Rappy’s RPG Reviews: Urban Arcana, Part 1

27 May
"This ain't your Pappy's fantasy game."

"This ain't your Daddy's fantasy game!"

NOTICE: All art on this page is from Wizards of the Coast, and is thus copyright of its appropriate authors. It is shown here via the Urban Arcana Art Gallery as reference only.

Alright then, it’s time to take a little break from Blood and Vigilance and start up some new reviews and other things for you to use. First up is Urban Arcana. Published in 2003, Urban Arcana was the second official d20 Modern book to be released (yeah, they put out a campaign setting before their Monster Manual equivalent, which would be published 4 months later in the same year). As such, it got a fair dose of flack as trying to make the game into “D&D with guns”  and other such tripe. To which I say…feh! There’s enough urban fantasy that such a book would have come out sooner or later; Wizards just decided they’d do it sooner.  There are, however, noticeable problems with Urban Arcana…but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

Meet Maddie Webber (a very pun-ishing name to have), the drow Fast Hero iconic character. Since the artists of Urban Arcana apparently had a thing for drow, you'll be seeing her again...and again...and again. Hell, she's on the cover with two other drow, for Pete's sake!

The New Age of Heroes

Of course, as the first official supplemental for d20 Modern, Urban Arcana had to have some more options for the player. We get 6 new occupations (such as the self-trained arcanists known as Hedge Wizards and the self-explanatory Squires), a boatload of feats (mostly old metamagic, but there are some gems such as Supernatural Strike, which lets you punch out creatures normally immune to critical hits due to their atypical anatomies), as well as introducing a new feat concept: the Heritage Feat. Sort of like a miniature template, a Heritage Feat is a feat that can only be taken at first level and provides a few bonuses based on its concept. The ones presented in Urban Arcana are Divine Heritage (you get a handful of 0-level divine spells), Magical Heritage (the same, but with arcane spells), and Shadow Heritage (you get…+1 to a saving throw of your choice, plus low-light vision. Yeah, not quite as impressive as free magic). So far, so good, as nothing here is really bad or unnecessary, and it gives a good foundation for what we’re going to be getting into here.

And what would an urban fantasy game be if you could only play human characters? Urban Arcana doesn’t disappoint on that front, either. You get all of the Dungeons and Dragons standards such as elves and dwarves, a few D&D “enemy races” as playable characters (to be specific, the bugbear, drow, gnoll, goblin, ogre, and orc), the planetouched (known as tiefling and aasimar, for ye of the uninitiated out there), and best of all…new things to see. For totally new species, we have:

Human Variants: Three, to be precise. We have the dragonblood humans (take a wild guess), Shadowkind humans (innately magical humans), and snakeblood humans (humans with blood of the villainous Yuan-Ti flowing through their veins). As the Yuan-Ti are Product Identity of Wizards of the Coast, the snakebloods have the distinction of being the only playable species in this book that isn’t Open Game Content.

Half-Dragons: Ehh…not so sure about this one. Half-dragons are a template in Dungeons and Dragons, so why they were declared to be a half-human playable species by nature in their d20 Modern incarnation is beyond me.

Half-Ogre: Oh yes, the half-ogre makes a triumphant reappearance. This is one of two Open Game Content half-ogres I know of (the other being from the Tome of Horrors) and the third overall if we count their non-OGC appearance in Savage Species; the half-ogre is nice in that it provides an integral link between orcs and ogres on the “playable bruiser” hierarchy for Urban Arcana.

I wouldn’t have minded a few more new playable species than this, especially some that are distinctly “urban” in nature, but so far the book has done a good enough job that I can let that slide. Moving onward!

Roxanne Wallace: Archaic Weaponmaster and wielder of the Cape of Awesome.

Characters With Class

Advanced classes are also present, because…well…d20 Modern Supplemental Rule #1. Thankfully, none of them are really uninteresting or unwarranted, and run through a wide range of archetypes. A quick run-down:

Mundane: There are several advanced classes in this title that could be feasibly used in any campaign setting, rather than a strictly urban fantasy one, which is always a plus for me (y’all know I like my variability). The Archaic Weaponmaster is d20 Modern’s Fighter equivalent, only actually useful out of the box, the Street Warrior presents a rough-and-tumble brawler as an offset to the more refined tastes of the d20 Modern Core Rulebook‘s Martial Artist advanced class, the Swashbuckler takes Dexterity-based melee fighting to its logical extremes, and the Thrasher is the d20 Modern equivalent of the Barbarian, only toned down from “HULK RAGINGLY OBLITERATES!!” to “HULK ABILITY SURGES!!”

I...dunno what to say about this one, actually

The Magical: The free-wheeling, human-rebuking Mystic and the homunculus-crafting, spells-as-Internet-attachments-casting Techno Mage provide two strikingly different approaches to magic for this title. Both are fun advanced classes that distance themselves from the bog standard mage or acolyte and stand on their own.

