Friday, April 1, 2011

The Superiority of d20 Modern

Say hello to my little friend.

Hello, one and all. It's very nice to see you. I thought this morning I would talk a little bit about my experiences over the past month or two with the d20 systems as I have spent this time getting my Complete Characters up and running using the OGL. Mostly, I really want to talk up d20 Modern, or as I call it, the great overlooked gaming system.

I think we're all pretty familiar with d20 Fantasy from its days as D&D 3.5, which is still a very popular game, supported by countless indie publishers and large gaming companies, alike, via the Open Gaming License. After spending a great deal of time with this system as a designer in recent weeks, as well as its less-popular cousin, d20 Modern, I think that many gamers are really missing out on a great gaming system that opens things up for Game Masters and players

Let's talk about d20 Modern and why I'm loving it so much more than the old D&D 3.5.

Familiar system, unfamiliar freedom

My journey has taken me through the peaks and valleys of the two "core" d20 systems: d20 Fantasy (or what is in reality Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, and is probably more justly called simply "d20") and d20 Modern. At their heart, these two systems share just about every mechanic and term from the top of the stat sheet to the bottom. Attributes, ability scores, skills, feats, saves... they're all there, more or less copied from one to the next.

Where they diverge is in the character class system. While Fantasy runs with the traditional D&D staples of Fighter/Rogue/Wizard/Cleric/etc., d20 Modern breaks into six distinct classes, each of which is a type of hero tied to one of the attributes. These are Strong, Fast, Tough, Smart, Dedicated, and Charismatic. Nothing could be simpler or more logical, and I was amazed at how well it worked.

Mixing and matching

Fantasy is built to play a pretty specific type of game, and it shows. When writing my Complete Characters, I never think about the stats of a system, which feats will be selected at what level, or how points should be distributed to achieve certain results. Each character is written as more or less a story element, such as a heroic ally, provocative source, or sinister nemesis. As such, when statting out my fantasy characters to somewhat approximate the writeup, I often had a hard time finding a way to work within the d20 Fantasy framework to get it all to line up.

Not so with d20 Modern, my friends. No system is perfect, but I was stunned at how flexible the modern setup was. By mixing and matching levels in the various attribute-focused classes, I could come up with pretty much anything that I needed from pulp heroes to scheming geniuses to a slightly-crazed radio personality.

It works so well, in fact, that I have used the d20 Modern character classes to build a number of my fantasy-style characters. For example, I was unable to come up with anything that really fit my beautiful Elven mistress of the underworld within the pages of D&D 3.5. She's not a rogue or a fighter or a cleric or an aristocrat. She's a unique character that doesn't work well when shoved into a D&D-shaped box, so I went with the d20 Modern class of Charismatic. By taking the talents from the Charismatic class, plus selecting feats from the fantasy list instead of the modern versions (most of which are more or less the same, anyway), she came together beautifully, and is now ready to deceive, undermine, and manipulate your characters until they're blue in the face.

Closing the gap

d20 Modern is not greatly represented in the market; of the more than 5000 DriveThruRPG products tagged as using the d20/OGL system, fewer than 20% utilize d20 Modern. Granted, fantasy gaming dominates the landscape, but that's still a pretty wide margin, especially when you consider that while d20 Fantasy is used pretty much exclusively for fantasy-style games, d20 Modern is used for everything else (supers, pulp, future, WWII, modern horror, etc.).

Thanks to the OGL, the d20 Modern system is free to use, build on, or publish. The SRD is out there direct from Wizards, or in various places online (like this one that I've been using). You have nothing to lose, so next time you're pondering what Favored Enemy you want your newly-rolled Ranger to have, stop and wonder if d20 Modern doesn't offer you a nice change of pace.


A.L. said...

I've never had much chance to give D20 Modern a serious look over, and I think I used to own one of the base books for it. Not sure where it is now sadly, but still. May have to add it back to the list of things to look at.

I think this also gets at a deeper point. A lot of times we'll dismiss all systems based on a core mechanic because we feel that we've "played one, so played them all". This might not be true however, and as you found out with D20 Modern.

Steve Dubya said...

I'm fond of the layout of the SRD here, in that it's structured very similarly to the excellent Hypertext d20 site.

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