shape what lies ahead. Like “The Last Resort,” a certain investment of considered thought and evaluation are required to get the best out of strong potential. Fortunately, the book does a (barely) adequate job of offering up some possibilities and their impact on the setting to get inspiration-starved DMs started.
“NOT ONLY BUT ALSO:”
“Tales” also includes a chapter full of adventure seeds and thumbnail location sketches; as ever with this sort of thing, there’s a lot of chaff and not much wheat – and which is which is something that’s up to the individual to decide. In addition, there are some new rules about gunpowder, a puportedly new skill (which seems to duplicate the use of an old one), a couple of suggestions of new uses for older ones, and three Prestige Classes (Gambler, Freeport Merchant, and Ship’s Captain). I’ve not used any of them in play so I can’t comment on game balance, but I can say that none of them seem particularly interesting on readthrough.
Hmm. So. Of the four adventures, we have one poor, one routine (but varied), one extremely good with a demanding structure, and one which is potentially excellent (I leave the linking of assessment to adventure as an exercise for
the reader. You probably need some, after all). This is good mix – but I would urge caution unless you happen to have played through the earlier Freeport adventures, or at the very least own the hardback city gazetteer. Much is implicitly or explicitly referenced, and I can’t quite shake the nagging thought that much becomes slightly baffling without them (rather in the same way the Dune TV and movies are watchable but slightly baffling without knowledge of the books).
“Tales of Freeport” is unusual for a collection of adventures in that it does potentially move the setting along in a different direction, as the author acknowledges and indeed appears to encourage, but the fact that the book begins with a greasy reassurance that nothing that has happened in the other Freeport books will have the slightest impact on the setting as it stands here make me doubt that Green Ronin will take the opportunity to make something of it. It’s a shame, especially in light of some of the other strands of Davis’ work elsewhere.
If you’re not already a Freeport fan, this won’t convert you – go get the hardcover city guide instead. On the other hand, if you’re a Freeport DM stuck for time or invention, there are worse things to splash your cash on. And believe me, I know.