Once again I’m going into the awesome flood of games put out during the d20 bubble to dig up some classics you might have missed along the way. Like my original 5 Cool Games from the d20 Bubble post, I’m avoiding games released during the last days of the d20 system (like Monte Cook’s World of Darkness and the Pathfinder system) as well as those that saw large sales numbers and market penetration (again Monte Cook comes to mind with Arcana Unearthed, as well as the WotC d20 releases) and focusing on the games that came out during the true “bubble” of product releases when there were more d20 products on the shelves than anything else.
So here come five more hot numbers from the hay-day of d20 fever:
The Black Company RPG
Released by Green Ronin, this game actually got me to go out and buy borrow the Black Company series of novels (unlike most people who bought the game already being fans of the series). Combat is made particularly dangerous during the first round of fighting, and the game included group combat rules and an interesting magic system that felt more like what you expect to run into in a dark fantasy novel instead of the fire-and-forget combat magic of classic D&D. The game has a lot of mechanics in common with Green Ronin’s other licensed d20 game, Thieve’s World, which overall is a good thing.
I don’t know how this one appeared and disappeared from the scene so quickly. It was originally released by Goodman Games and then reissued by White Wolf but still under the Goodman imprint. It’s basically core D&D in a rough gritty and post-apocalyptic world. With mecha. Yeah baby, giant f-ing robots that you drive around in and fight badguys with. Or good guys I guess, if you decide that a blackguard dragonmech pilot is more to your taste. The game had a bunch of supplements for the setting and the Dragonmechs themselves, and since it didn’t vary too far from the core rules you could easily add in material from any core-based supplement.Really what it comes down to is a D&D setting with quite functional mecha rules that interface well with the game mechanics and the setting.
This translation of a German RPG, done by White Wolf in English, isn’t advertised as a d20 game but is absolutely one. In a post-apocalyptic world the players are holy warriors of the church covered in angelic script who wage war against the forces of evil. Well, that’s the story you are told at least. The actual setting is a lot darker and is revealed in the GM section of the book and expanded upon in the supplements. My only gripe is that the game works best the first time through it and loses appeal quickly once you learn the “secret” of the setting. As such, I would increase the character advancement to double the normal for a d20 game so the characters advance more quickly, learn about the setting, and then you can move on to another game before they get bored of the mechanics.
The Trinity universe was White Wolf’s foray into science fiction gaming. The series eventually included a superhero game, a science fiction game and a pulp adventure game, but after those game lines burned out, they were all translated to the d20 system. Trinity d20 is a solid sci-fi offering that works very nicely with d20 Future, and replaces the ability-score-named character classes with ones that feel more in keeping with the science fiction setting (Academic, Entertainer, Entrepreneur, Investigator, Scoundrel & Warrior). The setting remains one of my favourite non-traditional science fiction settings that could easily play in a very cyberpunk style (like the Psion and Catspaw novels) or towards the Lensman space opera concept through the emphasis on psionics. Definitely a solid piece of work that is often overlooked.
Gun-Fu: Balletic Ballistics
An overlooked and very short-lived product line from EN Publishing was a series of d20 mini-games. Gun-Fu is a smooth and simple hack of the d20 system to focus on the high-action gunfighting genre. It adjusts the game mechanics to achieve this through the use of flaws, simplified character classes, Panache and damage saves instead of watching your hit points. What really makes my day is the Panache system though – they are like more versatile action points but are earned for playing the game to the genre and to the hilt. It encourages players to get into the genre and play with fury and guns blazing. This could almost be called John Woo d20. And it’s under $2 at RPGnow.