Geeking Out – Getting Hands-On With Green Ronin’s Modern Age Rulebook

With the upcoming World of Lazarus soon to be released by Green Ronin, I was given the opportunity to take a gander at the base system used, namely their Modern AGE Core Rulebook. Reviewing a roleplaying game is probably going to be far more subjective than even comics can be so a few things should be taken into account. I suppose the biggest caveat is that I haven’t yet had the chance to either play or run a game using these rules yet; I only got them the other week and the group I’ve been playing with are wrapping up another game. Another consideration is that I’m a firm believer in the ability of a good games/dungeon master, storyteller, or {insert preferred nomenclature here} and equally, the group as a whole, to take pretty much any system and have a great game with it. The best rules and fancy components are only as good as the friends playing the game. With that said, a good system can be mighty beneficial in setting a baseline for some great adventures.

So where does Modern AGE fit into all of this then?  Well, my first impressions are really good. I’ve purchased a number of Green Ronin materials over the years and this falls well within their usual high standards. It’s your traditional two column layout with cut-away explanation boxes and liberal doses of art to break up the text. The book, clocking in at around a weighty 200 pages, is conveniently split into two sections (Player’s and Game Master’s) and further divided into 11 chapters. These chapters cover everything from character creation through to adventure design, obviously including both basic rules for the players and then, for the GM, how to master them. I should note that I have the electronic copy from Green Ronin which is full of useful hyperlinks and shortcuts. A particular gripe and cause of debate between the pros and cons of having a PDF version of the rules versus the book in your hand is the time taken to find what you want in the middle of a game session. Despite the e-copies often being easier to cart around on a tablet, some companies don’t have search functions enabled. Thankfully Green Ronin has this covered. To complement this, along with the table of contents at the front, we have a decent index and glossary of terms at the back. All plus points.

For anyone who has played a roleplaying game in the past or had it described to them by someone else, the concept is actually pretty straightforward. As such, there’s usually a section in a lot of RPG books which the majority will skip over; the “what is a roleplaying game” bit. Modern AGE has a pretty clear example with the now ubiquitous group of friends acting out a snippet of a game. I like the attention and focus put on respect, cooperation, and most importantly fun. For someone moving from computer games or, with the upcoming release of tie in titles like the World of Lazarus, from comics, it’s an important inclusion. After an essentially pretty short intro, we drop straight into character creation followed up by the basic concepts and rules – which to be honest is probably what the majority of people will be interested in.

Modern AGE, like some other games on the market now, have gone for a setting agnostic system. That is to say that the core game is a set of rules not tied to any particular world or genre. I like to get a bit of bang for my buck, so this approach really interests me even if only for pure value. Without a specific theme or flavour to hang the rules on then, it’s important that they can do what they say on the tin. The core mechanic, based on rolling 3d6 (that’s a simplified way of saying roll three six-sided dice), adding modifiers and comparing against a target number based on difficulty is fine by me. One of my favourite systems was based on rolling 2d6 so I’m happy. It’s pretty easy to describe chance and probable outcome on a set number of dice than what I mean by THAC0 (an in-joke for the older DnD players). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found I have less time to focus on the minutiae of exacting details present in some systems. Sure, it’s great to be able to differentiate between your character’s ability to wield a scimitar or falchion, or whether their hacking skills are better in Linux or DOS but sometimes you want to just be able to focus on the story. Modern AGE, for me, strikes a good balance of having a system which allows you to work through character creation and basic rules in under an hour but still with enough options to keep the fans of a bit of crunch content. Get a concept, follow the steps, and boom, you’re pretty much ready to go.

The real differentiator of the system is the inclusion of stunts. The easiest way to describe these is to think of them as special effects which happen when you attempt to do something. When rolling your three dice, if you get any doubles, you generate a number of stunt points. You then ‘spend’ these to have something cool happen or extra effects over and above your success. This could be something like disarming an opponent during an attack or catching a lucky break during an investigation. Whilst there is plenty enough detail in these to start with, I like that they offer up some more in-depth player interaction to help shape the encounter and really get involved or allow the GM to wing some extra benefits in for the players. There’s a load of stunts available to everyone so the rules suggest jotting a few down that you think your characters would use during the course of a game. Personally, I think there is a potential for certain types of players to slow down the pace of the game as they check for the best possible use at the best possible time. Until I’ve actually played through a few times, I’m not sure how this will pan out. My gut feeling is it’s intuitive enough that with a bit of practise most will be able to keep the pace of the game going.

Despite being setting agnostic, there is a fairly detailed section in Modern AGE on how to design a campaign linking your adventures together. Whilst obviously pegged as a ‘modern’ game, there’s tips on how to run this in a historical setting through to near future. The scope of character design and the ability to add special powers and tricks means that this system can also cover everything from high-tech to hopefully modern arcana and high fantasy. Oh yeah, Modern AGE has magic and mystery in there too with the inclusion of extraordinary powers! Built into the system is what we can call three difficulty settings or power levels – gritty, pulpy, and cinematic. The core mechanics remain the same but how much punishment your character can take or the feats that they can achieve are effected by the setting. Do you want a gritty investigative drama game focusing on the procedural where when the going gets tough, you know it’s a big deal, or do you want a cinematic game with car chases and explosions, or even psychics and fireballs? The setting also dictates how character advancement works. The higher powered games give higher powered rewards so you can scale how realistic or fantastical you want your game to be. I’m not usually a huge fan of level based advancement in games but it’s a concept most people are used to and Modern AGE, being a classless game, allows for a more organic development. It’s not like a new level inexplicably gives you a new language or ability, more it shows how your character has developed and become better at what they already did or rounds out what you’ve been doing in game.

How many of us have read a comic and thought that ‘this would make a great setting for an RPG’? Modern AGE definitely feels like it has the oomph to be able to cope with a fair bit of variation. Funnily enough, I said to Graven a while back that Lazarus would be a good setting for a game so it’s a neat coinkydink that I found out a campaign book was planned. As a core standalone book, Modern AGE for me delivers what I want in a game. Outwardly simple mechanics with a wealth of options to ensure every character feels different. With trying to cover so much there is a potential that some areas may end up being light on detail during the course of play but that’s often down to individual expectation and perception. Bundle all of this into a user-friendly format, sprinkle with good art and you’re on to a winner. It’s a crowded RPG market but I think Green Ronin can definitely find a niche with this. No doubt I would expect to see companions and additional material down the line but the key thing is with this and a good imagination, you don’t need much else except a few dice and some fellow players to cover a whole plethora of ideas and settings.

I’m really keen to get this to the table.

Rating: 4/5.

You can grab yourself a copy of the rulebook – along with all manner of other RPG goodies – from the Green Ronin Online Store (CLICK HERE).

The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster


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