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[Sell Me On/Off] Modiphius 2d20 System

FaerieGodfather

Shroompunk Warlord
Validated User
Having borne witness to Dan Davenport's Q&A with our beloved Jack, concerning Modiphius' upcoming RPG adaptation of John Carter of Mars, and knowing that Modiphius has previously published Conan and Star Trek using essentially the same rules, I am suddenly intensely curious as to the relative merits of the system in its different implementations.

I think I more or less understand the core mechanic-- add two traits and roll 2d20. Any die that's lower than the sum is 1 success, and any die that's lower than the lower value is 2 successes, and you can bank successes as Momentum.

But what do the different games do with this? What's the gameplay like, how are the games different?
 

Dr. Tran

...I'm NOT a Doctor!
Validated User
From what I understand the core is slightly different than what you are saying. You add two numbers and roll at least 2d20. Anything under those two numbers is one success, but it is anything under your FOCUS that is two successes. In Star Trek that focus is equal to your discipline number, but the roll has to relate to one of your six (?) focuses. I believe that in Conan/Infinity the focus is a separate number you purchase for a particular skill and is generally much lower than Star Trek or John Carter.
 

TrvShane

Stumblin' around the net...
Validated User
Please consider this a placeholder for a more detailed answer when I get home later.

Short version is that the core system runs through the games, but the way it is modified makes quite an impact. I’m run both Conan and Star Trek, and they do deliver really quite different play experiences at the table (and having read Infinity it seems again like it will be a different experience). And the rules guys at Modiphius have a real flair for the little changes that make tonal differences. Momentum does some clever things, and gets round around having a number of fiddly exception-based rules. The 2d20 system is not perfect (what system is?), but it’s fun, slick in play (playing better than it reads), and works.

I’ll answer in more detail later.

Shane
 

TrvShane

Stumblin' around the net...
Validated User
So, home for lunch, so I can throw out a more detailed answer.

I have played and GMed Star Trek, GMed Conan, and read Infinity and Mutant Chronicles. My John Carter knowledge is based on a skim of the info so far, so I apologise if I am off on that or go light on detail there.

The 2d20 system has been used for a number of games of varying complexity and theme. Got from crunchiest to not in my opinion: Mutant Chronicles -> Infinity -> Conan -> Star Trek -> John Carter. All of them use the core ideas of 2d20 rolled against the total of two numbers, in some way generating one or two successes. They all use Momentum in some way (John Carter has the biggest difference there as the Momentum pools are individual - in the other games it is shared). They all have a Fortune Point equivalent that allows greater success or some narrative input (names vary - Chronicle Points, Infinity Points, Fortune Points, Determination, etc). They also all have a GM pool of some sort that allow the GM to spend in the same way as Momentum, along with some other things (names vary - Doom Pool, Heat, Threat, etc). All of the above things vary a little between systems.

Core dice system:

In most of the games it is Stat + Skill (names vary), roll 2d20, equal to or less gets a success. Each die can turn up two successes depending on it's result, but this varies slightly in different systems. In MC, Infinity, and Conan skills have an Expertise and Focus. Expertise is added to the Attribute to get the total target, and any dice that are equal to less than the Focus get 2 successes. In Star Trek, skills only have one value (they are called Disciplines, and are very broad, like Security or Engineering), so that acts as Expertise in effect.

The difference is that Star Trek characters have a list of Focus terms, such as Warp Core Engineering, Hand Phaser, Quantum Physics, Romulan Opera, etc. They have no score, but allow you to use the Discipline as the equivalent of the Focus if you are doing an appropriate action. This reflects the broadly competent Trek characters, without having tons of skills.

You can buy more dice from certain abilities or equipment (game dependant) by spending Momentum or adding Threat/Doom/etc. You can only add a maximum of 3d20 from any source, typically. In most games its 1 die for 1 point; in Star Trek it's a climbing cost of 1, 2, 3, for each die. Why does that matter? Because if it's more expensive to get more dice in that way you need to look for dice from other sources, such as teamwork. And more teamwork is very Trek. That's just one small example fo the design decisions the rules team made that fit the tone of each game.

