Guest Post by Clinton J. Boomer
I have sent parts of this to one or two people. Now, I share it here.
Pathfinder Modern ... The Rants
All of what I've written below comes from my experiences with "modern day" games: 2 and a half years of helping to run a 30-50 person Vampire: the Masquerade LARP (part of the 50-chronicle "One World by Night" organization), 5 years playing in that same game, several table-top World of Darkness games including Werewolf, a Technocracy-focused Mage game, low-powered Aberrant and several Hunter games, a few sessions with the Alternity rules (including some Dark*Matter), 15 or so years of playing and/or running Call of Cthulhu & Delta Green off and on, 10 years or so of playing/running Unknown Armies here and there, my work on the Hellcrashers setting (http://hellcrashers.wikidot.com/ ), and specifically from playing in a single 2-year campaign of a very "the WB's Supernatural"/Buffy-inspired d20 Modern game. In addition, I ran 3+ years of a very steampunk action Spelljammer game using the 3.5 rules, which had a lot of Firefly & Serenity-style elements, and that's important.
This is not to say that I am an expert.
No. I am no expert.
I do, however, have several opinions. These opinions are listed below. Many of these opinions have been sent to people working on various "Pathfinder Modern" games. None of these projects have, as of yet, come to fruition.
My rants & comments here should all be taken with a grain of salt, obviously. Enjoy!
A modern-era (or postmodern or futuristic or alternate-past steampunk or retro-80's cyber-punk or whatever, so we'll just say 'modern' from here on out) adaptation of a fantasy game like D&D or Pathfinder needs three things:
- - rules transparency. Different base stats for classes, spells & creatures is BAD; different metrics - hit points or skill point maximums - is truly AWFUL.
- - simplicity. If you have a Wizard class (even as a Prestige Class), make it as identical to the Wizard class from the core rules as possible.
- - description. The only difference between a Pathfinder orc and a Pathfinder Modern orc and a steampunk or sci-fi Pathfinder orc should be in the flavor-text.
- A modern-era game, in general, needs three things:
- - magic (or physics-defying supertech or steampunk wonder) should be MAGICAL. This relates to spell-casting and to magical items (see my "wealth" rant, below)
- - a rationale behind high-level PCs. (see my "I'm Batman." rant, below)
- - guns, with explanation. (see the "deadly guns vs. piss-weak guns" rant, below)
- - a discussion of flavor, with matching rules. Is this Hellboy, James Bond, Sin City, Buffy, Resident Evil, The Matrix, True Blood, 28 Days Later, Kill Bill, Terminator 2, Blade, Predator 2, Final Fight, Harry Potter, Final Fantasy 7, street-level Marvel Comics, or what?
If the Pathfinder core-rules borrow from many sources - there are many forms of fantasy just in film alone, from Lord of the Rings & Chronicles of Narnia to Underworld: Rise of the Lycans & Conan the Destroyer - then the Pathfinder Modern game borrows from even MORE, including Die Hard, Spiderwick Chronicles, Grand Theft Auto, Akira, The Maltese Falcon, Indiana Jones and The Crow. If it has a plot that involves someone taking a swing at someone else and it takes place in the modern(-ish) day, it's fair game.
* MAGIC & WEALTH: In my opinion, the "abstract wealth" system created by Vampire is a great idea. It prevents PCs from having to to do things like fill out income tax forms or calculate their gas-expenditures as opposed to what they've got in the stock market. Cool. Gives the PCs a car without making them spoon out exact amounts of gold for insurance, repairs, car payments, parking, tolls, tickets and maintenance.
BUT: all magical items should still have hard-&-fast gold-piece limits. They should be bought and sold on a different economy entirely.
WHY?: well, because that's what the core of the game is based on: killing monsters and taking their stuff; getting "more gold" is a huge element of the entire D&D game. But it shouldn't be impossible to start the game as a rich guy - like Batman or Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow. Not all 1st-level PCs should be homeless or poor college kids. A low-level PC might own a car, but he doesn't have a +1 magical sword. Conversely, a multi-billionaire NPC also doesn't have a +1 sword. These things (magical items) are special. At 16th-level, your PC might still be a homeless guy, pushed around financially by a rich dude - but his fleet of stretch limos plated in gold have nothing on your lavender & green ioun stone, or your Wolverine-style adamantine skeleton & claws!
