My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Failing d20 Modern with The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (Mongoose Publishing, 2004)

I’ve mentioned it before, but if if you go back through this blog and look at my tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) history, you will not find Dungeons & Dragons. You will find lots of Traveller RPG, but not the other grandparent of the hobby. So to show you how really dark my RPG milieu from 1994 to 2005 was, we’re going to talk d20.

In that dark milieu I was desperately seeking a new role-playing game system. As much as I loved Traveller I felt that it wasn’t “fresh” anymore. Someway, somehow, I “heard” that you could play an RPG in a modern setting using a variation of the D&D rules. All you had to do was get this thing called a “Handbook.” So I searched, and in those early-Internet days I found a publisher all the way across the pond in the UK called Mongoose Publishing that sold this thing called The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (Mongoose Publishing, 2004) for a very respectable price of $19.99. So I bought one. The first envelope arrived—empty. Fortunately an appeal to the publisher resulted in another copy being shipped “With Compliments.”

Sitting down, I immediately started out to try to make a character…and failed. What went wrong?

Remember, I had not touched any of the d20 D&D world. I had no idea about “Edition Wars.” Most confusing was the text on the back of the book that talked about something called, “Modern OGL rule set.” What the heck is OGL?

Little did I realize then, I had encountered what I later learned was called a System Reference Document, or SRD. As the back book matter states:

The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is a simple guide to the world’s most popular Modern roleplaying game system. It contains exactly what a reader need to play the game and nothing else.

With this guide to the intricacies of the Modern OGL rules set, Players and Games Masters can make use of any other setting material or devise their own for a campaign that is uniquely theirs while still retaining the basic framework of the Modern OGL game. If it is a basic rule covering character creation, combat, equipment, vehicles, creatures or magic, it has a home in these pages.

Back matter, The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook, 2004

Way too slowly did I realize that The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is not a fully formed RPG but just like it says a basic, generic, set of rules. Still, you can create characters and put them in your own setting, right?

Creating a modern character is a simple, but well-detailed, process that requires several basic steps.

“Modern Characters,” The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (2004), p. 18

Reading through the Modern Pocket Handbook I jumped to the character creation chapter. The first step to making a character in is to pick an occupation. This was familiar given my Traveller RPG history. Then I encountered classes.


What I came to realize years later was that many of the “classes” in The Modern Pocket Handbook were actually archetypes. Further, like The Babylon Project before this, you don’t really randomly create a character, you methodically “develop” them.

As I worked though the Modern Pocket Handbook I encountered classes and talents and feats in character creation. What also threw me off was the lack of a setting. The last real “setting-less” rules set I used was my original Traveller RPG, but even that one had moved to the Third Imperium setting rather quickly.

I also realized that character creation chapter skipped a major part of character creation; abilities. For that you had to go back to the first chapter of handbook that discussed concepts.

Each character in a d20 game has six basic abilities.

“Ability Scores,” The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (2004), p. 5

After learning all about occupations and classes and skills and talents and feats I tried to make a character using the Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook. I wanted to introduce you to Joe Mundane. But I can’t. The book simply does not give me the “ability” to do so. Really.

Nowhere in The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is there a single sentence on how to generate the basic ability scores. No “roll a d20.” No “roll d20-2” or “Roll d20+1.” Nothing. Zilch. Nada. So how do I even start? Since I was not a d20 player, I had no “background” material to look at to see how others did it.

I didn’t look further…I just gave up and moved along.

Only later did I find another version of the Modern SRD and then have the confidence to make my own decision as to how to establish initial Ability scores. That time came only after I became more aware of different RPG system designs and actually paid close attention to the math behind the numbers.

As poor as my expereince with The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook was I did learn a few things:

  • I learned what an SRD is.
  • I learned about the Open Game License (OGL)
  • I discovered Mongoose Publishing which in a few years grew into a love/hate relationship with Mongoose Traveller.

What I didn’t learn was how the d20 system worked in play. This would take another few years to change…but (not-so-spoiler alert) not for the better. For the time being, my dark RPG age continued.

Pocket sized but not complete… © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

1 thought on “My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Failing d20 Modern with The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (Mongoose Publishing, 2004)

  1. Nathan Christenson March 25, 2022 — 4:56 pm

    Sadly while great if used as reference material for people who knew the system (particularly with the size being much more convenient then a full sized hardcover,) the Mongoose pocket guides weren’t good for beginners trying to pick up a system without any reference.

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