In 1995, I conjured up an idea called Amethyst. Back then, it was a simple post-apocalyptic tale with dragons, something dreamed up after watching the movie Dragonslayer. There was little magic in the setting otherwise. It simply dealt with the walled futuristic city of Angel (not unlike a megacity from Judge Dredd) defending itself from outside dragon attack. The title character was actually the Asian dragon who would later be renamed Genai in the final product that helped the humans in the defense of their city. The concept percolated with little progress for five years until a friend, Chris Brown, pestered me to return to role playing, which I had forsaken in lieu of a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend that disapproved of the hobby.
A year of role playing science-fiction didn’t satisfy him, and Chris began pushing me to create a fantasy setting, which I had never favored. I agreed provisionally, arguing that there be some element of science to it. I dusted off the old Amethyst, a setting I’d figured was worthless anyway considering I had read of a new upcoming film called Reign of Fire which dabbled with the same idea. To satisfy the demands of the fantasy setting that Chris insisted on, I increased the fantasy elements to allow other monsters and the casting of spells. I went about this by cramming every ounce of D&D fluff into the game. Two other players joined, Mike Alborn and Brian Duffels. The game began, like all humble role playing games do, in a tavern. I seriously didn’t imagine the setting or the game would make it past a year.
Over a decade later, I marked my final session.
This rarely occurs, as DMs reading this can attest. I had created such games before—ones with a fixed ending, an actual conclusion, but those games never reached fruition. Like most, they folded from lack of interest or player dedication. Until Amethyst, my most successful campaign was a science fiction setting called Pathfinder (made in 1995, just FYI) which ran for two years but folded a year before its fated ending. On its deathbed, I made the allegation that no campaign ever ends on a satisfactory note. Each one is fated to fizzle, like a sitcom hemorrhaging its audience until mercifully killed with no satisfactory resolution. With that destiny fated for Amethyst, what was the point giving it any depth?
Within two months, the group had added in three more players, including future Amethyst contributor Conan Veitch, and the setting began to grow. A conspiracy was uncovered, opposing forces were established, and I felt the urge to weave an actual tale rather than a simple dungeon romp. The staple disruption concept of Amethyst—where magic and technology upset each other’s capacity to function—was implemented retroactively six months after the game started. It came as a result of a lingering issue with the logic of the setting, that it made no sense unless magic could overwhelm technology on its basic level. It came as a result of a conversation I had with a friend where upon he asked about the details of the setting. I explained that it was a techno-fantasy where the sides of magic and technology were detached; furthermore, they openly disrupted each other. But it wasn’t until that moment did that concept actually exist. The massive retroactive shift in the setting was met with mixed reviews from the group, and one player soon left.
Beyond this interruption, the game never really broke from its D&D roots. The players were still hitting monsters until they coughed up gold, dungeons were aplenty; it was still a fundamental Dungeons & Dragons game. Virtually none of the recognizable principal Amethyst elements had been named yet. There were still high elves, kobolds, and red dragons.
Given the speed of level progression in D&D, it would have been difficult to keep the same characters indefinitely (unless I wanted to entertain immortals, which I was dead set against). The initial characters of Aiden, Raven, Mischa, Uriel, and company reached level 20 of the told 3.5 rules, and the game reached a crescendo. It was a difficult path; the game had almost folded on several occasions, but in the end, I had finished a campaign. The group splintered save three members, and I began running a cyberpunk game soon after, one which I had also promised would reach a conclusion, and it did over a year later. By then, the voice of Amethyst began calling me back, and I realized that to tell the story properly, it had to be a trilogy.
That’s correct, a trilogy of campaigns. To go any further in this tale, I must reveal the truth about the setting name. Although all of Dias Ex Machina’s fantasy campaign books feature the Amethyst name, it’s actually only refers to the title of this first campaign, the one which ran from 2001 to 2005. The whole of the setting is called the “Shattered Trilogy” with Amethyst being the first epic (itself split into four seasons or “books”), and in 2007, around the same time DEM formed and began developing its first publication, I started the second installment, Logos. Only three players from the old game followed me into this new one, to be joined by three new players, most of which remained for the entirety of Logos’ two and half year run. It too had four seasons, separated with cliffhangers and breaks to play Magic: The Gathering.
Logos was set 500 years after the end of Amethyst and featured an all new set of characters. It was also two games in one. As part of a DM experiment, Logos was two stories told congruently from two different locations, with each player creating two characters. Each set were played bi-weekly. One set of characters were traditional fantasy archetypes on Earth while the alternates were the crew of a starship marooned on the far side of the galaxy. Same setting, same time period. By this point in the game’s development, the races had been renamed and the setting had gone through a major overhaul. It was also during this time that 4th Edition D&D came out, and half-way through the campaign, the setting adopted the new rules.
In a moment of risky storytelling, the ending of Logos saw the deaths of nearly half the player group, with most of the fantasy characters sacrificing themselves to save the planet, leaving the science fiction characters the only ones to survive the game. The story was left on an unfinished note, knowing there would be a final installment.
An attempt to run a new setting after the conclusion of Logos stumbled. The players were too desperate to return to the world they had dedicated so much time to, and in early 2010, I began the last entry in the Shattered Trilogy, Cradle. For those looking for clarification, the Shattered Trilogy refers to the item which is broken. So in the first epic, it’s Amethyst. In the second, it is an object called Logos, and so on. Despite loyally sticking through Amethyst, Chris Brown only stayed with Logos a few months, and after one season, dropped out of Cradle as well. It was only Conan Veitch that stuck through the game the longest, virtually uninterrupted for eleven years. Mike McMullen would get the second prize for the most dedicated attendance.
Cradle was the most literary game I had ever and probably will ever run. There was only one dungeon throughout its two year run. Each season had its own villain and its own unique story-arc, all the while following a larger mythology set 5,000 years after the end of Logos. After an epilogue set 10,000 years after its climax, showing a world forever changed compared to how it began, Cradle finally concluded in May of 2012, eleven years after the first session of Amethyst. In total, thirteen players had created thirty four characters for the setting, a setting I’d promised myself I would never return to, despite temptation. After years of games never concluding, I not only did it three times, but also created a saga which encompassed an entire decade. It’s then such a blasted shame that all that readers know of it is the first season of the first Amethyst campaign. I had promised myself, that regardless of the expanse, I would at least cover the first two seasons, which Amethyst Factions will satisfy. But fans may never meet Kairos or know what the Archo-Ontological Network is. They may never square off against Gorgunum Chaos or ever encounter the greatest threat the series will ever know, the Megiddon.
I hope it doesn’t take me another eleven years to share these stories with everyone. But I look back and realize most DMs never have the opportunity to run a game for year, let alone three connected games over a decade. I have heard of those that have run the same characters for even longer, playing side by side with old friends, wives and siblings. They are a rare bunch.
The hardest thing for a DM to do is try to create a narrative, even harder to know when to stop, to close a book and sign off on a tale. There are always other stories and the satisfaction of resolving one is far greater than you might think.