It is important to keep "magic & gold pieces" - which are level-dependent - separate from "mundane wealth" - which is NOT. Governments, in the real world, spend billions on weapons defense, but they should not be the ones with all of the magic UNLESS THAT'S THE THEME OF THE CAMPAIGN. Similarly, the character of Spider-Man is very high-level (with superhuman strength & access to super-human tech approaching magic!), but he still lives in a shitty little apartment in Manhattan. He can't sell his web-shooters. WHY can he not sell his web-shooters? Because those are the rules, and the story.
There are a million ways to keep "magical wealth" (AKA tech-wealth) apart from "mundane wealth": the hidden courts of the fey only trade in Elfen Silver; the strange mountain mystic who can enchant swords doesn't need a car, but instead needs monster-parts (which have "magic value" and are thus treated as treasure after encounters); the PCs could even calculate non-physical 'gold earned' as a stat representing their value to the company they work for or the demon they serve, and 'spend' it on 'items' during downtime: magical abilities that are invisible to the naked eye but can be seen - and even manipulated! - by other magically-active beings, or special cybernetic enhancements that are doled out by the bosses. This is up to the GM to decide, but deserves special mention.
- - My advice is this: a Wealth stat that can be adjusted at character creation (Assigned, then then spend feats and traits on it?) which gives PCs something similar to the "Cost of Living" section on pg. 405 of the Pathfinder PPG book. This does not go up or down unless (a) dictated by story or (b) adjusted by the expenditure of Feats. Characters don't "earn" a mansion by adventuring ... unless the GM decides that they do or they work at it.
- - Magical items have a totally different value: a +1 ring of protection cannot be traded for a house, nor vice-versa. The exception to this is only when the GM decides that right now, there's a momentary exception to that rule.
* "I'm Batman." (levels-in-game rant): In the real world, people are afraid of sharks. And bears. And tigers. They are afraid because these things are LETHAL and can KILL THEM.
No joke, you will fucking die if you try to fight a tiger. In the PFRPG, a tiger is CR 4. A shark is only CR 2. Okay, sure, the dire versions of these creatures are significantly higher CRs (8 and 9, respectively), but even a scorpion the size of a horse (Large) is only CR 3, and I'm pretty sure that that could kill a LOT of normal people. A character of 17th level laughs in the face of such a creature. Hell, a 10th-level fighter could punch a CR 5 dire lion to death with his bare hands. Or set himself of fire, grapple the thing and let it burn to death in his grasp. I mean, it's not getting away from him if he doesn't want it to. Have you seen his CMB?
So, how does that translate to the real world? In a fantasy game, we accept that the PCs are just ... better ... than other people, but in the modern game there are times when falling 500 feet is just faster than waiting for the elevator, and since the damage caps at 20d6 anyway, well, why not leap out of the 63rd-story window and get to the parking lot that much quicker? Hell, it's an average of 70 damage, and most 10th-level characters have that, along with oodles of magical (or "non-magical" super-science) healing.
- - My advice is this: embrace the distinction of high-level. Don't hand-wave it away, EXPLAIN it. Make that the central focus of what makes this game interesting. If people want to play a realistic game, let them go play Call of Cthulhu, where hit-points equals their Con score.
- Give a base-line for the world, and explain that PCs break the rules of the universe: 49.9999% of all humans are 1st-level (for example); 20% are 2nd, 15% are 3rd-level, 10% are 4th, and the last 5% are full-on 5th-level. One out of every 20 people is a fifth-level bad-ass: veteran fire-fighters, State Police and SWAT-team members, Delta Force snipers, NBA players, major gang-leaders, whatever. The exceptions, the .0001% of the populace unaccounted for in the mix, are the PCs and other named characters: important villains, mentors, legendary figures and other amazing stuff. The basic vampire in the Pathfinder Bestiary is a 6th-level sorcerer ... make that a big deal instead of ignoring it.
Hitting that 6th-level makes you special. Now you're effectively magical - even if, like Lex Luthor or Bruce Wayne or Marv from Sin City, you're technically "still just a person". You do things no one else can do, like get shot and not even care. The question for the GM is: why are the PCs so special? Are they the Chosen Ones, or are they reincarnations of lost heroes? Maybe they have a powerful angel looking out for them. Destiny. Willpower. Prophecy. Maybe they're Damned, or have caught the attention of a powerful demon looking to escape Hell. Maybe they have cyber-tech, even if they're Fighters & Rogues.
OR: cut the game off at about 10th-level, and hope that your PCs haven't noticed by the end that getting pulled over by a cop really shouldn't scare them any more. Hell, what is he going to do? SHOOT them? BWA-HAHAHAHAHA! Hey, look, guys - a free squad car!
No matter what, expect the PCs to ignore pretty much everything but demonic hordes, atomic bombs and volcanoes in Downtown LA by around 15th-level; it just isn't worth it for such potent beings to deal with mundane serial killers, kidnappings & terrorist plots.
* Deadly vs. Piss-weak (the gun rant): The defining quality of modern-era games is guns. Oh, sure, there's electricity and refrigeration and such in the modern era, but most gamers couldn't tell you how candles are made or how meat was kept safe in the Dark Ages anyway, and half the inns in the Forgotten Realms might as well have a jukebox in the corner and a keg full of Budweiser in the back for all the players care.
It's assumed that most of the difference between "then" and "now" is cosmetic, even in the real world: the improvements in agriculture, animal husbandry or engineering between "fantasy-then" and "fantasy-now" are pretty mundane and boring, and while the addition of cellphones and cars is somewhat interesting, a lot of players assume that their fantasy characters already had cellphones, and cars are only interesting if you get into car-chases and they blow up and stuff.
But guns, on the other hand ... guns are interesting. Tanks and planes and atomic bombs your GM can keep out of your hands, but how the hell can he stop your 1st-level character from getting his hands on a Saturday Night Special? Shit, they practically come out of vending machines here in the states. An orc is an orc and a fighter/rogue is a fighter/rogue ... but a shot-gun wielding orc is cool, and two-gun-mojo fighter/rogue with aviator-shades & a pair of Desert Eagles is totally BADASS.
There are lots of gun rules out there, most notably in the outstanding Ultramodern Firearms book for d20 Modern, which is entirely OGL and therefore yours to steal as you see fit:
- My advice is this: GMs have to make some very difficult decisions about guns, which I think can be summed up pretty quickly.
- Guns are not level-dependent. Buying a gun is based on Abstract Wealth, not on gold; otherwise, you'll have PCs constantly upgrading to ever-more-ridiculously-huge guns or buying amounts of ammunition more suitable to war-torn third-world countries. Just because the other ranged-combat guy has a +2 frost longbow does not mean that you should have a recoil-less liquid-nitrogen-cooled belt-fed automatic shotgun with depleted uranium rounds and infra-radar-guide UNLESS that's the thematic point of the game: D&D meets BFG. Otherwise, you started the game with a cool and character-appropriate sawed-off shotgun; enchant THAT.
- D&D 3.5 (and, by extension, PFRPG; and, by extension, Pathfinder Modern) is a melee-combat game. Fighters are more dangerous in melee, so are dragons and so, even, are clerics. There is nothing fun about picking your foes off from 750 yards while everyone else picks their nose, just like there's nothing fun about nuking the city from orbit to get the bad-guy. Although it is more "realistic" for characters to have sniper rifles and rocket-powered-grenade launchers and surface to air missiles capable of taking out very distant targets, keep the accuracy of long-range weapons within the scope of the average fight: 80-120 ft. max.
- There are many different ways to approach firearms: DEADLY GUNS settings are best for horror - they treat firearms as really and truly and horrifyingly lethal. Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or 28 Days Later or True Blood - the main characters rarely (or never) use guns, and when they are seen they are dangerous as all hell. In this type of game, increase every gun's damage by one step according to the chart on pg 58 of the PFRPG (monk unarmed damage); this effectively increases the "size" of the gun (2d6 becomes 2d8; 3d8 becomes 4d8). In this type of game, expect to see the PCs wanting guns very, very badly; you must ammo-starve them by making them expensive and rare. GUNS CAN KILL MONSTERS, but monsters are tough (in AC, hp & DR); however, guns can definitely kill PCs - yes, at high levels the PCs may become bullet-proof, but having thirty guys each rip a clip into a charging 12th-level hero still hurts. Increasing the die-size further (2d6 to 3d6) makes guns even more serious, and GMs should consider "scaling" the damage that weapons can do against the PCs, the same way that GMs subtly stop throwing sharks at characters & start replacing them with dire sharks, or instituting realism-inducing "massive trauma" rules: any single hit that deals (Level+Con Score, see below) in damage inflicts a negative level, or something. Getting shot sucks.
MIDDLE GROUND settings are a toss-up. Guns are better than swords at low-levels because they do more damage at better range; a simple Beretta 9mm does 2d6 damage at 40 ft. increments, and a Desert Eagle does 2d8, according to the d20 Modern SRD:
which is better than any spell until scorching ray ... while swords are better than guns at higher levels because a greatsword deals 2d6 + your strength damage and you can charge the 60 ft. or way more with Haste cast and also Power Attack & Vital Strike and you've got all the critical feats to take advantage of the higher crit.-range, plus melee buffs from your wizard & cleric buddies and you could probably chop down an office building if you wanted to because your weapon is adamantine and ignores hardness up to 20 and even mithral maxes out at hardness 15 and the building isn't made out of THAT. Also, swords don't run out of bullets, and when you're attacking that many times a round, that's a concern.
PISS-WEAK GUNS settings are best for action - they treat firearms as disposable short-range small-damage dispensers. Think of The Matrix, the Resident Evil movies or Sin City - people pour buckets of bullets at each other, but it's neck-kicking, face-punching and katana-slices that win the day. Hell, they use guns to freaking knock people out in Sin City. In this type of game, reduce the damage on guns the same way that they've been increased above. Here, the rule is that GUNS SUCK AGAINST MONSTERS. If you want to take out the bad guy, you want a magical sword ... or it's tech-equivalent, the taser-vibro-chain-katana. Preferably one that sheds holy-fire. The PCs will rapidly become all but bullet-proof, unafraid of a group of armed gunmen at very low level. Scaling back the guns further (from 2d6 to 1d8 and then to 1d6) will result in characters barely bothering to reload, barely bothering to take cover against gunfire, rarely stealing guns off of dead security guards, and spending all of their money on other stuff, like burritos.
THE GUNLOCK setting: guns are inherently magical. If you want to wield a gun, you must take one level of 'Warlock' as presented in the now-OGL Tome of Secrets for Pathfinder:
... and your shots deal 1d6 points of damage as a touch attack. You also gain some magical powers which are part of the "Bullet-Witch" or "Gun-Lock" concept. As you level, your gun deals more and more damage. 5th-level cops deal 3d6 as a touch attack & have some weird powers which the GM must explain. If you take Hideous Blow, you now own an FF7-style gun-blade. End of story.
* The FANTASY/SCI-FI Rant:
I think that one of the core elements of Pathfinder, if it's going to be adapted, is that Pathfinder has MAGIC. Wizard magic, sorcerer magic, druid magic, summoner magic, inquisitor magic, ranger magic, alchemist magic - hell, paladin magic. Fighters & rogues are even assumed, by the base rules, to use magical items at higher levels. If a GM doesn't want to incorporate magic (or some type of analogue, from mutants to super-science), this is the wrong freaking system.
There's an old quote that I use as my signature on some boards:
“If you want to play a realistic character, go play another game. This game is meant to be Thor, Batman, Super-Moses and Harry Potter teaming up to take down Darth Vader, servant of Sauron.”
