RPG Review: Fate Freeport Companion

I realize I’ve posted content for it for about a month now without touching on the Fate Freeport Companion itself. This must be rectified.

Freeport is Green Ronin’s ever-popular “pirates and Cthulhu” setting, first published in 2000 for 3.0 D&D. Since then, Green Ronin has spun it off as its own setting to support multiple systems. There are Freeport Companions for Pathfinder, 4th Ed Dungeons & Dragons, Savage Worlds, True20, Castles & Crusades, and now Fate, thanks to the Fate Core Kickstarter. The idea is that you buy the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, a system-agnostic book of pure setting, and then buy the Freeport Companion for the game system of your choice.

I like the idea of supporting a setting via multiple popular game systems; it builds the setting as a brand rather than tie the setting to a single game system. Though I imagine it can become costly to print product for so many rule-sets, and wouldn’t be surprised if it cannibalized some sales, edition wars or no. A similar thing is going on with another setting, Day After Ragnarok, originally for Savage Worlds but now available for Hero 6th and Fate (review forthcoming).

Full chapter-by-chapter review after the jump.

That’s some great Wayne Reynolds art right there.

Chapter 1 – Characters (18 Pages)

Herein is the joyous surprise: Fate characters that play like Fate characters but also play like D&D characters. The Fate Freeport Companion uses the core six D&D attributes rated 0 to +4 as your Fate “skills,” replacing the stock Core skill system. It’s something I (and the Dungeons of Fate fan hack) realized a while ago, that you can follow a True20-style path and trim D&D’s attributes down to just their modifiers, which integrates really well with Fate. It’s also a good way to make Fate approachable for people who’ve only played D&D; it actually reminds me a bit of pre-d20 D&D since you’re rolling your attributes to do skills-type things.

What about class and race? Aspects cover the lion’s share of these, with some suggestions on how to use and create Aspects to cover things like that, though there’s a good chunk of racial stunts (three per race) to give you an idea of how to make your own. The chapter—really, the book—is brisk but concise.

Chapter 2 – Magic & Spellcasting (20 Pages)

This chapter is sizable, much in the same way most chapters on spells and spellcasting in D&D-type games can be very long. Again, the Freeport Companion is trying to make spellcasting feel like both D&D and Fate, and it works really well. There’s a huge selection of low- and mid-level spells, all iconic ones from the d20 era, plus rules for how to handle a spellcasting character.

First off, you need an Aspect that denotes you’re a caster; more suggestions and help are provided. The spells are effectively stunts handled by a series of keywords, and if you’re familiar with both Fate Core and, say, Pathfinder, this should look familiar to you. For example, the staple Cure Light Wounds looks like this:

Cure Light Wounds: (Healing, Cost) You can close minor cuts and bruises with a touch and promote faster healing. You may touch someone and allow them to clear all of their physical stress.

The keywords are found in parentheses. Healing means that you must be able to cast spells of the Healing school—there are several Stunts for magic-users to take, things like Occultist, Shaman, Battle-Priest, War Wizard, Trickster, etc., each one of which gives you access to a school or two, plus you start with two or three spells. Cost reflects that to cast the spell, you have to pay a cost of some sort: pay a fate point, take a shift of stress, or create an advantage this round so you can cast the spell next round. There’s some other keywords, including requirements, duration (per scene, session, or scenario), and corruption.

Corruption and taint finishes off the chapter. Characters have three stress tracks—the normal two for physical and mental stress, while the last is for corruption and taint, which can corrupt your soul and drive you mad. (In other words, here’s the Cthulhu part of Freeport.)

While the character creation rules were good, the magic system is probably my favorite from all the Fate games and editions; it’s simple and streamlined, and yet very close to the iconic D&D Vancian system. I still love the magic system as done in the Dresden Files—it’s a lot more freeform, like the system in White Wolf’s Mage—but the magic system is just damn peachy.

Chapter 3 – Wealth & Gear (10 Pages)

It’s a short chapter, and does what it says on the tin. Weapons include rules for cannon and firearms (the pirate part of Freeport); everything else falls into the groups Martial (deals an extra point of stress), Finesse (can use Dex instead of Str), and Heavy (delays your initiative, but deals two extra stress). Armor’s treated like Aspects you can invoke only for defense, and each armor type gives you a number of free invokes per session. Wealth’s represented via Aspects, while magic items are treated as extras and have their own Aspects and abilities.

This will probably be a common refrain during this post, but gear is handled incredibly well: very simple and streamlined, but with plenty of variety as to give you some D&D-style tactical options.

Chapter 4 – Creatures of Freeport (30 Pages)

A rather sizable bestiary, though it’s mostly monsters from the various Freeport books and doesn’t include any of the core monsters from the SRD. The chapter starts with some short but very thorough rules for monster creation using d20-based monster entries, which has been very quick and effective at converting monsters.

