Previously I looked at building an ego for a new character for Eclipse Phase 2nd edition, and now I’m moving on to selecting a morph for her.
Alice Langston is an information broker, an ex reporter on the glitterati who since the Fall has turned her talents to seeking out more serious threats than slipped nipples or bad hairstyles. She still makes heavy use of her contacts amongst the wealthy and famous though, and needs a body that fits in with that social set.
Eclipse Phase is all about (well, apart from the existential risks to the existence of humanity) your body (morph) being something you wear. Many people are stuck in the morphs they were given – either the one they were born with, or the one provided to to them for ‘free’ when they were downloaded from backups after losing their bodies during the Fall. Such morphs are cheap and plentiful, but also rather boring and cookie-cutter same. You’re unlikely to get into a posh restaurant wearing such a morph, any more than you’d get into one wearing grubby jeans and a t-shirt.
Morphs can be biological, mechanical or even digital. They can be human looking, or designed for a particular job (such as heavy industry) or extreme environments (the surface of Venus). The types of morphs are many and varied, but all can be controlled by an ego once it is downloaded into it.
For a typical campaign, a character gets to spend 6 Morph Points on their morph and any other special gear they want. Extra points not spent go into their Flex pool (more on this later). The first (and only) time I ran Eclipse Phase, everyone spent all their starting money on equipment. At the start of the first adventure when they had to ego-cast to another location (and leave their morph and all their equipment behind), they were somewhat upset.
So the first thing to be aware of is that unlike in most game systems, you need to be prepared to lose your body and gear. At least temporarily. You could hop on a spaceship and spend three months in transit to get to the outer system, but often you’ll want to upload a digital copy of your mind, broadcast it after radio waves, and download into a different morph at the far end a few hours later. You may have an already purchased morph waiting for you there, or you may need to rent one. The main point though is, putting all your eggs in one basket may not be the best choice.
There are several different types of morphs available. Infomorphs are simply software running in a computer. Though backing up and transmitting a digital copy of an Ego is relatively cheap and simple, running an Ego at fast enough speed to simulate human consciousness I guess requires specialist hardware, so you need to purchase a special morph if you want to be an AI in a computer.
Synthmorphs are mechanical rather than biological, and aren’t limited to being humanoid in appearance, though some, such as Cases and Synths are anthropomorphic. They can be cheap compared to biomorphs, but can also function in vacuum or other inhospitable environments. Flexbots are another type of biomorph which are designed to be pluggable and modular. Uplifts are based on animals with uplifted (human-like) intelligence. An octopus morph in a zero-g environment can be a lot of fun.
For Alice, I select a Sylph morph. At a cost of 4 MP it is quite expensive, but is the type of morph used by media icons, socialites and models. As well as some basic physical attributes (mostly used for combat), morphs provide points in various pools. A basic free morph gives nothing, but the high-end Sylph morph provides the following:
Insight: 1, Moxie: 3, Vigor: 1, Flex: 1
At a basic level, the four pools allow modifications of dice rolls for skill tests associated with the pool. Insight covers mental skills, Moxie social and reputation, Vigor physical and Flex is a general purpose pool that can be spent on (mostly) anything.
In first edition, there was simply Moxie, which was a general purpose pool, so the range of options has been expanded. The other change is that in first edition, a morph modified your base aptitudes, which mean your skill levels would need recalculation every time you changed morph. By switching to these pools, it makes things a lot simpler, which I like.
To understand how the pools work, I probably need to cover how skill tests work. As mentioned previously, skills are a percentage and the player rolls d% to roll equal to or lower than their skill in order to succeed. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
If you succeed on a roll of 33 or higher, then it’s a superior success. On a 66 or higher, it’s two superior successes. So generally, you want to roll as high as possible but still lower than your skill.
If you fail on a roll of 66 or lower, it’s a superior fail, and on 33 or lower it’s two superior fails.
Basically, these can mean a task takes longer or shorter, the quality is better or worse than average etc.
In addition, if you rolls doubles (00, 11, 22 etc), then it’s a critical success or failure. 00 is always a critical success (it’s zero, not 100), and 99 is always a critical failure.
At this point I should say that I really dislike percentile systems, and the complexity of the Eclipse Phase system demonstrates why. In a simple dice + adds (similar to d20, D6, Ars Magica, Rolemaster etc), the higher you roll, the better. Always. There’s no issue of rolling 66 against a 75 skill, but because you have a -10 penalty your critical success becomes a critical failure. A high roll is always good, a low roll is always bad.
In EP, you need to check your skill before knowing whether a roll was good or bad. Also, as GM, in a dice + adds system I can tell a player to just roll their skill, and consider what the difficulty should be after they roll. My decision may affect whether it’s a great success or merely a normal success. But it’s not going to flip something from a great success to a terrible failure.
In EP, deciding between a -10 penalty for ‘slightly hard’ or -20 for ‘hard’ can make a huge difference to the result, so requires that the GM is a bit less flexible in their approach and is clear before the roll what all the modifiers are.
Spending a point from a pool can have one of the following effects:
- Ignore all modifiers to the test (before the roll)
- Give a +20 bonus (before the roll)
- Switch the digits on the dice (so 75 becomes 57)
- Upgrade a success to a superior success
- Make a critical failure a regular failure
- Provide a small on going bonus to one aptitude for 24 hours (can’t use flex)
Each pool also provides special bonuses unique to that pool. For example, Vigor allows you to go first in a turn, take an extra action or ignore a wound. Insight and Moxie provide bonuses for mental and social aspects of the game.
Flex provides special story effects. For example, you can spend Flex to introduce a new NPC, or modify the environment slightly (adding an air duct which could be used to escape through for example). I’m not entirely certain how well this fits into the otherwise quite gritty Eclipse Phase universe, but I don’t object to this sort of rule in general.
The Sylph Morph that Alice has provides lots of Moxie, which gives bonuses in social situations, which isn’t too unexpected. Pools can be recharged up to three times a day (a couple of short recharge periods, which take 10 minutes, plus a long recharge which takes 4 or more hours), so the pool points will probably have a big affect on the game and can be spent quite regularly.
As I’ve said, I do like the fact that morphs now give a different set of bonuses which are independent of everything else. I’m still not entirely comfortable that physical aptitudes aren’t entirely based on the morph (the idea that an ego defines your basic strength is strange – though it is described as being your knowledge of how to use your strength rather than just pure physical power), but there’s some advantage from a game perspective of doing this. A ‘strong’ or ‘agile’ character will always have advantage over a ‘weak’ or ‘clumsy’ character, regardless of the morph they are in, allowing characters to have well define roles within the group. It’s not how I’d design things, but I can live with it.
Alice has had 4 points out of 6 spent on her morph. She could spend the other two points on a backup morph, but she’ll take one point in Striking Looks for her Sylph morph. This grants +10 on Persuade and Provoke tests. The body she’ll take will be male (gender in EP can be incredibly fluid), always impeccably dressed and well recognised amongst the glitterati of Progress station.
She’ll also take a Splicer morph for 1 point. A Splicer is a genefixed human – optimised for health and good looks, but not in the same class as the Sylph morph. She can use this when she wants to be less obvious, but doesn’t want to completely slum it in a Flat. This will be a female, still good looking, but generally used when mixing with those who deal with the glitterati.
She could take negative traits (for either her Morphs or her Ego), which give back extra points which could be spent on positive traits or extra skills etc. Combat Paralysis would probably be a good Ego trait for her – which would give 4 points to exchange for Allies or Resources. I’m not going to go into the details of min-maxing her at this point though, but the options are available.
Positive and negative Morph traits only apply to a single morph, whilst Ego traits apply regardless of the morph you are in.
The purchase of equipment has been greatly simplified – which is a huge advantage. Fantasy games tend to be quite simple for starting equipment – a fighter needs a sword and armour, a wizard some spell books etc. In an SF game, the list of available equipment is often long, and the options often need a lot of reading and planning to understand.
In EP2, characters get to select two gear packs. The first pack is based on the type of campaign, so will already be decided for them. Either all the characters are Firewall Agents, Criminals or they’re Gatecrashing (exploring alien worlds). Alice is a Firewall Agent, so will get the Firewall Agent pack, which provides:
An anonymizer, light armoured vest, a fake ego ID, medium pistol, smart clothing, a TacNet App and a VPN app. These are briefly described so players know basically what they do. It ensures everyone has basic equipment that will cover most missions. Not everyone will think about fake IDs or the ability to share tactical data in real-time – with it there on the character sheet, the game is telling players what their characters can do without having to shift through long lists.
The second pack is based on profession – Academic, Covert Operative, Hacker and Soldier are some examples. When I first read this, I assumed it was a free choice, but on re-reading it’s based on the career chosen back in step 2 of character generation. This is a bit unfortunate, because the career I selected was the career she trained for, not the career she’s doing now.
As it happens, though you’re meant to take the pack for your career, you can swap out individual items for other items of the same cost. As far as I can tell, all profession packs provide 10 points of gear, so you could just one for another. So I’ll just allow Alice to take the one that best fits her current role, and let her take the Face/Dealer pack, which provides her with:
Enhanced Hearing, Guardian Angel (a personal defence rotorcraft), Medium Fabber (a 3D printer on steroids), Nanodetector, Neuromodulation, a Smart Hawk and 5 doses of stiff.
Again, this selection pushes the player into knowing a bit about what is possible in the Eclipse Phase universe without them having to read lots of background material (or at least pushes them in the direction of what they need to read up on). I think this is a huge improvement over the first edition, where an entire session could easily be spent on trying to figure out what equipment to buy, and then still end up missing out on something really important.
Other equipment could be purchased if the character had extra wealth or resources, but Alice doesn’t really need a huge amount of equipment, so I think that is enough for now.
Finally, all characters get to start with a free Muse. This is an AI that sits in your head and provides assistance. It’s a bit like Google Assistant, but with its own personality and ability to actually think for itself. It’s not a full human level intelligence, but it’s one aspect of Eclipse Phase which is quite unique and interesting. However, I’ve never been entirely certain how to run them. They could be run as an NPC, or the player could run them themselves as a sort of second character (possibly a bit like a familiar in a fantasy game).
Before I try running a game, Muses are one area I really need to think about.
The second edition definitely simplifies a lot of the character creation for Eclipse Phase, in a way that I think doesn’t overly limit what sort of characters players can have. The character choices are in no way a ‘class’ – further character progression is completely free and open.
For me, this is a huge improvement, and I think they’ve gone down the right path. The use of pools for the morphs is interesting, and whilst I haven’t seen it in play, it feels to be like it’s probably the right decision.
I haven’t looked at the actual rules used for running the game, which I may do later, but for now Eclipse Phase 2 looks like a worthwhile improvement over it’s predecessor.