-High Octane (paraphrased)
... and I think that a similar quote at the beginning of any Pathfinder Modern book would do a world of good. How, exactly, do Xander Harris from Buffy or Sam Witwicky from Transformers or god-help-us John McClane exist in the real world? Short answer: they couldn't. They regularly take amounts of punishment that would kill, incapacitate or obliterate a real human without even flinching. But each one is a perfect Pathfinder Modern character!
The 'Questions from a friend' section:
Question: What do you do when the player asks, "Why can't I use my vast wealth to just pay someone to get the magical ingredients or tech-pieces for me?"
The short answer, I suppose, is that "getting magical ingredients" is what PCs are supposed to be doing. Now, there's nothing wrong with sub-contracting out a small job here and there, but if magic or super-tech is really magical or super (meaning secret or poorly understood by the masses), there are two options for the GM:
(a) the mercenary magic-fetcher has literally no idea what he's really doing; all he knows is that some rich kook is paying $100,000 in small, unmarked bills for some piece of fancy pottery from underneath a burned-out hospital in an abandoned mining town. He shows up to the site unaware of magic (or only dimly aware of magic) and promptly gets killed by monsters. PC may immediately attempt to hire another mercenary. (NOTE: this is actually a perfect PC back-story, assuming that the character lives).
(b) the mercenary magic-fetcher knows EXACTLY what he's really doing: a hunk of the phylactery of Dark Lord MacGuffin, leader of the Evil Background Organization, is hidden in the bowels of Cursed Town; this object can be used to power the mythical Plot Device, and is priceless beyond compare to the right buyers. Unless the mercenary is a follower or cohort (ala the Leadership feat on pg. 129 of the Pathfinder Core Rules), the real question is why the hell the PC would trust someone else to actually bring the thing back.
If you want something done right, do it yourself.
BTW - Another angle, which might be included as a "subversion" of the Abstract Wealth vs. Magical Item Prices rules, for GMs interested in that: "Living Way the Hell Off the Grid".
In an "off-the-grid" campaign, inspired in part by Supernatural, partially by Shoot 'Em Up, and in part by Blade, the PCs have no Abstract Wealth ... but they also don't have any "Abstract Expenses", like income tax, rent & utilities or child-support payments to keep track of. The PCs quite literally have themselves & what's on hand at the moment.
In this system, where wealth IS level-dependent, owes its basis to core Pathfinder - here, "killing monsters and taking their stuff" includes rifling through the pockets of security guards stupid enough to tangle with you (or found in a pool of their own blood after getting in the way of a monster), pawning the jewelery you found in the sewers after killing that nest of sahuagin, and plucking a car from the streets so that you can drive to San Diego - ditching the car somewhere once you get to town.
In this instance, everything has a cash-dollar value, and treasure earned is usually in the form of crumpled, wet $100 bills, single diamond ear-rings, blood-spattered (but still functional!) Rolex watches and the occasional gold tooth pried out of some unlucky bastard's skull. All we need now is a simple conversion guide!
Looking at the "Goods & Services" section of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook (pg. 159), it says that a "good meal" is about 5 silver. I've payed $50 (USD) for a really good steak, and the list price of 3 silver for a common meal & 1 for a "poor" meal translates about the same. A full meal of a couple greasy cheeseburgers, along with fries and a drink, costs about $10 (give or take). Looking at staying at an inn, a good room per day is 2 gold ... about $200 bucks, maybe? For a night in a nice honeymoon suite, that's about right. Common is 5 silver (again, $50), whereas a poor room is 2 silver, right in line with the $20 I've plopped down to spend 8 hours sleeping off a nasty hangover at a flea-bag hotel several miles from the interstate.
By this standard, a gold piece is the same as a $100 bill; a single dollar is a copper piece. A heavy horse? 200 gp or $20,000 - about what buying a horse would actually cost in the real world, unless I'm totally insane. Sure, this breaks down in certain ways (a clay jug is $3, but a winter blanket would be $50), but at the end of the day a GM would be better served using real world prices and just divvying up treasure as appropriate for various encounters.
