By Thilo Graf
This massive pdf from Dias Ex Machina Gamesis 399 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page Index, 1 page SRDs and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 391 pages of content, so let’s check this out!
I’ll just come out and say it: I’m not familiar with any old iterations of the Amethyst-setting, thus I can’t draw any direct comparisons. What is Amethyst then? Essentially it is a what-if scenario of vast ambitions: What would happen if a logical fantasy setting, with all its consequences, with its magic etc., was thrust upon our technological world. Not a black/white dichotomy, nor a stylized version of fantasy. The ambition is to create a setting in which the problems, social and ecological are very much intact, including all the topics that move us – only that now the force of magic has entered the world and while it does change the options of the people, it is also a force that is at direct odds with technology – but even this dichotomy is too simple to properly explain the intricate web of themes and topics opened by this book. But let me try to explain via the setting’s history: Essentially, it presumes that there once was a magical age here on earth, when the world was still called Terros and people worshiped a benevolent entity of unbridled creative energy and chaos- until the arrival of the black gate and a deity of order and syntropy started to lay waste to the world, culminating in the K-T-extinction event, resulting in the death of legendary dragon/god amethyst and the extinction of magic from the world. Technology and natural evolution reigned. Until a second impact, a meteorite saw the resurgence of magic. The forces of order and chaos have returned and in-between, mankind has to witness its technology ceasing to work in the presence of magic, thus creating enclaves of the size of nations, cities of hyper-technology in a world where magic looms beyond the walls and dragons and fae have reclaimed the planet. Add to that the legend that there’s an artefact that may expel magic again and forever or make the one bearing it a god and we have ample potential for the earth-shattering things your PCs can do in AR. “Which side will you stand on in the end” is a question that will be hard to answer in the setting…
After a brief description on altered magic (though that is covered in more detail later) and the origin of power for clerics, druids and mages, we are introduced to a glossary before we get into chapter 2, where we are introduced to the variety of races available for character creation in the Amethyst Renaissance setting and from the start an interesting consideration is put into focus: Traditions. Tenebri curse and swear loudly while executing daily affairs, Laudeni never wear undergarments etc. – while these points may seem boring and mundane, they actually prove a point I often try to make: Races are more than the conglomerate of their stats and should be treated as such. This chapter thus includes a stunning wealth of gestures and peculiarities, from considering silent gestures rude to kowtowing to one’s tools and even a complex appropriation of the “metal-gesture”, i.e. the devil’s horns as both a potential greeting (with a thumb in the fist) or an request for intercourse (with the thumb exposed). Sexuality and the Fae race’s take on it is also thankfully covered, being rather open and non-discriminating regarding e.g. homosexuality and monogamous when married, but rather polyamorous before, thus creating further potential for cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. Add to that the existence of a particular form of ironlead that is particularly toxic to fae and an inherent magical nature that disrupts technology, as reflected by a saturation level that can never plunge below 20 and we’re in for cool and complex creatures even before we delve into the respective racial entries, which are spearheaded by the Chaparrans, who can essentially be considered wood elves that believe their existence is eternal and changes between being a being of flesh and blood and being a tree. These wild fae are truly deadly experts with their bows, get climb speeds etc. and can even teleport in forests, making them feel truly unearthly.
The Damaskans, on the other hand, can be considered a race of intellectual, bibliophile,obsessive chroniclers of the things that happen in their chosen field. Equipped with a vastly supreme sense of balance, gravity etc. and being universally ambidextrous, they also make for stellar swashbuckling-style characters and warrior-scholars, as their intelligence-modifier influences their combat prowess. Gimfen are a peculiar race of Fae as well, lacking the disruptive field that characterizes many echans (slang for magic-users and magical beings) and being obsessed (and rather successful) with melding magic and technology. While not being as apt as humans, they make for interesting alchemists, tinkerers and could be seen a s a type of gnome/halfling-hybrid, also due to their height. Laudenians then, would make for the classic high elves – a pure first race in decline, their culture is determined by a fear of degradation (as their descendants turned into other fey) and hence they have turned to living in a fabled city in the sky – however, they are not only haughty, immortal and rare, they also have lost any connection to nature due to their hatred/fear of the corrupting influence of walking the earth.
