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Eclipse Phase RPG - Review

Eclipse Phase RPG - Review

For those that don't know, Eclipse Phase is an RPG in the transhuman genre.

Always a fan of sci-fi of this genre I quickly downloaded, read through the basics and took the game for a spin with my regular gaming group.

Before I go through the scenario and how we handled aspects of the game, I thought that I should share a potted account of the game background.

Transhuman Basics
All transhuman settings share a similar theme, this being that as technology increases, what we currently consider humanity and to some extent concepts of self and intelligence change significantly. Space ships are as likely to have the crew integrated into the computer system of the ship as they are to exist as individual organisms. The idea of a bridge with chairs and consoles is so outdated as to be laughable.


Concepts such as the Rimmer hologram (Red Dwarf) and a sentient aid such as Jarvis (Iron Man) and backing up your consciousness (Peter Hamilton et al) are ubiquitous. Creating duplicates of your mind (referred to as Ego in this version of Transhuman) are equally valid and make for interesting situations when it comes to re-integration of the disparate consciousnesses.

As well as existing as both organic and simulations, intelligence can exist as uplifted creatures and even downloaded into artificially created environments such as biologically grown organisms or robots. Intelligence of human origin shares the universe with AI that can be at least as intelligent as humans. There are often restrictions on the level of AI sentience, as a matter of principle.

This is the information age and as such Augmented Reality (AR) is standard. Everything in the field of vision can be tagged with information or even completely overlaid with artificial constructs. A friend could have information regarding a debt owed to them, the claustrophobic walls of the ship could be replaced with the image of an open beach, complete with the smell of the sea and background noises of surf and gulls. These are generated either locally to the person or broadcast by the location.

Specific to this Setting
The primary feature of this game is the complete separation of the mind and body. These are defined in the game as Ego and Morph respectively. Advances in neural mapping allow the mind of a person to be not only copied but also overwritten on another system capable of hosting the mind (similar to Dollhouse, written by Joss Whedon). The process is known as re-sleeving for obvious reasons. This is handled in the game by separation of vital statistics variables associated with the Ego and Morph. Character creation assigns values to the Ego from a pool while the Morph comes with standard values (though these can be modified as part of the character creation process). The opening short story makes it very clear just how consumable Morphs are right down to waking up in a body that has been used and abused by a previous occupant down to getting the entire body destroyed in the knowledge that the protagonist would be re-sleeved from an earlier back-up and not even recall the mission that destroyed the body and mind together.

Unlike the Gurps variant of Transhuman, this one places it in a post apocalypse setting. Earth is destroyed and the remains of humanity and associated AI's are scattered throughout the Solar System, inhabiting various artificial habitats ranging from hollowed out asteroids, colonies on Mars through to space stations and ships. The cause of the apocalypse is attributed to AI's that were given the capability for self-programming and improvement (equivalent to Terminator's Skynet). While a lot of humanity was 'recorded' there is still a shortage of sleeves for them to inhabit (along with habitable space even if the sleeves existed). Many are still in storage while others only exist in simulated environments and as such their morphs exist only as information, hence called infomorphs.

There is the usual eclectic mix of cultures and corporations padding out the setting and giving plenty of diversity for creating scenarios.

Delivering Concepts
Reading the rich depth of material provided in the basic rules does a very good job of lending reality to the environment though this is always going to be something of an issue. Whereas a fantasy setting can be rolled out by trope, there is a hell of a lot of concepts to explain and incorporate. Because individuals ascribe differing levels of importance to different features in the setting and as within any gaming group there will be varying levels of enthusiasm for devouring the background content, the greatest challenge is simply bringing the players up to scratch so that they can interact with the setting without continually questioning what should be the mundane from their characters viewpoint.
To some degree the basic free package does itself a disservice in this area by trying to sell the full banquet rather than giving an aperitif. The sample characters while all excellently detailed are so individual that they cannot sensibly be used together. Further, the scenario introduces more concepts than is reasonable to handle along with learning the game system. It feels like trying to explain facebook, twitter and warcraft to your 90 year old granny (and at least in our group, having consumed copious amounts of alcohol).

Our Scenario
Railing against the uphill struggle of trying to dump more information on my players than a typical windows patch, I opted to write a short scenario that introduced just the concept of re-sleeving and having multiple versions/copies of Egos existing at once. The setting was an out of the way asteroid on which research was being carried out by a small team. Following the death of a researcher and the discovery of a corrupted back-up, the players are sent to investigate as to whether it was an accident or foul play and also in the case of one of the characters, replace the deceased as the new researcher.

The main feature of the scenario was the meeting of short-term copies of the researchers. These copies, referred to as Beta-forks are spawned in order undertake a task while the person carries on doing what is most important. After the beta-fork completed the task (rarely more than few hours) it would be re-integrated with the primary.
As already mentioned, the game was purely investigative in nature, discovering clues and piecing together the events leading up the death and determining cause and possible culpability.

This is where I feel the underlying game mechanics didn’t quite hit the mark. Over the course of the first night we found that virtually all the interactions came down to less than a handful of skills. As these were the forte of the various characters it meant that failure was nearly impossible as even difficult situations could be effectively made mundane by spending a point of moxie. As we tend not to be dice-rolling heavy in our game sessions, we found this highly unbalancing.

By comparison, combat rampaging through a zero-g locations on a burning ship with explosions, stray fire and outgassing is going to be dice-rolling heavy with death staved off by exhaustion of moxie (an ego based skill that allows manipulation of a skill check a few times per game session). In a tête-à-tête situation, probing alibis and poking around the mesh (localised data-web), a few rolls with some canny RP’ing is all that is needed.



Maybe the game is geared towards balls-out heroics – this is certainly supported by the skill list with more than a dozen combat and combat related skills classed as standard (beamers, blades, exotic melee and ranges, gunnery, unarmed, spray… it goes on), yet navigation covers everything from getting round Tesco through to plot a course through the fluctuating gravity fields of Jupiter.

Anyway, I suspect that some of these issues have already been addressed in the oodles of support material, so at this moment I am not about to be put off by it (that and the next scenario will have a burning ship, psychotic robot with lots of guns and a clone army, so social skills will not be widely used).

So in summary I think that this is a very good product, well worth having a dibble at for the gaming group that prefers action over investigation. It does not get too bogged down in mechanics and is quite fast paced, once you have stopped needing to explain the bewildering quantity of concepts.
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Wimbles Crisis Solved ***

The Wimble Crisis of 217 has come to an end with the human Baron making way to the wimble Grandfather Paden Mastaak. Celebrations were held in Wimbledon upon the news with crack teams of Wimble security staff guarding all the pies.

It’s unclear how long the Wimbles will enjoy this new era of peace and self-determination.

Vocal Wimble Dinasha, one of Paden’s early backers, has chosen this precarious moment to bait Dewiek, Flagritz and humans who were initially disposed to be friendly to the new administration. Whilst the Wimbles' history with the former-slave-loving Flagritz could be understood, their animosity towards the Dewiek and humans was more mysterious. One insider alluded to a rise in the number of cases of foot-and-mouth across the herd as being a likely cause.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Storm in a Teacup *** Yahn Bares All * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door ***

The stargates are closed! Reports from multiple sources indicate at least three of the stargates, all within Dewiek controlled systems, have been closed.

Two different sources have indicated that the TCA have been spotted recently in a number of systems and may be behind this turn of events. A scan sent to the SSS indicated eight TCA ships were recently spotted first in the Faery system and later near the Kasmer stargate.

Another source, suspiciously put the blame on the ARC, suggesting the ARC and DEN were working together because they “need to trap [the TCA] and try and finish them off after the DEN bodged their operation to protect the ARC while they incinerated the MEK homeworld, which ended up with several ARC ships being destroyed and the job only being half done."

However, with no public statement from the Dewiek themselves, its hard to know whether these rumours are reliable.

Lord Igor of the Dominion and Erasmus Andersen of the Garcia Family both offered public apologies at the delay in meeting their trade commitments because of the recent closures. The not-so-subtle subtext being that someone will pay with blood for this interference in their business. Or at least with a stealthy price rise.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Wimble Civil Strife * Who Sniffs the Sniffers? * Largin’ It * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Videtis quantum scelus contra rem publicam vobis nuntiatum sit? ***

The Flagritz Empire is no more! The Flagritz Republic is reborn! Quick on the heel of the collapse of the Empire, the Fessin caste declared a new era of foreign and economic policy with a rapid withdrawal behind the Black Gate.

The new ecologically-friendly Prime Minister Kayxaer, asked for patience as “economic” reforms were undertaken. It remains to be seen whether there will be any price to pay for the dramatic changes being made by the reclusive Flagritzi or whether it will all be sunshine and rainbows going forward.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Large at Large * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Bravo for Freedom ***

Naplian Forces have attacked three human pirate outposts in the Morroglyph system. A spokesperson for Naplia HQ told the press that the plucky duct-tape loving free people would continue their war against slavers and pirates in their home periphery.

One salty Naplian libertarian told the SSS, “The people of the Naplian Home Periphery are sick and tired of human criminals coming here just because their homeworld is an overcrowded hell. It’s time for them to go back home.”

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Igor of Fang and Horns * Admiral Loves Dick Turpin * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

.What is It?
..a wOrmhOle?.
…No.. worse..
….the KANG singularity!…
…..It pulls us IN…..
……lOOks sO familiar……
…….yet so strange…….
……..what is……..
………that?……..

*** Flagritz Liberalise Economy ***

In good news for all the galaxy the Flagritzi have vowed to liberate all slaves across their Empire. Furthermore, the hectapods have given up eating other sentient species; taking up a strict diet of veganism and soy chai lattes. Sales of turtle neck sweaters and Forbidden Fruit laptops have skyrocketed.

The news was cautiously welcomed by the benevolent Felini Tyranny who looked forward to reducing the War phase of their daily Nap-Lick-Nap-War-Nap-Eat-Sleep cycle to a perfunctory forty winks.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Baron Womble * A Short History of the DPP * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Empire Strikes: Solo ***

A massive fleet of some 1600 warships, including large numbers of super-heavy capital 300 and 400 hullers, attacked the DEN in the Solo system, catching them with their metaphorical pants down. The DEN gate platform and some two hundred DEN freighters were subject to antimatter missiles amongst other high tech ordinance.

Jack the lad, Viceroy of the Empire, claimed a victory for freedom and the Imperial (right of) way leaving the sullen Dewiek unusually unresponsive.

With DOM platforms firing on CIA ships, will the IMP now demand the DOM add them to the Do Not Fire lists as well? And what exactly is the nature of the DOM and DEN alliance in light of the sustained attack from the Empire? And will the DEN’s alien friends stand idly by as the Empire fleet camps in the vital gate system of Solo? How will the DEN retaliate for this action or are they ready to roll over and have their bellies rubbed?

All this remains unknown. All that is certain is the “feel good” factor across the DTR has increased, with citizens reassured that for some time yet, they may continue in their slumber with the easy assurance that their number is not coming up anytime soon.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * New BHD Guy * DOM Statement * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** To Ur Is Dewiek ***

Dewiek forces had a hefty smackdown against the mysterious living ships known as the T’Cath (TCA). Seven adult TCA 400 hull capital ships, each firing eight of their notorious plasma cannons, were killed by a DEN and DOM fleet of some 700 ships.

Of the minimal losses suffered by the DEN / DOM, one-eyed Magnus and Nevets Motnhap of the FEL were amongst the dead.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Caribbean Congo Continues * Ur Witness Report * * Hive Briefing * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** The Long Quiet Season ***

Listen…
There’s no sound of anger or of annoyance,
There’re neither cruisers racing on the jump lanes
Nor there jump lanes for them to race on,
There’re neither monks chanting on the battlegrounds
Nor bells calling us to the True One.
There’s neither the lightning cracking of the sky
Nor the persistent Naplians pattering on my roof.
There’s no Dewiek arm in arm to admire the magnificent view
There’re no war drums to feed Human ears
Nor Hive sirens to steal the boredom away
There’s no unfamiliar wing creeping underneath the Falconian sun
Nor floods to enshroud the Aquaphid grounds
The land lies lonely out here
On this lazy summer’s day
There’s no pollution to poison the airs of Inversion
Nor forests to give them life
All I hear is the hushing sound of the wind
Assisting the sand to fall into beautiful undulations.

Whilst we’ve been away: * Operation Giantslayer * Naplian Liberation * Back in the DTTR * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Falconians Saved ***

The Imperials have cunningly saved the Falconian Republic from being consumed by the Dewiek Elder Nation and at no small cost to the DEN either. Whilst the new pro tem Consul crowed about the “victory”, all former FCN systems besides Acropolis have been taken over by the two warring Empires - Human and Flagritz.

Was it all worth it? For the IMP / GTT it clearly was, for the movement of a few hundred thousand troops is surely nothing to the cost they endured trying to and failing to knock the DEN out of Solo after the fact. The FCN now plucked off most of their navy and wider assets are a tiny nothing of their former self. The DEN may have resorted to some dirty namecalling but can the costs endured to save an enfeebled FCN have really been worth it? Time will tell.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * INDignation * FELicitous Caribbean * Nah Plan for Naplia * Mercs Trouble DEN * &etc

 

Free Ship when you sign-up
Complete missions for in game rewards
Control everything, up to an entire empire
Dedicated human moderators
Player and Moderator driven plotlines
Discover new worlds to explore, exploit & colonise
Over 20 years of content development
Persistent Browser-Based Game (PBBG)

I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic