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Pre-Release Review of BioHazard (Playtest Module) by Dias Ex Machina

Time to nut up or shut up!” ~ Tallahassee (Zombieland, 2009)

Ok… I’ll admit to my guilty little pleasure, because I know I’m not alone out there… I am a huge fan of zombie apocalypse movies! 

I don’t know why, but every time some studio releases one of these movies, I’m get suckered in to going to see it, even if it’s complete schlock and piled under terrible reviews.  And whether you’re talking about true “animated corpse” zombies, horribly “mutated” abominations, or even living “infected ghoul” people, I’m still gonna drop 10 bucks at the local metroplex, and lose myself in two hours of creepy gore-filled mayhem.

And even humorous, tongue-in-cheek parodies of zombie apocalypse like Sean of the Dead and Zombieland pull me in just as quickly as any of the Resident Evil or the 28 Days/Weeks Later movies.  In fact, I think that after Zombieland, Woody Harrelson got bumped up into my personal Top Ten Greatest Action Heroes list.
But even for those of you that aren’t fan-boys of the “end of days by zombie infestation” movies, it is still worth looking into the newest release by Dias Ex Machina and Goodman Games –BioHazard, an adventure playtest module for the Amethyst Setting & Rules System.

Biohazard (Playtest Module)
  • Designer: Chris Dias
  • Illustrations: Nick Greenwood (artwork), Jeremy Simmons (cartography)
  • Publisher: Dias Ex Machina & Goodman Games
  • Year: 2010
  • Media: PDF (25 pages)
  • Price: FREE

BioHazard is a Playtest Module built around the new Amethyst Setting Rules, and is compatible with modified D&D 4e rules.  The Playtest Module contains New Rules to modify the existing 4e Rules-As-Written into a system capable of handling modern and science-fiction weapons, gear, and effects.  The adventure portion of the BioHazard Playtest Module contains eight fully-detailed encounters and a skill challenge within a goal-oriented plotline, 5 new monsters, and 5 pre-generated “special forces” Characters.  There are also two full-color encounter maps to use as reference, or printable to be used as a “dungeon tile”.

The production quality of the BioHazard Playtest Module is very good, with an easy to follow layout, and with powers and monsters set down in formats recognizable to anyone familiar with the D&D 4e rules.  The cover and border art is also quite stunning, and I was a little disappointed that there was not more interior art to enhance the product, such as character or monster sketches.  But given that this is just a playtest module, it definitely makes me hope we see more of the artist’s work when Amethyst is finally released.

While the actual Amethyst setting is NOT based upon a zombie apocalypse, the BioHazard Playtest Module is a way for the Author to demonstrate how the New Rules changes 4e to something that can be used to add sci-fi and modern elements to a fantasy setting:

Amethyst not only presents a vibrant and original setting utilizing the 4th Edition D&D game system, it also offers new rules for incorporating modern and science fiction elements to your own homebrew game world. Biohazard is a stand-alone adventure not within the canon of Amethyst set far enough apart to showcase what can be done with our rules in a foreign setting. The rules presented here offer only a taste of the options available in the main rulebook.

Amethyst, when it is released in April 2010, will be a world-setting based upon a world of “fantasy” invading our own modern and mundane world, and creating all manner of problems:

Amethyst is a fantasy/science fiction role playing game that presents a future in which a fantasy world has invaded our real one, with no convenient wardrobe or doorway to cross to return. This fantasy world not only resembles the one from our novels and games, it also has its own rules of existence, rules which prevent our conveniences of life from operating—no more refrigerators, electric furnaces, or cable TV.

This world is unbelievable in its scope—where anything you can think of thinks for itself. But this is not some stylized, fanciful view of Earth seen in books and on TV. It is a world with all the problems, both social and political, intact. Would we welcome the world of fantasy into our lives or would we fear its very presence? How would major religions respond given such massive doubts to their dogma?

Will mankind be able to retake the planet and push the fantasy back into the realms of our imagination, able to resume our bind passion for consumerism and industrialization? Is this world better than the before? The core Amethyst rulebook presents 4 technology-based character classes (grounder, marshall, operator, and stalker) as well as new fantasy races and dozens of paragon paths and monsters. Science or magic, which would you choose?

