The d20 Modern supplement, d20 Past, covers the time period between the medieval period such as would be handled by the standard Dungeons and Dragons system and the modern era. From high-seas swashbuckling, to Victorian gaslight, to fantastic pulp-fiction to gritty WWII stories, d20 Past offers the tools and advice needed to run games in these time periods, with or without the fantastical elements of magic or psionics. The beginning of the book reintroduces Progress Levels that are appropriate to the time period, The Age of Reason and The Industrial Age and offers suggestions for the game’s “approach” to history, whether the players can affect established history in big ways, little ways, or at all. There is also a discussion of the conventions of the time, such as typical modes of travel and communication, literacy, and socially defined gender roles (with the understanding that women can, and historically have, defied such conventions successfully.)
The “Rules Components” section offers new careers such as “Cloistered” and “Cosmopolitan” as well as some explanation of how other careers would differ from age to age. Likewise some skills and feats are different, used differently, or are completely unavailable depending on the time period. Computer Use, for instance, doesn’t really serve any purpose before the Information Age, which is outside of the scope of this book. Any use of “primitive” computers, or weird-science thinking machines can be covered by Knowledge (Physical Sciences). This section also offers a list of weapons, armor, equipment and vehicles of the time period, with special rules for combat between sailing ships, which differ enough from more conventional modes of travel to require some special rules, and finishes with a new advanced class, the Explorer. Driven to go where none have gone before, with the wits and resolve to survive once they get there, the Explorer is the epitome of the adventurer of the time.
The last three chapters offer new campaign models for use with d20 Past, Age of Adventure, Shadow Stalkers (much like Shadow Chasers in d20 Modern, just less… modern), and Pulp Heroes. The Age of Adventure is a variation on the swashbuckling era, but with the added twist of strange creatures and sorcerous magic gleaned from the great “drakes” that live beneath the mighty oceans. The heroes in this setting will likely spend a great deal of time aboard ship or in various ports, though that isn’t mandatory. In a genre that as often highlights political conspiracy as it does action, it is important to know who the “movers and shakers” are, and the campaign’s list of “power groups” provides this useful information, from servants of the crown, to trading companies to more secretive and sorcerous societies. The monsters described are those appropriate to maritime encounters, including sirens, sea-hags and sea devils. To combat these menaces, the heroes have a variety of new advanced and prestige classes. The prestigious Musketeer is the epitome of swashbuckling action in defense of the crown and his abilities allow for acrobatic charges and flurries of steel. The Shaman draws her divine powers from the spirit world, and is often a religious leader in the more out-of-the-way locales in the Age of Adventure. The Sorcerer draws his innate magical ability from the great drakes beneath the waves, and is much like a D&D sorcerer, except that he gains other extraordinary abilities as he gains levels, including the ability to spew fire like a drake, or sprout great drake-wings allowing flight.
The Shadow Stalkers campaign is much like the d20 Modern Shadow Chasers campaign, but without the benefit of modern weaponry and equipment, making things much more dangerous. Also, the “Fellowship”, the organization that stalks the Shadows is a nascent entity without enough funding, members and actual organization to properly support its intrepid members. The campaign offers stats for Baskerville (hell) hounds as well as the “Hyde” template, a vicious and twisted perversion of the original creature to which it is applied. Prestige and Advanced classes include the Frontier Marshal, the Mesmerist and the Spiritualist. The Frontier Marshal is most appropriate to a campaign set in the American west, but people have to travel sometimes, right? The Frontier Marshal is marked by unflappable calm and a deadly aim. The Mesmerist is less of a hypnotist and more of a fledgling psionic, with just enough psychic power to get herself into trouble. The Spiritualist is in contact with spirits who can be convinced to teach her spells, or to imbue everyday items with magical abilities.
The Pulp Heroes campaign is very close to the d20 Modern setting both chronologically and in style. The primary difference is the existence of “pulp science”. In this campaign, science can do anything, given the materials and the genius needed to work it. Unfortunately, most such wonders are too complex for just anybody to operate and are notoriously unstable, but still are astounding when they work. Obviously, no pulp setting would be complete without Nazis to pound on, and this is no exception. Often it is the evil (or kidnapped and blackmailed) scientist of the Reich that create the “aero-space laser emitter sphere” or “nano-quantum phase neutralizer network” that threatens the free world and requires the intervention of square-jawed heroes. This campaign offers the Flying Ace prestige class and the Gangster advanced class, both of which are very appropriate to the setting, but my favorite is the Scientist. This isn’t the boring sort of scientist, but the adventurous “pulp scientist”, who makes impossible wonders and then runs out to test it against the Nazis. Basically Scientists get “discoveries” (spells) every level that they can build into limited use “inventions”. Usually only the Scientist can use the complex devices, but with the proper feats, others can use them, and they can even be made to last longer.
Each of the above campaigns also includes a “mini-adventure” to get you started and offer an example of how the campaign is supposed to work. The magical-swashbuckling setting is a favorite of mine, but so is the weird-science pulp setting, so I really enjoyed this supplement and plan to use it as soon as possible.
The book is softback and retails for $19.99 US, which grants you 96 color pages of adventure. The interior art is good, but nothing outstanding.
View a sample character, Nero Bloomburg.