Category Archives: Themes

A Warlock With a Gun: Re-skinning Basic D&D 4E Classes for Modern Games

As part of “Modern Assembly,” we’re tackling the idea of applying Dungeons & Dragons 4E to modern times. We’re providing you with plenty of material.

'Take a shot' by soldiersmediacenter on Flickr

'Take a shot' by soldiersmediacenter on Flickr

But can it be done more directly? Can you just re-flavor D&D 4E with a modern twist?

Let’s try.

This article will analyze at each character class that’s in the iconic first D&D 4E Player’s Handbook, and see how it can be re-flavored as a modern profession.

The Overall Approach

How do we re-skin bows and magic blasts for the real world? Basically, we replace them with modern weapons. A bow is a hand gun, and a magical blast is a shotgun.

How do we handle healing? We approach Hit Points as abstract representations of exhaustion, counting down towards a disabling blow at 0 HP. Temporary Hit Points represent the character getting amped up, dodging a blow or steeling himself against an enemy’s attacks.

How about typed damage? Much of it can be kept exactly as-is; flamethrowers and Molotov cocktails will deal fire damage and stun guns will deal lightning damage. Some damage types are less frequent–you probably won’t see much cold damage–but you can always add Gamma World damage types like laser, radiation, and sonic damage. Unfortunately, the modern world just doesn’t have much typed damage.

There. Now let’s look at each class.

Cleric

We’re starting off with the toughest concept in the modern world: a divine battle leader who heals his allies with symbols and prayers.

The cleric’s attacks tends towards ranged powers and burst effects. So, we’ll give the cleric a ranged weapon, and focus on the battle leader element. So:

The Commander is an inspiring leader, whose troops always seem a little luckier and stronger than others. A Commander’s troops always come out a little header of others, instinctively dodging attacks and finding just the right cover.

So, what would Lance of Faith look like for a Commander?

Guiding Shot Commander Attack 1
You pop off an amazing shot, at your foe, clearly marking your target for your ally’s attack.
At-Will · Implement
Standard Action   Ranged 5
Target One creature
Attack Wisdom vs. Reflex
Hit 1d8 + Wisdom modifier damage
Effect One ally you can see gains a +2 power bonus to his or her next attack roll against the target.

Fighter

The fighter provides us with an interesting challenge: melee attacks. How do we justify hand-to-hand combat in the modern world of ranged weaponry?

The fighter must specialize, and be particularly adroit at hand-to-hand combat.

Most Brutes sport fists the size of hams and physiques to shame Arnold Schwarzenegger. They know how to use guns, but are just better at hand-to-hand altercations. Brutes prefer garrotes, silent knives, and the simple pleasure of slamming a head into a wall.

As such, Brutes typically carry several “melee” weapons, from garrotes to knives, and always have them ready.

Let’s re-skin Tide of Iron:

Brute Slam Brute Attack 1
After swinging a huge fist at your target, you slam into your foe with the force of a freight train.
At-Will · Martial, Weapon
Standard Action   Melee weapon
Target One creature
Attack Strength vs. AC
Hit 1[W] + Strength modifier damage
Effect You push the target 1 square if it is your size, smaller than you, or one size category larger. You can shift into the space that the target occupied.

Paladin

Paladins focus their attacks on individual enemies, but favor melee powers. We’ll switch it around a bit. So, we’ll use a name already used for an existing D&D class, but it’s the best that fits.

'Feeling lucky...punk?' by udvranto_pothik on Flickr

'Feeling lucky...punk?' by udvranto_pothik on Flickr

The Assassin focuses all of his or her attention on a single quarry. The assassin must confirm the kill–it’s a matter of pride–and so prefers close-quarter combat with a single enemy. The Assassin’s powers provide ways to make these attacks more effective.

An Assassin is not necessarily evil; she may be a member of an elite fighting force, destroying corrupt governments one politician at a time.

Knowing Your Enemy Assassin Attack 1
As you bring your weapont to bear, you smile. All those enemies have merely increased the pool of your knowledge.
At-Will · Martial, Weapon
Standard Action   Melee weapon
Target One creature
Attack Strength + 1 per enemy adjacent to you vs. AC
Hit 1[W] + Strength modifier damage

Ranger

The Ranger can stay completely untouched. Just switch out the bows for guns and you’re fine.

