GamingTerror in Freeport

There are a lot of reviews out there about the Freeport series that weren't written by someone who actually Game Mastered them. My three reviews of the Freeport adventures are from actual play, along with my players' reactions. Our game is placed in the World of Arcanis, which happens to include Freeport as an expansion. Freeport in turn draws on some other sources, which really expands Arcanis into a daisy chain of weird and interesting ideas. If it's not obvious, this review contains spoilers. Potential players should scram. SHOO!

A bit more on Freeport: It's Cthulhu-meets-pirates, only with no pirates. That is, the town is a pirate-town, but there are almost no actual battles with pirates on the open sea. About as close as you get in this adventure to water is the sewers. This probably has more to do with the fact that D&D doesn't easily lend itself to adventures on the ocean without a lot of rules tweaking. So instead you get "pirate-themed" adventures in Freeport, in the same way that Johnny Depp is nowhere in evidence at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney (my wife was disappointed).

If you've played through the first adventure, you know all this by now. Terror in Freeport (TIF) picks up where Death in Freeport (DIF) left off. Brother Egil enlists their help yet again to investigate a possible serpent person sneaking around in a room that belongs to that trouble magnet we know and love, Lucius. If you recall, last time Lucius was possessed by "something" (my guess is a shan from Call of Cthulhu) and the Brotherhood tortured him, assuming it had something to do with their dark god, the Unspeakable One. Unfortunately, it had absolutely nothing to do with anything, and it was all a big mistake.

In this case, we have the same situation. The PCs are nominally involved because Egil wants to hire them to protect Lucius from whatever is breaking into his room. But once the PCs investigate, they're expected to forget why they were involved in the first place. Believe it or not, this actually worked…none of my players complained.

What they did complain about, and what came up at the end of the last adventure, is that Egil is a Brother of the God of Knowledge, a priesthood that takes a vow of poverty. This is an important plot point (see below), and yet Egil pays 110 gold to each PC for helping him out. Either the PCs should be distrustful of Egil, or they shouldn't assume that a brother of the temple walking around with excess of 400 gold is unusual.

Anyway, Egil gives the PCs a lead: Milos, the bad guy from the first adventure, had an alter ego named Devlin. The PCs discover a strange book in Devlin's room, only to have it stolen out from under them in a bait-and-switch scam. The PCs give chase, and the punk who steals the book leads them right to the old temple from the first adventure.

I'm not sure what the issue is with Green Ronin and maps, but they're fond of reusing them. So the exact same map that was in the first adventure is reused here, and the adventurers revisit the original lair. They even have a fight with similar villains. This struck me as a bit lazy, but the players liked it-they enjoyed the connection to the former adventure and it helped jog their memory. That said, there are some parts of the adventure that are glossed over; namely, there's a room sacred to the Unspeakable One that scared the heck out of one of my PCs, and no mention of it is made here (though it's still listed on the map).

By the end of that section, the PCs have an address, which just happens to be Chief Councilor Verlaine's, a very powerful political official. They are encouraged to research this man to get more information about him, which led to a hilarious good cop/bad copy scenario, wherein one of our PCs shot (that's right, SHOT) the grouchy record keeper in the leg while another PC offered to heal him if he gave them the info they wanted. He complied.

Immediately thereafter is one of those setups where things can go horribly wrong, depending on the mood of the PCs. Guards come to arrest the PCs on trumped up charges. In this case, one of the PCs had just shot a man, so they were considerably edgy. They then proceeded to just shoot the guards too.

At this point, the adventure teetered on complete anarchy. Fortunately, these are Verlaine's thugs, not actual city guards (though they pretend to be more official), so not too much harm was done. This is all a set up for the next part, which is that Brother Egil beckons for them to follow him: he thinks he knows where Lucius is! Right down this sewer…

No adventurer with a clue is going to follow anyone, even a helpful NPC, into a sewer. But because of the now considerably wanted status of the PCs, they complied. I did have to change the adventure in one important way, which is that Egil tries to get everyone to walk into a room while standing outside the door.

Again, you have to be an idiot to fall for this. Instead, I had Egil (who, if you haven't guessed by now, is a false Egil) use a dimension door spell to walk right into the cramped room, and then teleport out of it, locking the PCs in. Because, ya see, it's a big death trap.

