Game: Modern Magic
Publisher: The Game Mechanics
Series: d20 Modern
Review Dated: 8th, January 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
I don’t tend to pay too much attention to blurbs in RPG supplements any more. The first sentence in Modern Magic tells us that magic is no longer confined to dungeons. I don’t need to read that. I know this is a d20 Modern magic supplement. I do like books which set out their goals early. The best way to buy an RPG product you have no word or mouth about nor can find any reviews in the style you like is to go to the local store and skim the first few pages for an introduction with goals. Modern Magic’s goals are worthy; add modern sensibility to traditional RPG magic and to expand d20 modern’s repertoire by using real world beliefs.
In other words we should be looking at password hacking spells, magic which works on ATMs and taxi summoning charms. We would be right to suppose the usual suspects for “real world magic” – wicca and voodoo.
We’re also reminded that the authors of Modern Magic are the authors of d20 Modern. This is designed to be reassurance rather than bragging. Modern Magic, we’re reassured, is balanced as no one else understands the appropriate power levels for d20 Modern more than Eric Cagle, Mike Montesa, Rich Redman, Mat Smith and Stan!
You need more than d20 Modern to fully use Modern Magic though. To run with all the classes and get the most out of the new rules here you also need a copy of Urban Arcana. This is mixed news. The chances are that if you’re tempted by Modern Magic that you’ll have Urban Arcana already. If not then you’re looking at a large hardback which introduces prestige classes to d20 Modern and is more of a “What if” than a campaign setting. What if there are monsters in the world but that most people simply couldn’t see them?
The class most dependant on Urban Arcana is the Ritualist. Ritualists use lesser incarnations and magic circles. The lesser incarnations are a variation of the incarnation rules introduced in Urban Arcana. Lesser Incarnations work by blending modes and elements. Get the right combination and you can mimic the effects of typical d20 spells. In other words the lesser incarnations straddle the D&D spell list style with the Mage: the Awakening (White Wolf), Ars Magica (Atlas Games) and others. I think this works quite well. It’s a little simplistic but that’s often an advantage.
Rather ironically the book actually begins by extending and adding to the spell list. This is what the book promised though – spells for the modern world. There’s enough if Modern Magic to give your d20 Modern campaign a good jolt of spice but we’re still very far behind the count of magic spells in d20 Fantasy. Some of the new spells are marked as military. Okay, military magic makes sense. If magic is real then the military would know about it and would invest billions in learning, creating and mastering spells. I don’t see the military being able to keep a monopoly on spells though. All it takes is a wizard with an idea and the time and resources to try and we can have a new spell. No Doze, for example, is supposed to be a military only spell. I wish I could go without sleep. If I had arcane powers in real life then I’d have made “No Doze” the first spell I knew really well or the spell I worked hardest to create. I don’t see why it counts as military. On the other hand, according to Modern Magic, Hermetic Membrane is commonly known among modern magic spell casters. Hermetic Membrane ensures that you don’t leave any incriminating DNA behind. I think everyone reading this review knows what DNA and DNA evidence is but surely a spell like this is much more likely to be exclusive to the military? You do probably do need a First World education to know much about DNA and you do need the “right inspiration” to work out how to magically prevent DNA clues. I think the military markings on spells are far too arbitrary.
I guessed wicca and voodoo would appear in Modern Magic, anyone would. The ritualists cover wicca. I was pretty much right with voodoo but Modern Magic corrects my terminology. Voodoo is a bit of a Hollywood term; Voudon is a better one to use. I think Modern Magic hit a great success with their types of Voudon. There’s no “black magic” and “white magic” here and so that’s another stereotype thrown out. The bokor are arcane spell casters. On average bokor are evil and selfish but there are good and helpful bokor. Hougan are divine spell casters. On average hougan are helpful as they tend to work with and for the community. The powers at be in Voudon are the Loa. The Loa might be gods, spirits, magical entities… it’s not clear, it’s up to the GM and it doesn’t matter (not in practical terms – they’re real and that matters). The Loa can and do possess people. In fact, this can happen quite often in Voudon. The possessed person is known as the horse. In game terms there are certain times when possession is more likely. In statistical terms possession is useful as the character suddenly benefits from improvements and enhancements. It strikes me as potentially intense roleplaying too and really tough on the players and GM.
Many of the new classes are inspired the military-magic cross. We’ve the likes of magical grunts – who, despite having spell casting abilities, still seem to be unspecialised soldiers (yeah, right!), thaumaturgical specialists and the arcane spec-op. I do like the concept of the arcane spec-op (or perhaps it’s the atmospheric illustration which accompanies helps inspire me) as the idea of magic being necessary in a special forces team suggests dark, dangerous and shadowy battles against enemies the general public knows nothing about.
There’s room for “more miscellaneous modern magic” too. Classes like the Arcane Investigator allow games to mix modern drama with the arcane and yet avoid, if they wish, the combat focus military campaigns are likely to have. It comes as no surprise to find that there are many pages of modern magic items and new feats too. There’s a mini bestiary for elementals. The elemental bestiary is the first of two good appendices. The second appendix is a handy spell list reference to show which element and which node ritualists need to merge to produce which standard spell effect.
Modern Magic meets its goals but does so unspectacularly. The supplement does introduce more modern-savvy spells to the system. Modern Magic does use real world beliefs as the inspiration for new magic. I think the Voudon chapter is worth talking about and if you’re looking for interesting and workable voodoo rules then Modern Magic is certainly worth picking up (US $17.95 for 80 pages). Otherwise the book will appeal to gamers who want to pad out their d20 modern magic or want some extra flexibility.