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Modern20 $10.00
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Publisher: RPG Objects
by Damien D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/04/2021 09:13:53

I was very excited about this - especially the hit location system for a D20 derived ruleset. I really like D20 as a system, but always thought it lacked the crunch of personal favourites like Twilight 2000 and 2300AD. Both of these had good hit location systems, so I was really looking forward to seeing what this would bring to D20.

Unfortunately, even an initial read of the hit location rules has revealed major ambiguities and/or errors with these rules. Layout is very poor in places with circular references leading nowhere. They are simply not useable for me in their current form, and I consider a poor investment of cash.


Firearms Skill This has a perk "Called Shot" that suggests that you can negate the penalty for targeting a specific area of the target's body, and refers to the Hit Location section for more details.

Yet the Hit Location section contains no details on how to target a specific location, only that the natural D20 value on the attack role is the actual location that is hit.

The Hit Location table does include an Attack Modifier, but there is no reference to this anywhere in the document - the phrase "attack modifier" is present exactly once - on that table.

And the values on the Hit Location table don't make sense: with -18 to hit someone in the head (almost as bad a penalty as your nth attack).

Its as hard to hit someone in the center-mass chest location as it is their calf (each at -12 modifier), and if you leave it to chance, its harder to hit the chest (10%) than the calf (15%). Meanwhile the damage done by shooting them in the calf is the same as shooting them in the chest. Yet a groin shot results in 50% more damage than the chest. 

How anyone is meant to get an Injury (an attack role 5+ greater than the required to hit DC) with a -18 attack modifier for a headshot is beyond me. There's no driver to attempt to do so when the probability of hitting the in head or neck for the x2 damage (10%) is far better than taking the -18 to hit (especially when your other successful shots will do something, rather than miss due to -18 attack).

Again, consider the inconsistency: attacking a prone target, where the head and arms are the most visible target and the rest of the body is concealed, is a +4 modifier to the attack. Yet -18 for a called shot to the head.

So not only are the signs of the modifiers inconsistent (+4 penalty to attack a prone, -18 penalty to attach the head), but the absolute value of the modifiers are way out of scale from each other.

As a bonus example of the poor quality control, the section of text refering to the hit location table being below, is itself actually below the table rather than above it.

The Grappling rules section mentions random or selection of hit location, but again has no details on the selection process.

The Unarmed skill allows for a Joint Lock perk to grapple attack against a specific hit location, but doesn't refer to any penalty for doing so (which is inconsistent with the Firearms skill Called Shot perk). Yet another perk of Unarmed skill (Precision Strike) does mention negating the penalty for targeting a specific area of the target's body - but there's nothing to cover whether or not this is mutually exclusive with Joint Lock (i.e. does a full round Joint Lock attack benefit from Precision Strike, or is every Joint Lock attack free from the penalities?)

Summary: What could have been a great alternative to modern D20 rules instead feels a let down with inconsistent and ambiguous rules and layout.

[1 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: RPG Objects
by Joey M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/16/2011 17:00:04

Modern20 Is head and shoulders above anything else I've seen. Its like they took the d20 system and rebuilt it from the ground up. Too much for me to list all of it here. I did a deeper look on my blog.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: RPG Objects
by Mark G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/21/2008 23:16:45

Originally reviewed for the Digital Front Podcast.

"Modern^20" is a 108 page, modern d20-based role-playing game by RPGObjects. It is a full-color, extensively bookmarked and sells for an affordable $10. It was designed to be a faster-playing, smoother and more action-packed, modern roleplaying experience than the d20 Modern rule set. There are six chapters and two appendixes in this product.

The first chapter of "Modern^20" power is devoted to character creation and takes up close to the first fifth of the book. Character generation is an eight step process that involves determining your six ability scores (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma); there are seven methods suggested to generate ability scores. After your abilities have been determined the player needs to select a background for the character like adventurer, blue collar, doctor, law enforcement, religion, rural, student or others. Backgrounds provide you with two to four skills at a basic level and a starting wealth score. After picking a background, you need to choose your character’s current occupation which could be actor, bodyguard, con-man, hunter, military officer, musician, paramedic, politician, private eye, reporter, technician, thug or others. Each profession has three professional skills, if you put skill points into professional skills your wealth increases, and four feat suggestions that are enhanced by your profession choice. Professions may also offer access to a unique perk. Each character has at least two perks that can be used to boost reputation, boost wealth or alter what your character can do with his skills. Professions can change over the life of the character. After choosing your current profession, you choose your initial character class (options include powerhouse, speedfreak, tank, brainiac, empath, and star). Each class is modeled on the of the six ability scores and has a core ability (similar to True20 or Spycraft) that is only available if this is the first class you take. The class you take determines which skills you have, your attack, save, defense, and reputation progression and controls what feats you are allowed to take. Like True20, Modern^20 separates feats into general and class specific categories. The classes have only one class ability, they gain the rest of their uniqueness by virtue of the choices you make for feats (4 at 1st level and 1 at each additional level). Once you have chosen your class, you will need to determine the feats, skills and perks that your character possesses. Perks are special uses of a skill, sort of like the idea of a power stunt in super-hero rpgs. From there you figure your secondary characteristics such as reputation, wealth and action points. Finally you get a chance to buy equipment to gear your character up for play. There are optional rules for character defects or drawbacks if you wish to take the shine off your character.

