Review: Eclipse Phase Supplements

Posted: 20 February 2013 in Reviews

Eclipse Phase is one of those games that I probably won’t play, but which is well-written enough that I enjoy reading it. The fact that most of the background information is presented as lectures by, or communications from, NPCs speaking in character reinforces this. I suspect that like Traveller: The New Era, for me it would be better as a setting for stories and novels rather than for games.

Anyway, I have three of the supplements; Gatecrashers, Panopticon, and Sunward, all of which are available under a Creative Commons licence – meaning you can legally download them for free here. As a bonus for you, I look at the Quick Start rules below, as well.

GENERAL

All of the books split the setting information (fluff or chrome) from the rules information (crunch). Setting info is generally presented as white type on a black background with blue trim, while rules info is black type on a white background with red and pink trim. All EP products are well laid-out but extremely colour-intensive, and these are no exception.

Rules info focuses on new morphs and gear for PCs to inhabit or use. Setting info is presented largely as transcripts of lectures, surveillance recordings and so on, and I like the way it’s written.

GATECRASHING (203 pages)

This supplement expands on the Pandora Gates of the core rulebook; who controls them, how they are used, what’s on the other side, why you might go, what can go wrong, how much you get paid. It’s a blend of Fringeworthy, Stargate, and the Cthulhu Mythos with transhuman technology.

I like this sort of setting for several reasons: The Gates do away with the need for starships; the way they operate means that all planets are the effectively the same distance apart, so no starmaps are necessary; and their small aperture means that the characters have only what they can carry on their backs, which focuses games on role-playing rather than stock control. It’s sci-fi lite.

This is my favourite of the three expansions in this review, but then my fondness for Stargate: SG-1 is well-known. It includes 30 locations to visit, with about two pages of description for each, divided into threats, natural wonders, colonies, and archaeological sites.

PANOPTICON Vol 1: Habitats, Surveillance, Uplifts (178 pages)

Panopticon is a traditional supplement, expanding on several areas of the core rules; specifically, surveillance and how to defeat it, uplifting other species (such as dolphins or pigs) to human levels of intelligence, and the inner workings of space habitats (and how to turn them to your advantage).

In the setting information, there are what you’d expect from the above paragraph, plus discussions of ethics and culture when people are under continuous, intrusive surveillance, and a ton of uplifted species – and the issues and factions involved.

In the game mechanics section, there are rules for gear, ID, sensors, surveillance, habitat systems and how to hack them (or sleeve into them; yes, your PC can now be an O’Neill cylinder colony 20 miles long), uplifted and smart animals.

SUNWARD (195 pages)

This is essentially a gazetteer of the inner system, which in EP means the solar system as far out as the asteroid belt. Each major body, and some of the minor ones, is described in detail, with places to go, factions and key people, and so on.

Specifically, we have the solar corona, where people live and work; Mercury’s captive asteroids; Mercury itself; Venus, with surface and aerostat colonies; Earth, both its ruins and orbital colonies; Luna; Mars; and a selection of asteroids.

The game information talks of environmental hazards, secrets and plot hooks. There are also a number of new sample characters.

QUICK START RULES (41 pages)

Unusually long for a set of quick start rules, these include 6 pages of setting summary abstracted from the core rulebook, 14 pages of rules explaining characters (but not how to create one), skill tests of various kinds, reputation, social networks, combat, and health both physical and mental.

Then there are a one-page introduction to Firewall, the default patron organisation, and a 7-page beginning adventure, Mind the WMD; this last showcases social interaction and detective work on a large spacecraft, combat, resleeving into a new body for the next act of the adventure, and so on; I think it’s a reasonable romp through what makes Eclipse Phase different.

There are four sample characters, each in two different morphs – one for the spacegoing part of the scenario, and one for the second act on a planetary surface.

The document ends with maps of the spacecraft and a good one-page rules summary.

CONCLUSIONS

See above; I don’t expect to play this game much, but I do like reading it and might well repurpose parts of it for my own campaigns. I also think this setting might well work better as a series of novels than as a game.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 throughout.

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Comments
  1. Brass Jester says:

    I love the Eclipse Phase setting and the rules are a beauty to read. However, I find character generation is a nightmare, very complex and non-intuitive. I usually generate a couple of characters myself to teach the rules to the other players; it took me well over two hours to do one character and then I discovered that I’d made a fundamental mistake early on which meant I had to start over. As almost everything affects almost everything else; it’s not easy to repair an error. There is a spreadsheet available on the net that does chargen, it runs to 5-6 pages of calculations. I had toyed with using Savage Worlds to run the setting, but I think it would lose something of its flavour. Maybe a solo game, but NPC’;s appear to be complex creations as well.

    • andyslack says:

      Oh, I agree. I think the only way I could run it for my group is using the pregen characters, and that falls apart the first time they resleeve, which is a key aspect of the setting. So, I’ll stick to reading it.

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