This month, I got to get all the answers straight from the fabulous and infinitely talented Chris Perkins, Design Manager for the d20 Modern Roleplaying Game core rulebook.
Are the magic and psionic systems in d20 Modern the same as those in D&D? (What's different, and what was the thinking behind the changes?)
Chris: The d20 Modern magic system works like the D&D magic system: Mages and Acolytes prepare spells as wizards and clerics do. The psionics system works similarly to the system presented in the D&DPsionics Handbook, only we've stripped out Attack Modes and Defense Modes to make psionics and magic more interchangeable. Telepaths and Battle Minds spend Power Points to activate and sustain psionic powers, and the number of Power Points they have in their "pool" increases as they gain levels.
Many spells and powers are very familiar. Are they identical to the ones in D&D, or have modifications been made? (And if they're different, could the d20 Modern versions be used in my D&D game?)
Chris: We pulled many spells and psionic powers from D&D, making small tweaks here and there to account for modern-day applications and slight variations in thed20 Modern rules. For instance, an Acolyte can place a glyph of warding on a computer.
We also modified some spells' material components. For example, the material component for a wall of fire spell is a book or box of matches.
In some cases, we broadened the usefulness of a spell to allow for more contemporary applications (for example, turning flaming arrow into flaming projectiles). We also grouped certain spells together under an "umbrella" spell (for example, combining all of the ability-boost spells, such as bull's strength and endurance, into a single spell called enhance ability). Certainly these spells could be used in any D&D game.
Lastly, we inserted a couple of new spells, such as power device, which allows a Mage to activate an otherwise powerless electronic or mechanical device (like a dead cell phone or a vehicle with an empty fuel tank).
Why do Spell and Psionic Power lists stop at 5th-level?
Chris: The modern world isn't saturated with magic like, say, the Forgotten Realms. Magic is a rare and powerful thing. Consequently, spellcasting advanced classes such as the Mage and Acolyte start at 1st level and end at 10th level (like all advanced classes). As with D&D wizards and clerics, this allows spellcasters access to 1st- through 5th-level spells. Due to space constraints, d20 Modern doesn't deal with spells higher than 5th level. Such things are better left to the Urban Arcana Campaign Setting (scheduled for release in 2004). That said, 5th-level spells in the modern world are tremendously powerful, granting characters the ability to raise the dead and summon walls of impenetrable force, among other things.
The same holds true for psionics: A 10th-level Telepath or Battle Mind has access to some formidable powers, including the ability to perform mind probes or unleash fire storms.
The Urban Arcana Campaign Setting will introduce a new system by which characters can access spells higher than 5th level. It will also include more powerful advanced classes (the Archmage and Ecclesiarch, to name two) that expand the abilities of the Mage and Acolyte.
Will we have to wait until Urban Arcana comes out to get more Spells, Psionic Powers, and FX Items?
Chris: Yep. The new campaign setting will include scores of all-new spells, powers, and FX items specifically designed for adventuring in the contemporary, real world.
What's your favorite new/variant Spell, Psionic Power, or FX Item? (What makes it neat-o?)
Chris: Were I playing a Mage, I would almost certainly take the flaming projectiles spell. I like the mental image of mowing down bad guys with a hail of flaming bullets! I think clever players will enjoy finding wild new uses for such common, utilitarian spells as spider climb and jump. I also look forward to seeing how a group of heroes fare against the phantom watchdog spell.
I think all of the psionic powers are cool: the Telepath's ability to read minds and dominate others makes her especially good at infiltration, while the Battle Mind has a lot of devastating and visually dazzling powers at his disposal (fire bolt, concussion, electric charge, and mind darts, to name a few).
Magic tattoos make for cool FX items, since they can't easily be taken from the heroes. I'm also particularly pleased with the six-demon bag (inspired by Big Trouble in Little China) and duct tape of repair. The screaming amulet is a nasty little psionic item -- almost as cool and disturbing as the +3 keen chain saw.