We Gnomes have been following the work of DEM games, as they have been working on the GSL version of Amethyst: Foundations (which we are going to shorten to Amethyst for the rest of the article). Amethyst has gone off to the printer, and Goodman Games is taking pre-orders now. DEM games has sent to the Stew, a sneak peek at the first four chapters. So let’s dig in and take a look at the first GSL game with modern weapons.
Disclaimer—DEM Games has provided a PDF of the the first four chapters of Amethyst to the Stew for review. I did not make any characters with these rules before this review.
A Little Recap
This is not the first article we have run about Amethyst. We have been following DEM Games for some time. Take a look at these two articles for a detailed look at Amethyst:
Amethyst is a Role Playing Game that postulates what would occur if a true-to-book fantasy setting was forced upon our real world. Our world is populated by many people wanting more from their lives. Our fantasies are filled with nymphs, valiant knights, and fire breathing dragons. We dream about being carried away by the fancies our mothers tell us every night.
But what if it was real for everyone? What if it invaded our society? How would humanity truly respond? This is not some stylized, fanciful view of Earth seen in books and on TV. It is a world with all the problems, both social and political, intact. Would we welcome the world of fantasy into our lives or would we fear its very presence?
–Amethyst (Chapter 1)
Amethyst is a game that mixes fantasy and modern using the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Rules, through the GSL.
The world of Amethyst revolves around a central theme of Order vs. Chaos. Our modern world (the Techan world) is one of Order where the chaos of life is tamed with technology. From order comes technology. The fantasy world (the Echan) is one of chaos and uncertainty. From chaos comes magic.
The forces of Order and Chaos are in opposition. Technology breaks down in the presence of Chaos, forcing the Techan world to wall itself off in order to preserve its technology. Outside the walls, the Echan world rules. The forests have grown thick and have become populated with the creatures of fantasy.
Breaking The Book Down
The Amethyst book has a very similar layout to the Hearts of Chaos adventure. The book is black and white, with amazing interior art from Nick Greenwood. Each chapter starts with a half-page illustration and an excerpt of a piece of fiction. The text is two-column and the font is clean and easy to read. There are page borders. On the even pages the border is a Techan image, and on the odd pages it is an Echan image. The sum of all the artwork and layout gives the book a very professional feel.
Chapter 1—The Choice
Chapter 1 opens with a discussion of the Amethyst world. This is the shortest chapter, but critical for understanding the world of Amethyst. What is clear in the four pages this chapter contains, is that Amethyst is complex. This is not a four-color fantasy world, this is a world with shades and textures. It is gritty and messy. The chapter does a good job of breaking down the Amethyst setting and providing the high level explanation of the world.
Because Amethyst uses the GSL, it requires the use of the Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. There is section in the chapter that compares Amethyst and the 4e PHB; which parts will be used between the two games (skills, most feats, core rules), and which parts do not fit in the world of Amethyst (rituals, some classes, most 4e races).
The chapter concludes with a glossary to get the reader started.
Chapter 2—Races In Amethyst
As I hinted above, most of the 4e races are not part of the the world of Amethyst. The only race that is used from the 4e PHB, is Human. The world of Amethyst has three major groups of Races: The Fae, Evolved Races, and Spawn Races. Of the three, players have the option of playing Fae or Evolved Races (including Half-Fae). A whole article could be dedicated to the races of Amethyst. Rather than giving a detailed listing, I will discuss the two major groups, and some notes about the races in general.
Each race starts with a history of the race, and then has a stat block, and powers, that are patterned after the 4e PHB. Each section ends with a detailed description on how a member of that race is typically played, including a section about why this race is the best race to play. Each race has an illustration as well.
The Fae represent the magical races that have returned to our world. They are the inspiration for many of the human descriptions of fantasy creatures like Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, etc. While they are somewhat related to the stereotypical fantasy races, the Fae of Amethyst all have a unique feel to them. To help players and GM’s better understand each race, there is a detailed description of the race, with common customs, dress, even dances.
It is not hard to draw loose parallels between the Amethyst races and their traditional fantasy counterparts, but they are different enough to feel unique, but similar enough that players familiar with traditional fantasy, will be able to easily grasp the high level concepts of each race.
Humans are the only race to have evolved, where the Fae were magically created. Humans come in two varieties: Techan (technology based) and those that have crossed over to the Echan world. There are rules included for how a human can become corrupted by magic and be transformed from Techan to Echan.
Technological humans are likely to be an interest to players who are looking to attack dragons with automatic weapons. It is not easy to be a Techan human, it is clear that they are the minority of this world, and that they are in a constant struggle to keep their world of technology from being overrun.
There is the ability to for Humans to mate with Fae. The act of bonding, as it is called, will transform a Techan human into an Echan human. Their offspring are then half Fae. Half-Fae get a number of bonuses based on their Fae parent. Most of them get a power or two from their parent’s race.
Amethyst employees a Lifepath system for fleshing out character backgrounds. These are similar to the Background options seen in the Player’s Handbook 2. They come in three groups: Regional (where you grew up), Discipline (area of expertise), and Supernatural (something magically special).
A player may take a single lifepath at character creation, and it does not cost anything in they way of class or feats. Most of the lifepaths give some kind of skill bonus, but many of them go past that and offer some very interesting abilities, and in a few cases an additional power. As stated in the opening of the chapter the lifepaths are not all balanced, there are some that offer more crunchy bits than the others, but I would not say that one was better than another.
While the mechanical aspects of Lifepaths are interesting, the richness they add to a characters background would make them worth it from a role playing aspect alone. Each one gives some aspect of the world that makes you crave to know more about the world of Amethyst.
Amethyst has two groups of classes: Fantasy Classes, and Techan Classes. Players are allowed to play classes from each, though mixed Fantasy and Techan parties require some additional effort on the Techan characters to keep their gear working; an issue addressed in the rules. Lets look at the two sets of classes:
Because Amethyst is a GSL game, it references the 4e PHB for the description for the fantasy classes. As discussed in Chapter 1, not all the 4e classes fit the word of Amethyst. The classes that are available are: Fighter, Ranger, Rogue, Warlord, Wizard.
For sure there are no Divine classes in Amethyst, thus no Cleric. In addition the Warlock has also been removed from the setting, due to its infernal connections.
Recently DEM games has addressed classes from the PHB2 and 3 in a recent blog article on their site: Psions, Primals, and Tattoos.
There are 4 Techan classes to choose from.
- Grounder (Defender/Controller) – Uses the big guns to defend his allies.
- Marshal (Defender/Leader) – Uses tactics to coordinate allies and to keep them out of danger.
- Operator (Leader/Striker)—Uses their skills in Medicine and in technologies to support the team.
- Stalker (Defender/Striker)—Uses stealth to dish out the big damage from either up close or from far away.
Unlike D&D 4e classes, the Techan classes are not focused on a single role. Each class has aspects of two classes, making them more like the 4e Hybrid classes. Each class is structured like their 4e counter parts, using a format similar to the 4e classes. Several of the classes have different builds, giving a few more character creation options.
Each class comes with powers that range from 1st level to 29. The powers have great modern-inspired names like: Shock and Awe, Make It Dance, Big Bore Blast, and Big Damn Hero. The powers do a great job emulating modern combat maneuvers (both realistic and those of high octane action movies).
Several of these powers were in the Hearts of Chaos pre-generation characters, and in playtesting, they had a modern feel, and worked well with the 4e mechanics.
What is not included in this chapter are Paragon Paths nor Epic Destinies. Though I do know that Paragon Paths are included in Chapter 5, and there are paths for both the Echan and Techan classes in the chapter.
Why You Should Be Excited About This Game
There are a number of reasons you should be excited about Amethyst: The first reason, is that this is the first GSL game that has introduced modern classes and weapons to the 4e ruleset, and has done an excellent job of creating the feel of modern abilities using the class/power system.
Second, it is an excellent product. The Nick Greenwood artwork is excellent. The layout is clean and readable. The text is well written and pleasing to read.
Third, the world of Amethyst is intelligent and complex. It is one of struggle, where the world of order is being encroached upon by chaos, and where both sides are sure their way of life is right. The Techans and Echans are not black and white characters, their worlds are messy shades of grey, giving GM’s and players ample material to explore these complex themes.
Where many critics of D&D 4e will say that the game has been made too simple or too much like an MMORPG, Amethyst is the opposite. The setting is rich and detailed, and you can feel the internal struggle in every page of the book. It is proof that the 4e rules are expandable, and that they can support a more complex campaign world.
Amethyst is available for pre-order at the Goodman game’s website.