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 The idea of a bridge with chairs and consoles is so outdated as to be laughable.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

Huge fleet skirmish at the London/Crossley wormhole

A large fleet of over 700 DEN warships responded to the EMP action in Crossley, where a 4000 hull DEN platform was destroyed. Reports show the DEN ships caught a group of CIA ships napping and inflicted significant losses on the humans. IMP and GTT fleets moved to assist the CIA, matching DEN fleet numbers, but the arrival of over 1200 Hexamon ships seems to have tipped the battle in favour of the DEN-HEX alliance.

The combined DEN-HEX force pushed through the wormhole into the Heartland area of human space and retaliated, attacking several CIA platforms in response. The outnumbered Empire fleets abandoned the area and fled, they are currently waiting for the larger alien force to make their next move from their hiding places.
 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Admiral Lord Simms killed after a long and distinguished service to the Empire.

The Imperial Services have intercepted and serious damaged several DEN ships on the way to the Empire’s home systems. Unfortunately during the action Admiral Lord Simms was injured and reports from the Viceroy indicate he has passed away, fighting the enemies of the Empire like any true Imperial Officer.

The Viceroy has stated that the officers and crew of the DEN ships have been captured and are now awaiting trial at a secret IMP base.

DEN continue to strike at the Empire

Reports are coming in of multiple engagements between the Empire and the Dewiek Elder Nation over the last week. With several battles taking out Empire ships in the Heartland of the CIA.

AFT turn to piracy

The Association of Free Traders have, after a long history of neutrality, turned to piracy this week. AFT Drake boarded an IND ship in the Halo periphery, killing several of the crew in the process.
Independent trader Jarlebanke Langhofdi immediately took to the public communication channel demanding an answer to why supposedly peaceful traders had killed his crew and taken his ship.

The AFT remain silent over the attack.
 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Combat Special Edition

Since the DEN started shooting at those lovable FEL fluffballs things have certainly been heating up. So we through it would be prudent to bring you, gentle beings of the peripheries, a special edition in order to keep you updated with all the latest action in regards to who the DEN are shooting and who is shooting them.

Felini strike back at Dewiek

Reports have come in of the FEL striking back at the DEN in the Kallisan system. A huge FEL force supported by the IMP and CIA assaulted DEN positions taking both the platform and base called Lucien. There was much rejoicing in the FEL camp as the Felini proved they were not such lovable fluffballs after all!

GTT get sucked into the war

A passing fleet of GTT warships got caught in the fighting and this saw the GTT enter the war. When asked about this CEO Fox pointed out they are not warships at all, they are trade defence ships. So how they came to be in the DEN system of Kallisan is a mystery to us. But the GTT CEO was clear that they only engaged using support and defend orders to protect allies. Needless to say, the CEO commented “We found ourselves on the Dewiek Nation’s enemy lists pretty soon after.”

Dewiek Nation attacks GTT positions in Orion Spur, breaking DOM system rules

A fleet of DEN warships has engaged and destroyed a significant number of GTT cargo ships and escorts in the DOM system Monument. The GTT immediately took to the public channels to ask why the DOM were not doing something. In reply the DOM issued a statement to stop, which the DEN ignored.

The DEN newssheet "The HOWL" published a completely unbiased review of the attack shortly after.

DOM make a choice

After the above incident and then further raiding by the DEN, taking out a few GTT cargo ships in the DOM system of Coptuv, the DOM seemed to have been faced with a choice of stopping drinking their tea and doing something or just hoping it would go away. Instead they seem to have decided to abandon the whole idea of being an active affiliation and we have since folded. The lengths some people will go to not to have their elevenses disturbed is truly staggering. We asked the DOM for a statement on their new system rules to share with our readers but have received no replies.

DOM positions share out

Just as we were going to press news has come in of various DOM assets being given to other affiliations or sold. Hopefully we will have more on this story in the next issue of your favorite factual newsheet. Yes, that's us at the SSS.

