View Full Version : GMing Modern Games

04-14-2010, 11:56 AM
I love running modern games, but I find many of the resources out there (even the ones that are not genre specific) assume a fantasy feel. By that I mean, advice on designing adventures, npcs, etc is usually more useful for someone running a fantasy game. After all, modern adventures, in my view, have a much different composition than fantasy adventures. I am curious what advice people here would dispense to anyone running a modern campaign?

Here are a few of things I have learned: Character is really important in a modern RPG. It can be in a fantasy game as well. But I have run many fantasy sessions, with 2D NPCS and everything went fine. When I try that in a modern campaign, things usually don't work as well. I think this is because the plots in my modern games tend to be more character driven (both by PCs and NPCs).

Improvisation is key. I've found, and perhaps this is just the groups I game with, that modern games require more GMing on the fly. Whenever I plan everything out in advance (as I might for one of my fantasy games or a star wars game) things almost never go as planned. Maybe it is because players feel more at home in a modern setting, and like they have more choices. These days I usually structure a modern campaign around some key power groups or interests, with some general plot "beats" i would like to hit, without knowing exactly where the PCs will ultimately fit in (since they could decide to ally with the guy I thought would be the villain, or go in a number of different directions).

Modern Adventures often Equal City Adventures. When I think about it. Most of my modern games function a lot more like a city adventure than a dungeon crawl. That makes sense, since the modern world is so settled. There is still room for a dungeon crawl style adventure in modern (scoping out an Aztec ruin for ancient secrets or probing the jungles of Indonesia for an elusive cancer cure), but for the most parts my players prefer sticking to the cities.

This is just what I have found when running modern campaigns. I am sure some of you out there have had entirely different experiences.

04-17-2010, 01:47 PM
The only difference I have noticed is you cant just use "A wizard did it" and you need to be more clear on your facts. Like natural gas doesn't naturally smell etc. I tend to be more rules light and NPC driven in any game I run but I could totally someone doing a modern day dungeon crawl to (Indiana Jones comes to mind).

04-24-2010, 05:26 PM
Even if you don't use Hero System, you really can't go very wrong with having a copy of Dark Champions, either 4E or 5E, to reference. Excellent ideas on how to run a modern campaign ranging from pure 'Death Wish' vigilante style, to 'Die Hard' action, to mixing in a bit of fantasy or superheroics.

Other good games and source material:

Listen Up you Primitive Screwheads!: The 'official' GM guide for Cyberpunk 2020 and one of the first written from a non-fantasy game view. Lots of tricks and tips that can be added into a modern setting rather than a dark future. Worthwhile for any GM also because it has good ideas on how to deal with various player types (like min/maxers) and general adventure design philosophies that can be used with any game.

Top Secret/Top Secret SI: Great old school spy game before everything went D20. Although a lot of the tech is dated, having been set for the early 90's, many of the ideas and adventure designs are solid and can easily be adapted and updated.

Twilight 2000: Even though the concept of a limited exchange nuclear war in Europe is a shadow of what it was in the 80's and 90's, Twilight 2000 is still the best military RPG's out there. Lots of ideas on how to run a game around a special forces unit.

GI Joe comics: Forget the cartoon. Forget the horrific movie. Check out the Larry Hama series from Marvel for a smart, well written military and action drama with plenty of ideas to use in a modern setting. Also the Devil's Due continuation of the story line is worth reading too.

04-29-2010, 11:00 AM
I've actually found no difference in modern vs. fantasy. Contemporary settings are usually easier to improvise in, especially terra-norm. Most people just have a lot less experience in running these... and so it feels different. Most of the same things can be accomplished - its just that technology becomes the great equalizer. Guns make killing from a distance much easier and their availability severely increases the danger level. You have to find ways to protect yourself as PC's and its usually an expensive proposition. Throwing in psychic powers helps give the PC's an edge.. if the setting allows for it.

I may have this opinion because i don't play "high" fantasy at all (i used to in my early gaming days) so i prefer ALL settings to have deep flavor, be character driven, gritty and realistic, and very dangerous to get hurt in.

04-29-2010, 04:59 PM
I can definitely agree with the core of your statement there, temp... people have an inherent frame-of-reference for the modern world, so they are more likely to conjure up the image you are trying to present since you both are far more likely to be on the same page.