Publisher: PostHuman Studios; Format: Digital Formats; MSRP $19.95 Digital
Technology. It comes to define us as a species. Ever since we saw that first spark when two rocks collided we were in love. We made wheels. Then pulleys. Then we had printing presses and clipper ships. Where does it end? Where does it go to? In Eclipse Phase, it went to the singularity – the point where technology got so advanced it didn’t need us any longer. And with that, came a whole new world at the expense of our home planet.
Welcome to Eclipse Phase.
In the midst of cataclysmic climate change, economic disparity, and war, humanity lost its homeworld to the TITANs. Born out of a military tactical network, the TITANs subverted their programming and turned on their creators. With control of nanoswarms, mar-machines, and the ability to upload human consciousness into vast storage arrays, humanity was forced to flee the Earth. Long having adapted to the idea of living in space and using customized bodies – transhuman morphs – designed for the challenges of off-world life on places like Mars, Luna, and Venus, some of humanity had already experienced a diaspora among the stars. The mass evacuation of the majority populace Earth came to be known as the Fall. Out of the teeming billions of the Earth, only an estimated 500 million humans escaped an unknown fate at the hands of the TITANs in the exodus. Then, as quickly and as suddenly as the onslaught had begun, the TITANs vanished. They withdrew from engagement and seemingly disappeared, leaving a frightened transhumanity to a seemingly silent universe.
Since the Fall, humanity has made First Contact with the only other sapient species they are aware of – the mold-like Factors – and they have also discovered Gates on key worlds in the Solar System that lead to other points in the galaxy… many of which contain the remains of what appear to be several sapient, but extinct, races. It is an exciting and terrifying time for transhumanity. With the population low and dispersed, transhumans are at the edge of burning out or becoming something wholly other.
A group of occluded movers and shakers however have decided that there will never be another Fall. You are one of them. As an agent of Firewall, you protect transumanity from existential risks (X-risks for short). Sometimes these risks come from the enigmatic Factors, whose motives and designs are utterly alien. Other risks come from the ashes of the fall as the TITANs left behind deadly nanoplagues, still functioning war machines, and other far more bizarre threats like the Watts-Macleod Exurgent Virus; a disease that can turn humans into Asyncs imbued with potentially insanity inducing psychic abilities. And, lastly, human nature itself is combated by Firewall, as greed, avarice, conspiracy, and cruelty are still a part of the transhuman condition.
The whole game is run from a percentile system, which makes for relatively simple tests with the usual modifier systems. This ties in well for people who liked the Lovecraftian systems offered by publishers like Chaosium, but will allow for a little more focus on rough and tumble action and tech-fueled espionage than the Call of Cthulhu presented.
The game allows for a mash of several great themes. Labeling itself as a game of transhuman conspiracy and horror, it is a fertile ground for adventuring in the Solar System – and possibly beyond if you’re willing to brave the Pandora Gates (and can get past the corporate security to do it). The setting is one of the most expansive and detailed that I’ve seen in a while, and the detail leads to the ability to play a broad range of characters, mostly due to morphs.
The Morph system is genius. Transhumans for the most part all have a device implanted in their necks that’s about the size of a grape called a cortical stack. this device essentially records and stores the entirety of a human personality, experience, and memory. This stack makes it easy to backup the mind for emergenies or to transfer between bodies called morphs. These bodies range from simple genefixes to eliminate cancer, genetic diseases and disorders, to custom made synthetic or biological forms specially adapted to extra-planetary needs like high or low pressure, zero-gravity, or even environments with different atmospheric mixtures. Want to play a robot squid with low-G propulsion systems? Done. Want to play a mechanical centaur? Done. Want to be a child forever? Creepy – but also doable. You can be anything you want – even really weird stuff like uplifted Gorillas, Neanderthals cloned from ancient DNA, or a custom heirloom morph containing the genetic markers of Benjamin Franklin if that’s your thing. Some, mostly people from the Fall who couldn’t even escape with their bodies, even go on to become Infomorphs – beings of pure consciousness residing on the powerful servers found in large space or planetary habitats.
