RPG Review - Eclipse Phase
Eclipse Phase by Rob Boyle and Robin Cross (2009, 400pp, 1st Ed).
TLDR: 4 out of 5 stars for seriously good setting building and presentation, and a reliable but heavy mechanical base.
This book is a beast - took me a month and a half to read.
In case you've been living in a cave with Precious, eating fish and talking to yourself, and don't know what Eclipse Phase is, it's a near future Sci-Fi setting in which humans have spread out into the solar system after a Fall, instigated by AI war machines run amok and an alien virus that turns people into monsters. Humanity is no more - Transhumanity is the norm. Your mind is easily downloaded and can be made to inhabit one of many kinds of bodies ('morphs'), or even live a purely digital existence in 'The Mesh' (the internet). It's a blend of Sci-Fi (of the John Varley/Richard Morgan variety), Cyberpunk, and Lovecraft.
Here's what the book contains:
Introductory fiction: 10 pages
Basic Setting (society, technology, politics, economy, groups): 56 pages
Gazetteer of Places: 26 pages
Game Mechanics and Character Creation: 104 pages
Psionics and Psychosurgery: 18 pages
The Mesh (i.e. the internet 101): 22 pages
Future Tech (egos and morphs, nanotech, spacefaring, social networking): 28 pp
Gear and tech (anything you buy or barter for): 56pp
GM Information (setting secrets and advice on running the game): 40pp
Tables and References: 10 pages
The rules are D100 based, and so pretty similar to BRP or HarnQuest with a few local traits. I'd call them medium crunch, but the way character creation is handled ups the crunch level to high. There are no hit locations, but the game makes heavy use of modifiers (up to +30/-30) and factors several things into skill determination, so there's a fair bit of adding. Skills and abilities are a factor of your Ego (mind) and Morph (body), and everything is incremental point buy, so it's a little involved. And since your Morph is basically interchangeable, it seems to me that re-sleeving may be a quite clunky, since there's a fair bit of recalculating that would need to be done each time you switched morphs. Opposed rolls use the blackjack method, similar to Mythras. 00 is a critical success, and 99 is a fumble. All other doubles can be one of the other depending on whether they lie above or below your skill.
This book is around 2/3 setting, and this is where the book really shines. This setting is extremely well realized, and in reading through it one can't help but think that they've thought of everything. It's well presented, too - you're given an introduction up front, but then later in the book the most important concepts are revisited in more detail. I didn't find it all equally interesting (the Mesh chapter bored me to tears - containing pretty much everything I didn't need to know about the internet) but it was all clearly done by people who really cared, and backed up their enthusiasm with some serious competence. I'm very impressed. I'm not sure how likely it is I'll run this game, but I'll certainly get some of the setting supplements just to explore this vision of the future further.
The book is nicely presented on full-colour pages. The art is evocative but falls short of being illustrative. Layout is a mixed bag - it's stylish for the most part, but I needed glasses to read it, and a few of the design choices (like the Psi sleights) are kind of clunky and not very appealing. Overall, most gamers will be suitably impressed, though. The writing itself is clear and informative, though a little dry in places
Eclipse Phase is a serious work of trad gaming. It presents a rich and evocative world full of wonders and dangers. Society is quite different from the present, so your role-playing skills will be put to the test. Like all such games that require some up-front effort, it's geared to campaign play. There's currently a second edition in the works, and if D100 games don't appeal to you, there's also a FATE version.
I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 stars for seriously good setting building and presentation, and a reliable but heavy mechanical base. Recommended to anyone who wants to read a great SF setting, and to players of trad games in particular.