D20 Modern (5E)

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My New d20 Modern Campaign (2015-04-13) by Dan Helmick

I’m a longtime D&D player, but I’m also a sucker for urban fantasy. With the Dungeon Master’s Guide and some tweaking, I’ve begun to use the fifth edition rules to explore the possibilities of gunplay in a modern fantasy setting.

When Wizards of the Coast released the d20 Modern roleplaying game in 2002, I was in heaven. Gnolls in crushed velvet!, Ogres decked out in London Fog overcoats!, Living dumpsters that ate people!, Guns.

I was crazy about the Urban Arcana campaign setting in particular. The scenario was a familiar one, seemingly plucked from my own daydreams. D&D monsters and magic (called “Shadow” within the setting) are finding their way into our world. The vast majority of humankind remains largely ignorant of this development, thanks to our awesome capacity for denial. Only a small number of humans and friendly Shadowkind races can even perceive—much less combat—the threats that such an incursion brings.

I ran my Urban Arcana campaign for six years. By that point, other games had clamored for my attention, but I never forgot how interested I was in the marriage of D&D to urban fantasy. When the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was released last December, I knew without a doubt that my first homebrew setting using the new rules would be an updated take on Urban Arcana, adapting firearms and modern armor for use in an urban fantasy game.

Rules of Engagement

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides optional rules for firearms in D&D—including modern and even futuristic weapons. However, this left me in a quandary regarding character defenses. In a typical fantasy setting, adventurers, guards, and other possible combatants are fully expected to wear armor. There are no social penalties when characters are observed in full armor while going about their business. Modern settings are a different animal in this regard.

Using the old d20 Modern Core Rulebook as a guide, and tweaking the math for fifth edition, I created armor options for my “5e Modern” campaign. Because it can be assumed that most characters operate undercover, incognito, or simply in an unobtrusive manner for at least part of the time, I made sure that those options included concealable armor. More obvious armor—whether riot armor, flak jackets, or Land Warrior milspec armor—will likely have an affect on characters’ social ability checks and their ability to move freely in your campaign. By that same token, armor might afford bonuses to Charisma (Intimidation) checks.

Modern Armor
Armor Type AC (Armor Class) Strength Stealth Properties Weight
Heavy coat Light 11 + Dex mod. Disad. 6 lb.
Leather jacket Light 11 + Dex mod. 4 lb.
Light undercover shirt Light 11 + Dex mod. DR/2 ballistic 2 lb.
Kevlar-lined coat Light 12 + Dex mod. DR/2 ballistic 8 lb.
Undercover vest Light 13 + Dex mod. DR/2 ballistic 3 lb.
Concealable vest Med. 13 + Dex mod. (max 2) DR/3 ballistic 4 lb.
Light-duty vest Med. 14 + Dex mod. (max 3) DR/3 ballistic 8 lb.
Tactical vest Med. 15 + Dex mod. (max 2) Str 10 Disad. Resistance: ballistic 10 lb.
Special response vest Heavy 15 Str 10 Disad. Resistance: ballistic 15 lb.
Land Warrior armor Heavy 17 Str 13 Disad. DR/5 ballistic/slashing 10 lb.
Forced entry unit Heavy 18 Str 13 Disad. Resistance: ballistic/slashing 20 lb.

As you can see from the table, many of the heavier armors grant damage reduction (DR) or resistance to several damage types, including a new damage type: ballistic damage. In game terms, ballistic damage is the type of damage that firearms inflict, and is a subset of piercing damage. This means that all ballistic damage counts as piercing damage, but not all piercing damage counts as ballistic damage. Magical effects or creature properties that grant resistance to piercing damage also apply to ballistic damage, but effects or properties reducing ballistic damage do not automatically apply to piercing damage.

(Armor in my game currently has no price because my modern ruleset uses a wealth system for characters, similar to that used in d20 Modern. Characters gain equipment based on their wealth, rather than tracking income and expenses. I won’t get into the full system here, but it might make a good topic for a later installment of Behind the Screens.)

Who gets what?

