If you are a history buff like I am, you may have been tempted to run a historical RPG campaign. There are a bunch of them out there, and you only have to do a little cursory Googling to find them. In my brief search, I found one TTRPG called The Price of Coal based on the 1921 uprising of West Virginia coal workers against unfair labor practices in which the US military and National Guard killed 100 workers with ordnance left over from WWI. I found another TTRPG called Night Witches in which players are able to tell stories of fictional aviators from the real life 88th Night Bomber regiment (known as the Night Witches). Heck, I even found one based on Jane Austen's era of work which puts players in the shoes of gentlefolk from the aristocracy of 19th century Regency-Era England called The Good Society: A Jane Austen RPG. I'm going to tell you how I ended up with Flames of Freedom, and why you should consider playing it if you're a fan of historical-based TTRPGs. I'll even make a character so you can see what the process looks like!
My historical tastes hover around the action and drama of wars, for the most part. I'm an author when I'm not writing blog posts for Headless Hydra Press, and so I've done research for various stories and papers based around the American Revolution, colonial living, the American Civil War, and even World War II. The era of Colonial America always seemed to capture my attention the most, for whatever reason. I think it's because of the non-intrusive level of technology of the time. Yes, technologies were being invented that improved life, but the overall technology level of the average person was very low. This was an era in which there was gunpowder and firearms, but the rate of fire was so slow that people still used sabers and bayonets and hatchets and knives more frequently in combat than in the Civil War. There weren't as many local markets or shops as there were in the 1800's with access to foods and goods produced outside a person's region, and people still had to get by on grit and hard work that just seems so far removed from modern society that it's almost whimsical. There have been a number of games that piqued my interest, including most recently one I spotted on Kickstarter called Nations & Cannons which I really wanted to back but don't have the funds at the moment. However, I spotted what feels to me like a gem in the form of a game called Flames of Freedom.
Flames of Freedom is compatible with Zweihander, and if you aren't aware what Zweihander is - Zweihander is a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) that was first published in 2017 by Grim & Perilous Studios. It is a dark fantasy game that is heavily influenced by the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay system and takes place in a world of political intrigue, dangerous magic, and brutal combat.
The game's mechanics are based on a percentile dice system, where players roll two ten-sided dice (2d10) and compare the result to their character's relevant attribute or skill level. Characters in Zweihander are described using a range of characteristics, including their race, class, and profession, as well as a variety of skills and abilities.
Zweihander is designed to be a gritty and realistic game, with an emphasis on challenging combat and the consequences of player actions. The game also includes a range of optional rules for handling magic, firearms, and other elements of the game.
Overall, Zweihander is a popular TTRPG that has gained a following for its gritty and immersive setting, detailed character creation, and challenging gameplay. Flames of Freedom essentially follows the same template but has a few minor differences. I was drawn to the artwork and the setting of Flames of Freedom, and so that's how I ended up with the book. I initially saw a copy in a bookstore but ended up buying one from Amazon for much cheaper. I also noted that you can get character sheets for free on Drive Thru RPG, so I printed a few of those off. Just for the purposes of this blog post, I'll be using the form-fillable version.
STEP ONE: RANDOM OR NOT
The first thing you need to think about is whether or not you want your character to be randomized. I found when I was creating characters with my player group that they didn't like the idea that their characters would be completely randomized, so we compromised and I let them choose the archetype even though the game suggests you create your first character randomly - that way, at least not everyone in the session would be a minuteman. In addition, I let them choose the race/gender that way they felt comfortable playing and were playing at least a general character they would enjoy. For this blog we're going to go completely random as suggested. Here is the blank character sheet so you see what we're working with. (Side note - there's more than just the one page for the character sheet but we're mostly going to focus on the first page for simplicity's sake)
STEP TWO: ROLL ATTRIBUTES
In Flames of Freedom, you use 3d10 for each attribute and add a total of 25 to the result to come up with a percentage total. My initial rolls were (3d10 totals of) 16, 28, 13, 18, 21, 11, 20. Adding 25 to each score gives me adjusted totals of (in the same order) 41, 53, 38, 43, 46, 36, 45. These scores have to be placed in order into Combat, Brawn, Agility, Perception, Intelligence, Willpower, and Fellowship. In addition to filling out the attribute scores, I'm also going to go ahead and do all the mathing and filling in other random stuff like encumbrance, etc but won't bother detailing that here. Here's what it looks like.
STEP THREE: PAINT A PORTRAIT
This step is another set of very detailed roll tables usually using a D100 that will generate all the physical details of the character including age, race, gender, etc as well as the archetype and job the character has. This is the fun part for me when it comes to the random characters, because you never know what you're going to get. Here's what mine looks like after multiple generation tables worth of D100 rolls.
As you can see, this has actually become an interesting character. The attribute scores are on the higher side (which is odd because my dice rolls are usually abysmal). The character's lowest scores are in Agility and Wisdom, indicating someone who is slow to move and is more book smart than wise, which goes in accordance with their flaw which is Naivete. From the character's highest scores, we see that they are extremely Perceptive (there was a permanent 6% increase from one of the Artist's Talents bringing the score from 43% to 49%) and actually quite Brawny (with a tall and lean physique). The character is multicultural, and the lineage is hinted at possibly by the extra languages the character knows (Atikamekw, Innu). This character has pockmarked skin, indicating that they survived a bout with smallpox sometime in their life. Other than that, they are an artist by trade and possess dark, soulful eyes, and long, dark, wavy hair. Toss in their Belief that life is all about Joy, and basically a more perfect representation of a young American artist could not have been possible.
STEP FOUR - RATIFY YOUR CHARACTER
The last step in the character creation for Flames of Freedom is to come up with a name and affiliation, and basically finalize your character with a sort of Mad Libs description of who they are and what they're all about.
If you're unsure what to name your characters and are having trouble naming them, I have a solution. The year the game takes place in is 1776 so what I like to do is Google names appropriate to the ages of the characters I make. For example, this character is young so that means we'll say the character is 18 years old and male. So now I'd Google "Names Popular in America in 1758" because that's when this young man would have been born. I came up with a few results, but this name database has a decent selection along with name meanings for colonial people. After scrolling for a bit through their pages, I decided on a name: Elias. And for a surname, you can either make one up or also Google surnames from the time period, and you're often able to get results. For Elias, I'm going to go with Brown but add an E on the end to sound more like a colonial era name. Elias Browne. Here's what the final sheet looks like followed by a detailed character description based on the items on his sheet:
"My name is Elias Browne and I pledge my allegiance to the Rebels. I am a young, male, multicultural intellectual and have made my life as an artist. I am of tall stature, with a lean build. I dress shabbily and have dark, soulful eyes, very long wavy black hair, and pockmarked skin. There is always some person, place, or thing which wholly absorbs me and is my muse to create. A light heart will carry me to the clouds and beyond...the great marvels and pleasures of this world give me meaning. However, sometimes I trust too much in people when they tell me things and I believe they have my best interests at heart. I carry with me a flintlock pistol, knife, and I have just 33 shillings to my name. Pleased to meet you."
There you have it. About the only issue I have with Flames of Freedom so far is that there are virtually no artists creating character portraits or character art for colonial-era games, so I Googled "portraits of men 1700's" and eventually came across this portrait of William Livingston, who is close enough to how I envisioned Elias Browne in my head and not famous enough to be instantly recognizable to casual gamers so I'd still be able to use it for the purposes of the game.
While not a melee-focused character, Elias would certainly help to round out the party. He's good with social interactions, people may recognize his art, and to top it all off - he's kind of strong despite being pretty lean. I could foresee Elias having many adventures during the American Revolution, helping his friends solve mysteries and battle the supernatural and evil cults.
I hope this character creation post has whet your appetites enough to give Flames of Freedom a shot. Eventually, I'll post an actual TTRPG review of the game when I run the adventure with the other guys here at HHP. Until then, let us know what you think of this game in the comments! - Joe