Ultramodern5 on Backerkit: An Interview with Chris Dias (Dias Ex Machina)

Ultramodern5 from Dias Ex Machina is coming to Backerkit. This modern day to near future 5e RPG has gone Mithral on DriveThruRPG twice. Chris Dias answered my questions about the campaign, the other modern day 5e RPGs, if he’ll create his own system, and his thoughts on AI artwork.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): At Backerkit, you’re bringing back your best-seller, Ultramodern5. For those that don’t know it, what does this RPG bring to the gaming table?
CHRIS DIAS (CHRIS)
: Ultramodern5 was the first attempt to bring non-fantasy rules to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. It was meant to offer a sandbox for any number of rules for any number of homebrew settings. I wanted people to have the same tools I employ when I make my fusion fantasy/sci-fi settings like Amethyst and Affinity.

EGG: This is the latest version of the book that came out in 2016 and was revised in 2019. What’s updated about this volume?
CHRIS
: This is a reprint of the 2019 version, though we’ll likely update it to the latest errata as we'll have that opportunity. If you have the 2019 book, not much will change. However, there are considerable differences between the 2016 and 2019 versions. The 2016 was 240 pages; the 2019 was 390. The new version is in full color compared to the old, which was limited to black and white. The 2019 edition added races, one new class, more weapons, armor, an entire techno-magic spellcasting system, and a mecha construction system. We added the UltrMax system for added realism. We also replaced the two included modules with new ones, so if you possessed both books, you'd have access to four adventures.

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EGG: You’re offering campaigns and adventures with this Backerkit. What can you share about the campaigns?
CHRIS
: There are four adventures and two campaign guides. I'm writing the guides; William Miller is tackling the adventures. For the latter, we have the cyberpunk-styled Clonefall. There is Phantom Stage, which is a weird west adventure with ghosts and magic. Madness At the Megalomart has a group of players trapped in a big-box retailer that is teleported to hell; that'll be fun. Echoes of Noa 94 is a space horror adventure inspired by the film Pandorum. Then we have Threshold, a heavily expanded version of the guide presented in the 2019 Ultramodern5. This new one creates a massive sandbox of spacecraft and planets for players to explore while they attempt to uncover the mystery of what occurred within this apocalyptic region of space they have found themselves in. That one includes a modular spacecraft dungeon map system. That leaves The Retroverse Chronicles, which is set at the brink of the collapse of the United States at the beginning of an alternate 1980s, decades after the arrival of alien devices that can inject the knowledge of black technology into people’s minds. However, I am looking to pursue an experimental format with that book depending on how successful the campaign is—I'd like to create a hybrid adventure/novel that tells a story while revealing a world for the characters to explore. I did similar things with Amethyst and Affinity but not to this extent.

EGG: You’re offering a slipcase and a luxury edition for this campaign, correct? What will come in the slipcase? Will it include the luxury edition?
CHRIS
: There are, count 'em, FOUR different variants of the new Ultramodern5. We have the two regular editions with standard or variant covers. Then there is the deluxe edition, which we unlocked in 2019. That features spot UV, a satin bookmark, and a slipcase. With this 2023 campaign, we are introducing a new leather/cloth edition with metal corners and the highest quality paper. We're also looking into other additions to that as well. One will either be a slipcase or a magnet box, which we did for Affinity.

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EGG: Will there be any VTT assets or content specific to Roll20 or another platform?
CHRIS
: We are currently working on a Roll20 package for Ultramodern5 as we speak. There is already one for Fantasy Grounds, which we will offer a coupon for.

EGG: Who is working on this project with you?
CHRIS
: I recently brought on William Miller from BeDumb Games. We've been friends for years, and I realized recently that to produce the amount of content I want, I need help with other aspects of the business. Until now, it's basically been just me, my wife, one artist, one editor, and one cartographer. I was the only one producing written content, and to expand, I needed to have some talent, and William was the first and only name that came to mind. He offers his own great adventures under that label.

