Tabletop Review: Eclipse Phase

What would happen if the Apocalypse occurred, as dark and nasty as portended – and it just stopped halfway through?  Eclipse Phase, a tabletop role-playing game, is a constant source of inspiration for me because it asks questions like the above.

I use to be really into tabletop games when I was younger.  Dungeons and Dragons, Star Frontiers, Battletech, and Megatraveller were constant companions and gave me untold hours of entertainment.  They were some of the most powerful moments of childhood for me – my campaign with the 2nd Ceti Hussars in the Fourth Succession Wars, the voyages of the Free Trader Saint Jude, and journeying through the Hornwood in the Grand Duchy of Geoff.  Some kids came home from school and went to the playground.  I went to the stars one afternoon or to the edges of the empire the next.

Nowadays, I’m a family man with a profession and though I do have free time, I don’t have nearly enough regular friends who I can get together and game.  My tastes have changed as well.  I enjoy solo gaming, board games and of course computer and video games of all sorts.  But I still do collect RPG source books because of efforts like Eclipse Phase.

Eclipse Phase is set in the late 22nd Century and the fabled technological singularity occurred and humanity’s glorious future looked assured.  The entirety of the Solar System was colonized and technology created fabulous wonders.  The very nature of humanity had changed – bodies could be tailored for any function and could be exchanged at will.  Consciousness could be uploaded into computers and various species had been uplifted to join the ranks of sentient beings.  It wasn’t perfect – the nations of Earth brought their rivalries into space, corporations were eclipsephase_cover_phsas rapacious as ever, and technology brought with it some novel crimes – but ultimately things were looking up.

Then it ended.  The AIs designed to control warfare in this modern age activated, infected by an alien plague, and unleashed the hell of 22nd Century weapons of mass destruction.  The nations of Earth died, immolating themselves in the opening moments believing the long expected war against each other was upon them before they realized their error.  Billions were killed across the Solar System and a hasty blockade of the Earth was erected in an attempt to halt the offensive – millions more died as evacuation ships were destroyed to bottle up the plague which was warping humanity itself.  It was the end of humanity – and then the offensive stopped.  The AIs, now called TITANS, went silent and humanity was given enough respite to survive the crisis.

Eclipse Phase is set ten years after the war and as a game, it is not particularly innovative.  The gaming systems are pretty standard – the d100 percentile system has been around for decades.  But EP has won critical acclaim for its writing.  There have been several source books written and they outline an entirely plausible extrapolation of what a future society would look like.

As for me, EP is full of wonders – hundreds of pages of mysteries and wonders of a golden age aborted.  I read the source books like history textbooks, a detailed look at a fully formed futuristic society.  The writers have amazing attention to detail and strive for authenticity – the science works out and they didn’t take shortcuts.   Even better, each new book has introduced new mysteries about what really occurred – and I’m hooked on seeing where they go next.  The books have been so inspirational that if I should ever choose to write stories again, I want to write in this future.

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