This review is very much overdue. In fact, I’ve been working on this one for a couple of months now. So let’s get into the second edition of Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios.
The Core Rulebook for Eclipse Phase starts with 10 pages of straight fiction. This is the sort of thing some people might be inclined to skip over, and get to the gaming stuff. Don’t do that. The story, Infamy, is a well written introduction to the futuristic world that Eclipse Phase takes place in. This isn’t some happy-go-lucky utopia, like Blade Runner. This is a dark world where humanity as we know it is gone. Humans have transcended the need for a single body. We’ve integrated with technology to the point of being able to upload and download our entire consciousness from body to body, called “morphs” or “sleeves”. Why spend months or years travelling to another planet, when your mind can travel at the speed on an email, and resleeve into something new on the other side.
Every roleplaying core book has a short blurb about being new to RPGs and their game specifically. Posthuman Studios approached this somewhat differently. If you are straight-up new to playing RPGs, they set up a webpage with all the brand new player stuff. For players and gamemasters (GMs) that are new to the Eclipse Phase, they have a brief section on where the most relevant information is, including page notations. Have I ever mentioned how much I love proper page notations in an RPG? They have also been very upfront about the sociopolitical themes in the game and how their personal views, have shaped those themes. To quote a line about this “If you support bigotry or authoritarianism in any form, Eclipse Phase is not the game for you.”
That basically describes The Rat Hole. I’m in.
From a layout standpoint, the book is great. The entire Starting Out chapter is comprised of consistent two-page layouts, with all the information fitting perfectly in that space. It doesn’t feel rushed, nor does it feel fluffed out to fill pages. Aside from the elegance of that sort of planning, it made a concern that popped up very quick to clarify. I wouldn’t call it a “pet peeve”, but something that I’ve found frustrating in some RPGs is an attempt to be all things for all players by creating multiple rule sets within the rulebook, that often contradict each other rather than build on each other. So when I read “There are three default stories or campaign settings for Eclipse Phase…” it threw out a bunch of flags for me. Thankfully, it didn’t take long before I reevaluated how I read that sentence. What it meant was to define the default types of stories that an Eclipse Phase game is like to tell, and how players can best work with their GM to create a team of characters that will help tell that particular story. It also gives a list of other possibilities beyond that.
This is one of those games that will run better with a balanced team, created together as a group. The character creation process, itself, is reasonably straight forward with a mix of templates and individual customization, making it easy to balance individuality and the group needs. One of the interesting things is that mental “Ego” traits and skills (the things you know and have learned) and physical “Morph” traits (the things your body can do) are very separate. It’s all very Buddhist: You are not your body, you HAVE your body. Part of that means when a character dies, not only can they come back, but their appearance and physical stats may have changed drastically. If they were playing a “synthmorph” they may come back in an identical, artificial, sleeve. Depending on the scenario, they may even come back without a body at all.
In the future, the internet is everywhere. It is so prevalent that it has become less of just a network allowing for communication. To put it more colourfully, it is no longer just a net to catch ideas; it has become the Mesh that binds everything together. The Mesh lets devices communicate. It makes Augmented Reality into an everyday tool instead of just for catching Pokemon. It even allows players to interact without a body, as a digital “infomorph”. Even if you don’t play an infomorph, you may still end up roleplaying as an additional Artificial Intelligence “character”, called a Muse.
There are shorter ways to describe what a Muse is, but that’s no fun. We have all heard of Siri and Alexa. We’ve all heard the jokes about what if they had Gordon Ramsey’s voice. But, what if Gordon Ramsey WAS Siri or Alexa, and he was wired right into your head? That, is a Muse. An artificial intelligence, operated with a thought, that has its own personality. The easiest way to show off that personality is to have another player take on the part of that Muse’s personality during the game.
Most of the mechanics of the game are incredibly simple. Every test is made with a pair of 10-sided dice (d%) by rolling under a target number, including any modifiers. The entire “Game Mechanics” section is all of six pages long. Posthuman Studios have even distilled this down further into free a two-page rules primer. Most of the Core Rulebook is worldbuilding, and rules to cover any possible scenario.
They’ve taken an interesting approach to some very common science fiction situations. Take, for example, deep space travel. Ships are treated like a location, not a vehicle. A Character is unlikely to find themselves in command of a battlecruiser, although if they do find themselves in a space battle, it’s not like in the movies. The physics of a real space battle isn’t like the movies at all. Maneuvering in space isn’t fast or easy, so battles often play out more like a highspeed jousting match with space-guns.
One of the dangers of launching any second edition (or third, or third-point-five…) is that the existing player base probably has a small library of expensive books from the earlier edition(s). Apparently, over 90% of the original Eclipse Phase materials are already compatible with the new edition, and most of what isn’t can easily be converted. These will start to be labelled as “EP1-but-highly-compatible” online. That makes the transition so much easier, given a decade of previous books.
At over 400 pages, the Eclipse Phase Second Edition core rulebook is chalked full of a LOT of information. Thankfully that information is easy to find with a six-page Table of Contents that puts some full indexes to shame. There’s also a pair of stitched in ribbon-bookmarks, to easily mark important sections. Little details, people. Little details.
If you’re looking for a game that can be learned quickly and has a ton of possibilities, and even more if you go backwards, take a look at Eclipse Phase Second Edition.