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What’s Up With DEM Games

Earlier this year, I updated you about the work that Dias Ex Machina games was doing with its Techno-Fantasy GSL game Amethyst:Foundations (here [1] and here [2], oh and here [3]), and it’s Modern-SciFi game NeuroSpasta [4]. I had a chance to catch up with Chris Dias, and find out what is going on over at DEM, and to talk about GMing in general.

So when we last ran an article about DEM games, it was a when Amethyst had come out.  So tell us what’s new with Amethyst..

A second book is coming.  Let’s get that out of the way.  Amethyst proved quite the success but like all creators, I always feel I could improve upon it.  We’ve set the title of the second book as Amethyst: Factions, due out this winter.  Initially, it was only going to be about 80,000 words, introducing one new techan class (the vanguard), [5]more lifepaths and feats, epic destinies, and a guide to creating long-term campaigns in the Amethyst world.  Now it’s over 150,000 words and contains alternate powers and class features (like a splatbook) for the original techan classes, a new energy weapon property (nuclear), super heavy weapons, and mecha…yeah, that’s right, mecha.  Granted, they’re just large suits of armor but I still think they’re awesome.  Just recently, we decided to offer “essential” builds to the original techan classes so for those endorsing the new line of books there will be something for them as well.  As a result, we are currently discussing splitting the book up into a player volume and a GM volume.

Nick Greenwood is doing most of the art.  Jeremy Simmons is doing all the maps.  Nick’s cover is going to be fantastic.  There’s this one specific illustration he’s doing that we’re really looking forward to.  I guarantee it will be the coolest illustration for a role playing game you’ll have seen in ten years.  Most RPG graphics are perfunctory, barely worthy a hundred words.  What Nick’s doing is nothing short of a bible’s worth.  I’m not the artist so I can offer this kind of praise.  He’s humble so I’ve got to compensate.  Because the next book is primarily PDF, it’ll also have a lot of color.  Oh yeah, and demons are finally showing up.

When Amethyst came out, you were also at work designing NeuroSpasta, your modern/future setting under the GSL.  How has work on NeuroSpasta been, and where is the product in the development cycle? [6]

After the release of Amethyst, I re-opened the doors for NeuroSpasta playtesters and ended up getting a monsoon.  It went from 20 to 150 people in two months.  It has evolved substantially in the past year.  This emerged from what I’ve learned from Amethyst as well as understanding the developing philosophy of the 4th Edition system (funny story, that one).  At 256,000 words and growing, it’s become blatantly obvious that we had to break it up.  We made the decision recently to split NeuroSpasta in two.  First to be released is Ultramodern4—the default rule system for all 4E games DEM will produce from now on.  It will have the ladders, the classes, feats, epic destinies, all the equipment, weapons, and armor.

NeuroSpasta, released later, will have the setting, the races, lifepaths, one class, rules for hacking, cybernetics, and an adventure.  This way we can produce other setting books and make it interlock with U4 or NeuroSpasta.  U4 is planned for a release earlier next year with NeuroSpasta following soon after.  Based on the sales of the next three books, we’ll determine the schedule of future DEM publications.

With one GSL game out and one more in the works, what have you learned about working under the GSL in terms of designing a game and publishing it?

Honestly, I never think of the GSL.  You’d think that I’d be constantly concerned about breaking some fine-print policy, but I don’t.  I feel like there’s some secret that only I know about frolicking in this playground.  I’m not going to say it was easy, but the limitations with the GSL was never a real concern.  My issues deal with the evolving philosophy of D&D itself.  I know some fans who follow my writing (thanks Bob) will think I’m repeating a common rhetoric.  When I started writing Amethyst, we only had the core books.  I had no idea what the design philosophy was or that it even existed.  Why should we be obligated to make our product like someone else’s?  Amethyst is not a D&D world.  It’s a fantasy game using D&D mechanics.  Thankfully with the deviations that Dark Sun recently took from the D&D staple, the heat Amethyst received from these few critics has reduced.  That being said, Amethyst has gotten many and great reviews, even from people that questioned the wisdom of our setting decisions.

Gnome Stew is the home of the best GMing advice on the Prime Material Plane. What kinds of things do you put in a game to aid the GM to run your game mechanically, as well as to develop stories in your worlds.

I’m been a GM longer than some of my players have been alive…ugh…the facts of that statement just hit me.  I wasn’t even exaggerating.  My personal Amethyst game has run off-and-on since 2002.  Rarely do I make characters.  I’ve been a storyteller in role playing games since the 80s.

I recently posted an article on LivingDice.com about how a few minor homebrew rules can enhance 4th Edition’s compatibility with a long-term, story-based game.  I offered ideas that enhance milestones, or utilize tokens to reset powers and healing surges—all of this to help a GM create a story based campaign without the obligation to have multiple battles every day to prevent players from wasting daily powers in the one encounter they have that week.

Additionally, the last chapter in Factions deals with constructing a story-based game in the setting.  It offers several hooks to start a campaign, with either echan-centered groups, techan-centered groups, or a mix of the two.  It discusses the people characters may meet, the story arcs that could develop and the opponents they may face.  There are campaigns involving slave markets, lost technology, and obviously, the Amethyst artifacts themselves.

Amethyst has a pretty complicated world, in terms of Chaos vs Law and Good vs Evil, with a number of unique races and cultures. What advice would you give a GM in running Amethyst for navigating these complexities?