*** Affiliations ***


AFT Association of Free Traders (54) - Marion Tweedy
CIA Combined Intelligence Agency (64) - Laton CIA
DNA Displaced Natives Asylum (66) - DNA people
DTR Detinus Republic (58) - Morley Decker
DEN Dewiek Elder Nation (67) - Urd
DOM Dominion (57) – we believe the DOM are now inactive
FCN Falconian Republic (70) - Bacran
FEL Felini Tyranny (49) - Juris
FLZ Flagritz Republic (47) - Kayxaer
FET Frontier Exploration & Trade (56) - Cu Chulainn
GRC Gracians (13) - HG1
GTT Galactic Trade & Transport (52) - Xavier Fox
GCE Garcia Enterprises (4) - Neil
HEX Hexamon (23) - Ando
IMP Imperial Services (51) - Jack Jones
KRL Krell (30) - Namica
KRT Krell of the Reverence Temple (37) - Kal Torak
KST Kastor Kastorians (12) - Kastor
MZC Mizuchi Combine (86) - Mizuchi
MOH Mohache (73) - Listens
MIC Mohache Independent Commune (76) - Sleeps with Dragons
NLF Naplian Liberation Front (38) - NLFHQ
RIP Regularly Involved in Piracy - Githyanki
RRH Roy Robert Holdings (39) - Roy Roberts
SMS Stellar Mining and Smelting (53) - MikhailM
USN Ulian Stellar Nation (34) - Oeipus Prime
WMB Wimble Nations (25) - zz

* Leader MAY be inactive, affiliation may be active
** Affiliation has no leader but this is the only known contact

NPC / FoC: ARC, CIV, CGT, FRE, HBO, HEF, IND, ISP, JCN, MEK, MRC, PIR, PRV, TCA, TRN, KAS

Inactive: ANT, BHD, COD, HVE, IDC, RIP, RCF, SKW, TAG

Deceased: CAL

*** Submission ***

By private message to The Editor or via Mica if you prefer to remain anonymous.
 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

New pirate threat rocks Corward Arm.

Several large pirate ships have been spotted in outer rings of Corward systems. Reports forwarded to us at the SSS allow us to exclusively tell readers that traders should keep their wits about them when moving through these areas.

No existing pirate menace has yet claimed ownership.

In a possibly unrelated event one of the FET cartel members claimed nothing was happening in the outer ring of Coptov shortly afterwards. But it could be that they are still trying to catch Empire backed pirates and have nothing to do with the new sightings.
 
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DEN continue to shoot innocents

The Dewiek have made themselves busy shooting at the peaceful and innocent traders of the SSL. Leader of Solar Spices and Liquors Mr TOAD has been vocal pointing out that the Beast-DEN are being totally unfair. News of a go-fund-me appeal are yet to surface though.

This office is sure that it must have provided the DEN light relief after picking on the equally defenceless Felini. Word is that the DEN faced such an uphill struggle in these recent actions they had to take up Felini inter-breeding to provide some entertainment as the battle reports were rather boring.
 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Return of the LiQuans

A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Who is behind the AFA?

Following the large scale holiday attack by the AFA against the FET the question of who is behind the attacks has been raised once again. What is clear is that the AFA is using ships that were transferred from the GTT to the IMP. The organisation and expertise of the operation also reduces the pool of potential candidates. Few can go from commanding a handful of broadswords to half a thousand warships and significant army logistics without a long stint in one of the more combative affiliations. With the DEN’s allies the HEX in close relations with the FET and no recent history of animosity between the aliens and FET, at least since the departure of former one-eye big-bun Norozov, it would be a bizarre turn of events if they were behind these attacks. Frankly, there’s no point dancing around it. The IMP are clearly behind the AFA. The question is what can anybody do about this move of significant Imperial resources to a black-flag agency?


 
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Fox Effects Fantastic Turnaround

With his feet barely under the table, Xavier Fox has managed to dramatically turn things around at the GTT. With year-on-year sales figures up by 23%, manufacturing up 42% and ship production increased by 36%, the megacorporation is running at full steam with noticeable impact on local economies across the Stellar Empire. Political analysts also note that after a period of retrenchment following the disastrous leadership of Ike Krieger, investment in defence is at a five-year high. After such bullish growth, the trick will be for Mr. Fox to recruit C-level executives fast enough to match his ambitions. It is notable in temperament, the current crop of GTT politicals do not exhibit the monomaniacal xenophobia of their predecessors and have resisted repeated provocations by the DEN to enter a pointless spar before they have re-established superiority against the foolhardy aliens.


 

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Control everything, up to an entire empire
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Player and Moderator driven plotlines
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Over 20 years of content development
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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