Eclipse Phase – 2nd Ed.
In a distant future, your body is a machine. Change it at will. Human minds are almost no different from the AIs that surround us. But will you fight to protect a dying humanity?
|Authors/Artists:||Lars Blumenstein, Robert Boyle, Brian Cross, Jack Graham et al|
|Genre:||Science-Fiction, Survival Horror|
|Type of game:||Tabletop RPG|
Concepts: Eclipse Phase is a horror sci-fi game which is strongly rooted in futurist and transhumanist philosophies, now into its much-awaited second edition. Released at GenCon in 2019, the update to this game strives to streamline the mechanics of a game which launched with extremely lofty ambitions.
Set in a distant future in which humanity has fled the Earth following a mysterious event known as The Fall, the last scraps of the human race have embraced synthetic and mechanical bodies and digital mind-links in order to continue the fight for their own survival against forces from without and within. In Eclipse Phase, you play as one of the last survivors of the human race – or at least, what is left of them. Able to upload your mind’s data between different bodies, your memories and perception is all that remains of what you once were. But thankfully you’re not going to eke out your existence in the mines of Mars, working for a vast mega-corp in order to earn only enough money to be able to afford to pay for the rent on your cybernetic body – no, you’re enlisted in Firewall! A covert operations organization that will do anything to protect humanity – at any costs.
Writing: As I’m sure goes without saying from that introduction, Eclipse Phase is a very setting-heavy game. It relies heavily on an understanding of technology and explores humanity’s relationship with the machine, the synthetic, and the nature of what it even means to be human at all – after all, not all of the playable characters were born as human. That’s extremely liberating, even moreso when you realize that this is a setting which lines such as skin colour or physical gender are as fluid as choosing which body to equip for your next mission.
The lines that do exist in the universe, though, are far more biting in how deeply they cut. Humanity is divided by wealth and luxuries – while the universe enjoys post-scarcity economy, many millions are indebted to vast corporations which create their own laws and regulate their own systems. And, naturally, humanity continues to be divided along political lines, with many factions striving for personal liberties whilst others clash with doctrines of faith or struggle under the thumb of authoritarianism and ‘racial purity’ fascism.
In short, this is a setting which is very intricately constructed with a vast amount of thought put into every exhaustive detail. The book is filled with short fiction pieces which help immensely to bring these ideas and concepts, themes and groups into a sharp relief. The rulebook is a joy to read.
Mechanics: Eclipse Phase uses a modified percentile dice system similar to that which has been historically employed in Call of Cthulhu, which is very appropriate given this game’s roots as an investigative horror game. Even to this day there are strong narrative roots with this system, with a typical Eclipse Phase game often involving themes of unraveling mysteries, clashing against unknown forces and placing the brunt of your sanity on the frontline.
Most of the gameplay will involve challenges that task the player with rolling under their respective scores, and this has served the game well throughout its first edition – there is little need to revisit this as it is a wheel that already functions without issue. One of the second edition’s main selling points, instead, was that it sought to streamline aspects of the game’s mechanics that were too hefty for ease of play in its first iteration – namely character creation and the process of ‘resleeving’ from one body to another. Both of these are now fluid and smooth mechanical procedures which can be accomplished in a fraction of the time that they once did.
And just as with the game’s origins, combat is a brutal experience. Your morphs – the bodies that your character wears – will die, leaving you to restore yourself from your last existing backup (you did back up your data, didn’t you?) and deal with whatever fallout that has resulted. It is, then, no wonder that the game includes not only full chapters on the harshness of physical combat, but the risks (or potential, should your character wish to exploit them) of weaponised brain hacks.
Design: At the time of writing, I am still awaiting a print copy of the book, however the PDF which I have is a hefty size. In terms of artwork and layout, the game is excellent. Art often depicts the variety of morphs available, with a style that ranges from darkly gritty to vibrantly bright. Pages are clearly laid out, with the text presented well and without difficulty in reading.
Playability: Eclipse Phase is an intricately crafted game which explores the bounds of the human condition but without sacrificing any of the excitement that such a challenging setting provides. This is a system that has been refined to the point where it now lends itself very well to the type of adventures that Eclipse Phase wants to help you to explore. To aid in this, the rulebook comes complete with several pre-generated teams of Firewall operatives, ready to pick up and play. This is always a bonus – I was fortunate enough to take part in the free test adventure that was published for this edition, a mystery aboard a desolate mining colony in which the crew were tasked with solving the murder of a fellow Firewall operative. Taking full advantage of the game’s setting, the murdered operative in question, re-sleeved into a new body from a backup, was one of the playable characters! If this is the type of sci-fi thriller that intrigues you, then you can’t go far wrong with this game.
Conclusion: I did not look much at Eclipse Phase in its first edition, much to my regret. I have come to find it to be one of the tabletop RPGs that I most enjoy playing and find to be just as rewarding to GM. With this new edition, that satisfaction and joy is enhanced considerably. If you are looking for a futurist sci-fi thriller game that is part Delta Green and part Cyberpunk, this is 100% the game for you!
FINAL THOUGHTS: Resleeve into this game. It’s bliss.