Reviews and Ramblings
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DORF FORT ELLPEE by CAPSLOCKGUY - 10/19/08
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More Fun To Read Than To Play
Now that "all" of Eclipse Phase is out and it's basically a "done" game until an eventual second edition or the rumoured FATE conversion happens, it might be time to look through it and see what it got right, what it got wrong, and which things they go so wrong we should just outright mock them for it.A Brief Timeline
The original EP corebook came out in 2009 accompanied by considerable hype and containing basically everything you needed to play the game, but being at kind of a dearth for information about a lot of the actual gameworld(which can, I suppose, be excused, considering that said gameworld covered nine planets, countless off-planet habitats, asteroids, comets and exoplanets).
2010 provided Sunwards(near-Sol to Mars) and Gatecrashing(away-from-Sol locations accessible via the Pandora Gates) and both were essentially necessary to actually use any of those elements. Sunwards finally gave the Planetary Consortium, LLA and Morningstar Constellation some actual details and gave some canonical habs to work with. Prior to Gatecrashing, there were literally no mechanics or any sort of real information beyond a couple of vague paragraphs with regards to the Pandora Gates, it also had a lot of useful hard-scifi stuff for GM's who wanted to be detailed when making their own alien planets.
Panopticon in 2011 was the book where they made up for largely forgetting Uplifts and realizing that they'd made a relatively undetailed review of hacking and computer security in the core book, despite having a world where even half the population's brains
could be hacked.
2012's Rimwards expounded on the Sol system from Jupiter outwards, again sorely needed considering the very, very vague sketch we'd been given of things in the core book.
Finally in 2013 we got what's looking to be the last Eclipse Phase book until the system gets an overhaul/conversion: Transhuman. It's the only book that's purely mechanics and zero fluff, containing a revised character generation system that does a lot to make things more interesting.
Oh and there's also Glory. Glory is going to get its own subheading.An Overview of Eclipse Phase
The core conceit of Eclipse Phase is that some Unspecified Period into the future, things are going decently for humanity. We're expanding into the solar system and have experimented with Seed AI's(self-improving AI's) named the TITANs. Predictably, considering the ominous name and the utter stupidity inherent in permitting an intellect-singularity, the TITANs go insane and decide to start massively fucking humanity over. Earth rapidly becomes uninhabitable, billions are killed, displaced or forcibly have their minds uploaded into TITAN memory banks.
Earth is sealed off by the off-planet authorities, leaving the surviving TITANs either trapped on Earth or having escaped out of the system through the Pandora Gates, being newly-discovered alien artifacts connecting to vast networks of Pandora Gates in other solar systems, permitting instantaneous travel between them. The TITANs have at this point also basically evolved into horrifying things utilizing femtotech and nanoplagues, real Lovecraftian horror stuff. Humanity eventually stabilizes the situation, and this is where the players are introduced. The game intends for them to be agents of Firewall, a secret organization dedicated to preventing humanity fucking itself over by fucking with seed AI's, TITANs/remnant TITAN technology or alien technology in the future.
Oh yeah, there are aliens. We'll get into that later.
The main "novel" mechanics for EP are that minds can be uploaded and transferred, meaning that players can swap bodies. It also adds a "horror" element that minds can be stolen, modified and etc. But as most people know by now, "horror" RPG's are easier said than done.What They Got Right
All of the in-setting fiction, from snippets to exposition to start-of-chapter/start-of-book storytelling is excellently written. It really does feel like they got people with writing experience doing this, not just random grogs who wanted to write about their goddamn waifu characters. It also feels like, by and large, thought was actually put into how all of the new technologies and concepts would change people's attitudes and lives. The art also deserves praise, as it's well-done, creepy and doesn't just gank some pre-existing aesthetic, but seems very dedicated to creating one of its own.
Everything about the game speaks of creators who really, really wanted to do something good, who really had soul, and some degree of talent, and invested both into Eclipse Phase.What They Fucked Up
Sadly, just WANTING to do things right isn't a magical potion. Once past the writing(which does have its issues at times), the game starts to show some strain.
The core mechanic, 1d100-roll-under, is functional enough, but considering the low cap for skills and the lack of any modifiers like perks or feats, characters and monsters tend to end up very similar and there's very little room for describing a truly exceptional individual or dangerous enemy. Considering the hugely generous point pool for chargen, it's very likely that most characters will never see any growth after being created.
Equipment-wise and morph-wise(morphs being the setting's words for the bodies that can be swapped between), there are also a very few, very obviously superior choices that aren't even exceptionally expensive to make them something to aim for in the long run. You can start out with a "maxed" loadout during chargen except for one or two very specialized morphs. In fact, morphs are a specific issue in and of themselves. They're split into three groups: Bio(entirely organic), Pod(heavily mixed cybernetic and biological) and Synth(entirely robotic). Biomorphs and Synths each have their strengths and weaknesses, as well as some mods that the other group cannot use. Pods, on the other hand, have nothing unique or exceptional except for a tendency towards(very shit) natural weapons and low cost, they can't use any of the group-exclusive mods, and have no exclusive mods of their own.
They're really only useful to use if your GM regularly and viciously one-shots party members and they need cheap body replacements, because you may as well otherwise just make a hyperstrong, 'roided out, modded-to-the-max bio or synthmorph that he can't
kill without cheap one-shots.
