Posted by : David Guyll May 14, 2012

Ultramodern4--or U4 for short--is a rules supplement that reminds me of D20 Modern in that it provides rules for a modern-to-futuristic game without an implied setting

Since it lacks rules on character building and advancement, skills, and combat it is really more of an attachment to the core Dungeons & Dragons rules instead of a stand-alone game, though at almost 240 pages it is quite a massive attachment.

Chapter 1: What is Ultramodern4 
This short introductory chapter prepares you by explaining some deviations from the "normal" rules (such as no magic and non-combat powers), compatibility with Dungeons & Dragons content (which ironically could include wizards), the lack of an official setting, mention of the setting that was supposed to be here (NeuroSpasta), the purpose of this book, new rules and keywords, and a brief rundown of the ladders and classes.

Chapter 2: Ladders 
Unlike Dungeons & Dragons and Amethyst, classes are not your only means of features and powers. Currently there are seven ladders, including the juggernaut, runner, veteran, and warrior. I guess the best comparison is that ladders are like bulkier themes in that they not only give you benefits at 1st-level, but continue to do so throughout your career more frequently and flexibly. To top if off you still get to choose between ladder and class powers, though ladders also feature attack powers (including level 1 at-wills).

For example at 1st-level the born leader ladder sans class lets you generate an aura effect that grants bonuses to attack rolls, hit points, defenses, and more, use Charisma or Intelligence in place of Wisdom for powers, and gain a bonus to three Charisma- or Intelligence-based skills. At 3rd-level you gain a +1 to attack and damage rolls, a +1 bonus to Will, and gain other What a Guy (healing surge as a minor action to extend aura effects based on your Charisma or Intelligence modifier) or gain a bunch of cash.

All of that before you even pick a class. Speaking of which...

Chapter 3: Classes
There are eleven classes, which in addition to coming with all the usual trimmings and being compatible with any ladder, also come with standard equipment packages that include weapons, armor, vehicles, contacts, and other more. You can also opt out of any of those things in exchange for cold, hard cash. The only part where classes skimp on is power choices; you only ever get 1-2 choices, instead relying on your ladder for additional options.

The faceman is interesting in that none of the attack exploits deal damage, but instead impose status effects and/or grant allies bonuses. Biting taunt, a level 1 at-will, marks a target, grants you an AC bonus against its attacks while it is marked by you, and it is considered weakened when making attacks that do not include you. Oh, and it is also dazed if you crit with this "attack". On the other hand commanding presence, a level 29 daily, dominates two creatures (save ends).

Chapter 4: Paths & Destinies 
There are 22 paths and 5 epic destinies.

The paths remind me of advanced classes from D20 Modern in that they represent a character becoming better at a given thing; driving, sniping, talking, etc. None of them have ladder or class prereqs. Instead when they require anything at all, it is training in specific skills, feats, or proficiency with weapons. The paths seem somehow slimmer than their Dungeons & Dragons counterparts, offering the same amount of content but taking up about a half-page each.

Rather than representing an ascension to god-like power, epic destinies just mean that you are part of the "top 0.01% of the world's population specialized in your field". These are are things like master (being the best on the planet at a given subject) or respected (the highest military rank, or someone like Commander Shepherd I guess). The team destiny is odd in that its benefits only affect others that also have the team destiny, so your mileage may vary.

Chapter 5: Skills & Feats 
Though the game assumes the skills from Dungeons & Dragons, the only ones featured are five new skills that one would expect in a modern game--Computer Use, Demolitions, Engineer, Sciences, and Vehicle Operation--with the expected uses of hacking devices, finding information, setting/disabling explosives, fixing things, sabotaging things, etc.

Vehicle Use gets a lot of real estate, with rules for sliding, crashing, accelerating, decelerating, evasive driving, flying, jumping, drifting...basically every stunt you could expect to see in an action flick. Thankfully it comes with a table.

As for feats, though it says you can nab them from Player's Handbook, I figure anything is free game (especially for players that want the better Expertise stuff), though there are plenty of new feats here that you probably will not bother, especially given that they pertain to modern armor and weapons. For example, Deck Fire lets you waive the penalty for making ranged attacks with small arms while prone, while Deflecting Shot lets you reduce the penalty for firing ranged weapons against an enemy in cover by 1.

Quite a few feats give you new powers (including at-will stuff), such as Curb Stomp (deal Strength modifier damage to a prone enemy automatically with a move action) and Duct Tape (you never run out of duct tape, and as a standard action can use it for a variety of purposes, including Engineering and Heal bonuses, attach flashlights to guns, create rope, etc). Two of the feats, Explosive Specialty and Checkered Past, can be taken multiple times, giving you a new power with explosives and vehicles each time respectively.

Though neither feats nor skills, the chapter wraps up with a small section on contacts. Contacts are basically a wild card NPC that becomes defined when you use them for a bonus on a skill check or to help locate a black market item; once you use them for a skill, they get a name and can only ever be used for that skill in the future. Classes can offer contacts as starting resources, and you can buy and upgrade them later.

Chapter 6: Equipment 
In keeping with the idea of a generic modern RPG, this game has Tech Levels. If you played Alternity (and probably a bunch of other games I have not played), then you are familiar with Tech Levels, though these start at a "modern" level--stated to be the familiar technology of modern day--before scaling up to magnetic vehicles, nano-technology, antigravity technology, plasma weapons, and complete body reconstruction.

