My Big Fat d20 Modern Review Part Two

Last time I looked at how d20 Modern handles character generation to provide the most flexible method of creating cinematic characters to date. This time around I’m going to take a closer look at the combat system.

There’s a word I’ve used repeatedly through this review of d20 Modern, and that’s “Cinematic”. d20 Modern is the system for re-enacting movie style antics where physics and realism take second place to the twin gods of Action and Adventure. If you want your characters to be able to survive intense gunfights (hopefully – see below), crash through windows and abseil tall buildings using nothing but dental floss, this is the game for you. While there might be other system that provide a more realistic experience (GURPS springs immediately to mind), d20 Modern hits the sweet spot bang on for larger-than-life adventures. If wide-screen is what you want, it’s wide screen you’re going to get. On the other hand if you want grim, gritty and harsh reality then d20 Modern isn’t going to be for you.

Anything that is likely to interfere with the action gets reduced to a simple die roll. Wealth is perhaps the best example of this; you can afford anything with a Purchase DC below your Wealth level automatically, and more expensive items are just a d20 roll away. It’s simple, quick and efficient and one of the first elements I liked about d20 Modern. It also means that (unlike many D&D games) greed isn’t a great motivator for Heroes. These guys will be cut from a different cloth to their gold-piece grubbing fantasy cousins.

The biggest change to the combat system is (predictably enough) the presence of guns, and lots of them. Combat is more likely to be between ranged combatants shooting at each other from behind cover, and this is reflected in the emphasis in the rules. The rules for partial and total cover are detailed thoroughly, which is a good thing. One change that seems to go against the grain of the cinematic feel is the move from D&D’s Massive Damage threshold of 50 points of damage (which kills you immediately if you fail a DC15 Fort save) to d20 Modern’s much more realistic Massive Damage threshold equalling your CON. The difference here however is that a failed DC15 Fort save means you’re down to -1hp, unconscious and close to death – but not dead yet! There’s time for more last-minute Heroics from your team-mates to bring you back. With even common handguns doing 2d6 damage however, it’s entirely possible for a single shot to bring down even the highest level character. It keeps the element of danger in the game, and that’s something I like.

Another alteration to the combat mechanics is the shift from Armour Class to Defense. The two terms are largely interchangeable; the main difference is that each class gains a bonus to Defense as the levels increase. This reflects the modern age’s reliance on ducking and diving rather than heavy armour to stop a blow. It’s not an either/or situation however – armour can still be used to supplement your Defense. Again this is something I’d welcome in the 4th edition of D&D; we’re almost there with the Monk class so it’s only a small step to provide this benefit to all.

Overall the combat chapter is beautifully laid out and a pleasure to read. It’s far better than the PHB’s take on pretty much the same set of rules, even in it’s 3.5 edition revision.

Next time: FX and the Campaign Models.

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