Eclipse Phase RPG Overview

I’ve spammed @e4tmyl33t 's thread too much, so here’s a brief overview of the Eclipse Phase RPG and comparison between the 1st and 2nd editions.

Eclipse pahse is a transhumanist game set in a solar system where earth has been rendered unlivable by the Titans: Basically Skynet with Lovecraftian overtones.

More to come…

So, to start, you may be going, “WTF is Eclipse Phase?” which is a totally reasonable reaction. Since this kind of spawned of a Shadowrun discussion, Shadowrun can be described (somewhat simply) as “Cyberpunk, but with magic and fantasy elements worked in.”

For Eclipse Phase, I’ll start by skipping ahead to the References appendix. This is akin to D&D’s “Appendix N” or a list of media that inspired the game. This is a solid two pages in 2e, covering a number of properties you may or may not have heard of. I’m only mentioning ones I’m familiar with and consider somewhat relevant.


  • Ian Bank’s Culture novels get referenced. I’d consider the Culture several generations beyond EP’s world, but they’d probably see eye to eye.
  • The Expanse novels are listed. These are great handholds for the ‘feel’ of space travel in the world, even if other elements don’t really fit as well.
  • A few of Cory Doctor’s books get name-checked. Probably a reference for the ‘reputation-based economy’ that is a hallmark of the setting.
  • Warren Ellis’s Crooked Little Vein is on the list. It seems like more an aspirational choice, but we’ll get more from him later.
    *Richard Morgan’s trilogy that begins with Altered Carbon is a huge impact on the setting. They may have actually dialed this back a bit this edition, but this is the go-to source for a lot of the core thoughts on resleeving (I.E. moving minds around as digital data) and it’s impact on society.
  • Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space gets a call-out, probably for the excellent “weird post-cyberpunk society” stuff and possibly the 'near-lightspeed travel made exciting" he’s done.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and related books: The Mars material certainly informed the EP view of Mars, which is caught between corporate interests and settlers who resleeve to modified human bodies capable of dealing with low air pressure and cold conditions.
  • Neal Stephenson for Diamond Age (impact of nanoassembly tech on society) and Seveneves (Living in space, I think… I haven’t read it.)
  • Charles Stross for a range of books: Accelerando, Glasshouse, and Rule 34 cover ‘technological singularity’ in various ways, while Iron Sunrise is a bit more esoteric. And Saturn’s Children is about sexbots, yet surprisingly not-creepy.

That’s a sampling of nearly a page! Many I haven’t read, a few I didn’t want to bore everyone with.

Comics and Graphic Novels
A lot of people are familiar with the Ghost in the Shell works, albeit probablly more from anime. It’s definitely a reference. Also is Warren Ellis (again) for Transmetropolitan and others.

There’s a solid half-page or so of non-fiction works: Most I’m unfamiliar with, but there’s a lot about AI and thoughts on possible future societies.

Roleplaying Games
I think the authors deserve credit for lsiting other games that inspired this one. Some highlights:

  • Call of Cthulhu gets listed. Mechanically, the rules share a percentile core, but there’s also a lot of horror, possibly sub-type “tentacled” around the edges. Also CoC-related is Delta Green which takes CoC and adds more paranoia.
  • Paranoia is also referenced. Not a hugely visible influence as far as I can tell, but perhaps I’m missing something.
  • Shadowrun gets a mention here: It’s certainly an influence, although I think EP characters would look at SR characters the same way many people here look at grandparents trying to deal with various commonplace technologies.
  • Traveller gets a reference, as the grandfather of Sci-Fi RPGs.

Movies & Television
The final category is a grab bag, with many properties previously listed under literary forms (Altered Carbon and Ghost in the Shell to name two).

  • Babylon 5 and Crusade get a mention.
  • Blade Runner and the recent sequel.
  • District 9
  • Firefly and Serenity
  • The Martian has a strong “Let’s fix it with science” vibe that fits.

So that’s a lot… And I only listed a tiny fraction of the two pages of listings!

So, what are characters in EP and what do they do?

EP2 supports three main ‘campaign types:’

  1. Firewall Campaign: ‘Firewall’ is a shadowly organization that focuses on preventing or eliminating existential threats to humanity. They really shouldn’t get involved with a corrupt leader or organized crime, but deal more with things like alien computer viruses and such.
  2. Gatecrashing Campaign: There’s Stargate-like gates to other worlds, and exploring them is a viable campaign idea. Make sure you don’t bring back the alien viruses or whatever.
  3. Criminal Campaign: Crime for various reasons. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.

