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06/22/2002


Classes and the Basics
Countdown to d20 Modern
By Mat Smith

OK, Let's Get Started!

November. It's coming in November, and it's going to be a 320-page hardcover that could easily do 1d3-1 points of bludgeoning damage if you got a good swing with it. (It'll be the same size as the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, if you wanna practice.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you're not already familiar with the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game, let me see what I can do about that before getting all freaky about it.

d20 Modern is an unbelievably flexible roleplaying game that allows you to create and play exciting adventures set in the modern world. Just look around you at what's going on in the world, on TV, at the movies, in comic books, novels, video games, wherever. Any kind of action, any kind of adventure, any kind of intrigue or interesting story you see, hear, experience or imagine can be played out in a d20 Modern game.

Here's a bit from the introduction chapter:

The world we live in provides the stage for all sorts of action-adventure stories. These tales of cops and robbers, spies, and other forms of modern action have long played across the myriad forms of entertainment -- TV, movies, novels, comic books, computer games, and more. Why not, then, open the field to tabletop roleplaying games via the d20 game system?

With that premise, we began this exciting project. The d20 Modern Roleplaying Game typifies cinematic action-adventure at its best, with the ability to throw in as much (or as little) fantasy as you see fit. With this game, you can craft a contemporary setting all your own, populated by evil villains and desperate situations that call for the very best your heroes have to offer. All you need are some dice, a few friends, and your imagination.

Anything. You can do anything in this game. Bust criminals, hunt aliens, investigate the paranormal, infiltrate evil organizations, go deep undercover, use your amazing powers for the good of the world -- whatever you want your campaign to be, that's what it is. One of the truly inspired elements that's so very cool about the d20 Modern game is the introduction of an organization called Department-7.

Department-7 serves as the motivating force behind your campaign. That is, the heroes work for Department-7 in some capacity (whether they know it or not). Check this out:

Most of the book is written from the point of view of the fictional Department-7, an elite organization that the heroes belong to that deals with situations that threaten the modern world. In your campaign, Department-7 might have federal authority, or it might be a state or local agency, or perhaps a private institution. In some campaigns, it might have an international scope thanks to ties to the United Nations or some global conglomerate. Department-7 might deal with homeland defense or law enforcement, espionage and intelligence or counterterrorism. In some games, it might have a charter to investigate paranormal activity or alien incursions or dimensional displacement.

One of the great things about having an entity like Department-7 is it provides a built-in motivation for your characters to get involved in just about anything in the game. Whether they're following orders, disobeying orders, or just acting on information they stumbled across, were given, or ferreted out, the existence of Department-7 (or any organization like that) makes it a lot easier and a lot more fun to get involved in the storyline of your game. Now, of course you don't have to use Department-7 in your campaign. It's just a suggestion. (You know the drill -- use what you like, ignore the rest.) But what you should realize that what you're looking at (when you consider Department-7 in your campaign) is basically an adventuring party for your characters to join. That's all it is, on the surface. You need a reason to adventure, and Department-7 is just that. You can change the name, change the intent, alter the mission statement, whatever. One campaign's Department-7 might be a covert world organization that serves as Earth's only defense against the insidious, quiet invasion by slaver aliens, while another campaign might position Department-7 as a large city's very special forces unit to deal with particularly nasty problems. You could explore an entire campaign where Department-7 has become corrupt or, even worse, turned against the players. The possibilities are endless.

D20 Modern in Polyhedron Magazine
Polyhedron Magazine has already given you some great peeks at what's coming.

Issue 150 (March/April) -- Shadow Chasers (campaign setting)

Issue 151 (May/June) -- the Tough Hero

Issue 152 (July/August) -- Thunderball Rally (vehicle combat)

Keep picking up Polyhedron because it's going to keep offering up some crunchy d20 Modern preview material every issue until the game hits the streets.

Because you're doing it in a modern world setting, you've got more source material for character, adventure, and campaign ideas than you'll ever sort through. Anything out there could be an adventure hook. Any kind of person or character you see, meet, read about, watch, or play cards with could be the inspiration behind your next hero, villain, assistant, or lackey.

Plus, you can have walkie-talkies. (I know my D&D group would love to have a set.)

