Friday, January 8, 2010

Pathfinder Modern

As I saw on Mark's blog, it looks like Paizo is thinking of putting out an updated version of D20 Modern, in line with the changes they made to Pathfinder. This is probably the best gaming news I'm going to hear all year, and I'm surprised it took them this long to announce it.

D20 Modern is a fun system to work with, but it definitely has its quirks, and there's quite a few things that could run smoother. When Pathfinder came out, Mark and I actually talked about doing a revision of our own, but I'm glad Paizo will be doing it. They've got infinitely greater resources, credibility and market saturation plus a revision of this scope is going to involve a whole lot of number crunching, cut & pasting from the current SRD and making hordes of tiny changes. An exercise in frustration I'm glad somebody else is going to be taking on. I'm really looking forward to the chance to write Otherverse and sci-fi stuff for a Modern ruleset built from the ground up to actually emulate modern era crime, sci-fi and action stories.

D20 Modern elements I hope stay in the revised version.

1. The Basic/Advanced Class split. I enjoy the flexibility of talent trees, and I love writing 10 level advanced classes. I think 10 levels is just about perfect for a D20 class, because it's a long enough timeline you don't feel creatively constrained (like with 5 level prestige classes) and rushed into the capstone ability, but it's not too long. To me, 20 levels is hard to write for. That's alot of class abilities to come up with.

I also like the flexibility of multiclassing, because by adding different combos of Basic and Advanced classes, you really can build any character in fiction. I would love for Paizo to support Modern characters up to level 30, because in Modern terms, that doesn't seem EPIC, it seems more like a highly experienced character with a diverse skill set. In modern, 30 character levels doesn't feel nearly as game breaking as it does in Pathfinder, probably because of the lack of high level magic. Think Snake Eyes or Batman as opposed to Elminster.

2. The Wealth System. For a lot of gamers, it would make more sense to just use dollars, but I kinda enjoy the Wealth check mechanic. Call me strange, but the dollars/Wealth Check DC conversion chart on pg 204 of the D20 Modern core book is the part of the system I reference most often when I write up new gear.

That said, the wealth system isn't perfect, especially when multi-million dollar military hardware starts entering the game. Lots of the best vehicles in the game, especially the military stuff, seems dramatically under priced compared to real world gear. For instance, when I'm writing Otherverse America, I often come up top of the line suits of power armor with a sticker price of 'just' 4-5 million dollars, when I would imagine it would price out near a modern combat jet... closer to 20-30 million dollars. Improving the idea of requisitioning military gear, and standard issued gear load outs issued by the PC's employers would go along way to solving this.

3. Crunch. Don't slack on the crunch, guys. D20 is about building the best damn character you can, light rules abuse and cool power combination. Give me lots and lots and lots of feats. Give me gear lists that only an autistic 12 year old boy would love. Give me tons of vehicles, cybernetics and guns, each with meaningful differences.

4. The diversity of racial options. As you can probably tell from my writing, I love designing new player races. Fits in nicely with my love of crunch and neat options, and building a new culture is simply fun. Though it probably shouldn't be in "Chapter One"... see below.... a later chapter in the core book should have a host of interesting racial options. Obviously, Elves, Dwarves and Orcs in the modern world, ala Shadowrun are an easy 'get', but also include some original races and races specifically designed to emulate the most common races in modern-era fiction.

Give me a basic race of Data-esque androids or Blade Runner styled replicants, give me playable vampires in various flavors (Dracula classic, Anne Rice, WOD and even some Sparkly Twilight style vamps, if you must). Give me a decent selection of werewolves and other shape shifters, some basic genetically engineered super soldiers (think Dark Angel, Capt America or Universal Soldier). Toss in some mutants, either in the Mad Max or X-Men senses of the term (though see my comments on Mutants & Masterminds, below). Finally, give me at least one Size: Large player race designed purely to kick ass. To me it's idiotic no D20 game gives me a big bruiser in the next size category up without a Level Adjustment... look, guys I want to play Chewbacca, so let me frickin' play Chewbacca without being one level behind everybody else.

5. Department Seven. I like the idea of players working for a big, above-the-law covert agency, because it takes care alot of the mundane aspects of adventuring/crime fighting for the players and lets them get to the action faster and easier. Having one 'standard' agency that spans lots of campaign worlds saves GMs time reinventing the wheel and coming up with conspiracy analouges in every game. D7 is like the Shop or the Illuminati or the FBI of the X-Files, it's a nice placeholder, and I like the idea of building a shared fiction about this sprawling, usefully generic organization.

Things I would love Paizo to pull in from other D20 products.

1. Give me the Wounds/Vitality Point system used in Star Wars D20 among others. To me, that more accurately models combat like it is in comics and action movies. Watch Die Hard, read some Spiderman or X-Men, and you can practically see the character's wound count dropping, and occasionally see characters suffer some Vitality damage from a nasty crit.

2. Flat out guys, just steal as much of Mutants & Masterminds as you can get away with and make it 'core'. Ideally, I envision "Pathfinder Modern" broken into chapters. Chapter one is basic character creation, which helps you build 'realistic' human level characters for military, crime or investigatory scenarios. Over in chapter three or whatever, you've got a very deep supers system, which depending on what powers and power-sources you and the players choose, can emulate any sci-fi or supers setting you can imagine.

