This massive book clocks in at 234 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 231 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This massive tome was gifted to me by one of my patreons for the purpose of a prioritized review. It has thus been moved up in my review-queue.
The first thing you’ll undoubtedly notice is that the above does not feature an editorial section – there is a reason for that, namely that each page has a sidebar on the left or right, which is used to provide commentary and elaborate on the content – the editorial can be found in such a side-bar on the very first page.
The first thing the pdf makes clear would be a decision I very much applaud – namely that, while this is clearly based on d20 Modern, it does not translate e.g. the classes to PFRPG and tries to instead provide its own solutions for modern gaming, a strategy based more on archetypes and the like. The pdf does note some changes in the gameplay first, e.g. the fact that modern gaming does not know massive, exceedingly potent armors – as such, AC will be lower and thus, further emphasize concealment etc. This may be one of the more problematic aspects of the game, as it further tilts the balance between offense and defense, already strongly in favor of offense in PFRPG, towards the offense side of things, but let’s talk about that after having taken in the whole of the rules.
The pdf also acknowledges that guns inflict a lot of damage at lower levels, but do not scale, damage-output-wise, as well as other options and the loudness of their shots make them less than subtle. A big plus here would be the reality of our modern work – prolonged gunfights are prone to draw the attention of the authorities. So, in fact, the campaign’s implicit realities may be a balancing factor here.
The next thing to consider, obviously, would be the reality of magic in the game: If you presume standard magic, there are potentially infinite permutations of effects on the game: From the use of dancing lights in warfare as signals to the consequence of create water and the like, the results are potentially endless and even exploring e.g. the fact that you can generate electricity from nothing or permanent fire and how that influenced our cultures and how the world works. The pdf does come with different standard magic levels: In worlds with fading magic, successfully casting a spell requires a concentration heck versus DC 20 + the spell’s level and magic item creation takes twice as long. Alternatively, there is an interesting option that makes spells basically behave like rituals – they receive a casting time in full rounds equal to their spell-level and all magic items of +3 or higher will be basically artifacts, with lower-powered items requiring thrice as long to create. Spells with full-round casting times multiply their casting time by 3 times the spell’s level. There are a couple of issues with this otherwise interesting system: For one, it does not take spells that can be cast as immediate, swift, etc. actions into account and metamagic feats that increase casting duration similarly become problematic. Additionally, spontaneous casters are extremely nerfed by this system, losing what made them work in the first place – their spontaneity. SUs take a full-round to activate and continuous ones reduce their save DC (erroneously called “resistance DC” here) by 2 and suffer from halved effects.
The next option would be aspected magic, which suggests limiting magic to suit the needs of the particular campaign. No hard rules are provided here. Localized magic assumes that magic functions only under specific circumstances or in specific places and supernatural magic as an option basically eliminates spellcasting and mentions that it works best for horror/survivalist types of games – a cursory glance at the potency of supernatural class options, however, can make this assumption slightly problematic as well. Finally, there is the option of playing sans magic – dead magic, if you will. The issue regarding math is evident to anyone who has crunched the numbers of PFRPG at one point – in order to make the math come out right, you need magic at one point.
If all of this sounds harsh, then rest assured that it’s not intended to be taken as such – but the pdf’s “solutions” for these choices are somewhat lackluster – I expected more crunchy alternate bonus type progressions and rules to supplement these respective choices – as provided, they unanimously will generate issues.
Onwards to the next section, which deals with the general classifications of history you can embark on: In covert history, magic is real, but a closely-guarded secret. More interesting would be the concept of secret history, where a force called “The Shroud” shields our memory and perception from the ability to perceive magic creatures, elves, etc. living among us properly. Finally, divergent and alternate history are touched upon – these sections generally constitute nice starting points. Races and how common they are and magic-level combinations are touched upon, discussing the respective core races in a modern context, while also providing alternate racial traits (which deserve applause – they are generally well-balanced!) and favored class options for the new classes.