Ep1 assumed Firewall as the default, with add-on books adding to the others, but not really focusing on making them distinct.

Your characters cover a wide range: A common thread is that many may have escaped Earth’s near-destruction a decade earlier. In some cases you might have caught a rocket, space elevator, or similar, but in many cases your Cortical Stack or mind-state was all that got off the planet, so you spent some time on ice until you were given a new body. This gives characters a lot of potential to be in debt and to play characters that don’t understand the setting.

I’ll get into character creation in detail, but it’s pretty wide-open. Your ‘races’ are basically human with a couple specialized options: There’s Uplifts (because someone thought giving octupi, dolphins, and birds human-level intelligence was a good idea) and AGI (Artifical General Intelligence) as exotic options.

One big concept is Morph vs. Ego: Your Morph is ‘equipment’ in many senses, albeit something you keep close to you. it’s your physical body and may be biological, robotic, or a hybrid. These’ll get covered in detail later as well. Your Ego is your mind, and while mind-hacking is a thing, it’s generally much more criminal than messing with someone’s morph (which can be fixed easily).

Final note for today: There’s “A Note on Politics” which spells out their biases quite plainly: The authors are quite willing to say that if you’re fond of bigotry or authoritarianism, this game is not for you. They self-describe their politics as “radical, liberatory, inclusive, and antifascist.”

By the way, the game’s title is apparently a biology term referring to when a cell is infected with a virus just before it dies. It’s a pretty ugly reference to the solar system as the cell, near to bursting with alien/AI infections as well as those brought with it.

System-wise, the rules kinda of resemble a more complex version of Call of Cthulhu for those familiar with those rules. Some major exceptions include the ‘33/66 rule’ which basically adds some criticals, but the usual bonus damage sense.

Say you’re a good pilot with an 80 in the piloting skill: roll a success and over 33 you get a superior success, over 66 to get 2 superior successes. However, a roll over 66 that fails is a superior failure. You can trade the successes in for various bonuses: a 40 roll might get you a bonus or no the next piloting roll, while a 70 might get the bonus as we’ll as making the trips go quicker. Roll a 90 and that trip takes a bit longer than expectedly.

This replaced a more math-heavy rule from 1e. Less to calculate. There’s also Criticals. Roll doubles Annan gain even larger benefits.

There’s a lot of rules to comprehensively cover the edge cases like player characters working together. There’s a also multiple action types and such familiar to D&D 3.5 players, and they’ll be important when we get to a lot of the more complex bits.

A big change from 1e is Pools; pools are of 4 kinds which isn’t why i feel I’d need a cheat sheet to use them in play. They don’t quite match the attribute. Insight let’s you spend points to do smart stuff, Moxie for smart stuff, and Vigor for athletic stuff. There’s also a Flex pool. Flex is multipurpose and has some fun stuff in it. It lets a player do some very meta stuff like introducing NPCs .org items. Run through a kitchen and you can spend Flex to find a Butcher Knife or have a Chef show up.

Pools can also be used for flat bonuses to rolls or Tom avoid modifiers. In general the value is better if spent before a roll, but if you don’t you can spend post roll to flip the dice on a d100. Turn a 91 into a 19!

Pools are a big change. Skipping ahead, one part of making a character is selecting a morph. In 1e you’d then add a bunch of modifiers like a specific form might have +10 to Reflex rolls. If you change morphs (which is common when seriously injured, or even when traveling) you have to adjust all skills that are based on Reflex. 1e had a lot of skills, too.

Some characters might even have multiple morphs (like a Reaper combat drone for combat, and a cheap synth for areas unwilling to let a flying tank in.

So now most morphs just provide pool points and attributes. Overall, it’s a good choice. I don’t know how it’s will handle the most extreme morphs: one in the old game was basically the Aliens Power Loader, but without a need to accommodate a squishy pilot. They might need to use some special traits to handle more extreme strength. We’ll see, I guess.

Next time, making characters. I’m trying to go a bit faster on this. I’ve done some longer-form reviews of old D&D material on other forums, but this is a different crowd.

Eclipse Phase is a very interesting game and one I suggest people check out.

So: Character Creation.

EP1 Character Creation was a mess. The original rules were unwieldy to say the least, and they tried multiple methods to fix this:

  • Fan-made Excel sheets, which I think stung the developers that were heavy into using open source and such.
  • They Kickstarted an app to be a character tool. It was horrible at first and, last time I checked, merely awful.
  • A later book added a ‘lifepath’ style system.
  • There was also a conversion of the entire game to the Fate rules.

