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2d20 System as a Tonic for the Last Two Decades

posted Jul 22, 2018 20:38:49 by David.S.McBride
Okay, this is something that has no direct relation to any of the current "Star Trek Adventures" topics, in any shape, form, or fashion, but it is something that I've been working over for the last while.

When d20 premiered in '99 with "D&D 3.0", my brothers, friends and I were part of the cultural wave that went, "Wow! A new system, and one concocted by a company that specializes in RPGs exclusively! This has GOT to be good!" Cut to a half-decade or so later, and we were left with kilos' worth of hardcover books that were serving as attractive paperweights. The d20 system, no matter how we kept trying to work it, came across as something where the role-playing aspect got left in the dirt in favour of a pure numbers conflict/comparison. One of the most egregious aspects of this was the feats - as my brother stated, every feat you've got is one less thing you CAN'T do in the game. On one site that I post on - and have followed since '00 - one individual involved in the development process for Decipher's Coda system referred to d20 as the "lingua franca" of the RPG world. Coda's point as a clear derivation of d20 stands through in all of Decipher's "Star Trek" RPG publications.

We did - and still do - play "AD&D" first edition, and while I am aware that Paizo Publishing has successfully reworked and expanded the d20 system into "Pathfinder" - and bully for them for doing so - d20, in all its incarnations, has become something of a past RPG generation that our gang talks about, shake our heads over and then move on from. From my perspective, one of the first major breaks from the d20 stranglehold that had apparently been placed on gaming systems was Troll Lord Games' Siege system for "Castles & Crusades", a game I did and still do have enormous respect and liking for.

The point being that, as the industry (if I can refer to it as such) has moved on and forward, we seem to be moving further and further away from d20 as the standpoint that RPGs SHOULD embrace and utilize in order to maximize profitability. Modiphius' 2d20 system, as least as applied to "Star Trek", puts the dice rolling in a definite secondary position as compared to inciting genuine player involvement and contribution; a prime example being the conception and working in Values, Focuses and Talents, all of which are partly or wholly the result of player/GM collaboration rather than picking out of a predetermined list. The point that Attributes and Disciplines do NOT see improvement with experience but rather shifting definitions with the above categories serves as prima facie evidence for this argument. Did the characters LEARN anything or have their view of the world changed in some way? THIS sort of point seems to serve as the focus for character development and maturity, rather than racking up experience points.

The question: Does anyone else feel that we're in what qualifies as a "rebirth" or renaissance era where embrasure of something, or somethings, that VIOLATE the d20 set-up are now not only accepted as valid but regarded as the "new normal"? It's my sincere hope that Modiphius, and 2d20's, point of player/GM cooperation and discussion to create a role-playing story, rather than an accounting exercise where characters "win", is the direction we're looking to pursue - at least as far as "Star Trek" and its like are concerned.
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2 replies
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jonrcrew said Jul 23, 2018 08:23:35
Sorry, I'm off...

While I see your general points (although I disagree about Coda, but that's another argument), this is nothing new. Those of us that moved away from D&D back in the day (late-90s in my case) have been playing no end of very non-d20 games.

The d20 market itself crashed in the mid-noughties, and devolved into cheap add-ons for D&D itself. Pathfinder kicked the corpse and D&D 4e (uggh) put the final nail in the coffin. It did, however, have a positive legacy: a legitimate current 3rd-party content market on DriveThru (embraced by many core producers), and the OSR continues to be strong (much as I dislike everything it stands for).

Certainly from the late 80s onward, there have been plenty of successful systems that put character play ahead of development. Of the top of the head, I'd cite Storyteller (despite the Werewolf spinoff), Fate, Basic RP and any number of indy games. Icon and Coda both qualify (the latter did maintain an unnecessary facade of "levels" and "classes" but these were merely bundles of abilities - it still had the best ship-to-ship combat system I've seen). Cortex really ran with the whole Fate-style challenges-over-combat and character rearrangement instead of advancement - Marvel Heroic and Firefly are both superb examples of this, and I would argue that they influenced STA.

Incidentally, D&D 5e also appears to have achieved nearly everything you're describing. Combat and power advancement will always be features of the subgenre (they were built in at the start), but the proficiencies system and the scaled back power scale seem to have made it a much more relaxed game.

On the other hand, the original 2d20 does have a more D&D style side - remember that it grew out of the more wargame/skirmish side of gaming favoured by GW and a lot of older British designers.

What 2d20 achieves nicely, is that like Cortex, it seems easy to twist into new shapes to reflect new styles of gaming. STA does this very well and that's why I like it, but I would argue that Conan and Mutant Chronicles would be very different games. But it's no more the saviour of gaming than Savage Worlds (another reaction to the dominance of d20 that I would defend to the death).

So, long answer short: no - we're not in a rebirth, that happened a decade ago - we're enjoying the benefits of an ongoing evolution of games, where ideas from multiple sources are coming back together to create new and interesting ways of playing!

Sorry, I'll go and do some work now... ;-)
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StephenBirks said Jul 23, 2018 11:09:08
I'd cite Storyteller (despite the Werewolf spinoff)


Based on personal experience, I would say that Werewolf is a good transitional game from D&D to more character driven, less "crunchy" games. I was introduced to RPGs through D&D, like possibly the majority of role-players out there. My first taste of a more narrative, character driven experience was with Werewolf: The Apocalypse and the Storyteller system.

The combat aspect of Werewolf was great as a foundation for a D&D player like myself to build a character on whilst experiencing a more open ended system that supported the character rather than defined it. After that campaign finished I played more D&D but it was never as satisfying. Eventually our group ended up playing Vampire in a campaign that lasted longer than 4th Edition D&D (i share your sentiment, I played 1 session and swore off the entire edition). Combat was rare in that game but pure role-playing was constant. After Vampire we played 5e D&D for a short while but it was so lackluster for me. Discovering STA and the 2d20 system feels to me like a progression of the Storyteller system, crunch takes a serious back seat to the narrative.

I lamented whenever I saw posts about making STA more "crunchy" as I felt these people didn't quite get the spirit of the system and were approaching it with a D&D-esque mentality, where system trumps story.

Back on point, I would argue that rather than there being a "rebirth", D20 had a revitalisation in 5e D&D which both brought RPGs into the mainstream once more and also brought a new generation to the gaming table. Thus those players are looking beyond the confines of D&D to see what else is out there and are discovering a plethora of great games that have been there all along.
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