D20 Modern is a roleplaying game, or RPG, published by Wizards of the Coast and first released in November 2002. It is a D20-system game, which means it uses the same basic rules concepts as Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition and the new Star Wars RPG.

The idea behind D20 Modern is to provide a ruleset for games set in the "modern" era of Earth. However, by simply adding or removing certain equipment, feats, and skills from the game, it could easily be used to run in an earlier era or in the future. Likewise, Game Masters can add psionics, mutations, or magic to the system and have a game that works in other genres as well. These additions are even included in the main rulebook, illustrating the system's flexibility via three diverse campaign settings.

As is the case for Star Wars, there is only one main rulebook needed to play or run a D20 Modern campaign. The Core Rulebook, by Bill Slavicsek, Jeff Grubb, Rich Redman, and Charles Ryan, contains all the rules and guidelines for character creation, equipment, combat, and acting as GM; it also contains enemy statistics and the basics of three campaign settings.

In D20 Modern, there are only six basic character classes. Each class focuses on one of the six D20-system attributes, and characters can freely multiclass among them. The classes are

So a professional hitman might be a Fast Hero/Dedicated Hero; a martial artist might be a Strong Hero; a Marine Corps general might be a Tough Hero/Charismatic Hero.

Each class has a list of bonus feats and talents; the character gains one of these bonus feats every two levels, and the talents improve over time. Class also determines the character's skill points and Hit Dice. Each class has only ten levels, forcing characters to multiclass to reach level 11.

Fortunately, multiclassing is not only encouraged, but expected in D20 Modern. To that end, there are "Advanced Classes", which are like Prestige Classes with broader scope and lower prerequisites. Most Advanced Classes are designed so that a character can enter the class around third to fifth level. The Core Rulebook presents twelve Advanced Classes, two for each base class. Note that although it is easier to meet the prerequisites for an Advanced Class by being a member of the associated base class, it is not at all necessary. The Advanced Classes from the Core Rulebook are

  • Martial Artist (Strong)
  • Soldier (Strong)
  • Gunslinger (Fast)
  • Infiltrator (Fast)
  • Bodyguard (Tough)
  • Daredevil (Tough)
  • Field Scientist (Smart)
  • Techie (Smart)
  • Field Medic (Dedicated)
  • Investigator (Dedicated)
  • Personality (Charismatic)
  • Negotiator (Charismatic)

Characters also must choose a starting occupation (such as White Collar, Celebrity, Criminal, or Student), which gives the character some permanent class skills (and sometimes a free feat) and determines the character's starting Wealth. It also forces the player to flesh out the character a little bit.

After character creation, the D20 Modern system is very similar to the other D20-system games. The most significant difference is probably the Wealth mechanic. Each character has a Wealth bonus. This bonus represents the character's purchasing power, in the form of cash, credit, and assets, without resorting to exact dollar figures. To purchase an item or service, the character makes a Wealth check, which is (like most checks) 1d20 + the character's Wealth bonus. If the roll meets or exceeds the item/service DC (difficulty class), the character can purchase the item. Buying expensive items decreases the character's Wealth bonus. Wealth bonuses increase when the character gains a level and when the character finds items of value.

Another interesting mechanic is the idea of Action Points. Characters get several action points per level, and they can spend them to add 1d6 to a d20 roll. Some special abilities or talents are powered by action points. The number of dice rolled per action point increases as the character gains levels.

D20 Modern uses Hit Points, like D&D. Many people were surprised by this, expecting it to use the more cinematic Vitality/Wound Point system introduced in the Star Wars RPG. Instead, the designers stuck with Hit Points for simplicity and compatibility with D&D.

This compatibility turns out to be important because one of the aforementioned campaign settings is Urban Arcana, which introduces D&D-style monsters and magic into a modern setting. Because D20 Modern uses Hit Points, monsters and spells can be imported from D&D almost without modification. The other two campaign settings are Shadow Chasers (Buffy-style horror) and Agents of PSI (psionics). A fourth setting, which deals with TMNT-style mutations, was cut from the book but will be appearing in Dragon magazine.

I found it odd that all of the settings developed for the Core Rulebook introduce the supernatural in one way or another, when D20 Modern is well suited for other genres such as mystery, espionage, and adventure. Think Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and Indiana Jones.

D20 Modern allows Wizards of the Coast to adapt their D20 system to any number of different genres, greatly expanding the potential applications. The six attribute-based classes and the Wealth mechanic serve to make the D20 system even more flexible than before. It will be very interesting to see what other campaign settings and expansions will be coming in the future, both from WotC and from other vendors.

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