Back in 2002, d20 Modern helped to breathe life into third edition Dungeons & Dragons, expanding the tabletop role-playing game into a far more contemporary setting — less swords and sorcery, more ninjas and automatic weapons. A new game based on the open-source version of the 5th edition D&D ruleset will go a step further. With the help of d20 Modern’s co-creator Jeff Grubb, Everyday Heroes will let players step into the shoes of classic action movie heroes. Soon you’ll be able to get your ass to Mars as Douglass Quaid, rescue prisoners of war as John Rambo, and stride your Jaeger into battle against towering Kaiju.
Where the original d20 Modern merely offered generic action archetypes for its classes, Everyday Heroes is bringing in famous licensed characters and settings. Polygon can exclusively reveal the first batch of hard-won licensing partnerships negotiated by developer and publisher Evil Genius Games. They include Highlander; John Carpenter’s Escape from New York; Roland Emmerich’s Universal Soldier; Rambo: First Blood, First Blood Part 2, and Rambo 3; Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall; The Crow; Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim; and Kong: Skull Island.
While actors like Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone won’t be making an appearance on the pages of the final retail product, the iconic characters they made famous will be there, and Evil Genius isn’t done with its reveals quite yet. But the breadth of the films involved illustrates the breadth of gameplay that will be available in the final product. Fans should expect everything from gritty military dramas to mind-bending science-fiction epics, with some post-apocalypse adventure and robots-versus-kaiju action thrown in for good measure. Owner, serial entrepreneur, and author David Scott says fans can expect even more announcements once a crowdfunding campaign for Everyday Heroes goes live on May 17.
“Everyday Heroes is an action game set in a modern setting,” lead designer Sigfried Trent said. “The theme, the setting, the mood, the feeling of d20 Modern; the rules, the simplicity, and the modularity of 5e; merge those things together and you get Everyday Heroes. Throw in a dash of a lot of action movie tropes and ideas, then creativity from myself and Chris ‘Goober’ Ramslay, the other lead designer. Then season with wise, sage advice from our good friend Jeff Grubb and others in the game industry. That’s Everyday Heroes in a nutshell.”
The launch lineup will include a core rulebook (which will be available both physically and digitally), with six character classes and 18 subclasses, 50 new professions and backgrounds, and 100 feats. It will also include revised rules for chase scenes, expanded rules for the use of firearms, and all-new armor and cover mechanic rules. It’s the gunplay, Scott says, that really makes the game feel different from D&D.
In a gunfight, the mechanical design of Everyday Heroes aims to keep players focused on cinematic action, not necessarily on fetishizing weapons and armor. There are exceptions to that rule, of course, with high-powered rifles that penetrate brick walls and heavy weapons that can provide suppressive fire to help the heroes advance on their objective. But movement will play a huge role in how hard players are to hit.
Everyday Heroes’ cover mechanics mean that the equivalent of a players’ armor class — a number on the character sheet in D&D that rarely changes — will be determined in part by what they’re standing or crouching behind. As characters and enemies move around the battlefield in Everyday Heroes, that defensive value will be constantly in flux, making maneuver far more important. Body armor? Much less so.
“You don’t see John McClane running around in body armor all the time,” said Trent. “We wanted a system that was realistic. If you’re running a scenario and you have armor on, you want it to do what it’s supposed to do [in the real world]: stop a bullet, or deflect a sword if it’s a more traditional kind of armor. What we did is we made up a system where, if you’re going good in combat, you don’t really need your armor. It’s a failsafe.”
If a player’s hit points go to zero, they’ll need to make an armor saving throw. The type and quality of the armor they’re wearing and the kind of damage they’re being dealt will influence how hard or easy that save is. That should also help to bring more narrative and character interaction into every battle.
“When you go to the movies, people spend a lot of time dialoguing while in cover,” Scott said. “That’s where the romance and the story happens. [That way you’re not] just standing there shooting at each other. […] It’s so interesting and so strategic about how you’re hunting for cover, and you’re strategically using every single step in order to maximize that. It’s just a completely different game than D&D.”
The stakes are also highly customizable. Game masters will be able to make the call if that final blow means a player needs to roll up a new character or if they’re just knocked out.
Supplementing the core rulebook will be what Evil Genius is calling Cinematic Adventures, and each will focus on an action movie or a well-known franchise. Six 100-page supplements will be available at launch, available individually or as a bundle. One half of each Cinematic Adventure will be dedicated to game mechanics designed for use in home campaigns. The other half will feature an adventure inspired by a film that puts characters into the shoes of well-known Hollywood heroes.
Most players, however, will opt to create their own characters from scratch. Here Everyday Heroes hews very close to the original d20 Modern mechanics. The core game will provide rules and subclasses for strength-based Strong Heroes, dexterity-based Agile Heroes, constitution-based Tough Heroes, intelligence-based Wise Heroes, and charisma-based Charming Heroes. Each type will have its own way of interacting with the world through skills and feats. Grubb says he’s most excited about Smart Heroes, who will have the unique ability to impact the narrative using Genius Points. In fact, that’s where he’s spent most of his personal energy in the latest playtest.
“Smart Heroes [would be] a little boring if they’re just very good at the investigation skill,” said co-designer Ramslay, who developed the Genius Point mechanic. “They need something really impactful and cool. What I ended up giving them is something that resembles spell-casting mechanically.”
Essentially, Genius Points allow Smart Heroes to retroactively change the narrative of the story, improvising on the spot how and why their superior intelligence is able to save the day — a system not unlike the critically acclaimed supernatural heist game Blades in the Dark, but balanced for the rules of 5th edition D&D.
“One big example would be knowing the layout [of a building],” Ramslay said. “You [the player] aren’t sure how to get in, or you don’t know how many guards there are, or you don’t know what floor the thing you’re looking for is on. Your genius character says, ‘Oh, I know. I looked up the blueprints for this building last night.’ [Or] they’re so smart that they know how buildings are built. They know how people reposition their guards. They just know so much about everything, that they could predict those things.”
A lot has been written, here at Polygon and elsewhere, about the incredible renaissance of tabletop role-playing games. None right now are more successful than D&D, which is an integral part of Wizards of the Coast’s recent $1 billion year. That success is also spawning many rulesets based on the open-source version of D&D. Suddenly the marketplace for 5th edition spinoffs is looking very crowded.
Auroboros: Coils of the Serpent, from a team led by former Blizzard Entertainment executive Chris Metzen, is expected to launch later this year. So too is the Skyraiders of Abarax setting from Tracy and Laura Hickman — the minds behind Dragonlance. Meanwhile, Wizards itself is also branching out, launching a new Dragonlance adventure later this year and bringing back the fan-favorite space-fantasy setting known as Spelljammer in 2023.
With so much action in the 5th edition space, why is now the best time to bring d20 Modern out of retirement for one more job? For co-creator Jeff Grubb, it’s about tackling the same kind of design challenges that made the creation of that game so much fun the first time around.
“It’s been 20 years since the original d20 Modern has come out and game design has evolved,” Grubb said. “It’s not so much duplication as it is inspiration; basically taking the same things that we face [while making] d20 Modern and saying, ‘OK, how do we handle it with this modern situation? How do we handle today’s world? How do we handle it with today’s mechanics?’ It’s a great opportunity to do for traditional D&D role-playing what d20 Modern did for the D&D of its age.”
Everyday Heroes is still in active development, with more than 600 playtesters around the world putting it through its paces. A quick-start guide and a “lookbook” showing off all 18 subclasses are available to download now on the official website. You can also sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter campaign goes live.