What I really like about d20 Modern, is that it covers a whole lot of ground - while it might not be the best at what it does, it can handle just about any sort of modern day game out of the box (er, book).
d20 Future largely tries to do the same thing for future games (other than being just a sourcebook for D20 Modern, not a stand alone book), actually being even more ambitious, trying to cover just about every future topic possible: Starships, Mecha, Cybernetics, Mutants, Space Monkeys, Robots, Genetic Engineering, Time and Dimensional Travel. But I think this is also it's fault. Because while it's ambitious, it's hard to cover all these subjects in just 224 pages. Heck, each of those subjects could get its own 224 page and still not fill it up. But for the most part, D20 Future does an admirable job in giving you at least the basics on each subject.
It starts off with about 25 pages on characters. You'll need D20 Modern for this, so if you don't have it, it won't make much sense. Basically, more starting occupations, feats, and expanded skill descriptions.
Possibly one of the most controversial (sort of) things in this section are a series of feats that lets a character take 2 talents from a classes talent tree. In D20 Modern, I think of talents are sort of "super-feats" so it's odd that if you take a feat, you get two talents. On the flip side, you don't get to pick any talent, the list of picks you can take is generally restricted to the more lame talents.
Also interesting is the "Nerve Pinch" feat, so you can now have your character emulate Spock from Star Trek. (No "Play Space Lute" or "Sing about Hobbits" feat, mercifully)
There are 12 new Advanced classes in the opening section, plus several more scattered throughout the book. For those not familiar with d20 Modern, they are sort of like Prestige Classes, but available at lower levels (usually 4th). d20 Modern does have Prestige Classes, but there are none in this book (they are mostly in Urban Arcana, I think).
Most of the Advanced classes are sort of just like jobs: Ambassador, Dogfighter, Engineer, Explorer, Field Officer, Space Monkey (basically, someone who works on starships), Swindler, Tracer (like a Bounty Hunter).
To a certain extent, I think most of the Advanced Classes in this book are a bit more powerful than the ones found in d20 Modern. At least, many have better base attack bonuses - several have the best progression, and none seem to have the worst.
It then tries to describe 8 different campaigns in 20 pages. Obviously, the net result is that each setting only gets glossed over. There's a combination of past TSR/WOTC games and new ones.
"Bughunters", which was originally for the Amazing Engine system. I used to own the book for it, and it was pretty neat. Basically, it's an Aliens clone, except while the PCs are basically Space Marines (or Bughunters), they were clones of people on earth.
"Star Law", which is sort of a take on Star Frontiers. Basically, it's based on the premise of the original boxed set, that the PCs are Star Law officers. Most of the modules for Star Frontiers didn't follow this premise, so it's a bit different feel than I was expecting.
"Star*Drive", which used to be an Alternity setting. Didn't like it then, don't like it now. Seems sort of in the galactic empires vein, like Traveller or Star Wars or Foundation, but with really bad art (everything has lines in it, like the art in Oathbound.)
There's "Genetech", which is about human-animal crossbreeds and their problems. Eh. "Dimension X", which is somewhat like that awful Jet Li movie, "The One", [...] someone is destroying parallel dimensions, and it's up to Li to stop it. Or the PCs, in this case.
"The Dark Heart of Space" seems to be Cthulhu in Space at first glance, but the sample Advanced Class for this is sort of a religious exorcist type, sort of odd. "Mecha Crusade" appears to be something of a Jovian Chronicles clone - basically, mecha in space, but confined to the solar system.
Lastly, "The Wasteland", which is suspiciously similar to the computer game "Wasteland". Basically, a post nuclear war game.
Some of these seem interesting, but the trouble is, at 2-3 pages each, it's simply not enough to really do anything with. If you want to run a game based on these, you'll either need the original book for additional backgroun material, or do all the work yourself. The latter is the only option for the settings new to this book.
"I wanna introduce you to a personal friend of mine. This is an M41A pulse rifle. Ten millimeter with over-and-under thirty millimeter pump action grenade launcher" [...]
D20 Future uses "Progress Levels" (PL), which are essentially Technology Levels with a different name. 0 is Stone Age, we're 5 (Information Age), 6 is Fusion Age, 7 Gravity Age, 8 is Energy Age, and 9 is "And Higher" (Stoned Age? Heh).
The gear section is kinda sparse. Each progress level only has a handful of weapons and maybe 1 or 2 pieces of armor.
For our PL, 5, there are stats for the new fangled OICW that is coming out. But in D20 terms, it's pretty much exactly like any other assault rifle, though the description says how deadly and great it is. Sort of a dichotomy there, but not really unexpected given the way d20 Modern handles guns. This is about as high tech as projectile weapons (at least firearms) get in d20 Future, unfortunately.
For Progress Level 6, you get the Laser pistol and Laser rifle, which do 2d8 and 3d8 damage, and have 50 shots. For PL7, there's the "Concussion Rifle", which does 2d10+knockdown, a Plasma Pistol that does 2d10, and a Plasma Rifle that does 3d10. Ooh, and a "Rail Gun" that does 3d12.
PL8 has a Cryonic Rifle, a Distingrator, a Lightning Gun, a Pulse Rifle (basically a laser rifle), and Sonic Beam.
Actually, other than the "Rail Gun" (Gauss Rifle!) the list is mostly energy weapons. No needlers and no gyrojets, which were Star Frontiers mainstays.
Generally speaking, the pistols are all "S", while the rifles are all "A".
While the weapons seem to improve from PL to PL, the armor seems to pretty much stay the same. Even at the highest level, it's no better than modern day armor. For instance, PL6 Light Combat Armor has the same stats as a modern day "Undercover Vest". Only until you hit "Powered Armor" does it actually get any better than the PL5 Modern Day "Land Warrior" armor, and even then, it's still on par as some of the armor in the D20 Modern book. Though the powered armor types give boosts to strength (thus the name).
Though there are personal force fields and such at high levels that provide damage reduction.
On interesting thing introduced is a "Gadget" system. There's a similar one in spycraft, but basically, you can add gizmos or improve weapons and armor and other things. This ranges from the implausible (like being able to build in a whole other weapon) to the silly (LCD spray paint).
There is a feat required for the use of Powered Armor, but futuristic weapons (except ones by aliens) don't need any feat besides the regular firearms proficiency.
"I'm a mog: half man, half dog. I'm my own best friend!"
There's a section on genetic engineering and such. It mostly works as templates added to a character. There's one for low and high gravity worlds, for aquatic adaption, for low light. Nothing too weird.
And through the miracle of gene therapy, templates can be added to a character after they've been made/born. Basically, this works mechanically by a series of fortitude saves. If you make say, 20 to 30 of them, it finally works. Miss one, and you suffer some side effects.
There is a brief note on real world stem cell research. Unfortunately, the note is somewhat misleading. I don't want to drag politics into this review (much like they shouldn't have dragged it into this book), but Bush didn't "ban" embryonic stem cell reasearch, in fact, he relaxed certain restrictions. Maybe not relaxed them enough for some (presumably the authors of book, for instance), but the ban spin is awfully misleading. Still, judge for yourself.
"Oh my god, it's Mega Maid. She's gone from suck to blow."
"Prepare ship for ludicrous speed! Fasten all seatbelts, seal all entrances and exits, close all shops in the mall, cancel the three ring circus, secure all animals in the zoo!"
Starships are essentially broken up into two different chapters. One on "Traveler Science", ie, basically on the how of futuristic travel (mostly spaceships but also time and dimensional) and a length chapter on Spaceships themselves.
This is probably the most confusing part of the book. Not so much the way it was written, but the way it was structured. It starts to describe some starship systems (engines) before starships are actually discussed.
The starship chapter starts off with starship combat, then when that is finished, we finally get into the basics of ships, almost like a Monster Manual for ships.
Starship combat essentially works like regular d20/D&D combat, complete with Attacks of Opportunity. Ships have hit points, etc. Weapons tend to do a lot of damage, so it helpfully suggests that you just take the average of the dice rolls. On the one hand, this method is actually pretty easy, because it's like the combat you normally use. But on the other hand, it really doesn't feel like starship combat.
It presents a fairly long catalog of ships, but it handles them in a manner that can only be described as odd. Or maybe bizzare. Essentially there is a long list of pre-made ships, sort of a catalog, complete with stats. (One oddity - ships have "weight". Not mass, not displacement, but "weight". Okay. Even though there is an explanation of the difference between mass and weight in the book, the book itself seems to ignore this. Though that is perhaps unavoidable, since this book uses Imperial units, and almost no one is familiar with the units of mass in that system - slugs - just like few people know the units of weight in the metric system - Newtons.)
It works fine, until you want to know the price of one, or you want to make one yourself. The price is tricky because no final price is given. You get a "Base Price", which is basically the ship's hull (and crew?), but without anything on it - no weapons/armor, no engines, no sensors, nothing. In order to get the final price, you have to convert the Base Price from a Wealth Check DC to an actual value, and do the the same for all the equipment. Then add it all up, and convert it back to a Wealth Check DC. It does helpfully say that in most cases, the Wealth Check DC only goes up by 1. But really, doesn't this whole thing defeat the whole purpose of pre-made ships? Would it have been that hard to include a price themselves? (Well, yes, as I mentioned it's not an easy process, but they are just passing the chore to the buyer of the book).
Now, as to designing a starship yourself, well, you are somewhat limited. Essentially, you have to pick one of the premade ships and add the various equipment options to it. There's often not a whole lot of choice in ship systems. For instance, at just about every PL level, the only difference in engines is not performance, but cost.
From what I can glean from various message boards, the designers simply used the starship building system someone wrote for Alternity, then converted the stats to D20. Unfortunately, they didn't include this system, or how to convert the stats. So, even if you track down that Alternity supplement (which I'm not going to do, as I loathe Alternity), you would have to figure out how they converted it.
There's also just one sort of faster than light travel suitable for interstellar distances. Basically, Babylon 5 style jump-gates. Some of the ship engines are capable of FTL speeds, but the fastest caps out at 25 times the speed of light, which while pretty fast compared to my car (which is fairly fast for a car, BTW, 330hp), would still take 2 months to get to the closest star system. At the highest progress level, PL9, there is a so called "Jump Drive", but again, it's like the Babylon 5 ability to open an entrance into Jumpspace. PL9 is also out of range of most of the equipment in the book. So, unless you plan on coming up with your own material, you can't really run much of a space game with this section. Maybe an Aliens style game, like Bughunters, where 2 months between close stars isn't out of line. But for things like say, Star Frontiers, or something like Traveller, it's not suitable.
Also, while the selection of ships is fairly large, it does seem lacking some types that I like. For instance, if I were a future space guy, I would really like to have a small-ish space liner. A lot of people like the idea of a Free Trader game, but I always found the idea of a smallish space liner (that is, carrying people) to be more interesting. (I probably watched too much Love Boat as a child.) But there isn't one. There are medium and huge space liners, but no small ones. So I would be out of luck. Definitely a thumbs down on the starship section. It's almost really unusable.
"Oh Mecha you're so fine..."
Mecha are handled fairly simply, but for the most part, I like how they handled them. Basically, Mecha are rated mostly on size - Large, Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal. Each size has a fixed amount of hit points (100, then double the previous size) and a fixed number of "slots". You build a mecha by adding various items to the slots. (Doom Striders, a fantasy d20 mecha supplement, uses a similar method of slots). There's a lot of choices, too.
One thing that some might find odd is that Mecha don't have their own built in strength score, but add a certain amount of strength to the pilot's own.
"I may be synthetic, but I'm not stupid" [...]
Robots are handled simply, too. They are mostly based on two things - size and frame. Size is the standard d20 size system, and frame is a choice between "Armature", like a walking TV Tray; "Biomorph", vaguely animal shaped; "Biodroid", somewhat human like, like C3PO or Ted Koppel; "Bioreplica", virtually identical to human (the asian schoolgirl with the katana on the cover is one of these - Yorikobot); and "Liquid Metal", which is sort of like Robert Patrick from Terminator 2, except it cannot have any sort of color except metal color, so it would be like a silver Robert Patrick.
Basically, to make a robot, you cross reference the size with the sort of robot frame you want to get the basic stats, then spend money on improving it with various gizmos. Again, it's a bit of a pain, because of d20 Modern's Wealth System - you have to convert the base price to a monetary value from a Wealth Check DC, and all the equipment as well, then add up the money values, and convert back. I don't know why they couldn't put the monetary value in parantheses (there's room, and it would make things much easier. I'll probably end up writing them in myself)
Cybernetics gets a scant 8 pages. Basically, characters can have a number of implants/gizmos equal to 1 plus their constitution bonus. They can also improve this by 1 if they take a special feat. So, it's unlikely that characters will end up too cybered, since the average person will only have 1 or 2, and at most, 5-6.
There are about 30 enhancements (that is, gizmos) and about 10 replacement (that is, standard prosthetics, no improvements).
They are handled the way D20 Modern handles stuff - wealth checks. The better something is, the higher the check. For instance, a fortified skeleton, which gives a 4/- damage resistance, is a DC of 32. OTOH, Luminous skin has a DC of 4. The selection is pretty standard, the luminous skin is about the only really unusual thing.
The section on Mutants is pretty short, about 10 pages. Basically it uses a very simple point buy system. A character takes so many points of negative mutations, and they can take an equal amount of points of good mutations. There are also many "cosmetic" mutations, like oddly colored hair or fins, which basically don't do anything, and cost no points. Good if you want to make a character that looks like a 50s Chevy, though.
There's not a huge amount of mutations, maybe 50 positive ones and 20 negative ones, but you can make some interesting mutants, like pseudo-vampires, who have fangs and drink blood. But I like how this section was done.
Lastly, there's a section on aliens.
I am mostly familiar with the aliens from Star Frontiers. 3 of them get statted up - Vrusk (a giant bug), Dralasite (sort of a blog thingie), and Yazirian (basically a gliding monkey). The stats for the Vrusk and Yazirians don't really match up with the original descriptions or stat modifiers in Star Frontiers. For instance, the Yazirians were a race of fairly smart, but touchy flying monkeys (their gliding ability largely implied they evolved on a low-g world, and this was also reflected in their low strength in Star Frontiers). In this, they are like stereotypical monkeys, strong but stupid.
There's a handful of other aliens, some (most?) apparently from Star Drive and other Alternity settings. Honestly, the non-Star Frontiers aliens are pretty lame. There's the Fraal, which are a really uninspired version of the "Grey" sort of alien from UFO lore (but no other aliens from UFO lore show up); T'Sa, which looks like something a cat coughed up (okay, actually they look more like a cartoon cat without any skin, like Scratchy on the Simpsons); Sesheyan, sort of an imp like race, but with 8 little eyes; Aleerin, sort of a non-evil cybernetic people who humans supposedly nickname "Mechalus", but in reality wouldn't, since that's an incredibly awkward name; and Weren, which seem to be a cross between a Bigfoot/Sasquatch and a walrus. What, no Loch Ness monster/penquin hybrid as a counterpart?
It's a pretty nice looking book. The art is excellent. I wasn't crazy about some of the art in d20 Modern, especially how many people didn't seem to have noses, but the art in this is much better and nose-filled. I especially like the pictures of the starships. They look like starships, they're big, blocky things, as opposed to the overly stylistic stuff you often find.
Still, some of the outfits for the women are pretty silly. Basically, just about every female in this has a bare midriff, apparently Britney Spears has a big influence on future style. In most cases, I don't mind, but in some cases, like for the iconic "Dreadnaught", it's silly to see basically a powered armor bikini.
The layout is generally pretty good, but on the down side, there is no index. A nice table of contents helps a bit, but the background used on the table of contents page makes it very ahrd to use.
All in all, though, kind of a disappointing book. I generally like the way they did things, but they just didn't cover each subject well enough. I think I would have liked to have seen the ground in this book covered by 2 or more similarly sized books. Say, "d20 Space", with rules for starships, planets, space, aliens, etc. Then something like "d20 Cyber" or "d20 Near Future", with cybernetics, mutants, mecha, etc.
The starships chapter is also just maddening. It's hard to figure out and somewhat incomplete. Plus, for just about everything you can design, you have to convert from the d20 Wealth Check system to a cash value, then add them up, then convert back. Why couldn't they simply also give you the cash value of items? Would have taken almost no extra space (since following the Wealth Check DC is a large blank area, enough room to put a price in) and not that much effort, but it would save the user a lot of time.
Also, while the price to page ratio isn't that unreasonable (considering there are $30 144 page books and $25 96 page books), it's not a bargain either.
So, call it a C-. I don't feel ripped off, but I don't feel satisfied, either. Like say, eating chinese food.
From what I've read, many of the problems I had with the book were not the authors fault, but cropped up when the book was edited, presumably to bring the size down to 224 pages and possibly to make it more politically correct. On the plus side, for those of us with internet connections (which is probably everyone reading this), some of the authors might post the stuff that didn't make it into the book. Not an ideal solution, but something. They've also left a lot of room for 3rd party companies to fill the void, in expanding the various sections.