Sunday, June 19, 2011

Modernizing D20 Modern

So Louis and I have a bit of a difference of opinion.

Ever since Pathfinder came out, I’ve been trying to convince him to go in with me on creating a PFRPG compatible revamp of D20 Modern. He always demurs: his logic is that eventually Paizo will create it’s own version of Pathfinder Modern, and this version will become definitive (in addition to looking better than anything we could produce ourselves), and our effort will be wasted and forgotten.

I admit, it’s a pretty good argument. My counter argument, for going ahead, is this. First, it’s been more than two years since PFRPG came out, and there’s been no word from Paizo, not even whispers that they’re working on a modern version. As a company, they seem more focused on medieval fantasy, and they’ve got plenty of money rolling in from their various adventure paths, supplemental books and the like. There’s not really any indication they’re going to branch out into D20 Modern, and no real reason for them to do so. Paizo staffers seem to like working on Pathfinder, so more power to them.

By contrast, while the PFRPG is a kick ass rule-set, and I’ve had fun writing some stuff for it, my first love is sci-fi gaming. I’m not as much of a fan of dungeon crawls. Plus, I’ve done tons of work for D20 Modern, and when it comes right down to it, I can make that rule-set jump and dance. I’ve done things with D20 Modern that nobody else has- not Wizards of the Coast, not Gareth, not Louis, and not any of the other PDF publishers.

Call it ego, but I want to take a stab at revamping and modernizing D20 Modern. I think it would be good for both my company, and the industry. I don’t have the name recognition Paizo does, but I’ve got more name recognition than the guys who did Infinite Futures or The Modern Path: Heroes of the Modern World do…

Also, I don’t think it would be a huge investment. In time, yes, but not in money. Doing a basic PFRPG/D20 Modern core book might not be that expensive. I’d need to buy a kick ass cover, yes, but for most of the internal art, I can use previously purchased or stock stuff.. I need an image of a modern cop? I’ve got 3 different ones in my stock morgue.

Anyway, if I did a D20 Modern/PFRPG Modern Conversion what would it look like?

The Core Modern Book would focus on tech and adventurers from roughly the Wild West era through the Cyberpunk Era. The core book would have NO magic, Psionic or space-opera technology. Those aspects would be covered by smaller 96-150 page plug- in PDFs.

The corebook would have some sidebars and support for running earlier tech games (Revolutionary War, golden age of piracy, Victorian steampunk, Renaissance, Dark Ages, Classical Rome, ect) . These historical campaigns would have included rules modifications, archaic gear, maybe some specific talents. As this wouldn’t be the focus, you’d need some work to run one of these campaigns, but it would be possible. In the same vein, I’d give some support and rules modification (including elements similar to the genre-specific Starting Talents in Black Tokyo III) and a short historical overview for running games in different eras of the 20th century- 80s action movies, 60s civil rights era, WWII or WWI one games, Casablanca style espionage between the wars, pulp, ect.

I think I would ditch the 6 Attribute-based Basic Classes, but keep the concept of modular talent trees. Instead of Strong and Dedicated Heroes, you’d have the most common modern character archetypes. I think the class list would look something like this.

Police Officer




Pilot/Driver/ (which would include options for mounted combat for low tech campaigns- pony express riders, Mongols on horseback, jousting knights, ect)

Diplomat/Con Man





Martial Artist (which would include support for boxers, mixed martial arts and wrestling as well as traditional kung fu guys)

Different specialties within a given archetype would be differentiated by the player’s choice of talent tree. Some of the talent trees would be exclusive to one class, shared between 2-3 classes, while others would be available to pretty much any character. For instance, both the Police Officer and the Doctor character might be able to take talents from some kind of ‘forensic expert’ talent tree.

Like Pathfinder, characters would get either a special class ability, feat or talent every level. Character creation and progression would match Pathfinder more closely, as would the skill and feat wording.

