Freebooters on the Frontier, 2nd edition

Freebooters on the Frontier, 2nd edition

Freebooters on the Frontier, 2nd edition

Okay, thanks to everyone taking the time to answer that poll, it looks like Freebooters 2e will be the next project toward which I will focus my game-brain. I am excited about that, and eager to make the game better in every way possible. To that end I would love to hear from anyone who has played FotF and has an opinion about how to make it better. Specifically, what problems have you encountered in your own games, and what suggestions do you have for addressing these problems?

FotF 2e will be self-contained (i.e., you won’t need Dungeon World to play it). Right now my plan is for a 5-booklet set. Each booklet would be comparable to the original FotF in length (24 pages). Yes, I want to evoke the old D&D white box vibe.

My current plan for the set is:

Freebooters on the Frontier (the basic rules, revised and improved)

Advanced Freebooters (additional classes and other optional rules)

Civilization & Savagery (tables and moves for cultures, settlements, and NPCs)

Overland & Underworld (tables and moves for wilderness and dungeons)

Beasts & Booty (tables and moves for monsters and treasure)

My goal in revising Freebooters on the Frontier is to create a fantasy role-playing game that successfully fuses the improvisational survivalist adventure of early D&D with the improvisational fiction made possible by the Apocalypse Engine. The PCs should feel motivated primarily to accumulate loot, and fight monsters mostly out of necessity. I believe that by making PC death a real possibility (by starting with relatively weak PCs, not fudging rolls, and relying heavily on sensibly-interpreted randomized content), the drama and satisfaction of watching PCs survive and grow over time is heightened.

It’s also important to note that I want to avoid feature-creep on the basic rules and keep them as slim as possible. The Advanced Freebooters book will have room for additional classes and all the cool house rules people have concocted.

Here are some issues of which I’m currently aware and intending to address:

PC hit points

Does the cumulative HP rule make PCs too powerful relative to the monsters they face, given that monsters follow the basic Dungeon World rules? Has PC HP been a problem at your table? My current plan is to write new monster rules for FotF that expands their HP range. The intention would not be to have encounters that scale to the party, but to allow for bigger, older, scarier monsters to have more HP. Alternatively, I could scale down the roll-for-HP move.

Exploration moves

As +David Perry has pointed out, the interaction between Scout Ahead and Navigate can be confusing, and I’d like to improve the overall procedure for travel both aboveground and below. Ideally, the same set of moves could be used in dungeons and wilderness, but I tried various versions of that when I was writing/playtesting The Perilous Wilds, and none of them were satisfying. The two modes of exploration are so fundamentally different that they call for different sets of moves. If that’s the case, I want to come up with a tight set of moves for each of these types of exploration.

The Cleric

Some folks have said that clerics are the least interesting class to play. Why is that, and how could the cleric be made for interesting? I like Maezar’s idea of rewriting the Divine Disapproval table to a 2d6 roll instead of 1d12 roll, in order to reduce the swingy nature of that table (and I think I would keep 1d12 for the Arcane Accident table because it underlines the chaotic nature of sorcery).

The Magic-User

Rob Brennan has that noted that the “Cast a Spell” move may have some issues, in terms of not leaving enough room for making a GM move on a 6-.

Any opinions on the above stuff? What other potential problems have you encountered in play? What new things would you like to see folded into the mix?

41 thoughts on “Freebooters on the Frontier, 2nd edition”

  1. Our cleric is having a blast despite a terrible set of attributes. However we are using Maezar’s cleric sheet since it is pretty. We only just noticed the differences recently and we much prefer Maezar’s split of basic healing as a base move and the option to upgrade it with an advanced move. Otherwise clerics would have to wait until Lvl3 for any healing and it would seem to be almost mandatory (and therefore a boring choice for players). I am also uncomfortable with using CHA as the base attribute for clerics. Call me a traditionalist. However we noticed that Maezar’s sheet also reduced the chance of rolling disapproval and I’m not sure that is a good thing. My cleric has been combat-cursing to great effect (her STR is -1) and I’d like to see a bit more chance of a downside. Just like with wizards I would like to be able to make a move when they fail though.

    We are really enjoying the game even though we’re not doing the whole improv thing. More feedback as our game continues.

  2. I’ll come back with actual feedback when I get some time (and once my new Freebooters campaign actually kicks off next Friday),but for now I just wanted to voice my approval for the overall revision plan. I love the series of booklets (and I’m hoping a boxed set is a possibility as well).

