First Impressions of d20 Modern

I picked up my copy of d20 Modern last week. I’ve given it a once over, and while I’m not ready to post a full-review, here are my initial impressions.

d20 Modern is an adequate book that probably would have been a lot more impressive if it had preceded Spycraft. It provides the underlying structure for running modern games based on the D&D game mechanic.

It has an overarching bias toward fantasy-themed modern games, but fortunately this bias not evident in the core rules. The rules — be they mechanics for automatic weapons, modern interpretations of skills, or new fire-arm related feats — can be used in any modern game without modification.

Like D&D, the game uses classes, although they are based on attributes like Strength and Intelligence rather than genre archtypes. These classes — called basic classes — provide a foundation for players which is built on by using “advanced classes”, which are similar to prestige classes in D&D. They include options such as Soldier, Field Scientist and Gunslinger, and provide a nice degree of specialization for characters.

Augmenting the basic and advanced classes are “professions”, which grant certain bonuses to skill checks, and provide a basis for characters’ incomes.

The game uses an abstract wealth system that requires characters to beat certain number on a dice roll in order to buy it (rather than simply acquiring cash and paying for stuff that way). The more you buy, the harder it is to buy new stuff. The designer’s goal was avoid having people spend too much time tracking their character’s finances.

d20 Modern uses traditional hit points to track damage, rather than the wound/vitality point systems used by Spycraft or Wizards of the Coast’s own d20 variant, Star Wars.

The aforementioned fantasy bias comes across in the three campaign examples given in the book, as well as in the monster/creature support material

So what do I think of d20 Modern after having leaped through it?

It’s an average game that covers the subject at hand, but didn’t knock my socks off the way Spycraft did. There are a few specific problems I have with the game, and they largely stem from the fact that I was hoping to use d20 Modern for my Call of Cthulhu: Delta Green campaign.

  • I don’t mind fantasy material in a modern setting, but I do mind it when it comes at the expense of science fiction material. I’d hoped to see much near-future tech in this book, particularly more cyberpunk-related material. There is none, which I find unforgivable for a modern-to-near-modern game book (especially given the number of d20-modified sci-fi settings we’ve seen in Polyhedron lately). Apparently this material was originally in the book, but was cut. I hope it finds its way into print at some point, either as its own release or in Poly.
  • The inclusion of “modernized” fantasy creatures from D&D — like bugbears and displacer beasts — is simply unneeded. Reprinting information I already have, in lieu of information I want (like cybernetics) is really annoying. It’s even more aggravating given that WotC is going to release a campaign setting dedicated to modern fantasy (the book’s called Urban Arcana). That book, and not the core book, is where this material belonged.
  • I wanted a wound/vitality point system in this game that would help reflect the fact that if you get a critical hit with a handgun, you’re going to be in a world of hurt (granted, getting hit through the head with an arrow will also ruin your day, but I can be a little more abstract in fantasy games — chalk it up as a personal bias).
  • The Wealth system seems workable, but I’m not sure how much I like it. One of the attractions of other RPGs (D&D included) was wealth acquisition. This system allows for it, but I don’t know if players will like assigning their personal wealth a ranking rather than a nice big number like $1,000,000
  • The firearms section is adequate, but hardly impressive. Spycraft’s rules are far better. Although d20 Modern does provide information about strafing and burst firing, it doesn’t get into more advanced concepts like cover fire. All in all, Spycraft’s chapters on firearms are far better.
  • I was disappointed by the lack of true prestige classes in the core book — advance classes provide for middle-level advancement of characters, but where are the really specialized classes like SWAT agent or FBI Investigator?

I need to go back and re-read through d20 Modern, but I know right now that I won’t be running it as is when I re-launch my Delta Green campaign as a d20 game. I expect to pull heavily from Spycraft, borrowing some ideas from d20 Modern, and using the magic system from Call of Cthulhu d20.

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