August 25, 2011

4E Modern – Basic Rules Changes

To facilitate the style of game I want to play, I've incorporated a number of changes into the base Gamma World system. As with any kind of House Rule, care has been taken such that rules are not added in unnecessarily. Each new House Rule adds its own bit of complexity, coming in with a certain amount of negative impact to the game just by being there, by being a potential source of confusion and one more link in the chain that could break and send the whole system crashing.

Defense Rolls

Players make every d20 roll at the table, with the exception of skill checks in Chase Scenes.
NPC initiative and attack rolls “take 10”, producing an unchanging, static value that the player character must attempt to defeat. A roll of a natural 1 on a defense roll is an automatic failure and a critical hit for the attacking NPC.

For example

GM: Roll initiative! [dice clatter] Who got a 20 or higher? Very good! You’re characters seize the moment and get the jump on the robot ninja assassins.

For Example

GM: You see the reanimated remains of a long-dead soldier stumbling its way to you. Before you can react, it uses its rotting ringers to pull out the ring to a military-grade fragmentation grenade. With no though to its own wretched existence, the creature holds the explosive device and shambles towards you, its mouth agape and crawling with maggots.

Fast PC: My Fast Hero nimbly runs for cover behind some nearby cargo crates, gets low, and hopes her Kevlar vest stops anything that gets too close. [d20 roll] I get a 12 on the die, plus my bonuses (Level + Origin bonuses + Dex/Int mod + 3 for light armor), plus 2 for cover … 30.

GM: The explosion disintegrates the nazi zombie’s hand, sending sharp bits of metal all around. Luckily, the majority of the debris is soaked up by that crate you’re hiding behind, and the pieces that make its way through you are able to evade, thanks to you Fast Hero ability.

Strong PC: My turn is up. I rush into the fray and tackle the SS sorcerer off of the steel catwalk and into the boiling vat of acid below. [d20 roll] With everything I get a 25 against his Fortitude. Auf wiedersehen!


Something that I liked about my campaigns in d20 Modern was using their language system. By grouping all the hundreds of languages in the world into a few, easy to manage grouping, I can get a lot of utility out of a simple mechanic. This does go against my previously stated goal of reducing granularity, in that it adds a level of detail not previously seen in Gamma World, but I feel that the roleplaying paybacks on this are worth it. All characters can get the gist of information from someone speaking to them in a language they do not have fluency in, however intricate details (such as those required to read an ancient magic scroll written in Sanskrit), are only available to those with the highest level of language proficiency.

Languages Known: English, plus fluency in one additional language group per Intelligence modifier bonus (minimum 0).
Language groups are as follows; Classical (Greek, Latin, Egyptian), Semitic (Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi), Slavic (Polish, Russian), Pan-Pacific (Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Tibetan), Native American (Navajo, Sioux), Germanic (German, Dutch, Norwegian), Romance (Italian, French, Spanish), Indic (Hindi, Punjabi, Sanskrit), Finno-Ugric (Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian)

No Cards

While I enjoy the wildness and unpredictability of the Gamma World card system for Alpha Mutations and Omega Tech, I feel like the level of flux doesn’t translate well for the type of Modern campaign I want to run. While I want things to be over-the-top, I also want the players to feel like their actions matter, that the game universe is a somewhat predictable place, and that they have a decent level of control over what happens in the story. The cards, unfortunately, do not facilitate this, and so I have redone almost all the random elements of Gamma World (cards, origins, skills) to a set of choices that stay with a character for their entire career.

Two Fisted Shooting

Gamma World supports two styles of weapon: 2-handed, or 1-handed and shield. If you crunch the numbers  for about 10 seconds, you’ll see that this is true. There’s almost no point to doing anything else. That’s fine for  the most part, but many players want the characters in a Modern setting to be adept at wielding two weapons at once, or to have a reason to draw a pistol instead of an M16 Assault Rifle.
To help with this, I’ve added a few small tweaks. A character wielding two ranged or two 1-handed weapons gains a +3 bonus to weapon damage rolls (about on par with the damage boost from switching to a 2-handed weapon), and certain actions, such as driving, require a free hand to use, making 1-handed weapons a viable choice in terms of the utility they offer. Clearly, certain situations will require more firepower and will lead to heroes equipped with big and/or multiple weapons. Other situations will require a more subtle or flexible approach, and those Heroes who can see that and choose to take a penalty in their damage capability will be rewarded.

