The Price of Freedom
Roleplaying in Occupied America
Author: Greg Costikyan
Publisher: West End Games
Available Formats: Out of Print
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! America has surrendered. Its European allies are no longer part of NATO. The Soviet Union is mobilizing its forces to occupy the recently subjugated United States of America. It is now or never for the citizens of the free world to fight back. It’s time for them to push back against the occupying forces and pay the price of freedom.
The Price of Freedom is a roleplaying game set in the latter decades of the last century in which the Soviet Union has gained the upper hand and control over the United States. Soviet forces occupy all the major cities and media outlets. Citizens are subjected to starvation, slave labor, and mistreatment, but some resist—enter the player characters. These rebel insurgents wage a war of attrition upon their occupiers with the hope of regaining their freedom.
The Price of Freedom is a box set produced by West End Games in 1986. It has a strong anti-communist theme and passionate American patriotic pride, common to the era. The quality of the box and its contents are comparable to the box sets of the period. Included in the box are:
- Four four-page Freedom Files:
- Introduction to the Game
- Pre-generated Characters
- Soviet-issued Universal Identification Papers
- Combat Charts and Tables
- 32-page Player Book
- 64-page Gamemaster Book
- Two Tabloid-size full-color geomorphic game maps
- 100 Full-color front and back printed game counters
- Counter tray with locking plastic lid
- One 20-sided die
How it Came to Be
In the latter half of the 20th century, the United States and the Soviet Union signed a treaty prohibiting orbital defensives. The Soviets began to violate the treaty while the media labeled any allegations about it as conspiracy theories from right-wing lunatics. Slowly but systemically, the Soviet Union expanded its influence around the world. South American countries begin to succumb to communist insurgencies. Japan allies with China while European allies abandon NATO. In the United Kingdom, the Labor party took control of the government and adopted the Militant Tendencies platform. The United States of America, under the weak leadership of a newly elected president, allowed the Soviet Union to rise to dominate the world stage. Communism takes hold in North America, with Mexico falling to communist insurgence and Berkley, California, electing a communist mayor. The Soviets completed their orbital defense system and struck down a U.S. missile test in Nevada to demonstrate their new power. The U.S. surrendered to the Soviet Union and allowed occupying forces to take hold. Texas secedes from the Union. The government nationalizes television networks. All major cities in America are occupied. The United Kingdom sees a significant uprising. Americans are stripped of their rights, and wholesale mass killings take place. A silent few in Arkansas’s remote Boston Mountains take up arms and push back, forming Rebel Command, birthing an organized insurgency.
Characters in The Price of Freedom begin with their backgrounds. Background outline the type of character a player wishes to play and its personality. What are their passions and wants? Do they have any family? How far are they willing to protect them? These questions are essential in a game where a character is bereft of personal freedoms. Players establish their character’s name, appearance, and a one-sentence tagline or phrase describing their single most striking physical characteristic—the first thing people will notice when greeting them. Following this is another personal tagline about the character’s personality.
Next, players will come up with one passion and at least one or up to five interests for their characters. A character’s passion is vital in the game. It is a no comprise moment for which they must act if it is threatened. Some examples of passions are people close to you, political beliefs, religion, money, power, etc. They are tools for the Gamemaster to use later. Interests are similar to a passion but are not as strong. When threatened, interests do not trigger the character to act unless on a failed interest roll. 20 building points are divided among a character’s interests.
Players then establish the character’s origin—where they were born, nationality, politics, religion, education, pre-occupation employment, and family relationships. The character sheet has a specific location for each category. Once again, these will be used by the Gamemaster to tailor their adventures around their player’s characters.
A pool of building points is then allocated to their character’s attributes. Characters have five abilities: Strength, Mental Dexterity, Agility, Alertness, and Constitution. Players can freely distribute their points as they wish, as long as none are below 1 or above 19. They then follow up by allocating more points to skills, conveniently printed on their character sheet. While most are untrained, some skills begin with a base value. Players may place points in any skill they wish, increasing the number in base values proportionally or establishing a value for an untrained skill, as long as they follow the rules governing skill point allocation.
Lastly, players equip their character based on the list of equipment available in the rear of the “Player Book.” A character’s starting equipment is subject to the will of the Gamemaster. Gameplay has no hard start date, so the Gamemaster may choose to begin before Soviet forces take control or after limiting the availability of weapons and equipment. Script issued by the occupying forces is virtually useless, so all equipment is listed in gold, the currency of the black market.
