It’s funny that modern-setting RPGs aren’t as popular as their fantastic equivalents (or so it seems to me, at least). One would think that it’d be easier to play a game where the world in question is one we’re so much more familiar with. But perhaps it’s that familiarity that works against a modern RPG, since its failings regarding accurately portraying some facet of modern life are thrown into relief much more starkly. For instance, the way that celebrities and other pop culture personalities are able to let their fame work for them – something that Building Blocks: Active Reputation attempts to address.
The Building Blocks series presents a single new aspect to Modern d20 games, presenting a new organization, an NPC, and an optional rule that support a given idea. In this case, it’s using a character’s Reputation score proactively, rather than something that is made on the GM’s part to see if an NPC recognizes a character.
In my opinion, the best way to go about doing this would be to present the new mechanics, and then follow them up with an NPC to serve as an example for the new rules, and then the new organization to create a backdrop that helps bring those rules into the game world. The problem is, Building Blocks: Active Modern gets it backwards.
The book (after the introduction) talks about the new organization, Campbell Daniels Industries. While primarily a construction crew, its thrill-seeking president (the new NPC) uses it primarily to fund whatever activities he thinks will get him back into the public eye. We’re given the history of the company, some skill check DCs for learning about it or its owner, and then the NPC stat block for Campbell Daniels himself.
It’s only after this that we’re presented with the new rules for Reputation, and this is where things become a real letdown. Instead of presenting any sort of detailed new rules for actively using one’s Reputation to influence people, what we’re given is largely a couple of suggestions, largely boiling down to “use the Reputation score for a Charisma check, or some skill checks, or with a feat.” It’s a real disappointment, and comes across as an afterthought, when it should be the central aspect of the book.
Building Blocks: Active Reputation isn’t a bad book by any stretch of the imagination. It presents a new organization without any problems, gives us a solid NPC stat block, and has some good ideas. The problem is that none of these are anything that a competent GM couldn’t have generated on their own, and with ease and only a short amount of time. The company is fairly boilerplate, the NPC one-dimensional, and the new rules aren’t rules but suggestions. For a book that wants to increase the uses of Reputation, it doesn’t live up to the reputation it wants to project.