Ars Apocalyptica Magica: A Review of the Amethyst RPG
Amethyst: Foundations is a cross-genre roleplaying game supplement published by Dias Ex Machina and Goodman Games. It is set in a version of Earth where technology-disrupting magic has returned to a world where humans struggle to survive the fall of their civilizations. The game is based on the 4th Edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game.
Summary: All in all, the book is full of great concepts and shows a solid example of using the 4e engine in a technological setting, yet the book is too dense with often-confusing setting elements. It also suggests playing styles where most contemporary RPGs have given free rein to players and GMs to choose. While Amethyst does address free rein later in the book, it should have been done in chapter 1.
Still, as a reference to high technology gaming, it is a worthwhile product…
The 280+ page, black and white book presents six new fantasy races, mostly elf, dwarf, and halfling derivatives. The writing in this chapter — and later parts of the book — suffers from a certain lack of focus. Combined with a dense, verbose style, the text makes remembering key elements very difficult.
For instance, the rules refer extensively to each new race by name (the races are all new) before describing each individually. Furthermore, race descriptions are rife with “never” and “always” that give a pervading sense that the game is telling the players how play should go, a design philosophy reminiscent of the RPG design ethos in the ‘90s.
Each character gets to choose a lifepath: a sort of expanded background, mixing setting elements with bonuses and new powers which may open up new feats and paragon paths. This adds a strong background element to the game but, unfortunately, lifepaths are unequal in power.
The chapter on classes details which fantasy classes are retained from the core game and presents 4 new classes: grounder (firearms grunt), marshal (battleground leader), operator (weapons specialist and fixer), and stalker (sniper and scout). The new classes present creative takes on integrating technology, such as automatic weapons, into the 4th Edition game engine. The one-line pieces of flavor text are often hilarious and entertaining action-movie clichés.
As expected, all new classes share a high dependency on equipment. Strangely enough, so does the wizard. Since the game also offers several ways of disrupting equipment, these classes become less efficient in time and may lead to some player frustration.
The equipment chapter presents great takes on integrating technology into the 4th Edition engine. The book is filled with classic sci-fi plasma rifles, hand flamers, grenades, power armor, and various gear. The designers mixed an ingenious system of technological levels, character level, and cash value of high tech equipment to mimic the fantasy gear progression of the game.
The core mechanic of the game — representing the magic vs. technology conflict at the heart of the setting — revolves around the constant danger of technological equipment shorting out whenever it is used near or against magic. In combat, that usually translates to a 30% chance that one item will become defective per round.
Fortunately, the rules offer several ways to deal with that, including PC powers. Still, a GM needs to be aware that a sniper PC will likely react badly when his 1.6 million “gp” pulse capacitor rifle fizzles.
The book has 55 pages of setting-related info in a gazetteer-style series of entries. All this is presented in the densely written format reminiscent of previous editions of fantasy roleplaying games.
The chapter on monsters presents 10 types of new monsters as well as a list of the 4e Monster Manual creatures that are compatible with the setting. New monsters include various corrupted dragons, humanoids, monstrous technological constructs, and sentient Kodiak bears, lending the setting a distinctive flavor and ideas to create more.
The book ends with a short chapter on adventuring with advice on how to play magical, technological, or mixed parties (including indications to ignore the “magic disrupts technology” rules) and an introductory adventure.
Disclaimer: I am a freelance writer, having written for both Open Design and Goodman Games, and I received a review copy of Amethyst from the Kobold Quarterly staff.