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d20 Modern Core Rulebook (d20M)
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d20 Modern Core Rulebook (d20M)

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PLAY EVERY ADVENTURE YOU CAN IMAGINE

Experience the thrills of every blockbuster action movie, every heart-pounding first-person shooter, and every explosive, high-octane escapade you can dream up.

Inside this book, you’ll discover everything you need to build the ultimate modern-world campaign filled with cinematic adventure, and to create the dynamic heroes needed to face the harrowing dangers that await within.

For players and Gamemasters, this product is compatible with the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® roleplaying game and other d20™ System roleplaying games.

Product History

d20 Modern Roleplaying Game (2002), by Bill Slavicsek, Jeff Grubb, Rich Redman, and Charles Ryan, is the core rulebook for a modern take on the D&D 3e system. It was published in November 2002.

Origins. d20 Modern was first proposed by Bill Slavicsek as an action-horror game called "Shadow Chasers", then as an urban-fantasy game called "Urban Arcana". The idea only began to take concrete form in 2001, when the RPG business team asked for a game that would appeal "both to Dungeons & Dragons aficionados and non-D&D players". The result was a modern game heavily influenced by fantastical elements that incorporated both Shadow Chasers and Urban Arcana as potential settings.

About the Cover. Art Direct Robert Raper wanted to create branding for the new d20 Modern line that matched the "book" theme of D&D 3e but looked more modern, the result being a "brushed titanium" book.

About the Other Illustrations. Raper also thought about modern aesthetics when designing the interior of the book. He settled on clean white pages and artwork "that's more graphic than illustrative". Though there are hard lines in the design, the artwork all pops out of its frames. Raper also likes artwork that could have emerged from the game world being depicted, so the work is done by digital artists.

D&D and the Fantastic Modern World. TSR played with roleplaying in the modern world from the very beginning, with releases like Boot Hill (1975), Top Secret (1980), Gangbusters (1982), and The Adventures of Indiana Jones (1984). Dungeons & Dragons joined the fun with "The City Beyond the Gate", a London-based adventure for Dragon #100 (August 1985). The topic would nonetheless remain a rarity until the '90s. It was then that HR4: A Mighty Fortress Campaign Sourcebook (1992) broke the modern barrier by moving D&D into the Elizabethan era; it was followed a few years later by the Victorian Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales (1994).

However, it would take TSR's two universal roleplaying games of the '90s to really lay the foundations for the fantastic (and scientific) modern setting that would be the heart of Wizards of the Coast's take on the d20 Modern game. Amazing Engine (1993) presented two very modern settings: AM4: Magitech (1993) and Tabloid! (1994). Alternity (1997, 1998) was more focused on science-fiction futures, but it nonetheless included Dark•Matter (1999), the definitive game of modern horror.

The Road to Modern. In 2000 the D&D 3e rules were released under the d20 Trademark License and the Open Game License. Aided by quickly maturing PDF technologies, the roleplaying industry entered one of its biggest boom periods ever. Coordinator and idea guy Ryan Dancey imagined D&D becoming the only major roleplaying system in the hobby, and for a while that seemed to be happening, as company formed in the late '90s like AEG, Guardians of Order, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, and Sovereign Press moved their major lines over to d20.

d20 Modern must have seemed like a logical next step: a new system that could perhaps replace classic modern systems like Shadowrun (1993) and also offer better support for d20 system games that were already set in the modern day, like Call of Cthulhu d20 (2002) and Spycraft (2002). Wizards of the Coast thus set out to design a modern game that could account for modern-day problems like guns, while also maintaining a strong basis in the fantastic — something that wasn't necessary for the modern setting overall, but which did feature strongly in Wizards' own plans.

Wizards fortunately had two great rule systems to draw from. 

  • Alternity (1997, 1998) was pre-d20, but it had actually incubated some of the ideas that would eventually make it into the d20 rules system. Its idea of "FX" informed d20 Modern, and it would be an even larger influence on d20 Future (2004).
  • Star Wars (2000, 2002) was more obviously an adaptation of d20 to science-fiction themes, and it would heavily influence the development of d20 Modern, though those ideas would mostly be removed before the final iteration of the game.

Fans got their first look at d20 Modern in Dungeon #91 / Polyhedron #150 (March/April 2002), which previewed the Shadow Chasers setting along with many of the core rules for the d20 Modern game — at least, as they existed at the time.

A New SRD. d20 Modern was also released as a SRD, which allowed other publishers to use it as the basis for their own supplements. This was what was required to give d20 Modern the opportunity to become as influential as d20 itself … a goal that it somewhat succeeded at.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: Character Mechanics. The biggest difficulty in converting D&D 3e to d20 Modern was figuring out how to allow the creation of characters that could work within a multitude of different modern settings. As a result, it was the character creation system that got revamped the most in d20 Modern.