  3. Just a quick note about my DW game. I’ve got an 8th level Fighter player that has 5 armor and has taken the moves that add to his damage, so he often one hit kills most monsters and survives any hit back. That’s probably a discussion for a different forum and thread, but…

    I haven’t played FotF yet, but I’m wondering if HP scales, how to handle that? And importantly – fictionally speaking, what will HP represent in FotF2? Maybe that’s where you start as you think about HP and higher levels?

    Another comment – D&D 3 and 4 both assumed that there was a vibrant economy in Magic Items. Does Freebooters also assume that? I can see characters wanting more power, but it costs coin; which means they are sacrificing their long term goal (10,000 coin) for short term power enhancement.

  4. Very excited for this. You have a backer in me, good sir!

    As for feedback:

    PC hit points

    We keep dying, so I don’t see a problem here, but that’s because we haven’t moved into the late-game stuff yet. Everyone is level 2-4 still.

    I will say, however, that the increase in power, to be able to win fights against mooks and stuff more reliably is a feature that is part of the zero-to-something aspect of this game (and games like B/X DnD) that draws us to it. Since you are going for stand-alone, some advice about ramping up narrative difficulty, rather than mechanical difficulty would be stellar here.

    Travel Moves

    Yes, I think this will require some work, procedurally. The way dungeon exploration works in Perilous Wilds is awesome, and I would like to see more of that style for wilderness exploration in FotF. It’s really fun.


    So, a problem that my (lonely) Cleric player and I have is that Curse and Bless feel a little too nebulous.

    He feels shorted, mechanically speaking, with his “spells” compared to the Magic Users. It doesn’t feel satisfying enough to him. Despite it being a more narrative-style game, it just doesn’t feel gamey enough, I suppose?

    He gets frustrated when it takes too long coming up with actual mechanical results for his divine powers. He knows that the magic is supposed to be a little more subtle than sorcery, but it still grinds his gears because he and I have to do a lot more work at the table in comparison to the how the Magic Users casts their spells, and how it’s a little more clear for them.

    I suppose just having a tiny bit more procedure (or advice) for Boons and Afflictions from Bless and Curse, respectively would be really nice to have.

    As for Magic Users, I have found Cast a Spell works great, personally. The miss result on a roll could definitely use a bit more Guidance for the Judge. Other than that, I think it’s the most fun Playbook in the game.

    I will keep thinking about feedback, so you might expect more from me in the coming days.

    Thanks so much for making such an awesome product, Jason! It’s the (Almost) perfect game for our group, and we are so very much looking forward to more content for it!

  5. I don’t have any substantive feedback at this point as I’ve only used Perilous Wilds, not FotF. That being said I’m very excited about the prospect of this poject!

  6. Just for context John Love my Cleric is one of a deity of suffering whose tenet is “through suffering comes power”. He has 2 go-to combat curses that he has developed and uses again and again:

    1. Inflict intense pain on person to distract them for the duration of the curse – they lose their action

    2. immobilise a limb through pain to cause them to drop something, trip, etc

    I agree that it might be good to have some more guidelines… but it is working OK for us so far.

    I have no idea if these are the sorts of things Jason was thinking of for curses

    PS the cleric is evil

  7. I’ll have more notes later but wanted to throw my hat in the “Bless and Curse are too nebulous” ring. My group’s Nature Cleric, at level 1, was talking as if he assumed he could do stuff along the lines of “summon a Thunderstorm so lightning strike the houses, while the wind buffets us down the cliff to land safely”. Creative, but…

    There were plenty of other blesses and curses he requested that were much more reasonable, but the power discrepancy just highlights how broadly the move’s wording can be interpreted. Furthermore, there’s no clause for Judge buy-in. The moves reference the words: bless, curse, empower, protect, hinder, afflict, boon, and bane. Each is fairly open to interpretation, and they’re all used in the move. It makes things difficult to adjudicate. And if it’s intentionally very open to interpretation, I feel like it treads on the toes of the MU.

    I also think you might be able to consolidate them into a single move? Though now that I think about it, perhaps they should interact with alignment in some way…

  8. Perhaps restrict basic Bless and Curse to explicit mechanical benefits/disadvantages, but add advanced moves that open them up to wider fictional interpretation?

  9. Frederic Oriol, integrating Funnel World into FotF is something I’m considering, yes! Either directly or as a variant start option in Advanced Freebooters.

  10. David Perry and John Love, the Cleric moves were indeed left open to interpretation intentionally, but I can see how that might make them mechanically unsatisfying.

