Posted by: markfender | November 1, 2011

Eclipse Phase – Sunward

So, we’ve reviewed the main book. Let’s take a look at the other books in the line, shall we?

Sunward covers the terrestrial planets of the solar system, as well as other important bits like the Sun and the Vulcanoids. It’s a big location book for hot spots across the solar system – well, half of the solar system. Owing to the hard sci-fi nature of the setting, this stuff is mostly just extrapolating current science and putting it in context of the transhuman future. It gets a few details wrong (Mercury does have an atmosphere – just a really, really pathetic one) but not enough to annoy.

The book starts with fiction. This fiction features a picture of a naked pleasure pod. Enjoy.

And then we get into my first annoyance. Like Shadowrun before it, the main book is written setting neutral – an omniscient narrator explains the setting – but the other books in the line are written as in-universe fiction. Ostensibly written as reports for Firewall on the various areas, we have various in-universe personalities with their own foibles and ways of writing. While probably more interesting to write than a dry report, it still annoys me. I want information from my game books and I don’t want to have to dig through some character’s personal observations to find it. Thankfully, they skip the breaking-up-the-flow idea of Shadowtalk from Shadowrun.

The first section is on the Sun and Mercury. See that thing on the cover? That’s a surya, or space whale. They live in the sun’s corona, swimming around and stuff. While I always exclaim when anyone mentions running the game that I want to play a space whale, they’re still pretty weird. I’m not sure I buy the science behind them. The rest of the books (and the line, for that matter) talks about how hard it is to make the solar system at large habitable for humanity, and yet we’ve got creatures living near the sun. How does that work? Do they produce their own magnetosphere? Seems like we if we licked that whole gamma-ray thing in order to make space whales, we really wouldn’t need to come up with hundreds of other ways to protect us from the ravages of space. So, I don’t know how I feel about them. They’re hilarious (seriously, you can play a space whale), but stretch the limits of my belief in the hard science of it all. Oh, also Mercury has a TITAN Human Centipede on it, so that’s fun.

If I was going to run a political game in Eclipse Phase, I think I would set it on Venus. The government of Venus just broke away from the Planetary Consortium, but still maintains political ties, creating some nice low-scale espionage situations. In addition, each of the areostats in Venus’s atmosphere (the only place on the planet habitable) is independent of the other, creating a wide variety of unique otherworldly settlements for political wheelings and dealings. The orbital stations around Venus are also ripe for corporate shenanigans as many hypercorps maintain their most experimental projects in Venus orbit (since cleaning up only requires a gentle push into Venus’ atmosphere, where it will be destroyed by the extreme heat and pressure). There’s also the possibility of secret aerostats as it’s exceedingly difficult to map Venus. As far as a gameable area of space, Venus seems pretty cool, even if I do have to wonder how exactly you make an all-quartz morph body that can function on the surface (wouldn’t it need joints that aren’t made of quartz? How does that work?)

The next section is Earth and my God it is annoying. It takes a column before the damned narrator has even started talking about the Earth. It’s real fun to attempt to find context clues in all the “See this? Pretty crazy, right?” in order to get an idea of the actual setting. Although it is nice to know that the Cermak Blast happened in this universe, too. Despite the annoyance of having to sift through “fun” dialogue, the remains of Earth are kinda interesting. It would be a different sort of game but some post apocalyptic action against TITAN nano-swarms might be interesting.

The next section is on Earth Orbit, which thankfully drops the narrator from the previous section. A lot of time is spent talking about the political situation within the Lunar-Lagrange Alliance. That’d be good for a political game, too, except that your PCs would probably need some sort of transportation around the various habitats and Eclipse Phase doesn’t do space travel. Egocasting all around then, I guess. Which doesn’t explain why there’s also a section on derelict stations that no one could possibly explore, due to the lack of spaceships.

