If Dungeon World was the PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) homage to D&D 3.5, then Freebooters on the Frontier is the PbtA homage to the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Freebooters provides an OSR (Old School Renaissance) experience, fusing 1970s role-playing with Apocalypse Engine rules: basic character types, a high rate of PC fatalities, and funnel sessions (adapted from Dungeon Crawl Classics, itself an OSR system). The system shines for supporting improv, with hundreds of random tables to use as prompts.

Freebooters on the Frontier 2e is available in playtest form for free from Discord on the Lampblack & Brimstone server, and I had the chance to play in a funnel adventure in the system last summer. If you’ve been looking for a fully developed, standalone descendant of Dungeon World, check it out.

The second edition is set up as five books, of which the first four seem complete except for art (currently using a mix of commissioned art, public domain art, and blank placeholders). The last book, Beasts & Booty, has classic creatures from A to C, from abominations to cockatrices, and is missing the most material (though, for playtest purposes, you’ll be fine: head over to the Dungeon World Codex for thousands of additional monsters).

Jason Lutes, author of Freebooters, owner of Lampblack & Brimstone, has long been one of the biggest supporters of Dungeon World. His supplement, The Perilous Wilds, is the most popular Dungeon World supplement, read by half of current DW players, according to this survey. In fact, Freebooters on the Frontier began as a stretch goal for The Perilous Wilds back in 2015:

The $7500 stretch goal unlocks Freebooters on the Frontier, a love letter to my earliest D&D experiences, circa 1977-1980, when I spent countless hours (and the occasional all-nighter) at my friend George’s house, exploring Tegel Manor, the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, and the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

In Freebooters, you won’t play a unique and powerful hero in the Dungeon World mold; you’ll be just one among many crackpot adventurers seeking your fortune on the frontier. Pretty much everything about you, from ability scores to appearance to character traits, will be generated randomly. A big part of the fun of the game is in making the most of what you’re dealt. And yes, if you’re a Magic-User, you’ll be rolling 1d4 for your HP.

The first edition was only 24 pages long yet punched above its weight, packing in a tremendous amount of useful content. And, since the text was licensed under the Creative Commons, it could be freely remixed. In fact, here are some of the ideas and material I adapted from the first edition into my Fantastic Worlds anthology:

  • Streamlined Heritage rules
  • The advice about “Draw Maps”
  • How moves are organized
  • Follower moves
  • Travel commentary
  • Dynamic spells
  • Funnels.

Some highlights of the second edition—

  • It’s designed for sandbox play in a 12th century fantasy world, with the primary PC goal being earning 10,000 silver pieces, at which point you retire that PC.
  • You’re encouraged to start play with a funnel adventure, with each player roleplaying two or three randomly generated villagers, because most PCs aren’t going to survive this first adventure. This is embodied in the death move, Shuffle Off: “When you have zero or negative hit points, you’re dead. If all of your villagers are dead, roll up a new one and the Judge will figure out when and where they show up.”
  • The rules document four core playbooks (fighter, thief, cleric, magic-user), with four others in the playtest (bard, monk, paladin, ranger).
  • While most systems are geared towards homebrew fantasy settings, Freebooters on the Frontier backs it up with random tables galore to generate the setting (e.g., campaign features, lost civilizations, spells, creatures, discoveries, travelers).
  • Detailed rules for creating your own creatures, include easy-to-adapt generic templates for monsters, like ambush hunter (could be a tiger or trapdoor spider), apex predator (e.g., t-rex, great white), and pack opportunist (e.g., wolf, hyena).

Freebooters 2e keeps some elements that most DW hacks abandon: scores of 3-18 for attributes, human/elf/halfling/dwarf moves, alignment, and bonds. Freebooters puts its own spin on each.

Some key differences from Dungeon World

  • In addition to the six standard attributes, there’s a seventh: Luck.
  • Attributes now have a maximum value and a current value, tracking usage and attrition and affecting the modifier used in the 2d6 rolls. Lost ability points can be recovered.
  • Each playbook has a unique resource. “Fighters test their Mettle in battle, thieves rely on Cunning to survive, clerics seek Favor in the eyes of their gods, and magic-users draw upon Power to cast their spells.”
  • Damage varies by weapon (e.g., d4 for a knife, d6 for a mace, d8 for a sword, d10 for a polearm).

Old school elements—

  • As just mentioned, damage varying by weapon.
  • The fragility of starting characters.
  • Saving throws: “When you face a challenge or resist a negative effect, roll …+STR to use sheer might …+DEX to use speed, agility, or finesse …+CON to resist or endure …+INT to think fast, focus, or recall …+WIS to use intuition or willpower …+CHA to charm or impress…”
  • The structure of the system into multiple short books.

Since playing, I’ve pointed people to—

  • The best summary of moves I’ve ever seen in a PbtA game. (Update: see The Triggerspace and the Moveosphere.)
  • The “Check Morale” move: “The first time you reduce an enemy’s headcount or hit points to half or less, roll +nothing: on a 10+, they attempt to flee or surrender, whichever seems best to them; on a 7-9, they attempt to flee or surrender if they’re cautious, but otherwise continue fighting; on a 6-, they will fight to the bitter end. Fearless, mindless, and similar tags may make an enemy immune to this move.”
  • The Magic User’s Power Cost table, which lists the effect, range, area of effect, and duration. This table provides a succinct framework for free-form magic. The Cleric’s Invoke provides an even shorter list of the cost of Invoking their deity.
  • To my mind, this is the most polished of the Dungeon World hacks, with this edition having been in beta-testing since 2019.


  • It centers the pursuit of capital and the exploring and exploitation of the frontier, a particularly American framing. (Though the section on Colonialism provides ideas for how to address this.)
  • The need to look up the modifier from the current stat (e.g., a score of 3 has a modifier of -3, a score of 4 to 5 has a modifier of -2) is tedious and makes me wish that a d20 dice mechanic was used instead (e.g., roll under your current stat on 2d20; two rolls under make a full success, one makes a partial success, zero results in a miss).

It’s funny how different Freebooters and Stonetop (both published by Jason) have gone from each other: Stonetop has three debilities (-1 penalties), each of which affects two stats, while Freebooters’ “debilities” in theory can drop to -3, as current attributes drop.

For GMs (“Judges” in Freebooters’ parlance) looking for a module to run, Jason has written Leget Manor, which was used for the session I played in and which I would gladly run myself. The Funnel book also includes four short starters.

I recommend Freebooters 2e for anyone looking for a PbtA take on OSR and for those coming to Apocalypse Engine games from 5e.

Illustration: The Triumph of Death, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.