by Lev Lafayette
Introduction and Product
Deep-sea adventures in 7th Sea's Theah are strikingly implausible given the lay of the land. If one wishes to avoid this implausibility, the deeply inland city-state of Freiburg offers a good alternative. Here all the good things about 7th Sea can come into play; the baroque richness of not-Europe's 17th century and the admixture of not-Europe's cultures, the combination of intrigue and romance, the violent combination sorcery and swashbuckling. Freiburg is a city-state where the ruler has decided not to rule (or rather, rule in a minimalist manner) and let a social experiment unfold. As a result every vagabond from all over not-Europe has arrived at the city walls seeking to escape their past and build anew.
The sturdy boxed set is quite impressive although the contents are somewhat lighter that the box indicates; about half-full, giving plenty of opportunity to add character sheets and the small bucket of d10s required for play. What it does come with is two A4 books, "The Sights of Freiburg" at 72p, "The City of Freiburg" at 96p, an A5 size "Welcome to Freiburg", at 48p, a huge fold-out black and white map of the city and a smaller (and more useful) A3 map of the same. "The Sights of Freiburg" comes with a numerical and alphabetized index; the "City of Freiburg" comes with no index or table of contents. The line drawings throughout the product are quite good, if sometimes a little cautious in their creativity, but with a solid degree of technique and contextual appropriateness.
Welcome to Freiburg
The "Welcome to Freiburg" booklet is an introductory guide, written with the sort of the mock style from a friendly and informative guide, who is clearly an advocate describing the city as the most wonderful in not-Europe. A brief history is provided, from the mythic past of the drachen skeletons that litter the area, the building of a great fortress that becomes the military heart of the Eisen, aka not-Germany. During the War of the Cross, the fortress was the lynch-pin of the Vaticine forces in Eisen, but was captured with surprise by the Objectionists, followed by counter-attacks leading to the extremely improbable situation that neither side claimed it, and instead non-combatants moved in making a trading post. This is indeed a challenging proposition for any historian! When a soldier discovers a rich vein of dracheneisen, he chooses the trading post-cum-fortress as his reward and thus established Freiburg: "Instead [of ruling], he simply set himself up as the new leader, and allowed citizens to run their own affairs without any interference from the government". The description explicitly states that there is "no business licenses, no real courts, and very little police protection unless you're willing to pay for it".
How can such a situation exist? Well by charity of course! Yes, there is a guard of sorts, and an able administrator, but the real force to protect civilians against criminal gangs is a mere fifty Wachhunde. Have another look at the city map and decide for yourself how effective fifty Wachhunde would be. In this minarchist utopia, only arson, murder, slavery, revolution, and treason are illegal. Make of that what you will. Through pure self-interest each civilian in Freiburg sleeps safely in their bed at night knowing that their neighbour also desire such safety and through this mutuality violence is stunningly rare. The only problem, the mock author explains, is that the fair free city has attracted, well, too many poor people. Too many people are a threat to good wages, by the way, so these migrants need to cleaned out. They're a health hazard too. No really, I am not making this up.
Following this utterly painful exposition of closed voluntaryism, the six districts of the city are described; the Shade, the Greens, the Candlelit, the Stein, the Bones, the Downs. The Shade is a shady and impoverished place, and not recommended after dark. It is also the location of the massive Freiburg Cathedral made from Drachen bone, and the ampitheatre for performances (presumably not after dark). In contrast The Green is where the wealthy live, because they always get the best parkland. Here the Guard is paid by locals who regularly expel non-residents "for nothing more than looking the wrong way". Because nothing says freedom more. The Candlelit is the student quarter, so named because they work late at night. The Stein is the central fortress of the city and where what excuse for a guard and the city bureaucracy exists and the ruler prefers to drink and write poetry. Don't expect to get anything done without paying for it. Then there is The Bones, so named by the large quantity of drachen skeletons in the region, which attracts a number of traders. Finally, the Downs, a mainly residential and middle-class district which tries ever-so-much not to be exciting at all.
The City of Freiburg
Nominally the first book in the series, "The City of Freiburg" is a GMs guide for the city, covering "History, Law and Government", "Important NPCs", and, taking up the overwhelming majority of the book, "Hammer and Tongs" a campaign for using the set, to use the section headings. The first section doesn't provide much more additional information on the key points as the traveller's guide although it does so in a more formal manner, and with greater attention to the details. At least it does acknowledge that there is a larger criminal element in the city as the result of the lack law enforcement and zero taxation policy. With twenty neighbourhood watches and no means to pay them the city watch is subject to "horrible abuses, with units of guardsmen serving as armed thugs for the righ and powerful", especially given that senior guardsmen act as judge and jury. Punishment of such decisions can include various fines, floggings, banishment, or even execution. There is a single debtor's prison as well.
