Monday, July 2, 2012

Eclipse Phase

Eclipse Phase describes its self as a "roleplaying game of post-apocalyptic transhuman conspiracy and horror.

The central element of Eclipse Phase is exploring Transhumanism by jumping in with both feet first. Your characters in EP track their EGO and MORPH separately. The EGO is transcendent and effectively immortal, while the MORPH is (sometimes literally) a vehicle for the EGO. If your Morph dies, your EGO can be downloaded from backup into a new Morph. Your EGO can even be transmitted across vast distances to be 'sleeved' into a temporary Morph for the duration of your stay. The concept of effective immortality and the ability for the EGO to switch bodies as required is fascinating. It takes some of the edge off playing characters who are utterly committed to causes; sure you may die, but with proper backups, you effectively live on. It both blurs and expands upon physical identity characteristics. An experienced character can say: "I've been male, female, even a six ton transgenic crustacean modified to survives the depths of Europa's seas."

EP is a also a very social setting. The absolute explosion of private habitats across our solar system and beyond, combined with the death of the old world cultures, have given rise near infinite range of social groups that can be explored. These newer cultures are and societies struggle in the post-apocalypse setting for survival, dominance and ideology. Reputation across social networks is the new credit rating; often more important than cash money in a semi post-scarcity setting.

When EP talks about horror, it doesn't mean Friday the 13th kind of splatterfest. EP's concept of horror is more like the movies Alien and Prometheus and the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft. Horror in the sense that characters will be exposed to intelligences utterly alien and the sheer scope of humanities' insignificance in the universe. This can be a tough element to pull off, but EP gives the GM lots of tools to work with this element.

Now I normally HATE percentile game systems. Hate, hate, hate with a burning loathing. There's something about the implied limitation of having your characters abilities and statistics measured in percentiles, and then rolling percentile dice to determine success/failure that annoys me on a instinctive level. however, Eclipse Phase works for me. I think it's due to the way that character EGO and choice of Morph interact that makes just about any other game mechanic ineffective at properly portraying this dynamic. 

On the downside, every time you switch Morphs, you have to re-factor your character's effective statistics, which can be a little complicated to keep track of. EP is a game that benefits from computerized gaming and character sheets almost have to be spreadsheets in order to handle the changes well.

There's also the potential for bad burnout in a setting where no matter how hard your characters and players try, sometimes it doesn't matter one bit. The universe is too vast, complicated and we're just too small and powerless to stop the godlike forces set in motion against us.

What does Eclipse Phase teach us?

  • Bold settings attract bold ideas and potentials for roleplaying
  • Transhumanism is fascinating.
  • The right game mechanics enforce the desired feel for the game.
  • You have to find the right balance between existential horror and empowerment for characters in a setting like this. it takes the right kind of players to not only get into playing EP, but to thrive there as well.

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