Yes, this makes a longsword $1,500. A really good-quality high-tensile steel sword (that won't break from repeated use) would actually cost that. That dime-store, $20 katana in the back of the pawnshop with "Made in India" stamped on the back & the tempering marks painted on is actually just a semi-sharp club.
Yes, this makes a composite longbow $10,000 - but it's a freakishly high-quality bow. One that you can safely submerge in water, fire several arrows from per second, and which can survive all the rigors of jumping out of an airplane or jumping a speeding motorcycle onto a train.
And yes, this makes magical items ungodly expensive. Even a simple +1 ring of protection (2,000 gp.) is worth two-hundred-thousand dollars. A magical weapon with a a +3 enhancement is worth almost two million. Yet, due to the scaling economy of items in Pathfinder, the most expensive items in the game still cap out far below a a hundred million: $20,000,000 for a mirror of life trapping. This is to keep PCs from casually robbing banks in order to get the high-powered stuff; there's no way, economically, to make it feasible - people who steal in huge amounts like that get caught eventually or earn very deadly enemies.
Not to say that the PCs couldn't rob a bank. That's for the GM to decide.
This also works to keep magical items special - trying to buy or sell a gauntlet of rust, for example (price: $1,150,000) gets you fuck-all from most pawnshops, where the proprietor has no use for a "rusted & pitted" hunk of steel and no detect magic ability ... but to the right buyer, it's worth more than a home in the tropics.
It is important to note that THIS SYSTEM ACTUALLY WORKS ... but it doesn't work for everybody, or for every type of game. This is not the system to use if you want the PCs to have an apartment, a job (other than 'underground mercenary') or a family, buy and sell cars, or even receive mail.
This is the system for people who sleep in the woods, sometimes in the back of a Winnebago that they either stole or traded for a hunk of ancient marble with arcane inscriptions on it. The PCs are assumed to be escaped cons, borderline psychotics, wandering urban mystics, ex-cult members with murdered families, homeless heroes, missing persons and other people who casually carry guns, worn-out bullet-proof vests, "magic trinkets" including healing potions in old Powerade bottle and severed hands on cords, backpacks full of unnumbered bills, and occasionally chainsaws, sledgehammers and enchanted knives.
The PCs become the magic-fetching mercenaries who raid haunted houses, ghost towns, forgotten levels of subway systems, secret laboratories from the 1950s, Templar ruins, daemon-owned nightclubs and other modern "dungeons" for wealthy clientele. For a few thousand in cash and a complete wipe of your criminal record, would you be willing to use your mysterious magical abilities to explore a burned down middle-school at night & confirm or deny the presence of malevolent entities that might be collecting certain relics within?
I will probably be adapting d20 existing demographic rules regarding levels of characters. As for explaining why, is it sufficient to say "Dicks fuck assholes"?
Are there OGL rules for NPC levels? I know that the DMG has a bunch of information on building towns, but I can't find them on the d20srd.org site. Those rules, in my opinion, break down really badly at higher populations; a city of 30,000 (which is a HUGE metropolis by D&D standards but probably wouldn't even have a mall by modern-day standards) has several 15th-level or higher characters, including a 300-man strong militia.
My understanding was that those rules, like the beholder, were not Open Content for whatever reason. I could be totally wrong on that.
Either way, I do think that it's important to re-examine the percentages of the populace that are at different levels: capping the level for "Average Joe" so that New York doesn't have more than a handful of characters over 10th level is important.
Is Ultra-Modern Firearms more than just a list of guns?
That book has a TON of info on guns. It's the best damn book on modern firearms ever done, in my opinion; the real question is how much time and energy you want to pour into absorbing, synthesizing and regurgitating all the info contained within.
What's your opinion of the gun rules in d20 Modern?
I think that the gun rules work really well, actually. There are a couple of minor flaws, but those can be dealt with in-game. I just think that GMs should be given as much information as possible about how to make guns work FOR THEM.
One note: we had a few laughably hilarious moments in the d20-Modern game where high-level PCs, out-of-character, began to question the verisimilitude of the way guns worked in their universe: the Tough Hero with DR & almost 200 hit points realized that he could empty a handgun point-blank into his own temple without even worrying about it. Hell, guns have hardness and hit points ... he could walk up to a cop firing at him, pull the gun from the officer's hand, and BITE the thing in half (bite deals 1d2 points, maybe? Plus off-hand strength & Power Attack?) after spraying the remainder of the clip down his own throat.
Pulling a gun on a 15th-level combat-focused character is like pulling one on Superman. It's not going to slow him down - hell, it might not even piss him off.
One way to get around this, and without changing anything mechanically (just descriptively), is with "grace" and "health (see page 90 of the OGL Book of Experimental Might by Monte Cook), which differentiates things - like taking 'exhaustion damage' from a 'near miss', like when Batman just barely dodges a burst of machine-gun fire or Buffy stumble-blocks a killing blow and has the wind knocked out of her.
In game terms, that was actually a hit - and actually dealt hit-point damage to your "grace" - but it's not the same thing as having a gaping, spurting wound that the PC just shrugs off - you're getting tired as you dodge those bullets & sword-blows, and the NEXT attack might really hurt or even kill you! The last little bit of your hit points (your "health", equal to your Con score + your level, or thereabouts) represent actual meat getting blown off, bones breaking, blood spraying out of you, skin bursting & shredding open under claws, and other nasty, visceral stuff.
We do this in D&D all the time without even thinking about it: the 1d6+5 troll claw that hews the head from a lowly, unwashed peasant barely leaves a scratch on the stalwart, high-level fighter; for guns, which have real-word repercussions including observable death, this should be addressed as "nick of time dodging that puts the bullet through your earlobe instead of your neck, then throws your back out and leaves you panting for air".
For low-level NPCs, pretty much all of their hit-points are the aforementioned "health". When a 1st-level commoner gets hit with a 2d6-damage gun, all 8 of his hit points are represented as parts of him that are blown out the back of him. When the guy playing a 7th-level urban ninja gets caught by a Barrett Light Fifty, a sniper rifle in the real world capable of punching through two feet of concrete and liquefying people if it hits their damn SHOULDER (it yanks a shit-load of blood out of their body through a very small hole and simultaneously breaks all of the bones on that side of the torso with the hydrostatic shock of the blood leaving), he doesn't lose 2d12 points of flesh - he dodged that hypersonic bullet by the barest fraction of a greasy hair's breadth.
Now, that character is STILL super-humanly tough, just not quite as absurdly so: on average, with 12 Con. and 7 levels, our urban ninja has got 19 points of just pure, beefy flesh & blood Health. Even if he wasn't dodging and weaving and taking superficial "grazes & flesh-wounds", he'd be able to take a baseball bat right to the teeth and keep on coming. The second whack with the bat (after his Grace is depleted & he's down, purely descriptively, to Health) might put him down. Or the third.
But - and this is important - he's not catching tank-shells to the sternum and going "Unf. Stings a little." If that's the kind of game you want to play, fine ... and it probably WILL be at high level for an anime-inspired game ... but the option should be there for GMs who want to have characters survive massive, action-movie car-crashes a little banged up, with some dirt and oil smudges & a minor limp (representing lost Grace) rather than with a radiator jutting out of their kidneys, basically laughing at the wound.
For monsters, like a vampire with windshield-fragments caught in his cheeks or a length or rebar puncturing both lungs, that's okay. But if the heroes are human, they miraculously avoided the hospital-inducing stuff UNTIL REALLY LOW on hit-points.
In the instance of PCs doing otherwise-lethal damage to themselves, like shooting themselves in the leg (or head!) just to prove how superhuman they are, the GM should call it a coup de grace. Just a thought.
* The Armor Rant: another difference between fantasy-action stories and modern-action stories - even those with fantastic elements, like Harry Potter, Buffy or Crank 2: High Voltage (because tell me that Jason Statham's character isn't at least partially magical in that) - is that the characters in modern-era games rarely wear armor.
Even the ones who really SHOULD wear armor, like Wesley from Angel. Jesus, man - put on a bullet-proof vest or a motorcycle helmet or SOMETHING.
And, sure, yeah, there are modern-action stories where the characters wear armor ... like Batman! Like the team of ultimate bad-asses from Resident Evil and/or Aliens! Like some guys from Ghost in the Shell! But these are light armors, more akin to pads with cool straps & zippers than plate mail. And they're the exception to the rule: you could make a longer list of action-movie characters that fight bare-chested or clad only in a tank-top and their own awesomeness.
One flaw of d20 Modern is that they tried to keep the PCs out of plate mail, and it KIND OF worked: no class begins play with any Armor Proficiency, and not having proficiency in the armor that you're wearing has pretty much the same flaws as in the Pathfinder game: the armor check penalty applies to your attack rolls and to all 'skill checks that involve moving' (in Pathfinder, it's all Dex & Str.-based ability and skill checks). Even if you spend the feat on the proficiency, you still take the full penalty on the normal skills covered by armor check penalties.
The problem is, PCs get plenty of feats, and armor is just too damn good not to use. Any PC without some armor, in fantasy, is either an arcane caster or a monk. Period. End of story. There are no fighters or clerics or rogues who simply DON'T WEAR armor in core D&D, and unless you use something like the Ascetic rules from the broken-ass Vow of Poverty feat from Book of Exalted deeds, which isn't OGL, that's just how its going to be.
- My advice is this: give the characters the equivalent of armor without making, necessarily, it a huge, clanking, physical chunk of metal strapped to them. There's no way around the armor problem, at least not without entirely re-hauling the system ... and if you're going to do that, you lose the Pathfinder/Pathfinder Modern transparency. Now I have to convert all the armor-wearing monsters in the Bestiary & Bestiary 2 & the supplemental 3rd-party stuff, and then if I also have to convert their levels & hit-points, I might as well be building my own new game.
Make modern armor, including leather jackets, undercover tactical shirts, bullet-proof vests and full-on riot gear the norm ... just like masterwork studded leather, mithral breastplate & full plate are the norm in Pathfinder. Don't bother converting splint mail and the like, no one uses them. Basically, you make 'not wearing armor', like Neo from the lobby shoot-out near the end of the Matrix, actually a form of 'wearing light armor' - he was in a cool trench coat with straps and stuff! That's the same as masterwork studded leather!
Every hero with a coat on is 'wearing armor' - at least a little. Very few people in the real world walk around in actual leather with actual studs in it (except in very specific circles), but masterwork studded leather is the Dex-character's go-to, and its the gold-standard of adventuring. So everyone gets to have the benefits (along with the 99.9%-negligible flaws) of that armor, even if what they're wearing doesn't exactly LOOK like it's doing anything. Hellboy's flapping jacket? Masterwork studded leather. That coat and scarf combo that Milla Jovovich is wearing in Resident Evil: Extinction? Masterwork studded leather. James Bond's sexy tuxeudo? Oh, you better believe that that's masterwork studded leather. Those coats from Equilibrium - masterwork studded leather all day long, unless they were actually mithral breastplate. Batman's costume? Mithral breastplate.
Give the PCs the option to wear cobbled together riot gear (like Big Daddy Frank in 28 Days Later!) and treat it as full plate, and sometimes they'll gear up with it before heading into big fights. But don't try to force the PCs to not use armor. It won't work. Instead, make the armor that the PC are wearing flavor-appropriate - and if the PC's want to tear off their shirts and fight bare-chested, let them do it! No more max Dex bonus!
One other note: please DON'T give all characters level-dependent Defense bonuses (especially not ones that STACK with armor; that was a silly mistake); if you start down that road (which isn't a bad instinct ... after all, you could base it on the monk bonus but make it go faster, or give all PCs their Wisdom or Intelligence bonus to AC, maybe ...), you're redesigning the game, and we lose transparency.
The rampaging warrior orc (or "sewer mutant") really is actually wearing straps of leather; this is because its appropriate to him, his CR and his level.