Superheroes in d20 Modern

Several years back, I decided to take a stab at modeling superheroes in D20 Modern. Yes, even then there were Superhero RPGs out there, but I didn’t have access to them and I really wanted to try designing my own. I did have a copy of D20 Modern though, which presented the system that I was already most familiar with in a current-day setting that suits the genre to a T.

I’m going to assume some familiarity with the D20 Modern on your part. Those of you with Pathfinder or D&D 3/3.5 experience may get by but you can also check out the Modern SRD (MSRD), which is still available from Wizards of the Coast and here.


I made a few resolutions setting out. I wanted to:

  • Establish a sense of scale. Balance powers and abilities against normal, everyday humans and equipment before checking heroes against each other.
  • Only create what the system can’t handle on it’s own. If a character has a good skill or ability, they should earn it through class levels, if possible. (But they shouldn’t be given a class that doesn’t make since just for the abilities it offers.)
  • Enhanced abilities gave a +4 to the relevant ability score or +3 in up to two skills.
  • Super abilities gained +8 to a relevant ability score or +6 in up to two skills.

To start, I wanted to do some iconic, well-established heroes. I chose Marvel’s Fantastic Four. As a small team, I could immediately compare them to each other *and* Marvel maintains an excellent wiki with character histories and powers descriptions.

First up was Reed Richards.

Mr Fantastic

Reed Richards is held up as a paragon of intelligence and scientific achievement. He maxes out at level 20 with the Academic occupation, 10 levels of Smart Hero, 5 levels of Field Scientist, 3 levels of Engineer, and 2 levels of Techie. His top three skills are Craft (electrical) +40, Craft (mechanical) +38, and Knowledge (physical sciences) +39. His class abilities are centered upon quickly improvising, building, repairing, or pushing technological devices into overdrive.

Of all of the Fantastic Four, I think that his abilities were the easiest to model. His elasticity makes him resistant to damage and allows him great reach.

Absorb Damage.  DR 10.
Squeeze.  May fit the body through any portal thin as a piece of paper.
Stretch.  May stretch out to colossal dimensions, gaining +5 move and +5 reach for each size category above Medium he stretches to become. +16 grapple. +16 climb.

Although not strictly necessary, I decided that Reed’s flexibility also gave him superhuman dexterity.

Flexibility.  +8 Dexterity, +6 balance

Download Reed Richards

So far, so good!

The Thing

Benjamin Grimm is a test pilot, an astronaut, and Reed’s best friend since college. He earns his chops through the Military occupation with 6 levels of Tough hero, and 7 levels of Soldier. Following his gruesome transformation into the Thing, he selflessly interposes himself between the team and danger, earning 4 levels of Bodyguard.

Unfortunately, as the hideous Thing, Ben is physically incapable of using his primary skill–Pilot (+17). He retains the feats that his previous occupations demanded but he falls back on the basics of his military training to become a fair unarmed combatant with enormous strength.

Originally, The Thing was very close to medium size but he is popularly depicted as a larger humanoid, so I bumped up his size category, with all of the accompanying modifiers to Strength, Constitution, and such. The stone skin that disfigures him repulses those that are not accustomed to his appearance but it also affords him incredible resistance to physical damage.

Large size.
Frightful Presence.  Per the feat (DC 21)
Super-Strength.  +8 Strength.  Treat as Gargantuan size for purposes of capacity, grapples, and manipulating objects.
Stone Skin.  DR 15/energy.  Resistance 15 to heat/cold.  MDT +8

And now we come to the really big design hurdle. How to model super-strength? Simply increasing the ability score causes everything that benefits from the Strength modifier to benefit, whether Ben is supposed to be good at it or not.

Ultimately, I decided to rely upon a combination of techniques. In addition to the ability score increase, I could offer targeted skill bonuses and, in the case of super-strength, a virtual size category.

The virtually size category increases the carrying capacity of the base creature, allows it to safely handle objects appropriate to that size category without penalty, and to have an unshakable grip. Thus, a super-strong character could handle large, heavy objects object and grapple well without having a strength bonus that breaks the math too badly.

Download Benjamin Grimm

The Human Torch

Johnny Storm gained his powers as a teen/young adult and had not yet found his place in the world. Apart from his tinkering on fast cars, he hasn’t developed any interests outside of his heroic career. As a result, Johnny has no special training. He relys upon his natural ability, his power, and his experience as a hero.

Johnny Storm has the Transporter occupation, 4 levels as a Charismatic hero, 4 levels as a Fast hero, 4 levels as a Tough hero, and 1 as a Dedicated hero.