Double Tap Ranger Attack 1
You squeeze off two rounds in rapid succession at your enemy.
At-Will · Martial, Weapon
Requirement You must be wielding two melee weapons or a ranged weapon.
Standard Action   Melee or Ranged weapon
Target One or two creatures
Attack Strength vs. AC (melee) or Dexterity vs. AC (ranged); two attacks
Hit 1[W] damage per attack

Rogue

The rogue, too can remain untouched. We barely even need to re-skin it, and I’ll leave the example for the reader.

Warlock

Okay. We’ve hand-waved away the paladin’s magic. Can’t do that with the warlock.

How do we deal with magic? By completely ignoring it.

A warlock is a guy with a gun–but a guy who’s very good at using it.

The Motherf#$&er fights with passion. He doesn’t just calmly stand there and shoot; he screams and unloads his clip at his foe, determined to take him down.

Burning Wound Warlock Attack 1
Your bullets lodge deep and painfully.
At-Will · Fire, Implement
Standard Action   Ranged 10
Target One creature
Attack Constitution vs. Reflex
Hit 1d6 + Constitution modifier fire damage.
Special If you take damage before the end of your next turn, the target takes an extra 1d6 + Constitution modifier fire damage.

Warlord

We must explain the Warlord’s preference for melee combat. Our Warlord is a tactician, and directs the battle from the front lines. He’s also an effective fighter, but he needs to be in the thick of things to be able to direct his allies. So, he wades into battle and fires a revolver at point-blank range.

Other than that, the warlord is unchanged.

Wizard

For wizards, we take a similar approach to the one we took with warlocks. The one twist, of course, is the wizard’s preference for bursts and blasts.

The Rageaholic wields rapid-fire and scatter-shot guns like shotguns, machine guns, and the occasional rocket-propelled grenade. So, let’s look at a re-skinned Magic Missile:

Unerring Shot Wizard Attack 1
Your attack always aims true.
At-Will · Implement
Standard Action   Ranged 20
Target One creature
Hit 2d4 + Intelligence modifier damage.
Special This power counts as a ranged basic attack.

I hope this gives you a starting point for running modern adventures in D&D 4E. How would you approach it?

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Wealth: Cash and Assets in Modern Assembly

Wealth by alexjtam

Modern Assembly supports many different worlds. In a game where modern characters don’t have access to a typical modern society, such as a post apocalyptic game or one where modern heroes are transported to a fantasy world, most of a character’s treasure goes into purchasing and upgrading their equipment. In these games you can treat wealth the same as you would in a typical fantasy game.

However if the game has a modern setting it becomes important to make a distinction between the wealth used in combat and the wealth used in story telling. You do not want a character to drag down regular encounter because they spent their treasure on a new apartment instead of an upgraded weapon. Modern Assembly separates these two types of treasure into Cash and Assets.

Cash Anything that you might find on a typical treasure table falls under cash. This includes starting equipment, combat gear and consumable items. It also includes any actual cash or liquid assets that could be used to purchase personal gear. We measure cash in gold pieces to keep things comparable to the base system. You should feel free to change this to a modern currency, just keep in mind that this is merely a representative system. Prices are balanced to keep mechanical balance, not to match realistic current day prices.

We also recommend using inherent bonuses, instead of bonus enhancements found on weapon, armor and neck items. That way a player using modern equipment will scale with fantasy characters without upgrading to brand new equipment every few levels. They can still get their equipment enchanted if your setting has magic, but it should be with alternate effects, instead of the typical +1 bonus.

Assets Anything that your character can acquire given a little time, that does not come into play in the average combat, is an asset. These can be physical objects, such as a car or a home, or more abstract rewards, like a seat on a board of directors, or being able to bribe your way into an affluent club. Think of these as story rewards more than typical treasure.

If an asset logically comes into play during an encounter then the DM may give out a bonus for having that asset. These are parts of your story and players should be rewarded for using the world creatively. If these assets come into play in more than one encounter a session, they should be reworked as part of the characters equipment, purchased from their cash, and not be considered an asset.

The recommended bonus for these effect is +2. In some circumstances assets are logically more useful, due to their quality, and can receive a bonus based on their distance from common. So for example if an common character uses their jeep as cover, they get a +2 bonus to their defenses, and so would a wealthy character using their corvette as cover. However, if an common character is trying to get a bonus to their knowledge roll by using the local library, and a wealthy character has a private library devoted to the subject at hand, the DM may grant the wealthy character a +4 bonus to the roll (+2 for common, +1 each for the two asset levels above common). This bonus is subject to the DM’s discretion.

