role-playing

Playing suspended modernity in d&d


Aug. 16, 2017

Destiny concept art by Bungie

How to create and experience a modern atmosfere within a typical fantasy adventure.

At this moment in time both sci-fi and fantasy themes are almost equally popular among those who dabble on role playing games. Dedicated systems have been developed and released to satisfy players that wish to dominate sophisticated technology or potent magic. 
The introduction of modern weapons, vehicles or items in D&D usually rises difficulties for the balancing of encounters. To address the problem we introduce the concept of suspended modernity. An easy to plug-in theme for our role playing campaign.

Suspended modernity’s zones

What we need is a trigger to justify the limited availability of technology in our world. We should start the adventure with a big event: a giant spaceship crashes on a capital city, an invisible-angelic palace became suddenly visible on the sky, or a supernatural eclipse put in shade a third of the planet. From that event we can define specific zones which will enable the use of modern weapons, vehicles or any modern device we want. Note that a zone can be anything from a room, a dungeon or an entire country, depending on the needs of our adventure.

Zone Magic presence Technology presence
Fantasy Zone Yes No
Suspended Modernity Yes Limited
Realistic Zone No Yes

Thanks to this framework we are free to set our adventure in a contemporary world, where magic is introduced in specific areas, or in a classic fantasy settings, where technology is controlled by a few.

The key to suspended modernity: MTM devices

In alternative of the broad mechanics introduced in the Player Handbook we propose the MTM - Modern Tech Machine approach. An MTM act as a high-tech container that every player characters should have available from the beginning. The MTM can be activated to release what we call modern assets (MA): our custom currency that enables the use of weapons, vehicles or any other equipment we can think of in the modern days. MA are shared by all members of the party and they are stored automatically in everyone’s MTM. MA are limited, can be spent as a bonus action and they recharge to maximum on a long rest. Spending MA should be as rewarding as overcoming difficult or next to critical encounters.

Possible actions of suspended modernity

The following actions can be activated using the MTM and assuming that:

  • Normal costs actions should be repeatable a few times per long rest
  • High cost actions shouldn’t be repeatable and should include a constraint that makes sense
Action Cost Constraint
Use the MTM’s communicator in short range Normal -
Fire with a M60 machine gun High MTM needs 1 upgrade
Drive a road vehicle for 1 hour Normal -
Send a distress signal Normal -
Fire with tank guns High MTM needs 1 upgrade
Set up a thermobaric weapon High MTM needs 2 upgrades
Control a scouting drone for 1 minute Normal MTM needs 1 upgrade

When high-tech is used we encourage dungeon masters to manage the scene with cinematic endings, letting the players to overcome a particular challenge at a cost that is known. Actions locked behind a constraint gives the dungeon master the power to control the potency of suspended modernity, while giving the players an additional layer of character development with possible upgrades to their own MTM.

Conclusions

Since the inclusion of modern equipment is too broadly described in D&D 5E, we introduced suspended modernity: a simple yet powerful framework for dungeon masters that enables them to manage modern assets at their table.


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Flavio Marcato

I help people to explore fantastic worlds.

IT engineer and experiencer, I am a fan of exploration and discovery. Things that make me happy are real life friendships, good food, hi-tech disquisitions or a nice and juicy role-playing session.

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