Displacer Beasts & Desert Eagles: A D20 Modern Review
It seems fairly obvious that White Wolf has accumulated a veritable treasure trove over the years and has informally entrenched itself as the authority on role-playing games in the modern setting. In this light, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has decided to enter this arena with the hope of providing some useful competition. As the self-proclaimed leaders of the fantasy genre of RPGs since it took TSR under its belt, they now present: D20 Modern. The name is short, with only two words, and too lackluster compared to the other games of its genre. However, there is a reason. D20 Modern sports not one but three game settings and promises to develop each beyond the scope of the Core Rulebook. Hence, what the name reflects is its versatility.
It seems fairly obvious that White Wolf has accumulated a veritable treasure
trove over the years and has informally entrenched itself as the authority on
role-playing games in the modern setting. In this light, Wizards of the Coast
(WotC) has decided to enter this arena with the hope of providing some useful
competition. As the self-proclaimed leaders of the fantasy genre of RPGs since
it took TSR under its belt, they now present: D20 Modern. The name is short,
with only two words, and too lackluster compared to the other games of its
genre. However, there is a reason. D20 Modern sports not one but three game
settings and promises to develop each beyond the scope of the Core Rulebook.
Hence, what the name reflects is its versatility.
Player characters are made in the usual fashion of D20 rules with a plethora of
skills and feats to match the overabundance of options available in the modern
world. The Core Rulebook contains six basic classes; known as Heroes, each
emphasize a certain ability from a familiar list of traits hewn from the AD&D
system (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). Players also get to choose a starting occupation that may affect their characters' beginning age, skills, feats, or Wealth Bonus.
What sets D20 Modern apart from other RPGs? There are several points, both good and bad. First of all, D20 Modern makes the hallmark as the first RPG to have PCs with limited abilities. Your PCs are created with a trait known as Action Points (APs) which are not refueled during game play. Each character will get new allotments whenever they gain levels. Keep in mind it takes longer to gain higher levels as the game progresses. Although the effect of the points become greater with experience, the points are few and far between. You can refrain from choosing an AP-fueled ability in the process of character growth in order to stretch the points. Simply put, it doesn't make much sense why the incidence of incredible outcomes of your PC goes down with time and experience. Shouldn't it go the other way around? For those who played Top Secret (produced by TSR in 1980), this is in no way comparable to the phenomenon of Fortune points. Fortune points are an optional rule and may only be spent in cases with approval from the GM. Players do not even know how many Fortune points their characters have.
D20 Modern also puts its foot down on a new non-lethal combat rule: all damage produced by non-lethal combat lasts until the next attack. All of it is
superficial (scratches and minor bruises). This is the rule which evokes the
greatest uproar from most GMs and players. If you took a deep breath and a step away from the soapbox, you might give the rule some thought. The game setting is unique in one sense: all PCs are within the scope of the law. In our
respective communities, a person who is not armed with a lethal weapon and does not endeavor to deliver lethal damage will not kill anything. The most damage you can do with a non-lethal attack is a knockout. Call it a psychological barrier against killing.
Lastly, the game brings back die-roll finances akin to TSR's Marvel Superheroes
and the White Wolf system. While it still retains the number-crunching
qualities of a D20 system, it does affect the time and effort a PC may use up
before material gains come into play. Known as the Wealth Bonus, this modifier
increases when selling expensive items and decreases during binge-shopping.
This may also be affected by feats and the Profession skill. There are some
poor conversions to the rule (such as bribery and aiding another) but it
otherwise simplifies what would be a harrowing system of credit cards, loans,
and cold cash.
All in all, the book includes character creation, a hefty section for equipment,
available advanced classes, and alternative campaign settings with corresponding additional advanced classes. On top of all this, there is also an exhaustive list of encounters and a detailed section on storytelling, game-mastering, and NPC creation. Oh, and don't forget the magical and mental power listings.
So why isn't D20 Modern taking the RP world by storm? Unlike White Wolf with
its pre-packaged fully fleshed-out World of Darkness, this game comes with three skeletal scenarios. Not much detail for a modern game when compared to its contemporaries. Most people have also made their choice with which games to play when running which genre and shifting may be too much of a bother. By experience, however, the most common reason why D20 Modern games run dry too fast too soon is most GMs involved with this newborn game are either too inexperienced or have the 'honeymoon' syndrome. The latter occurs when a campaign feels to be a good one while you're reading the book but, after one or two sessions, the GM loses interest.
So what's the bottom line for D20 Modern? For me, it's an alternative. It is
viable if you're a number-cruncher and the White Wolf system has too much angst for your taste. As with all D20 systems, the campaign history will require a lot of input and creativity from the GM unless you're planning a Buffy-esque or X-filish jaunt. Sad to say, most believers in the D20 system have a mean
obsessive-compulsive trait and get hung up on one rule or another (most commonly the non-lethal combat section) and leave the game altogether. There are others who were expecting more bang for their buck and, seeing how much the core rulebook contains, I don't know what else they were looking for. Complaints range from the wish for more feats, to more skills, to better encounters. I guess people were expecting a game on a whole new level and not a D&D game with a modern setting.