The next section of the book is focused on the skills that your characters could take. The skill list is compact with only twenty-three individual skills. Some of the skills presented are renamed skills from the d20 Modern rule set such as Academic (replacing knowledge), some skills are combinations of d20 Modern skills such as Acrobatics (which covers Balance, Escape Artist and Tumble if a perk is used), and others are completely new like Firearms, Legal, Unarmed, Vehicles or Weapons. The unarmed skill is a real departure from SRD form as it adjusts the damage of a character's unarmed strike deals and reduces the penalty suffered for trying to strike multiple times in a round. There is a magic skill for spellcaster type characters, but no magic spells anywhere in this tome – if you want to use FX items like magic or monsters you will need to use an amalgam of the Modern^20 and modern SRD rules. Other supplements for modern^20 may address this gap like a recent modern dispatch called Hunter^20 that adds psionic rules.

Where Modern^20 adds new depth to the skill system is in the introduction of perks. At first I was skeptical of perks because you are limited to only two initially, but can earn more through class choice or feat selection. What the perks do is specialize your skills allowing you to access more complicated tasks. For example, in the Leadership skill you can take perks to inspire courage, maintain group cohesion, or inspire ferocity. In other d20 system this may have been accomplished with a feat or class ability but since it is a function of Leadership skill, I think the migration to a perk system is the best way to handle these effects. The other major innovation to the skill system is that Modern^20 removes opposed skill checks and moves to a completely targeted system. If you want to sneak past an opponent, you make a stealth check against your opponent's Perception+10 score.

Feats are covered in detail next. They provide conditional benefits to skills, combat actions or other statistics. Feats almost always have a mechanical benefit associated with them. The feats in this section are divided into a general category that can be accessed by all classes, and also powerhouse, speedfreak, tank, brainiac, empath and star feats that are only accessible for members of that class. If you have played d20 Modern and True20, many of the feats will be familiar to you while other feats come out of other RPGobjects products if memory serves me right.

Equipment is next and covers all modern ranged weapons, melee weapons, armor and general equipment. Purchasing items is simple in Modern^20, if your wealth score is equal to the item or more than the item you can purchase it. If the item is worth more that your wealth, your wealth score will be permanently reduced. In Modern^20, the weapon system has been reworked. All ranged weapons require a minimum strength to operate while melee weapon have strength and possibly dexterity requirements. If you don't meet these prerequisites you suffer a -4 penalty to all attack rolls, are unable to do strength damage or other penalties. The weapons lack a critical threat score because critical hits have been replaced with hit locations for all attacks. There is a full page of handguns and longarm weapons, archaic ranged weapons, explosives, melee weapons, armor and general equipment. The number of weapons you are proficient with is determined by you firearms or weapons skill. Armor has a strength minimum as well and provides damage reduction to attacks instead of a Defense bonus. The weapons and armor sections have descriptions to help you familiarize yourself with the material, the general equipment does not. So if your character is handcuffed, there is no information on how to escape them, which looks like an oversight. There are also equipment lists for lifestyle items, services and vehicles.

The combat system for Modern^20 is similar to many d20 games with a handful of noticeable differences. First is that a character's defense is only defined by dexterity, class bonus and feat effects; this should result in a lower overall defense value than the d20 Modern game and make the game potentially deadlier. When you make an attack roll in combat you also roll a second unmodified d20 to identify the hit location, instead of having a mechanic for critical hits. There is an optional rule for making combat more lethal, as well as a host of new combat conditions like bruised, bleeding, coma or limb breaks. The way that damage is dealt by blunt weapons is different than traditional d20 games, in Modern^20, a blunt weapon deals non-lethal damage unless the attack roll beat its opponent defense by 5 or more points. Non-lethal injuries heal as the game time moves forward, but lethal injuries do not heal without a successful Recovery check once a day. There are no rules for vehicle combat or chases.

The Adventuring chapter is the catch-all basin for material that is not combat related. It includes character movement, environment lighting and hazards, exposure, suffocation, falling, poison, disease, acid, electricity and other stuff to throw in your hero's way. The rules for advancing characters is that characters will advance a level when a major campaign objective is reached – which is probably why there is no "experience table for character level" anywhere in the product.

The end of the product has an appendix that walks you through an example of character creation and another appendix with each of the classes detailed at six different level variants (1/4/8/12/16/20). They are identified as sample NPCs but really are just bags of numbers identified only as class and level compared to role, identity or personality, which I found a little disappointing. The powerhouse has a criminal/mobster concept, the speedfreak has a law-enforcement/hunter concept, the tank has a military/bodyguard concept, the brainiac has an adventurer/spy concept, the empath has a military/martial arts instructor concept and the star has a celebrity/actor concept.

The Modern^20 system is entirely open game content with the exception of the trademark which allows other publishers to build support of this rule set but not claim any compatibility. I'm hoping that RPGObject releases some Horror 20 supplements in the future, as that is my preferred modern game.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: RPG Objects
by Alan K. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/10/2008 21:24:08

Modern20 is a game of modern action by RPGObjects. As RPGObjects' bread and butter has been D20 Modern, it should come as little surprise that this product covers similar ground as D20 Modern and shares many of the same assumptions. It's essentially Charles Rice answer to what ails D20 Modern.

Modern20 is a 108 page PDF priced at $10, currently available at RPGnow and PRGOjects' web store. The document has a full color front and back cover and color interior art; two more pages are the open game license.

Modern20 does not carry the D20 logo or compatibility statements, but does use the open game license.

The book is illustrated by Anthony Cournoyer. His style is a bit cartoony for my tastes, but not too far from the artwork of Kalman Andrasofszky, whose art is one of the signature visual features of Wizards of the Coast's D20 Modern products.

The PDF file makes good use of bookmarks. There is a convenient and intuitive hierarchy, and the bookmarks go down to the level of individual feats.

The layout was generally attractive and readable. I didn't notice any table formatting gaffes. There is good use of header and body fonts. The only section that I thought could be laid out better was the sample NPC section, which had frequent breaks in the middle of stat blocks.

A Deeper Look

I think it's fair before I begin to familiarize the reader with where I am coming from. As some ENWorld familiars may know, I am a fan of the Spycraft system, and in particular the Spycraft 2.0 rules. Though I have made good use of D20 Modern in my home games and think it makes a good substrate to build upon, I've long felt that it has significant weaknesses as a modern gaming system.

There are a number of third party publishers of D20 Modern material. Of these, RPG Objects is one of the best, producing a number of outstanding rules supplements and settings, in particular, the “Blood” line of supplements and Darwin's World. As such, it should be interesting to see how they treat the topic of a refined competitor to the game that has been their bread & butter.

As Modern20 is a complete, stand-alone game, it will naturally need to come up with its own take on how to handle ability scores. The system uses the classic 6 D20 abilities: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. The modifiers are the same as you may be used to, but instead of copying the table out of the PHB/D20 Modern rulebook, it simply states the formula. That works for me (being an engineer), but there are probably a few folks who still work from the table. In this case, it's safe that you continue to do so.

Generating ability scores is another topic that the book has to muster on it's own and cannot copy from D20 Modern. Several methods are presented, for the most part emulating existing methods. The point gen methods aren't an exact duplicate of existing methods; they actually seem a bit simpler and punish you less for taking abilities above 16.

The author spends a bit of time examining why you would want to use some methods over others, which is a nice touch. However, none of the presented methods address the sort middle ground “compromise” between random and point buy that I have come to favor.

Modern20 retains a “layered” approach to character generation, but in contrast with D20 Modern, Modern20's approach is more “layered”. Where D20 Modern featured a “starting occupation” that provided some additional class skills and possibly feats and/or wealth modifiers, Modern20 provides 3 mechanical elements that modify the base class: -Backgrounds describe the character's occupation before their time as an adventurer. This provides additional skills and a base wealth for the character (note that wealth operates differently in Modern20 than in D20 Modern.) -Occupation represents what you currently do for a living. Mechanical, this is probably the most involved of these “class modifiers.” The occupation provides a bonus to your wealth, but the bonus varies according to your skill bonuses. Further, as long as you are practicing this occupation, the skills remain on your skill list. Finally, the character's feat selection is expanded by the occupation, and these feats are “improved” so long as the character remains in the profession. Finally, occupations can provide skill perks. Perks are a subsystem of feat like abilities that provide additional skill uses or other abilities. -The Hobby represents the simplest of the 3 “class modifiers”. The player may select any skills; the character receives 4 ranks in it (there is no indication that it is added to the class skill list.)

There are no advanced or prestige classes in Modern20. There are 6 base classes, but their founding philosophy is slightly different than the ability score based classes of D20 Modern. Rather, the Modern20 classes are founded around the derived statistics they generate:

The 6 base classes of Modern[sup]20[/sup] are: -The Powerhouse is the “attack” specialist. -The Speedfreak is the defense specialist. -The Tank is the “hit point” specialist. -The Braniac is the “skill point” specialist. -The Empath is the “saving throw” specialist. -The Star is the “reputation” specialist.

The distinction between the approach of these classes and those of D20 is mild since each of the ability scores feed into one of targeted statistics, but in some cases it does make more sense than D20 Modern (the example that stands out is how strong hero characters in D20 Modern make good marksmen; the powerhouse class of Modern20 is about attack bonus instead of being about strength.)

It's noteworthy that the braniac has a medium base attack bonus progression, an improvement over the smart hero which I always felt was a difficult class to play in D20 Modern.

Similar to Spycraft (and other D20 works by Kevin Wilson, like games in FFG's Horizon line) and True20, each of the classes in Modern20 feature a core ability that is only received by a character taking their first level in the class.

Another shift from D20 Modern is the removal of talent trees. Much like True20, each character receives a feat at every level, selected from a class feat list or a general list, thus supplanting talent trees.

Reputation, action points, allegiances, and wealth also appear here. Allegiances see the least changes, and action points are a bit more succinct. Wealth and reputation systems see bigger changes.

The wealth system gives the character a wealth rating, but there is no rolling involved. It is still an abstract system, but the way it works is to provide a threshold beneath which the character needn't worry about tracking expenditures. Above the wealth level, purchases decrease the character's wealth (and conversely, selling valuable items increase it.) Thus, wealth still remains a system where player good behavior or GM intervention is required to avoid some unbelievable situations, but it seems like it would be less unwieldy in play.

Reputation sees more extensive changes. Instead of merely providing a skill bonus or penalty in social encounter, reputation provides resources in the form of special access, contacts, favors, and followers.

RPGObjects' variant of the disadvantage system shows up here. Similar to the one crafted in Haven D20 and RPGObjects' Modern Disadvantages, these disadvantages provide benefits to the character only if it shows up in an adventure. This version differs in that it provides action points when the disadvantage rears its ugly head rather than experience points. However, the words “experience awards” are still used in the description in some places.

In Modern20, skills see many alterations. For starters, the skill list is almost totally different. Much like True20 and Spycraft 2.0, many skills that existed in D20 Modern are combined into other more comprehensive skills like academics, acrobatics, athletics, and perception.

One change that seems unique to D20 variants is the idea of a “targeted skill check”, which replaces opposed skill checks. When I first heard about this, I was a bit worried, as I think that opposed checks are a technique that D20 handles well, and shows a significant strength of the system over those of the last century. Alas, targeted skill checks are in essence the same thing as opposed skill checks with one party automatically taking 10. This stands to minimize the amount of dice rolling to resolve skill conflicts and should create more consistent results.

Perks were mentioned previously. Perks creature special uses of skills that can only be accessed by characters with the perk in question. For example, skills with specialties (like academics, art, or crime) are handled with perks; each specialty past the first in an additional perk. Other perk skill uses include tumble under acrobatics, “cracking” under computers, and burst fire under firearms.

The combat rules are, on the surface, very similar to standard D20 combat. The biggest change is that the system uses a hit location chart. This uses a d20 roll and the damage is modified according to where the injury landed. An optional injury rule has the potential to inflict penalties on a character; determining whether and what injury applies requires that you find the difference between the attack roll and defense rating, and comparing a fortitude save to a number determine by the attack roll. Given the lengths that the author went to reduce skill rolls, it seems odd that he would accept a system like this that seems more complicated than the rolls he took out.

A final significant departure from D20 is that the system eschews the idea of experience points.

Two appendices are included: a character creation example and a list of sample NPCs similar to those that appeared in D20 Modern.


Modern20 is a top-down redefinition of the D20 Modern game system. Several sore spots with the system are addressed, and the designer makes some interesting innovations along the way.

The character generation is perhaps the most interesting retooling of the game. It should appeal most to players who like creating characters using D20 Modern base classes; much like Grim Tales, the system does not utilize advanced or prestige classes. This could be a detriment for players who like to “subscribe” to a class concept and don't want to make a lot of decisions along the way.

The most interesting aspect of the character generation system is that it provides in-game representation of what might be considered more mundane aspects of a character's background, and even represents things like occupation changes in play. All told, I think this makes Modern20 an excellent choice for “everyman hero” gaming, where the characters are realistic and well defined characters.

The system does handle many of the hangups I have with the D20 Modern combat system nicely, namely nonlethal damage and firearm rules. However, while the idea of inserting a hit location system into a D20 game had promise (something I do in my own d20 house rules), I think the optional injury rule runs counter to the streamlining he tries to achieve elsewhere.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Publisher: RPG Objects
by John R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/30/2008 15:26:34

Fantastic adaptation of the d20 design, mixing the best elements of multiple systems and also innovating wonderfully.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
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