There are four asset grades available to level 1 characters. All characters start as common but can gain a different asset grade through feats, backgrounds, or as rewards given out by the DM when the story permits.

Common: This is roughly where most of an average society fits. You likely have a full time job to provide you with income. You have shelter, whether its a small apartment, a room in your parents house or a modest home with a mortgage. You have a means of transportation in your immediate area, but its nothing flashy.

Comfortable: Your job requires a certain amount of skill, experience of education that puts you above average. You earn more money but probably work just as much as someone with common assets. You likely have a spacious apartment or your own home. You almost certainly own a car that’s equal to new in quality, and might include more luxurious options such as a powerful engine, or leather seats. It’s easier for you to find money for plane tickets, hotel rooms and other luxuries than it is for an common person. Players can select this asset grade at level 1 by taking the Comfortable Lifestyle background

Wealthy: Handling money is second nature to you. Your assets are big enough that they practically handle themselves. Whether your living off interest, your parents, or the profits from your company, you only go into work if you want to. You own multiple luxury cars, and may own, or can easily get the use of other modes transportation, such as a boat or small plane. Money comes with privilege, and it’s easier for you to get an audience with other key individuals. It also has its drawbacks. More people are aware of you and may seek you out or target you. It’s much harder for you blend into a crowd. Players can select this asset grade at level 1 by taking the Comfortable Lifestyle background, and the Wealthy feat.

Poor: You live below the poverty line. If you have an apartment it’s likely in a poor neighborhood. If you have your own car it may also be your home. You may be working multiple low income jobs, or out of work and on the street. It’s much easier for you to go unnoticed or go completely off the grid. You’re used to living off of very little and are able to survive in harsh situations. You understand the importance of trade and know where you can sell things quickly and quietly. Players can select this asset grade at level 1 by taking the Poor Lifestyle background.

Fountain of Wealth by yoodz

Asset Grade as Story Once play has moved past the starting level, character’s asset grade may change as part of the story. Characters of higher levels may gain access to even higher levels of wealth in this way. These levels are limited by tier so that only characters of Paragon and higher can become Rich, and those of Epic and higher may be Unreasonably Rich. It’s possible for a character to achieve such wealth before these levels, but they do not have the experience needed to take the advantages of such wealth. Characters should not select asset based mechanics when leveling up.

Rich: You’re beyond wealthy, your rolling in it. You may be a pop superstar or the owner of one or two fortune 500 companies. You have your own plane, a mansion and more material goods than you can keep track of. You are constantly recognized in public and can buy your way into nearly any place or event.

Unreasonably Rich: You’ve achieved an asset grade that seems almost impossible. You fly from locations in a huge jet, that doubles as your luxury home. Maybe you own a whole city, and employ all it’s residents as your employees. Everyone knows who you are and they likely have very strong opinions about everything you do. You sway nations and command your own private army.

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Modern Assembly: A 4e Hack

Detective Shoot by Jef Harris

I’ve wanted to work on a modern update of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. It may seem counter intuitive at first glance. D&D is not a modern game. Dungeons and Dragons celebrates medieval fantasy where the most modern piece of technology is a trebuchet (if even that) and magic isn’t just a tale but is a real part of many people’s daily life. Seems like a strange place for guns and computers.

It turns out I’m not the only person who thinks this is a good idea, so the Gamer Assembly is joining me on this quest. We’re not the first to do this. Dave Chalker worked on the 4th Power Project a couple of years ago. Casey Steven Ross wrote about his work updating d20 Modern for his home game over on DMG 42. There was an even fuller project I found linked on Enworld as well, but as of this writing their forums are down.

So if so many people have done this before, why are we doing it again? Well, what’s come before just isn’t exactly what we want. I absolutely respect the work they’ve done, and they’ve given us a reference that makes our job a lot easier. They have updated d20 Modern so that it’s more in line with the feeling of 4e and its mechanics. We are not doing that. We’re giving 4e Modern options.

I love 4th Edition. It’s the game my players want to play. I just want guns and cars!

