Review of Unearthed Arcana: Modern Magic
The Unearthed Arcana is a source both strange and untested. While many great ideas pour from its pages, it should always be considered carefully.
This article is an expansion upon the previous “Behind the screens” article concerning an attempt at creating a D20 modern ruleset for fifth edition. Having fond memories of the early 2000s D20 3.5 Urban Arcana I am very excited to see it popping back up in fifth edition articles. I know this is nothing official but it is still good news for those of us who like to dabble in a modern fantasy setting.
Inside it adds new archetypes for each of the dedicated spell casting classes. It adds a City domain for clerics, a Warlock patron: Ghost in the machine, and a Wizard tradition: technomancy. There is also a decent list of new spells and cantrips to fit this campaign. In my last article I listed the changes I would make to Helmick’s ruleset, but let’s put those aside for now and take a look at these new features from their perspectives.
The city domain for clerics is one that draws power from the living heart of a crowded city. Their spells are an eclectic mix of DnD fantasy and new technological based ones provided in this article. They get a cantrip called “on/off” which allows they to operate a power switch within 60 ft but also the first level spell “remote access” which grants the spell caster a bit more functionality with an electronical device. At higher levels they get a clairvoyant type spell called “commune with city” where they can gain knowledge of terrain or other creatures within the target area. The best new techo-spell available to city clerics is without a doubt “synchronicity” a touch spell that gives the target really strange bonuses to every day “lucky” stuff like finding cabs or pushing their way through dense crowds. While under the effect of this spell attacks of opportunity on this target are taken at disadvantage and they receive advantage on Dexterity (stealth) checks as well. I like the two bonus it gives and I think that the inconvenience removal factor would be really fun to roleplay. A good set of unique spells for a modern cleric.
The warlock’s new otherworldly patron “ghost in the machine” gives several of the same spells as the cleric along with a few new ones. Honestly I would rather divine and arcane spell casting not mix as much but since this is a smaller attempt at a larger D20 Modern game I think its fine for just a UA article. If choosing this patron I suggest taking a large chunk of your spells from the DnD fantasy and maybe just a couple from this list. The warlock tech spells focus on buffs regarding infiltrating computer systems but these help fill the gap between the modern and fantasy ruleset. The feats granted to the warlock at various levels are particularly novel and I really like “wire walk” where the caster touches a device or socket and can physically travel along the electrical line to another area within sight. This is a very handy trait for sneaking or escaping from trouble and fits well into the theme of a technological warlock. At 14th level they get “technovirus” which gives 8d10 psychic damage to a target after a successful touch attack. That is a lot of damage even for 14th level and the option to issue commands to the target after a failed save make this one of the most powerful abilities I have ever seen. It is probably too powerful but without playing a game with these new rules it is hard to judge, but I am going to suggest that the DM limit the command ability or remove it altogether.
Wizards get a new arcane tradition called “techomancy” which fits nicely into the previous themes of the other classes and creates a good solid option for a modern caster (even though the description hilariously mentions that technomancers can create smartphone apps in lieu of potions or scrolls). There is no specific mention of what spells they can learn so I can only assume they are capable of learning all of these new techo-spells with the usual methods as described in the PHB. The wizard gets quite a few unique feats from this new tradition as well including “program spell” and my favorite thing out of this list “online casting”. “Program spell” is an ability that allows the wizard to place a spell within an electronic object and when the victim of the spell interacts with the object the spell activates. This is perfect for a trap, like fireball in a light switch or charm person in a cellphone. A lot of dirty deeds can be accomplished with this ability and it’s so sneaky and underhanded I love it. With that being said “online casting” is very handy and likely way overpowered. At 10th level the wizard can essentially cast magic through the internet or cell towers as long as the target is seen or heard as the spell requires. Make a skype call through you browser and as soon as you see the target BAM magic missile. I can see a lot of shenanigans with this ability and honestly I feel it is probably too powerful. Maybe limit the geographical distance or remove the possibility of casting damage spells? I feel that something like charm or hold would be good but I have qualms about video chat lightning bolts.
D20 Modern is a really fun campaign setting and the addition of spell casting turns it into an interesting science fiction RPG. I wish there was an official, well-balanced and polished 5e ruleset for it but I know it is unlikely that it is coming. In the meantime I encourage anyone who wants to play in a modern setting with DnD 5e rules to just go ahead and do it. Use the basic rules if you want, just substitute Arcana skill for mechanics/electrical device usage, or create a new skill that all the players have proficiency in. There is no need to complicate the rules. Cherry pick some of the new techo spells here and start a campaign. There are rules for firearms in the DMG and light armor would double for most Kevlar vests that are used today. I want to encourage people to step outside the box of fantasy and put their games in whatever genre they choose, if you are able to use these last two articles then that would make me glad, but if you are unsure just take the leap with the vanilla ruleset and have fun!