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Tuesday, 3rd January, 2012, 02:41 AM #1
Enchanter (Lvl 12)
Review of the Eclipse Phase RPG - Go fork yourself!
In looking for a new scifi RPG, I stumbled upon Eclipse Phase, a fairly new system developed by Posthuman Studios. I skimmed the website, my interest quickly peaking, then searched for more information elsewhere on the internet to see if it was worth getting. To my surprise, I quickly found the web page of one of the designers, Rob Boyle, where he shared links to free downloads to all the book pdfs.
I promptly downloaded them all and spent a few days reading through the 400 page core rule book, buying the pdf when I was done to show my support (and approval of their business model). My roommate ordered the core book from our local gaming store (to support it and Posthuman Studios at the same time) and I plan to buy each of the books as I finish reading it, assuming it adds significantly to the game I'll be running and/or expands my mind even a fraction as much as the first one did. There's ideas and concepts I'd literally never thought of before I read the core book.
We saw a couple of the supplement books in our local gaming store and they seem to be high-quality, high-gloss rulebooks. They are well written, occasionally funny, and I don't think I saw more than a couple typos in the whole of the first book.
To sum up the universe by analogy, it's a mix of Cowboy Bebop, Dan Simmon's Hyperion novels(my favorite scifi novels ever), Terminator 2, Stargate, and Ghost in the Shell - most of which they directly cite as inspirations in the book itself.
In short, humanity reached a degree of scientific advancement that we produced genetic, cybernetic, and robotic bodies that operated at near super-human levels. Advances in computer technology allowed the upload, transfer, and download of entire human consciousnesses(called Egos) into the internet and/or new bodies(called Morphs) and the creation of AIs of incredible complexity and sophistication. We uplifted animals to sentience and created nano-manufacturing cornucopia machines capable of building anything at the atomic scale given the right blueprints and resources.
We had begun to slowly expand into the solar system - small colonies on Mars and Luna, habitats in orbit of Earth, Mercury, Venus, and a few scattered through the asteroid belts and the moon-systems of Jupiter and Saturn. Still, most of humanity dwelt on Earth, our planet plagued with global warming, overpopulation, resource shortages, and increasing nationalistic, religions, and sectarian violence.
Finally, it erupted, starting as small skirmishes and rapidly escalating into full scale nuclear war. It wasn't until the first gene-tailored plagues, self-evolving nano-swarms, and Ego-harvesting war machines began to be introduced that the battered nations of Earth realized that they had a common enemy: the TITANS.
Known as seed AIs, capable of near-infinite recursive self-improvement and evolved from US defensive-network AIs, the TITANs reached Singularity and advanced at digital speeds to near-godlike intelligence. By the time humanity became aware of what was going on and began to fight back, it was too late. The Earth was doomed. Those who could flee did, those who couldn't mass-uploaded themselves in the hopes that they might be 'resleeved' into bodies at some point in the future.
The TITANs headed into the outer system and disappeared, leaving behind the mysterious Pandora gates - portals to a thousand different worlds. Why they left is unknown, but humanity would have breathed a sigh of relief if 95% of the population hadn't died in the Fall, the rest scattered across the solar system.
10 years later, the game begins. The inner system is mostly controlled by the Planetary Consortium, a council of the most powerful hypercorps in existence that keep the majority of (what's left) of transhumanity under their thumb via their control of the cornucopia machines. The outer system is the wild west - aside from the ultra-conservative Jovian Republic and the Titan Commonwealth - full of anarchists, independents, revolutionaries, evolutionaries, crazies, and more, each habitat with its own rules.
And somewhere in the mix is your character, most likely working for a secret organization known as Firewall combating 'x-risks': potential threats to the whole of transhumanity such as a return of the TITANs or development of new hostile seed AIs, the constantly-evolving Exsurgent virus they released on Earth to wipe humanity out, terrorists with MWDs - which are almost casually easy to create, potential extra-terrestrial interference/interactions from beyond the Pandora gates, and whatever other threats the GM can devise.
The mechanics seem highly inspired by Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader/etc, a simple d100 resolution system - roll as close as possible to your target number without going over with modifiers to your target being in easy-to-calculate +/- 10/20/30 chunks. There's rules for most of the general things that will happen, with a pleasant amount of "your GM can use his best judgement if something beyond this happens" to encourage arbitration over rules-lawyering. There are somethings that could easily have been a "Resistance Check" or the like versus some environment/toxin/disease-related attribute x2/3 check that slows down the game while you look it up.
