Monday, August 10, 2009

d20 Freeport Companion, part 1

Although I haven't read the entire document yet (see my discussion of reading gaming PDFs below) I've read a fair chunk of the d20 Freeport Companion, a book that I almost didn't bother with. I'm kinda glad I did; I expected it would mostly stat up NPCs from the systemless setting, and while it did indeed do that, that took much less space than I thought, leaving room for a number of other things that I found quite useful. Let me review the sections that I've read individually. Ignoring the Introduction and whatnot, which I did read, but which isn't worth reviewing. As a quick aside, note the change in title of the document; I bought (and have) the d20 Freeport Companion. Because of the change in the d20 license, this is now renamed the 3rd Era Freeport Companion and the image I grabbed from Green Ronin reflects that. It does not use the d20 license (and, in fact, can't) but the OGL only. They've also created a nifty badge that kinda looks like the old d20 logo, but which says 3rd Era to identify it. Nice move.

Races in Freeport: The first chapter is relatively short, and mostly describes how the various D&D races make up the population of Freeport. There's little mechanically in here; stats for races already exist in proper D&D products and aren't repeated. There is a sidebar for a gnome variant; a militaristic, hard-nosed gnome variant, and then there's stats for the azhar which are essentially fire genasi without the LA +1. I'd like to see this same treatment applied to the rest of the planetouched races, actually. I really like the concept of tieflings and aasimar, but the LA +1 mechanism is a hassle.

Classes in Freeport: There are a number of alternate classes that the book proposes as well. A lot of people dislike alternate 20-level classes, but I actually quite like them, and I want a lot of them. The more there are, the more likely that I can get the character I want without baggage and assumptions that I don't. The classes presented here are the assassin, the corsair, the monster hunter, the noble, and the survivor. Most of them are interesting and a useful addition to a player's toolkit, but all of them are more focused than the PHB classes, and that works against some of them.

The Assassin is basically a variant rogue. It's got rogue BAB and HD, two good saves, an ability that's similar to sneak attack (but not quite---doesn't work in flanking positions) and an a la carte menu of abilities similar to the rogue's list, but different. Frankly, I'd rather see this as variant abilities for a rogue rather than as a unique class; I really liked the idea of a core assassin class, but I found the application of it feeling superfluous. In almost all cases, I'd rather just have a rogue, with a few of the class abilities here ported over or converted to feats.

The Corsair occupies the same space and niche as Complete Warrior's swashbuckler class, but with a slightly more nautical bent. I like it better, actually, although a canny GM might want to swap out a class ability or two in a non-nautical setting. It's also got a sneak-attack-but-not-quite ability; actually slightly better than sneak attack, because it works in one more situation (attacks for non-lethal damage.) In the case of both this class and the assassin, I think the new ability was superfluous and adds unnecessary complexity. Sneak attack as is is already good enough.

The Monster Hunter is an interesting class; kinda ranger-like, but focused very, very specifically on the favored enemy concept, taking that idea and driving it to be an entire class. Realistically, some of the options will almost never be used (a campaign in which taking favored enemies of oozes or plants, for example, has got to be extremely rare) and a few monster classes actually provide benefits that always work (I'm especially thinking of fey; there's no reason not to max this one out because its general utility is so good) but otherwise, I found the concept intriguing.

The Noble is to the aristocrat NPC class what the fighter is to the warrior NPC class, and oddly enough covers much of the same space as a bard, except without spellcasting. It's a support class that makes everybody in the group better with some abilities, makes enemies less competent, and has a lot of chances to shine in non-combat roleplaying situations, since they're suave, persuasive and imperative by nature. This is a nice take on an old concept; several other d20 games have had noble classes (Star Wars, Wheel of Time) and several other settings have had takes on the noble as well, occasionally under different names (Sovereign Stone, Dragonlance, Rokugan). I like this take on it, though.

Finally, The Survivor is an alt.monk that isn't so supernaturally flavored. As such, it's not likely to ever be a favorite class of mine (I'm not a huge fan of the whole concept of the monk) but I'll probably like it better than the monk itself. I think the defender from Midnight is probably the last word in this space, but I'd like to lay the survivor and the defender side by side and see which one I like best.

Madness in Freeport: Given that Freeport features an awful lot of Lovecraftian influence, it's perhaps not surprising that it also features a Sanity mechanic. Unlike the open content Sanity mechanic released under Unearthed Arcana, this isn't merely a porting of the Cthulhu mechanic, it's actually a native d20 mechanic, and one that's simpler than its predecessor. Basically it works by having character accrue "Madness points" that are, usually, detrimental (although in certain circumstances it's not necessarily bad to be a little crazy.) Typical D&D mechanics can remove them (higher level cleric spells like heal, although lower level spells like calm emotions can make you temporarily immune to the effects of your madness points.)

It's a little complex to introduce, but anyone who's ever played a Cthulhu-themed game will tell you that it's part of the fun to have the risk of growing insanity looming over your character. Plus, it's still less complex than any of the alternatives I've read.

Freeport Bestiary: There's a smallish bestiary of new monsters and stuff to face. In fact, there's quite a few entries, although they aren't described in much detail. I was a bit spoiled by the Creatures of Freeport supplement (a PDF that I have read) and all the detail it lavished on its entries; this was more MM format; just the stats and a quick summary of how it works. Some of the stuff is Freeport specific---Howard-esque serpent people, burnlings, etc. but other stuff is merely nautical of pirate-themed fun stuff, like brass monkeys, blemmyaes and shadow serpents. All in all, this kind of stuff is always useful, but then again, I've also got so much of it that I feel overwhelmed by options when looking for critters against which to pit my PCs.

In another post, at some point, I'd like to review the prestige classes, the skills, feats and magic portions of the book, and the included adventure, which will pretty much get all the content reviewed.

One final note, for those who care about this kind of thing (I don't, usually, but then again, I don't publish)---the book is very generous with its open content. Almost the entire book is open content, with the exception of the adventure itself and the proper names of the NPCs. The Section 15 of the OGL document is also very long, although I question whether or not it really needs to be. I think Green Ronin has habitually put most of their entire catalog in the Section 15 whether they actually took any rules from every given product, or not. That means, they also have to put everyone else that was quoted in the Section 15 of every one of the products listed in their Section 15. This trickle down effect has caused there to be at least 50-60 line items in the section 15. Not important exactly, just curious.

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