Conversation among our gaming group recently turned to “Hey, was there ever another edition of d20 Modern?” It got me thinking about modern gaming and d20 modern-type gaming, especially as there may be some new breakthroughs coming on that front soon. (Teaser! I’ll spill the beans later in the article!)
Generic Modern d20 Games
I thought d20 Modern was just okay. It was serviceable. I didn’t like the stat-based classes, I think that’s lame. And I didn’t like the way they halfheartedly supported it – it’s like it wasn’t a real product, just a spoiler product to steal sales from Shadowrun, etc. In my mind it didn’t compare well; they proposed d20 Modern Dark Matter and Star*Drive, for example, which pretty much were better using the Alternity system. d20 Past and Future were just insulting in how light they were. “You could use this to replace a number of other existing games! We won’t provide enough content for you to do it out of the box, but look, you clearly could do it!” Not sure what they were thinking.
Two other major d20-based games tried to fill the gap – True20 and Modern20. True20 is Green Ronin’s generic, somewhat simplified d20 system; they use variants of it in Mutants & Masterminds and Blue Rose. I like it better than d20 Modern, but am not wildly enthusiastic about it. I don’t like the wound system, particularly. And there’s not a lot of direct support for modern gaming; it’s meant to not be purely fantasy-tied so you *can* do it but it seems spread thin. Every support book feels like it has to cover fantasy/modern/future/etc. which means you only get a little of each in the Companion, class books, etc. That’s a poor marketing strategy because it means if I want material for a modern warrior, I have to buy a book with fantasy stuff in it. I’m sure there are 10 or so people out there so in love with True20 they want to buy everything, but normal people would like books focused around information useful in a specific game they’re gonna run.
Modern20, from RPGObjects, is more specifically modern focused, which is nice. It still goes with a largely stat-tied set of core classes, though it tries to add a little more “zazz” to them. They have supplements for horror, martial arts, etc. Seems serviceable.
Specific Genre Modern d20 Games
Mutants & Masterminds, from Green Ronin, is a great superheroes game. I love it – well, the first edition. I felt like the second edition overcomplicated things and decided the book should read more like a dictionary than a gamebook. I understand some people like that kind of “definition centric” format but I say bah. Anyway, I really like M&M 1e. Beautiful books, you can build beautiful Marvelesque characters, and fun gameplay. Criticisms – the way damage works can be a little problematic sometimes and I’ve learned over time that games that give the DM action points to use for villains suck. Anyway, it’s the best d20 supers game hands down and IMO one of the best supers games in any system. But it’s pretty much just for supers, which is great for that genre and not relevant for others.
Spycraft was another excellent game – in its first edition. It’s weird that I also don’t like its second edition; it’s super overcomplicated and also goes for that descriptor stuff, must have been a fad at the time. It was an espionage game, but because of that could work perfectly well for modern action, crime, investigation, military, etc. If you’re looking to play a “subtle” genre, d20 probably isn’t the right thing to use anyway. But if you want to be a faceman, soldier, wheelman, or fixer, it’s the game to use! For most traditional modern genres, though, in my opinion Spycraft 1.0 is the shizznit. (I didn’t like their uber gonzo “G.I. Joe on meth” setting, Shadowforce Archer, but all the class guides are nice.) They went the ‘real class’ direction instead of the ‘stat class’ – heck, Spycraft 2.0 minimized stats to the degree where they did away with ability checks! You can find all the Spycraft 1.0 stuff easily at Half Price Books etc. I don’t know what the heck Crafty is doing with the game line now that they have 2.0 – their supplements are bizarre (convert to d20 Modern! Add fantasy! Book after book of new guns!).
Haven: City of Violence, from LPJ Designs, also seems like a good bet. I haven’t played it, but it seems to stay squarely in the modern action/crime/etc and not try to add in psychic mutant magic-using bugbears or other crap like that. Seems to be Grand Theft Auto in Sin City directed by John Woo. I’d like to give it a shot sometime.
Well, there may be a Pathfinder version of Modern in the works! People asked Paizo to do it from time to time but they said “we’re busy with the core stuff.” Recently, however, on the Paizo boards, some names you may recognize – Stan!, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Hyrum Savage, who have formed Super Genius Games – are seriously talking about doing a Pathfinder Modern, possibly as a patronage project. Although I’m leery of patronage projects, as the RPGverse is full of long promised and never delivered products (Nick Logue and Razor Coast, I’m looking at you), it’d be interesting to get a new version of d20 Modern with the learnin’ of the last 10 years baked in.
Here’s what such a game should look like IMO.
- Real classes, not “stat based” classes.
- Vitality and wound points, not pure hit points or a True20 weird DC thing.
- A general modern corebook, but supplements organized along specific genre lines.
You forgot Complete Mafia d20, which IMHO is an underrated game. Not only does it do clever things with weaknesses, family connections, and criminal schemes (via the Wealth system), the author also wrote more than 50 free adventures still available on the web.
Spycraft 1.0 (and some Shadowforce Archer stuff) was part of the Haiti package from Drivethru. I’ll take a closer look…
What don’t you like about the ‘stat’ classes? What would you define as an appropriate modern list of classes?
Oh, dude, I could write 10 pages on why stat bases classes are horrible trash. They encourage stat min-maxing even more than traditional classes; they make stats more important in the game (and with rampant stat inflation that causes problems); they lack all flavor being, by design, one-note songs… If you wanted to be, say a battlefield leader/officer/marshal kind of guy, then the “answer” is that you’d have to take levels of Strong, some Smart, maybe some Charismatic hero. Except as in all 3e derivatives, multiclassing is a trap because the DCs, etc. of all your class abilities blow as a result.
The specific implementation in d20 Modern is even worse. The Wis class (Dedicated Hero) are healers because… Well because priests were healers in D&D and they used Wis to power their spells. No other reason. They really couldn’t decide what the hell they were doing. “Is the strong hero the fighter, the fast hero the rogue, etc.? Or should we really retool this into a respectable modern ruleset? We don’t know, let’s do both.” They give that up when they get to the advanced classes; it’s like they’re trying to make the first 5 or so levels be non-profession “Scooby Doo crew” – Fred, you need 5 levels of Strong Hero before you can become a Soldier – which would be fine but it’s not really like that because of the power levels… Ahhh its a total mess I hates it.
How to do it otherwise? With classes reflecting real “what someone does” options – like d20 Cthulhu, Spycraft, True20, T20, etc etc etc. I mean, even D&D doesn’t do that. “You’re a fighter, but you can kinda tune yourself to use Dex or Str or Con (or even Int/Wis) into specific fighter types…” Not “You’re a fighter, STR powers everything you do, just start saying ‘Durrrr’ now and it’ll all be better.”
Pingback: New d20 Modern Patronage Project « Geek Related