Eclipse Phase Review of the Eclipse Phase RPG - Go fork yourself!





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    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.
    Last edited by Iron Sky; Tuesday, 3rd January, 2012 at 02:48 AM.

 

  • #2
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    Doesn't EN World still have a review section? Shouldn't this go there?

  • #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Crothian View Post
    Doesn't EN World still have a review section? Shouldn't this go there?
    Does it? I wasn't aware. If so, any mods around that can move it?

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    It does: Reviews - EN World: Your Daily RPG Magazine

    Nice review. Just hit new review on the site above and put it there too.

    Also I recommend Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps as accompanying reading. (military SciFi, forking, intrigue, starhips).
    Last edited by Thanael; Tuesday, 3rd January, 2012 at 11:03 AM.

  • #5
    Very good review, so I skim-read the PDFs and... aah... the hard sci-fi setting is so complicated -- it's one thing to read Hyperion novels, another thing to inhabit them. I'll read the PDFs for fun, but we'll see if it feels accessible as an rpg.

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    Been a fan of Eclipse Phase for over a year now. Even played in a Friday game for about 5 months. The system isn't perfect, but with some looking you will find some solid house rules to shore up your game with. Which isn't really needed early on, only after your characters start getting their skills close to maxed out.

    It definitely has a bit of a learning curve to it. I didn't feel like I really knew the system until about our 6 session. Fortunately the whole things is just so cool it kept me going until I did finally get it.

    I own all the books, in print, and I think they all add a lot to the game, it just depends on whether or not you want to add the material.

    Its not part of the creative license, but check out Cthulhu Tech. Its a whole new level of Cthulhu awesomeness.
    It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. NEVER hold to the letter written, nor allow some barracks room lawyer to force quotations from the rule book upon you, IF it goes against the obvious intent of the game. As you hew the line with respect to conformity to major systems and uniformity of play in general, also be certain the game is mastered by you and not by your players. Within the broad parameters give in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Volumes, YOU are creator and final arbiter. By ordering things as they should be, the game as a WHOLE first, your CAMPAIGN next, and your participants thereafter, you will be playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as it was meant to be. May you find as much pleasure in so doing as the rest of us do.

    -1E DMG, page 230

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    Now one thing I will say, is it was a constant challenge to really understand what it is like to truly live in such a setting. To understand the implications of the fabricators, the sleeves, everything. So be prepared to have your mind bent in new ways. You'll probably do a bit of back tracking as things about this setting get clearer in your mind. It is really a different world, with a very different set of assumptions, and takes a lot of thinking to really figure out and put together to have enough cohesion to stand up over the long haul. Fortunately it is so cool its worth the effort.
    It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. NEVER hold to the letter written, nor allow some barracks room lawyer to force quotations from the rule book upon you, IF it goes against the obvious intent of the game. As you hew the line with respect to conformity to major systems and uniformity of play in general, also be certain the game is mastered by you and not by your players. Within the broad parameters give in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Volumes, YOU are creator and final arbiter. By ordering things as they should be, the game as a WHOLE first, your CAMPAIGN next, and your participants thereafter, you will be playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as it was meant to be. May you find as much pleasure in so doing as the rest of us do.

    -1E DMG, page 230

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    As for Reputation, a lot of people do not seem to understand Rep. Your score gets you into one of 5 RANKINGS, and your ranking determines many things, including the all important "refresh rate", the time that needs to pass before you can reasonably ask for another favor at a GIVEN ranking. Unlike skills, you can actually BURN rep points, and believe me, when you get into a hot and heavy mission where you need things NOW, those Rep scores will drop.

    So do NOT house rule the Rep scores until you actually see how it all works using pages 285 to 290. Read them over very carefully, understand them as thoroughly as you can. Then put the players on hot and heavy missions where they find they need things NOW, and see how those Rep scores drop.
    It is the spirit of the game, not the letter of the rules, which is important. NEVER hold to the letter written, nor allow some barracks room lawyer to force quotations from the rule book upon you, IF it goes against the obvious intent of the game. As you hew the line with respect to conformity to major systems and uniformity of play in general, also be certain the game is mastered by you and not by your players. Within the broad parameters give in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Volumes, YOU are creator and final arbiter. By ordering things as they should be, the game as a WHOLE first, your CAMPAIGN next, and your participants thereafter, you will be playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons as it was meant to be. May you find as much pleasure in so doing as the rest of us do.

    -1E DMG, page 230

  • #9
    For character creation, we had a separate character-creation "session" for each player. I'll post the first now: my roommate's. He really found the idea of people who had digitally emigrated into orbital data farms to escape the Fall fascinating so he wanted to make one of those characters.

    He decided his character was a Bulgarian MMA fighter who was a dying breed of "pure" unaugmented fighters who were against the "inhumanism" that technology was creating. When a five-story war machine enveloped in a cloud of hostile TITAN nanites was walking down the block disassembling people at the molecular level and/or force-uploading them before his very eyes, he changed his mind and Ego-jumped the next transmission off-world.

    Originally, he wanted to start the game as an Infomorph, but I explained that most new Morphless Egos were somewhere between slaves and indentured servants. He decided instead that he'd been forced to 'operate' a pleasure pod in a brothel by the Night Cartel (read: space mafia) for several years and though he hated his pod, his job, and the Cartel, decided the only way out was up and worked his way up to being the mistress (yes, male character inside a female body) of a brothel. His labors were recognized and he acquired a Sylph (Biomorphs specifically bio-engineered for super-hotness), was appointed the mistress of the brothel, and promptly began planning his escape from the Cartel and their home asteroid-belt habitat of New Sicily.

    Mechanically, his character had the Re-instantiated Background and the Criminal Faction with motivations of Personal Development+, Thrill Seeking+, and Revenge+.

    Skill-wise, he was split between being a close-combatant (his pre-Fall occupation) and a social/face character (his forced post-Fall profession). He divided his 400 Active-skill Character Points(CPs) roughly evenly between the two. With the modifiers from his Morph, this left him as an decently capable (though poorly-equipped) combatant and a phenomenal social character (some social skills in the 80-90 range with conditional modifiers from his Morph's looks and tailored pheromones).

    His 300 Knowledge-skill CPs went into Profession: Criminal Business, Profession: MMA Fighter, Knowledge: Pre-fall Sport, Language: Russion, Language: English, and a few other miscellaneous interests and arts.

    Of his last 300 CP, 40 CP went to buying his Sylph Morph (Morphs cost between 0 and 100 CP at character creation), 150 or so CP went to raising Attributes and Moxie(Fate/Luck), the rest went into a couple Specializations, raising a few more skills, and buying a few starting credits since Re-instantiated characters start out broke.

    He was getting a bit burned out on character creation at this point - the above with brainstorming, back-story, looking stuff up in an unfamiliar PDF, and whatnot took several hours - so he didn't bother with much gear (a pistol and some clothes) or Positive/Negative traits.

    Lastly, he named his AI muse(helper AI that filters the Mesh and local AR to keep things manageable), Boris, and came up with his own private name, Ruskov, and the name he's known by (for now), Lady Lillian.

    The next player went in a completely different direction...

    Quote Originally Posted by Treebore View Post
    Now one thing I will say, is it was a constant challenge to really understand what it is like to truly live in such a setting. To understand the implications of the fabricators, the sleeves, everything. So be prepared to have your mind bent in new ways. You'll probably do a bit of back tracking as things about this setting get clearer in your mind. It is really a different world, with a very different set of assumptions, and takes a lot of thinking to really figure out and put together to have enough cohesion to stand up over the long haul. Fortunately it is so cool its worth the effort.
    I definitely experienced the mind-bending bits. Fortunately, reading it was spread out over a couple days, interspersed with discussions w/ my roommate about some of the concepts so I had time to let it sink in a bit - at least enough so that the players didn't have to think about it too much.

    As for the Rep thing, it seems like the default would make it almost trivially easy to have your character start as a paragon in two or three system-wide organizations from the get go (RP-wise). Mechanics-wise, the 'cooldowns' on calling in favors seem fairly balanced but I haven't had too much of a chance to see it in play - the PCs didn't call in their first one until late in the session. Maybe in the future I'll waive our house rule.
    Last edited by Iron Sky; Tuesday, 3rd January, 2012 at 10:08 PM.

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    Good review. I am actively looking at this as a possibility for my next Sci-Fi game, but Ive been so happy with Alpha Omega that I want to get my new gaming group started on it. Both EP and AO look quite chunky and "open", but AO for sure has been a good one (The Official Alpha Omega Website).

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