It’s a truism that d20-based games are built around combat. It is possible to work against this slant and create characters that are focused on peaceful interaction, largely by focusing on skills and feats that lean away from combat potential, but there are comparatively few of those. NUELOW Games’s new book, Modern Basics: Feats of Seduction and Subterfuge, expands that roster ever so slightly.
The book’s presentation is notably minimalist, at least in terms of technical bells and whistles. Copy-and-paste is enabled, but there aren’t any hyperlinks or bookmarks…though for a PDF that’s only five pages long, this isn’t really an issue. The book takes an understated tone with illustrations as well. A few shots of the couple from the cover are all that’s to be found on the interior; this lends the book a nice sense of style in a “just what you see” way.
In terms of evaluating the book, I think it’s important to remember that this is geared primarily towards d20 Modern. The designer does not that these can be used with pretty much any d20 game, and he’s not wrong in that assertion; what’s here will work with pretty much any incarnation of d20, though I’ll say right now that some systems will necessitate some minor adapting. What’s more important to take away from the book’s focus on d20 Modern is the relative scale of what it offers (in terms of power) and the nature of its effects, something I’ll touch on more below.
Feats of Seduction and Subterfuge offers one new skill and eight new feats. Insightfully, the author gives a brief introduction wherein he mentions that the new skill (Seduction) should be a class skill for bards, Charismatic Heroes, and other Charisma-focused classes, and that the feats should be on the bonus feat lists for such classes. I have to give the author props here; mentioning who gets them as class skills is an oversight that most people make when introducing new skills into the game. The issue of bonus feats is somewhat less germane, but still appreciated.
Unfortunately, the Seduction skill itself was nothing to write home about. For me, the major downside was that it didn’t adequately describe what it does, and how it makes itself different from broader skills that have the same theme (such as Bluff). The skill says that it’s used to “sway NPCs into performing actions of your choosing,” but it doesn’t give examples of the degree to which you sway them the way Diplomacy does. Worse, the skill has no mention of the time required to make a seduction attempt, and oddly splits itself between the two sexes (e.g. Seduction (females) is different from Seduction (males)), something I found unnecessary. I also didn’t like the static DC, since I think that skill checks to influence creatures should be opposed checks.
The new feats were more passable in what they offered. If you have the Wardrobe Malfunction feats, for example, you’ve mastered the art of the nip slip (or other sexy reveal) – you can briefly expose yourself, feigning embarrassment at your “accidental” reveal; doing so lets you make a skill check to not only amuse those who see it and are fooled, but it also creates a distraction for your allies. It’s unfortunate that feats like this were the vast minority of the book.
To expound upon that, of the eight feats in the book, six of them were skill boosters, offering a +2 bonus to two (sometimes three) related skills; some also have an additional effect, such as how the No Sense feat grants not only a +2 bonus to Bluff and Intimidate, but also a +4 bonus to saves against feat. This brings us back to what I was saying before about the power scale of these feats being relative depending on the kind of game you’re running. For a d20 Modern game, these are comparable to a lot of the feats available in the Core Rulebook, as these stand alongside a host of other “+2 to two skills” feats, and even a bit above them. For a Pathfinder game, however, these will often be seen as somewhat underpowered compared to the other feats available.
Ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to judge this book too harshly, since as a d20 Modern-based book it stands fairly well on its own; only the Seduction skill needs any major work, but it’s easily overlooked (though for feats that use it, I’d throw it out in favor of Bluff instead). The feats themselves range from about par to being quite innovative; I only wish there were less of the former and more of the latter. Still, Feats of Seduction and Subterfuge isn’t a bad book if you want to increase your Modern Basics.