Eclipse Phase Review

Copyright Aaron Smalley © 2014

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"... a post-apocalyptic game of transhuman conspiracy and horror."

In my wanderings around the Exhibitor Hall at GenCon this year one booth I walked past caught my attention, so I turned back around and took a closer look. It was the Posthuman Studios booth, which had some very interesting sci-fi artwork on the covers of several books. The game in question is Eclipse Phase, which won the 2010 Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Game, 2010 Gold ENnie for Best Writing, and two 2010 Silver ENnies for Best Cover Art and Product of the Year. Oddly enough I had never heard of it nor seen it before wandering past their booth this year. After spending about 20 minutes talking with a couple of the people behind the counter there about the system, while they gave me the usual spiel and a rundown on the books and what each one covered, I purchased the Core Rulebook. I spent much of the following several weeks reading through the roughly 400 page hardcover book with amazing artwork and layout.

It is described as “a post-apocalyptic game of transhuman conspiracy and horror.” They also have an interesting slogan on the back of the core book and on their web site:

Your mind is software. Program it.
Your body is a shell. Change it.
Death is a disease. Cure it.
Extinction is approaching. Fight it.

It uses a d% action resolution system where you try to roll below your skill/attribute or some other value to succeed, which admittedly to me just doesn't feel right. In fact the higher you roll, while remaining below the target value, the better, which just feels counter-intuitive to me. Doubles result in critical successes or failures (low doubles (any double on the two percentile dice) that is below your target value for success is a critical success, whereas any double-high (above your target value) is a critical failure).

As such I don't care much for the mechanics of their action resolution system and especially how it equates into their combat system (which feels somewhat contrived to me). Except for one interesting concept that they use, where your “Ego” (your mental self) is separate from your body (your “Morph”), which allows you to move from one morph to another, or to be brought back to life from a recovered “cortical stack” (if it survives whatever trauma killed your body or whatever physical form you happened to be in when “death” occurred) or from a “backup” of your mind and placed into a new body. However, the setting and background information is incredible.

It is based roughly 130 years in the future (they don't actually give you a date, but from reading it becomes apparent that it is roughly that far into the future), 10 years after the “Fall” which was about a year of cataclysmic wars and events that decimate the earth and most of humanity. According to the back-story, the human population of our solar system had reached about 8 billion, with a few million having been transplanted to lunar and Mars bases as well as space stations and the likes with a few remote settlements in the asteroid belt and floating in the upper atmosphere of Venus and Saturn as well as on the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and other remote locations around the solar system before the “Fall”. However after the fall, Earth is rumored to be an irradiated and ecological nightmare with about 6% of the pre-fall human population having survived. Where a person's mind can be uploaded and “farcast” across the system to a new “morph” (body: biological, biological/cybernetic, robotic, or even an “infomorph” (existing only within a computer network, until “sleaved” into a new body)). It includes many of the interesting technologies and concepts of great books and movies such as Niven's Ring World series, or the later Foundation Series books authored by Benford, Bear and Brin to round out Isaac Asimov's amazing series, Blade Runner, Stargate (in all its various forms), or Total Recall (the more recent and better version of the movie). It even has some interesting aspects covered within it that are reminiscent of some of the ideas put forth in my all-time favorite MMO Eve-Online as well as Anarchy Online (another one of the few good MMO's in my opinion). There is even an entire chapter dedicated to “Mind Hacks” and another on “The Mesh” (the solar system spanning futuristic version of our internet in which something the size of a pocket watch has the current day computing power of a massive server farm).

I don't want to give too much away as since the Conspiracy portion of the description plays such a major part in this fascinating background, I don't want to reveal the many twisted secrets that are available for GM's to leave bread crumb trails of hints and clues for the players to try to figure out.

I will likely be picking up a few more books for the Eclipse Phase system for the setting information and can see myself eventually running a sci-fi game combining their attributes and skill system into the Spacemaster combat and action resolution system (since both are d% based, the potential for conversion is very simple).

I have to give this a rating of 7 out of 10 for the system mechanics (but with easy integration to Spacemaster that would bring it up to a 9 out of 10) and a 10 out of 10 for the setting, as I am absolutely fascinated by the hard-science details, research and thought that has gone into the setting.

I hope to someday do a write up covering how to combine the Eclipse Phase system with the mechanics of the SpaceMaster system to create a truly great and hard-sci-fi RPG masterpiece.