We are building an expansion to the current version of Dungeons & Dragons. We want you to be able to play that new cleric build you’ve been looking at. We want your rogue to hack the Lich’s Defense Grid. We want you to be able to gun down a Dragon! Perhaps, most importantly, we want you to be able to do this while still playing the game you love.

Modern Assembly is being built with a few major goals in mind:

  1. Keep as much of the currently available 4e content as straight-out-of-the-box useful as possible.
  2. Only create what needs to be created, with a focus on mechanics that are modular and/or easily incorporated.
  3. Support as many variations of modern fantasy as possible.
  4. Keep it fun and action focused.

To that end, we are not designing any new races or classes. Most Modern Fantasy games are already human centric. Any additional races needed will be very dependent on the setting that you choose to play in. They may already exist, like the Vampires from Heroes of Shadow, or are likely easily skin-able (Warforged can easily replace most robots or cyborgs). Either way, new races would be better suited to a setting supplement and not this core set.

The current list of classes available in 4e is a long one. They run the gamut of power sources, ranges, and roles. Modern humans aren’t more powerful than capable of medieval humans, we’ve just have more knowledge and more stuff. We’ve broken the 4e mechanics slightly to accommodate this. Instead of writing new classes based around knowledge and equipment, we’re making new backgrounds and themes, that grant you the ability to take Modern Skills and Modern Equipment. So if you want to play a trained mercenary you could take the Ranger or Warlord Class with an Ex-Military Background. A nerdy librarian might be an Ardent, Bard or Rogue with the Scholar Theme.

This is an ongoing project, instead of a monthly theme like 3 Generations from the End. That means you’ll occasionally see posts on it, but you should still see other things churning through at the same time. There’s also no hard end date on the project, but a personal goal of mine is to be able to run a Play Test at PAXEast.

If you have any ideas, comments, or concerns please throw us a comment. We love to have feedback. Otherwise keep your eyes on this page for new Modern Assembly content coming soon.

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The End Of The Beginning Of The End

The last few hours of January 2012 tick away, and with it goes our monthly theme: The Beginning Of The End. We spent most of our efforts this month working on a post-apocalyptic mini-setting called 3GATE, and we didn’t produce much beyond that. I thought I’d sneak one more in under the wire.

Take a look at the theme: The Beginning Of The End. We have two concepts that we’re trying to mash together: The Beginning and The End. Worse than that, they actively oppose each other like the parts of any worthwhile oxymoron.

But bringing opposites together makes for a great story and a great game.

I remember reading somewhere that it takes one idea to make a book but two ideas to make a good book. This holds true for games as well. If you put all your effort into a single plotline, your players may end up bored with limited choices. If you have two plotlines that lead in different directions and your players invest in those choices, then you have the beginnings of doubt and tension which can help build some really cool in-game scenes.

Mashing ideas together has been on my mind since I edited the forthcoming module The Tribute. In it the PCs need to prioritize the rescue of captives and defeating a magical assault on the town, and hopefully have the time to do both or innocent NPCs get hurt. The choice of paths and the consequences of that choice came up as something the players loved in early playtests.

The Tribute effectively contains two complete adventures running simultaneously – the PCs focus on one adventure and let the initial conditions of the other deteriorate. The players must choose between two ideas, and the tension of leaving the other path untrod shows through constant reminders to the characters, making them doubt their choice. That one device adds a delicious tension to the adventure. It’s a beautiful thing, and I highly recommend either playtesting it or picking up a copy when it’s available. Or both, if you’re so inclined.

What’s the point? Give your players juicy choices with consequences and generally you’ll have happier players. The best way to set up a juicy choice is to provide two conflicting ideas and let the players debate the best course of action in character. Better yet, give them several ideas with deadlines to worry about, as the title of this article suggests.

I’ve done this to great effect in past games. The next trick involves working out how to get your players to bite on the ideas you dangle in front of them, but that’s a post for a different day.

Now let’s all raise a glass to The End of The Beginning of The End.

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3 Generations After The End: The Races

Borderline Biennale 2011 by Abode of Chaos on Flickr

This article is part of 3 Generations After The End, a post-apocalyptic setting suitable for any role-playing system.

3 Generations After The End (3GATE) is designed to be a primarily human-centric setting. That’s great in a lot of ways. Humans are the dominant race in most RPG settings, and are certainly the stars of most modern media. It’s easy for us to relate on a common level with them, as well as imagining them competing in a fantastic world.

