Friday, April 8, 2011

Taking d20 Modern Into D&D 3.5

The best thing about d20 and the Open Game License is the ability to port elements within the d20 family back and forth from one game or genre to another, and have everything speak the same language. Nothing can be simpler than taking skills, feats, talents, equipment, or even whole characters from, say, D&D 3.5 and into d20 Modern, or Pathfinder, or Star Wars, or Mutants & Masterminds; converting to or from any of these games may require some adjustments here or there, but fundamentally they share a common structure.

I hit on this a little bit last week in my blog about how much I'm digging d20 Modern, but I thought I would get more specific today. Conveniently enough, I have a subject for illustration as today marks the release of the OGL/d20 version of Complete Characters #5: Lisonnel Arma, the temptress and crime boss. The download is totally free, so give it a shot. This character was created primarily using d20 Modern, with element of d20 Fantasy/D&D mixed in as well.

The character

The whole concept behind this character, named Lisonnel Arma (Liz for short), is a fantasy character who plays heavily to the fantasy/RPG standard of the provocative woman at the end of the bar, and adds another element of depth and severity. She leads a double life, working the room of a seedy tavern at night, while secretly running a major underworld organization. I scoured the traditional fantasy classes and found nothing to my liking. So, as I'm apt to do in all manner of game design, I decided to wing it.

I turned immediately to my new friend, d20 Modern, in search of answers. I found what I was looking for in the Charismatic hero, with the class's penchant for manipulations, both overt and subtle. A strict Modern character wouldn't fly for a she-elf in a fantasy setting, of course, so I made the decision to mix and match.

Common components

Luckily, much of the transition is easy. No matter which of the basic d20 games you're playing, ability scores, saves, defense/armor class, and various other mechanical issues are the same. The way that skills are leveled, feats selected, and the character advanced remains the same as well. So, from this standpoint, the d20 Modern core works as well as d20 Fantasy for the construction of the character.


Some things I took straight from d20 Modern, unadjusted. The character's various charming talents work just as well in the D&D-styled setting as in modern, and perhaps more so. It's a little surprising that such characteristic and useful feats aren't in play somewhere; perhaps they are, and I'm just not familiar, not being a guy with tons of straight D&D experience. With these talents of the likes of Charm, Captivate, and Dazzle, the character becomes a beguiling and manipulative vixen, capable of ensnaring a mark through wit, charm, and good looks.


I selected the character the requisite feats based on the schedule in the Modern setup, but selected primarily from the fantasy feat list. Where I found feats in the fantasy bill that wouldn't quite fit the character, I would substitute something from Modern. For example, the fantasy feat of Negotiator, with its bonuses to Diplomacy and Sense Motive, didn't feel quite right to me, so I freely subbed in the Trustworthy feat from Modern, with its bonuses to Diplomacy and Gather Information. It seemed the better fit for a character whose whole persona is one designed to elicit trust from others, rather than feeling out the motivations of other people. I did make a personal rule, though one I certainly wouldn't swear that I will never break, not to take both such overlapping feats. That just seems reasonable.

While I couldn't find a fantasy class that I felt fit the character of Liz, I did see some class abilities that I thought would fit in nicely. A small amount of skill at Sneak Attacking seemed reasonable for a Charismatic who could so easily catch opponents off their guard. I even considered rolling her up with a few levels of Rogue to compliment the Charismatic class, but the other Roguish skills of detecting traps and evading didn't seem natural. So, I decided to take the Rogue's Sneak Attack as one of Liz's feats.

I bring this up in particular just because it worked so well. Taken at such a low level (just equal to the Rogue's first level ability), the feat mixed in with the rest of the character perfectly. It didn't overpower or unbalance, and it made total sense. I'd go so far as to say that virtually any such class ability could work out just as well, whether it was giving the character a Favored Enemy or Unarmed Strike or Wild Shape. While I didn't take this step with the character in question, spending later feats to improve Sneak Attack, or any other converted class feat, would also go smoothly.

I also gifted Liz some feats that are so common in the fantasy realm that it would be a penalty for her not to have them, namely Armor Proficiency (Light), plus would have also included some Martial Weapon Proficiencies, Armor Proficiency (Medium), and the Shield Proficiency had they not been so irrelevant to the character's build and intended use. For more rugged characters, I'd definitely suggest throwing these in.


Skills were simple enough, just selecting from the D&D list instead of the Modern one. I felt fine adding Knowledge (Streetwise) to her list as well, given her underworld dealings. This could have been taken up by a combination of other Knowledge skills, or even folded into Knowledge (Local), having it spelled out felt like the way to go.

In conclusion

Basically, that's it. Back and forth between the systems, and including elements of one and the other in a single character was a piece of cake. Did it work out as intended? Feel free to check out Complete Characters #5: Lisonnel Arma, temptress and criminal mastermind, and let me know.


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