“An ‘eclipse phase’ is the period between when a cell is infected by a virus and when the virus appears within the cell and transforms it. During this period, the cell does not appear to be infected, but it is.”
That little quote is taken from the website of what is currently one of my favourite RPG Games, Eclipse Phase (http://http://eclipsephase.com/).
Recently I was pondering what my next Blog Entry should be, I don’t want to fill it with uninteresting crap or get preachy at people, so I think I’m going to take a moment to talk about this game, what I love about it and what we as a group are doing with it.
Part 1 – The Basics
Eclipse Phase is a Sci Fi roleplaying game which sits firmly in the transhumanist sci fi genre, human science is massively advanced in many ways, a person’s mind can be copied and moved from one body to another (allowing shifts between biological and synthetic bodies, called ‘Morphs’ in the games terminology), it can also be copied (allowing people to have multiple instances of themselves existing at the same time) and/or stripped down and turned into a ‘Fork’ of that person’s personality (a limited function copy that can carry out specific tasks).
Nanotechnology exists and while not perfect has allowed most of the solar system to move beyond a limited scarcity based economy and into a reputation based one based on an advanced form of barter.
Extremely limited space travel is available, there are in system craft but they tend to be ungainly and very single purpose, in system shuttles and cargo movers for the most part. Most ‘travel’ though uses a system of farcasting where the person ego (their mind) is transmitted from one location in system to another and then loaded into a body.
Earth has been all but destroyed, a hard take-off singularity event occurred that caused a number of hyper-advanced AI’s called Titans wiped out 90% of humanity in a single short and brutal campaign, it’s the remnants of this conflict that make Earth a wasteland now, radiation, bio & nano weapons and other stranger stuff stalk the graveyard that Earth has become.
Towards the end of this conflict the Titans vanished and no-one knows where they went.
AI still exists, but as AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) rather than the recursively self-improving ‘Seed’ AI that led to the Titans, AGIs grow more slowly and are hardcoded to prevent the kind of hard take-off singularity that caused The Fall.
There are also uplifts, various animals who have been uplifted to a human scale of intelligence; these range from the classic apes and dolphins to giant whales that have been modified to swim the corona of the Sun itself.
There are Pandora Gates that open wormholes and lead to strange places (this is the only known way of travelling beyond the solar system) and sometimes close and open without any reason (they are a bit like weirder and less understood Stargates).
Into all of this expansion and chaos comes a covert group called ‘Firewall’ (which owes a lot to the ideas put forwards in Global Frequency), they are a self-organising group of experts and agents who take responsibility for investigating and counter ‘Existential Threats’.
Part 2 – The System & Character Gen
The game uses a very simple D100 system but is designed to be extremely flexible and accounts for all the various play options, various types of biological and synthetic morphs, uplifts, AGI, etc.
As for the character, there are 7 core stats:
- Cognition (COG) is your aptitude for problem solving, logical analysis, and understanding. It also includes memory and recall.
- Coordination (COO) is your skill at integrating the actions of different parts of your morph to produce smooth, successful movements. It includes manual dexterity, fine motor control, nimbleness, and balance.
- Intuition (INT) is your skill at following your gut instincts and evaluating on the fly. It includes physical awareness, cleverness, and cunning.
- Reflexes (REF) is your skill at acting quickly. This encompasses your reaction time, your gut-level response, and your ability to think fast.
- Savvy (SAV) is your mental adaptability, social intuition, and proficiency for interacting with others. It includes social awareness and manipulation.
- Somatics (SOM) is your skill at pushing your morph to the best of its physical ability, including the fundamental utilization of the morph’s strength, endurance, and sustained positioning and motion.
- Willpower (WIL) is your skill for self-control, your ability to command your own destiny.
And a number of secondary ones calculated from these. The basic system is Stat+Skill roll equal to or under on D100, there are two mechanisms used here, in a standard test the further under the total you roll the better you do (similar to the Degrees of success that the Dark Heresy line uses) and then when you are engaged in an opposed test the idea is to get under you total but roll high.
The secondary stats cover things like your lucidity and mental resilience, this is important because mental trauma plays almost as much, if not more, a role than the physical stats.
These systems are really easy to pick up and because you’re dealing with a D100 based system adding modifiers is very simple.
Interestingly enough you get other modifiers from your Morph (the body you inhabit) but they are treated as equipment bonuses.
The actual skills list is fairly predictable with many of the basic scifi skills you’d expect and only a couple of odd naming choices, for example Fray encompasses unarmed attack and defence. Buying skills is easy, they are 1 character point for 1 skill point up to a skill total of 60 (the aptitude level serves as the skill base) so for example if you have a stat of 10 and want a skill of 30 that will cost you 20 points. To then go over 60 you have to spend 2 cp for each skill point. You can however buy specialisations to boost a specific area of a skill.
There are some nice touches in the EP skill system, you are required, for example, to spend a certain minimum amount of skill point of knowledge and interest skills, this ensures that every character has hobbies, random areas of knowledge and/or multiple languages.
All of your character generation is done from a single pool of points, with that pool you buy your skills, aptitudes (stats), starting morph, additional reputation and other gear. You start with 1000 points, of which 400 must be spent on what are called Active Skills & 300 must be spent on Knowledge Skills, that leaves you with 300 to play with, which doesn’t sound like much but in general is plenty.
Once you’ve got your origin (Human, uplift or AGI), Faction, aptitudes & skills sorted you buy your starting Morph and here you have to make the first of a number of decisions that resonate with the whole EP ethos.
Do you choose Synthetic, Biomorph or Pod (Assembly line bodies created cheaply using a fusion of bio & synth technologies), there are advantages and disadvantages to each. For example Synths are stronger and more resilient, they are also available in a number of different forms and for a variety of functions but they are not good at interaction skills (they are penalised due to poor body language and lack of other queues), Biomorphs on the don’t suffer those penalties but are squishy, even with mods and gene-fixing they are more likely to suffer damage from environmental sources than synths, finally Pods are a halfway house and offer some of the advantages of both side but they are limited in that they are often produced for specific things (she’s your basic pleasure model).
Then you go nuts on the equipment. There are drugs, implants, weapons, armour & tech galore, some systems are only available for biomorphs, some for synthmorphs, but they are generally quite balanced. Same goes for weapons, the various weapons are nicely designed to look good and have different advantages and disadvantages that generally balance them out, so there is no clear ‘Buy this gun or you’re a moron’ situation.
In summation though Eclipse Phase is the single best written and best supported Sci Fi game in existence at the moment, their fan engagement and production schedules are brilliant and the fact that the PDF versions of the books are given away under an open source licence shows that different business models do have the legs to make in the market.
The sheer amount of cool stuff in EP is just beyond belief and the easiest way to demonstrate this is to show you the character generation process. So keep your eyes peeled for my next update where we will generate an EP character.