Originally reviewed for the Digital Front Podcast.
"Modern^20" is a 108 page, modern d20-based role-playing game by RPGObjects. It is a full-color, extensively bookmarked and sells for an affordable $10. It was designed to be a faster-playing, smoother and more action-packed, modern roleplaying experience than the d20 Modern rule set. There are six chapters and two appendixes in this product.
The first chapter of "Modern^20" power is devoted to character creation and takes up close to the first fifth of the book. Character generation is an eight step process that involves determining your six ability scores (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma); there are seven methods suggested to generate ability scores. After your abilities have been determined the player needs to select a background for the character like adventurer, blue collar, doctor, law enforcement, religion, rural, student or others. Backgrounds provide you with two to four skills at a basic level and a starting wealth score. After picking a background, you need to choose your character’s current occupation which could be actor, bodyguard, con-man, hunter, military officer, musician, paramedic, politician, private eye, reporter, technician, thug or others. Each profession has three professional skills, if you put skill points into professional skills your wealth increases, and four feat suggestions that are enhanced by your profession choice. Professions may also offer access to a unique perk. Each character has at least two perks that can be used to boost reputation, boost wealth or alter what your character can do with his skills. Professions can change over the life of the character. After choosing your current profession, you choose your initial character class (options include powerhouse, speedfreak, tank, brainiac, empath, and star). Each class is modeled on the of the six ability scores and has a core ability (similar to True20 or Spycraft) that is only available if this is the first class you take. The class you take determines which skills you have, your attack, save, defense, and reputation progression and controls what feats you are allowed to take. Like True20, Modern^20 separates feats into general and class specific categories. The classes have only one class ability, they gain the rest of their uniqueness by virtue of the choices you make for feats (4 at 1st level and 1 at each additional level). Once you have chosen your class, you will need to determine the feats, skills and perks that your character possesses. Perks are special uses of a skill, sort of like the idea of a power stunt in super-hero rpgs. From there you figure your secondary characteristics such as reputation, wealth and action points. Finally you get a chance to buy equipment to gear your character up for play. There are optional rules for character defects or drawbacks if you wish to take the shine off your character.
The next section of the book is focused on the skills that your characters could take. The skill list is compact with only twenty-three individual skills. Some of the skills presented are renamed skills from the d20 Modern rule set such as Academic (replacing knowledge), some skills are combinations of d20 Modern skills such as Acrobatics (which covers Balance, Escape Artist and Tumble if a perk is used), and others are completely new like Firearms, Legal, Unarmed, Vehicles or Weapons. The unarmed skill is a real departure from SRD form as it adjusts the damage of a character's unarmed strike deals and reduces the penalty suffered for trying to strike multiple times in a round. There is a magic skill for spellcaster type characters, but no magic spells anywhere in this tome – if you want to use FX items like magic or monsters you will need to use an amalgam of the Modern^20 and modern SRD rules. Other supplements for modern^20 may address this gap like a recent modern dispatch called Hunter^20 that adds psionic rules.
Where Modern^20 adds new depth to the skill system is in the introduction of perks. At first I was skeptical of perks because you are limited to only two initially, but can earn more through class choice or feat selection. What the perks do is specialize your skills allowing you to access more complicated tasks. For example, in the Leadership skill you can take perks to inspire courage, maintain group cohesion, or inspire ferocity. In other d20 system this may have been accomplished with a feat or class ability but since it is a function of Leadership skill, I think the migration to a perk system is the best way to handle these effects. The other major innovation to the skill system is that Modern^20 removes opposed skill checks and moves to a completely targeted system. If you want to sneak past an opponent, you make a stealth check against your opponent's Perception+10 score.
Feats are covered in detail next. They provide conditional benefits to skills, combat actions or other statistics. Feats almost always have a mechanical benefit associated with them. The feats in this section are divided into a general category that can be accessed by all classes, and also powerhouse, speedfreak, tank, brainiac, empath and star feats that are only accessible for members of that class. If you have played d20 Modern and True20, many of the feats will be familiar to you while other feats come out of other RPGobjects products if memory serves me right.
Equipment is next and covers all modern ranged weapons, melee weapons, armor and general equipment. Purchasing items is simple in Modern^20, if your wealth score is equal to the item or more than the item you can purchase it. If the item is worth more that your wealth, your wealth score will be permanently reduced. In Modern^20, the weapon system has been reworked. All ranged weapons require a minimum strength to operate while melee weapon have strength and possibly dexterity requirements. If you don't meet these prerequisites you suffer a -4 penalty to all attack rolls, are unable to do strength damage or other penalties. The weapons lack a critical threat score because critical hits have been replaced with hit locations for all attacks. There is a full page of handguns and longarm weapons, archaic ranged weapons, explosives, melee weapons, armor and general equipment. The number of weapons you are proficient with is determined by you firearms or weapons skill. Armor has a strength minimum as well and provides damage reduction to attacks instead of a Defense bonus. The weapons and armor sections have descriptions to help you familiarize yourself with the material, the general equipment does not. So if your character is handcuffed, there is no information on how to escape them, which looks like an oversight. There are also equipment lists for lifestyle items, services and vehicles.
The combat system for Modern^20 is similar to many d20 games with a handful of noticeable differences. First is that a character's defense is only defined by dexterity, class bonus and feat effects; this should result in a lower overall defense value than the d20 Modern game and make the game potentially deadlier. When you make an attack roll in combat you also roll a second unmodified d20 to identify the hit location, instead of having a mechanic for critical hits. There is an optional rule for making combat more lethal, as well as a host of new combat conditions like bruised, bleeding, coma or limb breaks. The way that damage is dealt by blunt weapons is different than traditional d20 games, in Modern^20, a blunt weapon deals non-lethal damage unless the attack roll beat its opponent defense by 5 or more points. Non-lethal injuries heal as the game time moves forward, but lethal injuries do not heal without a successful Recovery check once a day. There are no rules for vehicle combat or chases.
The Adventuring chapter is the catch-all basin for material that is not combat related. It includes character movement, environment lighting and hazards, exposure, suffocation, falling, poison, disease, acid, electricity and other stuff to throw in your hero's way. The rules for advancing characters is that characters will advance a level when a major campaign objective is reached – which is probably why there is no "experience table for character level" anywhere in the product.
The end of the product has an appendix that walks you through an example of character creation and another appendix with each of the classes detailed at six different level variants (1/4/8/12/16/20). They are identified as sample NPCs but really are just bags of numbers identified only as class and level compared to role, identity or personality, which I found a little disappointing. The powerhouse has a criminal/mobster concept, the speedfreak has a law-enforcement/hunter concept, the tank has a military/bodyguard concept, the brainiac has an adventurer/spy concept, the empath has a military/martial arts instructor concept and the star has a celebrity/actor concept.
The Modern^20 system is entirely open game content with the exception of the trademark which allows other publishers to build support of this rule set but not claim any compatibility. I'm hoping that RPGObject releases some Horror 20 supplements in the future, as that is my preferred modern game.
[4 of 5 Stars!]