Modern equipment, vehicles, weapons, resources, and on and on and on. It's all out there, ready for your characters to use. Cell phones, laptops, night vision goggles, mini guns like Jesse Ventura used in Predator -- you can drag any and all of that into your game.

Did I mention that you can do just about anything?

Of course, if you're going to play, you're going to need a character or two. And the characters you're going to have in d20 Modern are going to be completely different from anything you've played before. (Not just because you can tote around a Glock-17, play with a handheld computer, or zip around town in a sports car.)

When I was starting this countdown project, I sat down with Bill Slavicsek and Chris Perkins to get their front-line thoughts, opinions, and ideas about the character classes.

There are six "Basic Classes" in d20 Modern. Each one is focused on one of the ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). Here, check out some short descriptions:

The Basic Classes

The Strong Hero -- uses his Strength score to best advantage. Taking a level in this class demonstrates physical training for overall strength and power. Strong Heroes excel at hand-to-hand and melee combat, as well as at other activities that best utilize physical power.

The Fast Hero -- uses her Dexterity score to best advantage. Taking a level in this class demonstrates training in hand-eye coordination, agility, and reflexes. Better defenses, a good attack progression, and a natural aptitude in athletics that require speed and grace combine to define the Fast Hero.

The Tough Hero -- uses his Constitution score to best advantage. Taking a level in this class demonstrates added health and physical stamina. Better vitality, good fortitude, and the ability to shrug off some amount of damage combine to define the Tough Hero.

The Smart Hero -- uses his Intelligence score to best advantage. Taking a level in this class demonstrates educational training in an academic or technical subject. Learning and reasoning powers combine to define the Smart Hero.

The Dedicated Hero -- uses her Wisdom score to best advantage. Taking a level in this class demonstrates a focus on willpower, common sense, perception, and intuition. Sense of self and devotion of purpose, as well as keen senses and a greater ability to analyze information combine to define the Dedicated Hero.

The Charismatic Hero -- uses his Charisma score to best advantage. Taking a level in this class demonstrates a knack for connecting with others, developing proficiency at influencing their actions, and improving your ability to win their support through debate, compromise, or seduction. Personal magnetism, applied interaction techniques, and a touch of charm combine to define the Charismatic Hero.

The idea was to create a system that was capable of handling characters with very few real skills (first level characters), as well as providing a flexible system of progression that allows characters to develop in a virtually unlimited number of directions. The great example Chris gave was Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- the main characters started as "ordinary" high school students, but gained and developed new skills, talents, and abilities as the story progressed.

Bill pointed out that the Basic Class system will cross every modern genre. And, when you get a look at the rules, you'll see why. It's almost unbelievable how well this core game mechanic lends itself to doing just about anything. When I asked how the system was developed, Bill said that he wanted to really take advantage of the versatility of the d20 System. The rules for d20 Modern were arrived at very organically. Chris added that he thought the system was "brilliant."

He's right. When you think about it, any character you have can essentially be broken down to an emphasis on a particular ability (or combination). My wizard is all about Intelligence, and my old thief put all of his ability score bonuses into Dexterity. It really makes sense to build a character creation system based on those fundamentals. The interesting bit is that because the Basic Classes are so pure, character concepts can be taken in vastly different directions. You could want a soldier type who's an expert with firearms -- that's a Fast Hero. Your pal might want his soldier type to be able to take a beating and keep going -- that'll be a Tough Hero.

That's what's really cool about the d20 Modern system -- the rules are all about what your characters can do, not what they can't. Your character concept will shape your PC more than anything, and the choices you make when assigning class levels will just help to reinforce what you're trying to do.

You want a soldier who's really good with guns and can take a couple hits? Well, then you're looking at multiclassing. (Here comes a good bit.)

In d20 Modern, there's no penalty for multiclassing. In fact, it's highly encouraged. Here's a quote from the book:

The classes in d20 Modern represent the wide range of skills and knowledge that people in the modern world have access to. Each class level represents an area of expertise that a character trains in. Therefore, multiclassing can be done freely and without restriction.