Class Firearm Proficiency
Bard Sidearms
Barbarian Long arms
Cleric Sidearms for City and War domains
Druid None
Fighter Long arms and sidearms
Monk Sidearms
Paladin Long arms and sidearms
Ranger Long arms and sidearms
Rogue Long arms or sidearms (chosen at character creation)
Sorcerer None
Warlock Sidearm or long arm with Pact of the Blade
Wizard Sidearms for Technomancy tradition

Because of the high potential damage granted to firearms, it was also necessary to introduce a complication or condition in order to balance their use with more traditional modes of attack. In my campaign, a character proficient with a firearm does not automatically add any proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Rather, proficiency with a firearm allows a character to use a bonus action to take the aim action, which adds the character’s proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Without taking the aim action (or if a character is using a firearm without proficiency), the shooter receives only the benefit of a Dexterity bonus on the attack roll.

When it came to weapon proficiencies, I decided that several classes would enjoy proficiency with firearms, while others would have to earn their proficiency with multiclassing or by training through the use of downtime days (see the Player’s Handbook). I divided firearms into two basic classes: sidearms (for anything up to a submachine gun) and long arms (for anything up to a light machine gun.) Anything heavier—such as a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or a flamethrower—is given special dispensation according to the in-game situation. In my own campaign, I created a feat called Heavy Weapon Specialist that allows proficiency in all modern weapons heavier than a medium machine gun wielded by an unassisted individual on foot. I also made this feat available as a fighting style for the fighter class.

Modern Magic

Unearthed Arcana: Modern Magic (PDF)

When the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was released in 2014, two pages in chapter 9, “Dungeon Master’s Workshop,” attracted a lot of attention. Those pages covered the rules for using firearms and explosives, an addition that allowed DMs to introduce modern and alien weaponry into the D&D world, as in the classic adventure Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

But what if we extended the D&D rules to cover a campaign not only touched by, but actually set in a modern era? The d20 Modern roleplaying game did that with the third edition ruleset in 2002. Now the newest iteration of D&D features various archetypes, traditions, domains, and other options for the base classes, all of which present opportunities for customisation. With that in mind, this article presents new rules for expanding the repertoire of spellcasting characters in a modern setting.

These rules build on the Behind the Screens article “My New d20 Modern Campaign,” which introduces sidearms, long arms, and modern armour for fifth edition D&D.

City Magic

Many of the class features and spells in this article depend on a character’s presence in an urban environment to function. At the DM’s discretion, these features and spells might function in smaller urban areas (such as sufficiently population-dense large towns or suburbs. However, they do not function in areas with little or no artificial construction (such as a wholly natural forest settlement) regardless of population.

Cleric

For many clerics in a modern campaign, life is dominated by the urban environment and its struggles.

City Domain

The City domain is concerned with the citizenry, commerce, traffic, and even architecture of modern civilization. In the eyes of a cleric of the city, the centre of modern life is a sense and spirit of community, and the gravest enemies of the city are those who seek to harm the common weal of its citizens.

