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.
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.