Some books are harder to review than others. In some cases, this is because they’re so different from other products that it’s hard to have a baseline to compare them to. For others, it’s because the book doesn’t attempt to go in a direction that one would normally critique it on. And then, there are books that are hard to adequately review simply because reviews are short, and the book is pretty darn huge. Amethyst is one of those latter types.
Weighing in just under four hundred pages and slightly more than eighty megabytes, Amethyst is a very large d20 setting book. The PDF does have bookmarks, but these aren’t labeled as well as they could be, and only take you to the six major sections of the book. There should be better layout for these, as well as links to various sub-sections; in a product this large, ease of navigation is very important.
To say that Amethyst is rich with artwork is an understatement. While the covers are the only color artwork, the interior of the book has many incredibly evocative black and white pieces. The quality of this art really can’t be understated. All pages have a flowing border along the bottom and alternating sides, with an illustration at the corner of the page of either a beautiful woman or a man in full tactical body armor. All of this is grand…unless you try to print the book out. Given how printer-unfriendly the PDF is, and how there’s no text-only version of the book, you may want to try and purchase the print version instead (I’m not entirely certain there is one, but I assume there must be).
Amethyst’s setting is here on Earth. However, it’s not exactly contemporary. Set one thousand years in the future, magic returned to the world a millennium ago. The return of various magical races, along with the massive disruption of technology, has caused things to change a lot in the time that passed. Amethyst is a world of both technology and magic, but one of the main points of the setting is that the two do not get along well together. Yes you can have your mage wield a wand in one hand and a laser blaster in the other, but be prepared for the blaster to fizzle out on you (or explode violently). There’s also a much more subtle struggle between light and dark magic. The setting explains that most magic people use comes from Attricana, the white gate, and this is the power that returned magic to the world and disrupts technology. However, the power of Ixindar, the black gate, is also returning slowly. Sibilant and corruptive, this is the proverbial “dark side” that offers darker power, and doesn’t disrupt technology, making it very seductive indeed for power-seekers.
The book plays up the magic vs. tech theme by largely segregating them, both in the setting and in the rules. Anytime magical creatures (including humans who use mystic powers), items, or powers are near technology, there’s a check that needs to be made for the tech to continue functioning. Most of the alternate races offered here (which are largely analogous to the PHB races) are thus excluded from reliably using science at all. Driving up the distinction even more is the different sets of classes offered. While most of the usual fantasy classes are here (though several are modified heavily, and a few are deleted altogether), there’s an entire other set of modern-style classes, defense bonus and all, that eschew magic altogether and focus on the technology that still holds sway in the Bastions. These characters pay a very high price if they ever use magic, however, losing things like their defense bonus, not to mention that leaving the Bastions means that they likely have problems with the gear they rely upon. Clearly, Amethyst is an uphill battle for characters who want to stick to modern tropes. Of course, magic isn’t overpowering itself. Spellcasting characters can only use up to 6th-level spells. Anything more powerful than that requires finding access to the very rare “foundation” spells that let you cast these powerful magicks. And resurrection is sharply curtailed, being almost impossible to perform.
Interestingly, the only part of the world that’s covered in detail is Canam, the new name for North America. A large section of the book is devoted to the various town, settlements, Bastions, and other locations around this continent. However, despite the fact that most of the rest of the world is talked about only obliquely, the book does an incredible job giving flavor text. Everything from the framing fiction in various chapters, to in-character sidebars discussing every conceivable topic that pepper the book, to an entire chapter devoted to life in Amethyst, does a masterful job bringing this campaign to life. The book has no hesitation on talking about things like the state of real-world religions in this new Earth, or realistic race-relations (which range from elven bonding ceremonies to the legalities that come with owning sex slaves). Few d20 settings feel as alive as Amethyst does.
Altogether, Amethyst is an extremely vibrant new setting, presenting a campaign world that feels holistic in scope, even as the possibilities presented in this book barely seem to scratch the surface. My only complaints about the book are technical in nature, as the stunted bookmarks and lack of a printer-friendly version don’t seem to take full advantage of the PDF format. That’s a relatively minor complaint, however, and Amethyst is still an excellent choice for a d20 game that’s in search of something that’s both familiar and new at the same time.
[5 of 5 Stars!]