d20 Modern was one of my favourite games of the 3rd edition era. It was the closest I could get to a first-person shooter or a James Bond film in D&D, and the system took many of the things I loved about 3rd edition and streamlined them. Wizards stopped supporting it after about 2006, and it’s long been due a revival.
Enter Everyday Heroes, a new modern-day RPG built on the chassis of 5th edition and a spiritual successor to d20 Modern. At more than 450 pages, it’s a beast of a book, packed with everything you need to run a modern-day adventure. Full disclosure: I was sent a PDF of the game, which was very kind. But I will try to get my hands on a physical copy at some point!
This review is mainly aimed at those already familiar with 5e rules. How is Everyday Heroes different?
In the main: not much. And that’s a good thing. If you’ve played any 5e D&D, you should be able to pick up the game with very little explanation needed. The introduction has a useful sidebar that covers the main differences, and I’m going to copy and paste these to give you a summary:
- Classes are broken up into two components: archetype and class. Each archetype offers several classes to choose from.
- Defense replaces Armor Class. Defense is based on a hero’s primary ability score and an archetype defense bonus.
- Feats are a core part of the game, rather than an optional rule.
- Multiclassing is accomplished through feats.
- Archetypes and classes go up to 10th level.
- Skills, equipment, conditions, and other game elements have been adjusted for play in the modern world.
None of this is particularly hard to get your head round, I think, and most of it I really like. For example, I think multiclassing through feats is much more controlled and balanced than the D&D model, which is somewhat open to abuse (sorcerdins, I’m looking at you).
So how easy is it to create a character?
Short answer: ridiculously easy. And very satisfying.
Backgrounds give you skill proficiencies, skill proficiencies, and perhaps some iconic equipment or a special feature. You also choose a profession (eg, ‘espionage’ or ‘white collar’) which gives you another ability score increase and sets your wealth level. There’s a neat guide for making your own background and professions, too.
Archetypes are not too dissimilar from D&D subclasses, although have a bigger impact on your saves and proficiencies compared to subclasses in D&D. I like how they come online at 1st level: no waiting around until level 3. There is also a neat page which summarizes the different archetypes and indicates whether they are simple, complex, or somewhere in the middle. This is great.
What are the main classes? There’s one for each of the six ability scores: Strong, Agile, Tough, Smart, Wise, and Charming. Your class determines your hit die, your core class features, and your Defence bonus. If you played d20 Modern, many of these class features feel very familiar, like the Tough hero’s damage reduction or the Smart hero’s ability to whizz up plans. It brought back a lot of nostalgia flicking through these pages.
If you’re used to 5e, one of the biggest differences in Everyday Heroes is, obviously, equipment. d20 Modern had a rather fiddly ‘Wealth check’ mechanic which never really felt right to me; the ‘Wealth level’ in Everyday Heroes is simpler but more intuitive. Say your wealth level is 4 – ‘modestly wealthy’ – you can buy most stuff of this level or lower, but the DM might restrict access based on the story, and anything higher could be out of your range. This makes more sense to me.
Guns: yes, there are guns. Sensibly, Everyday Heroes has dropped the references to specific weapons and refers instead to broad categories like ‘tactical rifle’ and ‘pump-action shotgun’. Probably for the best. You can always reflavour them if you want to, though.Everyday Heroes requires players to track the ammunition in their guns, but not the ammunition carried on their person. This feels like a nice compromise between the cinematic and the realistic.
What about armour? This works a bit differently as you might expect. In essence, Everyday Heroes splits armour class into two mechanics: ‘not getting hit’ (Defence) and ‘not taking damage’ (Armour Value). If the Armour Value is equal to or higher than a weapon’s Penetration Value, you get to make an armour saving throw; if you fail, you take full damage, but if you succeed, you take no damage (and the armour is damaged instead). Thus, a ballistic vest has a chance of stopping a 9mm semi-automatic, but it’s useless against a sniper rifle or a pump-action shotgun.
Then there are vehicles! Everything from a pickup truck to a golf cart to a tank. They have rules for boats and aircraft, too: everything from a paraglider to a 747.
Feats are slightly different in Everyday Heroes in that there are major feats and minor feats. When you choose a feat, you can choose to take two minors or one major. To give you a sense of the difference, a minor feat is roughly equivalent to two new skill proficiencies, an ability score increase, or a wealth bonus – although they are far more flavourful than that. Major feats are much closer to feats in 5e D&D: ‘Fortune’s Fool’ is essentially the Lucky feat, for example, and ‘Healthy’ is essentially Toughness. But again, this is doing the feat list a disservice: there are some truly excellent options here, and I get the sense you can customize your character much more easily in Everyday Heroes than you can in D&D.
There are a few other differences in Everyday Heroes – specific combat rules like burst fire, suppressive fire, and diving for cover – but I don’t want to get too bogged down in details. So one more area to focus on: how is it from the DM’s perspective?
First of all, I think Everyday Heroes does a better job of helping you run and write adventures than the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Here there are sections on ‘yes, and’, improv, pacing, session prep, safety tools . . . all stuff that is sorely missing in the 5th edition DMG.
The ‘GM’s toolbox’ chapter features some nice ideas for situations like computer hacking, standoffs, snipers, and calling the authorities – scenarios you probably haven’t had to adjudicate if you generally stick to D&D. There is also an excellent section on chase rules, be it through backstreets, down a mine, in a forest, or underground. I look forward to trying these out.
There is also a very generous bestiary of enemies and allies (many of them NPCs, of course). I like how these are not restricted to purely modern-day figures but include stat blocks from history, prehistory, fantasy, and science fiction. This keeps the genre choices wide open. You can do a zombiepocalypse, Jurassic Park, Friday the 13th, or Kill Bill all with the core rulebook. Or, y’know, combine all three. That would be fun.
Would I recommend Everyday Heroes? Absolutely. As someone with a lot of affection for the original d20 Modern, this is everything I wanted in a successor. It honours the spirit of the original but irons out its problems. This is d20 Modern after two decades of game design and community input, and the designers have done a wonderful job. It’s fab. Lock and load!
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