This is my first impressions look/review at the Modern Age Companion. This is also the first time I write any kind of review - I thought I should contribute for once.
If you want the executive summary: In my view, its a good resource, especially the rules part. However, if you hope this book will help you design, improve or run an modern/urban fantasy setting or campaign, you will likely be left on your apetite because content on magic/exceptional power is essentially inexistant. My "rating" would be 3.75/5.
To give some context to my review: I have been thinking for a while about trying Modern Age by running a post-apocalyptic-ish modern fantasy campaign. I had high hopes that the release of the Companion would provide some needed additional content to work with, hopefully to save myself some extra work, and to provide players with additional options.
A big part of the book presents new rules or mechanics. It covers: an alternative system to hit points, duels (the way I read it, this is for those times when the desired outcome of a combat is more cinematic or narrative, rather than reducing hit points to zero), custom fighting styles, actions for flying combatants, using miniatures and maps, fatigue (similar to fatigue as alternative to power points in the basic rule book), fear and horror, extraordinary items and abilities (i.e. character/monster enhancements, not to be confused with extraordinary powers), creating organizations, equipment modifications (giving equipment special qualities) and demolitions. There are enhanced rules for hazards effects, stunts, relationships and memberships. New campaign-level tools are presented, including complications and events. Finally, there a section on campaign genres.
I believe this part of the book does overall quite a good job – with one exception that I will discuss in conclusion (e.g., the missing chapter). For me, the most appealing rules/mechanics are those on fear/horror, fatigue, organizations (for example to create a base of operations), hazards, extraordinary abilities (this can help create new custom supernatural monsters/creatures). I appreciate the efforts to create a mechanic (complications) similar to "meta" threat mechanics in other systems that can help create additional tension. I am also curious to see how the alternate approach to HPs would work in practice. For those interested on how this works - in brief:
A Toughness test against a target number (TN), which incorporates some modifiers, equal to the damage dealt. Weapon damage is converted from (xd6 + y) into a static +1 to +6 to the TN. Other damage modifiers are also added. There is a “conversion” chart for all melee/ranged weapons and hazards that indicates the static number to use. There is guidance on how to handle Rate of Fire bonuses, talent and stunt bonuses that provide extra damage in addition to the static weapon damage value. Interestingly (see my conclusion), there is no specific guidance, as opposed to weapons and hazards, on converting magical damage. If the test is failed, the character suffers one or more injury points – the gravity of the injury depends on the stunt die of the failed Toughness test. With each injury, the probability of the next injury leading to incapacitation or the character dying increases. So, the way I read it, there is no specific quantity or pool of injury points.
The “characters” part of the book covers: custom/streamlined character creation, creating custom backgrounds, professions and drives, about a dozen fantastical backgrounds, peoples (dwarves, elves, orcs, shapeshifters, humans and otherworldly) backgrounds, characters conditions (blind, depressed and so on), two new talents degrees beyond master, about a dozen new talents and a few more specializations.
I am generally disappointed with this part of the book. On the positive side, the fantastical (or supernatural) backgrounds are an original and useful addition. Overall, the backgrounds content is acceptable. The new specializations and new talents are also ok. However, I take issue with the content for the new degrees for talents. The descriptions for the two new degrees are provided for three basic rulebook talents, used as examples, and for the dozen or so new talents in this book. For all the other talents from the basic rulebook or World of Lazarus setting, eight generic options are provided, and you choose what applies on the basis of the “use your judgement” criteria. To me, this feels half-baked and somewhat lazy: Well created new degrees for a few talents and a “band-aid” approach for the rest. Many talents are more than one simple mechanical effect. In addition, the narrative text that comes with each talent is often useful to have. To me, this means that if I want to use this new feature, I must create myself the narrative and the mechanics for the two extra degrees for dozens and dozens of talents – not interested.
This said, my fundamental disappointment and the biggest shortcoming I see with the Companion is with respect to the exceptional powers content (magic):
Where are the non-powers related arcana talents? There are none in this book, and none in the basic rulebook.
Where are the extra powers for each power list? The Fantasy Age Companion upgraded each power (spell) list to 8 powers, from a basic 4, and included new power lists. It is possible to use Fantasy Age powers/spells as a “patch” for most Modern Age power lists with some minor adjustments. Still, Modern Age had two original modern power lists: Machine Arcana and Digital Arcana. Not providing extra powers for especially those two, which are very appropriate and thematic for a modern fantasy setting, is a shame.
Where are the magic related specializations? There are zero specializations, in either the basic rule book or the Companion for exceptional powers users. I find this is a huge oversight.
- In the Companion, there is a chapter on technology… Where is its counterpart, a chapter on exceptional powers (magic)? Nowhere. How about rules on enhancing powers in various ways, on portal travel, on consumable items that can be collected in the environment and used to enhance power effects or spell power, on blending exceptional powers and martial arts, on conjuring entities/spirits, on rituals, on hunting supernatural entities, on pacts, on minor magic (which exists in Fantasy Age Companion), on blending magic and technology, and so on? Another huge oversight for me.
To conclude, I mentioned in the beginning where I was coming from: working on an modern fantasy setting and campaign, which I beleive is one key type of setting that Modern Age was intended for. In this context, the absence of content on magic/exceptional powers in the Companion is a big let down. It seems that magic is simply treated as a complementary option for characters as opposed to a full character concept.
For players/GMs that don't use magic in their campaign or setting (or where magic has a very minor role), this book will likely be a good and useful resource to run Modern Age, especially the rules part, and having access to some extra backgrounds, talents and specializations is always nice to have.
Hope this was useful!