    David, in your example, I would have allowed the Cleric his crazy requests in my game, but as 2 moves: Cursing the people by calling down lightning upon them, and Blessing the party by using the wind to save them. The intention was for the Cleric’s invocations to be quite powerful and broad in scope.

    Two things I am considering for Bless and Curse are 1) adding a GM move option on a 6- result, as per Rob Brennan’s suggestion for Cast a Spell, and 2) adding complication/tradeoff language on the 7-9 result, instead of just lower duration. That would give more room for fallout from overuse of divine power. I like the idea of finding a way to cleanly integrate Alignment in there as well.

    One of the limiting factors in the FotF playbooks was the space constraint of the single double-sided sheet. It was good in the sense that it forced me to boil the language down and cut stuff, but sometimes I wish there was more room. For instance, the list of the spell effect/duration/range/AoE in the Magic-User playbook would be much easier to use in play if it was formatted as a table. By the same token, more space could be devoted to clarifying and defining the Cleric’s repertoire. I am reluctant to add real estate to the playbooks because I really like that everything is on one double-sided sheet, but it may end up being necessary to up the playbook page count, at least for the Cleric and Magic-User.

  11. You can always model the extra sheets after a Spellbook and Holy Book! I’m also a huge fan of Maezar’s changes and think the “checklists” for alignment, race, gear, etc should come off the playbook itself and be put in a booklet and/or extra reference sheet, since those are just extraneous space wasted after character creation.

  12. A bit premature, but a new adventure along the lines of Cinder Queen would be an awesome stretch goal, or perhaps book 6 in the FotF White box? Something like Descent into the Depths (B1)?

  13. Hm, from my games, I’d like:

    – Expand the dungeon exploring a little. Enough that there’s a little more too it, but not necessarily in the same detail level as the existing wilderness exploration.

    – A bit more variety in the monsters/NPCs tables.

    It looks like those will be covered.


    – Less evil characters via random generation (I know someone else brought that up recently too).

    – A few more character classes. Maybe ranger, druid, barbarian/outlander, a different sort of wizard? But not too many!

    One thing that I would have appreciated is a table of “what happened since you were last here?” for cases when the party retreats and regroups and then returns somewhere. I had a lot of fun with (e.g.) having another party snipe some loot in these circumstances, but tables to spark ideas would be fun.

  14. I love the multi-booklet idea (and the names you have for them!). I hope you can contract the same illustrators again for some of the additional art. I love the idea of having specific underground exploration moves. If there is a way to ensure they play well with OSR style dungeon maps, that would be amazing.

    I really appreciate including house rules in the official content for easy reference for GMs that want to use them (or for players to lobby for their use). Some things I’d love to see in Advanced Freebooters include guidelines on converting any content from other old school sources, and more granular travel rules for actual Hexcrawls, or “Voronoicrawls”. I’ve been working on something along these lines and may post them soon.

    Some random bits from the current edition that could be reworked:

    * The Human heritage move doesn’t work for Good characters, and also feels a little like “Ok let me roleplay a bit before this next move to get +1 on it”. It might be better as “Gain +1 to a move if it is in pursuit of a vice”, similar to the Barbarian’s Appetites.

    * The spell aspect’s Areas “Self” and “Single Target” are a little awkward, especially if the range is above “Touch”. What exactly would a “Close, Self” spell look like? I think I would simply move “Single Target” up to power 0, and perhaps move “Large Area” to 4.

  15. Great suggestions, David Perry.

    PS: the Human Heritage move is that way by design. It’s a little joke on how being good is its own reward. I am going to include Alignment rules that allow PCs to shift Alignments based on what Virtues and Vices they demonstrate in a given session, so that there will be mechanical incentive to move away from being Good. I would perhaps want to build in some mechanical reward for being Good on the other hand, but I do like the idea of PCs striving to remain Good purely on principle.

  16. Re:good on principle. I’d balance. Some parties lean towards evil, and giving the GM tools and the players incentive to go good would be useful, prrhaps as a house rule.

  17. This is super exciting! I don’t have complex gameplay notes as I harvested freely for my museum game and didn’t stick to the system, but I’ve got some art feedback I’d love to pass along sometime if you are interested in that side of things. If so, I’ll pop it into an email.

  18. I was about to inquire about the lack of a Defend-like move (which I’ve seen others wonder about too), and suggest it be a Fighter basic move, when I realized that No Guts, No Glory is basically that. I think its trigger might be tweaked a bit to emphasize that.

