A half a month ago I started on this little project to update D20 Modern to the general rules philosophy of fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons – to the casual interest of a dozen readers. Tonight we will conclude the design.
“What the hell does it matter? The Vancian magic system has been great for the past 30 years.”
No, grognard, it fuck’in sucks.
For the newb, let me explain this system in brief. You‘ve got a book full of cool spells/powers with various effects. Every day you have prepare your spells, meaning you’re game avatar/character must memorize most of the elaborate stuff that goes into actually making the magic work when you need it. Based on you’re level of magic awesome, you can prepare X amount of spells. When/if you need a certain power – like throwing globs of hot acid at a Troll or needing to run away like a cheetah when it doesn’t down the monster – you cast the spell, it does something, then you forget the spell completely. If you’ve prepared it again you can cast it again; if not, you’ll need a night’s sleep to be able to prepare it the next day.
Thank you non-gamer for reading that. Let’s illustrate using popular fiction: Gandalf from the Lord … that’s reaching too far maybe … Neo from the Matrix has got sweet ass powers cause he knows the Matrix is a big fucking video game and he OWNS at fuck’in video games. Neo beats up fifty Agent Smiths then … he takes a nap? Nah. Like any special power hero he does something kind of cool all the time – besides boning Trinity – like reading small patterns in the Matrix. Mr. Anderson every few scenes can do something really badass, say fly like Superman. Once per movie, Neo can do the absolutely awesome: come back from the dead, resurrect somebody he loves, or reboot the whole damn corrupted Matrix from the inside out.
This is how fourth edition D&D breaks down power usage into at will, per encounter (scene) and per day powers, which are concisely described in a paragraph or less on a little card you refer to. The old way looks decent on paper but can suck 15-30 minutes out of the game time with player research on what they should prepare or looking up a short article on exactly what the power can do. Example: third edition Web spell and fourth edition Web spell. Which game looks easier to break into for RPG-curious readers?
Here’s how we work it for D20 Modern
Three new talents open to all classes are created to reflect training in the three power categories of Arcane magic (esoteric equations), Divine magic (prayers to a higher power) and Psionics (mental powers). Whenever you take the talent, available every odd level starting at one, you gain access to a certain number of powers/spells equal to your relevant ability modifier (Arcane – Intelligence, Divine – Wisdom, Psionics – your highest modifier) plus 1. These are chosen from the power lists in the D20 Modern Core Rule book. .
The highest-level power you can choose from is half your character level rounded up for Arcane and divine casters, rounded down for Psions. You must have one more lower level power than higher level powers: if you get three powers, to have one power at level 1 you must have two powers at zero level. Your lowest level powers are usable at will, the remainder are usable on a per encounter basis (you’ve got to take a short rest before getting them back). Once you get access to level 2 powers, the zero level are yours at will, the middle levels beneath your maximum allowed level are encounter frequency and the highest level you have access to are available once a day.
Instead of targets rolling saves versus the power’s effects, the user rolls a check with their relevant ability versus the target’s Defenses to determine if an ability works.
There we go. A happy ending to a prolonged rules rub down without the sticky hands afterwards.