The included creatures have a wide variety and are very evocative of the setting, ranging from killer jungle plants, giant crabs and clams, serpent people, swarms, and a number of other entities. There’s plenty of aquatic and airborne creatures, which sets the scene. They’re also great for using as inspiration, since it’s nice to see how the Fate Freeport writers managed to convert some of the weirder powers from the d20 edition—most of the creatures have a stunt or two to replicate their special abilities, in a very Fate Core flavor.

Chapter 5 – Denizens of Freeport (30 pages)

People! A whole ton of people. At first, the stat blocs are of the generic NPC thugs, beggars, pirates, etc. players will encounter on every wharf and alley. Most of the chapter consists of named-and-numbered NPCs, the various persons of interest and movers-and-shakers in the Freeport setting. Each of the named NPCs has a paragraph of info about them, which is very helpful. Not much else to say about this chapter, since I don’t want to go line by line through the NPCs.

Chapter 6 – Fury in Freeport (35 Pages)

Well, now that we have player characters rolled up, outfitted them with gear and spells, and have monsters and NPCs on hand, it’s time to actually do something with them, right? Fury in Freeport is an introductory adventure that tries to set the tone: burglary, demons, mystery, intrigue, horror, swashbuckling, the whole nine yards. I’m not 100% sure I’ll ever end up running it, and it is the same adventure found in every Freeport Companion, but I did like the adventure to see how the writers envisioned using the system.

The Bottom Line

The interior has a good spread of art, and while not every NPC or monster gets its own portrait, there’s more than enough to go around. The layout and color is all Fate Core-style black and white, except for the gorgeous Wayne Reynolds cover and the now-iconic Fate Core blue cover scheme. It also has its own two-page character sheet, which you can grab off the Evil Hat website.

I do have one complaint I’d like to register: it’s a bit annoying that the game changes up the core rules (namely, the third of the rules called skills) without revising or modifying how advancement works. Ostensibly it’s still using Fate Core rules for everything not covered in the Freeport Companion, but that would be the Milestone system—X new skill points every scene, session, or scenario. While I guess that would still apply, they were written for characters who’d never have only six skills; Fate Freeport is much closer to Fate Accelerated in terms of having a smaller skills pool.

There’s probably some people who will be disappointed that the book is also only the crunchy half of the game; if you want rules for setting, you need to go get the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. Despite not owning the Pirate’s Guide myself, I don’t see it as that much of a drawback—I do have the 3.5 Freeport Adventure Trilogy, which was a rather solid starting adventure arc featuring the Yellow Sign, which would be easy to convert over using the Fate Freeport Companion’s rules.

And that, really, is the draw, to me: running a game that feels like Fate but looks like D&D. I wouldn’t say I’d give up Pathfinder for it, but using the Fate Freeport Companion is a sore temptation for some older adventures—even something like Red Hand of Doom I’d have to convert from 3.5 to Pathfinder anyway, and Fate Freeport conversion turns out to be a snap.

Freeport itself is an excellent setting if you love swashbuckling freebooters and Lovecraftian horror—as I do—and the book backs that up with a ton of evocative Freeport NPCs. I’ll get the Pirate’s Guide one of these years, because the setting is pure damn cool. But I find the way the game modifies Fate is more than worth the price of admission. Really, even if you don’t plan on using the NPCs but want a brilliant and easy way to hack any D&D adventure using Fate, this is the book for you. I consider it the best $20 I’ve spent on games this year; one of my friends has ran a few sessions with it and it’s been a blast.

The book retails for a low, low $20.00, or $10.00 for a watermarked .pdf. Either way, it’s 192 pages of awesome.

3 thoughts on “RPG Review: Fate Freeport Companion

  1. Nice review!

    In Fate, Stunts are typically a single, limited thing. In this conversion book, they use Schools of Magic as Stunts, with each Stunt giving you several spells. Is there any concern that these Magic Stunts overshadow regular Stunts?

    Other than the racial and magic stunts, does this book offer any more setting-specific stunts?

    1. I don’t think that the magic stunts vastly overshadow the regular stunts — they’re powerful, but you only get a limited number of spells… which are effectively stunts with a cost and/or restrictions. I’ve seen a couple of people play all-magic characters, and while taking three magic stunts is powerful, so is having a Strength-based character who takes melee-boosting stunts. Overall there’s less caster supremacy than in actual D&D or Pathfinder.

      The stunts mostly just racial and magic/spell ones. There’s a few examples but they’re all of the standard Fate “+2 to [Action] when in [situation/task]” variety… they’re more there to inspire than to be an exhaustive list.

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