The dice mechanic in The Price of Freedom is very simple and straightforward. A single d20 is used for all dice resolutions. Results under a skill or attribute are successes. An unmodified roll of one is a critical success, while a 20 is a critical failure. Dice rolls are subject to modifiers at the Gamemaster’s discretion.
Combat is designed to be played on hex maps with cardboard counters, though it is not required. The rules governing combat resemble tabletop war gaming rules. Combat has six segments: Panic, Observation, NPC Decision, Player Decision, Combat resolution, and Movement. The Panic Segment is for the Gamemaster to determine which NPCs panic when combat begins. The Observation Segment is where the Gamemaster rolls to see if the PCs observe enemy forces not previously seen and places counters on the map to mark their position. It is also the segment that determines whether the NPCs observe the PCs. The NPC Decision Segment is where the Gamemaster decides the actions of the NPCs. The Players Decision Segment is where the players state their actions. Once a player states their action, it may not be changed. Combat Resolution Segment resolves all combat between NPCs and PCs. The Movement Segment is where counters are moved, and opportunity fire or other movement-related combat is resolved.
Characters may take one action per round. Fifteen examples of actions are listed in the “Player Book.” Examples are taking aim with your weapon and firing, reloading a weapon, preparing a grenade and throwing it, firing a heavy weapon, etc.
The Price of Freedom has an extensive collection of combat rules. They include panic, lines of sight, full or partial cover, weather, stances, and much more. The rules follow wargaming rules and are formatted similarly. The Price of Freedom may be played as a wargame if desired. There is a collection of helpfully combat cheat sheets to aid players and a Gamemaster through combat.
The characters in The Price of Freedom are the heroes of the story. They are not subject to panicking during combat like NPCs and have a special advantage called Hero Points. Hero Points are a spendable commodity for players only. They are used to dodge a bullet, lower damage sustained, ignore fatigue or exhaustion, do something heroic, succeed in a skill or attribute roll, or take two actions in a round. Each action has set parameters that can be used or adjudicated by the Gamemaster.
Player and Gamemaster Books
The “Player Book” contains character generation rules, general combat rules, game mechanics, information about your Soviet adversaries and traitorous countrymen, information and instruction on conducting a guerilla war, a weapons list, and a bibliography of suggested inspirational reading or viewing material. The book is only 32-pages long and written for a novice roleplayer.
The “Gamemaster Book” contains a detailed section on game mechanics, combat rules, creating your own campaign, goals of the Soviet Union and its forces, a timeline of events leading up to the occupation of the United States, adventure hooks, a straightforward infantry battle scenario titled “Assualt on Green Mountain” to teach line of sight rules, and another scenario entitled “The Arsenal in Hudson Mall” which introduces heavy weapons and night operation rules. The “Gamemaster Book” also includes an introductory adventure, “The Path to Freedom.” “The Path to Freedom” establishes the characters as freedom fighters as they come together as Soviet forces make landfall and occupy cities. This is the only roleplaying adventure within the printed material.
Inspired by movies like Red Dawn and other alternate history literature, The Price of Freedom was developed during the twilight years of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. It puts forth an alternate reality to its end—with the Soviet Union coming out on top and taking control over the United States. It is a major throwback to that era, even though it was developed before the fall of the Soviet Union.
The game has a more serious tone than other West End Games produced at the time. The rules and formating of the rules are oriented toward wargaming rather than roleplaying. There is a roleplaying aspect, but its adjudication is diminished in place of wargaming rules. It is similar to games like Delta Force and early versions of TSR’s Boot Hill.
The Price of Freedom is long out of print. Copies come up for sale regularly, and their prices fluctuate from outrageously expensive to affordable. It depends on the venue and seller. I obtained a clean copy off of eBay for less than $40 with shipping. It took time and patience waiting for the right seller to make it available at a price that fit my budget. Unfortunately, there is no legal PDF in which to purchase. Acquiring a hard copy is a person’s only choice.
Though the subject matter interested me immensely, its lack of focus on roleplaying is disappointing. Players with wargaming experience will make the transition the easiest. The game’s themes may be accomplished with other systems, and The Price of Freedom’s historical content is very helpful in developing it. The included adventures are very much geared towards wargaming—involving combat only. The only roleplaying adventure is the introductory scenario. I would not recommend The Price of Freedom to roleplayers. It is a wargame with the possibility of some roleplay.
Gather your gaming group. Award special perks for players with mullets and penalizes the first person to yell out “Wolverines!” as you gather around the gaming table and roleplay or battle an alternate history of the Cold War.
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