And if character diversity wasn’t enough, social diversity is amazing in the setting. You have three zones to stomp in essentially: the Rimward territories, the Sunward territories, and the Gatecrasher colonies. The Rimward areas are much like the frontier of space, everything from the asteroid belt out to the Oort cloud surrounding our solar system. Here you’ll find diverse anarchist collectives, each working in different ways, many eschewing everything we know now about economy and social orders. You’re as free to be as weird as you’d like to be and reputation on social networks acts as currency in most places. Sunward territories are ruled by the hypercorporate fist of the Planetary Consortium, who have revived age old concepts like indentured servitude and supply-side economics, maintaining an older regime with ruthless infighting and efficiency. For those willing to brave unknown dangers and to explore far off worlds, the Gatecrasher worlds offer unknown vistas of resources and adventure – and a fairly good chance of stumbling into x-risks that can put not just you, but the entire species, at risk.
Lastly, there’s a lot of attention paid to layout, particularly in PDF format. While I do have copy of the dead tree format of this title from it’s original release, it’s already four updates out of date – and as such is presently unavailable in physical format. Looking at the PDF and the physical copy I got when the title first released, they are almost wholly different from layout to artwork used. The PDF copies are indexed and linkable, and are incredibly handy for use with tablets (adventures even allow for portrait or landscape formatting, all with rich sidebar and visual materials).
With as much choice as the game gives you, it can lead to a morass of minutiae. When everyone can be something as weird as they want, it becomes difficult to maintain a group coherence. So you’re a hover squid using low-grav propulsion, and that’s awesome while you’re out on some colony on Luna. But, once you decide to go zero-G, what then? Or what happens when you’re in standard gravity and that doesn’t fly? Or say, what if you’re some kind of swarmanoid thing that breaks down into hundred or thousands of tiny bots and you find yourself in the Jovian Territories where you’d be locked up as a deviant by some bioconservative general? Yeah, you can switch out your morphs, but then you go through a lot of book keeping efforts again. You find that characters in the system break into two sets of stats: ego and morph. Ego remains pretty static, but every time you change morphs, you have to re-calculate your totals and redetermine what perks and disadvantages come with that morph. It makes for a lot of prep work for the GM and a bit of bother for the player.
Likewise, while some of the concepts of the game are fascinating, they make for a lot of difficulties when it comes to running the game. Take the concept of Forking. Need to be in two places at once? Done! You can create a fork of your personality, send it out to it’s destination in a separate morph (or even as an infomorph) to do your light work while you handle business at home. Through the miracles of psychosurgery, this is possible, and the fork can even be reintegrated into the main consciousness later. To keep transmission and copy time minimal, you can also prune down forks into smaller versions that only contain the information you need them to know! Awesome right? Try gamesmastering that. It’s gonna get to be a headache really quick unless you have spent a LOT of time planning things.
Now, admittedly, there’s things in game that are rational that you can use to limit player behavior in these aspects. In many places Forking is illegal as some places have bioconservative leaning regarding the human soul, and in many places, certain morphs are also illegal or intensely restricted. And of course there’s the alienation tests transhumans have to pass when swapping bodies – you can’t just change bodies like clothes, and not all people are suited to morph transfers. But, player characters typically have a way of finagling past these things barring a draconian ruling from the head cat herder at the table.
I want to play this game so bad. Or run it. Maybe with a group of three players, no more (it’d get crazy with any more). The folks at Posthuman Studios have outdone themselves with their management of this property. Several supplements to the main book are released covering various system territories, and they have a player’s guide in Transhuman, and a Mesh guide in Panopticon. There’s also a few modules to help get you acclimatized to the setting and system with Quick Start Rules (free!) and pre-generated adventures.
So? What are you waiting for?