For weapons you get a bunch of new weapon groups (heavy weapons, one- and two-handed small arms, super heavy weapons, etc) and properties (augment, auto, conceal, gauss, guided, laser...nuclear), which serve only to prepare you for the tables upon tables of actual weapons that include pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and flamethrowers for the "lowliest" of tech levels, ranging up to lasers, particle beams, plasma cannons, and more at the other end of the spectrum.

While it mentions that you can utilize "archaic" weapons, pointing you to Player's Handbook, personally I would advice against bringing even a fullblade to a minigun/pulse rifle/particle beam/plasma cannon fight (though magical weapons gain Armor Piercing, which is kind of nice).

Armor adds in rules for Hardness (ie, non-elemental damage reduction) and Threshold (damage that the armor's hit points can absorb from a given attack). Some armor requires power, using an abstract mechanic of six-encounters-per-energy-cell.

Light and heavy "modern" armors include synthetic weave, nanotech armor, tactical body armor, dragon-mail, and similar things that are largely comparable with what we have now (some of the best light stuff is Tech Level 1-2, such as that nanotech). The advanced powered armors are all not only limited to Tech Levels 2 and up, but are only suited to mid-paragon tier and higher.

The rest of the chapter is a pretty extensive list of gear, including your typical run of supplies and tools that you would expect to find; gas masks, binoculars, computers, a laser sight, pillows, kits that boost skill bonuses, and more. There are also drugs, musical instruments, a pretty impressive list of land and air vehicles that include mecha, and equipment modifications.

Chapter 7: New Age of Warfare
More in-depth rules on using loadout for games in which the characters belong to an organization and tend to rent-rather-than-own, more information on advanced armor, explosives, and vehicles (including simplified vehicle rules), and optional rules for emulating grittier movies or being more compatible with Dungeons & Dragons.

Chapter 8: Antagonists & Enemies
Power armor, cyborgs, and robots I had expected. I even figured that there would be more mundane types like gang members, trained soldiers, and the like.

I did not expect the names: Bell-Tower Bastard (a sniper type), Man With Pipe Wrench (a man with a pipe wrench), Ammo Waster (who, ironically, does not waste ammo), and Out of Place Kung-Fu Guy (a minion version of the level 14 solo Misplaced Martial Arts Master). There are even some somewhat silly attacks, such as the Seriously, Katana's katana, seriously attack, as well as some pop culture references like the Big Boss's groovy gauntlet attack.

Personally I think it lends it a campy, sarcastic style that you see in action flicks. Given that my preferences for a "modern" game would generally fall more into the vein of sci-fi, urban fantasy, or survival horror I probably would have never thought to run a kind of Evil Dead and/or Metal Gear Solid campaign until I saw Big Boss.

Chapter 9: Adventuring
Alternative methods on handling rewards instead of just looting the place (though you can still do that if you wanted to do a post-apocalyptic setting like Fallout), sample encounters, and set pieces to go along with them. Not a very big chapter, but the samples maps might come in handy.

Chapter 10 & 11: Adventure Time
The last two chapters, Biohazard and Invasion Proxy, are level 4 and 14 adventure modules that allow you to build characters and just try it out.

This book feels like a good spiritual successor to 3rd Edition's D20 Modern. The lack of an implied setting or time period, coupled with the fact that you can mix and match content from either book makes it easy to do an Urban Arcana game, and I could see rolling in Gamma World to get something a lot meatier if that is your thing. Heck, why not lump it all together and have your very own 2nd Edition of Rifts, if even by name only?

Ultimately I can see people that actually played D20 Modern and preferring 4th Edition really enjoying this game. If you like Gamma World, then you might like it depending on if it is for the setting and flavor, or perhaps the simplicity: this game is even more complex than Dungeons & Dragons is, so if you were already feeling strained by the tracking of conditions, hit points, and out-of-turn actions, then this might not be the game for you.

Of course, you could try porting over some of the gear and add robots and high-tech weapons to your Dungeons & Dragons games, or even try developing your own fantasy ladders.

{ 3 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. O hai there.

    Just happened across your review while trying to hunt down drug addiction rules for this very system. The DEM forum boards believed some user-created option existed, and I didn't want to reinvent the wheel if I didn't have to.

    Makes me wonder if you, in fact, didn't create this thing I'm looking for.

    1. Hey again, Johnny (or is it Jonny?):

      Sorry about the wait on this: I've been moving for the past four days, and I had to sent comments to moderation on 30+ day old posts because I kept getting a shit ton of spam. I try to check for un-moderated comments, but fell behind a bit...


      Given that this is based on 4th Edition D&D, off the top of my head I would treat it similar to a disease track, just with the following changes:

      Each step would have a penalty you get while off the drug, as well as a benefit and slightly reduced penalty while on the drug. As the steps increase, the bonuses and penalties also increase.

      The duration in which you get to make a check to try and improve your condition (or get and keep clean) is longer than a day. It might be several days, weeks, or even months.

      Drugs could have an addiction DC, which you must make when you have the time and ability to acquire it again: if you fail, then you go out and try to get a fix.

      You could also have some kind of severe effect that happens after you use, like maybe you can't do anything for a couple hours, or suffer a big-ass penalty. Depends on the drug.

    2. I may go by Merlin nowadays, but those I grew up with still call me Johnny, and that's just fine by me.

      No worries, you didn't exactly keep me waiting for very long.

      I like the idea of addiction simulating disease. Now I just have to reskin a few diseases that offer a temporary benefit in exchange for an addiction DC.

      Moving's tough. Hope it's to a better location. You've got my email if you want to catch up somewhere that isn't an open forum.



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