Eclipse Phase

I’ve been reading through Eclipse Phase the past few days. I really like the setting and the premise and the way the game handles transhumanism. Very accessible, feels an awful lot like Morgan’s Altered Carbon stuff as well as Reynolds’ Revelation Space work. 

The books are free (they’re distributed by the author at the link). They are dense with text. So so much text.

Unfortunately, the game system itself is utterly unremarkable: percentile roll against whatever the GM says, succeed or fail. That’s it. It’s like…placeholder text. The one killer idea that’s also the core conceit of the game is that your mind/identity is a digital asset that can be fitted into a “morph,” something designed to hold your mind. Might be a grown body, or a robot, or a digital entity designed to operate on the “Mesh,” their ultrafuture internet thingy.

I almost wish he’d just left procedures out, you know? The whole series is like this. The fictional stuff, the premise, the extrapolations — awesome. Seriously. If you like transhumanism in the download-into-any-body mode, this is the setting for you. But what’s up with the game system? It’s not just trad, it’s lazy trad that relies entirely on the GM to do whatever the GM will do.

Happily, I think, there are a zillion hacks available. I mean, apparently, you can play EP as a Fiasco scenario (although I’ve seen Fiasco bent into some very strange shapes, so I’m not sold this is a good match). There’s a biiiig Fate adaptation, which I think is probably worth looking at. Someone did a Cortex Plus/MHR hack, which honestly looks kind of iffy but, man…maybe? I think Cortex Plus could be a really nice platform for this game.

The fussy technical detail of the game makes it daunting to hack, either into another format (like some flavor of Cortex Plus, god so many traits to write), or just to strip out the details. That may be me. It always feels to me like those details are important for some players and some premises — if gearing up correctly is important to succeeding at a mission, then just saying “I’ve got the right gear, let’s get on with it” is kind of unsatisfying.

So who’s playing this? What are you using? Thematically and fictionally it’s definitely something that interests me. But lordy the system is just killing me.

Eclipse Phase PDFs

0 thoughts on “Eclipse Phase

  1. I had much the same reaction. Cool setting, really uninspired system. I feel instinctively like Cortex Plus might be a really good fit for it, but I hadn’t seen that hack. Like, you would have certain traits that come with your “mind” and others that come with your “morph”/sleeve, and the differences between them would manifest as complication d4s.

  2. I never played (or read) Eclipse Phase, but my usual answer when people like a setting but want to change the system is “use The Pool”, it’s the easiest way, you don’t have to write or change anything.

  3. Agreed with the super fun setting. Altered Carbon and Revelation Space are also my touchstones for this. I want to play it, but can’t find the heart to devour everything, much less run it in a trad fashion. Sounds like the Fate version might be cool, but I ‘m not a fan of Fate. Sci-fi settings and modern settings almost demand heavy interaction with the gear(guns, vehicles, computers). Or at least they do in my mind. If you abstract that too much, then it’s not as interesting to me.

  4. I spent some time talking to the designers/play testers at GenCon a few years ago and they were cool, down-to-earth people with lots of enthusiasm (obviously) for the game. The art and the ideas definitely drew me in (someone at the booth mentioned the idea of a digital clone placed into the body of a space octopus? yes please!) and their enthusiasm got me to pick up the book and browse through it, but then I had the same revelation: the system did nothing for me. I felt awful because they sold me on the dressing, but the salad was full of veggies I wouldn’t eat if they were deep fried and coated in powered sugar. I slowly put down the book and thanked them for their time.

    But if there are hacks/mods out there that keep the setting and ideas and move them into more favorable system, I’d give it another chance. So…long story short…/sub

  5. I feel like, “The rules are meh, the GM does whatever” is a feature, not a bug, to the core fanbase.

    Aside: I have most all of the EP stuff (which I paid for!) but have yet to read much of it — just like my pile of Transhuman Space books (also a very cool setting).

  6. I think I own all the .pdfs of the books, but have yet to read through all of them. Beautiful books. Great setting. Limited fan-base in my area for sci-fi rpgs.

    I like the fact that the rules are non-exciting. It allows me to drive the story of the game and reflexively know the system without looking up all the rules. I think this also allows you to port the game to whatever system you want with minor work. 

    When porting to a new system, I think if you have a way to represent the different types of influence, a way to cover the various types of damage (mental, physical, etc.), and a way to track what the morphs add to a base character, you should be fine. I think all of these things could be done with various systems, just pick one you like, whether it be 5th ed., Cortex, Unisystem, or whatever they are calling WoD these days.

    I’ve run one-shots of the game and enjoyed each one. I cut out some of the derived stats when I run the one-shots. While I think they are great ideas for a campaign (as you slowly go crazy), unless they are needed for one-shots, I cut them out. I may call out where we would normally use a specific stat I cut out to show an example in play, but otherwise, it’s too much for the player to absorb.

  7. I’ve only played it once at GenCon.  I enjoyed the session a lot.  My pre-gen character had a morph which was like a swarm of nanobots, which was quite fun, and the game seemed to handle the implications of the various weird morphs people had fairly well.

    System-wise, it definitely felt like a game written in 1996, not 2009.  Its not that the system was bad, it was just dull. Serviceable.

    I found the rulebook impenetrable, though.  There are what, like 20 pages of fiction and then 80 pages of setting description before you read the first bit of text about how to actually play? I may be exaggerating, but that sort of thing is a big turn off for me.

  8. I play a game every year at GenCon, because there are fantastic one-shot scenarios for this game (e.g.: you are all copies of one person in different bodies…). I was doing my own Eclipse Phase game in Fate Accelerated before the conversion came out. Hope to try that out with some folks.

