Freebooters on the Frontier 2e Discussion

Hi, I’m Jason Lutes. I publish stuff under the Lampblack & Brimstone moniker. My next big publishing project is Jeremy Strandberg’s Stonetop (about which I’m very excited), and after that I’ll be putting out the 2nd edition of Freebooters on the Frontier, my attempt to reimagine and improve upon the old-school fantasy campaigns of my youth.

Freebooters started as a stretch goal for the kickstarter campaign I ran for The Perilous Wilds back in 2015, and the resulting 24-page booklet became my preferred fantasy RPG. I was happy to learn that some other people liked it too, enough so that I felt inspired to write a 2nd edition. You can find the current (alpha) playtest docs for that here.

Freebooters 2e is designed as a hardscrabble fantasy adventure RPG that takes the ease-of-play and low rules overhead of PbtA and applies it not so much to the harsh mysteries of the white box D&D on which I was weaned as the mind-expanding potential suggested by Judges’ Guild supplements like the Ready Ref Sheets and the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. The GM/Judge strives to be an impartial arbiter, character death is always on the table, and XP can be earned from stashing silver (among other things). People have had nice things to say about the magic system, which I came up with after a weekend lost to my first read-through of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories, and depends upon randomly-generated spell names.

Anyways, I am starting this thread in case anyone wants to talk about the game. A number of folks have asked where they can ask questions and offer feedback aside from my blog, so I’ll be pointing them here. After G+ hit that iceberg, for me The Gauntlet turned into the best place to discuss these games we love; I really appreciate the welcoming, smart, and active community that @jasoncordova , @shanel, and others have built over the past several years. I also know that at least @HorstWurst and @jexjthomas have run or are running Freebooters campaigns.

If you’re curious about how the game plays, I’m currently running a campaign online which you can watch here.


I’m glad for this thread because I’ve been dying to talk about my ongoing campaign! I’ve missed the G+ community. I should be sleeping right now but I’ll be back soon.


Ditto. Also thanks for your mail out. So many different places to frequent post-G+, I know I’m losing track of things I love.


Freebooters has produced some of the most fun gameplay of my 40 year RPG career! I’ve used it to introduce many new people to RPGs, and it has allowed me to run consistently fun campaigns over and over. In fact, when I polled my weekly group about which system that we’ve played over the last 3 years or so (and we’ve played a lot - my gamer ADD is bad), they almost unanimously picked Freebooters. I liked the original so much that I bought multiple copies of the booklet and hand them out like candy :slight_smile: I’m excited about 2E, and once it’s fairly complete. I’ll certainly start up another campaign!


It looks like the drop box link is broken

Hmm. Does this one work?

Works for me. At least here at work…

Very glad to see that the playtest files are available in pdf format

I’m a big fan of what you’ve done with Freebooters. I’ve gotten a ton of inspiration from your work. Exploring a world together as Judge with your party is a fantastic feeling. I look forward to see the project move forward.

I’ve just started a 2e game and once I get some solid feedback, I shall provide it! Right off the bat, I have a hard time remembering to remind my players to mark their stats. Is there a particular design decision for the stat advancement?

Since DCC was an inspiration of FotF, I’ve started to jot down some notes for classes, locations, and items from Mutant Crawl Classics. Let me know if your interested in seeing what I’ve got.


Hi @Tacoforce, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the game so far.

Marking abilities came out of me wanting character improvement to feel more organic and “earned,” by having abilities improve through use. I really enjoy that aspect of, for instance, the X-Com: UFO Defense videogame, or the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG. By combining mark-on-a-miss with the player choice to mark abilities during the Level Up and Train moves, the hope is to make character progression feel more tangible, while retaining some degree of player choice.

