Review of Amethyst: Renaissance by Dias Ex Machina
  • Review of Amethyst: Renaissance by Dias Ex Machina


    There seems to be more and more SciFa settings coming out these days. And no, SciFa is not a typo, because I am referring to those games and settings which blend elements of Science-Fiction and High Fantasy into one really mind-blowing package –Science-Fantasy seems the only way to describe the genre.

    In my long gaming career, I first encountered a setting like this many years ago when I was invited to play in this new RPG named Shadowrun from a company called FASA. My first experience with the game was less than enthusiastic, as I couldn’t figure out why you’d clutter up a perfectly good Gibson-esque cyberpunk-style RPG with elves and orcs wielding magic. But over time I grew to enjoy it, and even ran a few campaigns myself with friends not yet familiar with how cool SciFa could be.

    Now, not only does Shadowrun RPG still exist, published by Catalyst Games these days, but a plethora of other RPGs as well, including Monte Cook’s Numenera which is due out sometime later this year. One such SciFa setting which has recently been adapted to the Pathfinder RPG system is the Amethyst setting by Dias Ex Machina. DEM offers Pathfinder fans access to a science-fantasy setting which is set in an alternate reality of Earth’s future, where magic returned as an apocalyptic force which threatens humans and technology at every turn!

    Amethyst: Renaissance
    • Authors: Chris Tavares Dias
    • Illustrator: Nick Greenwood (cover); Joshua Raynack (cover design); Nick Greenwood, Katherine Dinger, Jamie Jones (interior); Jeremy Simmons (cartography)
    • Publisher: DEM (Dias Ex Machina)
    • Year: 2012
    • Media: PDF (399 pages)
    • Price: $14.99 (available at RPGNow.com)


    Amethyst: Renaissance
    is an alternate-reality futuristic setting designed for use with Pathfinder RPG, where Earth has suffered a natural apocalypse, which caused a resurgence of magic and an invasion of mythological creatures. The sourcebook comes complete with everything needed to create and play characters in this post-apocalyptic high-tech/high fantasy setting. This includes details on character races, backgrounds, new skills and feats, classes, and prestige classes. In addition, characters gains access to new weapons and equipment native to the setting, which include fae weapons as well as high tech firearms and gadgets, as well as rules for using firearms in combat. Amethyst: Renaissance includes new magic spells and magic items, information about the Amethyst setting, a map and gazetteer of the new Earth, new monsters and a monster list of those applicable from Pathfinder RPG, ideas for running an Amethyst campaign, and an introductory 1st Level adventure.

    Product Quality

    The production quality of Amethyst: Renaissance is excellent, with a great layout, and an engaging writing style by the author. The content is revealed in a logical fashion, with each chapter detailing material pertinent to some part of character creation for the players, or for running a campaign in the setting for the gamemaster. The sourcebook has a table of contents and fairly complete index for navigation, but the bookmarks in the PDF were a bit underwhelming. In my copy, they consisted of straight list of chapter and section titles as they appear in order throughout the book, and many of the entries were keyed to the same page or not keyed at all.

    The artwork in Amethyst: Renaissance is quite stunning, despite being gray-scale, and there is plenty of illustrations depicting the various fae races, new classes in action, weapons and gear, monsters, and campaign locales. There are also a sprinkling of action/adventure scenes throughout the sourcebook, which enhance the enjoyment of the read. The cartography in Amethyst: Renaissance is fantastic, as seen in the settings version of North America (Canam), and in the location and dungeon maps which appear in the sample adventure.

    A New Path to Adventure

    Amethyst: Renaissance
    offers Pathfinder RPG fans a very different setting to explore than a traditional high fantasy realm with elves and dwarves and dragons in it. Many of those fantasy elements are present in Amethyst: Renaissance, but there are also elements of high-tech and post-apocalyptic survivalist which are not typically found in a fantasy world. In this case, Amethyst: Renaissance uses our own planet Earth as a template for a setting, set in the future, after a natural apocalypse not only devastates the planet, but also brings back a magic power, and an “invasion” of races and creatures from myth and legend. And I put invasion in quotes specifically, because, according to the theme of the setting, these fae creatures are actually from pre-historic Earth before the dinosaur-killing meteor fell – technically, that makes modern humans the interlopers, as the fae were here first!

