- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs; 1st edition (October 14, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1934857165
- ISBN-13: 978-1934857168
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.5 x 11 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,940,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Eclipse Phase Hardcover – October 14, 2009
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It's usually acknowledged that, in the world of roleplaying, science fiction tends to get the short end of the stick. The gaming hobby is fairly dominated by the Fantasy genre (with Horror also well-represented), but with the exception of a few stand-out games over the years -- Traveller, Star Frontiers, Alternity -- the SF corner of the hobby is a bit anemic, and most of what's offered tends to be of the "blended" variety, with games like Rifts and Shadowrun offering two great tastes that sometimes taste great together, but can just as often get in each others' way.
Well, to that august line of SF games, we can now proudly add Eclipse Phase, and I wouldn't be surprised if this one stands the test of time as have the big names before it.
Physically, it's a good-looking book, a full-color hardback weighing in at 400 pages (again, I'm working from the PDF, but that means that the only part of that that I haven't sampled personally is the "hardback" part). Table of Contents and Index are both actually useful, something of a rarity in the RPG world, and while it suffers from its fair share of typos and errata, they seem to be no more severe than what one usually gets in an RPG first printing.
The premise, while not unique to SF, is one that hasn't made the rounds as often in gaming circles, and thus remains fairly fresh. At some undetermined point in the future, after achieving the Singularity, the human race is hoisted by its own petard as a group of rebellious AIs, dubbed the TITANs, make short work of us and drive us off-planet. With Earth now an irradiated wasteland occupied by killbots and murderous nanite swarms, we're forced to push into the rest of the solar system, but we're aided by a level of technology practically undreamed of -- FTL communications, cornucopia machines and even consciousness transferal have made Humanity into Transhumanity, and opened the doors to as many new adventures, and new dangers, and they've closed on old ones.
Players take on the roles of agents of Firewall, a shadowy organization composed of members from numerous different factions, each drawn to the chance to protect this fragile new Transhumanity from itself, as well as outside sources. The incredible technology that is at their disposal allows for truly mind-bending play: body-swapping, "forking" (copying one's mind into another form, essentially cloning), and consciousness backups create a game where physical death is often only a temporary setback, and where a character's mental attributes mean much more than their physical ones.
The game engine itself is a straightforward percentile system, with a few interesting twists, such as Moxie points, which can be used to swap the digits on a die roll (reversing the 1's die and the 10's die), often turning a really bad roll into a really good one. It's clean, it works well, and it's always easy to teach new roleplayers how to play a percentile-based game, as it's easier to simply say "you have a 50% chance of doing this" rather than explaining all of the statistical math inherent in most other systems.
And one of the most innovative bits: All of this is being released under a Creative Commons "copyleft." That's right: Provided that you're not doing it to turn a buck, anything and everything in the books can be copied, pasted, mixed, matched, hosted, etc. to your heart's content, legally and with the blessings of the publishers. Essentially, if you know where to look, the game is free, and fans will undoubtedly contribute a vast store of material. As with all fan-made creations, some of it will be great, some of it will be terrible, and most of it will fall somewhere in between, but one thing that those fans won't have to put up with are cease-and-desist letters from an angry publisher. The whole thing falls very much in line with the designers' views, lending a sort of pleasant surreality to the idea of a free game that sports themes of freedom of information (among others).
With a slew of unique ideas supported by a solid system and some clever distribution concepts, Eclipse Phase is definitely worth your time, and it belongs in the collection of any gamer serious about expanding his collection of SF RPGs.
Eclipse Phase is best suited for investigation heavy campaigns the majority of game is characters using their skills to find clues and advance the plot with the occasional battle to break things up. Combat is quick and deadly. However, character's can be restored from their last "backup". This encourages so many great moments like noble sacrifices and brutal deaths with little consequence to the players. Death is not trivial, but not unexpected or devastating. Usually a GM is obligated to cheat a little to keep players from a cheap death from a string of bad rolls, but here you can let the dice be as brutal as you want and keep bringing the characters back for more. You can also force characters to switch bodies, called morphs, if they exploit the rules to much. It is fairly easy to create an overpowered character with the right set of gear, but since FTL flight does not exist, players have to broadcast their egos and download them into new bodies to travel between colonies. This allows you to easily force characters out of their overpowered morphs. It also allows you to put a character into something a bit beefier if you expect their skills won't be needed in the near future. Put the hacker into a combat mech when going into the wilderness for example.
The best part of Eclipse Phase is probably the setting. It is one of the most "real" feeling settings I've come across. Everything is well thought out and seems like a genuine portrayal of what a transhuman future would be like. It avoids feeling too "gamey" or silly. Even the Psi powers are fairly subdued and surprisingly believable with most powers along the line of enhanced pattern/emotion/etc recognition or the ability to intuitively grok how to operate a foreign machine. Things like telekinesis are reserved for only the most alien entities you might come across. The GM section is filled with dark secrets with enough flexibility for GMs to choose some of the truths about what is really going on behind the scenes to make each campaign different. The setting coveys a sinister feeling excellent for horror campaigns and the insanity rules are decent. However, the biggest problem with the game is that the transhuman setting is a little too removed from present day that most players may have a hard time imagining and adjusting to what everyday life might be like in Eclipse Phase. It may not be for everyone, but those willing to think about the transhuman aspects of the game will find one of the most rewarding RPGs out there.