An example of what I like about this approach is when PCs who start with low Strength or Constitution spend a lot of time in the wilderness overcoming endurance challenges, those abilities will gradually improve. Or in a dungeon, when everyone is paranoid about traps and whatnot, failed Perceive rolls will gradually improve their Wisdom score. The dwarf fighter in our online campaign knows little about her ancestors, but in the midst of exploring an ancient dwarven temple and rolling poorly to Know Something about various inscriptions and ideograms, she’s very gradually becoming a better student.

Thanks for the offer for your MCC notes! I have too much on the plate right now to even consider something like that, but I encourage you to hold on to them for your own homebrew hack. Anyone is free to re-use or adapt the text of Freebooters for commercial and non-commercial purposes, so you could even publish your own game using the core rules if you wanted to (Free Mutants on the Irradiated Frontier?).


A fine name! I’ve got down a working title of Mutants of the Outland. Do not think that I was offering you merely more projects, my own homebrew is exactly my intent indeed!

So far I have a few basic moves for the Mutant and a random mutation table to be used similarly to wizard spells. Along with the Manimal and Plantient Heritage. Kicking around an idea for a Wasteland Wanderer, a warrior of the scrap.


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Another couple of questions!

The Help/Hinder Move doesn’t require the helper to roll, so no chance for additional failure. Would you allow a helper to aid after another has rolled? Or do you prompt the call for aid before the to-be-aided roll is made?

Is ability damage still being healed at one point per night of rest? Or is that being driven by just the Recover Move?

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Help/Hinder should be declared before the roll, I need to clarify that in the current rules!

As per the Pass the Night move, a PC heals 1+CON (minimum 1) points (HP or ability points) per night of restful sleep.

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Hi, Jason! I’ve been loving FotF 2e, and it’s become the mechanical foundation for my two most recent PbP games:

  • using Luka Rejec’s Witchfinder as a social intrigue introduction to a game of Fantasy Stargate, where the PCs discover a Gate that takes them to uncharted worlds and the peoples who inhabit them, and
  • a Planar Paragon-Tier game using 4e D&D fluff for the gameworld, where I’m using FotF to run the game and have customized race and class options for 4e material by mixing and matching your class abilities.

It’s been great fun to both use your system and to muck around with it. Some things I’ve noticed from playtesting:

  • the Negotiate skill hasn’t been working well for me with characters who are engaging in ‘social combat’, because the 7-9 result isn’t always meaningful. I’ve had more luck with this skill in Apocalypse World and Urban Shadows, and I suspect the difference is that the stakes in my fantasy games just aren’t high enough to feel like they trigger the move. In fantasy games, there seems to be more low-stakes bluffing, intimidating, and reasoning. It’s something I’ll be playing around with more soon, so I’ll have better feedback, but I’m wondering how the Move has done in your own playtesting.
  • I’ve houseruled for my games (which are less about the super-gritty ‘gp for XP’ style of play and are more heroic) that Tricks of the Trade (Thief) and Favored Weapon (Fighter) both receive automatic ticks as the character gains odd levels. My BECMI sensibilities are telling me that both classes should improve at those basics as they rise in power/ability, and I have a hard time asking my players (or my sample characters) to choose between taking a second or third Trick of the Trade and an Advanced Move. No criticism there, just providing playtest feedback.

I’ve also been using the many FotF 2e tables to pad things out in my The Nightmares Underneath game (which already has great tables of its own). Freebooters is exceptionally useful. Such a piece of treasure! It’s hard to believe it started as an add-on to Perilous Wilds!

Thanks so much for making the playtest widely accessible (and for sharing your own Actual Play). The accessibility makes it a perfect document for PbP play.



So I think it might still be a little bit until I write up the post I’ve been meaning to write up (having a toddler takes up a lot of time, idk if y’all knew that lol) so this is a little bit more of a grab bag of stuff, I guess?