Pyrokinesis.  May create fire (1d6 fire +1d6 per 4 HD), which may be added to his damage from unarmed attacks, thrown as a fireball  (2 x 2 squares w/splash, Reflex save DC 18 for ½ damage, range inc 50 ft), or projected as a ray (range inc 100 ft.).  May also concentrate to manipulate the shape (craft [visual art] check) and intensity of any flame touched ( +/-1d6 per 4 HD per round).
Immolated.  Immune to fire.  May ignite self in part or whole for 1 hour per Hit Die per day.  While Immolated, any person making an unarmed attack against Johnny takes fire damage on a successful attack (up to 1d6 +1d6 per 4 HD) and 1/2 fire damage on a failed melee attack.  Ballistic attacks melt away harmlessly unless they deal more damage die than Johnny’s flame.
Flight.  While Immolated, may fly (tactical speed 50 ft). Max velocity is just over the speed of sound.
Nova.  1/day, may spend 1 action point to add +2d6 to Pyrokinesis and Immolated for 3 rounds (1+ Constitution mod).  At the end of Nova,  may not use Pyrokinesis, Immolated or Flight until rested for 1 hour and then for only 1 hour at +1d6 fire until the next day.

Johnny’s pyrokinesis was fun to do but pretty straightforward. It was established early on that he could ‘burn out’, requiring rest to recharge his flame. This limitation was downplayed over time, which I took to come with his increased experience. It surfaces again, though, in his ability to Nova.

Download Johnny Storm

The Invisible Girl/Woman

Susan Storm has probably had the most dramatic shift in her portrayal. She has been the girlfriend, the damsel in distress, a model, an actress, a wife, and a mother. She is the heart of the group and often also the glue that keeps it together, even when she strives to build a life and identity of her own.

Susan begins with the Creative occupation. She has 7 levels as a Charismatic hero, 3 levels as a Personality, and 4 as a Fast hero. Her social skills and talents are central to her role as the peacekeeper among the Four. Being invisible is not proof against detection, so Susan has had to use quick footwork and stealth (Hide +15, Move Silently +15) to avoid harm.

The Invisible Girl’s powers were initially very limited, but with experience came the knowledge of how her invisibility worked. The field that she projects to make herself invisible can also be used to protect form harm.

Invisibility Field. May make a number of targets invisible, limited by their size and proximity.  May target any number of persons or objects (including self, max 1 Colossal target or the equivalent sum of smaller targets).  Must maintain line of sight with the targets (as if they were visible) to maintain the effect.
Force Field. May project one or more invisible Force Fields of varying size and shape. The number of Fields are limited in by their size (max 1 Colossal Field or the equivalent sum of smaller fields).  A field may only assume simple shapes (sphere, cube, wall, etc..).  Force Fields have a strength score equal to Sue’s Charisma for the purposes of opposed checks and capacity (modified appropriately for size).  Force Fields can absorb most normal attacks dealing 5 die of damage or less.  Attacks dealing more than 5 die or that are otherwise enhanced may force a Fortitude save to maintain the Force Field. DC 5 +1/2 damage received + 2 per each additional Field currently active.

I had the most trouble with Sue’s powers. The concept of using the sum of size categories seems clunky and unnecessarily complex. I never got around to re-writing them.

Force Field: Susan can project one or more force fields. These fields can be of simple shapes (sphere, cube, wall, etc..) and can effect any creature or object up to colossal size within her line of sight.
Susan can make creatures or objects within a field invisible as a free action.
A field may also be strengthened to lift, restrain, or shield from harm.
A strengthened field absorbs all damage, but Susan must make a Fortitude save to maintain it afterwards (DC = 10 + 1/2 damage taken). The DC increases by 2 for each additional strengthened field that she has currently projected.
A strengthened field has an initial Strength score equal to Susan’s Charisma but may be improved for 1 round as a minor action by spending an action point and adding the result to the field’s score.
Once per round, strengthened field may be used to make a slam attack against a creature or object within line of sight as a standard action. This attack uses the Field’s strength modifier for the attack and damage and deals 1d6 damage.

It bothered me so much that I did re-write her power while I reformatted all the character sheets. I think it works better this way.

Download Susan Storm

Doing it Differently

D20 Modern offered a lot more customization than other d20 games when it was released. Unfortunately, it feels clunky and needlessly complex at times. If I had my druthers, I would take a little time to trim down the skill list and implement the Pathfinder method for skill points, at the very least.

In 4E, the powers would be be expressed through, well.. powers and I think that they would function very differently than they do here. I see many possibilities but I’m still not convinced that the 4E way is best for modeling superheroes—it just hasn’t clicked for me yet.

I have a few other Marvel heroes that I have created: Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider. I’ll share them if there is enough interest.


~ by Hunter Rose on May 13, 2011.

2 Responses to “Superheroes in d20 Modern”

  1. Did you ever make any other D20 modern superheroes?

    • I’m pretty sure that I have a Ghost Rider and Spider-Man kicking around somewhere in my archives. If you are interested, I can exhume them for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s