Friday, December 10, 2010

10 Questions with Amethyst Creator Chris Dias

It's no secret that we've taken quite well to Amethyst Foundations as a product and game setting. We're really excited to see what Chris and the crew at Dias Ex Machina have in store for us in their upcoming follow-up Amethyst Evolutions. Check out what our guest write Mike a.k.a. The Sleepy DM thought about both the book/setting and what it was like to pit giant bog monsters against us poor players. Back? Great, now let's hear right straight from the man himself on his influences for Amethyst as well as getting a peak into the design process behind the setting rules.

Now on with the questions!

1. The Hopeless Gamer (THG): What are some of the references that most influence you in creating the world of Amethyst?

Chris Dias (CD): The original setting goes back to the early 90's when I developed an idea about a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by dragons and walled cities. After the release of the film Reign of Fire, I abandoned the project. Fast-forward to 2002 when a good friend convinced me to return to D&D after a ten year absence. Amethyst was the chosen project. Back then, all I did was take the original setting and implant the canon D&D universe into it. It had all the staples associated with the classic world. Magic and technology could mix without disruption, which created a huge flaw in the setting since there was still this element that the two worlds were divided. A year into the game, I ran into another old friend and explained the setting. When he asked the details, I described it as a techno fantasy where the worlds of technology and fantasy were separated and actively disrupted each other's existence. It was only at that moment did that later point exist, as I was saying it. He said it was a good idea. I smirked like it had always been that way and agreed. I later retroactively inserted disruption into the setting and the modern image of Amethyst began to take shape.
Yeah, we could totally role-play this.

Replacing all the old D&D canon wouldn't occur until after the first campaign concluded in 2005. As we began our second campaign in 2007, very little of the old setting remained untouched. Even with that, it wasn't until the release of the 3.5 game in 2008 when we switched the good/evil, chaos/order axis, but even then it was still not locked in stone. The 4E release in 2010 marked the most complete version of Amethyst, but even that isn't 100%.

So it wasn't one thing that started it. It was an evolving idea that's older than some of my friends. As for inspiration, there really wasn't any, at least not from books, games, or films. I browsed through online art, would see something neat, and develop something completely different than what the original artist intended. Any other parallels to other products are coincidental.  

2. THG: What were some of the challenges you faced when developing Amethyst for the GSL?

CD: By challenge, you mean opportunity. We owe it to the GSL for forcing us to create more original content. With the 3.5 edition, we renamed kobolds puggs but didn't change anything else. With the GSL, we couldn't do that, so we created something new that matched what we wanted. Instead of orcs, we have pagus. The old pagus were orcs; they just looked different. Now they are unique creations that fill the same role. The only real issue dealt with divinity. We couldn't change clerics so we had no way to include them in a setting with no proof of God/gods. In the end, we simply removed them. In the canon world, they aren't present, but we received quite the criticism for their removal. Since Dark Sun did the same, I've noticed such complaints have mellowed out. Though we are including a loophole to include them back in with Evolutions, it's still not canon. But the cleric thing would be it.  Challenges were just hurdles to leap over rather than impede us.

3. THG: Will we be exploring any territory beyond North America in future Amethyst releases?

CD: Amethyst Factions (the third book) expands the setting in detail, going into the individual cities of North America. There is considerable depth with the known kingdoms like Abidan, Limshau, and Baruch Malkut. Amethyst Evolutions, the next book, only expands the world in players' eyes, so it's more about the people rather than the places.

4. THG: What was the design direction behind making all four Techan classes primarily range attacks based?

CD: It's about filling a niche.  It's also about realism. There was no sense to include a non-ranged class because any ideas could be replicated by a traditional D&D class. Modern armies may include close combat training but none of them relies on it. So techan classes reflect the advantage of having technology…which is firepower. Laser swords and mono-molecular whips are sci-fi clich├ęs that would never appear in a realistic advanced society. So then the need came about which classes we wanted.  We considered the roles we needed to fill—sniper, gunslinger, mechanic, and the many variations of infantryman. Because D&D is a violent game, there was no desire to create a non-combat class. The operator came close. 

5. THG: Are there any new Techan classes planned down the line, or are you focusing more on expanding this existing four?

CD: Ironically enough, we did eventually decide later that a close-combat techan class could work.  We're offering the vanguard in Amethyst Evolution. This is a defender melee class with no magical powers whatsoever.  It's very much inspired by modern mixed martial arts. You have access to various disciplines and can be either a mobile character, striking multiple targets, or a grappler, able to tie down one enemy for a long period of time. It isn't like a monk, which is a striker; our vanguard can't fly or turn his fists into iron. However, he can purchase shock gloves and hydraulic clamps.

6. THG: What was the reasoning behind limiting arcane classes to only wizard?

CD: Because Amethyst was originally meant to be a legitimate fantasy setting, not a game world.  Most fantasy worlds have only one type of magic, where D&D has a half-dozen or more. It’s a bouillabaisse mashing different settings where Amethyst wants to stand on its own. We had established that magic only came in three forms. You can be a naturally gifted aberration (monster). You can be skilled in enchanted materials and chemicals to create solutions and devices that are magical (alchemy and magic equipment). The only other way, the hardest to master and most powerful, is to understand the words spoken by dragons, which can create something from nothing.