Type                                                                      Benefit                                                                                
2-handed weapon                                           typically higher damage and/or range
1 handed weapon & shield                          gain +1 AC
1-handed weapon                                           easier to conceal and frees a hand for misc. items, driving, etc.
(2) 1-handed weapons (same type)        gain +3 to weapon damage rolls
(2) 1-handed weapons (different type) can easily switch between melee or ranged attacks

Action Points

Each character receives 1 action point per encounter. An action point may be spent as a No Action to either add +1d6 to a die roll you just made, or to reroll a die roll you just made.

I've added Action Points into 4E Modern, noticeably absent from Gamma World, to give the players a certain level of control over the narrative. I stepped away from the 4th Edition D&D convention of Action Points adding an attack* and went back towards something closer to how they were handled in the original d20 Modern.

One of the problems I had running d20 Modern is that players would see Actions Points as a resource that could be saved, hoarded, and would hold onto dozens of them. The problem here was that it negated the entire point of having Action Points, namely, to use them for action! By putting them as a 1/encounter ability, I’m ensuring that they will almost always get used. By adding a potential for a complete reroll of a die, I’m now putting into play a choice the character has to make with these. When faced with a die roll they strongly want to change, they can either go the safe route with adding 1d6, or get bold and reroll the whole thing.
Lastly, by putting all attack rolls into the hands of the player, they now have narrative control over ALL attacks on the board. This brings another meaningful choice into the players field of vision: do you use your Action Point for offensive (your die roll) or defensive (an enemy’s die roll) purposes?

* Let’s be honest, no one uses AP’s to move. It's an extra attack.


  1. Addendum: Another reason I like having the players roll all the d20s is because, as DM, I don't give a shit about the rolls. I'm way more interested in setting a certain difficulty and then seeing what the players can do with it. I'm not trying to win here. For the DM, rolling dice is too much like you're trying to beat the players at D&D. If I wanted to beat them, I just would, because I'm the goddamn DM.

  2. I like what I'm reading so far, but the only thing I (strongly) disagree with is the Pan-Pacific language group. As a linguistics major, I'm not a fan of this. But that's a moot point, as I have studied both Mandarin and Japanese. They're very different. Chinese and Japanese are very different languages. Did I mention they're very different? Sure they may have some similarities, but that's only due to China's overarching cultural influence on everything it touches. An analogy would be putting Romance and Semetic languages into the same category. Sure there might be some similarities, but that's because of Christian influence and Moorish conquest.

    A more accurate grouping would be Chinese ("dialects" of Chinese are pretty much mutually unintelligible, meaning most linguists regard them as separate languages), which would include Tibetan, and maybe the Southeast Asian languages (though they should get a group of their own, imo). Japanese is in a group of it's own alongside Okinawan, and Korean is pretty much an isolate, i.e. no known language is related to it, but for the sake of gameplay (and since some theories point to it) you could have Japanese and Korean in the same group.

  3. I'm glad you are liking the 4E Modern rules! And I 100% agree with you that Mandarin is only tangentially related to a language like Japanese. Howvere, for the 4E Modern languages, I wanted to create very very broad strokes groupings. In a game setting with a typicaly group, the differences are pretty minimal and the people who even can recognize the absurdity of the Pan-Pacific language grouping are few. I felt like breaking that one up would lead to a more complex, aggregate language system across all grouping and I'd end up with dozens and dozens of languages, most of which would never get used. And if a rule isn't used at the table, then what good is it for, right?

    Also, part of the background in my campaign is the development of a fictional villainous empire, The Pan-Pacific Hegemony, which helps justify grouping the southeast Asian languages together.

  4. I dunno, I'd rather have it be choose a language family, or choose a language you know and you can try and understand a related language. It's just amongst my friends, most of them would view a Pan-Pacific language family as strange (and not just due to the fact that it's called "Pan-Pacific"). I mean in certain contexts it would make sense, at Pan-Pacific empire was very much a possibility in our history, but I have had friends who would buy into a Pan-Pacific language family, but the thing is they'd just as readily accept the idea of a Pan-European language family as well.

    IMO, if European languages are gonna be split off into groups, so should the Asian ones. I mean lets assume there's a Pan-Pacific Empire, I'm assuming everyone would know Japanese (as my grandparents can attest to), but having an unrelated language can be very useful, allowing the players to communicate with resistance forces underneath the empire's nose. Also, all things considered, a Pan-European group makes more sense considering most Europeans are bilingual, compared to Asia where, while most Chinese know at least Mandarin, most people are monolingual, and barely have proficiency in a second language (don't quote me on that, but it's a pretty strong impression modern Asia gives off).