Arena Review: Eclipse Phase

Panopticon by Stephan Martiniere - Small

In Brief

I like to know what I’m getting into with a new game so here are the basic details about Eclipse Phase. The game is several years old but it’s made a big impact, winning the Origins award for Best RPG in 2010 and earning Gold and Electrum status for all of its sourcebooks on Drive Thru RPG. Its core book has Platinum status, putting it in the top 0.11% of sales for that site. For a single-gameline Third Party company, that’s damn impressive.

Genre: Gritty sci-fi.
System:
d100-based original system.
Potential Library: Small (6 sourcebooks and 4 adventures).
Publisher: Posthuman Studios.

It’s the near-future and humanity is screwed. Military supercomputers, the TITANs, built to protect the free world took it over instead, going off the wall and firing nukes everywhere. Earth is an irradiated hellhole, remnants of the TITANs remain in quarantine zones, and humanity is scattered throughout the solar system.

Best Products

This is tricky because I would heartily recommend all of the Eclipse Phase line.

Core Rulebook: This is a must-have of course because you can’t play the game without it! Sometimes game’s core books are all about the rules with only a little fluff to help you out in the beginning but not so here. Half of this book is describing the complicated setting of Eclipse Phase that allows for a wide variety of game styles (as you can read on the site).

Everything from alien viruses to derelict ships to futuristic life and space opera are possible in a setting which reads coherently but on further inspection is modular enough to remove sections without disturbing the whole. There is a whole chapter for psychics, for instance, but the source of their powers and the rarity and secrecy of the condition mean you can go through a whole campaign without running into one.

Sunward: A sourcebook with chapters on the Sun and Mercury, Venus, Earth, Earth Orbit, Luna (the Moon), Mars, and the inner sections of the Asteroid Belt. It’s all written in character by people like Mercurian miner-scum, Martian lawmen, and hypercorp elite, and every one of the settings not only seems complete but rich enough to host an entire campaign.

With all of this wonderful fluff (so brimming with plot hooks you may cut yourself more than once), there is also a remarkably useful crunch chapter on game information from equipment to mechanics.

Gatecrashing: One of the eerier parts of the setting are the mysterious Pandora Gates, alien technology found in the solar system that lets folks skip to other solar systems in the blink of an eye. In the core book there are some system ideas but mostly it is let to the GM to develop extrasolar systems… unless you have Gatecrashing.

Here are thirty developed for you and all described in-character for the GM. There’s also, of course, an excellent game information chapter as well to cover all the essentials for a gatecrashing team.

Panopticon: The latest release from Posthuman Studios covers three disparate subjects in one tome. One section covers living in a transparent society with cameras and holosenors everywhere, everything from living with privacy to sneaking a nuke onto a space station. The next chapter covers living in a space station, which most of transhumanity does after the ruin of Earth, and fills you in on everything from entertainment to toilets.

The last chapter (my favorite) covers in-depth the phenomenon of animal uplifts, or animals bred and genetically engineered to human sapience. All of these things may seem unrelated but generally this is the book to get to make the setting pop and make characters feel at home in environments that are alien to those of us in the twenty-first century.

Weaknesses

This game is pretty amazing but it’s not without its flaws. Firstly, the game mechanics are pretty complicated; if someone asked me for a prime example of “simulationist” game design, I wouldn’t hesitate to point this way. It’s a d100 system so D&D players will be unfamiliar with it, and making up new sub skills and specialty items are the rule of the day. Why have “Medicine” when you can have “Medicine: Surgery” with a specialty in “Uplifts?”

There are a number of fan-created Excel character sheets that do all your calculating and double-check you’ve satisfied all the character creation rules. I haven’t tried making a character without one and shudder at the thought.

Verdict

Definitely an awesome game and in my top five favorites for sure. The system may be complicated but if you don’t mind a little  complexity I think you’ll find it flexible and utilitarian enough to accomplish anything. There are lots of built-in checks against power-gaming so I would feel free to just give players free reign to play in this galaxy-sized sandbox and throw in some obstacles if I think it’s getting out of hand. If you haven’t checked this game out yet, do it.