Monday, January 17, 2011

Q&A with Chris Dias - Amethyst, NeuroSpasta, New Content Revealed!!

I have the privalege of bringing to you today a Q&A with Chris Dias, creator of Amethyst as well as the upcoming new 4e Cyberpunk game NeuroSpasta. You won't find these questions answered anywhere else (I don't think). Awesome stuff gets spilled here first. Give it a read and find out more...


Q.1 – For us here at the Dump Stat, the character is the first thing that we think about when looking at a new game or system, so, I’d like to start things off by asking you to tell us about any memorable characters that you have run personally, or that you have had in your test games over the years. Did any in particular stand out?

It's hard for me to quantify what makes a memorable character. Well developed, creative back-story, or is the character simply insane? I have players with great concepts with no capacity to properly play the roles and players without an original idea in their head but intelligent enough to act appropriately in a presented crisis. When I begin my large campaigns, I oversee the character creation process, but when doing a playtest session, everything goes…and by saying that, it’s like throwing butane on a lit match. My players seldom reminisce about their well developed characters, often joking about their one-session lunatics. Just take these character names as examples:

Sergeant Ruttagard Howard, Wee-Man for Hire
Hugh Mann the Third
Axebeard Beardaxe
Beardaxe Axebeard (dwarvish brothers with different mothers)
Lamb Shanks
Choad Moedin
Enoch Chauk (it may take a while for people to figure that one out)

Q.2 – Amethyst is a campaign setting set in a possible alternate future for our earth. Why did you decide to build the game world around our home planet, rather than around some other non-earth world?

Because Amethyst didn't emerge fully formed but evolved slowly over twenty years. It began because a friend was convincing me to do a D&D game, which I was not inclined to do at the time. So instead of developing an idea from scratch, I dusted off a setting that I had put to pasture eight years prior. At the time, it was just a post-apocalyptical story, with no magic, set on Earth after dragons had reawakened. I had shelved it because the film Reign of Fire came out after which covered similar ground. So I just shoehorned D&D into that idea and Amethyst extruded out the other side. If I was asked to create a setting from the ground up, things could have been different. But as a consequence of setting it on Earth, it forced me to establish ground rules which I have been following ever since. If I hadn't been lazy back in 2001, it would have been a very different game now, and definitely wouldn’t have been called Amethyst.

Q.3 – You have mentioned that one of the primary foci of Amethyst in terms of theme is the disrupting element that Magic has on technology. This comes out very strongly in the rules as well. Conversely speaking though, we were interested to hear about what you thought about the disruption on Magic by technology? Did this ever come out in Amethyst or any of the other work that we have yet to see?

Disruption came about because the setting made no sense without it. In a fictional fantasy world, you're tolerated more suspension of disbelief. You can have a nation like Gondor from Lord of the Rings exist for three thousand years without anyone inventing a flush toilet. It was gameplay that actually did it for us. Who needs the education to be a wizard when you can have…a gun? My players took advantage of it and the setting started to unravel as they--okay, one player—began wielding lasers brazenly along with his sword. Disruption was ret-conned six months into the setting. Now it’s a vital component and one of its selling points. The moment we allow technology to disrupt magic, magic loses that edge and again the setting begins to fray. At the present point in the setting, technology has not figured a way to combat disruption. Currently, the only solution is to eliminate magic from an area (by destroying or pushing away the things and people that radiate).

As for these concepts outside of Amethyst, there are actually quite a few, just not as obvious. Lord of the Rings, Princess Mononoke, and even Dune deal with fantasy worlds that become overwhelmed by industry. It may not be a primary element of the setting, and often times it's subtle and metaphorical. In the case of the PC game Arcanum, it deals with technology overwhelming a fantasy world, effectively the reflection of Amethyst. So I felt the idea of a magical world being overwhelmed by technology was old hat. But a place where magic was emerging and reducing technology felt fresher…unless you watched Visionaries…no? Anybody? Seriously, why has no one ever brought that up?