Momentum

Momentum is gained by having extra successes on skill checks. Any you don't spend on your action go into the central pool (except John Carter, with it's more powerful heroes having their own). The pool is capped at 6, and drops by 1 per round in an action scene, or 1 per scene in other scenes. Momentum replaces a number of exception-based rules you find in many games. For example, additional success for more info are covered by spending Momentum. Combat maneuvers (two weapon fighting, critical hits, called shots, disarms, all depending on the game) are covered by a Momentum spend. This stops a lot of rulebook referencing so long as you have the Momentum tables on hand.

It also covers a lot of the "aid another" type actions. Are you playing the scholar with no weapon skills who wants to distract the enemy? Come up with a suitable use of the skills you do have and roll; any extra successes go into the Momentum pool, and the fighter types can use them to improve their attacks. Want to end a fight quick? The fighter can cut down someone and generate extra Momentum which you can then use to get extra dice on your "stop or we'll kill you all" Persuade skill roll. Or the master thief can put extra successes from a high sneaking roll into the pool for less sneaky characters to use, reflecting them guiding those characters by the best route (and avoiding the two-thief-trap). It's a neat way of allowing creative teamwork.

The Momentum system also means that the players are encouraged to be active, no passive. To generate Momentum you have to do something. Do nothing, take no risks, and it ebbs away. Plus a big Momentum pool can encourage the use of extra dice, and therefore bigger successes - this means cooler things, or an ever-growing Momentum pool toward that huge, impressive event.

Doom/Threat

The GM has a pool that the players add into and she takes out of (sometimes the other way round in exceptional cases). Certain player actions, such as defensive reactions or getting extra dice when there is no Momentum, add to it. Certain threatening locations or NPCs can add to it at the start of encounters. There are other ways. The GM can then spend it as NPC Momentum, or to trigger certain NPC or location effects. It's been said to me that it looks like an adversarial system, but in my experience it's no more adversarial than the GM and Players normally are. With a good group that get the flow of Momentum, Doom, etc, it really helps the system sing. I've always found a big Doom pool to make for interesting challenges. And as it ebbs and flows it gives the players a sense of the danger they might be facing, too.

Different approaches

Where you find the biggest differences are in the action scenes.

Conan has a more detailed melee combat system than any of the other games, naturally (weapon reach can matter, active parrying, etc). It has a dangerous sorcery system that both PCs and NPCs can use, but may regret doing so. It also has some great rules for using alchemy and mesmerism to do all the other semi-sorcerous stuff that imperils your soul less - I think you can play a perfectly credible sorcerer character with no spells.

Infinity has the hacking, psychological combat, and ranged combat options that Conan doesn't. It will also have giant battle suit combat and space combat rules in future supplements. It wowed me with the way that physical, hacking, and psychological combat can mix. It takes a lot of cues from the minis game, so the defensive reactions include returning fire, or covering fire, and it is much more equipment heavy than the other games.

Star Trek has a less detailed combat system with some Trek twists (characters go down more easily when hit, but have more ways to avoid that, reflecting the "one hit stun" on the show - plus to make lethal attacks you add GM Threat, as the Federation just doesn't do that unless it has to). Star Trek also uses the skill test system in fun ways to do social conflict, scientific research (using a system where players tie possible theories to their specialities and research them), and engineering solutions to problems. It also has a starship combat system with actions for all the players.

Mutant Chronicles has it's Dark Gifts and Brotherhood Miracles. Plus a more crunchy but cinematic damage system. I'm less familiar with this as I have only read through it once.

General thoughts

The system is quick to play once you get the hang of it; as a lot of the rules are covered by Momentum and Doom spends you rarely need to reference the rulebook for much.

The Momentum system allows for some inventive teamwork options. It also allows characters weaker in some areas.

The games are heroic in nature. The PCs are very capable, especially in the games with mook rules. On the plus, you can wade through nameless swordsmen like Conan, but on the downside it won't really work for gritty games. Mutant Chronicles and Infinity are more dangerous towards the PCs, but they are still very capable.

