d20 Modern RPG Week Day Two

“So what’s so great about d20 Modern, Grey?” Well, I’m glad you asked. And y’know what? I’m going to tell you.

Character-focused character generation
In d20 Modern, your character isn’t a Fighter, Rogue or Cleric. He’s a Smart Cop, a Tough Soldier or a Charismatic Preacher. Or, for that matter, a Smart Soldier, Charismatic Cop or Tough Preacher. Or he’s Smart and Tough. Or Quick and Strong. Or any combination of six different adjectives to whatever degree you choose as your level rises. Add pretty much any occupation you can think of as icing on the cake, and you’re ready to play.

I’ve said this before; d20 Modern chargen lets you say who your character is, as compared to D&D where you generate what he does. That’s a pretty fundamental difference between the two approaches to building your virtual buddy.

In d20 Modern you can tell your players to each generate a Soldier, and know you’re going to get a pretty diverse group. I’ve done this several times with different occupations including soldiers, police, journalists and even blue collar workers, to good effect. We had the Tough sergeant, Smart radio operator, Strong (but dumb) marine from Iowa and Fast ex-con. All took the Military occupation, but each one was as different as can be.

It doesn’t stop there though. Each adjective-based class has a number of talent trees which emphasize your particular character’s style of play. Your Charismatic Celebrity could charm the ladies, or your Charismatic Conman can fast-talk his way out of any situation. Both share the same basic class, but use their assets to different effect. As the character develops you’re free to multi-class freely between any of the other base classes or continue in your current one and further expand your talents.

Familiar ground
At it’s core d20 Modern is Third Edition D&D. There’s the same rules, the same resolution system, the same saving throws, hit points, AC (here called Defense) and monster statblocks. There are a few wrinkles – for example, the Defense Bonus increases with class level – but nothing any gaming group wouldn’t take on board within a single session.

This is a huge strength of the system. It’s accessible to existing D&D gamers, a notoriously conservative group when it comes to trying out new games. Try to get a group of D&D players to play GURPS or (heaven forbid) Rolemaster and you might as well be trying to herd flying cats. Whilst blindfolded.

But say “Hey, wanna play d20 Modern? It’s just like D&D!” and they’ll shrug and say “Sure!”. Just make sure you’ve packed plenty of pre-generated characters.

D&D supplements are d20 Modern supplements
A happy by-product of the system’s D&D compatibility is that all of those D&D goodies on your bookshelf are fully usable right out of the box with d20 Modern. If your books came in boxes, of course.

King of this particular hill (enough with the metaphors already!) are your Monster Manuals and other sundry bestiaries. Name any other modern-era role-playing game that has immediate access to literally thousands of monsters, critters and other nefarious folks.

I’ve run games equipped with the d20 Modern rulebook and a copy of the 3rd Edition Fiend Folio. Oh, and a word to the wise – the Book of Vile Darkness makes for an excellent d20 Modern supplement. Bwahahahahaha, etc.

…. Familiar, but new territory
It’s D&D, but it’s not. This is the modern age complete with cellphones, cars and shotguns. It’s entirely up to you just how D&D you want your game to be meaning d20 Modern can be used to run anything from gritty cop dramas (ewwww…. gritty cops) to epic Shadowrun style Elves-in-New-York games. Or anything in between.

I’ve found that d20 Modern plays at it’s best when the fantasy elements are kept to a minimum. A crime drama where the villain (or better yet, victim) is a werewolf is a Good Thing. But one where everyone on the street is a werewolf, demon, elflord or golem is less fun. Of course, YMMV in this. The point is that d20 Modern is an uber-toolkit where you’re in control of the volume dial. Set it to zero, or set it to 23. The choice is yours.

OGL! OGL! OGL!
I seem to inflict some kind of curse with these RPG Weeks. First there was Dragon Warriors where we linked to the Underdogs site and that died. Then there was Classic Marvel. Ouch. Thanks to the miracle that is the Open Gaming License, d20 Modern can never die (despite Wizards of the Coast’s best attempts to the contrary) so I feel on pretty safe ground this time around.