Also, they fight.

I didn't want to include magic just because there has to be magic. There had to be a reason for it. To coincide with Amethyst's philosophical undertones, there is a language called Pleroma, and if someone skilled in the words' meaning and importance speaks it properly, he or she can replicate the power of logos--being able to shape the world by commanding it. The implications are important and very few people can even master the basics. It limits the instances where someone can throw fire from heaven.  Seeing an army supplementing archers for wizards is not Amethyst. It's primarily a martial world, not uncommon in fantasy. It's only in game worlds where magic is wielded flagrantly and—honestly—unrealistically. If everyone could wave a wand, there would be anarchy. Even when we had clerics in the old game, the setting declared that they were one in a million. If a character was a cleric, than he was the only one for a thousand miles.

7. THG: The techan classes tend to have split party roles rather than focusing on a particular role, what made you go that route?

CD: If techans are truly meant to be the rivals of magic, then they should have their own design philosophy. We broke from the idea of roles and instead had them fill a niche only complimented by other members of a techan team. We only assigned roles after we created the class. I find it ironic that people were saying that the new D&D is about saying yes, and then it presents classes where you are forced into a narrow role. We created the techan classes to mesh with each other, not with fantasy classes. Because of that, we could design them with that capability and ignore these locked-down responsibilities put down by their fantasy counterparts.

Thankfully, Players Handbook 3 came out a few months before our book and presented hybrids, which retroactively justified what we were doing. I imagine if they hadn't done this, or if we had come out earlier, we could have taken considerable flack. But that brings up a personal quibble I have had with the design philosophy of 4th Edition. With 3.5 games, 3rd party publishers were entitled, if not encouraged, to break the mold and stake their own claim. We were following the lead of great game companies like Privateer Press, White Wolf, and Fantasy Flight. However, with 4E, the consensus appeared that 3rd party publishers were not allowed to depart from the accepted paradigm. We were prohibited to test new ground unless it had been tread upon previously by WOTC. Thankfully, this mentality is changing, especially since D&D appears more than willing to break its own rules.

8. THG: What made you decide to wait for your second release, Amethyst Evolutions to produce Epic Destinies for the Techan classes?

CD: Room. We ran out of room. Foundations was pushing 180,000 words and we had a strict cut-off from our printer. We were given options. Trim down the setting or pull out crunch. Since we figured people would be going into Amethyst at low level, we decided to pull out the epic destinies and epic monsters to a later book. In the end, that still wasn't enough and a large campaign planner we had intended to put in the Foundations book had to come out as well. Luckily, they are both finding themselves in later books.

I guess this wasn't epic enough for me...

9. THG: What else can we expect to see in Amethyst Evolutions?

CD: The original classes are being expanded like what you would find in a splat book, alternate powers but also alternate class features to more define your role. If you are a stalker, for example, you can pull out the sniper features and include new gunslinger features. We also add a few more paragon paths, all those epic destinies we mentioned, and new weapons. Some fans wanted larger weapons and larger armor, so both are coming. The big inclusion is Essentials classes.  Once again following the D&D lead, all the original techan classes are being offered in a simpler form. The five techan classes (four original including the new vanguard) have been expanded to eight classes following the design model seen in the current line of books from WOTC. I have to admit, these came out remarkably well.  It's important to note these classes don't take up a large portion of the book and those still preferring the traditional classes of 4E will still find most of the book catering to your needs. We also got three new races and aircraft coming as well.

10. THG: Beyond Amethyst Evolutions, are there any other plans for future products?

CD: Amethyst Factions will follow close behind Evolution. Where Evolution is a player book, Factions is a GM book. It expands the setting, answers some questions, and offers a guide to building your own Amethyst campaign. After that, we are diving into uncharted territory with Ultramodern4, a completely new approach to 4E, where we present a universal system for creating any modern or science fiction game within the 4E framework. It's been going through testing for nearly two years and should be hitting shelves in the spring. After that, we'll be releasing setting books for that system, starting with a cyberpunk espionage game called NeuroSpasta.

Awesome-looking cryptic teasers are our bread and butter.

THG: Bonus Question! Which is your favorite Techan class?

CD: I have to admit to loving these new Essentials classes. Some of the clever mechanics make me laugh. The mechanic operator has a power called "Shiny Red Button" and as you progress in levels, you get to press the button more often. 

THG: Thanks for your time Chris. I may have only just discovered Amethyst, but I'm pretty pumped for it. I'd love to see other designers follow your lead and take a chance on 4th Edition, although I'm sure you're pretty happy that there's very little competition out there for truly original 4th Edition settings. :)

CD: Thanks. It's a double edged sword. We like being unique in the industry, but it's troubling that so many companies have walked away from the system. I really hope WOTC finds away to bring them back into the setting.  It will help us all.

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