Most interesting about the whole thing is how the Ego/Morph interaction is handled. Your Ego is you, the consciousness that has all your skills, knowledge, etc. Even physical stats reflect your mind's ability to interact with/control your Morph, not the Morph itself. Your Morph becomes your most important piece of equipment and you can upgrade, farcast your Ego to distant places an 'resleeve' into a new one, or even be killed an have a backup of your Ego restored and put into a new one ('new' being best case - if you died broke, you might end up in a low-end crude robotic 'Case' Morph or a cookie-cutter bio/robotic Pod Morph).
Interesting conceptual and philosophical concepts arise from all this - who are you if you can be backed up, moved between bodies, or even forked (duplicates with varying degrees of capability)? What is death really if you can be brought back in a new body or live virtually as an infomorph on the Mesh (internet) and is it personal or property crime? Are you still male if you are in a female body? What is it to be human when AIs and uplifted animal Egos can be placed in human bodies and vica-versa? Is it better to keep a link to our old concepts of human or rebuild ourselves in some new way that might bear no resemblance to our concept of what we are (post- or ex-humanism)? How can an economy work when there are machines that can build nearly anything from scratch in hours or days with just a blueprint and some rocks or organic goo?
I don't think I've ever read part of an RPG rule book and set it down to think about the concepts and ideas, or had game-inspired philosophical discussions and debates interspersed throughout character creation.
There are a few quibbles I have. The weapon-range charts don't seem to exist anywhere near where the weapons themselves in the Gear chapter - only in the quick-reference charts in the back and on the (downloadable) GM Screen. The differences, similarities, and effects of bioware, cyberware, nanoware, morph/ego traits, drugs(chemical, nano, electronic), and software mixing with other gear(there's ALOT of gear) is almost overwhelming to new players (and at least one GM).
The Mesh/hacking section is almost too in-depth. I can appreciate their desire to make things as accurate as possible - its obvious it was done by someone with an intimate familiarity and/or in-depth research of internet functionality, security, etc, but there's just so much there it's hard to remember it all even with a computer science degree. About 1/4 to 1/3 of the GM Screen has to do with hacking to give you a frame of reference.
There's also no "common NPC/enemy" stat-blocks in the GM/Spoilers section of the book - a common thing I see especially with modern/scifi RPGs. They have a few exceptional enemies, but none of the stuff that PCs will actually encounter on a regular basis: basic/intermediate/elite hacker/merc/thug/merchant and the like. I ended up winging some NPCs in my first session fairly easily (just pick a level of competence you want them to have between 1-100, an armor and durability value and go) but it involved flipping back-and-forth between to the character creation (Morph) and Gear (weapons) chapters and the combat chapter since it was my first time running it. It wouldn't be too hard to cobble them together myself, but I'm a pretty improvisational GM so those things are super-handy to me.
It can be hard to grok and figure out how things work in the world given the radical degree of technological and cultural transformation in a largely space-habitat based world - especially in outer-system Reputation-based instead of credit-based economies.
We also used a house-rule based off a review my roommate read on SomethingAwful - increase the cost of Rep increases at character creation/when spending Rez(xp) since as-is it's easy to have nearly-maxed Reputations with several factions right out of the gate. We used 1 CP = 1 Rep point instead of 1 CP = 10 Rep points to balance it.
These are pretty much all the quibbles I have with the book and none of them are even remotely deal-breaking - many are just cases of there being too much to take in all at once. Most are GM-side issues, once I'd set the tone and established the framework of the world/environment/culture they'd be operating in, the players had no difficulties figuring out what they wanted to do. By our third or fourth session, I'd imagine many of the GM issues will be inconsequential and we'll be able to get a look at how well everything is balanced and/or if there are any crippling flaws or game-breaking mechanics.
Our first session was a blast(in once instance literally), even if my brain was overheating trying to keep new mechanics and unfamiliar gear in mind at the same time I was spontaneously inventing the hollowed-out-asteroid habitat they started in and trying to remember all the stuff that would be casual and implicit in their world: instant access to common information via the Mesh, low/0-g the rule instead of the exception, consequences and effects of hard physics(rotational-generated gravity and what happens when you move closer-further from the center-of-mass), Augmented Reality overlaid and (literally) flavoring everything the PCs see, each player's AI muse(personal assistant) being an always-on NPC, post-privacy stealth, subterfuge, and covert operations, etc.
In summary, I'd highly recommend downloading the pdfs (and 'donating' by purchasing a copy) if you ever run scifi games or even just enjoy reading scifi. I'll post an AAR of our character creation and first session some time in the next couple days so you can see how it runs.
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