Eclipse Phase 2 : Building an Ego

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Eclipse Phase is a science fiction RPG by Posthuman Studios about playing agents in a secret organisation (called Firewall) trying to save the remnants of humanity from destruction after the fall of Earth (due to rogue AIs known as TITANs). Humans have colonised the solar system, and through the use of alien gates also started exploring other worlds. In this sense, the setting is a little bit like The Expanse. Most of the action is limited to our solar system, you have nations and corporations in the Belt and around the various worlds, and you are limited to slower than light travel.

The unique selling point of the setting though is that your mind is software – it can be backed up, restored, copied into other bodies (known as morphs) and transmitted across the solar system so you can download into a new (or rented) body at the far end without having to mess around with spaceships. You can even fork of betas (partial copies) of your mind (or ego), so you can do more than one thing at once – such as attend meetings, or control a drone. Multiple alphas (full copies of your ego) are illegal.

In this sense, the setting is a little bit like Altered Carbon.

It’s also quite similar to the Transhuman Space setting from GURPS, with the addition of AI horrors, existential threats and the near-genocide of billions of people on the Earth.

I’ve run it once, and the setting was really enjoyable, though I found the system itself to be quite clunky. Since I backed the Kickstarter for the 2nd edition, and I’ve had the pre-release copy of the rules sitting around since the end of last year, I thought I’d take a look at what’s changed by running through the new character generation rules.

This is generally how I approach a new game system – try and get a basic idea of the mechanics, then dive into the mechanics of character generation. For me, the detail of the background and rules can come later.

Step 1 : Background

Since I have an idea for an adventure in mind, as well as an NPC contact that will be needed for that adventure, I thought I’d start by using this character as an example. She will be an information broker, an 84 year old woman named Alice Langston, based on Progress (a Cole Bubble that was created from Deimos), who used to be a privileged celebrity journalist before the Fall. After the Fall, she realised that there were more important things to worry about than who was wearing what dress at some pointless public event, grew a conscience and started to try and do something to actually fix what was important. She doesn’t actively get involved in confronting the dangers of the universe, but does help those that do by providing information and making introductions.

The first choice is which background package to select. Each package provides a set of skills to apply to your character. Often, skills will overlap, in which case they add together, but ultimately can’t start higher than 80. Eclipse Phase is a percentile system – your skill is a percentage, and you roll d100 against your skill to succeed (there are other complexities, but I’ll ignore those for now).

The choice of packages for your background are: Colonist, Enclaver, Freelancer, Hyperelite, Indenture, Infolife, Isolate, Lost, Underclass or Uplift.

Since she comes from a privileged background, I go for Enclaver:

On Earth, you lived a life of precarious but 
protected stability in a defended enclave.

Note that Infolife are pure AIs that weren’t born of a biological body. The Lost have special Psi skills. Uplifts are non-human animals who have been genetically enhanced to have human level intelligence. But Alice was an Enclaver, so the skills she begins with are:

Athletics – 40
Interface – 40
Kinesics – 30
Persuade – 20
Pilot: Ground – 20
Program – 20
Know (Celebrity Gossip, Pop Culture, Sports) – 60
Know (Economics, Education, Psychology) – 30

Here we come across one of my problems with the system, in that it doesn’t always use the most obvious words for skills. Interface is effectively ‘Computer Use’, and Kinesics is ‘Sense Motive’.

The other unusual skill name is Fray – which is effectively dodge. First time I ran the game, we had to stop and check several times to remember what the skill we wanted was called.

For the knowledge skills, I get to select one of the options, so I pick Celebrity Gossip and Psychology for her two background knowledge skills.

Step 2 : Career

The next step is to select a career. As for the backgrounds, each career gives you a set of skills. Our options are: Academic, Covert Operative, Enforcer, Explorer, Face, Genehacker, Hacker, Investigator, Medic, Mindhacker, Scavenger, Scientist, Soldier, Techie

The Investigator career mentions journalist and private investigators, which seems a good choice for an information broker.

“Few details escape your scrutiny, whether you are a journalist, 
private investigator, detective, or insurance claims investigator.”

Again, this gives Alice a set of skills. Note that since she gains Kinesics a second time, this will both stack for a total of 60.

Kinesics – 30
Perceive – 40
Research – 60
Know (Ego Hunting, Investigation, Journalism) – 60
Know (Black Markets, Current Events, Cartels) – 30

The knowledge skills aren’t well described – what is the difference between Investigation and Journalism? I assume that the latter is more writing up stories, and Investigation is digging up the details, but both are needed for a good journalist. Most of the knowledge skills are like this – the only description you have is the name of the skill. Some people may be happy with this, since the player can just ask “Can I use Journalism for this?” when trying a task during the game. But unless both the GM and player have the same understanding of what each skill covers, a player can find in the middle of a game that they can’t do something that they thought was the focus of their character, or that they’ve spent points on something they don’t actually need.

Since she’s moved into the field of information brokerage, I give her Ego Hunting and Current Events. She’s good at finding people, and knows what is going on in the system. If she needs to have Journalism, she can pick that up later with extra points.

Step 3 : Interest

A character’s interests covers either a hobby, a previous career, something they have recently taken an interest in. The options are Animal Handler, Artist/Icon, Async, Commander, Fighter, Forensics Specialist, Jack-of-all-trades, Jammer, Networker, Paramedic, Pilot, Rogue, Slacker, Spacer, Student and Survivalist.

Well, it would help if she had people skills, so I go for ‘Networker’:

“You know how to engage and connect with people.”

This provides Alice with her third package of skills:

Deceive – 30
Persuade – 40
Provoke – 30
Know: Rep Nets – 40

I have no idea what Know: Rep Nets is. Is it a broad knowledge skill that covers all reputation networks (in which case, what does it do?) Or should there be a (Choose one) option there, and it’s a knowledge skill covering a single reputation network? The skill isn’t mentioned anywhere else.

Step 4 : Faction

The factions you have reputation with is an important part of Eclipse Phase, and was also one of the most confusing aspect (rules wise) of the first edition. In a society that has nano-factories which can replicate almost anything on demand, who you know, and whether they trust you, can have just as much effect on whether you can get hold of something as money does. Especially out amongst the anarchists.

The factions are: Anarchist, Argonaut, Barsoomian, Brinker, Criminal, Extropian, Hypercorp, Jovia, Lunar/Orbital, Mercurial, Reclaimer, Scum, Socialite, Titanian, Venusian, Regional.

She’s going to be on Deimos, so Barsoomian might fit in, but she doesn’t really have ties to Mars other than location. So I’ll go with Anarchist. She may have been born into a rich family, but after the Fall, she found more important things to care about.

“You believe power is corrupt and favour voluntary, non-hierarchical 
organisations based on direct democracy.”

This gives a single knowledge skill about Alice’s faction:

Know (Anarchist), 30

She also gains a motivation for that faction, but motivations aren’t explained here so it’s required to go flipping through the rules to find what this means.

So Alice also gets a Motivation of +Anarchism

Step 5: Aptitude Template

That’s the skills done (almost), so now we have to define the character’s aptitudes. Each aptitude ranges between 5 and 30, and provides a base level for skills. The core aptitudes are:

Cognition (COG)
Intuition (INT)
Reflexes (REF)
Savvy (SAV)
Somatics (SOM)
Willpower (WIL)

Again, a couple of word choices which aren’t entirely obvious – Savvy is social awareness and charisma (not what I normally mean by the word), and Somatics is physical strength and stamina.

You can just split points amongst them, but the rules provide an easy set of templates. We’ll go with Facilitator, which gives us:

COG 15
INT 15
REF 10
SAV 20
SOM 10
WIL 20

Step 6: Total Skills

And now this is the bit I hate, which requires figuring out which skills apply to which aptitude, and adding them all together. If anything goes above 80, then the extra points get put into a pool to get applied elsewhere (though excess knowledge skills can only be applied to other knowledge skills, and excess active (non-knowledge) skills can only apply to other active skills).

Athletics (SOM): 10 + 40 = 50
Interface (COG): 15 + 40 = 55
Kinesics (SAV): 20 + 30 + 30 = 80
Persuade (SAV): 20 + 20 + 40 = 80
Pilot: Ground (REF): 10 + 20 = 30
Program (COG): 15 + 20 = 35
Know (Celebrity Gossip) (COG): 15 + 60 = 75
Know (Psychology) (COG): 15 + 30 = 45
Perceive (INT): 15 + 40 = 55
Research (INT): 15 + 60 = 75
Know (Ego Hunting) (COG): 15 + 60 = 75
Know (Current Events) (COG): 15 + 30 = 45
Deceive (SAV): 20+ 30 = 50
Provoke (SAV): 20 + 30 = 50
Know: Rep Nets (COG): 15 + 40 = 55
Know (Anarchist) (COG): 15 + 30 = 45

In Alice’s case, nothing goes above 80, which means we don’t have spare points to spend. Something I did notice, was that Current Events, though it is listed as a choice on two different skill packages, isn’t listed anywhere in the example lists of Knowledge skills. Some knowledge skills count as Arts (so are INT based), and some are academic (so are COG based). It would be nice if all the options were clearly described as to where they fall. I’ve assumed COG in this case.

Step 7: Languages

You get to choose two languages (more if you have particularly high INT and COG – which Alice doesn’t). Language choice isn’t actually that important, since it is assumed real time translation is normally possible.

I pick English and Russian for Alice.

Step 8: Flex

This isn’t much of a step, you just get one Flex point. Flex is a pool which can be used to modify your skill checks during the game.

Step 9: Reputation

You get 100 points to split across different reputation networks, and the recommended choice is to split them 60/40 across two.

Alice will take 60 in @-rep, and 40 in f-rep.

@-rep (Circle-A) is reputation amongst anarchists, scum and other groups which don’t believe in centralised power structures.

f-rep, or Fame, is the reputation of journalists, celebrities and socialites.

Step 10: Customisation

At this point we get 20 customisation points to spend. These can be used to purchase extra skills, aptitudes, reputations and other things.

There’s a few skills that Alice should have, and each CP gives +5 on a skill. So I’ll spend 10 point son skills to add:

Know (Journalism) (COG) 15 + 25 = 40
Know (Investigation) (COG) 15 + 25 = 40


I’ll also spend 8 points on reputations, which gives me +20 on i-rep and +20 on c-rep.

i-rep (The Eye) is reputation within Firewall itself.
c-rep (CivicNet) is reputation amongst the hypercorps.

That leaves 2 points of customisation, which I’ll spend on traits (think advantages/disadvantages) to give Alice two contacts. I’ll flesh out exactly who the contacts are later.

I’d like her to have a lot more reputation, but since character generation is for starting characters, and Alice will be an experienced NPC, I can always boost this later. This is Alice shortly after she joined Firewall, and tried to make a difference.

Step 13: Motivations

Yes, I’ve skipped steps 11 and 12, since these are just for derived stats (which is just some basic number crunching) and her gear and morph. These steps are complex enough for a post by themselves, and this post is already long.

I mentioned that Alice already has a motivational goal from her faction (Anarchism). As far as I can tell, they don’t have a mechanical effect, but help guide you into thinking about what your character wants to achieve.

At this stage we have the choice of two more motivations, and a long list is provided, which is useful.

For Alice, I select +Expand Influence and -Thrill-Seeking. The negative means that this is something she is against. Alice wants to expand her influence throughout the system, getting to know more people and what drives them, but isn’t interested in putting herself directly in danger. She prefers to play it safe and conservative.

Summary

That’s not quite everything, but is enough for now. So far everything has been about Alice’s ego – who she is. Her morph will define the body she is currently wearing, and I’ll take a look at doing that later.
In terms of how it compares to the first edition, the use of skill packages greatly simplifies things, especially when it comes to trying to decide which skills are important, and which aren’t. Packages were added into the original edition in one of the add-on books, and now they’ve been made a core part of the system. Which is a good thing.
I still find the system a bit clunky though. I would prefer aptitudes to be independent of skills, so you could fiddle with one without having to recalculate the other (previously I’ve found this to be a pain when you have a lot of skills at the 80+ level, since you then have to re-work how many skill points go into the pool for re-allocation).
The knowledge skills especially could do with some better descriptions of what exactly it is they cover, though active skills are well described.
One thing that is an improvement, which I haven’t covered yet, is that morphs no longer modify your aptitudes. Previously, if you took a new morph (which can happen quite often), it would grant bonuses/penalties to your aptitudes, which then modified all your skills. Now instead morphs give you points in pools (similar to flex), so are independent of your aptitudes and skills. That makes it a lot easier, so is a big improvement.
So second edition character generation is slightly streamlined over the first edition, but not as much as I’d like. But then, without completely changing the system, this probably wasn’t going to happen.
I’ll take a look at selecting a morph in another post, as well as take a look at the various pools that morphs provide a character with.
Samuel Penn

Samuel Penn