The 2d20 system does have some issues. Firstly, when I tried to run two different 2d20 games at the same convention I found myself muddling up the rules. That's me more than the games, but you can find yourself remembering rules form one game in another. Secondly, the rules read way, way clunkier than they are. At the table all the stuff I was worried about flowed nicely. But, the first session learning curve until you get how Momentum, Doom, etc all interact can be high. I found getting it to the table to be the biggest issues, as when you read it the game seems way more complicated than it is. Thirdly, it's less suitable for online play without some form of VTT. It's better if everyone can see the Momentum and Doom pools easily, and for groups that don't use a VTT (like my online group) it is less intuitive as you have to keep reminding yourself what the pools are at. That's a stylistic thing, tho.

---

Overall, I like the system and the games. Star Trek is the surprise star for me (not being a huge Trekkie), as all the choices in there drive you to Treky things. Once you get them to the table and get used to them they flow fast, and encourage action and teamwork. And each of the games is different enough in execution that they reinforce the individual themes nicely.

Does that answer your questions?

Regards,

Shane
 
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Count_2_0

Registered User
Validated User
Shane covered 2D20 very well, but one of its biggest strengths is in his last paragraph:

Overall, I like the system and the games. Star Trek is surprise star for me, as all the choices in there drive you to Treky things. Once you get them to the table and get used to them they flow fast, and encourage action and teamwork. And each of the games is different enough in execution that they reinforce the individual themes nicely.
I have run Conan, and a little Star Trek and this is dead on. The system isn't very different between them, but has been tuned/tweaked to strengthen the setting. Star Trek characters do better when they try to come up with clever, or technological, solutions to things. Conan characters do well when they are bold and cunning in battle.

In both systems you can make a character that fits the setting, and the system allows you to play that character the way they should be.
 

Matt Sheridan

Minus 10 horse points.
Validated User
Wow, I hadn't really been paying attention to those games, but that was a great write-up, and now I'm definitely interested! Thanks, TrvShane!
 

Jack

Wave Man
Validated User
So, home for lunch, so I can throw out a more detailed answer.

I have played and GMed Star Trek, GMed Conan, and read Infinity and Mutant Chronicles. My John Carter knowledge is based on a skim of the info so far, so I apologise if I am off on that or go light on detail there.

The 2d20 system has been used for a number of games of varying complexity and theme. Got from crunchiest to not in my opinion: Mutant Chronicles -> Infinity -> Conan -> Star Trek -> John Carter.
I absolutely agree with this. My only caveat is that if you're an Infinity player (as in the miniatures game) you might find Conan harder because you've internalized so many concepts already that the rpg emulates. For that subset of players (which admittedly is probably a lot of Infinity players) I might swap Conan and Infinity. But generally? Yes.
 

Jack

Wave Man
Validated User
Oh and to follow up on TrvShane's excellent posts:

John Carter is focused on quick play, action, and generating Momentum and keeping things rolling. Its very swashbuckler-ish and pulpy. Damage categories are divided into physical, mental, and emotional however, to emulate the dramatic (or one might say melodramatic) way the book handles some concepts and owes some of its roots to an earlier era of romantic (like classically romantic, not the modern romance genre necessarily) literature.
 

TrvShane

Stumblin' around the net...
Validated User
I absolutely agree with this. My only caveat is that if you're an Infinity player (as in the miniatures game) you might find Conan harder because you've internalized so many concepts already that the rpg emulates. For that subset of players (which admittedly is probably a lot of Infinity players) I might swap Conan and Infinity. But generally? Yes.
That’s a fair point. I came to Infinity the minis game after backing the RPG KS, so that might influence my order.
 

CitizenKeen

Rules Lawyer
Validated User
I own Star Trek Adventures, have read Conan, and am a player in an Infinity campaign.

I will say that Infinity's gear is... not great. Not terrible, but rolling opposed dice for attacks and then rolling opposed dice for damage, and then factoring in the number of Talents that allow rerolls... It's a very dice centric game. For as much narrative fluff as it has, it gets really bogged down in the weeds sometimes. I suspect that's a relic of the miniatures? (I don't know.)

I'm a happy player, but I would never, ever run Infinity.
 
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