A diamond in the rough... the very, VERY rough.
Ultramodern5 is a great supplement to bring your game into futuristic settings. All the new options from classes to gear have clearly had a lot of thought put into them, but the book is plagued by some issues, most of which could have been avoided with more thorough editing.
This is a fairly off the cuff, late night review which I needed to get off my chest. I've not taken the time to check for spelling, grammar or syntax mistakes.
The way the new classes in this book are built, they are highly customizable not only within the boundaries of their own class features but also with the choice of Archetype ("subclasses" that can be chosen for any class in the book rather than just a specific class) and Ladder (a system that adds additional progression to the character to supplement the missing magic items and allows you to choose additional features in place of ability score improvements/feats, based on the ladder you chose on level 1) allowing you to further refine your character flavor. You can then also add spellcasting to any character, independent of their class (although there is also a class dedicated to magic use) simply by investing in a seventh ability score called Vigor which governs the unique magic system of Ultramodern 5.
Between all these systems Ultramodern classes feel more powerful than the traditional core classes and probably shouldn't be mixed into a party using those, but when self-contained offer a great variety of options that enables plenty of interesting character concepts.
The typical Backgrounds are replaced with a more basic background choice (which offers no background feature, less equipment and fewer proficiencies) and then further refined by a Lifepath: a system that lets you generate important parts of your character's backstory. While much of the lifepath can be chosen freely, the most formative events have to be rolled for. This is because each event has the potential to have impact on your character's starting equipment or statistics. For example your character may have acquired an injury that imposes certain penalties, or had a stroke of luck (or Windfall) that scored them an NPC who has a debt to the character and may be called on for favors. The effects of each of these events can be of varying impact, making some tragedies worse than others and some windfalls better than others, which makes it very difficult to just supercede the rules and let players make their own choices here without enabling some unwanted powergaming.
Which is incidentally also my biggest gripe with this system. I like to have creative control of my character's backstory and not have my idea of a highly acrobatic Gunslinger character end up with two mangled legs. Rolling for your backstory can be fun, and is especially useful if you are going into character creation without a concrete idea in mind, but when it becomes mandatory, it potentially ruins certain character concepts.
I only want to touch briefly on skills. As the book introduces only a few. The new skills are Computer Use, Demolitions, Engineering and Sciences, all governed by Intelligence. What strikes me about these skills is primarily that 3 out of 4 or these would normally fall more into Tool Proficiencies as they all involve using specific tools (computers, explosives and disarming tools, and electronic or mechanical engineering tools respectively).
As mentioned before, the magic system presented in Ultramodern5, named DARK, allows any character regardless of class, archetype or ladder to gain spellcasting. All you need is to have a positive ability modifier in the dedicated seventh ability score: Vigor. This stat not only enables your magic in the first place but also acts as your Spellcasting ability for spell DCs, spell attack bonuses and other related mechanics. Dark eschews the typical spell slot system of core classes in favor of expending a simple resource called Vessel, which you spend to cast spells and can regain even during combat. In turn Dark's spells are not nearly as world-endingly spectacular as the higher end of traditional spellcasting. You learn spells by purchasing them using a currency called Asset. Both Asset and Vessel are based on your character level and Vigor score. The dark system has its own spell list divided into 18 paths each following a general theme (such as Creation, Flame, Illusion, or Might), each with a varying number of spells of different Tiers to choose from (usually around 9 or 10 spells per path), you have to spend additional Asset if you want access to multiple Paths but each path has synergies which grant you free extra spells if you have the synergizing path as well.
Dark also introduces further character options, a Ladder, Archetype, and Class as well as a number of Background options and feats dedicated to being a Dark caster and expanding your spellcasting ability. It also includes additional new Vigor based skills, which allow you to perform supernatural tasks (such as sensing the presence of Dark or telepathically communicating with another creature). One of these skills is Induce, which you can use to empower your magic at the cost of taking damage. This is a rather substantial deviation from how skills are normally used in 5e. As even the few that have some combat use (like Athletics and Acrobatics) still are primarily meant for non-combat activities. Induce only empowers your spells and does nothing else.