The standard classes are replaced with six basic classes, which link to the six ability scores in D&D. These represent the strong hero, the fast hero, the tough hero, the smart hero, the dedicated hero, and the charismatic hero. Recognizing that these basic classes didn't offer the same career details as standard D&D character classes, d20 Modern supplements them in three ways.

  • First it offers starting occupations, which detail what characters did before the start of the game.
  • Second, it introduces talents, a sort of super-feat that can further differentiate characters.
  • Third, it makes prestige classes much easier to access, and turns these "advanced classes" into the thematic occupations that characters take on later in the game. The core rules detail soldiers, martial artists, gunslingers, infiltrators, daredevils, bodyguards, field scientists, techies, field medics, investigators, personalities, and negotiators. However the advantage of this system of themed prestige classes is that new classes can be simply released as parts of campaigns. Thus the three sample campaigns in d20 Modern detail shadow slayers, occultists, telepaths, battle minds, mages, and acolytes.

A few other standard D&D characters systems are changed as well. Allegiances replaces alignment, and a wealth stat replaces currency. FX abilities incorporate magic items, psionics, and spells. The introduction of reputation is one of the few holdovers from the Star Wars system.

What a Difference an Edition Makes: Action Mechanics. The introduction of "action points" is another major innovation in d20 Modern. These points can be used to receive a small bonus on a roll, introducing a tiny bit of player agency into the game. They were an old idea, similar to Fame & Fortune Points from Top Secret (1980) or force points from West End's Star Wars (1987), but they appeared in a weak form; players only received new action points every level. Nonetheless, they were an innovation for D&D, and would shortly reappear in Unearthed Arcana (2004) and Eberron Campaign Setting (2004).

What a Difference an Edition Makes: Combat Mechanics. Originally, combat was going to be largely revamped, adapting wound and vitality rules from Star Wars (2000, 2002), as well as its modeling of armor as Damage Reduction. This all appeared in the version of the rules in Polyhedron #150, but the designers ultimately decided to stay with the better-playtested and more widely-known mechanics of D&D 3e, with the hope that it would help d20 Modern find a larger audience. By the time d20 Modern proper appeared, the combat rules were thus pretty similar to D&D 3e.

The only changes of note to combat were the introduction of rules for Massive Damage and the replacement of Armor Class with Defense that went up with level — which was another of the few carry-overs from Star Wars.

Expanding the Modern World. d20 Modern includes three different settings:

  • Shadow Chasers was previewed in Polyhedron #150; it depicted a Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) like setting.
  • Agents of PSI gave the designers the ability to introduce psionics into the core rule set.
  • Urban Arcana met the core goal of d20 Modern by translating D&D tropes to the modern world.

A fourth setting called "Genetech" was planned as a way to introduce superscience into the core rulebook, but was ultimately cut for reasons of space. It would appear in Dungeon #96 / Polyhedron #155 (January / February 2003) and would also be referenced in d20 Future (2004).

A fifth setting called "College Life" appeared as an April Fool's joke on the d20 Modern web site.

Future History. If the goal of d20 Modern was to create a new wave of third-party d20 publication, it was sort of successful. It probably came two years too late, as the d20 boom had already crested and many third-party publishers had already used d20 proper for their modern and science-fiction offerings. Nonetheless, it was widely adopted.

Hundreds of third-party d20 Modern publications appeared, many of them in print and even more in PDF. Sword & Sorcery was probably the most noticeable, with their licensed version of Gamma World (2003-2004), though they covered their bets by saying the books could be used with D&D 3e or d20 Modern. But, many other publishers put out large d20 Modern lines. Some of the most notable were Adamant's Thrilling Tales (2005-2007) and Mars (2006-2007) line, Green Ronin's varied d20 Modern rules and settings, which culminated in Damnation Decade (2006), and Mongoose's new editions of the classic Macho Women with Guns (2003, 2005).

Wizards themselves published another 10 books, running from an expanded version of the Urbana Arcana setting (2003) to d20 Dark•Matter (2006).

About the Creators. Slavicsek had been working on D&D since 1991 and was director of RPGs starting in 1997. His personal attention to d20 Modern shows the importance of the new product line.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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Tony M September 01, 2015 11:53 am UTC
"Amazing Engine (1993) presented two very modern settings: AM4: Magitech (1993) and Tabloid! (1994). Alternity (1997, 1998) was more focused on science-fiction futures, but it nonetheless included Dark•Matter (1999), the definitive game of modern horror."

Dark Matter? Definitive? Do me a lemon...
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Product Information
Pages
386
ISBN
0-7869-2836-0
File Size:
54.5 MB
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File Last Updated:
August 31, 2015
This title was added to our catalog on September 01, 2015.