Cleric
Level
City Domain Spells
0 on/off 🛈
1st comprehend languagesremote access 🛈
3rd find vehicleheat metal
5th lightning boltprotection from ballistics
7th locate creaturesynchronicity
9th commune with cityshutdown 🛈
Bonus Proficiencies
Also starting at 1st level, you gain proficiency with sidearms and proficiency with vehicles (land).
Heart of the City
From 1st level, you are able to tap into the spirit of community found in the city. While you are within any city, you can gain advantage on a single Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion check, and you are considered proficient in the appropriate skill. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier (a minimum of once). You regain any expended uses when you finish a long rest.
Channel Divinity, Spirits of the City
Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to call on the city for aid. As an action, you present your holy symbol, and any city utility within 30 feet of you either works perfectly or shuts down entirely for 1 minute (your choice).
Additionally, each hostile creature within 30 feet of you must make a Charisma saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is knocked prone or restrained (your choice by hazards such as entangling wires, high-pressure water erupting from fire hydrants, pavement collapsing to unseen potholes, and so on. A restrained creature can escape by making a successful Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check against your spell save DC.
This effect is entirely local and affects only utilities within 30 feet of you. Determination of what utilities are available within range and how the physical effects of those utilities manifest are left to the DM.
Block Watch
Starting at 6th level, your awareness while in the city extends preternaturally. While in an urban environment, you are considered proficient in the Insight and Perception skills, and you add double your proficiency bonus to Wisdom (Insight and Wisdom (Perception checks, instead of your normal proficiency bonus.
Divine Strike
At 8th level, you gain the ability to infuse your weapon strikes with psychic energy borrowed from the citizens of your city. Once on each of your turns when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 psychic damage to the target.
When you reach 14th level, the extra psychic damage increases to 2d8.
Express Transit
At 17th level, you can use mass transit routes to transport instantaneously to other points in the city. Starting from a bus stop, train station, subway stop, or other suitable mass transit site within the city, you can teleport to any other similar transit stop within the city, as if you had cast a teleport spell whose destination is a permanent teleportation circle you know. Once you use this feature, you must finish a short or long rest before using it again.

Warlock

A modern warlock channels the unseen randomness of urban life, tapping into the energy of technology in unimagined ways.

Ghost in the Machine

Otherworldly Patron

You have made a bargain for power granted by an entity that you believe to be completely digital. Whether it is a rogue AI or the spirit of a deceased hacker, the Ghost in the Machine is capable of feats that defy explanation.

Spell
Level
Ghost in the Machine Spells
0 on/off 🛈
1st infallible relay 🛈remote access 🛈
2nd arcane hacking 🛈digital phantom 🛈
3rd haywire 🛈invisibility to cameras 🛈
4th conjure knowbot 🛈system backdoor 🛈
5th shutdown 🛈synchronicity
Bonus Proficiency
At 1st level, you gain proficiency with hacking tools.
Information Surge
At 1st level, you gain the ability to temporarily render computerized devices inoperable. As an action, you can target a computerized device within 30 feet of you. If the targeted device is held or otherwise actively used by a living creature, that creature must make an Intelligence saving throw against your spell save DC. On a failed save, the targeted device ceases to function until the end of your next turn. If the targeted device is not held or used by a creature, the DM makes a special saving throw for the device with disadvantage and a +0 modifier. Certain shielded devices might negate the disadvantage, at the DM’s determination.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Wire Walk
Starting at 6th level, you gain the ability to travel short distances over electrical wires, data lines, or telephone cables. As a bonus action, you can touch a device or socket connected to a hardwired network and teleport along this network to another device or socket within your line of sight. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest.
Personal Encryption
Beginning at 10th level, you have learned to apply your innate knowledge of encryption to your thoughts, memories, and presence. You have advantage on saving throws against scrying, thought detection, or any other method of magically learning your whereabouts or reading your thoughts. For any such effect that does not grant you a saving throw but which requires the creature targeting you to make an ability check, the check is made with disadvantage.
Technovirus
At 14th level, you gain the ability to infect a humanoid’s body with living circuitry. You can use an action to make a melee attack against a humanoid creature using your spell attack modifier. The target must make a Constitution saving throw against your spell save DC as a techno-organic virus quickly spreads through its body. On a failed save, the target takes 8d10 psychic damage, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Additionally, if the target fails the saving throw, you can use an action to issue it a single command, as if you were casting the command spell. The target makes its saving throw against your command with disadvantage. You can issue this command at any time while the target remains infected.
Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest, at which point the target is cured of the technovirus. The infection can also be removed with a lesser restoration spell.

Additional Invocation

Warlocks who favour modern weapons can learn to channel their magic through those weapons.

Arcane Gunslinger
Prerequisite: Pact of the Blade feature

You can create a pact weapon that is a sidearm or long arm, and you can transform a magical sidearm or long arm into your pact weapon.

Wizard

Knowledge is the heart of the wizard’s craft, and a modern environment offers knowledge undreamed of by most mages.