When generating your ability scores whether you're rolling or using point buy, having this seventh ability score has some additional implications. If you choose to forego magic for your character you can safely dump Vigor altogether, leaving more points (or more high roll results on average) to invest in your other ability scores, making your core stat array quite a bit stronger than that of a traditional fantasy character, or even your fellow Ultramodern characters who opted to be casters.
An extensive list of low to high tech weapons and armor from the 18th century all the way to effing magic levels of advancement can be found in the gear section. The new equipment comes with Tech levels from 0 to 5, denoting how technologically advanced the item is and therefor which settings it may be appropriate for. Higher tech level items have a higher list price, which you adjust down, if that item is appropriate for your setting's tech level, while still allowing those higher level items as rarities. You will notice that none of the weapons are especially powerful when compared to your good old longbow or greatsword. The combat gear in Ultramodern opts not to scale up the damage values based on how advanced a weapon is. It instead creates a different frame of reference that assumes that if your character has a longsword, that longsword is made of highly advanced materials manufacturing methods that puts it on par with modern powered weapons, thereby keeping the average damage output of any weapon the same and not having to rebalance all of the hit points around stronger weapons.
A significant new mechanic is that some weapons have features that can only be used by characters of a certain character level or higher. Usually starting at level 6 a character can make use of different bonuses depending on the weapon's underlying technology type (for example with a plasma weapon they may be able to ignore damage resistance) and some types offer further bonuses at higher levels.
You also get access to a wide variety of cybernetics which can grant substantial changes to your statistics.
The gear section suffers mostly in its presentation. Gear is listed by weapon/armor category and in alphabetical order. The lists would have been far and away more convenient to navigate if items were sorted by Tech level before alphabetic order, so as to have a clear overview of which weapons you can readily purchase given the setting you are playing in. Further compounding the issue with this choice is that while firearms at least have their Tech level listed in a dedicated column in their weapon tables, melee weapons have theirs Tech levels squirreled away in their weapon properties column making them even harder to filter.
Vehicles and Mecha
I'll admit at this point that I haven't given this part of the book a close enough look yet, so I'll keep this part brief. There is a broad selection of combat and civilian vehicles to choose from and Mechas offer plenty of customization options, which is not to say that there aren't modifications for other vehicles ad well. What's unfortunately missing entirely, are water vehicles and space ships.
But wait! There are Space Ships!
I lied in that last section. Actually there are rules for spacecraft. For some reason the authors opted to relegate these to one of the minisettings they present near the end of the book instead of including them along with all the other vehicles. You get a broad selection of different space ships, all with specific model names and modifications and ship armaments to go along with them. I just found it baffling that I had to delve into the Settings to find the rest of the Vehicles section.
Water vehicles are still missing though.
Think you're tough? Are 5e core rules too easy for you to remember? Do your player characters not die enough? Try Ultramax now!
Ultramax takes a large hammer to the 5th edition core rules and bashes them into shape for a grittier and more realistic take. Characters have fewer hit points, weapons deal more damage. Armor reduces damage rather than affecting your AC, and AC itself is higher by default and affected by a ton of circumstantial modifiers. It's an entirely optional system you can use sharpen the edges of your game, at the expense of the core rules' relative simplicity. Ultramax substantially changes the statistics of all sorts of gear (weapons, vehicles, armors, cybernetics), and adds new features to certain classes to adjust to these changes. Unfortunately this requires you to consult a lot of tables to convert your gear (making picking it in the first place more difficult too) and to just play the game in general (there is a table consuming a thrid of a page just to list all the possible AC modifiers), but this is an unavoidable price to pay for a more granular and realistic ruleset.
So why is it so rough?
How am I going to put it without sounding like I'm trying to throw shade at the people who made this mostly outstanding supplement? Ultramodern5 suffers from very poor editing and wording. Frequently, abilities are worded extremely vaguely to the point of being subject to pure speculation. In other cases the text uses terminology that is completely nonsensical.
Below is a list of examples that stood out to me (and yes I am aware that I lead this review by stating I haven't exactly kept my own house in order here):
The Gunslinger class's Converging Fire ability states that "when attacking a creature 5 feet or closer with one or two one-handed small arms, you gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls and a +2 bonus to AC against that creature."
While with the attack rolls it is easy to intuit that the bonus applies probably only for those attacks, the AC bonus is completely left up in the air, as if it is permanent from then on. But if you do not forever have a +2 bonus to AC against that creature's attacks, when does the bonus end? At the end of your turn? At the end of their next turn? At the start of your next turn? When you attack something else? when you are no longer within 5 feet of that creature?
The Heavy Class has a feature called Artillery Talent, which lets you learn special talents from a list. The headings for these Talents are weighted the same way as the Feature they should be nested under, making them look like independent features. A formatting mistake that barely impacts legibility but represents an extremely fundamental layout error that should have been caught in editing if not by the layouter themselves.
Asset (the "currency" you use to learn spells): according to the text "At character generation, you gain an asset value equal to your Vigor modifier" and "each time you reach a new level, you gain a bonus to your asset score equal to your Vigor modifier". While this wording is fairly straight forward, reading it as written, this means that your Asset score is not recalculated if your Vigor modifier changes. Meaning if you want to invest in magic use, you should start your Vigor as high as you can and max it out as early as possible, because if you don't, your character will at higher levels have a lower asset score than another character with the same Vigor who has done it. (if you spend your first 7 levels with Vigor 16, then raised it to 18, and at 12th raised it to 20, you'd have an asset score of 42 while a character who started at 16, then raised it to 18 at level 4, and to 20 at level 8 would end up with 65 asset)
The Magus class (the dedicated class for Dark spellcasting) has the Endowment feature which grants a bonus to your Vigor Regeneration. Vigor Regeneration is not a mechanic. Vessel Regeneration is.
In the spell list, many spells grant you extra bonuses for "additional dark spent before casting". Dark is the name of the magic system, not a resource you can spend. I can only guess they mean Vessel.
- Equipment prices and starting wealth are demarked with a generic $ value. Currency is never adressed further. If you actually want to buy weapons from the 5e core book, Ultramodern does not offer any hint on how those numbers convert to copper/silver/gold/platinum pieces.
There are many more cases, but these standout examples shall suffice to illustrate the types of wording, terminology and clarity mistakes that can be found within. The book is over 400 pages, perhaps too much for a single editor to handle.
The book comes with an errata document. None of the examples I listed above are adressed in it however, which is especially baffling when a text is as meaningless as "additional dark spent" and that same mistake is repeated across several spells.
The adversaries section offers a solid variety of generic NPC statblocks. Including a minion system that allows you to convert many of them into more easily dispatched but still threatening in numbers fodder enemies. It also includes monsters, such as aliens and robots, however this part of the antagonists section is fairly short, and I wish there was an expanded Ultramodern Bestiary somewhere, perhaps with some more generic plug and play creatures that can be dropped into any sci-fi or sci-fantasy setting.
Don't Read this Part
The layout also commits several basic text-layout sins such as headlines on headlines, choices of fonts that make it difficult to differentiate between the letters A and R, H and K, or D and O, but these are things only graphic designers and typographers tend to mind.
If you want SciFi in your 5e
Definitely get this book!
After dedicating so much real estate to it's flaws, I feel I need to restate that it is still that proverbial diamond. This review is still a 4/5 rating, and it could have been a 5/5 if the mistakes were properly adressed.
Despite its rough edges, what is in this book is an excellent basis if you want to use the 5th edition rules for any predominantly sci fi setting.
Dias Ex Machina, if you're reading this
I'm a freelance graphic designer, illustrator and 5th edition rules developer. I've previously published independent work (such as the Critter Compendium, Raiders & Dinosaurs, and Spectrum of Magic) on DMsguild and have worked with Nord Games LLC on their Ultimate Bestiary and Ultimate NPCs series. I'd be happy to work with you in any of these capacities.