Game: Blood and Guts: Modern Military
Series: d20 Modern
Review Dated: 19th, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I’ve a funny story about Blood and Guts: Modern Military. In an instant messenger conversation an American friend recounted the heroics from his tabletop RPG the previous night, his commando had leapt from a roof, slit the throat of a terrorist on guard duty, sprayed machine gun fire through the window to kill two more and then, since the terrorists had already killed their hostages, he blew the whole building up and made sure that there was no one left alive. In the same conversation he complained about Blood and Guts because it doesn’t censor out the f-word while explaining military slang. In summary: kill the bad guys and anyone in the area, don’t feel guilty about taking a life… just don’t swear! He’s my friend and so I can safely predict that he’d have been even more outraged if Blood and Guts featured inappropriate flesh too. As a European I recognise this reaction as quintessentially New World (from those distant lands over The Pond). TV shows are full of heroes blowing things up and mowing people down with machine guns – but just don’t swear. As a roleplayer I recognise that, in truth, RPGs all over the world contain plenty of gore but rarely swear. Blood and Guts doesn’t swear throughout its 93 PDF pages, just right at the end when it tells you what the F in FUBAR stands for.
The juxtaposition of European and American values strike in a different way at the start of Blood and Guts. The supplement is there to support a character fighting officially to defend American interests. This isn’t a general military supplement. The rules present roles and positions within the American army as prestige classes. For those with an eye on current affairs you’ll notice that there isn’t a single class in the download that dabbles in anthropology, dealing with locals, crowds, urban terrorism or even hostage negotiation. Given that Blood and Guts is trying to portray the interests and focus of the US military as accurately as possible you shouldn’t expect such skills to feature. I’ve already used the word “army” when “military forces” would be more appropriate; Blood and Guts covers the army, navy, air force and coast guard. If you’re surprised by the inclusion of the coast guard then the supplement’s introduction to the military and political structure of the US military will be helpful to you.
I don’t think it’s quite worth buying Blood and Guts just to learn how the US military works because a bit of research on Google will do that for you. It’s worth buying Blood and Guts if playing a game where the characters are in the US military or are likely to meet a host of NPCs from the military.
Before the long list of prestige classes gets going Blood and Guts introduce two new allegiances, active duty and reserve duty. Hmm. I see where that’s going but I think it breaks the allegiance mould. These two really define what the character can expect to receive from his association with the armed forces and what the armed forces expect from him. These two allegiances are requirements for the prestige classes – and I don’t think they should be. An allegiance represents what the character believes in, not his current employment status. Surely it’s possible for a character to have the determination and drive to become a Ranger without caring all that much for armed forces. Revenge, a double agent, family pressure or a religious conviction all seem equally likely to me. However, these requirements do is make it clear when a character has to actively be on duty in order to maintain a rank within a special forces role.
I’ll list the prestige classes the supplement offers rules for. Hollywood seems to pick a unit to make popular every decade and so players will want to find their favourite military role available for play. In the 80s all the action heroes on TV were ex-Delta force, in the 90s they were all ex-Navy SEALs and now in the naughties it seems as if the current favourite are ATF agents. Blood and Guts: Modern Military doesn’t do ATF agents (but Blood and Guts: The War on Terror might). Modern Military includes; Air Force Combat Controllers, Air Force Pararescue, Army 75th Ranger Regiment, Army 160th SOAR (the Nighthawks), Army Delta Force, Special Forces Communications Sergeant, Special Forces Engineering Sergeant, Special Forces Intelligence Specialist, Special Forces Medical Specialist, Special Forces Weapons Specialist, Marine Force Recon, Navy SEALs, Navy Special Boat Units, Sniper and Topgun. Later on the supplement, much later on, you’ll find The Strategist too. If you’re looking for Patriot Battery Operators, Sonar Operators, Mine Clearers or even Sappers then you won’t find them. These aren’t the type of military positions this issue of Blood and Guts is interested in.
Chapter Two is all about special training. There are some new skills and new uses for current skills. I prefer the latter. Sonar Operation, for example, fits snugly into the Listen skill. In fact, I believe you can practise and perfect your Sonar Operation and learn how to pick out those distinctive echoes – but I think it’s laughable that you can practise your listening. So in this case this new use for a skill helps to justify it as a skill in the first place.
There are dozens of new feats. Some of the feats are standard skill boosts; Hawkeye grants +2 to Spot and Search checks. Some of the feats represent special training; Grenadier offers +1 attack and +50% range for grenade attacks and Formation Flying improves Defence values and stunt flying checks. There is a whole section of “Advanced Training” with abilities can be selected in lieu of a feat. On a similar note, some of the Feats represent special permissions and boons from the military; Military Police Powers means the character has the limited ability to arrest soldiers who may have broken military regulations. There is another section of “Elite Unit Assignments” which takes this further and which you select from by picking up the Elite Unit Assignment Feat.