Technomancy

Arcane Tradition

Unlike the more common arcane traditions based around the schools of magic, the tradition of Technomancy does not focus on a singular type of spellcraft or magical energy. Rather, students of Technomancy concern themselves with how their spells interact with modern technology.

Technomancers can make use of technology as both a conduit and a storage space for magic. In a campaign using the optional rules for magic item creation (see the Dungeon Master’s Guide), a technomancer might craft disposable electronic devices and smartphone apps in lieu of potions and scrolls.

Bonus Proficiencies
Beginning when you select this arcane tradition at 2nd level, you gain proficiency with sidearms and hacking tools.
Technological Savant
Also at 2nd level, you trade out your spellbook for a specially attuned storage device of your choosing, capable of recording magical data. The computing power of this device must be equal to or greater than a tablet computer. Only one storage device can be attuned to you at any given time. Spells can be copied into this device at half the cost of copying spells into a spellbook.
Program Spell
At 6th level, you can insert a spell within an electronic device of your choosing, so that by touching a key or flicking a switch using an action, the spell activates. All variables of the spell are set at the time of casting. The computing power of this device must be equal to or greater than a mobile phone.
A programmed spell remains placed in its device for 48 hours, and is gone once it is discharged. You can use this feature to place a programmed spell in only one device at a time, and a device can hold only one programmed spell. Only you can activate the programmed spell in the device. If the device is destroyed, the programmed spell is lost.
A concentration spell placed in a device cannot be activated while you are concentrating on another spell. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.
Online Casting
At 10th level, you can cast spells through networked electronic devices, including cameras, mobile phones, and computers. For example, if a creature is under the observation of a security camera and you can see the video feed from that camera on a computer, you can cast a spell into the computer and out through the security camera to target that creature.
If the spell requires the caster to be seen, the target must see you or a live image of you. If the spell requires the caster to be heard, the target must be able to hear you or a live audio transmission of you. The spell’s range is determined using the distance from you to your device, and then from the target to its device. You must be able to see or otherwise determine the location of the target. This feature can be used to cast only spells that target specific creatures. Spells that affect an area are not subject to online casting.
This feature can be used a number of times per day equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of once).
Chained Device
By 14th level, you have learned to imprint vestiges of your consciousness on electronic devices with significant computing power. When you cast a concentration spell, you can use a device whose computing power is equal to or greater than a tablet computer to maintain concentration of the spell on your behalf. The device must be held or worn by you to maintain this effect. If the device is destroyed, taken from you, dropped, or turned off, the concentration ends. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

Ability checks

Most characters in a modern campaign setting are well versed in using computers, and are automatically successful when employing technology for mundane tasks (searching a hard drive or the Internet, using the normal functions of an electronic device, and so on). For especially challenging technological tasks (finding hidden information on a computer, restoring information from a device that’s been erased, and so on , a character makes an Intelligence check against a DC set by the DM. However, some technical tasks—including breaking into protected computer systems, accessing hidden functions of electronic devices, or using a device in a way it was not designed for—require the use of specialized hacking tools.

Hacking tools

This kit contains the hardware and software necessary to allow access into most computer systems and electronic devices. Proficiency with hacking tools lets you add your proficiency bonus to any Intelligence checks you make to connect to or make use of a computer system or electronic device. The kit fits snugly in a backpack or toolbox.

New spells

New modern-themed spells are available to casters as indicated in the spell list additions below.

Technomagic

Many of the new spells have a special tag (🛈) indicating they are technomagic. Such spells are cast normally, but their magic specifically references and interacts with computer systems and electronic devices.

Paladin

2nd level
find vehicle

Arcane

Wizard, Warlock & Sorcerer

Cantrips (0-level)
on/off 🛈
1st level
infallible relay 🛈
remote access 🛈
2nd level
arcane hacking 🛈
digital phantom 🛈
find vehicle
3rd level
haywire 🛈
invisibility to cameras 🛈
protection from ballistics
4th level
conjure knowbot 🛈
synchronicity
system backdoor 🛈
5th level
commune with city
shutdown 🛈