A Word in Edgewise… with Chris Dias

By The Warden

Canadians are a crafty bunch, hard to pin down. They act like Americans and have extensive knowledge in their politics and culture gained by tapping into our satellite feeds, yet proclaim themselves a society all their own. In many industries, they are considered international, but can cross the border with little more effort than it takes to cross a bridge. They are among us, looking down from snow-covered condos while sipping on mugs frothed with Tim Hortons coffee.

As the Canadian Correspondent for Roleplayers Chronicle, it is my duty to report on those damned Canucks who have worked hard to infiltrate the ranks by publishing some of the best-selling games, artwork, and rules today. People like Chris Dias from Dias Ex Machina, publisher of Amethyst, an impressive setting compatible with nearly every version of Dungeons & Dragons since 2008, and the upcoming Ultramodern4, a high-tech modern adaptation of D&D 4E. Under the guise of a friendly presentation on the history of his work, I sought to cast a bright light on this doppelganger from the western fortress of British Columbia.

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Dias Ex Machina hit the ground running in 2008 with Amethyst, a modern/sci-fi/fantasy blend taking the traditional fantasy setting into the real world. Originally built to compliment the d20 system of old, Mr. Dias has since adapted and expanded on this world of Narros, Tenenbri, operators, and marshals. Mirroring his personal ambition to slither his way into our population, Amethyst involves the arrival of the Fey (fantasy creatures) into the modern world, resulting in a clash of magic and technology.

“Dias Ex Machina started over sushi in 2007,” he begins coyfully, as yet unaware of the true purpose of this interview. “The idea came from one of my friends that loved the play on words. It was formed for the express purpose of producing Amethyst and continues to be dedicated to that one purpose, despite branching into new properties.”

Since then, Dias and his team have reworked the world of Amethyst through four revisions to keep up with the ever-changing market. “The one aspect of the industry I wasn’t expecting was the sudden resistance to adaptation and 3rd party products in general.  I think the flood of 3rd party 3E products earlier this decade soured many people to taking risks despite some high quality 3rd party products on the market back then.  With 4th Edition, what surprised me was that customers didn’t want us deviating from the core ruleset, even when WotC [Wizards of the Coast] did so themselves later.  With Amethyst Renaissance (our Pathfinder adaptation), it’s closer to the core Pathfinder rules than our original D20 Amethyst was in 2008.  There once was a time where the rules are clay, malleable—remove what you want and mold the rest to conform to your setting.  But now, there’s more pressure to compromise the setting to accommodate the rules.

“We are still a GSL-licensed company.  Revisions to it allowed us to pursue Renaissance along with our traditional 4E products.  If proven successful, the next book for Amethyst may be out for both systems.  As for differences in the work, I have to return to the imposed policy that we don’t mess with the rules as much as we did with our 2008 D20 version.  So, even though we are writing for Pathfinder, we still have the mindset of 4th Edition limitability which began with the GSL and enforced by fans insisting we don’t change any rules.”

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits to the game has been that very same, unsuspecting fan base and a legion of incredibly responsive playtesters, banded together in their love of the setting which shall be tested yet again as the core rules upon which Amethyst and Ultramodern4 are built upon change to another edition. He was incredibly vague with the secret for such loyalty. “Hookers and blow—wait, these are for geeks, so I would say bone dice and mechanical pencils.  Seriously though, I hold my hat in my hand and I post messages where these fans congregate, which happens to also be locations I visit regularly.  I treat people the way I want to be treated and I believe that’s the reason why I’ve worked with the same layout artist, illustrator, editor, and mapmaker since 2007.

“North America is still relatively dominant, even though I know Amethyst has a presence in England and Greece.  I also heard it was being played in Prague.  The vast number are in the States despite the fact that so many game sites come out of Canada. It’s easier to reach fans thanks to the Internet and social media, but more difficult because of buyer trepidation in a lackluster economy.  Thankfully, after all these years, we have a pretty sizeable group of loyal fans which I adore.”

And so Mr. Dias made his first slip-up. “Out of Canada,” acknowledging himself as a Canadian designer and publisher. Unable to backtrack on his own words, he admitted to the deception and pleaded understanding. “My small town is limited in its potential exposure of my work.  The two game stores of note in town are run by a friend and by an old employer.  They stock my products but given their business model is dedicated to tabletop wargaming and not role-playing, there’s been little they can do to support it.  This is not the case in Vancouver, where several game stores have asked for me to come down and do a signing for them.”

As for the future of Dias Ex Machina, there were many questions on his own mind. “Right now, I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.  If I can make Amethyst for 3.5, 3.75, and 4th Edition, I am pretty sure I can make it for 5th Edition, assuming WotC won’t repeat what they did with 4th Edition–now I don’t mean with the rules or even the GSL.  It was the locking out of 3rd party publishers out of DDI and offering no support when they revised the rules three times and then put out Essentials.  I would say that forced out more 3rd party publishers than anything the rules did.  I think the world would have embraced 4th Edition’s MMO-styled rules, and the fans more as well, if WotC hadn’t attempted to divide the community so much like they ended up doing.  It wouldn’t be difficult making YET another adaptation of the core setting of Amethyst.  I would just like once to expand the rules instead of re-treading on old content like I have been doing since 2008.  People haven’t been saying that, but I have been.  I’d love to finally expand on the rules and if Renaissance does well, I should be able to do that.  I could totally see Amethyst Factions being released for all three systems.”

In the meantime, “Ultramodern4 is going through final editing.  At the moment, we are testing our Pathfinder Amethyst book.  Our next setting, NeuroSpasta, is still on the shelf until we push these other two products out.”

And so concluded the interview. As Mr. Dias skulks back into the shadows of infiltration, I feel there is little this exposure will do to damage the reputation he has built in just a few short years. Surely, someone who has thoroughly tailored the Amethyst setting to suit the needs and designs of so many adaptations and revisions and maintained a steady stream of as-needed upgrades – more than any other publisher, it should be noted – would find a way to creep more material onto the shelves of unsuspecting players and Gamemasters. Only time will tell.

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If you believe you know of a Canadian designer, developer, artist, editor, or publisher in our midst, expose them! Contact me ASAP with as much detail as you can safely provide without exposing yourself to danger and they will be run onto the street in a future edition of A Word in Edgewise. Until then, keep your eh’s before your E’s. Except after C… as in Canadian.

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