The Oddballs: The rest of the advanced classes in this title are on the fringe; they aren’t quite mundane, but they aren’t really spellcasters either. These are those I dub the oddballs, and include the Arcane Arranger (a walking Mage’s Yellow Pages character who has access to an innate bag-of-holding in the fabric of the universe itself), Glamourist (like a Bard, but less magical music and more deceptions and charms), Shadow Hunter (who, while not being innately magical, does have a sixth sense about things and has special abilities used to hold her own against magical beings), and Wildlord (a bit of Ranger [sans favored targets and spells] and a bit of Druid [sans shapeshifting and spells] into a surprisingly balanced package).

The Prestige Classes: This book also reintroduces the concept of prestige classes. What’s the difference between advanced classes and prestige classes? Well, an advanced class has 10 levels and specializes on a theme, while a prestige class has 5 levels and is even more specialized. We get four prestige classes: the Archmage and Ecclesiarch are the epitome of spellcasting for arcane and divine casters, the Artificer is the ultimate magic item crafter, and the Holy/Unholy Knight is the Paladin/Blackguard of d20 Modern. Thankfully, the Holy/Unholy Knight is very modular, so if you have a more morally subjective setting, or even if you just want  a different type of Knight. Some of the examples of other opposite Knights include Law and Chaos and Corporation and Nature, but the sky’s the limit, really…heh, maybe even literally. Perhaps your planar campaign setting might have Knights of the Earth and Knights of the Sky.

Stephen Colbert supports the Paranormal Resistance..and Maddie's ever-shifting hair color.

Bullets and Bolas

For those of you that aren’t of the magical persuasion, I’d definitely say that the equipment section would still make this book worth it for you. We have:

Ranged Weapons: 16 new examples, ranging from bolas and blowguns to paint ball guns and water cannons. A lot of the material here, such as the flare gun, net (and net launcher, for that matter), and speargun, are great set pieces for specific types of adventure; specifically, survival games, hunting, and aquatic adventures for those three.

Ammunition: 12 new types, including tracer rounds, tranquilizer darts, and good ol’ fashioned silver bullets. Fun stuff, there.

Melee Weapons (Simple): Only 10 examples, but all either rather integral to melee conventions (such as gauntlets, maces, and quarterstaffs) or unique enough to be interesting (such as the questionably-titled “ketch all pole”…because, as Linkara says, “poor literacy is KEWL”) [EDIT: It turns out that Ketch All is an actual brand. Huh.].

Melee Weapons (Archaic): A whopping 25 examples, making the archaic weapons section a veritable armory. Battleaxes, cutlasses, flails, great[weapon here]s, lances, picks, scimitars, scythes, tridents, warhammers, and more can be found laying around this collection of cutting, bashing, and piercing madness.

Melee Weapons (Exotic): 13 total, and probably the least useful to a monsterless modern player on first glance. While I will admit that this entry is front- and back-loaded with racial weapons such as the gnome hooked hammer, orc double axe, and dwarven waraxe, there are real world weapons too. Most of those, such as the ninja-to and war fan, are Japanese in origin (mostly to go with a couple of Japanese organizations we’ll meet later), but there are some other gems like the Egyptian khopesh and the European bastard sword.

Armors and Shields: Are all those weapons not enough to entice you? Well, my friend, come and look at the defenses we have here! We’ve got firefighter’s fire-resistant suits, hide armors, radiation suits, bucklers, riot shields, plate mail, o-yoroi for your samurai boy, and more! 4 light armors, 4 medium-size armors, 4 heavy armors, and 5 shields (and, indeed, the introduction of shield rules to d20 Modern, since there were none in the core rulebook) create an even balance of various defensive strategies for your allies and adversaries alike to utilize.

Good to know that personalization is alive and well.

General Equipment: Lots of stuff here. In total, there are 3 clothing items, 15 pieces of surveillance gear, 20 pieces of professional equipment, and the introduction of sports equipment. While having stuff like portable winches, bags of marbles, microphone headsets, road flares, and vampire hunting kits are fun, the sports equipment really steals the show here. It introduces rules for in-line skates, skateboards, skis, and snowboards to add a new level to the d20 Modern game, and probably would have done well being in the core rules.

Vehicles: Finally, we’ve got vehicles; to be specific, 2 general purpose aircraft, 3 general purpose bicycles, 3 civilian cars, 3 general purpose motorcycles, 3 general purpose trucks, 3 general purpose water vehicles (noticing a trend or two here?), and 4 miscellaneous/other general purpose vehicles. Some specifics include the venerable Vespa, the welcomed tugboats and fishing/shrimping trawler, ultralight, the always popular Jeep Wrangler, both a police cruiser and interceptor, and…well…all four of the “others” are nice. The quartet of vehicles listed under the “other” category are the emergency aid vehicle, fire truck, police peacekeeper, and tow truck, all of which are important urban vehicles that are a welcome addition to the lineup of d20 Modern vehicles with stats. I would have liked to have seen more watercraft, as they are a rather ignored group in d20 Modern overall, but we can’t always win. And as a final note, some of the vehicles, such as the police vehicles and the fire trucks, have sidebars detailing what equipment is usually carried in said vehicles. This is definitely a good note for anyone that isn’t that familiar with said and gives the GM an easy excuse not to list every item for a police officer or fire fighter.


Come back for part 2, which will dig into the meat of magic and mystery.


Posted by on May 27, 2010 in RPG Reviews


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