Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 66: How to Choose a System: Modern System

Main Topic

The third main pillar of tabletop role playing games are games set in a modern setting.  This runs the gamut from Palladium’s simulationist war RPG RECON to Evil Hat’s Modern Fantasy based on the Dresden Files that would evolve into the FATE system.  Because Modern games give us a look at a world like, or mostly like, our own they provide an untold amount of variety … so how do you choose one that works for you and your table?

First Consideration – Campaign Flavor! We are flipping considerations around because unlike the Fantasy and Science Fiction system choices, this time the specific campaign flavor matters even more.  Modern Systems can mean everything from a simulationist war game only a step removed from the tactical mats of yore to a narrative setting bathed in magic and or near future tech.  So first and foremost – is this a realistic or fantastical modern campaign? A realistic campaign can still have fantastical elements as T.M.N.T. and other Strangeness is a great example of that.  Realistic has more of a grounded and “low power feel” where a HERO system game would use a Real Weapon Limitation while the fantastical version of the same setting would have the same item as just a Focus. Even the World of Darkness and Chronicles of Darkness games from White Wolf are Modern Settings and they themselves can show a wide variety of realistic to fantastical options.

Second Consideration – Setting! This drills down even deeper.  As with other system choices, there are options for licensed properties like the Dresden Files game mentioned above or Marvel Super Heroes but the wide open expanse of Modern Systems has to be narrowed first.  Superheroics? How about Heroes Unlimited, Mutants & Masterminds, or Marvel Super Heroes? Espionage game?  You can go all the way back to Top Secret or use a HERO system build.  Modern Fantasy or Horror? World of Darkness, In Nomine, and Savage Worlds all offer ways to evoke that.  D20 even put out a modern system and Numenera has generated a setting agnostic system called The Cypher System.   Each choice provides strengths and weaknesses with some more simulationist and others far looser with their laws of physics.

Third Consideration – Player Familiarity! This is the simplest question to answer.  If your game involves players slowly having a different world shown to them, or it is mired in existing popular culture like a Mission:Impossible style Espionage game, there is little concern for the Player’s familiarity with the world! We’ve talked a lot about how the system can be adapted or introduced to players and also knowing exactly what your table wants from a game.

Fourth Consideration – GM Familiarity! Here is one thing to be aware of in a Modern Setting – your players may know more about certain real life topics than you do.  You may need to be ready to engage them to provide background information or to flavor descriptions to match how they know the world really works. If you’ve got a player who has military training, they may have trouble with a suspension of disbelief if your strategic plans don’t match up with good sense or a Doctor may have trouble in a simulationist game if a plague jumps vectors.  Make sure you are ready to handle those sorts of issues which come up more in a Modern Setting game than others.

None of these are impossible barriers to your science fiction gaming, but are thoughts you should have similar to the ones we outlined for other styles of gaming. But drop us a line on our Facebook Group, on Twitter, or on Instagram and let us know your favorite Modern Setting and why you choose it!

Stat Blocks

Zendead- The Yule Log

The blowing snow caked on the front of the small cottage in the forest. The inside was a humble affair. A long table that would seat 10 on wooden benches. The walls didn’t have special things hanging just a few decorations showing that it was close to the winter solstice. The fire was barely burning. There was only a single log next to the fire place. And on it was just a small sprig of holly. At least at first glance.

The gathering of folks started to trickle in to the cottage. As the first fellow came in he kicked the snow off his boots and started to get his cape off when the next person came in and she pushed him out of her way playfully. They both started to take items out of packs and such. Animals and a few tubers. Once the next couple of folks arrived it was obvious they all knew each other and then the couple of children showed up and the cottage was full.

The old man of the group bent down to pick up the log and held it reverently. And then he spoke.

“Another year has passed for this my family. I am glad we could all make it to the gathering once again. As I place this piece of the family Yule Log on the fire may it keep us all warm and bright.” and with that he placed the log on the fire. The runes flared to life as the fire licked up the wood. Touching them set the fire to burn warmer and pushed back the chill of the winter. Then the table groaned under the weight of the food and drink that appeared. All said a small thanks for the bounty and for their family both of blood and friendship. The feasting lasted for a fortnight and the fire never wavered and the food and drink stayed the whole time.

Happy Holidays folks I hope you all had a great holiday season.  

nulloperations – The Armor of Spent Kings

It looks worn; damaged, battle scarred, and clearly stored improperly. Yet looking at the armor gives you a sense of hope. Of determination.

The armor has been seen in rumors, stories, legends, and certainly myths. It has been at the front of myriad battles. It was present during countless passionate speeches. It has the sweat and blood soaked into it of those whose right to rule was destiny foretold. It has held them closely as so many of them passed to the next world.

And now, it was here. You can’t even think of how it could have gotten here, but you could just take it. This is the cuirass that took the grand spear like it was nothing. The plates that deflected so many arrows and bullets. The cape that so many soldiers followed behind. It can only be worn by those who are on the path of righteous rule. And it was here waiting for you.
But you remember the cost. All who wore were challenged. It is, after all, a symbol of a ruler. If someone else but took it from you, they could rise to the top. They could rule what you would rule. They just had to kill you to take it. To make the it their banner of righteousness.

You look at it, and the weight it sinks room is almost overbearing.

But you could take it.

Guard-a-Manger – Erika Obscurones

Sometimes there is no catch.  Sometimes you catch a load. Erika Obscurones had retired from a long life working for the government.  She didn’t have any family you know of and doesn’t seem to talk about them. You met Erika when you went fishing.  She was there and didn’t mind the company, lazily fly fishing to pass the time. There was something calming about her presence, and you certainly caught your fair share of fish.  It was unimposing, unassuming, and a comfortable company on your day off.

Maybe you called her up, or maybe she was just there, the next time you went fishing but you have come to value her company.  Occasionally, there is even a nugget of wisdom or just an ear to listen to your own troubles. It’s always nice to know someone who will listen. You never asked what her government job was or how exactly she earned her pension, and something told you that you didn’t want to.  Her warm and open face with that reassuring timber in her voice was all you needed to know.

It’s been a year or two since you first met her, but now she invited you to a party at her house.  She is having a holiday get together, and you and your friends have been invited. Thoughts run through your head – what do you wear to a house party with a retired government functionary …. And what will you learn about her life from who shows up around the punch bowl?


Nihilism  noun
ni·​hil·​ism | \ˈnī-(h)ə-ˌli-zəm

Definition of nihilism
1a : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless

b : a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths

2 : a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility

History and Etymology for nihilism
German Nihilismus, from Latin nihil nothing

First Known Use of nihilism

Top 1% of lookups

Closing remarks

Zendead- The Gazetteer Writer’s Manual This is a great book so far on the basics writing gazetteers for your games or your books if you are an author from two of the folks that wrote in the Mystra World Gazetteers.

nulloperations- Warframe – Fortuna “We All Lift Together” Taking a setting we’ve known for years and expanding the scope further and further outward. Introducing flawed and failed characters and using the protagonists as the means of revitalizing them.

Guard-a-Manger- Indiana Jones (Any of the 4) – Looking at a modern setting, Indiana Jones is a little stretch, but a pulp or atomic age inspired adventure with clear cut heroes and villains is a refreshing change of pace from morally ambiguous anti-heroes for the new year. All available again on Netflix as of 01/01/19.

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

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Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segmentFind us on Patreon

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