It’s no secret that Modiphius is the biggest company to hit the tabletop gaming scene since Fantasy Flight. They continue to produce high quality products on a regular and often reliable release schedule. From Infinity and Conan to older titles like Achtung! Cthulhu and Mutant Chronicles, Modiphius’ library seems ever expanding and continually improving. The throughline for their newest releases is the 2d20 system, a rule set and dice mechanic that itself has been growing and adapting much like the company that spawned it. I really enjoy the system; the following three aspects are some of the high points. Let’s have a look!
Whether you’re hacking a quantronic computer to dig up information about the latest rogue AI, piloting a starship through a nest of Klingon Warbirds, or seeking high adventure in the Hyborian Age, 2d20 works and works well. The system is meant to have a certain measure of “give” so that it can bend to the constraints of a particular setting or genre without breaking. The basics are always the same: roll 2d20 and try to get at or below your combined attribute and skill There’s a kicker though. Some more difficult actions will require more successes than you have dice, and while you can crit for more successes, you might find that you need 5 successes to pull off the badass move you’ve been planning for three turns. That’s where the game’s Momentum system comes into play, which I describe in more detail below.
The base system receives tweaks in order to capture the feel of the game and setting it’s attached to. In Conan, the magic is added as an additional system. In Star Trek, the skill system is reduced to only six fields of study, but the breadth of each is increased dramatically. This refocuses the gaming experience to support the thrills of discovery and clever thinking. Thus, a player will find each game that uses the system familiar, and will simply need to learn the changes before jumping into a session.
Only 2d20? But what if I don’t net any successes? What if I need three successes to perform the action in question? Time to buy more dice! The player characters receive and continually build a pool of Momentum. These points let players augment their dice pools and damage, and sometimes achieve even cooler more specific effects. Does the medic absolutely have to pass their roll to save the life of another PC? Spend some Momentum and grab three more dice. Running out of Momentum? Refill the pool by overachieving easier tasks; extra successes net you more of those sweet dice-adding points. This mechanic not only provides some much needed aid to the player characters and lets them feel awesome, it also provides a gauge of how much potential success the player characters have on their side. They can then make decisions as a team regarding whether to fight or flee. It also rewards them for doing simple tasks such as preparing for a fight by cleaning their weapons or rigging simple traps, each of which can potentially add Momentum to the pool before a big scene wherein heroics are a must.
But what if the pool runs dry and you still need extra dice? Most variants of 2d20 allow for the players to provide the GM with their own dice-adding resource in order to mimic the effects of Momentum. Referred to as “Heat” in Infinity, this resource can be spent by the GM to increase the dice pools of significant adversaries, call in reinforcements, or just cause a little mayhem for the party when they get complacent. It’s this push and pull that really makes the system come alive.
And it’s this same push and pull that creates and maintains dramatic tension throughout the gaming experience. Heat and Momentum provide incentive for players and the GM to keep the pressure up. If you sit on your laurels, you start bleeding Momentum. If you take too long deciding how to take your turn, the GM starts generating Heat. This makes conflicts feel exciting and intense. Even negotiations with new alien species have their drama turned up to 11 using this system. 2d20 effectively works to eliminate as many dull moments as possible, which is a welcome feeling in the age of the cell phone. It keeps players focused on the action and guides the GM by giving them an idea of what they can add to a scene to make it even more exciting, but still balanced. It’s hard to find another system that fights so hard for the enjoyment of the players at the table.
2d20 is a growing, living entity. It receives revisions for each game and supplement that comes out. Since Modiphius does not appear to be losing steam (they just acquired the production rights to Vampire: the Masquerade, after all), I’m positive we’ll see even more iterations of this cool new system with updates and fixes. No system is without its flaws, of course. Come back next month for my critique of the system, whereby we will explore three of the main issues that I’ve discovered. In the meanwhile, let me know what you think of the system and the games that it’s attached to!
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer/editor with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact.
Picture Reference: http://www.modiphius.com/2d20.html
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.