    And so, some of the great dynamics of the campaign setting arise from a tension and incompatibility between high magic and high technology, and that of the fae culture clashing with human culture. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also a survival against monsters dynamic present in almost any RPG setting – “good versus evil” is the least of the players’ worries here in Amethyst.

    As I have discussed the Amethyst setting in previous reviews on EN World News and on the Neuroglyph Games site when it was released for D&D 4E, I offer these links to curious readers who want to find out more about the setting in detail:

    Review of Amethyst: Evolution by Dias Ex Machina
    Pre-Release Review of Amethyst: Foundations by Dias Ex Machina (Part 1)
    Pre-Release Review of Amethyst: Foundations by Dias Ex Machina (Part 2)

    I should also note that Pathfinder RPG fans should put aside any concerns that this setting was first released for D&D 4E. After reading both sets of rules, I can honestly say that the author was able to create some fairly awesome rules and content for this version of the Amethyst setting that was not available for the other game system due to mechanics and rules structure.

    In Chapter 1 (“Fundamentals”), the author presents the short story of a character named Aiden, who shows up in story fragments later in the book to illustrate concepts about the game and the setting. There is also some description of the history and origins of the forces which cause the magic-apocolypse, and a brief glossary introducing some of the names and ideas which are part of the setting.

    The second chapter (“Creation”) delves right into the nature of the fae races in general, and then into specific listings about the eight different fae player-character races, humans, and a race of anthropomorphized Kodiak bears. Each listing contains details about each race, including appearance, tips on roleplaying, and possible names, as well as stat modifiers and racial powers like any other Pathfinder RPG character race. The author also offers players the option to create human-fae and fae-fae mixed blood characters, as well as rules for their powers and traits. Note that human-kodiak crossbreeding does not occur, but apparently fae-kodiak dalliances have occurred, and is a possible playable race option. Perhaps furry and long ears in one package might appeal to some gamers out there.

    Chapter 3 (“Backgrounds”) offers characters a list of organizations and traits to choose from to tie their characters into the setting. There are 14 organizations to belong to, and at least three members of an adventuring group must choose to be active members for the group to gain the benefits. The more than 40 traits are used just as the rules in Pathfinder prescribe, although some traits are deemed very powerful, and count as two selections. Overall, there is a lot to choose from here, and players will find this section a good starting point for their character’s history.

    Chapter 4 (“Classes”) details the Pathfinder RPG classes used in Amethyst, as well as the new high tech classes (techan) available to human characters. Most fantasy classes from Pathfinder are available for both fae and humans who have embraced magic and become enchanted (eachan). There are some restrictions when playing the setting as “canon”, which include bards, paladins, ranger, sorcerers, and psionic classes. The author details any modifications required for the Pathfinder classes, and most of those are fairly minor. I have to say that I liked how the author adopted the techan classes to Pathfinder, and although many of them use high tech weaponry, they do not appear grossly overpowered. Most of techan character classes have selectable powers and abilities, so characters with the same class can be quite customized. Some even have a specific number of uses per day per level, which are kind of like spells – non-magical of course, but using science and technology instead. Players should find no trouble using the techan classes, as they have the same advancement tables found on Pathfinder RPG classes.

    The fifth chapter (“Skills and Feats”) of Amethyst: Renaissance introduces five new skills – Demolitions, Engineer, Regional History, Knowledge (Sciences), and Vehicle Operations – which are useful for integrating the high tech characters into a world of science-fantasy. The skills are very detailed, particularly Demolitions and Vehicle Combat, the latter taking several pages detailing not only basic vehicle operations but also tricks, stunts, and combat maneuvers. The remainder of this chapter details all the feats available to characters depending on their racial and trait choices, as well as feats covering general fantasy characters and techan characters. There are even traits available to handling explosives and vehicles, as well as a selection of martial arts feats for building a character versed in MMA. (For the record, the author has a great sense of humor when it comes to naming feats, and I nearly choked on my libation when I read one in the demolitions section called simply “Wilhelm Scream.” Need I say more?)