As mentioned, equipment-wise it's really bad. Literally only ballistic weapons are worth using, a bit of mods and special ammo and they're by far the superior choice for ANY situation. Armors have different kinetic/energy resistance values, but the difference is never huge enough to justify energy weapons over ballistic, and the Spray/Explosive weapons have even less going for them. Melee weapons are really only competitive if you focus EVERYTHING about your character on maxing their damage and then wear power armor to boost it further.
The issue is that the mentality appears to have been that players have a lot of sub-standard morph/equipment choices they might have to resort to in pressed situations, but since they can start from chargen with the best choices, it really requires the GM to take away a lot of their toys immediately after chargen, which is a dickasstastic goddamn move from any GM. Either don't give them the toys or don't just strip them away arbitrarily.
And starting off with all the best stuff and letting PC's make themselves superhard to kill and carrying a bunch of stuff they do not want to sacrifice also kind of sabotages resleeving(getting put into a new body) as a mechanic, because why would they ever swap unless it was for disguise purposes, upgrading(which there's little left to do) or after being killed(which they're unlikely to be)?
Another useless thing they added is Psi. One nanotech virus unleashed by the TITANs rewires your brain towards you being psychic, but without turning you into a monstrous, Lovecraftian terror. Sounds neat, right? Except Psi is basically entirely useless. It has one or two useful powers out of twenty or so, no combat applications, and generally sucks except as a plot hook. There are SOME really awesome, powerful psi sleights... but they're restricted for use by totally corrupted TITAN servants/monstrosities, not for PC's.
Despite really lauding the writing earlier, they also made some slipups there. The core book mentions an alien species, the Factors, that makes contact with humanity not too long after the TITAN issue... and then none of the other books ever really bring them up. They're not encountered on the other side of any Pandora gates and somehow they just seem to not affect humanity at all. They're just there, slightly odd, don't even switch anything up or introduce any cool new technologies. Similarly, two large groups, one antagonist to Firewall, the other neutral(Project Ozma and Oversight, respectively) get brief mentions in the corebook and then, again, never really get elaborated on all that much.
Ozma is just nebulously a bunch of dickheads with no real motivation for it that's ever elaborated on, Oversight(essentially the Planetary Consortium's police force/FBI/CIA) could be an immensely handy ally or potential enemy depending on how players handle situations... but there's nothing to really help the GM utilize them for it.
There are also some hilariously blatant writer biases in the setting. Religion tends to be disparaged unless it's Eastern, and adherents tend to be referred to as "clinging on" to their antiquated beliefs. The main religious force in the Sol system is the Jovians, who are entirely antagonistic and whose churches are literally just religious Wal-Marts, entirely corrupt and commercialized. Anything reminiscent of current social models or economic systems also tend to be ruthlessly portrayed as evil/sinister and part of mankind's eventual doom.
By comparison, anything related to Anarchy, Communism, Socialism and rebelling against THE MAN tends to be shown in a positive light. Even when it's completely absurd hedonism and insanity that results, it tends to have a less vicious vocabulary directed against it. And for the record, I'm actually a proponent of Communism and Socialism and I still
think they're aggressive and ham-handed about the whole thing.
Oh and then there's Glory. Fucking GLORY.Glory, Glory HallelujaaaaaaaarghA detailed review of Glory by yours truly
I reviewed Glory once, but here's the Cliff's Notes: It's a fucking hentai adventure about rapist fuck-aliens planning to spread boner-alien spores all across the solar system and infect everyone with their dongthirst. And it's official. It's not fanmade. It's shit on every level and it's utterly depressing that it was allowed to become a thing. It's an adventure that needs to point out that the exsurgent virus carried by the Glory exsurgents can be spread by sexual contact. Seriously.
And to make things worse it's even inconsistent and doesn't even manage to get its writing and rules working together. Fuck Glory.
Fuck it sideways.A Small Saving Grace: Transhuman
The last released book, Transhuman, did a lot to make the game more playable, more than could be expected for a book that really only exists to market an alternate form of chargen. Original EP chargen was basically "assign points, buy skills, buy gear, go nuts." Transhuman, on the other hand, does "lifepath" chargen, two variants. One where you pick the life path yourself, from start to end, following the trail, and one where you randomly roll your route at each stage.
Either version ends up with less optimized, equipped and powerful characters than the original EP chargen, however, which suddenly means characters have a lot more to strive for, neither they nor the things they fight need to be bumping against the skill ceiling right off the bat to stay "competitive," they might have to improvise with regards to morphs, mods and equipment rather than all starting off with machine guns/sniper rifles packing Shredder ammo.
After having had my hands on Transhuman, I would really never recommend playing the game without it, and more than any other of the expansions, it should have been part of the core book.The Final Verdict
Save yourself the headache and avoid Eclipse Phase until it gets a new edition/FATE sidegrade. Currently it suffers a good bit from forcing you to browse through supplements for specific morphs and pieces of gear/upgrades rather than having one unified list, and even Transhuman doesn't help out the issues with equipment balance, that a lot of it just... feels very similar. None of it really has any distinct properties that make it separate. Using a rocket launcher instead of an assault rifle doesn't change much except for descriptions.
The FATE edition, if it ever hits, sounds like it may have a lot of potential for making the game worthwhile, though.