Q. 4 – Amethyst provides us, the gamer, with a whole lot of new crunchy mechanical goodness to go along with the setting. Did you deal with balance issues in creating this material, and if you did, how did you go about actually getting those issues into balance?

Originally, one of our developers really pushed the idea that we make firearms more powerful and use disruption as a balancing effect to keep them in check. We eventually decided that wasn't good. I believe our weapons are extremely well balanced and I've yet to receive a word of objection about advanced armor. In contrast, balancing our classes has been a difficult process. For one, WOTC shifted the power balance with later their books. My co-writers and I had this idea in our heads that we should break from the notion of defined class roles, replacing it with the concept of a homogenized group of cooperating players that filled the roles defined by D&D as a single team rather than separate entities. That didn't go over too well and there were comments that techans were underpowered and undefined. Only when you have a proper mix of techan characters did their strengths appear. We're addressing people's concerns with the second book, allowing players to properly define their characters into a single role. This will help with fantasy/techan mixed groups as well.

Q.5 – During your appearance on the Tome Show, you mention that you thought there would be two kinds of people that would want to pick up Amethyst, one of those types being gamers who want to plunder Amethyst for its tech goodness. Have you had any experience, personally, with using elements from Amethyst Foundations or one of the other books (which have yet to come out) in running a game that was not set in the Amethyst world?

I tried but my players didn't want to. Many of them have been with Amethyst since 2002 and don't want to try something new. I worked on a cyberpunk game but that ended up as its own construct away from Amethyst called NeuroSpasta, though still using the same base rules. However, I've seen other people create ideas using Amethyst's system. You wrote an article yourself recently about how Amethyst can be tuned to fit another setting. I was following two online projects attempting to adapt Amethyst to Starcraft II, which I thought was brilliant. I am still hoping someone creates an Alien/s plug-in for Amethyst—considered my favorite science fiction setting of all and one I have personally role-played in (just check my first website,

Q.6 - You present a very interesting set of vehicle rules in Amethyst Foundations. Do you have any interesting memories of players using vehicles in the world that you would like to share with us?

The best example was a few months ago in our Amethyst game. Several fantasy/ techan players teamed up with a group of techan NPCs to escape from this keep controlled by an army of skeggs and boggs (goblins in Amethyst). The techan NPCs had a vehicle the group could use to escape. The fantasy characters had to ride atop this giant ETV Scrambler (think a Winnebago crossed with a tank) as it rocketed from this goblin controlled castle, monsters in quick pursuit. So there were a thousand skeggs running down after them armed with rudimentary blades and bows. Behind them were an immeasurable number of puggs (tiny goblins). In front were these vehicles, controlled by a skegg with protective goggles, holding onto a navel helm like a bus driver. There was a huge lever to his side he used to shift gears. Behind him were two massive oggraks (ogres) with blindfolds standing on either side of a pump-trolley, pushing the lever up and down to provide the vehicle's acceleration. On either side of the vehicle was a wound-up catapult that spun completely around to launch projectiles. The projectiles were puggs with sharpened helmets. The players have to fight off these launching goblins while also fending off opposing vehicles as they closed in. There are fights between vehicles. The scrambler races through a forest and over a narrow bridge. The goblin trucks are running into each other, into trees, or flying off a cliff. Take the climactic chases from the last two Mad Max films and throw in a dash of the jeep chase from the last Indiana Jones film, and you'll have some idea of the chaos that was this encounter. It took a good hour to play out, but the players quite enjoyed it.

Q.7 – What has been your experience running Amethyst at high levels? What were the kind of challenges the players encountered?

Don't know. My personal gaming experiences have been limited to under 20th level. The first Amethyst campaign was 3.0/3.5. The second shifted to 4ED but the characters finished the campaign by 18th level. The game we're in currently should move into epic at some point. We have had test reports from people playing that high but we limited the monsters in the first book to mostly the first two tiers. We also don't have epic destinies showing up until Evolution, so everyone has had to wait to run through the final ten levels in canon Amethyst.

