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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 The idea of a bridge with chairs and consoles is so outdated as to be laughable.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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News
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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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RAGNAROK BECKONS

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

 
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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

 
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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklanmania

Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

 
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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

 
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe from our new home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***
  • DEN assault FEL base and get wiped out
  • CIA Trade fleet caught and destroyed by the DEN
  • Krell denounce worship of the True One

  •  
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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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    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