The Narros can be considered the strong warrior/miners of the Fae races, determined by a 100% commitment and making for natural born soldiers. Speaking of good soldiers – the Pagus, Fae changed by the black gate do not disrupt technology, but are stigmatized from birth as heralds of the black gate and are prone to old-age insanity. And then there are the Tenebri, a race of deceptively fragile-looking blind Fae with a deadly scream, these beings have allegedly been cursed by a god and are interesting in that they are more or less at war with the Narros and, due to their blindness, have a completely different take on attractiveness etc., thus subverting preconceptions of beauty ideals. The final Fae race then would be the Tilen: Fragile and graceful, yet strong, these beings are essentially fae who have clawed themselves back from undeath and can be seen as a playable Fae vampire race: They have no reflections, are blinded by light etc. – but in a twist of the theme, while they can heal via draining blood, they are passionate and rather non-violent creatures and thus make for a great duality between dark pasts, themes of hereditary sin and kindness in the face of xenophobia and aversion. Among the evolutionary races, Humans are first and detailed just about as much as the other races, taking the fall of old ideologies and virtues and the varied nature as well as the cataclysm that decimated their race into account before going on with the Kodiaks – upright walking bears that are a recent phenomenon and which have only begun to rise from hunters and foragers to farming communities. With such a diverse roster of races, a whole entry is devoted to crossbreeds between Fae and human as well as crossbreeds between the different types of Fae.
And we’re only just past the playable races – now, let us turn our heads towards the background of the setting! The section kicks off with an idea I whole heartedly endorse – a selection of backgrounds and organizations for the whole group to belong to – essentially providing a way for the player characters to know each other and get a benefit and starting point to properly develop their backgrounds. After that, we are introduced to new traits, though it should be noted that a new class of traits, so-called Amethyst Traits, are introduced: Every character may only have one of these slightly more powerful traits. Since the setting’s peculiarities, religious and belief-based traits are subsumed and/or replaced by supernatural traits that enable a slight tapping into the forces that be via an unexplained natural talent. Traits, to be honest, have swiftly become my least favourite thing to review – they provide paltry bonuses, boring one-liners and half of them boil down to “You have been bullied by X/grown up in Y/etc.” -BORING. Now this is what this book does perfectly right: Each trait comes with an extensive, long flavour text that immerses one in the respective background and best of all, also roots the character believably and deep in the world of Amethyst Renaissance. This is how traits should be handled. Kudos, respect and two thumbs up – 3pps, take heed, this is how it can be done!
In the next chapter, we deal with classes – rather important, taking the peculiarities of the setting into account- magic is usually channelled by a totem, for example, meaning that wizards may use other things as focus – for example orbs, shields and even more esoteric things. Of course, we also get a variety of new Techan classes, starting with the Grounder (d10, 4+Int skills, full BAB, good fort- and ref-saves) that gains access to brotherhood abilities, improved recoil absorption etc., while the heavy grounder is the heavy arms/explosive specialist variant of the class. We also get the new Marshal base-class (d8, 6+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves), who can be considered a war-master-like support class with auras to enhance team-mate capabilities and enhanced benefits for teamwork. What I was missing from this class was the option to utilize teamwork-feats/solo-tactics – a good class that could have been better by being more streamlined with PFRPG-content. The mechanic operator (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves) can be seen as the tech with the customized weapons, including a cool ability called “Shiny Red Button” that enables the operator to do rather deadly stunts with his deadly modified weapons like automatically hitting, dealing additional damage etc. – very cool! The Medic (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-and will-saves as well as 4 levels of exploits) can be considered the techan combat medic, able to negate e.g. the last hit to strike an ally and use his injections to strengthen allies. VERY cool, though I would have loved more exploits. The next general category of classes is called stalker and can be considered soldier-specialists – from the blazing Gunslinger (d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, good ref saves) that can put a deadly ballet of bullets (flurry-style) through his enemies and the diametric opposite, the Sniper, who learns to enhance his single shots to further maximize his deadly potential. The Vanguard (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves) is the final of the classes herein, gaining knowledge to fight with primitive powers, unarmed attacks etc. – essentially a mundane, dirty and cool alternative to the esoteric monk. (Also nice: Fighting-game inspired ability-names as inside jokes.)
In a world of both technology and magic, we also need new skills and thus are introduced to new skills dealing with the proper use of explosives, engineering, knowledge (science) and vehicle operation. The setting also includes 7 1/2 pages of feat-LISTS before giving us the feats and they do something I really like: Apart from racial feats etc. you’d expect to find, there also are a vast variety of feats that have background traits as prerequisites, expanding upon the background concepts and making the traits matter that much more. Again, 3pps, take heed – this is a great idea. But are the feats up to the quality? To cut a long, uninteresting and potentially ruinous listing of feats and what they do short (and to stop myself from blowing this review completely out of all proportions) – yes. The feats are well-designed and the techan feats, for explosive, new armours and weapons etc. make for fine additions and since I’m a huge fan of vehicles, especially the nice coverage of them, via both the extensive skill-section and the feats makes this chapter a crunchy winner in my book.
