Review of Behind the Screens: D20 Modern Campaign
The Unearthed Arcana is a source both strange and untested. While many great ideas pour from its pages, it should always be considered carefully.
Review of Behind the Screens article “My new D20 Modern Campaign” accessed here: https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/my-new-d20-modern-campaign
I know, I know, it’s not actually an unearthed arcana article but the subject matter was too interesting to pass up. Something that I feel is missing from WOTC after the huge success that is DnD 5e is the extra settings and modules that 3.5 spawned. In the early 2000s we had a Star Wars D20 and D20 Modern, including the Urban Arcana supplement which created a whole new modern fantasy setting to experience. I know Star Wars is a huge IP and not likely to return but D20 modern was a huge part of my RPG life and I would really like to see it return.
In this article Dan Helmick adds some armor and firearms options to help flavor a new 5e Modern game setting. In the DMG there are already some rules for firearms and even future weapons but it is very basic and not enough to really create an entire setting.
Taking a look at the armor table, most of this list is good but I feel he has a few redundancies on it. In light armor he has a leather jacket, light undercover shirt, and heavy coat both being 11 AC + Dex mod, just with the heavy coat giving disadvantage on stealth rolls and the shirt giving damage resistance to “ballistic”, a new type of damage but we will get into that later. I think these can be combined into one piece of armor and get rid of the stealth disadvantage as that doesn’t really make sense for a light coat.
Medium armor looks good (although I’m not exactly sure what the real life difference between a concealable vest and a light duty vest is. Aren’t they both just Kevlar bullet proof vests?). The problem is with the tactical vest and the heavy armor special response vest. The latter doesn’t get the Dex mod bonus that the former has and it leads me to believe that nobody in their right mind would choose the heavy armor when they don’t get the same bonus. The rest of the heavy armor looks okay but I am not sure what land warrior armor is. Considering my own military experience and knowledge of armors my own table would look like this:
As you can see the list is simple and scales easily. I don’t think equipment needs to be complicated but it is important to have individual pieces be distinct. While this does take the highest armor up to 19 AC (higher than plate armor in DnD fantasy) it is important to remember in a modern setting people don’t walk around the street looking like they are an extra from Jin Roh. Also I have removed the damage resistance trait as well as the “ballistic” damage. The author’s intent was to have Ballistic be a new type of damage specific to firearms but I don’t think there is a need to add anything new here to armor characteristics that aren’t already present in 5e. Instead of ballistic you can simply use piercing and assign the trait as needed to armor as you like, perhaps saving it for a “masterwork” piece of armor listed above to give it a kind of magical item feel.
Next we have firearms. The author explains that if a character doesn’t have the right proficiency of the firearm they are using then they do not get to add proficiency bonus, and if they do have proficiency then they must take an aiming bonus action to add the bonus. I’m not a big fan of that. Instead of having to do math I would just have the character roll at disadvantage if they weren’t proficient or alternatively, have them be incapable of operating it as they cannot figure out how to load ammunition or disengage the safety, etc.
He differentiates between “sidearms” and “longarms” and I get what he was trying to convey, but he has submachine guns in sidearms proficiency which I think is wrong and needs a bit of a change. The better and more realistic way to convey it is handguns (can be fired with a single hand: pistols, revolvers, and machine pistols) and long guns (weapons with a shoulder stock and intended for two hands: rifles, shotguns, machineguns and submachine guns).
The author then lists the DnD fantasy classes and what firearm proficiency they would receive. I have issues with this as I feel the traditional DnD classes don’t fit well in a modern setting (heresy I know). I know why the author did it this way and I feel very strongly that you should keep a new system as close to 5e fantasy as possible as that would make the transition from DnD 5e to Modern easier and simpler but I want to see different and consolidated classes. In the original D20 modern system the 6 classes were named after the ability scores, like strong hero, smart hero, fast hero etc. with a decent selection of prestige classes to choose from.
For me I would create the following classes: soldier (with melee, unarmed, or ranged specification options, like archetypes), Priest (divine casting, but can spec to be some combat like a paladin or ranger), Mage (arcane casting with subtypes to be necromancer, pyromancer, etc), Scrounger or perhaps Swindler (thief and bard archetypes that use sneaking or performance), Technician or maybe Specialist (high proficiencies in skills and better access to technology based feats) and the Analyst or Scholar class (high intelligence or charisma characters that can inspire and influence people).
This list is not definitive or really playable in this state but I want it to serve as an example of what you could do to modernize the classes. The old fantasy classes are still recognizable in them but some have been consolidated into a single one just with sub types to make different characters of the same class distinct.
All in all I feel the author did a decent job in his attempt to bring D20 modern into the 5e area. He missed a few marks but perhaps I am picking nits considering it was something that was meant for his personal group. Next time I will be delving into an actual UA article concerning urban arcana and spell casting in a modern fantasy setting.