The other night I had ran my first session of the transhuman roleplaying game Eclipse Phase. I was initially attracted me to its dark science fiction setting and the novel approach to player character life/death. A central conceit is that technology has advanced to a point where the human mind can be mapped and transferred into new genetically engineered bodies. This changes the entire dynamic of a game where ‘death’ is only ever temporary as long as a character has a back up of their mind.
This central premise leads to a lot of interesting wrinkles such the back ups of character’s minds investigating how they died or forked copies of the characters’ back ups conspiring against the characters… It is a strong, unique idea.
The other element that appealed to me at the outset are the TITANs: aggressive AIs that commenced destroying transhumanity only to apparently depart the solar system with several million forcibly uploaded minds. It’s great stuff that evokes a kind of sinister version of Terminator’s Skynet.
The session I ran was a simple one off with pre-generated characters. I was largely inspired by “Lack” the short story that introduces the game setting in the Eclipse Phase rule book. The location I chose for the session was in space, between the AI ravaged earth and the moon, with the characters investigating a station that had broken free form the debris that surrounds the dead planet. The characters ‘woke up’ as their back ups and were quickly brought up to speed about how they had died through viewing footage that they had themselves transmitted from the space station they were investigating. We played through this as a flash back with the characters discovering a TITAN threat on the station before being killed by it. With the information they’d gathered the characters returned to the station to try and save the day.
So how did it go?
Although I would do some things differently:
1) There was a lot of information to take on. Due to its far future setting a lot of discussion around technology was necessary to enable play which all happened out of character. In future I’d probably add in a wrinkle whereby characters take time to come to terms with being ‘re-initiated’ as a back up and have a slow realisation about what has happened. This way they can come up to speed about where they are, the world they are in and what they are faced with while in character with a Non-Player Character ‘therapist’ on hand to assist (not unlike the protagonists in the William Gibson Short Story, ‘Hinterlands‘).
2) Be more descriptive. With a lot of crazy tech flying around it’s too easy to take short cuts with description and let the techno babble stand in for universe building. Next time I’d make a point of making a lot out of the outlandish setting and try and use a lot more ‘feeling words’ to evoke what the characters are going through.
3) Start small. The Solar System is a big place. This is the primary setting for the game and as such it can feel a bit daunting for players to locate themselves in it. Limiting my setting to between the moon and the earth helped locate the players with something they were familiar with. If I were to run a campaign I’d probably start it around the moon or mars as these are locations that at least have some traction with players.
Overall, I’m keen to return to Eclipse Phase. As I gear up for a short campaign in late-January I’ll probably post a bit more about it on the ol’ blog.
One issue I didn’t tackle was character generation as I was using pre-generated characters (an uplifted octopus scavenger, an anarchist hacker and a security specialist with dreams of reclaiming earth). Briefing new players on how to generate characters for a short campaign sounds like a challenge. Sure they can read the Open Source materials provided by the game’s creators, but the point allocation/skill selection/equipment selection aspect of character creation will probably take a little while. I have a few ideas on how to handle this but more on that later…