As one might imagine, in a world where the modern world meets the realms of fantasy and science-fiction, there are going to be some new rules necessary to handle new weapons – specifically guns and explosives!  First, there are some completely new skills added to handle these elements not common to heroic medieval fantasy, such as Demolitions, Sciences, and Vehicle Operations.  And of course there are some new feats like Crossfire and Akimbo:

Crossfire (Feat)

Effect: You can flank 2 squares away from an enemy as long as you and an ally are in a straight line through the target. You must be wielding a one- or two-handed small arm or a heavy weapon to use this feat.

Akimbo (Feat)

Benefit: When holding a one-handed small arm in each hand, add a +1 bonus to all ranged damage rolls and expend as much ammunition in your secondary weapon as your primary weapon for each hit.

And there are also some very important rules for handling gun combat, such as dealing with Heavy Weapons and Small Arms, Reloading, and using weapon properties like Auto, Heavy Auto, and Sniper modes.  The Author does an excellent job of handling these new rules, making them simple to follow, and very appropriate to the setting, without sacrificing fun.

So after becoming familiar with the New Rules in the BioHazard Playtest Module, Players can then take on one of the five, pre-made Characters to use in the scenario.  These Characters, which are a member of a SPIDER team, sent in to recover a vaccine from a biohazard zone. 


You are members of the SPIDER ground team. SPIDER (SPecial Intelligence DEployed Response) is a Special Forces team tasked with military operations dealing with unique mission parameters most others cannot fulfill. This includes, but is not exclusive to, biological and chemical terrorist attacks.

The Characters are based upon a few of the Classes and Builds that will be available in the Amethyst system – obviously we’ll have to wait for the full system release to see the entire scope of Character generation:

  • Karl Collins – Level 3 Marshall
  • Francine Franklin – Level 3 Grounder (front build)
  • Bob Bilford – Level 3 Stalker (deadeye build)
  • Zane Ziminski – Level 3 Stalker (sniper build)
  • Mandy Matthews – Level 3 Operator (medic build)

Although the Author does not give us an exact definition of each of the Classes in the BioHazard Playtest, it is possible to make some inferences based upon the powers and feats each Character has.

 As one might guess, the Stalker class appears to be a Striker, and in this case both the dead-eye and sniper deal extreme ranged damage.  But the builds do differ, as the sniper build reminds me of a Striker with some Defender capabilities, having the capability to use long ranged attacks to inflict combat conditions such as slow, weaken, daze or even stun.  The dead-eye build, on the other hand, is a bit like a Striker with some Skirmisher features, able to damage multiple targets within close bursts, and to get out of harm’s way by shifting attacks.

As for the remaining classes, the Grounder seems to fit a Defender role with a few Controller abilities, and the Marshall and Operator are clearly Leaders.  With the medic build of the Operator, it bears some similarity to a cleric or bard, while the Marshall more closely resembles a Warlord with a tactical build.

But while the Classes seem to conform roughly to D&D 4e role-types, the attack powers, however, are truly inventive and fit very nicely into the “special forces vs. apocalyptic zombie horde” theme.  For instance, the Marshall Character Karl Collins has powers such as Spotter to grant a ranged combat bonus to an ally, and Leave No Man Behind which grants an ally a healing surge and allows both Marshall and ally to shift away.  And the Stalker (dead-eye) Bob has some nasty capabilities, such as Wetworks which inflicts heavy damage and cause an ongoing damage (bleed) effect, and Kinetic and Fluid which is a tumbling ranged assault that allows him to attack, tumble up to 4 squares to a new position, and attack the same target a second time!

Overall, the BioHazard Playtest Module is a very impressive demonstration into just how inventive the Amethyst Setting & Rule System is going to be.  It’s also an excellent example of the Author’s imagination and game-design skills, taking the existing D&D 4e ruleset and taking it to a fun new place that will entice Players and Game Masters of science fiction, horror, and modern genres to the 4e experience.

I want to thank the Author for letting me get hold of a pre-release copy early in January, and I hope he’ll forgive me for waiting as long as I did to review it.  Mainly, I have held off on my review until now, so as to better coincide with its official release.

The BioHazard Playtest Module will be available in the newest edition of Combat Advantage #15, available tomorrow, January 19th, for download from Emerald Press. And if you find that you have enjoyed the BioHazard Playtest Module, then you might want to check out the Amethyst Setting and Rules, which will be available in April 2010.  Amethyst can currently be pre-ordered through the Goodman Games official site or from the Dias Ex Machina site.

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


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