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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 The idea of a bridge with chairs and consoles is so outdated as to be laughable.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 *****

*** 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

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Acropolis Now ***

The IMP and GTT have brought peace and stability to Acropolis.

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Goodbye Falconians ***

The galaxy bid farewell to the Falconian Republic as the Human Empire subsumed them into their expanding territories. This marks the second death of an alien civilisation at the hands of the IMP / GTT in recent years. Like the extinguishing of the nearby Ulians, no voices of opposition could be heard from other quarters. This marks a long-period of appeasement by the Detinus Republic and Dewiek Elder Nation.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * DOMination * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****



 
***** Inter Galactic News THE MUSICAL *****

*** Norozov, No More ***

Kantner: No more do I see the starlight caress your cyclops eye
No more feel the tender kisses we used to share
I close my fists and clearly my heart remembers
A thousand goodbyes could never put out the embers

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Chulainn: Oh all the Stellars mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Kantner: No more do I feel the touch of your hand on mine
No more see the love-light making your dark eyes shine
Oh, how I wish I never had caused you sorrow
But don't ever say for us there is no tomorrow

Chulainn: Oh all the ladies mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before.

Lanner: So, old cyclops has finally met his comeuppance
Maybe its time for a comeback

Chorus: No, no one wants you back!

Lanner: I always did like that chair of his…

Chorus: The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!

Continued in this special edition of the SSS...

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** ALIEN CRIMINALS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE ***

FILTHY AND DISHONOURABLE Dewiek mercenaries have dared to attack HONEST AND HARDWORKING GTT warships in the Coptuv system.

THEY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT TO JUSTICE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

The Dewiek commander’s lengthy response was appreciated by xenophile and philanthropist HQ Manager Tom Krieger but this does not change the facts.

FURTHER JUSTICE IS EXPECTED AT THE EMPEROR’S PLEASURE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

Inside this issue of the SSS: * SEDITIOUS FET CHARGED * LIES OF THE FAILED REBELLION * TERRORIST PLOTS FOILED * ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE CRITICISED * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Voice of the Naplian Liberation Front ***

We are the Naplian Liberation Front. We have commandeered this station to bring you important and vital deprogramming. You are a slave of the Galactic Trouser and Tussles Imperium of Unspecified Services! We have witnessed the press ganged upon by Imperial thugs. Rounding up reporters by the thousands and throwing them in weasel dens. Mocking the Great Uncle of the Flagritz. Manufacturing consent out of a lust for imports of wheat cereals! We poor Naplians(*) are given no training and substandard equipment when preparing your nutritious breakfasts. We are sent forward by the Imperial snack commissioners with threats of triple-filing tax returns on unreasonable deadlines! Death would be preferable. We are allegedly paid a wage but have you ever tried to buy anything with just $1? Strangely none of those politicals earning $10,000 or more a week seem to care about our plight. Not to mention that the Imperials throw perfectly good meat into the grinder instead of slow cooking it in black bean sauce. They have no respect for a classic burrito! We are left grieving for young families who have never tasted quality ranch sauce. You don’t need to be a dead Naplian to know the value of a good guacamole.

* No actual Naplians included.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT vs USN * GTT vs NLF * GTT vs IND * GTT vs KAS * GTT vs FET * GTT vs SSS * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire On Warpath ***

The newly re-united Stellar Empire continued to wage war against the Flagritz Empire to bring about galactic peace and freedom for all. The latest system to fall to the inevitable tide of history was Morroglyph in the Coreward Arm. Dewiek intransigence reached fever pitch as the FLZ facilities changed to DEN paws and subsequently became targets of Imperial truth and justice. Despite putting themselves between the past and the future, the DEN seemed to lack much will for an actual fight with Dewiek military commanders adopting “meh” as their watchword.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT smacks NLF * DEN whack MRC * Slaves Liberated * FLZ Retreat * ARC in Orion Spur * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire Re-United ***

Celebrations were held across the vast territories of the Stellar Empire as the two-halves represented by the governments of the Imperials and Caliphate determined to unite. This followed almost inevitably from the assassination of the Caliph, a crime that has gone mysteriously unresolved. The old Caliphate ministers were ‘retired’ and at first it seemed the Imperials had managed what had alluded them for decades.

However, just as orders to claim systems for the IMP went in some places, conflicting orders to claim for the CIA came from Laton. In other systems, it seems overwhelming civilian support lies with the defunct CAL government and there are a number of CIV and CAL bases that seem to have not heeded the CIA nor IMP orders. With all the Caliphate's armaments now in the CIA’s hand and no political leadership in the old government, it seems inevitable that the civilians will be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

A muted and cautious response from the rest of the galaxy was only to be expected given the formation of a new unrivalled superpower. The chilling effect on public discourse as the Imperial war machine taps into the substantial, if stunted, economies of the former Caliphate will surely be felt for years to come. Does this mark the 'end of history' as we know it?

More on this story inside this issue of the SSS along with: * KAS v IMP/GTT v FLZ * DEN v MRC * FOCed by IMP * BHD v DEN * &etc

 

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Complete missions for in game rewards
Control everything, up to an entire empire
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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