The equipment section is also rather smart, beginning with a cool recap on ever-improving technology and stagnant, unchanging magic before going into the different currencies, ranging from the familiar gold pieces (echan money, including local names for the pieces) to the universal credits used by the techan. Next would be the obligatory entries on different technology levels, up to antigrav and complete reconstruction of beings from dust as well as information on e.g. battery types and EDF – echan disruption fields that represent the disruptive effects of magic on technology as well as means to at least temporarily cancel and/or diminish said detrimental effects. Of course, Echan weaponry is also detailed. If you ever wanted to play one bastard with a REALLY big weapon, fret not, for super heavy weaponry is also covered – if you put that tripod down and aim your foes will know to weep. It should also be noted that auto fire is introduced with cohesive rules and that we get stellar artworks for many new weapons. Have I mentioned the almost mecha-like classes of heavy armor (and their respective lighter counterparts) and the class on shields, both traditional and kinetic and the rather large array of modifications that can be added to armour, enhancing customizability even further? Other cool bits are the AEN, essentially an echan-detection system, camera balls, information on viral/gene therapy, rules for exotic materials and best of all: Vehicles galore – tanks, jeeps, whatever you desire. And then there are the cool vertibird-like airships and even high-tech blimps! HELL YEAH!
In Chapter 7, we get to check out PrCs, for both the echan and techan fractions – from knights of Abraham, the PrC-incarnations of rangers and paladins (not available as base-classes) to the determined Gimfen assassins of the Crimson Leaf to the elite techan angel snipers, infantry support specialists, sierra madre gunslingers and york gun dancers, we are introduced to flavorful, regional and organizational PrCs that truly feel like they belong to their niches and make sense in the context of the world. mechanics-wise, they offer nice rules. In order to keep this review from blowing further out of all proportions, I’ll refrain from listing them all. The chapter on magic is also rather interesting, as it talks about the strange dichotomies of white and black magic, disruption and the concepts of infinite creation vs. absolute syntropy as well as about theories on summoning beings and the effects of magic – both white and black magic change the user – Ixindar’s black magic adds corruption points and changes you and even white magic and association with fey has the tendency to slowly turn you into an echan-like being. Also rather cool: Powerful spells are usually limited to being only learnable from an anchor, which means that learning such a spell entails quests of its own and making access to such spells rare and coveted – want polar ray? Get that crystal skull! Antimagic fields can prove lethal to echan beings not associated with Ixindar and we also get 4 technology-disrupting EMP-style spells. The magic items and what’s available in Amethyst Renaissance would also cover a whole chapter – it s especially noteworthy that we get an awesome array of artefacts that come with extensive background stories before we get into the sections that especially should be read carefully by prospective DMs.
The following two chapters deal with the leitmotifs of the Amethyst Renaissance setting, ranging from familiar foreignness and constructions of alterity to eschatological ramifications of the cataclysm that was the second hammer and the canonical continuation of human religions, belief, ideologies and science as well as covering the plethoras of alternative models for society as introduced by the Fae and adapted by the echan races – which, of course, is anything but unilateral and in fact a topic not to be neglected. The corrupting influence of Ixindar, transportation and travel, languages, ideologies and warfare – you name it and these pages provide. A gazetteer of the world, introducing us to the bastions, their tech levels, to the kingdoms and also the homes of the worst infections is also provided and makes for a nice lead-in to the new beasts- While most beings can work in the Amethyst-setting, several creatures are replaced by races unique to the setting and thus, the bestiary section kicks off by introducing us to said replacements. Special mention in this section deserves the beautiful representation of the fae and the “degenerated” subtypes that have developed from them. The corrupted Dragons of Ixindar also get a nice treatment herein and the pdf hints at the worst of these beings and their special strengths.
In Chapter 13, the DM gets the grand gamut of inspirations for campaigns – whether you and your group would go for a theme of echan/techan differences, mixed groups or campaigns focused on a place, this section provides even further ideas and guidance for DMs before presenting us with a beginner’s adventure, which serves as a nice starting point for both echan and techan or mixed groups. A nice module, though I would have preferred an echan and a techan start scenario.
After that, the expertly written narrative that leads us throughout this massive tome concludes and an Index finishes this massive tome.
