Nov 302016

Last time out I promised you a reasoned explanation as to why I don’t like character classes and also my thoughts on True20. So, taking it from the top: My issue with classes is that they limit creativity.

image of the True20 core rulebook

True20 Core Rulebook

Disregarding skill points, feats, and combat bonuses (which are valid reasons to have classes, IHMO), the only thing left that defines a class is special class abilities. “What’s wrong with class abilities?” you ask because you are a bright and perceptive reader whom I’m not sucking up to in the least right now.

They limit creativity and they limit characters. Yes, you heard me right. Class abilities limit characters. I will explain. This has been a problem as far back as first edition AD&D when only the Ranger class had a tracking ability, which meant that none of the other classes could track. At all. Not even a little bit. In the basic edition, we just sort of assumed that if you came across a trail of footprints, anyone could follow them but the way the Advanced rules were written any sort of tracking was the sole province of Rangers — who were limited to good alignment too, so in all the world there were only Good trackers. What if you wanted to play a woodsy guy not based on Strider from Lord of the Rings? You were S.O.L.

And yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a dated example and I know full well that anyone with the Survival skill can follow tracks now and it doesn’t even cost a feat or anything since v3.5 but that doesn’t change my point. I also know that by referencing first ed. rules I am revealing myself to be both old and out of touch. Live with it.

Hypothetically, if someone publishes “Perceive Own Nose” as a new Rogue talent, that’s great for Rogues and better for Rogues who happen to take that particular talent, but it’s sour news for everyone else who suddenly loses the ability to see the nose on their own face — because they lack that class ability. It’s only available to Rogues. Moreover it’s only available to second level Rogues and they have to choose it as a rogue talent, so in this hypothetical world only criminals with a full year’s worth of experience and who undergo special training are capable of perceiving their own nose. Ridiculous.

And yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that most class abilities give bonuses to existing abilities rather than all-new capabilities, but why can’t they be feats instead? “Perceive Own Nose” should be available to everyone the same as Power Attack or Dodge.

And that’s where True20 gets it right.

Everything in True20 is either a skill or a Feat and there’s only 3 classes: Adept, Expert, and Warrior. Classes that specialize in supernatural powers, skills, and combat respectively. Everything else is represented by a feat and you get a new feat each level (plus a few extra to start out with). While this means you might have a somewhat weaker character than in Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons because you have to spend feats on stuff you’d otherwise get for free as first level class abilities it also means that you take only the exact abilities you want, which includes options that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to until 5th, 8th, 10th level.

There are limits though. Each class has a pool of feats that’s only available when you take a level in that class (i.e. you can only take the Tough feat if you’re a Warrior), but you can mix and match classes super-easily. There’s no special penalty or bonus for dipping 1-2 levels into another class (unless it happens to be a level that doesn’t grant a to-hit bonus or something like that) so why not give your Warrior a level in Expert? You miss out on the +1 to hit but you can get 8 skill points and can take a feat that replicates the a 5th level Bard ability or the Rogue backstab (and if it’s not your first level of Expert, you still get a +1 to hit 3/4 of the time).  Want an full-fledged spellcaster who has a favored enemy like a Ranger? Like maybe he’s a priest of a church vehemently opposed to the undead. Have your Adept dip one level into Warrior to get the Favored Enemy feat. Pow. Instant custom character.

And if that’s not enough for you, there’s rules in the back for creating custom classes of your own if you feel the need or have a concept that somehow can’t be created with mix-matching the three standard classes.

The issues I have with True20 are less with the system and more with the way that the book itself is organized and laid out. It’s so densely packed with information and options that there’s very little room left over for how to play or even a suggested campaign world. They’ve streamlined the d20 system to such an extent that they’ve not only eliminated all the rough edges but have also smoothed most of the personality out of the system. Still, if you’ve gamed before, and don’t mind doing a little world building it’s pretty close to being the perfect only-one-book-needed-to-play-any-game game.

For some reason True20 never really hit. Maybe because of the issues above, maybe because the publisher didn’t promote it heavily enough. (Green Ronin had their hands full with Mutants & Masterminds so that’s somewhat understandable). I knew a few people who used to be die-hard advocates of it, but even they’ve moved on to more popular systems. It’s always been the “Mr. Pibb” of tabletop RPGs. Those who try it, like it. But hardly anyone has ever tried it.

And that’s why I regretfully have to announce that paNik productions won’t be publishing for True20 any more. If the remaining True20 fans email-bomb us at customerService (at) paNikProductions (dot) com or heavily comment this post we might change our minds but… I honestly doubt that both of them will see this post in time.

