Sunday, November 14, 2010

Amethyst Play Experience: Is D&D 4th with guns worth giving a shot?

A couple of days ago I wrote about my experience building a character for Goodman Games' Amethyst. Amethyst is a campaign setting putting the characters in a futuristic America where the fantasy mixes quite thoroughly with the sci-fi. You've got elves, halflings, and vampires (a playable class!) thrown together with laser-guided rockets and mecha powered armor.

Character generation was a little rough. Part of this was because of how big a crutch the D&D Insider Character Builder (CB) software is. Sure, it's nice and conventient in that it does all the math and tells you exactly what you need to pick from. The CB can be handy, but it also makes you weak! 4th Ed. characters can be quite complex (and in fairness to the system, we were building level 16 characters in a new system from the ground-up - we've never built anything bigger than a level 9 character from scratch before).

Now that we've gotten a chance to play it for this past Friday's gaming night, what did I think? Keep reading to find out!

I'm going to be upfront about this - Amethyst is pretty awesome. I don't want to bury the lead or make people wonder what I think about the actual game play of Amethyst. I liked it a lot, and, as I repeated numerous times to the group Friday night, I felt like the game captured something really right with how they implemented the controller role.

I was playing a grounder by the name of Roland. He's your typical heavy-weapons guy. The grounder can be defenderish, controllerish, or strikerish, and having played an Eladrin Wizard in our regular 4th Ed. game numerous times, I thought it'd be cool to try out the familiar controller role with some guns and some heavy armor. Looking at the picture at the beginning of this post, my miniature is second from the right. I used a Tacarm from AT-43 (we all used AT-43 mini's for the PC's) which worked our perfectly since my mobile motor armor was a 2 x 2 large character.

My powers were weaker than my wizard's powers with less condition effects but with about the same amount of damage. The thing that worked was that the guns themselves had unique effects. Because I was wearing my power armor, I could weild two-handed weapons as if they were one-handed weapons. I chose to equip myself with the coilgun (a type of gauss rifle) in one hand and a sonic stunner in the other. My coilgun was able to do damage and was used for my encounter and daily powers. My sonic stunner, a special weapon, could not be used in anything other than basic attacks (and as a grounder, all my at-wills count as basic attacks). The stunner was special though - it didn't do any damage. Instead it causes the target to become weakened and slowed (save ends). In our two fights, the stunner saw a ton of use. I had many chances to strike the two bosses and really control the battlefield with the stunner.

The real magic of the game lies in the gear - like all good sci-fi games. From our armor to our guns, each piece felt unique and appropriately powerful. There were also almost all vulnerable to a form of magic corruption that exists as a result of being out in the wild and near magical creatures. This is an interesting check on the power of battery-powered tools. Because fantasy and traditional races and classes are also appropriate for the setting, this feels like a fun and simple way to differentiate the worlds of techan (tech-based classes) and echan (fantasy-based classes).

I guess my parting thought on Amethyst for now is its complexity level. There are enough rules here that it can feel a little overwhelming when you first start out. From ammo types to weapon traits to the mechanical corruption, it can get a bit heavy. I'd say the amount of crunch added onto the existing 4th Ed. rules is comprable to one of the fatsplats (like Vampire, Werewolf, or Mage) and how much they add on to the World of Darkness core rules. Everything is translatable from 4th Ed. rules, but there's a thin extra game laid over the top of it. It's more complex and adds more to the game than something like Day After Ragnarok does to Savage Worlds. It's definitely worth a look at what a different design team can do with the 4th Ed. rules in a completely different setting than the standard put out by Wizards. I'm excited to hear that Amethyst Evolutions is going to be following up the core book we have already (Amethyst Foundations). I can't wait to see what epic destinies they include to expand upon their nice list of paragon paths. Hopefully we'll get something to follow-up on our Brothers of Blood - that would make two grounders very happy!


  1. I think alot of the complexity was a direct result of starting at such a high level and it being higher than you are used to. If you had started at 1st level, or some other low level, it would not have seemed as bad. By leveling up in a conventional way, you would have had time to slowly add in all the differing parts so that it would not have felt so overwhelming.

  2. This is definitely a possibility. I don't want to give the impression that the complexity is a bad thing though. It's just that weapons work differently, there's a ton of new gear that not only plays differently, but is governed by it's own set of mechanics, and there's a whole section on using vehicles that I haven't touched on because we didn't use yet.

    Another aspect of the complexity is through using the mobile motor armor. It's essentially a vehicle all on its own, and as a result has its own set of special powers and limitations you have to worry about.

    It was fun though. Once we started to learn the rules of what governed our abilities a little better, it was a real blast. I actually would very much like to play again with the mobile armor.

  3. Make a point to download the errata if you haven't done so yet.

    Mobile armor works just like regular armor but it also features additional abilities and its own hit points. If you think the mobile motor armor is cool...

    Also, may I recommend using heavy weapons with your mobile armor (which scales down to be a two-handed weapon). Then you can unleash some incredible firepower with the heavy-auto property.

    The big issues I felt designing Amethyst was if people would pick out where the strengths are. We wanted tech-based characters to act a little different than their fantasy counterparts and as a result, some people judged them underpowered. They never bothered looking at how much fun grenade launchers and vapor rifles can be.

    Congrats. You are like the first person who mentioned the little jewels that are specialty weapons.

  4. I really want to check this out. I am trying to build something similar to this in a more fantasy like setting; i.e. combining steam punk/sci-fi elements in a more traditional DnD world. It is very interesting to hear your thoughts on the use of Guns in this game.

    How do adventures play out? what kind of story elements are you playing out?

  5. Our game was a very simple one with heavy influences from the PC game Alien Swarm. We were sent out from one of the very few places where tech does not degrade and humans can live in relative piece to investigate a mine that the city lost contact with.

    It was really just two simple encounters. One was holding off from the ambushing aberrations while the elevator was raised from the depths. The other was down in the mine to kill off the two giant aberrations that were birthing all the lesser ones swarming us.

    The battles were tense but fun. Mike, the GM, did a great job of mixing minions in with heavy soldier enemies, and the two aberration bosses were quite beastly. Really it feels a lot like 4th Edition but without the melee on our parts. Lots of shooty and ammo tracking. Lots of times ammo tracking can be very tedious, but for some reason, it wasn't bad at all.

    Story-wise it could have been a medieval coal or gold mine, but we had the added effect of decay on our own gear the longer we were exposed to magical items on the surface. There were also explosions - lots and lots of explosions. Of course this could be played out by magic as well, but rockets are just too fun.

  6. Yeah I hear that from players. Ammo is intimidating but when you get into it, is not an issue.

    Have you downloaded the free zombie apocalypse module from our site yet? The firearm rules are from an earlier build but the encounters and story are still valid.

    I sent you an Email, Paul. Still waiting...


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