And here, my friends, is the part where you either throw the adventure away in disgust or you roll with it. This room is essentially the trash compactor from the original Star Wars movie. Only there's no R2-D2 to bail our heroes out.

For one, the room is 10 feet by 10 feet. When you're using maps, and you have more than four characters (remember, each character takes up 5 feet of space in combat), PCs are just not going to be comfortable placing themselves in such a tight space. This trick might work when you're playing D&D 2.0 when maps weren't so prevalent, but with third edition it doesn't fool anybody.

The other problem is that the trap is amazingly complex. It's essentially a modern trash compactor, and one has to wonder how it was built in Freeport. I made it a point of introducing a clockwork maker earlier on just to justify this crazy trap.

With the help of an hourglass timer and the escape music from Aliens, I managed to suitably scare the PCs as well as grind them to a pulp (literally). I played fast and loose with the rules though; a strict interpretation will kill off the entire party, and that's just dirty pool.

After they escape, the PCs are in hot pursuit of the real Egil, who is about to be sacrificed in another tunnel further down in the sewers. When they save him, it just so happens that the real snake temple is beneath Verlaine's house. An amazing coincidence!

When the PCs get to Verlaine's house, they're too late: Verlaine is dead, murdered by an assassin who is still there. Again, I managed to scare my PCs by having the assassin sneak up on the last person in the party and stab her (nearly to death), then set the place on fire, and jump out a window to escape. It was exciting stuff, if awfully contrived.

The PCs discover a plot to attack the Temple of Knowledge, so they rush over to Egil's home base and prepare to defend it. The map used in the adventure doesn't quite match up with the cultist's plan of attack, so the PCs were confused. When a group of disguised cultists came in, nobody was fooled. To give the PCs extra ammunition, the leader is wearing a gold ring and (remember?) the brotherhood takes a vow of poverty! So that gives them away…or maybe the PCs think nothing of the fact that the gold ring probably didn't cost the 400 gp Egil apparently carries around with him.

The fight is actually too easy. Egil and and the high priest Thuron are not positioned on the map, so I had difficulty playing this encounter as a straight battle. Again, it's as if the adventure wasn't written for third edition, and the practical matter of running a combat between 10 cultists and 20 (!) clerics was not considered. I fudged rolls and tried to make it go fast.

Finally, the high priest Thuron (whom we never met until this point) reveals that he's a serpent person in disguise, only a good guy. There's not much room for the PCs to react; honestly, my PCs wanted to kill him on the spot. Instead, everyone's expected to be okay with this disturbing revelation. Thuron then proceeds to translate a note they discovered, which basically implicates someone even more important…the Sea Lord of Freeport himself!

Dun dun DUNNNN!

This ending is dramatic, but awfully difficult to pull off without playing the third part of the trilogy immediately thereafter. Is everyone supposed to just pretend they didn't notice the high priest of a temple turn into a snake? Should they all forget that the Sea Lord is a high-ranking cultist?

I played the next adventure, Madness in Freeport, immediately after this one. It was a good choice, as it kept the momentum going without stretching the willing suspension of disbelief…which we stretched quite a bit already.

TIF has some good ideas, but unlike DIF, it railroads like nobody's business. It also glosses over important plot points, leads PCs into traps which are extremely difficult to escape, and expects them to go peacefully with supposed officers of the law all so that they can have a one-on-one conversation with Verlaine.

Well, my PCs SHOT Verlaine's Captain of the Guard in the FACE. Apparently, good old Reikert Lloyd is a favorite NPC, because a whole page is devoted to him when he has no real role in the game (and, incidentally, dies anyway in the assassination at Verlaine's house). Similarly, my PCs saw through every disguise without any rolls, because plot-wise it just didn't make any sense. DIF feels like the middle of two great adventures, tiding you over to give the PCs the big bad guy to fight.

DIF is worth getting if you're playing the trilogy, but it certainly can't be played as a one-off. And given that it stretches believability in some cases (especially that trap), you might find that the PCs surprise you with good old-fashioned common sense and a flintlock pistol to your favorite NPC's face.

Oh yeah. That guy sneaking into Lucius' room? That was Thuron looking for some books.