Editing and formatting are very good – I noticed not a single wording that would have impeded my understanding of the text or rules, though I did notice several passages where text was in italics that wasn’t supposed to be. Generally, though, the formatting is excellent. The layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous b/w-2-column layout with graphics on the borders and no printer-friendly version, which is a minor bummer. The artworks, oh the artworks: They belong, tops, to the most iconic, awesome, evocative and brilliant pieces I’ve seen done in b/w and the couple of full-color artworks herein are no less dazzling in their beauty. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks, though no nested bookmarks, which is a bit of a pity, since nested bookmarks would have imho further improved the ability to navigate this massive book. The pdf also comes with high-res jpegs of 3 full color artworks, a map of Canam and 4 different wallpapers.
Now, this review took me much longer than anticipated due to several reasons – first of all would be the ambition of the setting: Essentially its endeavor of creating a what-if-scenario that is logical is laudable – what is truly stunning, though, is the variety of play styles it can accommodate. Yes, you can play a fantasy campaign laced with sci-fi elements in this setting. Just as easily, you could participate in a technology vs. magic, scifi vs. fantasy war of the worlds, a gritty cyberpunk scenario or even explore themes of ideologies, races, conflicting society models or a theme of technical evolution vs. chaos that is stagnant in its magical creations etc.
Amethyst Renaissance accommodates all of these playstyles and infinitely more. Secondly, this review took forever to write due to the crunch being so different from what we usually see in PFRPG. Due to the peculiar nature of magic an technology in the setting, checking the balance of the classes, PrCs and options makes for a monumental task I can only hope I partially achieved in completing. Balance is precarious and there were many an instance where I actually thought that a given race, feat or other class option was overpowered, since e.g. automatic hits and similar concepts are used. However, the setting’s unique balancing factors like the EDF and ideological differences/conflicts, tech levels etc. also mean that there are a lot of uncommon factors that mitigate the relative power of the races and options herein. To make matters perfectly clear: This is probably not a setting to scavenge from, since just about all crunchy elements are tightly inter-connected both with crunchy and fluffy bits to weave a complex tapestry of both exciting and uncommon options.
Amethyst Renaissance is also, and that should be stressed, an intelligent setting: Its logic, coherent approach demands a mature approach both on the side of the gaming group and the designers, as the elements that are relevant social topics in our everyday world still matter in this setting, including unpleasant topics like racism, fanaticism and the escalating clash of ideologies. All while retaining an identity beyond the sum of its component parts. Is this pdf universally balanced? Hard to tell, even for me. If a DM is not careful with regards to feats, equipment etc., I can see such a game being hard work – this is not the fault of this book, though, as the parts actually DO work they way they are intended. Another note for all the people with extensive PFRPG-libraries and a minor problem I see with this pdf should be mentioned, though: Rules concepts like teamwork feats, solo tactics or the gunslinger’s grit mechanic have not found their way into this setting. Instead, we have setting specific solutions and rules-representation, which, while they do enhance the individuality of the setting, also mean that adding other content to the setting could prove to be problematic. It is also due to this that I hope we’ll get more techan equipment, vehicles etc. in future supplements – introducing other content could prove to be a decision that should be carefully considered.
Finally, I feel compelled to mention one thing: As per the writing of these lines, I really hope for a print version of this book – BUT: This pdf is cheap. I mean it. Ridiculously cheap in fact. 15 bucks for 400 pages? Of content of this quality? Now if that is not an excellent bang-for buck ratio, I don’t know what is. I’d honestly be hard-pressed to mention another book that marries stellar artworks, a truly unique and smart setting, innovative rules and interesting ideas while being this damn affordable- At the low asking price, Amethyst Renaissance is a total, complete steal. What’s my final verdict, then? I’ve thought. I’ve calculated. I’ve pondered. Is this book perfect? No, there are some minor formatting glitches. There is the lack of nested bookmarks. I’m new to Amethyst and have no idea how this one and its prior d20-incarnations interact. What I can say is that this pdf made me want to play in the setting. That its races came more to life to me on these pages than just about ALL races I’ve reviewed this year. That the ideas are often not adhering to standard PFRPG-solutions, but work well and in unique, special ways. That the base-classes rock hard and feel cool. That I love the creative ideas, twists and all the unique “clash of culture”-style pieces of information. If my review left you even remotely curious and/or you’re looking for a truly new, unique and versatile setting, I’d strongly encourage you to check this pdf out – Amethyst Renaissance is clearly a professional book and a labour of love. And at the low price, I can still justify to give this book my full blessing – thus, my final verdict, in spite of the minor blemishes that can easily be neglected, will be 5 stars.
Amethyst: Renaissance is available from: