Review: Ultramodern4

Today I’ll be doing a review of one of my hands-down favorite products ever, and easily my favorite supplement for D&D 4th Edition I’ve seen. With this book and the core D&D books, you have suddenly cracked open 95% of all flavors of the possible action-adventure genres to play with.

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Are you ready for a supplement that should and could have been a core gamebook?

The Game:

Ultramodern4 is a third-party supplement for D&D 4th edition, but before you start waving splatbooks angrily at me, take another look: this sucker is something like 300 pages long, and chock-full of mechanical details. It reads like one of the core 4e books, something halfway between a Player Handbook and the DM Guide with a small dozen pages or so of monsters in the 4e block format. RPGNow lists the following possibilities for genres to explore:

  • Cyberpunk
  • Espionage
  • Modern warfare
  • Space opera
  • Technofantasy
  • Urban fantasy
  • Wild west, with or without aliens

While not wrong, this list vastly understates the breadth of what you can do with this supplement book.

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Thanks to the ‘Open’ rule, you can easily have a hacker who sits at their computer while the party robs the bank/prison/research facility

First Thoughts:

If I haven’t gushed about this before, you might not be aware: I really like this game supplement. It scratches all of the genre itches I have for modern and scifi games, and the rules for firearms and vehicles stay true to the 4e design philosophy of streamlined but mechanically deep. On the surface it resembles “gun lists” like those from 3.5e’s Traveller supplement, but most entries are fairly straightforward (with ammunition purchasing being the only hiccup there, as it can be a bit unclear what gun uses what ammo).

They have a nice separation by “Tech Level,” allowing for a fairly easy way to limit your game to modern, near-future, Ghost-in-the-Shell style advanced future, and outright sci-fi stuff like starships. While some of the separation points feel a bit odd for classification, it’s the work of a moment to decide as a DM if you’re going to have a particular item fall into a certain category, allowing you to restrict weapons to fit with pre-modern settings like Wild West or WWI/II.

The big, huge, overwhelmingly awesome thing though is that the entire book, cover to cover, is compatible 100% with base D&D 4e. This means you can mix and match those genres however you like, playing (in addition to the above suggestions from RPGNow):

  • Cthulhu-style horror using base modern weapons, non-magical main characters, but magic-user NPC cultists/magi and basically whatever twice-the-recommended-CR beastie you want to throw at them from the Aberration category.
  • Pseudo-Spelljammer, picking and choosing vehicle/piloting skills, feats, and scifi weapons to add to a particular otherwise-fantasy campaign
  • Gritty low/no-magic fantasy, by replacing magic items (and optionally spellcasting classes) with the Ladder feature from UM4*
  • Dresden Files-style modern magic, with modern rules/setting, but players getting the option to pick spellcaster classes from D&D 4e and use the occasional magic item from there as well
  • Shadowrun knockoff, using all of the fantasy races and magic and monsters in full conjunction with the top or second-to-top tier scifi equipment to pick from

This isn’t even mentioning the fun stuff with Contacts, as well as Ladders and the two completely non-violent classes as well…

*You can technically do this with the recommendations in the base D&D 4e books with omitting magic items, but the Ladder options give you a lot more nuanced options over your characters compared to the D&D recommendation of flat bonuses.

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Ultramodern4 also lets you run Eberron to it’s logical conclusion of heavy doses of scifi without hiccups as well

Mechanical Analysis:

Mechanically, everything meshes great with base D&D 4e; another shoutout to the 3 pages of Vehicle rules, that remain light while still feeling like you can do tons of cool stuff if you want to be a Driver.

Ladders are their answer to the lack of Magic Items. Base D&D had a similar recommendation for how to add bonuses to counteract the loss of items, but the Ladders give you a nice bit of nuance, letting you theme your characters further with flavors such as Survivor or Runner, and generally giving you the option of money, a feat, a power, and/or some kind of similar bonus. Again, remember that Ladders are fully compatible with D&D 4e, so you can run a fantasy game with no items by just giving players a Ladder to pick from.

One common option in Ladder rewards are Contacts, which are simply amazing. A Contact comes in one of two flavors: A once-off very-powerful NPC ally, who either fights with you or gives you a single large Skill bonus, or a far-less-powerful recurring and reusable NPC who can also fight with you or help with checks. The recurring option is limited to how often you can use them (once per level or once per session, something like that), but both cases explicitly tells you to work with the DM to introduce the character.

This offers meaningful player buy-in to worldbuild with the DM, and allows you to add an NPC while also retaining some measure of control over your creation as a player. As a DM, the idea of players working with me to add NPCs into the game is excellent story and immersion fodder, and helps create great plothooks by using NPCs as sources of information and clues.

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You could also have NPCs Contacts for players who are Evil too, since there’s no reason one of them couldn’t have fallen into favor with a liche…

There is also the new range, ‘Open,’ which lets you apply the effect to anyone who can hear you. This becomes incredibly important for the the new attack-free Classes introduced in Ultramodern, the Faceman, and the two new few-attack classes, the Mastermind and the Specialist.The Faceman has no powers that cause damage, but instead can still affect a battle in different ways, such as distracting enemies, protecting allies, and typically causing mayhem or giving you heavy and judicious use of surprise rounds thanks to smooth-talking.Combine it with the ‘Open’ range, and you get wonderful opportunities for Ocean’s Eleven-style heist shenanigans with lying your way past security and impersonating everyone and everything you could want.

The Specialist and Mastermind have relatively few outright attacking powers: the Mastermind plays a lot like a D&D Warlord, albeit with more of a focus on empowering allies to use their attacks and catching enemies out of position, rather than making strong attacks of your own, while the Specialist plays as essentially the inverse of a Thief or Bard. Where those classes traditionally were the jack-of-all-trades “skill monkey,” the Specialist instead focuses on a smaller handful of skills but becomes absurdly good at them, and can easily trade in most or all of their offensive powers for further powers allowing them to make short work of any Skill Tests they are remotely capable in.

 

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“Hey DM, is there a limit to how many classes I can multiclass into?”

The Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies are also quite nice. Paragon Paths include Driver, letting you be Jason Statham/Vin Diesel if so desired, while there are other options like Cleaner to up your hitman game (Not to mention one of the base classes being Sniper). The Epic Destinies are a mite bit less impressive, but they’re not outright bad either. The most memorable one basically makes you the perfect team of soldiers: for each of your other allies nearby with the same Epic Destiny, you get stacking bonuses, making a full 4-6 player group with the same Destiny a true force to be reckoned with.

Lastly, there are a few scenarios in the back to tinker with, along with rules for basically running a Mr. Johnson NPC supplier who can bankroll and rent equipment out for jobs. It’s nothing bad, and great if you want to get your feet wet with the new mechanics/classes, but definitely not the primary reason to buy this book. The monster options aren’t bad either, but they do suffer a bit from not being able to have the full space of a Monster Manual to fill in. Healthy use of the templates should alleviate most of the issues, but definitely look at making your own monsters or co-opting Monster Manual baddies as stand-ins to avoid recurring-monster syndrome.

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For all the players know, these aren’t just a bunch of reskinned orc warlocks given pistols and brass knuckles, but real cultists!

Final Verdict:

Overall, I’d say this is a must-have for any 4e D&D fan. It adds so many layers of utility to a great game system, complementing the original game framework without stepping on its toes. Adding onto that is the Apex supplement, which I only recently found out about while researching for this article, and which adds what looks like comprehensive rules for both superheroes as well as horror gaming.

While it’s definitely not perfect, this supplement book is well worth it, and I have at least a half-dozen or so campaigns I want to run in it at some point or another. I do wish the computer hacking section was a bit more elaborated, as it’s basically reduced to little more than a single skill check or small skill challenge. I’ll probably end up whipping together my own version to get great Ghost-in-the-Shell type hacking and infiltration up and running, and that will be useful too if I do a Shadowrun campaign with any wannabe Deckers as well.

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Plus any hacker worth their salt has spider-programming fingers. Can’t forget the spider-programming fingers

So what do you think of Ultramodern4? Have you had a chance to give it a shot, and if so, what did you think of the new material? Let me know in the comments below!

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