The Introduction starts with a discussion of what comprises a 'modern' game, and why the authors thought it worth re-tooling the Pathfinder ruleset to make one. One of the main reasons for the popularity of contemporary games is the sheer familiarity of the setting. While it's fun running round the universe in starships or matching wits (or fireballs) with a dragon, that's not the world we live in. If you run a game in a contemporary setting, you do not need to keep explaining everyday matters that characters would be familiar with, but which their players are not! Having found that the Pathfinder ruleset worked well in its original fantasy setting, the authors decided that 'modernising' it was a better option that starting out from scratch.
So, on to the meat of the matter. Noting that players will need the core Pathfinder rulebook to make use of this book, the first chapter deals with characters. Here there is an interesting departure from the usual fare: no classes. Every character is a 'Modern Hero' with the differences between each one being expressed in terms of their talents, skills and feats, along with background and more descriptive rather than rules-based features. Whilst most will be human, the possibility is floated that there just might be other races around, they just keep under the radar, at least if your setting will be the modern world as we know it. The further you drift from that, the more fantasy elements you can introduce. All Modern Heroes use the same advancement table, gaining additional Talents and Training as they rise in level. What is available is based on the archetype (if any) you have chosen and the directions in which you wish him to develop.
Archetypes represent the character's chosen profession and have to be chosen at 1st level or not at all. The choice will modify the character's progression, and the availability of skills and training. Characters also get Action Points, which they can use to enhance skill use. A common enough rule, but here you choose to associate one ability with your APs, and the calculation of how many are available depends on that ability and your level. For those who do not like book keeping, there is an abstracted Wealth system based on level and professional skills.
Next, Talents are explored. These are extremely similar to Feats, giving assorted minor mechanical benefits based on the Talent chosen and with additional ones available as the character rises in level. They are available to all characters, and some have prerequisites... indeed, it's not clear what differentiates Talents and Feats at all, except that some require the expenditure of APs to activate them. I think they are supposed to replace the class features used in Pathfinder, thus keeping the balance should a fantasy character for some reason wander into your modern world.
Talents are followed by Difficulties. These are optional minor disadvantages that a character may take in return for getting extra Talents. Whilst the disadvantages have a game mechanical cost, the real use is in adding flavour to role-playing - the character may be absent-minded, perhaps, or even have a Dark Secret which could have plot implications as well.
Next comes a version of the Traits system, here used to give the character some background flavour, as well as a list of class skills, wealth and reputation bonuses and a bonus Feat. They are described as the sort of job that the character might have, or at least have had before becoming an adventurer... anything from an astronaut trainee to a blue-collar worker, a doctor, an athlete or a criminal. To reflect the modern world, celebs are there too!
Also altering the base Adventure Hero class are Archetypes. A set of advancement tables - slow, medium and fast - are given, these are used depending on Archetype for determining BAB and saves, the neat bit is that the Archetype discriminates between them - fast track BAB and slow Will save, and the like. The Archetype also can give a different hit die, number of skills per level and specific 'Training' - this last is a number of feat-like options from which you can choose as you advance. Each relates to the particular Archetype, so the Daredevil gets some wild driving options, while the Engineer gets ones that aid in building, repairing and jury-rigging equipment. The Martial Artist has access to a variety of forms, enabling you to customise your fighting style, as well as the interesting Expert in Your Field one in which the character is a renowned exponent of his particular art with reputation to match.
Next up are the skills, with a concentration on those skills unique to modern settings. The standard 'fantasy' ones are, by and large, also available, and the variations caused by the modern world are covered in detail. One neat new skill is Examine, for all those budding CSIs. Knowledge: Technology seems to concentrate on computer hacking, whilst Craft: Explosives is for those who want to blow stuff up! Feats are given the same treatment, existing ones modified and new ones added, including some specific to firearms combat such as the Double Tap.
Character created, we move on to equipment. Armour available ranges from bike leathers and football pads to an array of stab/bullet resistant vests. No bomb suit... Weapons, naturally, concentrates on firearms. Rather confusingly, the charts are alphabetical rather than by type, so you get shotguns, rifles and handguns all jumbled up - fine if you are enough of a gunbunny to pick your weapon by manufacturer, but if you just want a hunting rifle you have to read through the lot to find one! The main non-firearms covered are compound bows, tasers, pepper spray and the like: if you want a blade beyond the few mentioned, go mediaeval (or at least, fantasy) to get it. Grenades and explosives are covered too, as well as quite a lot of descriptions of different firearms - go get a gun magazine, the game mechanics differences are negligible. For more stealthy killers, there's a selection of poisons.
The discussion then moves on to matters such as availability, legality and how easy it is to conceal items, and a neat idea for 'items on hand' to let characters roll to see if they just happen to have a given common item when they need it (although the explanation of how to use it could do with clarification). There are also copious tables of modern equipment, a bit superfluous as most people know roughly what, say, a laptop computer costs and how big it is. (And does anyone much use photographic film these days? Even the professional photographer who lives next door has gone totally digital.) This section is followed by the vehicles one, where at least they are sorted by type rather than manufacturer name this time. Lifestyle costs and services round this section out.
That's it, apart from some previews of forthcoming product, mostly about a supplement dealing with matters arcane should you be contemplating making magic a reality in your setting. What is completely absent is anything about what you might actually have your characters do. In some ways, it's not difficult: look at the range of contemporary stories told in books, films and TV shows. You could recreate any of them with this ruleset, whether your tastes run to Jason Bourne or NCIS, ruthless lawyers, crime families or police work... but maybe a couple of sample outline campaigns would help get the creative juices flowing. It's a good start, though, if you need a modern ruleset and are happy with (or at least already know) the Pathfinder system its based upon. Think I'll be off to plot some adventures, I have some ideas it would work well with...
Return to The Modern Path: Heroes of the Modern World RPG page.
Reviewed: 29 May 2011