Which brings me to the subject matter of classes, which are codified according to magic-levels and whether they’re appropriate for the respective world. Class skill modifications, if appropriate, are included for the classes and the table also contains the aforementioned new ones; it should be noted that the classes covered here are restricted to core and APG-classes – neither magus, nor the UC, ACG or Occult classes receive consideration here. Sorcerors are big winners in this chapter, gaining 4 bloodlines to represent common tropes of real-life magic – pyrokineticism, telepathy, telekinesis and spiritualism. The rules are generally solid here, though there are a couple of minor guffaws in the rules-language – save DC-formulae switching from 3rd person to second, willpower saves instead of Will saves and the like. More annoying – spell references that are capitalized instead of italicized. That is a big and pretty annoying formatting hiccup that can be found here and there throughout the pdf. Which is baffling to me, considering that spells have been properly italicized in e.g. the bonus spell sections of the bloodlines…and indeed, in later sections, more often than not, the pdf gets it right.
Okay, so, the new classes. The first of these would be the Charmer, who gains d6 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, sword canes, handguns and light armors. They gain 1/2 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves. The class begins play with Expertise as a bonus feat and a mesmerism pool equal to twice the class level + the Charmer’s Charisma modifier. As a standard action, the charmer can spend a mesmerism point to fascinate a target, which may be maintained as a move action and the fascination is not automatically broken by nearby combat, but only by direct attacks on the target. The ability thankfully has a range and a save to resist and is properly codified – though, as a nitpick, the save-DC formula is presented in the incorrect sequence – it’s 10 + incremental level scaling + attribute modifier, not first the attribute modifier…but that remains a mostly cosmetic hiccup. The class can use Bluff to run short-term cons to gain money and gains +1/2 class level to Diplomacy as well as +1 insight bonus to AC that increases every 4 levels thereafter to a maximum of +5. Second level yields NPC contacts, which slightly confusingly refers once to “begins play” – which is usually 1st level. But that is a cosmetic gripe. Danger-sense, though, is weird – it nets a second “roll to avoid being surprised” – what’s that supposed to mean? No idea. It is also somewhat unfortunately-named, considering the rogue ability of the same name.
Things get interesting with 2nd level, as the charmer gets an ever-increasing array of uses for the mesmerist points, with fatigue instilling or suppression and the like – the abilities interact with conditions, though, if you expected choice here, I’ll have to disappoint you – the sequence of ability gains is strictly linear. On the plus-side, the pdf seems to get condition-interaction right, allowing for e.g. the reduction of exhaustion to fatigue, etc. Higher levels yield black market connections, the option to duplicate an extraordinary version of charm person/monster. 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter yield an alternate identity, though since this predates Ultimate Intrigue, the ability feels a bit brief and very much a flavor option. Starting at 5th level, either via hero points or 1/level, the charmer can gain favors from NPCs. One ability lacks the level it’s gained in the text, though the table does mention it. Starting at 13th level, they learn to instill manias, delusions and phobias and archetype-wise, gambler, undercover spy and romancer are included. I am not a fan of this rather linear class.
The second class is the entertainer, who gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, proficiency with simple weapons, pistols and light armors…and they basically represent a bard-like option: The class knows 6 types of different performances, drama, comedy, dance, instrumental, oratory and sing and the emotion effects performances are capable of capable of generating benefits and penalties, with each performance having two emotion effects assigned. It is pretty cool to see the requirement for Int for some, but I am not 100% sure whether a given performance triggers both effects or just one. The class extends the range of affected targets and the emotion effects provided for the respective performances, which is pretty cool. The class gains +1/2 class level to Knowledge (pop culture), a bard’s fascinate, better total defense and they can use limited wild card skill. Unlike the charmer, the entertainer is more flexible and has a lot more options and some actual customization, for second level and every 2 levels thereafter yield a shtick, the talent-array of the class. These allow for enhanced emotion effects, feats, etc. and generally are interesting.
The class does come with abilities to emulate the class abilities of other classes and, while it gets multiclassing-synergy right (kudos there), I still consider the rules-language to need a bit more oomph here due to the wide-open nature of the ability – still, kudos, this ranks as one of the best examples of such an ability I have seen in a codified manner. The further abilities of the class allow for teamwork feat adaptation and recommend items, have a steady income, etc. – Stand-up Comedic, Stuntman and Professional Athlete would be the archetypes included for this class. All in all, a better class than the charmer.
The third new class would be the gadgeteer, who gains d8 HD, 8 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref-saves and proficiency with simple weapons, handguns, machine pistols and light armors. At 2nd level, they get their first gizmo and a total of 4 levels. The gadgeteer can basically generate gizmos, duplicating different spells. These are somewhat unstable and hard to use for other classes- the class also gets so-called eureka gizmos, with additional options being made available at higher levels. The class provides several skill-based options to mitigate the broken condition, with class abilities focusing on tech, laying traps, granting equipment bonuses to items and at higher levels, they learn to craft Futuretech items – i.e. stable versions of the prototype gizmos. The interesting component of the class, however, would be that they receive basically a robotic construct companion that scales with them – these companions are programmed via macros. They are command as swift actions and three sample means of controlling them are provided. 12 different basic frameworks are provided, ranging from exoskeletons to spider drones, mini-tanks or even motorcycles and the like – so yes, you can play Knightrider with this class. The respective base forms generally are solid in their balancing and obviously provide different playing experiences, with certain limits applying to them. This section, as a whole, is surprisingly well-crafted, with unique macros for e.g. swarms and the like. Once again, three archetypes are provided, namely racer, hacker and saboteur. While I do have takes on the concept I personally prefer, this is definitely not a bad option and, considering the complexity, a rather well-made one.
The investigator class gets d8 HD, 8 + Int skills per level, 3(4 BAb-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves and proficiency with handguns, simple weapons, light and medium armor and basically represent exactly what you’d think – a chassis to play Sherlock Holmes, CSI-guys, cops, etc. – as such, the class abilities feature the ability to size up opponents via Knowledge (psychology). They get a variant of favored enemy for cultural groups and networks of informants and the class has a massive, expansive talent section, which includes penalty-less non-lethal combat, skill-bonuses, spell-duplication and so much more. Forensic investigation, forcing confessions and the like – the class has a lot to offer and represents a surprisingly good take on the trope. Archetype-wise, we get the bounty hunter, gentleman detective, muchraker and superfan. Once again, not a bad class!
The scholar class would be another kind of skill monkey, with d6 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, good Will-saves, 1/2 BAB-progression and proficiency with only simple weapons. They can brew concoctions, which act as potion-like abilities, with a pretty wide array of options available. Beyond that and the obvious theme of Knowledge skills, they also gain theses on every even-numbered level – these represents a massive, multiple pages spanning list of talents to choose from. At higher levels, scholars can mislead (read: daze) targets temporarily, generate plans that convey bonuses and become resistant to mind-influencing and emotion effects with a selective SR. The archetypes are the engineer, geneticist, psychologist and skeptic – once again, a generally well-made and compelling class.
Finally, the stranger gets d12 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression, good Fort-saves, proficiency with simple and archaic weapons as well as light armors and shields: They are the catch-all class for the hardened survivors: make-shift armors, Endurance, favored terrain, uncanny dodge, better movement – you get the idea. The Archetypes include the drunken bum, the parolee, the street preacher, traditional tribal warrior and survivalist. A decent class, if a bit linear, as far as I’m concerned.
The pdf also mentions NPC classes and their basic modifications of the classic ones and goes on to update the skills available for modern gaming, with new Craft and Knowledge skills, Computers and Pilot. Similarly, the pdf contains various feats and feat clarifications of classic feats. Starting cash in dollars, equipment (including a wide variety of guns, use of firehoses as damaging sources, flare guns, flamethrowers, alternate ammunition, suppressors, explosives – basically, this doesn’t leave much to be desired and also includes restrictions of e.g. availability of certain objects. From fake IDs to night-vision goggles, this huge chapter provides a lot of cool material. IT should be noted that the pdf does cover rules for automatic fire and overlapping fields of fire.
Somewhat annoying if you’re looking for something specific: The pdf provides magic items in the side-bars throughout this chapter, which makes finding a specific magic item a bit of a hassle. Damn cool: We get vehicle stats for jet fighters, trucks, various cars, motorcycles and the like and the pdf does provide a concise overview of various costs of living and the respective standards. Beyond these rules, we receive 12 new spells, from discern password to magical masking of metal and clarifications for the use of traditional spells in a modern context can also be found.
Now, I touched before on gizmos as unstable prototypes – they and the more stable futuretech are discussed in their own chapter: From pocket flamethrowers and rocketpacks to psychic screwdrivers (Dr. Who fans will smile here…) to endure elements duplicators, these act basically as an alternate take on “magic” items – they have CLs and are presented as such, so if you’ve been using the Technology Guide, don’t expect compatibility here. That being said, the section generally is rather nice. The more unique and impressive eureka gizmos I mentioned before get their own section, just fyi – and they increase their effects, though the respective upgrades do come with a hefty price in additional to the minimum level requirements for the upgrades.
After this, we get a chapter on real diseases (curable ones only) and poisons before we are introduced to the sample campaign world, which is designated Fifth World: While the name may generate some cringing fro SR-fans, the setting is actually interesting – it takes the basic framework of Norse myth’s nine worlds and applies it to a modern context. A brief adventure outline and some encounter sketches can be found here as well, though these are very basic and bare-bones. The second campaign setting sketch we get would be silicon gothic, a futuristic high-tech espionage dystopia under corporate control. Three encounters sketch a sample adventure in this setting. It should be noted that both of these settings come with a few sample statblocks.
Editing is surprisingly good for a crunch-book of this size – on a formal level, there isn’t much to complain. The rules-language is similarly an interesting experience, for while there are a couple of formatting glitches and deviations from the default, as a whole, the rules-language is surprisingly well-crafted and the classes offer significantly more (and better!) options than what d20 Modern’s roster provided. Layout is a weak spot of the book – the use of the sidebar, generally, isn’t bad or anything, but e.g. cramming magic items there can make navigation more of a hassle. That being said, the book employs a 1-column standard. The book sports a lot of full-color artworks in the same comic-like style that you can see on the cover – they did not impress me as a whole, but don’t hurt the book either. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with extensive, nested bookmarks and a second version, optimized for mobile device usage as well as sample character sheets.
M. Andrew Payne, with contributions from Jason Bean, Andrew Boggs, Nik Palmer and Antoinette Riggs has crafted a rather massive and pretty impressive toolkit, one that does a better job at bringing modern gameplay to PFRPG than many approaches I have seen; in fact, I was surprised by this, as it had completely flown under my radar. This does a lot right: The new classes make sense, and with the exception of the charmer and stranger, provide a lot of player-agenda and viable options. The equipment section, gizmos, etc. all constitute viable playing options as well. At the same time, I think I managed to highlight why I don’t consider this to be perfect: Beyond the small hiccups in the rules-aesthetics, in particular the campaign customization leaves a bit to be desired. If you present variant campaign settings and address the magic-conundrum, then that somewhat has to be mirrored by rules – be it with suggested automatic bonus progressions or a similar way. As presented, the defensive options available in a modern game will be quickly outpaced by the offensive ones and just balancing via the implicit world, while a viable strategy, on its own isn’t wholly satisfying to me.
That is the one true failure of the book: I believe that it could have been a representation of true greatness if it had addressed these issues. Since it doesn’t, it basically represents a good book, for some it may even be very good. The options in this toolkit are diverse, interesting and bring, in one handy tome, a rather impressive and solid toolkit for modern gaming to Pathfinder…so if that’s what you’ve been looking for, look no further. If the notion never really interested you or if one of the more advanced pathfinder options (OA, Tech-guide, etc.) should be part of your game, then you’ll have to join me in waiting for, hopefully, an expansion at one point. As is, this book is worth getting. It does its job admirably-well and, as a whole, certainly deserves the obvious work that went into this being acknowledged. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars – a good toolkit for modern gaming, but one that does leave some work in the hands of the GM.
You can get this massive toolkit here on OBS!