I’d also like to modernize the equipment list. The D20 Modern equipment list is 10 years old at this point, and is starting to show its age. In addition to upgrading the computer tech to include modern smartphones and iPads and the like, I’d want a greater selection of vehicles. Notable gaps I’ve noticed in the current D20 Modern include aircraft, military gear, including tanks and APCs, and sea craft, not to mention non-American civilian vehicles.

I also think we need to streamline and simplify the gun rules as well as the vehicle rules. Streamline both those stat-blocks, because as it stands now, most guns and cars in D20 modern have stat-blocks longer and more complex than most 1st level characters. I’d like to reduce the number of feats needed to be an effective gunfighter. To that end, I’d split guns into simple and marital weapons, and cut out the Personal Firearms Proficiency feat entirely. You’d need martial weapons proficiency to use a gun in autofire mode effectively, though.

Future Splats

I figure I’ve got a pretty good set of splatbooks for my theoretical D20 Modern update on deck. There would be a future tech book focusing on space ships, really advanced weapons, and really cool gadgets. The ‘tech books’ I’ve done for Otherverse America, including my Drain-based cybernetics rules and the genetic engineering rules in Sexually Transmitted Release would probably become core. I would probably put out a version of those rules with Otherverse America-specific stuff stripped out. I would probably do the same with Psi-Watch to create a generic psychic powers system.

I think the modern magic book could actually be split into two synergistic books. One magic book would focus on Elves, Dwarves, Trolls in the modern world, sorta a Shadowrun feel. This book would also have modern mages- you’d want this book to play John Constantine or Harry Potter.

The second modern magic book would focus specifically on were-creatures and vampires in the modern world. Think True Blood, Twilight, Underworld or classic World of Darkness. I figure each modern magic book would have neat stuff you can use as a stand alone product, but is even cooler when you mix and match it with stuff from the other book.

Finally, I can envision a hard-core military sourcebook with lots of advanced weapons and improved vehicle rules- including a 3D air combat system that actually works…. unlike the current D20 modern aircraft rules, which suck to a truly professional level.

What Could You Do With It?

The basic book is meant to be Tom Clancy, The Burke novels, GI Joe, James Bond, The Wire, NYPD Blue, The Shield, NCIS, CSI, 100 Bullets, 24, Sin City, Machete, any John Woo or Ong Bak movie.

What sci-fi could you run with just the near future tech in the core book? Cyberpunk 2020, Neuromancer, The Matrix, Robocop, Mad Max, Martha Washington (at least the first few books), Demolition Man, Predator, Terminator, The Running Man, Total Recall (we’ll need psychic plug ins, so never mind) maybe Bubblegum Crisis or the first ½ of Akira with the core book.

You could run Wild Wild West, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Leauge of Extraordinary Gentlemen (maybe), Unforgiven, Jonah Hex, The Patriot, Roots, Shanghai Noon, anything Civil War, - at the low tech end just from the core book. You could probably work up something more archaic- ancient Rome, warring states era China- but you’d need to do a lot of work yourself.

For Minority Report, Transmetropolitian, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, Star Trek, Total Recall, Serenity- you’d need the future/space opera book and/or the psionics book.

For True Blood, Twilight, Underworld, World of Darkness, Spawn, Tarot, Ghostbusters, Ghost Rider, The Exorcist – you’d need core book plus at least one of the magic books.

Rifts, Shadowrun, He-Man- for something that multi-genre either go get your favorite edition of Mutants & Masterminds or get all our books and mix and match.

Anyway, give me some opinions in the comments. Should I go ahead and do an updated modern system, or would it be a waste of my time?

Blessed Be,



Dale Norman said...

Actually, this sounds pretty good. I would love to see somebody take this on. Super Genius Games wanted to do this in the past, but their main project got sidetracked. They are instead working at it a piece at a time, starting with Anachronistic Heroes: Enforcer. You may want to talk with them & have both of you collaborate. SGG does have the name recognition.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty cool idea Check out
They did it and it turned out pretty cool. They also Have some supplements coming, including Mystic... etc.

Scott Holmes said...

I like the direction of going away from the stat classes. I'd love to see this happen.