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EGG: In the years since you brought a modern setting and options to 5e, there have been a number of other offerings that bring now and the near future to 5e: Evil Genius Games’ Everyday Heroes, CRISPR Monkey Studios’ GeneFunk 2090 Core Rulebook, Dragon Turtle Games’ Carbon 2185 | A Cyberpunk RPG Core Rulebook, Nightpath Publishing’s Entromancy: A Cyberpunk Fantasy RPG, and Feral Gamers Inc’s Ghost Ops Second Strike - 5th ed, to name a few. What makes Ultramodern5 stand out from the pack?
CHRIS
: Well, obviously, right out of the bag, we were the first. We established that it WAS possible to make non-fantasy rules for 5E, as so many people said it couldn't work. I like to think we provided a lot of inspiration for the rest. The other big difference is that, unlike at least a few of the titles you mentioned, Ultramodern5 is wholly compatible with 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. You don't need to alter our rules if you want to insert them into a traditional 5E D&D adventure or setting. You can include only certain aspects and leave others out, and it will still work. My original dream was for someone to replicate the classic adventure, Expedition to Barrier Peaks, a famous title where an alien spacecraft crashes in Greyhawk. We also wanted to provide a sandbox of universal rules people could use to create their own settings, so our book is not confined by any one world or idea. That's why we added mecha and technomagic with the last book. I have heard amazing stories from fans that have created the most insane original worlds. They have also adapted IPs into their own homebrew games. I have seen Mass Effect, Ghost in the Shell, Dead Space, Destiny, and a few others made based on Ultramodern5. These are strengths I like to think is unique to our book.

EGG: In light of the OGL crisis, are you thinking of crafting a future edition to be non-OGL like Advanced Fifth Edition, Tales of the Valiant, or C7d20?
CHRIS
: We have considered that, but I don't want to create a 5E variant for no reason. I have been running a series of design streams where I open live feedback to the community on what I would do if I could design my own variant system. Some elegant ideas came through these, and I hope to return to them soon. Will a publication come out of that? Potentially. I just finished the mechanics for our latest Amethyst book, where we created five new classes inspired by classic ideas. So, it would be neat to create an alternative ruleset with these in an original setting, something we'll likely have out by next year. Unlike some of the variant 5E rules, ours take some interesting detours, but nothing I think will confuse or freak out the audience. That being said, it has been my company’s stance in saying that D&D generally and 5E specifically doesn’t belong to any one person or company, and I won’t let temporary legal issues or social outrage tell me otherwise.

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EGG: This crowdfunding campaign is on Backerkit instead of Kickstarter or another platform. Why did you choose Backerkit for this campaign?
CHRIS
: Kickstarter can become rather crowded. Backerkit is just getting into the crowdfunding scene, and I like their presentation and format. Plus, getting in on the ground floor with them is exciting. Also, with controversies surrounding Kickstarter, I thought giving an alternate a try was worth it. We'll see if this works out.

EGG: AI artwork has become a topic for many publishers. Does Dias Ex Machina have an AI policy?
CHRIS
: This is a big one…Well, outside of human cloning, there's never been a technological advancement that’s been outlawed. This pandora's box has been opened and cannot be closed. We must adapt, understand, and ethically deal with the subject without knee-jerk reactionaries controlling the narrative. I’ve talked with numerous artists whose voices are being muffled by those only looking at this subject in black and white. As a convention organizer, I've banned the use of AI but understand that this may not be enforceable in the future. How is this different from electronic music in the 80s? People got used to Photoshop. Music companies managed to destroy Napster but could not quell digital distribution. AI in certain aspects of our society can be a strength we can utilize, and those who don't may fall behind. I do not subscribe to the idea that AI should replace artists. I don't think a producer should have an AI write a script for a TV show. But if a writer uses ChatGPT to accelerate their work or if a visual artist employs AI as a tool, I don't want to be their judge or executioner. I'm not talking about generating an image and slapping a signature, but people take other works, like music or video, and transform them enough to become original. I take inspiration from other writers. If an artist utilizes AI in some capacity but employs their talents to make something original out of it, who am I to judge? I'll never use AI to replace an artist, but I will never criticize a talented artist for using AI to assist them. And thanks to Adobe's Firefly, which I have access to, we can generate ideas ethically without worrying about stealing other people's work. Once the ethics of the training has been alleviated, what's left to stop an artist from employing generative AI in some capacity? Our official stance is that we won't employ generative AI to replace artists but have not eliminated its application to convey ideas to artists in the development process. We also have no issue with established artists employing AI in some capacity in the process of an original illustration. Right now, it's very political for publishers to decry AI, but I have a funny feeling this policy will shift in the background, and you'll never know it. As you can imagine, I can talk about this for hours.

