d20 Modern RPG Week Day Four

Let’s look a little more at d20 Modern character generation.

One of the hold-overs from it’s D&D roots is the preconception that a character has to start at 1st level and work their way up. I much prefer the approach from Mutants & Masterminds where the GM sets the starting level and this helps round out the tone of the game. For example, if you’re running a high-energy spy campaign it might be more appropriate to begin around 6th level so that the characters are relatively well trained in their chosen fields and have access to a selection of Advanced Classes.

In general, there’s four levels that I earmark in d20 Modern as good starting points: 1st, 2nd, 4th and 10th.

First is great if you want to start the heroes right at their beginning of their careers, but bear in mind that a single solid hit from a pistol could leave their hero below 0 Hit Points. That’s not quite as bad as it sounds – the hero is disabled and can only take a single move or standard action each round, but doing so means another hit point lost. That’s enough to drag themselves back under cover for first aid (Treat Injury is an essential skill!), and pretty well simulates heroes being shot in TV dramas. Remember, this ain’t D&D and combat isn’t everything!

Second level gives your characters a few more Hit Points, but more importantly it opens up a whole range of generation options. Do you multi-class to create your guy as a Smart/Strong type right from the start, or stick with the same class? Is she Tough but Charismatic, or just plain Tough? Being able to make these options at character generation means you can give your hero more of a backstory; this is the ideal starting point if you want your heroes to be established in some way.

Going up to Fourth level, and the Advanced Classes open up. These are mini-Prestige Classes that allow the character to specialize to some degree. The prerequisites are usually pretty light and there’s always a fast path which grants their use by 4th level. For example, if you want the Soldier Advanced Class, three levels of Strong Hero and you’re there. This is a good choice as a starting point if you’re running a one-shot game with pre-generated characters. Hand out a load of Field Scientist, Techie, Field Medic and Investigator sheets and you’ve got a ready-made CSI crew.

Finally, if you want movie-style epic adventures start at 10th level. This opens up setting-specific Prestige Classes as well as the entire talent tree for the Base Classes and the whole range (1st to 5th) of an Advanced Class. Your hero is not just a Soldier, he’s The Soldier, The Martial Artist or The Negotiator. This is a good choice as a starting point for solo play where you want the (only) character to well and truly be the centre of attention.

Here’s how it works in practice with a character generated both at 1st level and at 4th.

Meet James Newman. He’s an actor who has just made his first lucky break with a role in the movie “About a Dog”. This is a romantic comedy about a….. you’re ahead of me here, aren’t you? James played the dog’s owner and love interest to top Hollywood actress Teri Cruz. The movie did predictably well at the box office and our Jimmy is just getting used to seeing his face on billboards and newsstands wherever he goes. Picture a younger, skinnier Hugh Grant with a Hollywood accent, and you’re there.

Dirty little secret: James wasn’t the first choice for the role. He only got it because Amber the dog liked him.

James Newman, Charismatic-1 (Celebrity)
“Hey, aren’t you……?”

Str 10, Dex 12, Con 13, Int 13, Wis 13, Cha 16
Defense 11, HP 10, Init +1
Fort +2, Ref +2, Will +1

Bluff +7, Craft:Writing +5, Gather Information +7, Handle Animal +9, KS:Pop Culture +5, Perform:Act +8, Perform:Sing +7, Profession:Actor +5, Ride +3
Animal Affinity, Simple WP, Renown

Reputation +6, Wealth 11 (Affluent)

Combat oriented? Oh gods no. But a cool as fuck character to role-play. Whilst he’s a capable enough actor, his real talent is in leadership and managing other people. Were he to stay in the movie business he’d likely move behind the camera and eventually take the role of Director.

Unfortunately, that’s not meant to be. Let’s fast forward and pick up James’ character at level 4.

Shortly after the release of “About a Dog”, Teri Cruz was kidnapped by an obsessive fan during a launch party. James Newman (with the aid of Amber and a few friends) managed to track down and apprehend the kidnapper, but not before Teri was killed trying to escape. {Let’s call this “Adventure One”} James & co set up the Teri Cruz Memorial Trust in her memory, dedicate to helping kidnap victims.

That’s when the calls began to come. Soon people from all over the US were contacting him begging for help to find their kidnapped sons, daughters, spouses and friends. Now, James works full time for The Trust as a kidnap negotiator using his skills as an actor and leader to return the victims home safely – most of the time.

The Trust is primarily funded by donations from Hollywood actors who fear that what happened to Teri Cruz could so easily happen to them. Knowing that The Trust is there 24/7 helps them sleep just a little easier at night.

James Newman, Charismatic-2/Dedicated-1/Negotiator-1 (ex-Celebrity)
“Hey, weren’t you……?”

Str 10, Dex 12, Con 13, Int 13, Wis 14, Cha 16
Defense 14 (Leather jacket), HP 20, Init +1
Fort +5, Ref +3, Will +5

Bluff +9, Craft:Writing +8, Diplomacy +11, Drive +3, Gather Information +10, Handle Animal +10, Intimidate +5, KS:Pop culture +6, Listen +4, Perform:Act +9, Perform:Sing +7, Profession:Negotiator +7, Ride +5, Spot +4

Alertness, Animal Affinity, Simple WP, Renown, Personal Firearms WP
Talents:Empathy, Coordinate, Conceal Motive

Reputation +6, Wealth 14 (Affluent)
Glock 20, 2d6, 40′

He’s still not combat oriented, though at least he’s passed his Firearms Proficiency Test after much persuasion from his friends. He’s a darker, more brooding person than he was just a few scant years ago. The few failures The Trust have had weigh heavy on his mind.

Note to Wizards of the Coast: Combat is not role-playing, and role-playing is not combat, ok?

That said, d20 Modern isn’t some elite snobbish anti-combat role-playing club. If you want to play a warrior-type (or at least someone who can hold their own) you can, very easily. Just remember that this ain’t D&D and Guns Are Deadly, especially at low levels :D

Here’s a quick example of such a character at 10th level.

Kay Constantine entered academic life on a fencing scholarship at the age of 18. Here he is thirty year on: Grail Knight of the First Order and last surviving relative of Sir Constantine, legendary Knight of the Round Table. He spends his days writing populist historical fiction, and his nights battling demons. Literally.

Kay Constantine, Fast-2/Strong-2/Archaic Weaponsmaster-4/Holy Knight-2 (Academic)
Str 15, Dex 18, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 14, Cha 11
Defense 26 (undercover vest), HP 87, Init +4
Fort +11, Ref +7, Will +6

Climb +7, Craft:Writing +8, Decipher Script +3, Diplomacy +11, Gather Information +9, KS:History +11, KS:Theology +10, Move Silently +9, Profession:Writer +7, Research +11

Archaic WP, AP:Light, Combat Expertise, Improved Disarm, Dodge, Power Attack, Studious, Simple WP, Weapon Focus:Longsword
Talents: Extreme Effort, Evasion
Weapon Specialization:Longsword, Imbue Weapon+1, Divine Grace, Sense Allegiance, Divine Spells 2/1

Reputation +3, Wealth 9
Longsword +12/+7, 1d8+5, 19-20

If you want to take a look at d20 Modern yourself the majority of the system is freely available under the OGL. Here’s a  HTML version of the rules (mirror of the zipfile). Enjoy.

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