Q.8 – We have heard that there will be several new books coming down the road, which will both add new elements to the game. Included in Amethyst Evolutions will be Epic Destinies as well as a new Techan class, the Vanguard. Would you mind filling us in on any of the other new elements that you will be including in this next book? Organizations come to mind…

Yes, just for you, we added new organizations, both for techans and fantasy characters (offer you a free one below). We have new lifepaths and paragon paths. We have a new weapon property, nuclear, as well as a whole slew super heavy weapons. To complete the package, we are also introducing larger advanced armor…okay mecha, we'll just say it. And then of course, there are the "alternate" builds. Tracking the philosophy of WOTC and their new Essentials line, every class and path from Foundations has been re-offered adhering to the Essentials philosophy. So the book covers both rule sets. Thankfully, these alternate builds don't take up a lot of space.

It is not uncommon to see Limshau custodians operating outside of city walls. Once a member switches from the city-white kawabari to black kawabari armor, he or she is immediately sent out to either retrieve a previously lost tome of knowledge or document an important event. Although occasionally travelling alone, most often the custodian joins up with a group of travelers with similar goals. Certain circumstances have occurred where an entire party of Limshau citizens are gathered together to venture into the open world. Not all have to be custodians, though one of them usually is (or perhaps a librarian). When this occurs, the logos lance (as they are called) is tasked for a specific mission. It is often difficult, involving a journey encompassing months or even years. This lance is commissioned by a higher authority, up to and sometimes including the king himself.

Benefit: If players are forming a logos lance, one member must have a lifepath connected to the kingdom. All players of the lance receive one free knowledge skill of their choice to be a trained skill OR receive a +2 bonus to one trained knowledge skill of their choice. The entire party is supplied riding horses for free and receive a 20% discount to all gear at 1st level from Limshau.

Q.9 – How has your mindset had to shift from Amethyst, a game setting that you have worked on for years, to your new, upcoming game, NeuroSpasta?

I have to work on one for several weeks, then stop and resume the other. I can't just flip back and forth. They have very different approaches with both fluff and crunch. I had worked on NeuroSpasta for months last year until shifting back to Amethyst, which I have been working on since August. After Evolution and Factions comes out, I can finally return to NeuroSpasta and dot the last "I". As Amethyst becomes more in line with evolving D&D philosophy, NeuroSpasta has drifted further away, though not actually moving in the process. Where D&D has endeavored to simplify itself, NeuroSpasta (and its parent system, Ultramodern4) has maintained its intention to create a universal system where you can fashion dozens of different classes from a pairing system of ladders and classes. As a consequence, character growth and creation does involve more work.

And although NeuroSpasta is being developed after, it tracks its origin to well before, when it was a cyberpunk/mecha homebrew game called Necropolis. I took that old game, blended it with spices from Shirow's Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell, and wrapped it around a setting which I believe to be unique in its own way.

Q.10 – We have only really seen teasers for this upcoming new release, is there anything specific that you would be willing to leak about the new setting NeuroSpasta or about Ultramodern4?

Let's see…
…You can buy, build, modify and control robots on the battlefield. They are effectively player controlled monsters except that they gain your half-level bonus, so they never go obsolete. We got models that resemble hat boxes on wheels to small tanks.

…Our hacker class (called a manipulator) can not only hack security cameras and networks, but also opponents on the battlefield. He can create programs that bundle multiple attack powers together.

…Oh yeah, and we have over 180 cybernetic devices, from skill implants to total body prosthesis.


Well, that is all for this time around, hopefully, when the new books come out, we will be able to have some more questions answered as well. I have to thank Mr. Dias for taking time out of his schedule to answer our questions. If you haven't checked Amethyst out yet, go do it, it is awesome. You won't regret it.

You can find the products mentioned here by visiting Dias Ex Machina.

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