The advanced training section represents such success as Artic, Desert or Jungle training. Alternatively the character’s training might be in driving armour, diving, intelligence or signal operations. In strictly game mechanic terms there’s nothing separating these advanced training modules from feats but the way Blood and Guts deliberately puts them aside as packages from the US military serves to enhance the flavour and reality of the rules. This is a good thing.
The Elite Unit Assignment feat means that, at one time, the character has served with an elite unit. An elite unit isn’t the same thing as a special unit but there is some overlap. The 75th Ranger Battalion is an elite unit; not every Ranger in the Battalion is of the Ranger prestige class. These assignments have prerequisites and benefits. Blood and Guts: Modern Military has feat style rules for: 1st Cavalry Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division, 75th Ranger Battalion, 82nd Airborne, 101st Airborne, Blue Angels, Marine Expeditionary Unit, Phoenix Ravens, Radio Reconnaissance Teams, Special Reaction Team and the Seabees.
The same chapter explains how ranks work within the military, why and how medals are handed out. Dealing with rank in an RPG can be tricky. A 1st level Lieutenant Ranger? A 20th level Private? Blood and Guts: Modern Military help sorts this out for you and offers rules to help keep things easy. Whenever the character increase in level there’s a chance he’ll increase in rank. There’s a roll to be made, if like me, you want thinks as smooth as possible, with an increasing DC. Rather nicely, this role is Charisma modified. There’s similar assistance for medals but there’s less risk of wrecking a game with silly GM calls here.
Chapter Three is all about military combat. Blood and Guts: Modern Military continues with the winning flexibility found in other RPGObjects‘ Blood and *Something* lines. In game terms there are three types of military combat; the quick, easy and cinematic style as offered by core d20 modern, a gritty version for people who’ll slow down a bit for some realism and the true grit version for people who’ll slow down a lot for more realism and danger. As this chapter offers combat options; friendly fire, air support, combat fatigue, injuries, suppression fire, etc, each is labelled with which style is suits best. There’s more than jut fire fight rules in here, as the air support reference hints at, if you want rules for aerial combat, submersible combat or even submersibles versus aircraft rules then you’ll find them here. If you want to run a Tom Clancy or John Grisham style game then Blood and Guts: Military is ideal.
We move on to look at military equipment. Just as the previous chapter wasn’t content to only offer rules for small arms fire fights this chapter doesn’t simply list guns. Chapter four has stats for guns, aircraft, helicopters, subs, ships, vehicles with wheels and tracks. If a gun is being phased out, phased in or is especially popular in the armed forces then that’s pointed out and we’re told why. There are also rules for modern cannons and missiles. Before reading Blood and Guts: Modern Military I had no idea how tricky it is for unit leaders to requisition extra equipment for missions. There’s a simple system to build up a DC value for a single role here, charisma is good but a high rank is better.
If you’ve read RPGObjects’ Blood and Space toolkit then you’ll recognise the Battlefield Unit Combat System here as being very similar to the starship crew combat system. This is consistency is good; it keeps learning new rules simple but doesn’t compromise on effectiveness. In essence the Battlefield Unit Combat System adds specialities and equipment quality to the quality of the fighters together adding a d20 role and comparing the total to what their rivals have rolled. Hits suffered reduce this value for the next round of combat. The sample combat that pits guerrilla fighters against peacekeepers makes it clear just how effective the rules are. It’s in this chapter that you’ll find The Strategist prestige class, isolated from all the other prestige classes. You’ll also find a half dozen more feats, they’re tied up with the Battlefield Unit Combat System and that’s why they’re separate.
The supplement finishes with a chapter of advice and discussion for the GM. Do you want to run a cinematic game? Does that include letting one of the characters carry a sword around? Could one of the characters actually be a Ninja? Perhaps you don’t fancy getting the gaming group to make listen checks so that they can hear the incoming mortar fire that kills them all, no chance to save. The compromise option between cinematic and deadly rule is an important discussion for Blood and Guts: Modern Military to have. I’m glad it does.
Blood and Guts: Modern Military does what it wants to do. It takes the US armed forces and produces an RPG supplement that’s detailed as possible without being choked with minutia. If you’re at a point where you want characters in the US military and want a supplement to support that important aspect of your game then Blood and Guts will not disappoint. If you’re ambivalent then Blood and Guts: Modern Military is more likely to swing you in favour of the idea than put you off. If the idea of using your roleplaying time to include the US armed forces fills you with horror the Blood and Guts will probably only reinforce that.