Chris pointed out that by 4th or 5th level, just about every character will have multiclassed at least once, or picked up an advanced class. (Advanced Classes are similar to prestige classes in that they're more focused on a particular set of skills or abilities. You'll get a look at the advanced classes in a few months -- just hang on.)

Here's another quote from the book:

At 1st level, your character is just starting his or her adventuring career. Choose the basic class that works best as the core of the character you envision, but be aware that you might have to add other classes to the mix as your character advances to develop the hero in specific ways. For example, a suave, intelligent, international super spy might start out as a Charismatic Hero and add levels of Dedicated, Smart, and even Fast Hero as he advances and gains experience. Eventually, he might even move on to an advanced class to gain specific features.

The truly nifty bit is they made sure that, regardless of what basic or advanced class you take at each level, your character will get some sort of special talent, feat, or ability. (And there are some really cool things that start to happen as you gain those, which I'll get into next month.)

One other key element to creating that first level character, once you've settled on a basic class, is to choose a starting occupation. Your character's starting occupation represents all the training and life experience the character has had prior to the start of the campaign. This isn't just flavor or color you're adding to your character, because it establishes some defining elements that are with you for the rest of the game (in a very good way.) Check it out:

A starting occupation has a prerequisite that the character must meet to select it. It provides a number of additional permanent class skills that you can select from a list of choices. Once selected, a permanent class skill is always considered to be a class skill for your character, regardless of the class you advance in. If the skill you select is already a class skill for the character, you also gain a one-time competence bonus for that skill. For example, if a Smart Hero selects the Doctor starting occupation and identifies Computer Use as a permanent class skill, since that skill is already a class skill, he gets a +1 competence bonus to apply to that skill.

This is extremely cool, because it means that whatever it is you want your character to be able to do really well (like hack a computer, drive like a stuntman, etc.), you'll be able to, no matter what class choices your character makes. Some occupations also provide extra feats, and all of them help define a character's Wealth Score. (I'll tell you more about the Wealth system in another Countdown -- it's very slick.)

You want some example occupations? Here you go:

Academic

Academics include librarians, archeologists, scholars, professors, teachers, and other education professionals.

Prerequisite: Age 23+

Skills: Choose 3 skills as permanent class skills from the following list: Computer Use, Craft (written art), Decipher Script, Gather Information, Knowledge (applied sciences, arcane lore, archeology, art, behavioral sciences, bureaucracy, business, current events, earth sciences, history, law, life sciences, physical sciences, political science, popular culture, tactics, technology, theology and philosophy), Research, or add a new Read/Write Language or a new Speak Language.

If the skill you select is already a class skill, you also receive a +1 competence bonus for that skill.

Wealth Bonus: +3

Athlete

Athletes include amateur athletes of Olympics quality and professional athletes of all types, including gymnasts, weight trainers, wrestlers, boxers, martial artists, swimmers, skaters, and those who engage in any type of competitive sport.

Prerequisite: Str 13+ or Dex 13+.

Skills: Choose 3 skills as permanent class skills from the following list: Balance, Climb, Drive, Jump, Ride, Swim, Tumble.

If the skill you select is already a class skill, you also receive a +1 competence bonus for that skill.

Feats: Select 1 of the following feats.

Archaic Weapons Proficiency, Brawl.

Wealth Bonus: +1

Just from those two occupations, you can see the choices quickly start to diverge in feel and flavor. Notice there's an age prerequisite for Academic and an ability score prerequisite for Athlete. The Athlete gets fewer skills to choose from for permanent class skills, but gets a bonus feat. And unless that Athlete picks up an endorsement contract, the Academic is going to be picking up the tab at lunch more often.

There are so many choices to make right from the start, which means characters are going to be very different. The playtests showed that the character creation rules provided a framework that allowed for an amazing variety of characters.

You pick an initial Basic Class. You choose a starting Occupation. And then, you start adding skills and feats.

If you wanna find out more about the skills and feats in d20 Modern, you'll have to wait. Not until November, when the book hits the streets. Just until next month.

There it is.

About the Author

Mat Smith is a copywriter who's been here for about a year and a half now. He's been playing roleplaying games for a disturbing length of time, and gets to spend an astonishing amount of time thinking about clever ways to get more people to do the same.

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