Last time we completed our discovery of the Amethyst: Quintessence RPG (Amethyst) and we are now ready to speak of Ultramodern5 (U5), a more “futuristic” game produced by Dias Ex Machina (DEM) people.
Using DEM words, U5 is a game that employs D&D 5th Edition rules but offers “classes, backgrounds, feats, skills and equipment, and opponents for settings outside of traditional ones involving dragons and dungeons, though still employing 5th Edition rules.” D&D core books are required to play but no others are needed, it is an independent game from Amethyst.
Few basic rules of D&D are changed and some ones are created, where needed (e.g. for firearms), while trying to use a mostly D&D 5th rule system in non-fantasy settings, though there is no default setting included in the book and you can play at any technological level of the society. Again in DEM words: “These include pre-modern settings, contemporary settings, and those that are farflung, fantastic and futuristic. U5 is designed to be suited for any modern or future campaign, such as cyberpunk, espionage, modern warfare space opera, techno-fantasy, urban fantasy, and wild west (with or without aliens).”
A difference with Amethyst is that it contains a setting while U5 doesn’t but you can use U5 rules to spice up an Amethyst campaign, if you wish, especially if you want to play the most-technological places there or a more futuristic age. DEM also produced a complete U5-compatible setting, Neurospasta, that expands some of the rules: “It is a cyberpunk/espionage campaign inspired by the recent generation of books and films on the genre (Appleseed, Chrysalis, Cypher, Ghost in the Shell, Natural City, Renaissance, etc).”
Like we said firearms are very important in U5 and there are several rules defining the burst, and semi automatic and automatic operation (called auto and auto-heavy), but I do not want to spoiler the mechanics. In my opinion these rules are sensible, with the right flavor and well balanced, and I played my share of modern/futuristic games like Cyberpunk and Star Wars. Uhm, now that I think about it, I know that these rules were playtested at length (the Playtesters are duly credited in the book) and I forgot to tell you the same for Amethyst too. Though you can play more primitive settings, in many others a firearm is quite a standard weapon, off course.
There are also new rules, I am fond about, on computers and other technologies use, and misuse, like Disarm Electronic Locks and Demolitions.
U5 use the human species only, like many other futuristic games, and clearly states that humans there share 99.9 % of their genetic code, like in our own world. However, in DEM words, U5 stresses the “universe of possibilities in that final decimal point” and develop it in a sci-fi/fantasy perspective. The Genetic Diversity is an important factor in the game and can lead to many useful (or harmful) characteristics like high pain threshold and quick healing, enhanced senses and a general better (or worst) functioning of body and mind. There are also hints about cybernetics, thoroughly expanded in the Neurospasta setting! The Lifepaths you can choose are heavily revised backgrounds for U5 and there are also the unique Ladders, new background rules to help you give more variety to your characters.
About the beginning of the background’s creation, U5 reminds me fondly of some old products like Central Casting, in giving a quick way to establish the Origin of a character if you don’t want or don’t have the time to write down a full background or for NPCs: family, life events, friends, enemies, and so on.
There are also many peculiar and original Classes. My favored one is the Face, not surprising since I am a big fan of the A-Team 🙂 “You are all talk. Thankfully, your strengths depend on that. Some call you empathic while others claim you just have good instincts. You may have cut your teeth as a psychologist or a confidence artist.” The Marshal is also a very nice idea and I like its abilities, especially Mask of Authority and Stand As One. Other Classes are similar to other games, for instance Infiltrator, Medic, Sniper and Techie but with the unique U5 flavor. You can also use Quick Builds to create a new character.
Archetypes lets you better define the backgrounds, some come naturally from the Classes, some are clever creation, deeply rooted in U5 ambiance. I especially like the Sapper, with many advantages in Demolitions checks and enhancing the power of explosives or the Country Gunman, but there are many others: Anti-Hero, Diplomat, Field Machinist, Infantry Support Specialist …
The Equipment is varied and divided into Tech Levels in a similar way than what we saw in Amethyst.
I will not tell you much more a part for the fact that I find some of the Antagonists quite scary and disgusting, in a positive way. The pictures of robots or mostly cybernetics creature covered in skin remnants, especially face skin, are quite disturbing. I like it! 🙂 You can adapt the Antagonists there and put inside many kind of humans and creatures, altered by equipment (power armors for instance), cybernetics, genetics and biotech, as you see fit, and you can use trained enemies, packs or even hive minds and so on.
There are many other things to see, in the over 200 pages of U5 (some nice maps, for instance), but I do not want to spoiler all and we still have to ask some questions to Chris Dias and the DEM team.
10) Hi again friends of Dias Ex Machina, do you want to tell us the most important differences and similarities with Amethyst?
The biggest differences with UM5 and Amethyst is the inclusion of ladders in UM5. Amethyst also has the setting. UM5 is more updated, but Amethyst will be corrected with the changes soon. But you need neither the other to play.
11) Yes, I only mentioned Ladders in passing, and they are a nice way to add variety, especially if you use a purely technological setting (no magic/magic items and fantasy races) and I was not very clear about a point: you can play with Amethyst or U5 alone and you can also use them together! And do you care to elaborate more about what we said of, Classes, Race(s) and so on?
The races in Amethyst are based on the classic archetypes of fantasy, but skewed a bit–the idea being that our mythology is based on a history we could never know, but migrated in our DNA like inherited knowledge. It influenced our legends and stories, though none of them ever got things exactly right. So we have dwarves and halflings but the halflings don’t have big feet and the dwarves don’t have huge beards. So in mechanics they are similar to the tropes of 5E fantasy–what’s important is the fluff. With UM5, there are no races, but players can adjust their lifepath. The classes in both books are the same, though UM has a few more. The classes are the face, grounder, gunslinger, heavy, infiltrator, marshal, martial artist, medic, sniper, and techie.
12) Can you also tell us a bit more about Antagonists and Adventuring in U5? They are very interesting parts of the game but, for lack of time and space, we could not elaborate further. What about the mood, feeling, and base ideas of Biohazard and Invasion Proxy, two wonderful adventuring ideas?
Well, both modules are meant to tackle two very different adventure settings. With future books, we hope to expand other classic settings, like the old west, mecha, and so forth. Biohazard is a classic zombie infestation adventure, while Invasion Proxy is an alien invasion.
13) Well, I will only add that Biohazard and Invasion Proxy are much more than it seems from your words! I found many original ideas in the reasons and spread of the infestation and I found quite amusing, clever and unsettlingly reasonable, our first contact with Aliens, with them using us against us 🙂 See it for yourself, I will not spoiler. About your other projects, we said we will not speak at length of NeuroSpasta but maybe you want to do it yourself! Go for it.
NeuroSpasta came about because I wanted to create a cyberpunk setting that was more in line with the current trends in the genre, less corporation conspiracy, more government paranoia. Classic cyberpunk didn’t really understand where technology was going when the genre became official about forty years ago, and since then as gotten increasingly anachronistic. The newer ones tackle more the transhumanism issues and existential problems existing with man/machine integration. I wanted to explore that as well. I decided on a political slant instead of a corporate one as a nod to one of my favorite modern cyberpunk settings.
14) Cyberpunk was one of my preferred settings but I agree with you, it is a bit dated today. From time to time I play with Epic Phase, another modern and futuristic game and setting, where Transhumanism is a very central concept! Now a couple of general but important, questions: where and how do you distribute your products? What success did you enjoy?
Everything is released by OneBookShelf, from mostly DriveThruRPG. Amethyst is our flagship, so it enjoyed the most success, though the most successful single book has been Ultramodern5.
15) To conclude our interview part, what about DEM’s new projects? Books, Kickstarters and events alike?
There is a novelization of Amethyst called Aiden’s Way. The next book after Ultramodern5 is Apex, a superhero game. After that, we are heading into cyberpunk with NeuroSpasta. And then we finally get to return to Amethyst with Amethyst – Factions, the ultimate result of our Kickstarter started 2013. I have no immediate plans for another Kickstarter when the current one ends.
Thank you Chris and DEM team, we were happy to fulfill our promise, at last and to speak of you and your projects, especially Amethyst: Quintessence and Ultramodern5! We wish you as much success for your future endeavors as your past Kickstarters and more!
We hope that you, our readers, liked our interreview and found maybe a new game to try, a new gift to buy. We suggest that you go and see for yourself the Dias Ex Machina homepage, to check the news.
We also want to remember you that our Kickstarter is nearing! We presented recently several interesting projects, for instance the free adventure module “The Tomb” [FIRST PART], and you will have soon a print-friendly version of it! The full review of The Tomb is here [SECOND PART] along with the presentation of our Kickstarter. All the files are in our varied Download area (adventure modules both adapted from BECMI and original one too, maps, …). [DOWNLOAD AREA]
See you soon!
Disclaimer: the pictures, or parts of them, used in this post by permission of Chris Dias, are taken from the Ultramodern5 pdf and are from several artists: Nick Greenwood (Cover Illustration, Interior Illustrations and Logo Designs), Jamie Jones (Interior Illustrations), Jeremy Simmons (Cartography). Well, while we are at the Credits, Ultramodern5 had Chris Dias as project leader, with several collaborators: Jesse Casey, Geoffrey Lamb, Joshua Raynack, Christopher Peregrin Stilson.