I know some GMs don’t want a game to get too complicated or too multi-faceted, but I say let every decision have consequences.  Don’t ignore the little threads that emerge.  The more detailed the players make their characters, the more ingrained in the setting they become.  Don’t ignore the issues of race or politics when they emerge.  Don’t ignore issues with religion, a hot topic for any table.  Don’t assume you need a group that cavorts through fields holding hands.

I know a few reviewers had felt that Amethyst tries to discourage the mixing of worlds and philosophies, but I placed those hurdles in the setting in the hope people would create a campaign rife with conflict.  Have your players disagree with each other.  Have them be from different bastions, races, and ideologies.  Have them find a common ground despite these differences.  A good example is the assumption that the game is mostly about players building techan classes and shooting dragons in the face with plasma guns.  Despite the amazing amount of fun that could be, I have personally NEVER done this in my Amethyst game.

My group currently consists of a psychotic gimfen, a human fighter, a human warlord with a shotgun, a dual-pistol stalker with amnesia, a wasteland grounder with a minigun, and a mentally challenged narros ranger–all riding around in a giant snail with a house made from this shell (Jigapoda…coming in Factions).  I can run Amethyst until I’m 80 and not retread over the same type of story twice.

I am assuming that before you were a game designer you were a GM. How has your GMing experience carried over into your game design?

The purpose of Amethyst was an attempt (a heartfelt one) to offer all the information I had (and more) at my disposal when I created the original campaign.  I’ve never put a single element in Amethyst that pandered to pressure from outsiders.  GMs can play in my sandbox or move the sand to theirs.  I know what I like in my games so I offered as rich a universe as I could in hopes other GMs could read and appreciate the details.  I figured if I wrote a setting intelligently, intelligent storytellers will pick up on the particulars and handle the rest.  Those that don’t care can still pick up a said plasma rifle and shoot said dragon in the face.

Thanks to Chris for his time, and we are looking forward to the upcoming releases. You can get Amethyst:Foundations at Goodman Games [7] and a DriveThruRPG [8].  You can keep up with all the goings on at DEM at their website [9].

2 Comments (Open | Close)

2 Comments To "What’s Up With DEM Games"

#1 Comment By Roxysteve On December 1, 2010 @ 10:15 am

I’m not so in love with D&D that I can comment here, other than to remark that the ferociousness with which some people will attack things they feel are “not proper D&D” is astounding to this experimentally-inclined GM. After all, It isn’t like you are taking over WoC and forcing people to play your variant. Off switch and all that.

I was once savaged in another place (Telas will perhaps remember) for suggesting how I might like to make “Create”ed food less of a prospect for PCs than a leg-o-mutton in a local inn. You’d have thought I’d personally sponsored a bill in Congress to make RPGs illegal.

People became enraged over what they thought I wrote (but hadn’t) and what they assumed I was implying as a result (which I wasn’t). I was called all sorts of names and people I’d never met said in print that my GM technique sucked and people must be fleeing my games in droves.

All for an idle thought experiment I would probably never float in real life for a game system I rarely GM in (though even then I was regularly running games in other settings, had been doing so for more years than anyone else there had been on the planet and as a result had a fairly good objective idea of my GMing chops, my non-fleeing players being outspoken and forthright on the subject thank you very much). 8o)

So ignore the baying hounds is my advice. Anyone who “knows what real [insert noun] is” usually hasn’t any useful insight into the creative process. In the end analysis, the number of active games and the quantity of your material humming over the wires to customers is the best indicator of what is “proper”.

FYI: I also get a kick out of being older than everyone else at the table. I’m currently running a very popular Delta Green/D20 campaign in which one player, upon learning my age (55) blurted out that I was older than his dad. It is now my DG tag line – “Older than Mike’s Dad”.

I’d also forgotten how a group of highly motivated and enthusiastic players can over-drive the creative process until last year, when I suddenly acquired two dedicated core Call of Cthulhu groups and consequently lost all my “free” time to research and creating aged documents with a computer and a toaster oven. But that’s another thread entirely.

Great good luck with the project, Phil. Remember: Those that can, do. Those that can’t hang out on the internet and call you names.

#2 Comment By Alan De Smet On December 1, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

“Honestly, I never think of the GSL.”

The parts of the GSL I’d think about are: “Wizards may terminate this License and the rights granted hereunder automatically upon written notice to Licensee or upon posting on its website a termination of the GSL as applied to all licensees.” and “Upon termination for any reason other than a termination resulting from Licensee’s delivery of a valid Termination Notice, Licensee will immediately cease all use of the Licensed Materials and will destroy all inventory and marketing materials in Licensee’s possession bearing the Compatibility Logo.” And don’t forget, “Wizards may update or revise the License at any time in its sole discretion by posting the updated License on its website page located at [10]. Wizards will indicate on the License the date it was last updated.”

If you’re publishing under the GSL, you’re at WotC’s mercy. Maybe they kill your product lines because they’ve decided it’s offensive in some paranoid, dictated by Hasbro lawyers way. Maybe they kill all of the GSL licenses because Hasbro doesn’t see the benefit. Trusting in the kindness of a large corporation is a very dangerous move. Maybe it will never bite you. But people are still smarting from the killing of the d20 STL, from the original WotC announcement that if you used the GSL, you could publish use the OGL licensed 3.5e stuff again.