I’m not sure why The Wire’s Baltimore makes an appearance in Eclipse Phase as Luna, but it does. Loonie, please. I’m also not sure why Eclipse Phase keeps insisting that there aren’t large deposits of He3 on the Moon. A quick Google search still shows that as being the prevalent theory. Maybe they know something I don’t.

Wait, I lied. I wasn’t annoyed by the Earth section at all. Not compared to the Mars section. Who thought it was a good idea to write up the area where the largest remainder of humanity lives in some faux-redneck/B-boy hybrid? Just from sheer probability’s sake, Mars is going to factor into lots of Eclipse Phase games, so let’s make sure it’s the section most difficult to extract actual setting information from. I also love the bit at the beginning of this section about how difficult it was to find a neutral narrator. Really? Out of the population of 200 million people, you couldn’t find one person capable of not telling their life story instead of imparting setting information? Thanks, writer. Mars is the biggest chapter, as befits the biggest remainder of transhumanity. Most of its pretty decent, even if the narrators use 21st century colloquialisms way too much.

Then we have the Inner Fringe – asteroids and spaceships that might as well be habitats. I can’t get too excited about these as the narrator pretty much details the secretive ones with things to hide. That’s great, except I don’t know how you’d get some PCs there to investigate the secretive goings-on. Are these secret research facilities going to accept strange egocasts? Probably not. It seems to me that the way to gain access to these stations would be with…a spaceship. *sigh* I’m not okay with Eclipse Phase ignoring space travel, but could they at least stop putting plot hooks in their books that require space ships to access?

At last, we get to the Planetary Consortium. As the largest political body in the inner planets, we get a write-up of its major shareholders, the ways in which it does business, its objectives, and its relations with its neighbors. It’s a good overview with enough hooks for GMs looking to incorporate some of the various internal factions of the PC into their games.

Finally, we end with some Game Information – new equipment, new morphs, new archetypes, and a limited discussion on some of the secrets of the previous areas. In general, this section isn’t too unexpected – most of the tech constraints I complained about earlier are handwaved away (just buy Extreme Temperature Tolerance and everything’s good). In addition, we get a nice section on how to infiltrate Earth, in case your games involve that. My favorite would be the advice to treat a space ship-equipped mission cinematically…because of the lack of space ships, of course (even though we do get stats for an Interdictor killstat…explain that inclusion).

Despite my complaining, this is probably my favorite Eclipse Phase book. It’s got cool details on the primary environs of transhumanity and lots of game hooks. I only wish the outer system book would come out, since I feel like I’m missing half the fun.

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Responses

  1. I admit I haven’t pored over the Eclipse Phase books exhaustively, but I got the impression that there isn’t really a lack of spaceships at all, just a paucity of rules for the kinds of long-haul travel that would be involved in physically traveling from (say) the Moon to Venus. If your character is being asked to perform a smash-and-grab at an Inner Fringe research facility, you’d find yourself sleeving into a morph that just spent a year and a half coasting into position so you can perform final maneuvers, wet work, etc. For some reason I thought they’d mentioned that somewhere.

    As for the Q-morphs, the first two places I see them mentioned, it’s said that they are comprised of quartz and “other high temperature alloys.” Which, aside from implying that quartz is an alloy, is pretty reasonable. Venusian industry probably puts a high premium on materials like tungsten (melting point of 3,422C),

    • As far as the spaceship thing, yeah, there’s no rules for long-haul Traveller-esque gaming. Which is fine. But there’s also no real discussion of how big spaceships are, how many crew members they might have, the sorts of drives or defenses they might have, etc. I’m fine for handwaving spaceship travel with a red line (a la Indiana Jones travel sequences). But then you have to deal with entering habitats or colonies that don’t want you there and you’ve got nothing to really base that sort of scenario on. At least Indy did have a blimp as a set piece. So, yeah, some sort of set piece information might be useful.

  2. A spaceship in this setting would be functionally little more than a habitat that spends a bunch of time moving from one area to another. I agree that some guidelines would be helpful, if only to reinforce with players that egocasting is a far more practical means of getting from hab to hab.


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