 November 30, 2016  Posted by at 7:00 am Favorite Systems, Game Reviews No Responses »
Nov 232016

Yeah, I know that it’s supposed to be called d20 OGL these days but, since that doesn’t really allow for distinctions between Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 / 3.5 and d20 Modern, which is set in the contemporary era. It’s called d20 Modern in my heart so that’s what I’ll call it here, at least until I start getting letters from lawyers.

image of the d20 Modern core rules

d20 Modern Core Rulebook

I think my favorite part about d20 Modern is that it seemed to be a sincere effort to create a set of rules for a modern game independent of any particular setting. Yes, they included the Urban Arcana, Shadow Chasers and Agents of Psi as sample campaign worlds, but that only proves my point by demonstrating that it was designed to work independently of setting. Why does this matter? For a lot of people the system and setting become so intertwined that they have trouble separating the two. For instance, I really like the mechanisms for magic that White Wolf came out with in Mage: the Ascension (at least the 2nd and 3rd edition version — I don’t know what the current version is like) but it doesn’t port well into other systems. So every time I’d bring up the possibility of using the Mage rules even specifically stating repeatedly and at great length that it would not be in the White Wolf universe, half my players would groan because they either had issues with White Wolf’s gothic themes or were sick of vampires — nevermind that it was Mage, not Vampire: the Masquerade. One guy had conflated everything White Wolf had produced into one simmering cauldron of dislike. The same thing happened when I tried to run a purely fantasy based game using the rules set of Shadowrun. One player (a different guy, incidentally) did nothing but gripe that his character couldn’t have cybernetics. In 14th century France.

Now, I’m willing to acknowledge the possibility that I used to hang around with boneheads who habitually miss the point. But that doesn’t change the fact that people are going to have prejudices and as the game master, you’re going to have to deal with those prejudices. When it came out, d20 Modern managed to avoid having prejudices projected on to it (at least among my particular group of boneheads), which made it an excellent system for a lot of modern day adventures.

Another major selling point was that the classes were incredibly broad. Each of the six core classes corresponded to one of the six core attributes so you could really tailor your character to fit your concept. You want a hacker, scientist, or small-town librarian? Build them as a Smart Hero. Worried that they’re not tough enough? Throw in a level or two of Strong Hero and you’ve got a rock-’em sock-’em two-fisted scientist (or hacker, librarian, etc). There were enough optional special abilities that you could even have two Charismatic heroes (or two Fast heroes, or two Strong heroes, or whatever) in the same party and not have them be clones of each other. (Three members with the same class, might be stretching it, but keep in mind I’m only talking about the core rulebook, not the innumerable supplements that came after.) It was great. The only system that I’ve seen come closer to being almost classless while still having classes is True20, which I’ll talk about in a later post (both True20 and my issue with classes). Some folks didn’t care for this flexibility. They want to be able to choose a single class and follow that class all the way to level 20 and you couldn’t do that in d20 Modern. The classes only go to 10, so to get to level 20, you pretty much have to multi-class. (There were also 12 prestige classes which were decent but they  also highly specialized so if you wanted to be a master surgeon rather than a Field Medic, you were S.O.L. I’m also not convinced they’re any better than the base classes, but I digress). I can see the appeal of following a single class, especially for people new to the game. It streamlines character creation and advancement by eliminating a lot of decision points and is less work all around; you only have to decide on feats and where to put your skills. I disagree completely with that viewpoint, but I can see the appeal. To me, role playing games are all about making decisions. The potential to do anything is the whole point of the game. If I wanted to make a few selections from a limited number of options, I’d play a video game instead of role playing. In fact, I think that limiting yourself to one class is tantamount to not having a character concept to begin with, you’re just choosing someone else’s char…

I’m going to stop myself now before this turns into a tirade that’s not about d20 Modern.

Warts and all, it was a good system but some of those warts are pretty big. They had some unnecessary skills like Demolitions and Repair which could have easily been handled through Craft (as they are in Pathfinder). Navigation was a skill (which nobody ever rolled, not even once). Also Spot and Listen were separate skills, which I think was an carry-over from v3.0 but was still annoying. Nobody started out being proficient with anything other than simple weapons (which did not include firearms) so if you wanted a gun or to wear armor there was a significant feat tax you had to pay. If you weren’t proficient in armor, the armor had less of a bonus, which I thought was completely ridiculous and not reflective of how armor actually works. That said, my only personal experience with armor was with the kind I made of out PVC pipe as a young teen so my sadistic friend Rusty could “test” it by whaling on me with a stick. The big take-away from that little experiment? Padding is crucial. Without padding, the armor might keep you from getting a bruise, but it will also distribute the force of the blow all over, so your whole damn arm throbs for like, a whole minute afterward.

I could be wrong about the armor thing. Anyone with law enforcement or military experience who’s actually worn armor, please correct me if I’m wrong. Does it really take special training to get the full protective benefit?

But the biggest fault with d20 Modern nowadays is…?

Nobody’s playing it any more. The books are out of print and kind-of hard to find but the SRD is online for free and it’s still playable but I guess it’s just reached the end of its economic lifestyle. And that’s why I am sad to announce that paNik productions will no longer be supporting d20 Modern in future publications.

But again, maybe I’m wrong. If everyone claps their hands and say “I believe in faeries”… no wait, that’s Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. If you write to us at customerService (at) paNikproductions (dot) com — or just post in the comments that you and all your friends loooove d20 Modern and you’re willing to buy every book we put out… we might go back to publishing for d20 OGL Modern again.

 November 23, 2016  Posted by at 7:00 am Favorite Systems, Game Reviews No Responses »