    However, Defend relies on CON, and I then realized that CON seems under-utilized in FotF. It’s almost exclusively used to determine HP and HP recovery. So, while I like the “burn 1 Wisdom” part of the move, I wonder if it should actually be roll+CON.

    Perhaps CON could also be a part of travel moves.

  19. Which brings up another point – I like moves making you burn stats, but I really think you should roll the stat before it’s burned, which makes it feel more like you’re exhausting your ability because you did the thing, rather than it seeming like punishment for trying it. It’s especially rough when a player increases an ability at level 2 that gets them a +1 modifier, because they don’t even get the modifier for a move that burns that stat.

  20. I’m a sucker for random tables. In addition to appearance/personality/virtues/vices, a simple professions & starting equipment table would make an easy basis for funnel adventures. Also, tables for adventuring goals/incentives, and party member bonds are great scaffolding for character building.

  21. Possible re-working of Bless/Curse:

    When you open your body and soul as a circuit for divine power and call upon your deity to bless or curse someone or something say the effect you desire and explain how it falls within your diety’s domains.

    On a 12+ all 3.

    On a 10+ pick 2.

    On a 7-9 pick 1

    # The effect isn’t greater or lesser than intended. (Duration, damage, number, etc)

    # Only the intended targets are affected.

    # You don’t have to roll on the Test of Faith table

    I like this for a few reasons:

    Acting as a circuit for divine power has obvious implications

    Calling on a god to do stuff is almost always dangerous. (You could scale the 12+ to 10+ if you wanted to tone that down.)

    It rolls both moves into one and unifies mechanics.

  22. Thaumaturge

    When you open your body and soul as a circuit for divine power and call upon your deity answer the following:

    1.) What is the effect you want and how does it fall within your deity’s domains?

    Yardeth is a god of flame and law. I want these lawbreakers to burst into flame

    2.) What sacrifice do you offer

    The carbonized flesh of lawbreakers

    3.) How does it bring glory to your god?

    I will leave one simply branded with the mark of Yardeth. He will tell the tale

    Based on your answers the Judge will give you a +2 to -2 . Use that to roll on the Test of Faith table.

    Then roll + CHA. On a 10+ it goes exactly as you want. On a 7-9 there is some compromise or additional cost

    Alternately, you could re-work the Test of Faith table to include good, mixed, and bad results for the desired effect as well as the listed compromises.

    Test of Faith

    12 : Your deity is pleased the scope, duration or effect is maximized.

    6 : The effect isn’t greater or lesser than intended. (Duration, damage, number, etc). Until you convert at least 1 new follower you cannot hold more than one 1 favor.

    1 : Your deity is angered and turns your desired effect back on you. Lose all your cleric moves until your prove yourself. Ask the Judge what that means.

    Note: This is essentially the Ritual structure I wrote for Blades in the Dark.

  23. I don’t suppose you’ve considered combining the Cleric and the Magic User? I’m quite fond of the “Strong/Deft/Wise” trifecta of Whitehack. On creating a Magic User, you could choose or roll the “Source” of your power; Arcana, Deity, [insert other interesting sources]. Each would somewhat alter how your basic moves work, and/or how your casting power/favor ebbs and flows.

    Obviously it would take a lot of reworking to come out to strike a good balance, but I think it’s entirely possible.

  24. David Perry, I had not considered combining them. I do like the way Whitehack handles that stuff quite a bit.

    FotF is in a funny space, because I specifically want to emulate the classic 4 D&D classes, and the *World-meets-OSR thing I’m going for depends in part on the classic tropes, but the sophistication and fiction-first nature of *World mechanics tend to pull things in a particular direction.

    I can say that for now I am attached to the 4 classes, and I am more interested in figuring out ways to distinguish the M-U from the Cleric than in pushing them closer together.

  25. (another late comment) I do think the scoping that the magic-user has is important for all magic in this kind of game. I like Dylan’s move a lot, but without scoping, “set this person on fire” can easily become “set this army on fire”, which can lead to awkward moments at the table.

    If the same kind of scoping were to be added to the cleric, it would be important to find a good way to capture the difference between the classes. Where the magic-user gains their powers through logic and experimentation, the cleric gains theirs through conviction in a greater power.

    One way to express that is to make the cleric’s spell scope changes only happen at level-up, and keep the magic-user’s spell scope composable in the moment. The cleric’s relationship with the greater power is one that develops slowly over time, whereas the magic-user can adjust variables on the fly.

    I did something similar to this with a DW class hack, for which access to greater spell scopes could be acquired at higher levels – then any spell in that category could be cast at that scope or less.

Comments are closed.