The "Important NPCs" chapter is just that; stats and description of the "movers and shakers of Freiburg society", starting with Niklaus Trague, the Eisenfusrt who doesn't rule, his capable advisor Wilma Probst, the scribe Logan Sieger, and the captain of the guard, Vasya Wilem. Outside the immediate "governance" of the city are merchant traders such as Tibold Dedrick, the explorer Madeline du Bisset, and the banker and landlord, Redmund Erhart, along with a few others. Each of these characters is provided with their stat block and a short description of their power, personality, and motives. What is surprisingly absent is their relationships with each other, let alone any family in the present tense. Following this is a few pages of templates for minor NPCs according to profession and class.
The recommended campaign "Hammer and Tongs" starts with the PCs coming into apparently good fortune in the city and then discovering what responsibilities it will all entail. There is a structure provided, with four "hard points" that must be carried out in sequence and eleven "soft points" that have a little more flexibility and can act as side plots to some degree. Despite strong recommendations being provided of when the "soft points" should occur, the book is ordered with all the hard points first and then the soft points. As for the scenarios themselves they are certainly a mixed bag. As a whole there is a workable and rather impressive storyline where the PCs really do have the opportunity to rise to heroic levels. But some of the individual scenarios, including the hard points, are just terrible as written where the PCs are simply thumped several times with an unsubtle plot device stick until they can only go in one direction; they really are among the laziest scenarios ever written in RPGs.
The Sights of Freiburg
The Sights of Freiburg gives an impressive breakdown of the city from some thirty grid references with descriptions of many of the major institutions and individuals from each reference, covering about one and half pages each with half a page dedicated to a map of the grid refeence and a quote form a local. One is also able to get a rough idea of the size of the city proper as a result - around 15,000 to 20,000 housed residents is my estimation. The quotes do have a degree of charm about them and the descriptions of the buildings and individuals is a great treasure-trove of potential plots and intrigues. Wherever the PCs find themselves there is a story to tell in each neighbourhood, and there is evidentially some genuine effort to combine character stories together.
The biggest disadvantage is the one of the advantages of the book - the grid reference. Whilst easy to translate from the large map to the book, neighbourhoods are by no means so tidy and are more bound by the natural and human-made boundaries that develop. Strangely however for a city that has no rules there does seem to a great deal of town planning that has gone ahead. Certainly it is by no means as ordered as one would expect in our own contemporary society, but for not-Europe of the 17th century, there is a surprisingly high degree of order that has come about. This is of course highly improbably given the politics of the city, but thankfully sensible in creating almost an ideal-quality Restoration-era city. The streets are mostly straight, and the building size and structure is remarkably uniform according to each district. Whilst there are poor areas, there are no shanty-towns as such, or burnt out districts. Perhaps somewhat disappointing is there is no much discussion on the sewer system, if one exists at all.
Freiburg is very much a mixed product that leans towards being somewhat above average in most respects. It is physically quite impressive, and with great style and presentation. It really does provide rich detail of the various inhabitants of the city and with a diverse range of personalities and motivations. The campaign has opportunities for exploring this city in some depth, and also provides the opportunties for PCs to make a real difference and be gloriously heroic, which is very much in the style of 7th Sea, even if some of the scenarios as writ are just unacceptable in terms of the plot devices proposed.
Finally, whilst it is easy to poke fun at the contemporary libertarian-voluntaryist assumptions of the setting, the purpose is more of one of design rather than politics. For all its detail, the Freiburg campaign set really doesn't grapple with the difficult questions of how a city of this nature would operate, simply hand-waving the issues. Rather than being "No Questions", as is the city's slogan, the description really does leave one with "No Answers" - which means that the GM has some serious work cut out for them. Nevertheless with these caveats as stated, Freiburg is strongly recommended and especially for those who want a city and land based adventure of 7th Sea.
Style: 1 + .6 (layout) + .7 (art) + .6 (coolness) + .7 (readability) + .7 (product) = 4.3
Substance: 1 + .7 (content) + .7 (text) + .7 (fun) + .4 (workmanship) + .7 (system) = 4.2
Freiburg: An Elaboration
The 7th Sea campaign pack “Freiburg” is described thusly: “Five year's ago, Eisenfurst Nicklaus Trague established a new kind of city: one free of governance, laws, and oppression; one were everyone was welcome.” However there is scant detail in the boxed set on how such a city actually operates. Working through the some two hundred pages of text, one discoveres the following:
* Trague commisioned a few important buildings; a city hall, a new cathedral, a restored version of the Stein – and then retired to the Wachtturm to write ontological treatises, drink wine, and watch what happens.
* Freiburg has no mayor, no governing council, no taxes. “It has very little money to pay for the services that other cities take for granted”.
* There is a city guard which nominally exists to enforce the three or so pages of laws. There is no money to pay salaries, so they receive compensation from local merchants who find it advantageous to have such individuals in their pocket. The crimes of the city include murder, arson, inciting a riot, public assault, engaging in slavery, and sedition.
* The Hall of Records tracks landed property ownership only.
* Wilma Probst, the city administrator, handles diplomatic contacts, nominally manages the city guard, and maintains the city records.
* Residents, where possible, have formed volunteer fire brigades, vigilante groups, pay for services out of their own pockets etc.
In the way of historical examples from which one can draw some ideas of how Freiburg would function, there are many negative examples and few positive ones. Firstly, it must be realised that this is a sizeable population, some 15000 people or so. Even unincorporated villages such as Max, Nebraska, which does have a governing committee of sorts for necessities. More promisingly, one could look at the anarchist territories in the eastern Ukraine during the Russian Civil War, or in parts of Spain (e.g., Catalonia, Aragon) during the Spanish Civil War, or the Zapatista Autonomous Municipalities of Mexico. Of course, these are notable as having arisen in the midst of conflict, and rather than the Freiburg-style propertarian approach, very much operate from collective property ownership that is democratically managed. This is perhaps not what the authors of Freiburg had in mind.
Something that is a lot closer to what Freiburg would realistically end up looking like is the Kowloon Walled City of Hong Kong in the late 20th century. The informally governed densely populated settlement in Hong Kong was claimed by the British, but not enforced. China also wished to claim Kowloon, but also had no enforcement in the region. Populated by various squatters (rather like Freiburg), it became a haven for criminal tongs, which largely left "normal people" go about their business. Power, apparently, abhors a vacuum. If there is no formal government over a territory, an informal one will take its place. Where there is no definite informal government over a territory, a war results (e.g., such as the conflict between the various Somalia warlords). The nature and character of that informal government may not as be as transparent as one which has public codification, but it will be just as real.
Another alternative is that various communities become "gated communities", each with their own enforcement measures and linked by a very thin glue of lawlessness. This certainly fits the propertarian model and can provide a very interesting and challenging setting for the player characters. When expressed in this manner the various neighbourhoods are effectively under the control of the landowners or a collective of landowners who will use their economic rent to fund enforcement agencies and, in some cases, provide public works. The absolute minimum overall governance provided by the City Guard and the Hall of Records for the collective interests of the landlord class.
The strongest force in the city is clearly Redmund Erhart, who makes his wealth through economic rent and monetary interest. It is not surprising that he is the only money By going through "The Sights of Freiburg" book one can discern possible alternatives, which can be thorouhgly confusing as there are individual owners, petty neighbourhood landlords, and city-wide powers. For example, the powers in the Shade suburb are certainly Father Weissel, Gertrud Eisler, Janko Pfeiffer, Rainer Gersh and and to a lesser extent, Orlando Fischer and Waldo Huber. Between them they would provide provide from the rental income (after extracting a healthy margin for their own luxury) various collective services.
Some immediate practical effects of such an arrangement should be evident. Even more so that societies where the enforcement of laws is distorted by inequalities in wealth and income, in Freiburg enforcement is dependent on wealth and income. It is not so much a question of law enforcement as an auction; "surely this can be fixed by an on-the-spot fine?" may be one of the common phrases heard. It is absolutely certain that those who are paying the constabulary are not going to subject to their judgement in any negative sense.
Another effect is that private violence will be common. The collective interest expressed by the few laws Freiburg is that public violence and assault is prohibited and, depending on who carried it out, will be dealt with. Within the walls of the private gathering or in domestic situations violence will be depressingly common; skeleton in the closet has never been so true. Further, who is to say where an assault occured where such a distinction happens? A knife in an alleyway, a body dragged into a stable; "It must have been a private dispute".
Freiburg is a city of public poverty for the majority and great wealth for the few landowners who will extract rack-rent. There is close to zero funds available for public infrastructure, such as litter (and attendent public health), fires, public roads, drainage, sewerage. The assumption that somehow civilians will band together to provide common fees voluntarily is most certainly a myth subject to the free rider problem (one only has to visit cities where such a situation exists). It is more likely that if public infrastructure is provided it will enforced as part of the rental system.
As the standard plot of Freiburg unfolds it is probable that the player charaters will confront the existing landlords and the allies in expropriation. If they succeed members of the neighbourhood may come to them seeking further protection. Inadvertently, they will become yet another protection racket. How they carry out such power and responsibility can be a major theme of the campaign, and one which is little explored in the plot and presented.