Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eclipse Phase: A Short Review

I was asked to compose my thought regarding Eclipse Phase, and as I take requests. Let me do so, without much wait.

Note that my thoughts are based on reading the book a few times, and a half-assed one shot run by a GM who meant well, but didn't know the system.

And Eclipse Phase is not a system that is kind to people who don't know the game. Key items: It is percentile based, your characters are built off 1000 points, and you have nearly endless variety in the bodies you can sleeve your mind into. In case that seems like a totally alien and weird concept, I suggest the wikipedia article about it.

There is no way to model that sort of wide flexibility with actual mechanical differentiation without an overly complex system. The question is, of course, where does the complexity come in? It appears the complexity comes in when you create your character and change bodies. Otherwise the system is fairly easy - blackjack d100 (i.e., roll as close as you can to your adjusted skill without going over, doubles (00, 11, 22, 33...) are critical, beating an opposed roll by 30+ points is an exception success). That's basically it, there's remembering what your equipment does, but that can be easily cheat sheet away.

Except combat. Combat is crunchy as all hell, and what's worse, is the damage system is non-intuitive. You have Durability which is your total hit points, but your Wound Threshold is when you take penalties. As numbers on a sheet this is incredibly annoying, and would have been better served with boxes, ala White Wolf. How does it work?

One character has Durability 40, Wound Threshold 10; another has Durability 40; Wound Threshold 8. If they both take 8 points of damage, the second character is at a -10 to all actions, the first character is fine; if they both take 20 points of damage, both characters are at -20 (10/20; 8/16); and at 40 both are down and out. The problem with graphically representing this is that the first character will need 4 lines (No penalty/-10/-20/-30); while the second character would need five lines for the additional -40 penalty. If I was playing I'd just make a damage tracking side sheet.

But that just adds to the complexity.

Does Eclipse Phase do what it intends to do? Yes. It provides the verisimilitude of what I'd consider a Transhuman Horror universe to look like. Unfortunately, there's no clean smooth way to do this except by using a lot of numbers, and a lot of crunching. That means that for many of the people I game with, despite the numbers being primarily frontloaded, it is still going to be an uphill battle.

But do I want to play or run a game? Yes, to the first, and probably to the second. The latter will just require finding players who found older editions of Shadowrun not that crunchy.

Good: Flexibility, Theme, Mechanics
Bad: Non-intuitive calculations in combat.
Recommendation: Assuming a group that is okay with the buy-in to character creation and the math of combat, yes. As the system is available for free on PDF under the CCL, there's no reason to at least read it over. I did and bought the hard cover because of it.


  1. The system sounds like "Unknown Armies" with crunchier combat. This could be interesting.

    Mostly, I think my question is more, "What do characters do in 'Eclipse Phase'?" Though that probably just further cements the idea that I should acquire the book and read it. Maybe I'll actually get around to reading "Transhuman Space" to pregame.

  2. That's easy - there's a default play style where you play agents of a cell of a secret organization (called Firewall) that protects what remains of humanity from existential threats - both of the very old and very new. - Very call of cthulhu - but where death is just a momentary pause.

    Then there's gatecrashing - which is more like a game of Stargate SG-1, plunge through a wormhole gate into another universe and let's see what you find. Which instead of a guarantee of an earthlike planet, it could be a planet of methane gas which kills all the biomorph characters instantaneously; or a planet which has a strange organism that devours metal but leaves natural items, like flesh alone.

    Those are just two of the default options.

  3. Ooooookay. See, when it came to all the futurist and transhumanist games, everyone just presents the setting. And from the sound of it, they're really neat settings, but the presentation always just sounded a little like people living their lives IN THE FUTURE! Which could be an interesting game, but never really yielded itself to the conflict that drives a typical roleplaying/storytelling game.

  4. The authors saw some of the problems that games like Transhuman Space had of "So what do we do?" And while almost everything is possible, they've got about two pages of stuff from the default secret defenders of humanity from dark threats, to standard crime and socio-political intrigue games. Apparently as the expansions come out they are starting to help expand these alternates "So what do we do with the game" but I'm still a fan of the flexible core default and want to play the hell out of that first.

  5. I'm not sure I see a reason to play this and not my Cyberpunk2020/Traveller hybrid. The idea is interesting, but I become less and less convinced that I need different systems to do everything and just need a small handful that work well and can be adapted.


  6. Cause not everyone has a Traveller/Cyperpunk hybrid sitting in their back pocket thanks to 20+ years gaming - or wants to go through the mental gymnastics of merging systems to get them to do what you want - which is obviously, from what I've seen, something you enjoy doing.

    I do too, to a degree, but I've stopped enjoying hacking a system to make it do what I want - if I'm going to do that to a system, I'm going to build it from the ground up. To use an analogy, at this point I'm either going to buy a house that is good enough "as is" or I'm going to have one custom built to my specifications, but I'm not going to go "This house has good bones" and then gut and remodel an existing house.

    And frankly, Transhumanism is the outgrowth of cyberpunk mentality - much like in music the goth scene is the outgrowth of punk scene. There are thematic differences between the two that Eclipse Phase supports versus Cyberpunk (not sure what you are bringing in from Traveler, let alone which era of Traveler, so I can't speak to that.)

  7. Bah! You and your logic!

    I have to say that my enthusiasm for tweaking games has kind of faded. The current stuff with my AD&D game is more about recreating the house rules from my old game in a recognizable format than inventing anything new.

    I like *world-building* and I am still kind of rediscovering that joy after a few years of slowly strangling it accidently.

    There's also the energy sink of "tweak the system that everyone knows" vs. "learn a new system and teach it to the players" - at this point I'm more likely to be more inclined towards the former (also due to limited budgets for everyone as well).

    I will also say that I tend to find the CP2020 system one of the more robust out there - so tweaking it is pretty quick and easy for me. Traveller is LBB and MT for the most part, though I own large portions of other engines as well.

    I do like the Transhumanism aspect and have even played with it in my games already which probably helps - that is certainly where 203X went (which was a horrible, horrible game) but the roots were already there with Full-Conversion Borgs and the Soulkiller/Phoenix Programs.