The secret you need to know about the True20 Freeport Companion is that it's the best sourcebook available if you want to run or to play in an iconic D&D-style fantasy campaign using the True20 rules.
The Freeport content? It's there to take or leave, as you choose -- but whether you plan to use the Freeport setting or not, this book will definitely help you to take the generalized toolkit that is the True20 rules, and to translate those rules into D&D-style fantasy adventures at your gaming table.
Up until now, we've only had the Reality Deviant's Blood Throne fantasy setting, and Ronin Arts' True20 Fantasy Paths as examples of how True20 might be used to create a more rules-light, freer-form version of d20 fantasy gaming.
Blood Throne is very well done, but it's a fantasy setting with a very particular tone and flavor to it; it's essentially "post-apocalyptic" fantasy. Ironically, the very creativity which helped "Blood Throne" to win its place in the True20 setting search, also makes the product less-than-useful as an example of iconic fantasy adventure-building using the True20 system.
True20 Fantasy Paths is also a worthy product, but it intentionally focuses on replicating existing D&D 3.5 classes as closely as possible in all respects. This is perfect for someone who simply wants to play ersatz D&D under the True20 rule set, but Fantasy Paths can follow the letter of the D&D rules more than it evokes their spirit.
With the True20 Freeport Companion, we're presented with concrete examples of how the True20 rules can be used to create a broad d20 fantasy setting with the lighter, less rigid True20 system.
All the playable adventure-fantasy classes you remember from the core True20 rulebook are here as True20 racial backgrounds: humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, half-elves, orcs and half-orcs. But wait -- as the TV commercials say -- there's more! How about goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds (Children of Meepo, Unite!), azhar (think demi-djinni), and everybody's favorite plane-touched, aasimar and tieflings.
Under True20's three main Heroic Roles (Adept, Expert, and Warrior) are a host of custom-built Paths, demonstrating how various heroic-fantasy archetypes can play out through True20.
Adept players can adopt the role of Cultist (this IS a Freeport book, after all); Dabblers (actually a formalized Expert/Adept multiclass in this setting -- skill users who do "a little magic on the side"); Magician (the wizard analogue); Mystic (the sorceror analogue); or Priest (the cleric analogue).
Expert players can play as an Assassin; a Fence (shady trader and deal-maker); a Grifter (charismatic con artist); a Mummer (a performer/acrobat/tricksy type); or the ever-popular Thief.
Warrior players have their choice of a Barbarian; a Duelist (the lightly-armored, often acrobatic, swordsman or -woman); a Musketeer (a literal musketeer -- one who uses alchemical black-powder pistols or muskets in combat); a Pirate (again, this IS Freeport, and Freeport was all about the pirates, even before Johnny Depp); a Soldier (fighter, but also a mercenary or a professional/city guard here); or a Templar (the paladin analogue).
Path progression charts are included for each Path listed above, detailing levels 1 through 20. As is standard for True20, no "experience point charts" are provided. Gamemasters must either provide their own XP charts for True20 (perhaps borrowing them from their d20 core books), or else, the players level up whenever the GM says they do…
… which is what actually happens anyway in standard d20, since by setting the monsters and challenges, a DM effectively determines in advance what the XP reward range for an adventure will be …
But I digress …
Also, please note that I used the word "analogue" advisedly in the lists above. True20 is similar to d20, but it's not identical, nor was it ever intended to be identical. One of the strengths of True20, in my opinion, is that the rules are simpler, cleaner, and more flexible than those of its d20 parent.
As such, while the character Paths above are familiar enough that d20 fantasy players crossing over to True20 shouldn't experience "rules system shock", any rules lawyer type who expects the Paths to be exactly like their D&D counterparts in every respect will be disappointed.
For those who want a True20 fantasy experience, however, there's so much to be had in the True20 Freeport Companion.
Minor skill changes are discussed, as befits the Freeport fantasy setting. New Feats and Powers (i.e. magic) are introduced. There are rules for Taint (corruption from the use of evil magic) and Madness. Expanded equipment lists are here, as well as an honest-to-Gygax price list and money system. No more nebulous "Wealth checks" kids -- get yer hands on some gold!
Poisons, tools and skill kits, transportation and services. As I said at the beginning, this PDF may say Freeport on the cover, but it does a LOT of the heavy lifting for a GM looking to start up any sort of D&D-style True20 fantasy adventure campaign. Take what you need and leave the rest.
There are short sections on handling ritual magic (seances, exorcisms, and the like, in keeping with the Freeport setting's dark underbelly). A tiny chart suggests cost modifiers for Supernatural armor, weapons, and charms, since the setting uses actual hard currency.
Nothing in the way of premade personal magical items are included here, as such, although there are a few Artifacts detailed. These are all, of course, very much Freeport-themed, and most have a nautical and/or piratical aspect to them.
There are around forty new monsters/creatures described, including one template. Again, many of these critters follow the seafaring/pirate theme which defines the Freeport setting, but a minority will still benefit a standard True20 fantasy-adventure campaign.
Chapter Seven of the book may be particularly useful to True20 fantasy GMs, as it lists examples of various Ordinary-class NPCs that players might encounter during their adventures: Assassins; Beggars; Commoners; Cultists; Lobstermen (i.e. divers); Longshoremen; Mercenaries; Merchants; Pirates; Priests; Sea Lord's Guard (elite city watch); The Syndicate; Thieves; Thugs; Watchmen (ordinary city watch) and Wizards -- they're all here. Most entries will have two listings; one at first or second level, with a second example set around level six or seven.
Again, even if you don't plan on running your True20 campaign in Freeport, this book takes a lot of the weight of game preparation off your shoulders.
The next section details most of the major NPCs of the Freeport setting under the True20 rules. While ambitious GMs could certainly "borrow" certain relevant characters for their own campaign settings, many of these NPCs are strongly tied to the Freeport setting, by definition.
Likewise, the included adventure "Fury In Freeport" is well-made, but it's specifically designed to introduce first-level True20 characters to the Freeport setting. While it's a useful example of how a decent first-level adventure for True20 fantasy can be constructed, separating the adventure from its setting would likely rob it of most of its power and flavor.
The PDF rounds out with a short general index.
So -- the one or two of you still reading this must be asking -- what ISN'T good about this PDF?
I have only three minor warnings.
First, if you ARE buying this product specifically because you want to play a True20 Freeport campaign, be aware that this is not an all-in-one Freeport sourcebook. There are no general maps of Freeport, no discussion of the overall setting in any detail. If you want to start up in Freeport, you will need the Freeport setting book from Green Ronin as well as this book. This book only covers how to play in the Freeport setting using True20 rules.
Second, if you're new to True20, you'll need more than just this book to start playing a True20 fantasy game. You'll need the True20 Adventure Roleplaying core rulebook, at the very least. The True20 Bestiary book will also prove pretty handy. Both are also available here at RPG Now.
Third, be warned that there's a pretty revolting piece of artwork in this book. In the section on Madness, there's a full-page picture of a woman ( who's dressed "sexy", which is even more dubious) clawing her own eyes out. She literally has an eyeball in one hand.
Now, I live on the same planet as Paris Hilton and the "Manhunt 2" video game -- I realize that this piece of artwork was likely approved precisely because it would offend some people, and perhaps start a controversy -- thus boosting sales. It can't be a coincidence that the very same artwork is used as background for the "Cults of Freeport" ad in the back of the PDF.
I didn't even want to mention it here, because there's always some moron who will go "Ooh! Eyeball!" and buy a copy just to see it -- thus validating the cynicism on some level.
But -- if you're squeamish -- you need to know to skip page twenty. And now you do.
Oh, and if Green Ronin does some Publisher's Reply defending the "artistic integrity" of the image, that sound you hear will be me ignoring any attempt to further the hype.
Beyond this, however, the True20 Freeport Companion is a solid product -- useful not only to Freeport fans, but to anyone who wants to run a True20 fantasy campaign.
[5 of 5 Stars!]