So, kind of a mess. Part of it is the game is very freeform about defining characters but at the same time a lot of stuff does have mechanical impact. The old rules used a 1,000 point (or so) budget for skills, which was after you spent a couple other pools of points to determine Aptitudes (basic stats) and other details. It was interesting, but kind of ugly.

So, the new rules: There’s some good advice: They recommend doing character creation as a group, something I’ve been leaning to for a few years anyway. I don’t need to play in an RPG where very character is a unique unattached oddity with their own plot arc. I’d much prefer players actually make characters that might want to associate with each other. “Plan Ahead” is another bit of advice which is a bit more difficult as players may not know much about the rules or setting. The final bit of advice is ‘Playing an Asyinc’ which is the settings local version of psychics. We’ll get to them in a bit…

So the new system is similar to the previous ‘lifepath’ incarnation, but cleaned up. I think it might be better designed for people new to the game, which is a good thing.You choose a background, and get some skills (about 250 points in total, but I’m not checking all of them). Simple enough. Backgrounds are where you came from, and include Colonist (You settled on a planet or planetoid), Enclaver (You grew up in a something akin to a gated community on Earth), Hyperelite (You’re from the wealthy), Infolife (Greetings, program!), or others. There’s random tables if you can’t choose, and the packages include some skills you get to choose from or design.

Next you pick a career, which is broadly similar to Background, but it’s more recent. Again, it’s around 200-250 points of skills. These are heavy on the “Know:” skills, which are catch-alls for things that don’t merit a dedicated skill. You might be an Enforcer, a Hacker, an Academic, or Scavenger.

There’s also an Interest, which is basically a small customization option. The Social character might pick Networker, while the team lead might go for the Commander Package. The tech that can fight surprisingly well can pick up the Fighter package. or there’s the Slacker package.

Next is Factions. Characters pick one of 16 factions, but it’s not mandatory. Factions are a major part of the setting, and cover a wide range of backgrounds. Hypercorp means you work for the corporate machines, while Scum hang out on floating party barges. Less extreme are Barsoomians (Martian settlers opposing the corporate hypercorps) and Reclaimers (retaking earth).

One weird one is the Jovians. The Jovian Confederation tends to be one of the setting’s bad guys: They’re extremely bioconservative (They think turning oneself into a giant octopus is immoral) almost to the point of being cartoonish (They’re against a lot of augmentations, even many life-preserving ones). They’re a tough choice for PC types as they’ll probably be mistrusted by most others… And they skip many of the game’s rules unless they’re willing to compromise their beliefs.

The Faction choice gets you a Know skill for your choice and, right now, that’s it. There’s a later ‘Rep’ section, but that’s a few steps away.

Next is Aptitudes. For those that speak D&D, this is the ‘roll 4d6 drop 1 six times’ except in this case you pick from one of 7 templates that set the six aptitudes to values from 10-20. Same 90 points each.Characters can tweak these a bit, too.

Next step (we’re at step 6) is Skills. Skills are percentile and have a base on a linked attribute. You get the skills from the previous steps and can’t go above 80 at this point. When we get to CP, you get to buy more skill points.

Next step is Languages, and you get two. There’s bonus skills for high mental stats. They’re “binary skills” you either have or don’t.

Continuing: Flex. Characters start with one Flex pool point, which is basically the game’s “Meta mess with the scenario” currency.

Moving on, Reputation: Reputation is a big deal in the setting. With the original rules it could be used as a currency, and might be the major currency in some outer regions. In EP2, it’s even bigger I think, as the developers got rid of detailed cash tracking, especially since so many areas don’t do normal currency.

See “Reputation Economy” which is an interesting idea, even if I don’t personally know how it would work beyond small groups.

There’s a backwards page ref to explain the Reputation network a character can spend points on:

  • @-Rep is the “autonomists, anarchists, Titanians, scum and Extropians” or basically the people who think capitalism is icky to various degrees.
  • c-rep for the corporate interests.
  • f-rep for the rich and Famous.
  • g-rep is for the organized crime, and the criminal underworld in general.
  • i-rep for the “The Eye” or Firewall (the aforementioned “let’s not let alien viruses eat the world” faction)
  • r-rep (Researchers and pro-science factions)
  • x-rep (Explorers, including the Gatecrashers mentioned earlier)

You get 100 points to divide between these, with a suggestion of covering 2 or 3.

next is customization, where you get 20 points that can be spent at different values for the above steps as well as purchasing Ego Traits (mental special abilities). There’s also negative traits to get more CP.