I'd also love a side-bar at the beginning of the Powers chapter, which details which 'tiers' of abilities, feats and power limits best emulate which genre of fiction. For instance, if you're just using Chapter One and basic human characters, you've basically got NYPD Blue. Add some Tier One stuff, and you've got a John Woo flick. Add in Tier Two and you've got Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Add in Tier Three stuff, and the sky's the limit- you're at Marvel Comics power levels.

BESM and other generic systems have always included suggested lists of powers and talents grouped by relative power level, utility and genre, and that's something that needs to be in a Modern setting.

Things I wish Paizo would pull from my work.

1. Social-fu feats and rules. I put alot of 'social-fu' feats into Psi-Watch, Choice and Blood and Otherverse America for a reason: D20 Modern doesn't have much in the way of social combat. So I came up with rules for manipulation, propaganda, cultural warfare, leadership, winning converts to your cause, starting riots, ect.... Maybe they don't have to be in the form of feats, but I would love Paizo to include social combat talents in some form. Social combat is a whole other resolution method, and adding as much depth to it as already exists for regular combat would only make the game more diverse and stronger.

2. Variant Basic Classes. In Galaxy Command, I wrote up the Psychic Hero, and in Otherverse America, you've got the Powered Hero. These variant basic classes are defined by their power source and techniques more than a particular attribute, and I think they're pretty cool additions to the six attribute based basic classes. I've thought about creating a Magical Hero and some other 'powerset based' basic classes, and I might release 'em at some point as a stand alone product.

Likewise, the Intermediary Classes, which are basically story based, origin specific basic classes like ER Intern or Military Recruit work nicely with starting occupations and add some neat flavor to a low-level campaign. They're one of Louis' neatest ideas, and anything that adds more diversity and opens up new build options is usually a good thing.

3. I'm not sure if it would be in the core rules or not, but I'd love for the variant cybernetics rules I came up with Mark to be included as core. The drain mechanic is pretty elegant and allows for deeper customization and more interesting cyborgs than the current "Number of implants equal to CON modifer" rule. In the same vein, I've always thought treating full conversion cyborgs as a starting race rather than a template worked pretty well, and it's something I'm proud of.

Things that need to DIE!

1. The Magic and Psionics (FX) system. The best way I can describe magic and psionics in D20 Modern is.... anemic. There's a reason I built a new system from the ground up for psionics. This system was too short, didn't include nearly enough options, and felt very rushed. Being tacked on to the last 15 pages or so of the core book didn't help this perception. The magic system is basically D&D with the best spells nutered or eliminated, without any passion, originality or fun, and the psionic system was worse.

I wouldn't mind if the spell and power-list based FX system disappeared completely, especially if it was replaced with a deep, M&M style power system. In fact, I'd prefer that.

2. Vehicle combat. D20 Modern's vehicle combat makes no sense. Running a car chase or auto-duel, or even just doing a drive-by is virtually impossible. An action scene that takes 2 seconds in game would slow gameplay to a crawl for about 2 hours around the table. Air combat is worse, because it's just modified ground combat. Aircraft in D20 Modern don't seem to turn, attack from different angles and planes of attack, worry about momentum, turning radius, or anything. And sensor systems seem absurdly low range. Over the horizon warfare doesn't exist, and I'm pretty sure WWI biplanes could spot their opponents at longer ranges than an F-22, at least as modeled in D20 Modern.

3. The gun combat feat trees. I remember a jokey list in an old Knights of the Dinner Table comic "How things would be different if the real world ran on D20 rules." One of the entries was something like "Gun crime would drop off dramatically because none of the gang bangers could afford the 3-4 feats necessary to pull a trigger." I figure that says it all.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. You can tell I'm excited.

Blessed Be,


Master Shake said...


Great post! I too am VERY excited for a Modern Pathfinder Rule set. It made my year. Now I have time to develop the "Pandora" project for release when the system comes out. (Have to change the name as there are to be no ten foot tall blue elves squatting over a vast Unobtanium deposit.)

If you read through the Paizo post you'll see they want to do it as a patron project where they collect some ca$h up front. I'm fairly certain that part of the benefit for high level patrons (those who put more $$$ into it up front) will get to put input into the development.

I have been absolutely floored at some of your tweaking and development on D20 Modern, so your input into the revision is much needed and will help deliver a better product for all of us.

Skortched Urf' Studios

Alzrius said...

One thing that both you and Mark missed is that this isn't being done by Paizo Publishing. It's being done by Super Genius Games, an imprint under OtherWorld Creations.

That said, there's still plenty of reason to be excited. Both Owen K. C. Stephens and Stan! worked on d20 Modern products for WotC (and third-party publishers) and put out high-quality material. It's going to be a great book!

Kevin Cameron said...

But they made it 4th Editon! There's a reason I like Pathfinder over D&D nowadays and it's that bloody 4E is just absolutely terrible...why would you make a Pathfinder Modern and then make it 4e...why?