The power of the Open Gaming License can’t be over-estimated. It is awesomeness personified in a collection of Terms & Conditions that are as good as they are fair. The fact that WoTC has abandoned it is, without a doubt, the stupidest most stupid stupid thing that they have done. And let’s face it, they’ve done some pretty stupid things over the past 18 months (*cough* taking Dragon magazine off the print rack *cough*). But this is the stupidest.

d20 Modern is, thankfully, covered under the OGL and that means there were no shortage of superb, brilliant and wonderful supplements created by games companies and fans alike including Stan!’s own Players Companions and the entire Blood &….. range of supplements. The birth of 4e D&D meant that Wizards stomped over folks’ rights to sell stuff for Third Edition D&D and this put third party d20 Modern supplements right into the greyest of grey areas.

Thankfully most folks chose to ignore it, and d20 Modern third party support is as alive and well and radiant as ever. Booyah!

The TV is your plotline generator
Like Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer, CSI, Buffy, Law & Order, The Shield or The Mentalist? If so, there’s your d20 Modern Idea Generator, right there. Or grab the latest news headlines, give it a suitably cinematic/pulpy/fantastic twist, and that’s your prep done for your next d20 Modern game.

Game in the world of Today, and the whole internet is your resource centre. Google Maps is your battlemat (if you’re wont to use such things) and Google itself is one freakingly huge game supplement. Want to start an adventure in the Starbucks closest to the White House? You can. Want floorplans of a nuclear bunker? Check. Train times to Zurich? Yups. All of this information (and more!) is at your beck and call and ripe for your Modern-age game.

If you want to run a game in your hometown with characters modelled after the players themselves, you can do that too. Sure, it’s cheesy. But let’s face it – what gamer group hasn’t done this at least once?

Role-playing, not combat
Take all of the combat specific rules out of 4e D&D and you’ll end up with a 32 page booklet, and 16 of those will be artwork. Take all of the combat specific rules out of d20 Modern and you’ll still end up with a pretty hefty tome.

This is a game that expects folks will do much more than just fight. The skill system gets an awful lot of coverage as does car chases, FX (magic, psionics and other weirdness), allegiances and social interactions. We’re introduced to the mysterious Department-7, an organization that can be whatever you want it to be. The overall goal is to give the players a feeling that they’re a part of something bigger than they can comprehend.

In other words, d20 Modern is a complete package. What’s not to love?

Next time: “So, how does d20 Modern compare to other games, Grey?” Well, I’m glad you asked…..

If you want to take a look at d20 Modern yourself the majority of the system is freely available under the OGL. Here’s a  HTML version of the rules (mirror of the zipfile). Enjoy.

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12 Responses

  1. Questing GM says:

    Booyah! Score on every front! D20 Modern is awesome and almost precisely for all the reasons you mentioned. I’m actually glad that Wizards has allowed this one to fall off their radar because it’s almost at the perfect position where it should be.

    I’ll just like to add one more. Learn Real World stuff. D20 Modern is the real gateway that will get players to learn about skills and stuff that are really usable in the real world today. Current affairs, technology, investigation techniques and most importantly, social skills. I learned a lot more about guns because of this (Weapons’ Locker was RPlayers guide to real ones).

    Questing GMs last blog post..Word of Wizards – iPhone Wallpaper

  2. Helmsman says:

    Actually sounds not too bad… might be a good gateway game before inspiring them to try out my usual brand of evilness.

  3. Oz says:

    I’ve always felt that Modern d20 was very underrated and deserved a lot more support. It’s a versatile system that is a lot less limiting than the typical class-level framework. In addition to modern fantasy, I’ve also used it for Firefly and Star Wars campaigns with great success.

    Ozs last blog post..Star Trek Mentos

  4. benpop says:

    I can see a lot of mileage to be gained by patching D20 Modern and Mutants & Masterminds (or, more abstractly, True20) together.

    Between you and… me, I’m going to blow out the fruits of my newly-acquired gainful employment on game books. D20 Modern, M&M/True20, and D&D 4e combined. That is, if I can freaking find a group willing to game any of these… *sigh*

  5. Elton says:

    I like D20 Modern. I would love to get my hands on Urban Arcana. But I don’t have to, at any rate. :D

    Eltons last blog post..Village for Rolemaster

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wanna run a high adventure campaign involving dungeons but with modern gear and combat that is actually fun? Use d20 Modern! Wait a minute…

  7. Anonymous says:

    Modern is ridiculously contrived in a lot of ways too. I think the OP here should search for some. With an open mind for once.

    Every time I try to run an industrialized campaign, everyone says ‘use d20 modern’. And then I can’t run the campaign, because I don’t wanna use it! I don’t like it, plain and simple, is that so wrong?

    It’s not underrated, it’s overrated.

    Also, d20 past stinks. What were they thinking? You can easily run a past setting, but without the supernatural elements. It only takes intelligence to run a depth oriented campaign.

    “I’ve said this before; d20 Modern chargen lets you say who your character is, as compared to D&D where you generate what he does.”

    Wow, dude that’s the worst thing I’ve heard from anybody. I don’t even know where to start with that comment. In fact, I won’t go into anymore detail but to say that the reason d20 modern seems more fluffy and interesting in certain respects is because the players are willing to make it that way. D&D doesn’t construe anything. The players don’t think to open their minds. They aren’t willing.

    Heck, if they were, then D&D would be identical to modern if not better.

    Charismatic bluffer and charismatic rich wooer? Both exist in D&D.

    And what the heck is ‘knowledge: pop culture’? What would that do for you in a life or death situation? There’s thousands of homebrew that will help you with running a similar D&D setting. All you need is to open your mind and look, or heck, create some yourself. And you can still use google maps. You can GOOGLE the homebrew.

    And for those who are saying, “If you’re so adamant about people creating a modern setting in D&D, then why don’t you create one?”

    Because,

    A. I’m going to, I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’m also kinda new to GMing.

    and

    B. My main purpose here is to encourage people that D&D is capable of more than just what the books tell you. It’s all psychological. The reason modern seems more dynamic for it’s contrived setting is because it tells you it is. And then you start making it so. The googling is all you. You could do the same for D&D. It’s just that you choose not to. It’s a continuous psychological style that needs to stop.

    Really, I’m just sick of people saying to me, ‘Use d20 modern’ when I’d like to have bad ass heros in a non-earth but modern setting using D&D (since that allows you to do more bad ass stuff, like kill gods).

    Is that so terrible?

  8. Greywulf says:

    @Anonymous So you don’t like it then? That’s cool – the world would be a boring place if everyone liked all the same things.

    There are plenty of other systems around which work well for modern-day settings, including Savage Worlds, GURPS and HERO. And as you say, there’s nothing to stop you from running straight D&D in the modern day – it doesn’t take much tweaking and would make a fun campaign, I’m sure.

    Terrible? No, not at all. Each to their own :D

    Thanks for the comment!

  9. Anonymous says:

    O ok cool. :P

  10. j0lt says:

    You hit the nail right on the head.

    “d20 Modern chargen lets you say who your character is, as compared to D&D where you generate what he does.”

    Contrary to what Anonymous blathered about, this is exactly what is appealing about d20 Modern’s character system over a limiting and unimaginative archetype-based class system as found in other games such as D&D. Furthermore, the talent tree system allowing further customizing of characters was a brilliant step in the right direction. With this system, I can build the character how I want so they fit MY concept, not the game designer’s!

  11. j0lt says:

    Regarding the supplements, I agree d20 Future is not up to par with the rest of the books, but from what I’ve heard, that’s due to executive meddling, not poor work on the designers’ parts. I’ve got most of the supplements, and use them quite often.

    As Questing GM mentioned, Weapons Locker is full of great information about various firearms, even if most of them are statted very similarly.

    d20 Past provides variant setting rules based on the ones from the core book, which is great for GMs.

    d20 Apocalypse’s only flaw is that there isn’t more of the great info that they’ve put into the book.

    Urban Arcana is, without doubt, the most important book after the core rules. Even if you don’t want to use the setting, there are so many great Advanced Classes and optional rules and other ideas to mine!

    While it’s not the same product, I also picked up Sidewinder: Recoiled by Dog House Rules. It’s an Old West game book that uses the d20 Modern SRD as its base. It feels so much more right to use d20 Modern’s class system to build a real-world type character than, say, a D&D style character system.

  12. Greywulf says:

    @jolt Yeah. d20 Future should really have been 2 (or even 3) supplements. Trying to cram so much in just ended up short-changing everything, and that’s not good.

    Agreed about Urban Arcana; it’s an essential book if you want to do anything even remotely supernatural/fantastic with d20 Modern, even if you ignore the “bringing D&D into the modern world” setting idea. There’s so much in UA, yet (unlike d20 Future) none of it feels rushed or half-baked. It (along with d20 Modern itself) deserves a place in the RPG Hall of Fame.

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