Game: Modern Backdrops
Series: d20 Modern
Review Dated: 6th, February 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
There are quite a few gems among the RPG PDF publishing world. RPGObjects’ Modern Backdrops is one of them.
The question is, I suppose, does a PDF gem translate successfully into a paper book supplement? Is Modern Backdrops as good on paper as it is on my laptop? It’s the same product but there are differences. For example, I can’t print out the maps in the paper product (though I could mess around with photocopiers). On the other hand the Modern Backdrops book has that nice tactile feeling in my hands. And in truth the physical presence of the book isn’t so important to me (though there are gamers who won’t touch PDFs, so to speak) and I miss the ability to print off maps, or extra text to paste into my own notes
Modern Backdrops is a d20 Modern supplement. It contains 5 interesting locations and rules for the Psionic Student advanced class, possession, exorcism and the Fiendish Vessel template.
The locations in Modern Backdrops are made up – and this suits my preferences, I feel its easier to run a modern RPG in entirely fictional locations as it helps suspend disbelief and reduces clashes between facts and fictions. We have San Carillo, Rio Hevrir, Schaddo Creek, Delora Valley and Dunkin. The spooky Schaddo Creek is by far and a way my favourite.
Modern Backdrops has 24 maps in its 96 pages. This is high quality cartography – just shy of the levels we see by some of the map specialists in the d20 market. It’s not unsurprising that cartographer Jeremy Simmons receives the first credit after author Carrie Baize. Baize is an author I would be happy to see more work from. Her writing style manages that mixture of precision and flavour which is so important in roleplaying books.
This is a clever book. It’s extremely flexible. A GM running a realistic d20 modern game can take a lot from Modern Backdrops – as can a GM running a modern game with magic and monsters. Modern Backdrops uses a level system for this. Level 1 covers those “mundane” plot twists for low or no “FX”. Level 2 have a supernatural edge in their dealings and the Level 3 plot hooks are up there with the X-Files or even Twilight Zone. This works very well.
Information about each backdrop is broken up into similar divisions. “What Every School Kid Knows” covers all the obvious information about each location. The next stage up are the “Rumours”. Needless to say these bits of information are the ones which require some digging up – and Modern Backdrops helps divvy those up into the easily uncovered rumours and those more obscure. On the far edge of the scale there are the Dark Secrets. Dark Secrets, wonderfully, do not have to be supernatural in nature but are those deepest, most well hidden, secrets.
It’s also quite likely that your gaming group does not approach a setting by trying to dig up secrets! It’s more likely characters will talk to people or visit places. Modern Backdrops covers this too. There are sections for “Important People” (and “More Important People”), “Places To Go” and “Organisations”. As there are supernatural elements – if you want – in Modern Backdrops there are also sections for “Places of Power” and “Supernatural Residents” sections in the book. In addition we’ve timelines and community events.
None of these cleverly defined sections would be all that impressive if they did not tie together nicely. They do. For each of the backdrops, for San Carillo, Rio Hevrir, Schaddo Creek, Delora Valley and Dunkin, we have mysteries and drama. The plots here are ones which will interest characters. The caveat of caution I’ll enter here is that many of the plots and twists here are long term. The NPCs are interesting, I think, but if characters are not interested in them and do not care to nose around then many of Modern Backdrops’ plots and revelations won’t be realized.
Modern Backdrops seems best suited to d20 modern games with a fairly slow pace. There are no quick encounters of note in Modern Backdrops and instead we have mysterious and quirks which are best investigated carefully. The book works best if the GM has some one off scenes that they would like to run for the players and is in need of an interesting backdrop to put them against. This way we don’t bet everything on the hope that the gaming group will investigate or care about the background goings on.
There are so few decent d20 Modern supplements out there – and much of what there is comes from RPGObjects – so there are two reasons to pick up Modern Backdrops. Modern Backdrops is for GMs and gaming groups with a measured and intellectual gaming style. Modern Backdrops is also for GMs who are looking to build a decent d20 Modern library.