I feel like I only recently really grokked Bonds in Freebooters, in part because of baggage from DW. A conversation on the sadly taken-from-us-far-too-soon L&B G+ page was incredibly helpful, but even after that conversation we were still writing out Bonds (DW style) which made everything pretty confusing since there wasn’t that narrative impact that they have in DW. We finally realized, hey, we don’t have to do that, so now Bonds are just PC names with little circles by them, and it’s far less confusing. That all said, it seems Bonds are still one of the more confusing things for some folks. See in particular this thread on reddit, where I did my best to explain them to someone who wasn’t really getting them at all. So that might be a place where some clarification could be useful when you do your next draft of the rules. (FWIW, I have come to absolutely love how Bonds work in Freebooters, and my table loves Keeping Company.

Another area that my own table has struggled with a bit is natural healing/gaining back HP. I personally love how squishy the PCs are and how difficult it can be to gain back HP, but one of my players in particular, who started with 1 HP and has a -1 CON (meaning she only ever gains back 1 HP after Passing the Night) felt like her squishiness was getting in the way of enjoying the game. We’ve since hacked in a rough approximation of the DW rest rules, which are way too powerful. I wonder if there’s something in-between that would make things feel a little more fair for people with negative CON modifiers, but not be OP (compared to the rest of the game at least)?

I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I really like @Atlictoatl’s approach to Tricks of the Trade and Favored Weapon, since so far neither of my thieves or my fighter have felt like it was worthwhile to take on another thing from those lists when they can choose a new move instead. It makes sense to me that they would naturally improve over time, and it doesn’t seem like it’d be terribly out of balance with the rest of the game. The only drawback I can think of is that the cleric and magic-user ought to be getting a similar benefit.

Other than the HP hack, which I’m not very satisfied with, my two other big house rules are that I’ve added in the Discern Realities questions back in to Perceive, since I want it to be a “put the pieces together” sort of move, rather than being used like a Perception check in D&D which can be super, super boring. They don’t have to ask one of the questions, but I find it does offer a guideline as to what kinds of things are covered by Perceive, rather than just “do I find any loot?” Rolls a miss. “Nope.”

So here’s our version, based on @Jeremy_Strandberg’s version of DR that puts the question as part of the trigger:

When you closely study a situation or a person, ask the Judge one of the following questions (or one of your own):

  • What happened here recently?
  • What is about to happen?
  • What (else) should I be on the lookout for?
  • What here is (most) useful or valuable to me?
  • Who or what is really in control here?
  • What here is not as it appears to be?

If the answer isn’t obvious, roll +WIS: on a 7+, the Judge will answer honestly; on a 10+, you can ask an additional question and get an honest answer; on a 6-, mark Wisdom, and the Judge makes a move. Remember to ask carefully; if there’s no way you could reasonably perceive the answer, the Judge will just say you don’t notice anything unusual.

The other, maybe bigger change, is to Negotiate. Two of my players in particular have characters who do not particularly like one another and tend to bicker a lot. I personally cannot stand it (in-character or out) for longer than like ten seconds, so I added in a PvP element to the move, based on AW and MOTW:

When you want something from someone that they don’t want to give up, make your case and roll…

… +STR to intimidate them
… +INT to appeal to their sense of reason
… +CHA to convince or charm them

For NPCs: on a 10+, they name their absolute minimum price; on a 7-9, they name a price they could live with; on a 6-, mark the ability used, and they’ll have none of it–time to try another approach.

For PCs: on a 10+, both; on a 7-9, choose 1:

  • If they do it, they mark XP and take +1 forward
  • If they refuse, they must erase any bonds with you and then tell you what it would take to convince them, if anything

On a 6-, mark the ability used; they decide how badly you offended them and choose 1:

  • If they refuse to do it, they mark XP
  • They’ll do it, but they’re going to hold it against you; erase any bonds you have with them

Unsure if erasing all bonds is too powerful, maybe they should just be marked? Or erase one bond? We’re still playtesting that one.

Just thought of this: maybe for using it on a fellow PC, you should roll +bonds instead of +stat?

Be glad to hear any feedback folks have on any of it.

We also toyed with adding Defend back into the game, but no one ever really uses it. If we did end up re-adding it, it’d probably be closer to @Jeremy_Strandberg’s version. We’ve also been using Advantage/Disadvantage instead of +/- 1 Forward, which feels like it’s maybe not quite in the old school spirit of the game, but it’s just more fun.

I’d still like to talk specifically about my campaign at some point because checking in after a session was one of my favorite things to do on the G+ community. Hopefully soon! In the meantime I’d love to hear other people’s stories about what kinds of things happened to your party during play.


IIUC your enjoyment of the game was/is being hampered by how two of your players are playing their characters. So you came up with some mechanics to minimize the amount of time you are infuriated by it (to less than ten seconds per incident). It sounds like you are trying to fix a social problem using a game-mechanics solution.

Something I might suggest is to let the players know directly that the bickering of their characters makes your experience of the game worse. My hope would be that they would either just stop or worst case the three of you could work out a solution to the situation.

I definitely don’t know the situation but it is totally possible that you have already done the above and this is the best you could work out… If so, it sounds like a crappy compromise for you - both because you had to do the design work and because it feels like they are putting their enjoyment above yours. :frowning:

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I appreciate your input, and I also often make a point of discussing how you can’t fix out-of-game problems with in-game solutions. In this case, we did talk about it, and came to the conclusion that the bickering itself isn’t necessary, but it’d be fun to have a way to resolve in-character problems that they’re having a hard time RPing their way out of. We talked about the similar mechanics in AW and MOTW and all thought it would be worth a shot.

I should probably specifiy, in case it wasn’t obvious, that I was being somewhat hyperbolic about my disdain for the in- (and out-) of character bickering. This was specifically implemented for those times when they don’t seem to be able to RP their way out of a disagreement. It gives us an excuse to pause and ask, “is there any chance you might be able to be convinced?” and if not, we can drop it and move on; if so, the one trying to do the convincing can make the roll. Did this issue absolutely require a mechanical solution? No, probably not: I have no problem stopping the action and saying, “Alright, this has been going on for a while; Terib, is there any chance Lady Goldbludgeon could change your mind? No, okay, let’s fast forward a bit then. You are continuing down the path, nearing the Giant’s Jaw, both a little sullen and salty when you see tracks veering off the path. What do you do?” Or whatever.

I don’t know why this is a crappy compromise, though. I mean I guess I can see why you might see it that way, but doing the design work was hardly a hardship, it allows them to still try to RP through disagreements, and gives everyone a mechanical out when the in-character arguing becomes out-of-character exhausting.

But YMMV and all that.

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Hi @Atlictoatl, and thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. I’m happy to hear you’ve made good use of the playtest docs, and those campaigns sound super interesting and fun!

Is this the Urban Shadows move to which you’re referring?

When you persuade an NPC through seduction, promises, or threats, roll with Heart.
On a hit, they do what you ask. On a 7-9, they modify the terms or demand a Debt.
If you cash in a Debt you have with them before rolling, you may add +3 to your roll.

I’m certainly open to making Negotiate more interesting, so I’ll take that into consideration.

My personal feeling about favored Weapon and Tricks of the Trade is that each is a pretty significant character upgrade, so I probably won’t be changing them. Certainly makes sense for a more heroic game, though!

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@jexjthomas, I’ll definitely be clarifying how bonds work, sorry for the confusion. I know it’s hard to parse going only on the brief text of the move itself.

I will definitely be giving HP and healing further consideration. I could see upping the heal rate across the board without too much of a negative impact, but I also want to maintain a certain level of danger/ desperation. Could your player’s unhappiness have to do with her expectations not matching the hardscrabble survival aspect of Freebooters?

Looking forward to hearing more about your campaign!


Wondering about your Perceive move. You have it as closely study a situation or a person. The DR questions are mostly about a situation, not a person. I wonder if there’s an opportunity to also add the “Read a Person” questions?
are the telling the truth
what are they feeling
what do they intend to do
what do they wish I’d do
how can I get them to _____