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EGG: Beyond Ultramodern5, what else are you working on?
CHRIS
: I’m finishing up the next book in Amethyst, then likely end of this year, the beginning of next, we'll launch a reboot of our NeuroSpasta and Apex 5E settings and get this in color with expanded content. Then we're hoping on a Ultramodern5 Bestiary with our long-term goal to get our long-gestating Heavenfall off the ground.

EGG: Thanks for talking with me. Where can fans follow your work?
CHRIS
: You can find us at Dias Ex Machina (DiasExMachina) on almost every social media site, from YouTube to TikTok. The Ultramodern5 campaign launches on June 13th.

Ultramodern5, a 5E universal sci-fi sourcebook + Campaigns & Adventures by Dias Ex Machina

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.
 
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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

Vincent55

Adventurer
I am currently using it as a base for my urban fantasy setting, i have made some classes to fill in the fantasy part and such to make it feel like Charmed, buffy, supernatural, warrior nun, the order, underworld and others.
 

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Dias Ex Machina

Publisher / Game Designer
Unfortunately Adobe Firefly has been shown to be able to replicate certain specific artists' style - the case of Kelly McKernan in particular is one such artist who was replicated but did not consent to have her artwork scraped by Adobe for AI.

I'd be very suspicious of Firefly's dataset.
Well, we are certainly not looking to imitate another artist, as we have an awesome one with Nick Greenwood, but we have been investigating avenues to accelerate output. There are already several major programs along with Photoshop which do not employ the current AI systems that are already showing promise.
 

Dias Ex Machina

Publisher / Game Designer
I am currently using it as a base for my urban fantasy setting, i have made some classes to fill in the fantasy part and such to make it feel like Charmed, buffy, supernatural, warrior nun, the order, underworld and others.
With the next Amethyst, we created variant fantasy classes which may interest you.
 

Vincent55

Adventurer
With the next Amethyst, we created variant fantasy classes which may interest you.
Look forward to it, for me i really didn't have to rework the warlock, it fits pretty well in my setting as is, but the sorcerer and wizard I did a lot of rework on and created a hunter class as well. I am currently reworking the mage to add to any non-magical class as an arch type, and a preacher class that is a mix of things that use faith and inspiration, but doesn't cast spells but there is a faith healer subclass that has their own way of healing.
 

Dias Ex Machina

Publisher / Game Designer
I guess that depends on the direction you want to take. I am more interested in offering spellcasters that are completely off the style scene in the core 5E books. I have made so far four different spellcasters. The oxomancer in Torus uses deckbuilding to determine power level. The Abecedarian empoys talismans. The maker in Conestoga is an entirely sphere-grid-based system inspired by JRPGs. The pleromancer in Amethyst in the newest book involves creating living spells that act like conduits for your power. All very different and most have nothing in common with the traditional Vancian magic system seen in D&D.
 

Nylanfs

Adventurer
One magic system I liked was from the Encyclopaedia Arcane: Dragon Magic where using the actual language shaped the spells. I likened it to listening to people that didn't understand words and how to use them and then listening to a master orator like MLK, Ghandi, or JFK.
 

BedumbBusiness

Villager
ThAT IS AN AWESOME idea i had a simular one that was like metamorphosis alpha with large habitats and a crazy computer that was insane and decided to play with the people and created different areas. One a fantasy area with all the spells and such simulated by the computers ai and was holographic
Thanks! Thats so cool. holographic spells. Can you imagine an illusionist vs an AI with holograms.. haha
 

Dias Ex Machina

Publisher / Game Designer
One magic system I liked was from the Encyclopaedia Arcane: Dragon Magic where using the actual language shaped the spells. I likened it to listening to people that didn't understand words and how to use them and then listening to a master orator like MLK, Ghandi, or JFK.
Amethyst did something similar. We used a dragon language called Pleroma that shaped the universe. In the first books back in 2008, it was a Vancian system. In our new book, you create living spells by speaking a word.
 

Dias Ex Machina

Publisher / Game Designer
ThAT IS AN AWESOME idea i had a simular one that was like metamorphosis alpha with large habitats and a crazy computer that was insane and decided to play with the people and created different areas. One a fantasy area with all the spells and such simulated by the computers ai and was holographic
I did an adventure in my homebrewed Ghost In The Shell campaign once where players entered a virtual reality and fought fantasy creatures. In Ultramodern5, we have this alien oil-like substance that forms into fantasy monsters--another way to have your cake and eat it too.
 


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