    Chapter 6 (“Equipment”) is a bit misleading, in that it covers quite a bit more content than just what guns, swords, and vehicles are available to characters. This chapter opens with information about the currency of the setting, and covers the plethora of eachan and techan weaponry, armor, ammo, and gear available. But the author also discusses rules for handling enhancement bonuses for techan (non-magical gear), which he calls tech levels. The author also covers the EDF (or Echan Disruption Field) which can play havoc with high tech gear – magic is very much the nemesis of technology in the setting, which is a bit of a reversal from the trope of magic being destroyed by tech. However, the author has still made the techan gear pretty interesting, and much of it is modifiable with new attributes and powers. (I should mention here that the artwork of the guns, armor, and vehicles in this section are really cool looking! Kudos to the artist who came up with the illustrations!)

    Chapter 7 (“Prestige”) has an offering of more than two dozen prestige classes available to characters, all of them strongly and thematically tied into the setting. All of them have pre-requisites of one sort or another, and many of them are tied to specific races and traits, as skill requirements. Like the character classes, the author does a good job here of interpreting the settings themes into Pathfinder RPG rules, and there are plenty of options here for almost any character to choose from.

    The basic principles of how magic works in the setting is covered in Chapter 8 (“Magic & Spells”), as well as a game mechanic called Saturation, which is how much magic is absorbed by a character over time. Fae and eachan characters are already magical, but techan characters must beware this effect as it can make them start to disrupt their own equipment! Another new game mechanic introduced here is that of Corruption, which is the effect of a dark and evil presence in the world, Ixindar, upon all characters. This can cause an alignment shift to Lawful Evil and other detrimental in game effects. Personally, I like these mechanics, and they really offer an element of suspense and danger when traveling through the brave new Earth of the Amethyst setting. The remainder of this chapter includes rules on increasing the rarity of high level spells, as well as some modifications to existing Pathfinder RPG spells.

    There are also magic items in the Amethyst setting, and Chapter 9 details their creation and which Pathfinder magic items are considered to be part of canon for the setting. The author also details several artifacts specific to the setting, and their history, powers, and influence on characters.

    Chapters 10 (“Settings”) and 11 (“The World”) detail the world setting. The former chapter discusses the effects of enchantment on the history and culture of the world, including religions, travel, and even warfare. Chapter 11 delves into specifics about the various realms and locations in the world, including the great city-states (called bastions) and the various lands and wildernesses in the Amethyst setting.

    No Pathfinder RPG-based setting would be complete without foes for the heroes to combat, and there are plenty of those discussed in Chapter 12 (“Monsters”). The author has a list of suggested monsters from Pathfinder which are appropriate to the setting, as well as monsters which are not used because they have been replaced with setting-specific entities. Elves, goblins, and certain other creature types have been replaced by a fae racial type or creature, and the author details more than a score of new beasties for use in an Amethyst campaign.
    The final chapter (“Campaign”) offers advice for the gamemaster on running the setting, reacting to character decisions, and creating adventures. This chapter also contains a very nifty 1st Level adventure series called The Single Stone, which can be used to start off a campaign, and a short story written by the author for more flavor and ideas on what it is to be part of the world of Amethyst.

    Overall Score: 4.67 out of 5.0

    Conclusions

    I continue to be impressed by the Dias-Ex-Machina’s Amethyst: Renaissance setting with each review I write! It is a detailed and vibrant Science-Fantasy setting, and transports gamers to a dangerous world which is post-apocalyptic, futuristic, and high fantasy all at the same time. Of the versions of this setting I’ve reviewed, I’d choose the Pathfinder RPG version over the others because it seems to capture the right blend of mechanics and rules to make the setting really come alive. The price on this sourcebook is quite a steal given how much content is in there, and promises a lot of game hours of play in a very interesting and different alternate-Earth setting!

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
    Presentation: 4.0
    - Design: 4.0 (Solid design and presentation, but PDF bookmarks really need to work in a book this big)
    - Illustrations: 4.0 (Awesome cover and interior art; excellent cartography)
    Content: 5.0
    - Crunch: 5.0 (Massively crunchy; cool character classes; great adaptation to Pathfinder game mechanics)
    - Fluff: 5.0 (Very detailed setting; lush descriptions; short stories great reading for immersion)
    Value: 5.0 (It’s a players handbook, monster manual, and setting guide all in one package. Bargain!)
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