At this point you take a breather. This is a lot of material! There’s some number crunching to do to determine your character’s stats, but as of right now you’re a mind without form. So Step 12 is Starting Morph & Gear.

Gear is handed out by packages. There’s a package for each career (step 2) and each kind of campaign (Firewall, Gatecrashing, Criminal).

Morphs are bought with another currency, Morph Points. This is where your physical traits come from. Morphs will get their own post, but in general they were a big feature of the EP1 run. You can use extra Morph Points for extra Gear or Flex.

A final step is Motivations, which is roughly analogous to 5e’s “Traits, Flaws, and Bonds” but you pick three things that are important to you. You’re allowed to mark them as + or -: You might pick “reclaim Earth” and mark it with a + if you think it’s an important goal, or a - if you think it’s a waste of time.

More to come, but that’s character creation.

I’m cutting this a bit short as I’m sensing a lack of interest, but some final big edition differences:

In general, the setting is much more ‘dire’ with the threat of extinction ever-present. 1e had this to an extent: A common basis is that the setting is 10 years after “The Fall” when Titans went all Skynet and butchered everyone on Earth then went to space and promptly disappeared through wormholes to… somewhere. The Titans may also be involved with a viral infection that gives people psychic-ish powers, but also tends to make them… suspect.

The psychic powers (Known as ‘psi sleights’ and given out to those who’ve been infected with the 'Watts-McLeod Virus which transfers with people’s mind-states) are mostly on the spooky-but-semi-plausible end. Lots of stuff that might be pheremones, control of bodily functions, etc… or could be weird alien abilities. The characters with this in 1e were encouraged to pick up flaws to show mental issues common, but it could be ignored. The new version has some interesting stuff where the more the infected use their abilities, the more eccentric they get… And maybe more likely to try and spread the infection. It’s a conscious change to make them a bit creepier.

That’s a theme for the edition: The old edition was borderline Utopian (for a setting where Earth is an unlivable place no one in their right mind goes to) assuming bodies were available… At a price. Now it’s stated that many habitations may have more minds seeking bodies than they can accommodate, and rules support this: If you can’t find the biological body you want, expect to have to make-do with a Case or similar until you can upgrade. (The Case morph is basically if $YOUR_LEAST_FAVORITE_COMPUTER_COMPANY built androids, but lower quality. You get stuck with a trait called “The Clanking Masses” because everyone thinks you’re broke.) Corporations are evil, the various collectives and ‘New Economy’ areas are good, but disorganized and short on resources.

As I said, I’m not going to write more, but I do suggest looking into this if you’re interested in new sci-fi RPGs. I’d rate it A+.

I would note it’s for ‘mature audiences’ in a couple small places. Nothing exotic, but I know the small chapter on Gender and Sexuality would have been controversial a couple decades ago. It’s pretty optimistic: My closes handle is the stereotypical ‘Elf’ lore a lot of games like D&D often lean to: because setting people are assumed to be as long-lived as they liked and will change bodies (morphs) throughout that time, most people are a lot more open about sexuality and related issues. Even the “Horrible Nazi” faction is open minded about some issues, and they’re the ones railing against people turning themselves into murder-bots.

A sign of good science-fiction to me is extrapolating how a new technology would be used and abused, and EP defintiely does this: A lot of the material focuses on things related to the Cortical Stack concept like forking one’s mind state (Take your mind, copy it into two different bodies. Big issue is they both think they’re the original, unless you purposely edit one to limit it.) or mind-hacking options. EP does a good job with this.

If I ever got a chance to run Eclipse Phase I’d definitely run EP2 over EP1: So much less to explain. I’d probably suggest Borderlands as an inspiration, even if it’s not quite accurate and misses some of the points.

I’m interested, though since I’ve never really gotten to actually play EP I can’t really weigh in much on the differences. Might need to get my hands on a PDF copy of 2nd Ed and give it a read-through.

It’s a good RPG, and the books are very nice looking. The system in 1e was definitely a mess, 2e is much better. Cleaned up and, I think, better at saying “This is what characters do in the game.”

I briefly met the crew behind it at GenCon one year forever ago and they seem like nice people. You’d approve, if the avatar matches the… I have no idea where this analogy is going.