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.

Table Top Review: Frostgrave

(This is the first post from our newest author – Christopher Sievers!  Hopefully you wil be seeing more from him here on R&R)

I have been searching for something to fill a void in my gaming life since I quit Warhammer 40K and can’t always find a group to play Dungeons & Dragons. A friend of mine has been raving about Osprey Games for awhile so when I saw Frostgrave at the local game store, I decided to pick it up and I have not regretted it!

Frostgrave is essentially a tabletop wargame set in a fantasy world where small war bands of no more than nine figures compete for treasure and glory. At the heart of each war band is a Wizard and apprentice, protected by soldiers ranging from weak thugs and war hounds to mighty Templars and barbarians. I like the small scale because it is much easier and cheaper to find and paint nine figures than it is to complete a competitive WH40K army! Plus, you don’t even need to purchase the Frostgrave minis!  You can just use any old fantasy minis you have on hand!

Picture 1
Frostgrave Warband, L to R – Thug, Thief, Woman-at-Arms, Wizard, Apprentice, Templar, Archer, Thug, War Hound

My daughter (11yo) has grown to love D&D but has yet to find a steady group of kids to adventure. So, conducting a Frostgrave campaign is what we now use to fill the gaps between epic D&D adventures. Since it is a war game, the RPG elements are more mechanical in nature with each character having attributes such as Fight, Shoot, Will, Armor, and Health; however, naming each character and leading them to victory or seeing them chopped to pieces by a Demon your opponent summoned has surprising excitement and emotional impact.

Picture 2
My Daughter’s War Band (The four in the middle she painted.  The others are from D&D sets of pre-painted miniatures

The playing field is any tabletop, approximately 4’x4’, with a large amount of terrain to represent the frozen wasteland or ruined city. You can buy terrain or you can make your own.  As you will see, I chose to make terrain with foam board and other craft supplies. The opposing war bands start on opposite sides and decide the scenario you and your opponent wish to play. My first game with my daughter was a scenario where a valuable treasure was located at the top of a tower surrounded by an anti-magic field. Recovering the treasure was our mission.

Picture 3
The Initial Setup of the Game

Using a tape measure to take turns moving our characters across the table, we immediately began casting spells. My Thaumaturge Wizard brewed a speed potion and divined a secret treasure. My apprentice cast Beauty on herself to make her more difficult to attack. My daughter summoned a demon, which I would later regret. We quickly converged on the tower, but my Wizard arrived first due to her speed potion! While the demon and her warriors hacked my soldiers to pieces at the base of the tower, my Wizard managed to spirit away with the main treasure. After being caught in a couple of my daughter’s fireballs, my apprentice failed to heal herself and knocked herself out by expending too much of her strength.

After about two and a half hours, we resolved the scenario. I expect it will take about an hour to 90 minutes for most scenarios, but this was our first and we had to reference the rules as we went. In the end, my daughter’s Elementalist earned 200 experience points and recovered two treasures. She advanced two levels and found some gold and some very valuable potions for the next foray into the ruins of Frostgrave. Unfortunately, one of her soldiers died, but she earned just enough gold to hire another.

Picture 4
Run Away!

My Thaumaturge and her surviving soldiers pulled out quite a haul. In addition to the main treasure, I recovered three others. I also gained two levels, but carried away more gold and some magic weapons for my soldiers, two of which sadly didn’t survive to fight another day. My apprentice escaped with just some severed fingers and my war hound fully recovered. Between scenarios, I know where most of my money will go – hiring soldiers that can maybe stand against the Demons that will be gleefully summoned against me.

We had a great time and look forward to our next adventure. We had several lessons learned – spells are pretty difficult to cast at 0 level and combat can be brutal. The rules are simple enough to make the game flow, but have surprising depth depending on the Wizard school and spells you choose. Depending on the scenario and size of table, the game can be played with 2 – 4 war bands. We will be spending many hours painting minis and pitting them against each other in the frozen wasteland.