However, many systems also support the idea of multiple player races and 3GATE is easily expanded to include those.

After humans, the Beastmen are the most prominent race. Created by the early wizards after the great apocalypse, the beastmen are powerful men and women infused with bestiality of nature. Some are still under the control of wizards but many still escaped to the wilderness, forming their own tribes. Many races are naturally suited for beastmen as they already represent creatures who are part man, part animal. Minotaurs, lizardfolk, shifters, and thri-keen are all excellent choices. If you want to get creative, take a good look at the mechanics for the race and re-skin for different animals as needed. Gnolls are an excellent template race when playing D&D 4E. They get bonuses for hunting in groups, and their feats allow them to become excellent trackers or gain a natural claw weapon. These traits could be used to represent any number of animals in the world.

Beastmen are also naturally suited to working in a mixed party. Some are already allied with the wizards, while others have a natural reason to oppose them, so humans from either area could find reasons to work with them. They’re less naturally suited to the cities of the techno-priests, but in fantasy your characters are already exceptional. They could be converts, prisoners working toward release, or maybe they were an experiment left behind and freed by the priests.

Hayden Panettiere is a Cyborg by J (mtonic.com) on Flickr

Depending on the level of artifact technology you want to play with, the techno-priests offer another great race idea, that of the robot, cyborg, or android. The warforged of D&D, the gearforged of Midgard, and the giant robot of Big Eyes, Small Mouth are all great mechanics to use for these races. You could be a new creation, an experiment of the techno-priests and the ultimate representation of man’s worship of technology. Perhaps you were found and only recently reactivated. Many high tech labs would be outside of the city and in secret locations, leaving you to ally with the first willing humanoids you can find. You may even have been around since the apocalypse, remembering the old world. Talk to your GM about this option first. Many things from the past may need to be a secret to allow proper exploration and discovery. Maybe your character was a simple worker drone before, and never learned of life outside a three block radius, or it could be that years of poor maintenance have ruined your memory, giving you glimpses of the past in short, confusing bursts, making you a modern oracle.

Finally there are the deepest areas of the wild, where technology ceases to function, and the beastmen roam with unforgiving savagery. Few dare to tread here, and even fewer return to speak its tales. Since magic returned with the apocalypse, the secrets held here could be the source of the most fantastic racial options. Perhaps technology doesn’t function here because of magic’s rich veins. Fey lines could emanate from these zones, and perhaps their hearts are portals to other planes. One might stumble into cities of humanity’s mythic past: the mines of dwarves and gnomes, tree-top elven villages, or roaming tribes of goblins and giants. Like humans, members of these races may feel compelled to brave the unknown and explore the wastes outside their hidden sanctuaries. What happens when they leave, though? Does their magic change? Do they themselves become warped by the apocalypse? What grand creations might come into being if dwarven master craftsman were to work with the techno-priests?

Whatever you decide, use it to build the lore of your world, and have a grand adventure.

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The Inevitable Apocalypse

'Apocalypse' by Francis Danby

'Apocalypse' by Francis Danby

When we play RPGs, we usually follow the same route as books and movies: we move towards a climax.

In the nerdy, fantastical worlds typical of role-playing–quasi-medieval fantasy, cyberpunk, space opera–this usually means apocalypse. The end of the world (or the worlds). And the players’ characters have to stop it.

What if they can’t stop it?

Travel with me back for a moment to the 1990′s, and a TV show called Babylon 5. It revolutionized television. It had a firm story arc that progressed in each episode, the first non-soap opera to do so and gain wide critical acclaim. It ushered in the modern era of The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Lost, and Battlestar Galactica, of long-form stories told on television.

Moreover, Babylon 5 showed you its future. Early episodes showed the death of certain characters. Indeed, the station’s commander is told that he will go to a place called Z’ha’dum, where he will die.

Viewers became fascinated by the the process, by the story of the characters and how on earth they’d get there. Who in their right mind would go to the place of their death?

Imagine using this in a role-playing game. Imagine if the players are shown an apocalypse that they can’t stop, but that they can change.

What if two races are warring, and the players’ characters must choose which one survives?

What if the PCs must choose which disease or corruption or system that the world will live with?

What if the PCs are told that one of them will die? But they get to choose which one?

If you’re going to threaten apocalypse, make good on your threat. Then see what happens.

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