  9. I take back part of what I said, I just checked the current PDF and the organization is not what I remember. My exaggeration was too exaggerated. This is more about Hans’s attention deficits than their writing.

  10. Yeah, other than the easily-skippable game fiction, the books themselves seem easy enough to navigate. Lots of material. Lots of material. Getting it all into my head and thinking through implications would be more of a challenge, I think.

  11. I really enjoyed Eclipse Phase the couple of times I’ve played it at conventions. The system didn’t do anything for me, but didn’t take away from my enjoyment, and did the job. Looking at the character sheets, I think the systen might get in the way if I wasn’t using pre-gens or was GMing.

    I quite like Fate for SF (and have run some really good Transhuman Space with my own hack), but I feel something built for it could do better. Not that this helps anyone who’s not a fan of Fate either.

    I really want a nice “modern” system for hard “solar system” SF, with details in the right places, and bolt ons for some of the top notch gear, without dwelling on it for whatever is typical in the setting. Something built ground up to suit a cool setting. But I haven’t found anything that does it perfectly for me (unlike fantasy or horror where I have things that are almost perfect for me and particular genres of those).

  12. Well, exploring the space (and connections!) between genre and theme is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s also a bottomless rabbit hole and an invitation to start an angry definition fight!

  13. I’ve read the main book, in bits and chunks skipping around, and thought it sounded like a fun setting. 

    I never could actually do anything with it though. Partly because while the setting was cool it got me in a “this is a neat idea” way and less in a “play with this idea” way. 

    And what you, and everyone else, said about system. 

    I’ve always felt this had a lot of magic in it, I just lacked the patience to get to it.

  14. Craig Hatler​ oh yes, I have the system-free version of Strange Stars, and also like it.

    My call on this is that to produce a good and inspiring system-free setting is harder than writing one with a system. There’s no scaffolding. So I’m not sure I want to see too many more such; even more than other things, most of that sort of thing is going to be awful.

  15. Paul Mitchener I like Strange Stars too, and I’m glad you like it. 🙂

    I’m not sure whether or not it would be easier or harder to write a system-free setting. I mean, what’s the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, but a book of NPCs, locations and history that has D&D stats? The Grand History of the Realms is in a sense a system-free setting book, though it’s more a roll of years and doesn’t dig into people and places to the degree that the campaign setting books do.

    I respectfully disagree about their degree of awfulness.

    I’ll also add, though it’s not directly in response to you Paul, that I also don’t believe that people who write system-free settings are “crappy writers who couldn’t write a game/novel”. That’s just some arrogant bullshit right there, but that’s just my opinion.

  16. System is setting. Setting is system.

    I dunno if that means rules-free setting books are a good idea or not, but I have to wonder whether a setting product created with no rule system in mind is the creator essentially saying, “I have absolutely no idea what you would do with this in an RPG context.”

    (A kinder reading of that might be: “I think you could do a lot of different things with this setting, so I am not going to pin it down for you.”)

    And, admittedly, this is also what I think when I see RPGs that, even when they Kickstart, offer to produce rulebooks for different systems; Savage Worlds and Fate seem to be the most common combo. I mean, those two games are polar opposites, which I think kinda screams, “We have no clue what the purpose of this setting is.”

    I’m probably being uncharitable, though. There have been system-less products, like Brad Murray’s Deluge, that I thought were pretty damn cool.

    As for EP, I feel like both its native system and the Fate conversion are both “lemme just revel in the genre, okay” systems — albeit one is sorta passive and one is sorta active in approach — and so that doesn’t bug me, either.

  17. Paul Beakley Maybe! I guess I’d argue that some are more about reveling than others. E.g., I can see a GURPS player prioritizing the tweaking over the genre. “How do I accurately simulate a giant, telekinetic beetle?”

    (This is also why I think Fate attracted a lot of people who’d normally play something like GURPS, because it does mostly the same thing, but lets them bypass the tweaking and get right to the genre.)

  18. I think I recall several companies producing system free supplements back in the late 1990s/early 2000s. I know of at least one system free supplement that did so poorly, it stopped an entire line of splat*books that were to follow it. 

    I like the idea of system free books, I just don’t know how feasible they are from an economics standpoint. Also, does it matter who the target audience is? Would it work as OSR material? What about Cortex or even FATE?

  19. It seems like there are a lot of OSR products that are essentially system-free, though it’s with an assumption that you are going to use some sort of dungeon-crawly game with them, they just don’t care which.

  20. Mark Delsing You and I might look at a Kickstarter with a brand new system and think “oooh, cool, look how thoroughly the system and setting are integrated!” but there are a lot of people in the world who would look at the same Kickstarter and think “looks cool, but I wish it used Savage Worlds/Fate/whatever.”

    I’m not trying to trivialize the importance of system.  I agree with your sentiment.  But many roleplayers are just looking for something that does skills/abilities plus a dice mechanic, and then get out of the way and lets get on with things.  To them, familiarity is far more important than integration between mechanics and setting/theme.

  21. If you already know how you’re going to play (right or wrong, good or bad) then having a system that tells you how to play may not be what you want.

    These days I sometimes know how I’m going to play and sometimes don’t. And most of the time, all things being equal, I want someone else to do the heavy lifting for me. So designers, fill your damn boots.

    But still and all, if you can give me a setting that fills  me full of cool visions and ideas, you may tempt me into doing the lifting myself.

  22. Oh, which reminds me of something that… I think it was S John Ross, said about setting design for RPGs. It was like… badly paraphrased, when you write a novel you make a question then answer it. When you write a setting you ask a question in a way that makes other people want to answer it, but doesn’t demand one answer.

    Notably, one of his settings is one that gets brought up a lot in terms of good systemless settings. (Like, even in this thread.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *