Eclipse Phase Has Great Ideas but Doesn’t Follow Through

Eclipse Phase is a transhumanist cyberpunk science fiction roleplaying game that doesn’t believe in doing things small. Now on its fourth printing and generously available for pay-what-you-like, Eclipse Phase is a thick tome where most games of its generation are small and lean. While other games specialize and focus their efforts on a specific type of game, Eclipse Phase wants to have everything: a deep setting, customizable character creation, and rules to cover every situation. No one can fault this game’s ambition.

Unfortunately, ambition alone does not make for a great game. Eclipse Phase has a lot of problems weighing it down, which is too bad because many of its ideas are fantastic.

The Transhumanist Setting Is Fascinating

Artificial Limb Factory

Eclipse Phase’s setting is a marvelous place. Set 10 years after a robot uprising laid waste to Earth, transhumanity is scattered across the solar system. Planets and moons of all types have been colonized, from the aging domes of Mars to the utopian cyber democracy of Titan. Ships and stations hurtle through the void, containing their own self-sufficient ecosystems.

And while all of that is cool, it’s mostly window dressing. The real meat of Eclipse Phase is the evolution of brain-scanning technology. Using advanced scanners and nano-printers, it is commonplace for people to back up their mental information, known in-setting as an “ego.” Those egos can then be downloaded into new bodies in the event their original dies, if someone wants to experience life in a different body, or even if they only want to have a best friend who is a copy of themselves.

This technology turns the human experience on its head. On the one hand, people are functionally immortal now. Short of destroying every ego backup, there’s no way to kill a person permanently. On the other hand, doesn’t a person effectively die every time they copy and paste themselves into a new body? The mind is just data, after all; there is no “soul” to be transferred that anyone can detect.

That question is difficult to answer, but Eclipse Phase’s setting is the perfect place to explore it. Because the setting doesn’t take itself too seriously, you can consider these existential quandaries from inside the body of an uplifted octopus. GMs who like heavy research can go even deeper, crafting stories around the TITAN AIs and the mysterious Pandora Gates.

The downside to Eclipse Phase’s setting is information density. Primers exist, but unless new players do a lot of reading, they can easily get lost. GMs must be prepared to shepherd their group, slowly introducing new concepts over several sessions. Confronting new players with everything at once will send them running.  

The Mental Health System Is Excellent  

Wall art of a man counseling a giant banana. This can actually happen in Eclipse Phase. Banana Therapy by James Nash used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Eclipse Phase gets its mental health rules by way of the old Call of Cthulhu (CoC) sanity system, so I wasn’t expecting much. CoC’s system of random insanity in response to seeing a giant squid monster feels hokey to a modern audience, not to mention problematic as it stigmatizes the mentally ill.

But Eclipse Phase surprised me. Instead of losing “sanity,” characters accumulate stress as they experience traumatic events. The trauma in question can range from seeing a good friend die to waking up in a body that isn’t the character’s own. Stress points have mechanical effects, of course. It’s hard to be at one’s best while super stressed out. But they also give the character real conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia.

The water gets a little murky here, because characters can also gain conditions like borderline personality disorder, which in real life is considered to be passed down through genetics. It’s unlikely that a person would spontaneously develop it. However, that concern can be resolved by imagining that the character always had the genetic potential for such a condition, and it was then triggered by a traumatic event. Unlike CoC’s random insanity tables, Eclipse Phase leaves the choice of conditions and how to play them up to the player, so the topic can be approached gently if anyone is sensitive to it.

While the system makes a few missteps, like referring to some conditions as “derangements,” these rules are a definite bright spot. They subtly enforce the notion that no person can walk through life completely unaffected by the world around them. The rules also provide a check on the excess of transhuman immortality. A PC might be tempted to copy themselves a dozen times and send their new troops on a suicide mission, but doing so will incur a lot of stress.

Finally, the rules make it clear that a character will heal from trauma much faster if they receive therapeutic help. Trying to “tough it out” on one’s own doesn’t make mechanical sense. That’s a nice reminder of how valuable therapy is in real life.   

Obtuse Terminology Adds Unneeded Confusion

And that’s it for the praise. Eclipse Phase is extremely complicated, both in rules and setting. Players need to absorb a lot of information, even when the GM is being careful. Straightforward terminology would have done a lot to ease the process. Instead, the game uses thesaurus-fu to replace every game term with a new one that’s technically accurate but difficult to understand.

For example, what does Savvy mean, as a character attribute? What about Cognition? Turns out they equate to charisma and intelligence, respectively. The list goes on. Hitpoints are called Durability, and wisdom is called Intuition. The grand prize for confusing terminology goes to “Somatics.” Can you guess what that means? I’ll wait.*

Several of the skills have confusing names too. Instead of Sense Motive, Eclipse Phase has Kinesics. Again, a technically accurate name, but not something most players will know. Even worse, the dodge skill is called Fray. That isn’t even technically accurate, as it’s used any time a character has to get out of the way, not just in disorderly or protracted fights.*

Next, look at how the stats are arranged on the character sheet.

EP Character Sheet

I have no idea what this means, please send help! Okay, joking aside, what they’ve done here is abbreviate the various stat names, probably in an effort to save space. This is the worst design choice I’ve seen on a character sheet since Dungeon World didn’t include any blank sheets for GMs to make their own classes. Even if a player manages to memorize all their stats, this sheet is meaningless.

Players new to a system need all the help they can get learning the rules. Instead, Eclipse Phase bombards them with new terminology and a character sheet that looks like it was copied from an accountant’s Excel files. That adds untold aggravation to the learning processes, and it didn’t need to happen. All of Eclipse Phase’s fancy terms have more descriptive, easier to use equivalents, and the character sheet could have been rearranged.

Sometimes it’s necessary to invent new terminology. There’s no word in English for downloading a new instance of a person’s ego into a different body, so Eclipse Phase borrowed “forking” from computer programming lingo.* That term is worth learning because it conveys a new idea. But the obscure names for stats and skills come off as a cheap attempt to sound more futuristic, and the game would have been better without them.

Character Creation Is Deep but Frustrating

A hand reaching for the water's surface. So deep you’ll drown. Drowning by canibeurfirst used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Character creation in Eclipse Phase is deep. Really deep. Deep enough you want to be careful how fast you go back to the surface.* Players can make an astonishing variety of characters. Would they like to play a super-smart AI geneticist inhabiting the body of a giant crab? Easily done. What about a master sword-fighter with three bodies, all inhabited by forks of the same character? Child’s play.

The game has rules for a staggering variety of bodies, both organic and synthetic. PCs can have all kinds of cybernetic implants, plus a cornucopia of traits and gear. That’s great for experienced players who want to dive into the setting, pushing the boundaries of transhumanity further than they’ve ever gone.

For new players, character creation isn’t so smooth. The game presents players with 1000 points, but it gives very little idea of how to spend them. Looking at the hundreds of options available, newer players are likely to suffer analysis paralysis, unable to choose anything at all. Worse, many players simply won’t have time to read through all the options available, so the GM must do a lot of extra work to guide them.

Regardless of player experience level, this kind of unguided character creation has another problem: it encourages hyper-specialization. In most roleplaying games, it’s better to be really good at a few things than passable at many things, and Eclipse Phase is no exception. The rules try to discourage hyper-specialization by making skills cost more after a certain level, but the lure is too great! This problem actually gets worse with more experienced players, as they already know how to leverage a maxed out Persuasion skill to great effect. This leaves the well-rounded PCs wondering why they bothered.

Eclipse Phase also lets PCs get even more points from taking disadvantages, and in the time-honored tradition of roleplaying games, some of these disadvantages are actually plot hooks. For example, consider the Frail disadvantage and the Edited Memory disadvantage, both worth 10 points. Frail reduces a PC’s total hitpoints, a serious flaw. Edited Memory gives no mechanical penalty and means that at some point the PC will be the star of a session to find out what happened to their memory. Any player who didn’t know that and took Frail will feel pretty silly.

But by far the most frustrating part of Eclipse Phase is being forced to spend 300 points on “knowledge skills.” These run the gambit from actual knowledge skills like biology to performance arts like dance. They all have one thing in common though: it’s hard to imagine most PCs having a use for them. Even the language skills are worthless, because everyone has translators embedded in their brains. Nevertheless, players must spend nearly a third of their points on knowledge skills, which has the odd result of every Eclipse Phase character looking like they went to college long enough to get half a dozen bachelor’s degrees.

The Core Die Mechanic Still Isn’t Great

A pair of percentile dice. D100 by Rlyehable used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Like its mental health system, Eclipse Phase inherits its core die mechanic from Call of Cthulhu.* This is usually known as the percentile system, where most rolls are made on a d100, trying to get equal to or under the character’s skill rating. Unlike the mental health rules however, Eclipse Phase did not improve the percentile system enough to be worthy of praise.

The percentile system’s biggest problem has always been that by default; the difficulty of a roll is determined by the PC’s skill rather than the task they’re attempting. PC Tyrone’s Pilot skill is 60, no matter if they’re trying to land a plane in calm weather or flying down the Grand Canyon at combat speeds. Eclipse Phase tries to solve this problem by allowing the GM to impose bonuses or penalties to a character’s skill based on how difficult the task is, but most GMs forget this option more often than not.

The percentile system is also notoriously bad at opposed rolls. For a long time, Call of Cthulhu didn’t have opposed skill rolls at all, and players had to consult a table when pitting their base attributes against another’s. Eclipse Phase does have opposed rolls, but they’re unintuitive. In an opposed roll, both sides are trying to get as close to their skill total as they can without going over. If one participant has a skill rating of 72, then a 72 is the best roll they can get.* If their opponent has a skill of 85 but only rolls a 45, then the first participant would win.

This mechanic works, but it’s irritating to players who’ve just finished learning that they’re trying to roll low. Another irritant is the way attribute rolls are handled. In most cases, the players have to roll against their attribute times three, and it’s amazing how much that extra bit of multiplication can slow down a game.

Finally, Eclipse Phase’s retry mechanic is a mess. The rules seem to say that any player can retry any task up to six times. Each time has a lower chance of success, but so what? As far as I can tell there’s no downside to retrying as often as possible. The rules don’t seem to indicate if these retries represent the character literally trying again or if it’s all an abstraction. In any case, it’s a terrible rule that does nothing but slow the game down and make it almost impossible for anyone to fail a roll. If that’s the goal, they should have just removed failure from the game and been more honest about it.  

Skills Are Needlessly Divided

An image cloud of various programming languages. In an RPG, no one cares which of these you can use. Top Programming Languages by Daniel Iversen used under CC BY 2.0

Many systems struggle with skill granularity, and Eclipse Phase is no exception. Some skills cover a broad range of tasks, while others are very narrow, and there seems little rhyme or reason to it. Consider the Programming skill. This skill is very broad and is used for everything from hacking into a secure server to writing a search algorithm. That isn’t very realistic, but it makes the game better. In a thrilling story of transhuman drama, no one cares if a character can program in SQL or Java, they care if the character can stop the TITAN nano-virus from spreading to the space station’s main CPU.

And yet, some skills are unaccountably divided into what the game calls “fields.” While they’re under the umbrella of a single skill, PCs must spend points on each of them separately. Medicine is the most obvious culprit, with 13 different fields, some of which are just bizarre. Does the game really care if a character has Trauma Surgery or Remote Surgery? What if it’s a surgery performed by a remotely controlled drone on a trauma victim?

Piloting is another divided skill, which just seems cruel. The book makes it quite clear that PCs won’t be spending much of their time in spacecraft or aircraft, and yet it expects players to spend huge numbers of points to be competent at operating vehicles. The game also requires two different skills to use laser weaponry and kinetic weaponry, even though both types of weapons are operated by the same easy-to-use point-and-click interface. For comparison, the Blades skill lets characters wield everything from a battle-axe to a rapier.

This skill division is inconsistent, and it can damage a story. Imagine a scenario where the GM has their players breaking into an evil hypercorp’s weapons-lab. One of the PCs, an expert sniper, gets hold of an experimental laser-rifle. They level the rifle at the enemy and then proceed to miss every shot. Even though the character was a crack shot, they forgot to pick up the Beam Weapons skill in addition to the Kinetic Weapons skill. The player assumed one point-and-click interface was the same as another.

Combat Is Slow and Uninteresting

Two combatants jousting on snails. Yeah, it takes about this long.

Even though Eclipse Phase is a system that tries to do everything, most of the rules are related to combat. Reaper drones rain death down from on high, seeker missiles navigate around every obstacle to find their targets, and nano-swarms literally take the enemy apart piece by piece.

With all that going on, it’s disappointing in the extreme that Eclipse Phase combat has little to recommend. First of all, it’s time consuming. Two lightly armored* characters with assault rifles can easily take four rounds of shooting to resolve their differences, and that number gets a lot higher if they pile on the armor. With a party of four to six PCs plus their opponents, exciting gunfights quickly become plodding chores.

What’s more, players have an endless list of bonuses and penalties to keep track of. Did they remember to buy a scope? That’s +10 to hit. Did they remember to aim? Also +10 to hit. What about their weapon’s armor penetration rating or the various types of ammunition available? That becomes a headache fast. Don’t even get me started on the rules for throwing a grenade.*

Most damning, for all of its complexity, Eclipse Phase combat offers very little depth. The game has a thousand different ways to optimize a PC for combat, but once the dice start rolling, there are hardly any decisions to be made. Like Call of Cthulhu, D&D, and many older systems, Eclipse Phase combat consists almost entirely of two sides blazing away from static positions until one side can’t shoot any more. There’s little room for tactics or clever thinking unless the GM puts in a lot of extra leg work.

Eclipse Phase combat has only one redeeming quality: it has low stakes. If a PC dies from an (un)lucky critical hit, they can be easily restored from a backup. GMs don’t have to worry about destroying their campaign with a fight that got out of hand. Of course, this benefit cuts both ways. Players used to more traditional settings may find combat boring if death isn’t on the line.

The Whole System Is Rife With Imbalance

David vs Goliath Like that, except David just dies.

Eclipse Phase is not a well balanced system, and even a cursory reading of the rules shows it. The most blatant offenders are implants that give characters an extra action. By default, characters have only one action. These implants double a character’s effectiveness in combat or any other situation where time is a factor. The only limitation to receiving these implants is their cost, and PCs can easily scrape the credits together with a few skill rolls.

Dual wielding further breaks the action economy. Each extra hand/limb holding a weapon essentially gains its own turn, which stacks with the extra action implants. This means a robot with pistols in each of its 10 hands can make 40 attacks in a single round.* In fairness, each attack after the first receives an increasing penalty, but there’s no reason not to make them. PCs can also purchase traits that will reduce or eliminate these penalties, turning every combat into an unending bulletstorm.

Not all the balance issues are so spectacular. Weapon stats clearly favor bigger guns over smaller ones with no mechanical incentive not to pick the most powerful option available.* Why use an assault rifle when a machine gun is the clearly superior option? The machine gun is more expensive, but as with implants, money isn’t a real obstacle for PCs. Lasers, by contrast, are disappointingly underpowered, a rude shock to anyone who invested points in Beam Weapons.

But don’t worry, combat isn’t the only place where imbalance reigns. Emotional dampeners give a +30 to Deception rolls. Even in a system where skills are rated from 01 to 99, that’s a huge bonus. The supposed downside is that the dampeners give -10 to Persuasion rolls, but they can be turned off at will so it isn’t clear if that will matter. What’s more, the dampeners can be combined with endocrine control implants for a total of +50 on Deception rolls. That kind of epic level lying in starting characters will cause huge problems, as PCs realize they can make people believe the most outrageous falsehoods.

I found these balance issues after reading through the book once. I shudder to think what a true master of the system could come up with. Any GM looking to keep their game from disintegrating will have to spend a lot of time house-ruling or disallowing various options, lest newer players be completely outstripped by those who know how Eclipse Phase does its math.

At its heart, Eclipse Phase is a game suffering from too much complexity. The setting is incredibly deep and asks players to accept major paradigm shifts. Just trying to figure out what death means will leave heads spinning. In this kind of game, the rules should support both players and GMs who find themselves struggling. Instead, the system is confusing and labyrinthine. New players take one look at the character sheet and head for the hills.

Eclipse Phase’s overcomplexity stems from its simulationist mindset. Every possible aspect of the setting must be represented in the rules, right down to how many meters a character can crawl in three seconds. With a setting this sprawling, that means an equally sprawling set of rules. If the designers had used something more abstract, it could have been a stable platform from which to explore transhumanity. Instead the rules mostly get in the way. While the setting is still awesome, it isn’t enough.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

Read more about



  1. Cliff Jackson

    After having read through the article several times, I felt the need to write this. While I do not disagree that Eclipse Phase has some issues regarding it’s system, many of the things mentioned show an obvious lack of in depth reading, while others just evoke the usual eye rolls I associate with this site.

    While I am not a fan of the d100 system, there is a robust modifier system in place to keep even the most highly rate skills in check, and reaching levels above 70 are actually rather difficult if you read the rules and follow the guidelines set out in character creation. I find it a bit unwieldy, but still very functional.

    The entire screed on the character sheet and attribute abbreviations is possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Stat abbreviations have been part of tabletop RPG’s since the inception, and if people find it disorienting then maybe they should find another hobby. The sheet is intuitive and easy to use, as demonstrated by the numerous groups of gamers (across all levels of experience) that I have run EP for.

    Lastly, (more for the time I wish to invest than the number of issues I have with the article) you address the complexity as something the game suffers for…which I disagree with. While I tend more to the narrative side of things, the complexity of Eclipse Phase is not a drawback…if you are the sort of player they had in mind. It allows for a wide range of player/GM styles, it covers numerous eventualities that WILL come up in even the most by the numbers scenarios, and tries to give a hard simulationist framework to the setting so that people can have a reliable understanding of how things will and won’t work, thus freeing them to deal with the complex philosophical underpinnings of the setting. If that edge is too “complex”, then the well thought out Transhumanity’s Fate exists so people can tackle the setting within the much more forgiving embrace of a FATE engine game. Even there, Eclipse Phase is not for gamers seeking beer and pretzels entertainment or mindless escapism. It’s an RPG for gamers who seek more complexity in their games, both mechanically and conceptually…and perhaps that’s not you.

    • Michael Duxbury

      Bad idea to claim “stat abbreviations are already something all roleplayers should be familiar with” when one of the abbreviations is INT, apparently standing for Intuition (I think). It’s difficult and awkward for roleplayers, it’s difficult and awkward for non-roleplayers.

      And since you were dismissive of the author’s claim that the character sheet would put people off playing the system: it has put me off playing the system.

      Transhumanity’s Fate is a good tip!

    • Wesley Street

      Mindjammer for FATE is a mechanically and conceptually complex science-fiction game but it doesn’t require players to learn brand new game terms just to understand how to roll dice and play make-believe. There’s complexity that enriches the game and complexity due to pretentiousness. Eclipse Phase reads like its embarrassed to be a role-playing game so it uses words like “Savvy” and “Cognition” so it doesn’t have to hang out with the gross CoC and D&D kids. And why does it insist on using a loaded word like “spime” when RFID tag works just as well and actually conveys how people are going to use it in-game? For a property that wants to be sci-fi-hip-and-edgy it’s actually a very trad game in practice.

      There’s also an awkward naming convention where TITANS and Titan are both key setting components. That’s super weird to explain as a GM.

      Since the lead developers of EP also worked on Shadowrun 4E it suffers from the same skill list problems as SR4E. Any RPG that breaks down firearms skills beyond “pistol” and “long gun/rifle” is bananas. Want a write-in skill for flamethrower? Fine. But for the sake of an RPG it shouldn’t matter if a laser beam or a bullet comes out of the end of a pistol. Heaven help you trying to figure out which skills you should roll when firing a laser rifle with an under-slung grenade launcher. Also, the hacking rules are still terrible; it’s like they didn’t learn anything after all those years working on Shadowrun.

      This review was more kind to the setting than I am. There are some cool ideas and concepts in EP – the ones basically lifted from GURPS Transhuman Space and Takeshi Kovacs novels – but they’re smothered under setting bloat. Why, exactly, do stargates contribute to the idea of a post-apocalyptic space setting? “Oh, here’s a planet with a breathable atmosphere. Guess we don’t need to worry about terraforming Mars then.” And the idea of the Jovian Junta – colonies run by revanchist Americans and Central American Catholic strongmen – sounds like something that would be out of date in the early 1990s let alone in a game written in the 21st century.

      I will give props to EP’s biggest accomplishment: Firewall and x-threats. It’s a great in-game method for player characters of different political stripes to work together. No more thieves hiding their thieving ways from paladins. Fighting gray goo or preventing an iron bomb from hitting the sun is more important than who is or isn’t a bio-chauvinist.

  2. Orillion

    I have to disagree strongly with the assertion that the opposed rolls is anything other than basically perfect. Pendragon used the same system, more or less; rolling under your skill but above your opponent’s roll was the idea, with critical hits (or the equivalent, it’s been a while since I’ve read the book) occurring whenever you rolled your skill exactly. There were some other complications (you would also hit yourself or something when rolling a 1 while using a flail) but those were the exact sort of unnecessary granularity you could expect from a tabletop RPS in the ’80s.

    I also disagree with some of your comments on the terminology. Whatever a system chooses to call it, nearly anything is better than “intelligence.” Intelligence should be a yes or no question, not a rated number scale. Intuition is also an absolutely cromulent word to use in an RPG. Wisdom is associated with age, and is usually the “misc” mental ability in any case, whereas Intuition sits perfectly within the realm of young, bright adventurers or six-armed bug aliens or whatever.

    • Wesley Street

      Sentience and sapience are yes/no questions. Intelligence is not and is still scored according to various criteria, specifically the ability to apply knowledge in various fields of study. Wisdom is the capacity to use good judgement; not necessarily associated with age but definitely associated with experience.

  3. Alex

    I deeply love Eclipse Phase, but I have to admit to losing players to the system complexity. Not everyone wants to invest the time to learn a world and a system this deep, and I can respect that. I love the specificity that the level of system detail creates in the world, and I feel it really helps with immersion if you’re inclined to fall that deep, but it can push more casual players away.

    That said, there is a shiny new FATE conversion out that handles the game world incredibly well. You lose a lot of the granularity, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you don’t care to recalculate all of your skills because you’ve been resleeved into a morph with a +5 COO upgrade for all of half a session.

  4. Vinci

    Too much copy / paste from Shadowrun in Eclipse Phase. This is the source of many broken or silly rules : armor stacking, morph / vehicle scaling (lack of …), gear, knowledge skills (do it yourself, you know …), three close skills melee vs one for hacking …

    Sacred cows, everywhere.
    (Sorry for my Engrish)

  5. LordMunchkin

    I agree with much of commenting concerning the system EP uses. However, I’d say the system tries to do too much with too little. Thus, it ends up doing almost everything badly. It also doesn’t help that it inherited some of the flaws of Shadowrun such as armor stacking without penalty.

    I also dislike the minutia of setting. Maybe this is just the scifi fan in me, but I came into EP expecting a transhuman scifi setting. Instead, I got an almost straight cyberpunk setting that had appropriated transhuman paraphernalia without actually understanding the themes behind them. The books basically gloss over the problem of identity continuity by saying everyone who believed otherwise died during Fall and those who didn’t are religious fanatics (religion is another issue the setting treats very poorly). The question of continuity is a issue in the transhuman community today and the fact that the writers have in essence taken that question off the board for the players is a major mark agains the setting. Meanwhile, the setting is rife with evil governments and corporations while the anarchists are saints as if human evil is somehow tied to hierarchical systems. All in all, feels like a very sophomoric view of human history and psychology.

    In addition, that fact that many of the fans of this game call it hard scifi is irksome. EP treats nano-technology like magic and ignores the implications of faster-than-light communication/travel. Things like the cornucopia machine and plasma rifle examples of the setting’s magitech (I honestly think they took that quote from Arthur C Clarke a little too literally). Speaking of cornucopia machine, the settings assumption of a post-scarcity economy makes no sense to anyone who even thinks about a little. Are cornucopia machines capable of converting matter? Looking back, it shouldn’t have surprised given that the writers for this worked on Shadowrun.

  6. EPNewb

    The retry mechanics make a lot of sense, really. And I think it’s pretty obvious that each attempt is its own separate attempt.

    In the real world, if I try to pick a lock, and fail, I can try again. And again. And again.

    However, if I’m trying to pick that lock because I need to get inside that house before the authorities round the corner, time is of the essence. There’s a penalty for failure (time), and it gets harder and harder to do, as well.

    If time isn’t of the essence, then you might as well do a simple success roll. A guy with a Profession: Thief and a good Infiltration/Infosec skill can get into just about anything if they aren’t opposed, given enough time.

    But if he doesn’t have enough time, then he only has a limited number of retries, which becomes harder and harder to do (getting more frantic to solve the issue as the time crunch and the stress start getting to you). More attempts is also more chances to roll a critical failure, especially once he is at -60 on the attempt. That cumulative reduction in fact increases the chance of a critical failure over a critical success, and eventually makes an ‘Excellent Success’ impossible.This problem solves itself. I think it’s fine. You’re overthinking it.

    You also presume a powergamer scenario, in which a GM is just going to allow a player to get whatever implants in whatever morph they want. The book, at length, makes it clear that it can be difficult to find upgrades or the morph you want.

    Sure, someone could be walking around in his super-savvy deception morph, lying his ass off to everyone and getting away with it. But all of his deceptions won’t hide his brain from an ego scanner. Won’t hide his contraband weapon from an x-ray scanner.

    And the most convincing person in the world might still be stonewalled by an AI-controlled shell that is not going to budge on protocol just because a particular human is telling convincing lies.

    And when someone comes along and puts a bullet in his head and he has to resleeve, now he has to purchase those implants again. And maybe he can’t find them right now, and has to rely on his unaugmented stats for awhile?

    Being forced to take 300 points of Academic skills *is* a bit much, but easily house-ruled into being considered a guideline, more than a rule. Shift those points to active skills instead, but a good GM will encourage players to take at least *some* of those things.

    Also, Academic skills include things like Interest: Simulspaces or Interest: Comic Books or Profession: Ego Hunter. You can spend those 300 points being someone who has worked a lot of odd jobs, or just maintains an interest in new morph designs, or has an interest in smuggling routes, or whatever.

    In other words, Academic skills are intended to reflect that people are more than just a thief, smuggler, soldier, etc. You’re a person with interests. Maybe even someone with some artistic skills. Maybe someone who surprises the rest of the crew with your knowledge of Mining because you used to work as a miner, etc.

    But if players argue that they feel like 300 is too many points, I’d probably relent and let them shift some of those points to active skills.

    The game is about *THEM*, after all. If they are super-awesome at something, I’m not sure why that’s a problem. They aren’t invincible.

    Lastly, the stat names:

    Somatics isn’t intuitive, sure….but neither does it make sense to apply a Strength stat to a disembodied ego. Instead, Somatics is supposed to represent how well your ego is able to make use of a morph, the overall level of strength and stamina you’re able to bring to the table with any morph. It’s somewhat specious, but still, calling it ‘Strength’ and saying the ego on this cortical stack is “very strong” doesn’t make much sense. Saying he has “incredible somatic aptitudes” at least sounds more scientific and in keeping with the theme of EP.

    And multiple actions are a problem in combat? My players *love* digging down into the slow-motion minutiae of combat.

    And I guarantee the fight would be described, and played by the characters, a lot more interestingly than the drudgery you described.

  7. Sol

    I think it’s a bit awkward to make a critique, then slap on a product from your own website at the bottom. Especially since the critique itself feels a bit disingenuine. Even if the writer didn’t necessarily do it, it feels odd to be like “here’s a critique of another game, by the way buy one of ours”.

    Just really odd placement.

  8. GeneralCommentor

    As someone who’s been regularly playing Eclipse Phase for the past six years or so, I’m going to agree with a lot of the other concerns/criticisms brought up already in the comments: While I think that the article touches on some of the major issues present in Eclipse Phase (Bloated skill lists, high barrier to entry for new players, the system makes combat feel like a slog) I feel like a decent chunk of the grievances brought up are either disconnected to how the system works in play or…Weird.

    The main points I feel are off in this review:

    Issues with the core dice mechanic
    This one feels very odd to critique to counter since I feel like you just have a weird, negative gut reaction to percentile systems and all of the examples you’ve brought up as being utterly broken or ridiculous seem completely workable and fine to me in practice. The idea of a percentile roll-under system is a very easy one to comprehend, and adjusting task difficulty through modifiers between -30 to +30 (Which, from a pure math standpoint, would equate to applying modifiers of between -6 to +6 on a D20 roll) works out to a pretty versatile and workable system to adjust task difficulty. Your argument that “most GMs forget this option more often than not.” isn’t really a valid critique of the system since saying “GM forgot to apply the actual mechanics of the game” is on the GM and not the system itself. Any game is going to be bad if you assume a GM is just going to forget to use the rules.

    I also don’t really see how the mechanic for opposed rolls (Roll higher than opponent but not above your total skill value) is in any way confusing. You bring up the fact that it’s the only instance where “higher is better” for skill rolls but that’s actually not true: On most regular skill tests (As outlined in the “Margins of Success” section on page 118 of the first edition core rules) you want to roll as high as possible without going over your total skill value as having a higher margin of success will often modify the terms and extent of what the character is able to accomplish when they succeed.

    Balance Issues
    Here’s the thing: Most of the stuff you bring up in this section aren’t really “balance issues”: While it is very possible and very easy to obtain high-level gear that can massively improve a character’s performance in things like combat or specific skill checks with little to no downside, there’s a few major factors that you overlook in labeling them as “imbalanced”:
    1. This sort of gear is equally available to everyone in the setting. A player character discovering they can acquire a bunch of gear that turns them into a multi-armed killing machine is not some secret knowledge that only the wise and cunning stumble across: That’s the norm of the setting and every character, from player to NPC, is equally capable of doing the exact same thing.
    2. Tracking down and acquiring this sort of gear is straight up part of the system. You bring up the ease of gaining and losing credits but you kind of ignore that finding and installing this gear is part of the actual game system. There’s entire skills dedicated to tracking down where to find a specific piece of gear and “The guy with lots of money and connections who can equip the team” is an entirely valid and highly useful archetype within the system.
    3. Gear is cheap, but it’s also fleeting. This is a feature of the system and is reflective of the post-scarcity setting: The game is set in a world where we’ve developed technology to 3d print complex devices on-demand but, at the same time, the nature of the setting means that holding onto this gear is not super easy. Yes, you can trick yourself out with a 20-armed hyper kill morph while you’re on Mars, but you’re not going to be able to bring any of that with you when you go to the outer system. Physical space travel within the solar system in this setting is realistically slow and restrictive and the more common and efficient method is to just send a copy of your consciousness out across the internet to be downloaded at your destination. The downside to this, of course, is you can’t bring any of your stuff with you and you’re going to have to reacquire all of your gear on the other end which, as I’ve previously mentioned, is an entire part of playing the game.
    4. While it’s possible to cheese a number of situations with the right gear, that doesn’t cheese the final goal of the game. When you mention making the combat death-morph you’re coming at this from the perspective from D&D, where “Go to place and kill guy” is often the sum total of the goal of an adventure. This is not the case in Eclipse Phase, which is meant to be a game about subterfuge and espionage and usually have goals that can’t be met by mowing down a group of enemy combatants. Yes you can make a tricked-out morph that can murder people by the boatload, but that doesn’t really help you when your ultimate goal is “Track down a specific guy who beamed to the outer system and then went quiet” or “Gather information on this shady hypercorp without drawing attention to yourself”. You dismiss concealment as a downside to a weapon’s viability as a mere “edge case”, but in a system where the default assumption is that you’re an agent for a shadowy organization that is trying to avoid exposing itself to the public that’s a pretty damned big downside.

    The Terminology Issues
    Okay, this one is the weirdest elephant in the room: It’s the first criticism of the system you bring up and I feel you make an inordinately big deal out of it in your review: The fact that the game uses different names for stats and the like than what you are used to. The problem with this is that you’re taking for granted that the names D&D uses for stats are any less weird and obtuse to use from the perspective of an outsider. For instance, when we’re talking about D&D “Wisdom” isn’t actually that good a description for the stat it’s representing. In practice it ends up being more about your senses and perception than it has to do with being “wise”, however we take it for granted if you’ve done most of your tabletop gaming from a D&D environment because it’s just part of the system. From the opposite end, if you got into gaming through something like Rifts, the idea of terms like RCC, OCC, PE or PP are just normal parts of gaming even though they sound like weird nonsense to someone who got their start in D&D. From the perspective of an outsider who has never played a tabletop RPG before referring to a stat as Wisdom of Intuition isn’t going to make any difference: It’s all just new game jargon that makes just as much sense to them.

    You say the character sheet for Eclipse Phase makes no sense because they used abbreviations for everything but if we look at a D&D 3.x character sheet (Which we will use as you specifically use 3.5 terminology for a few of the skills and stats as examples of counterparts that are more intuitive) we find that 1. It’s way more complicated and intimidating looking than the Eclipse Phase example you posted and 2. it also abbreviates all of the stats to save space and is equally (if not more) confusing to someone unfamiliar with the system. What does “AC” stand for? What is “Touch” or “CMB”?

    Just because there is some culture shock when it comes to learning new terminology if you’ve come from a D&D background doesn’t mean the system is wrong for using different terminology. D&D is not the be-all, end-all of roleplaying and part of exploring different systems is needing to learn different terminology. Saying “I have a hard time adjusting to new terms for things” isn’t a problem with the system, that’s something about you as an individual.

    So, ultimately, while this review touches on some fair criticisms of the Eclipse Phase system, Oren again has a hard time separating personal preference from mechanical flaws in the system and at several points critiques aspects of the game without really thinking about design intent or thinking about the rules as a whole.

  9. Marvin

    Having read the game I agree in part with the reviewer.

    While the basic system of testing a skill and opposed skill checks is simple enough from there it goes downhill. And the game system is crucial the setting just becomes a nice read if the game is awkward frustrating and unplayable. Nehertheless there are lots of fanboys and girls for the game who seem to think it is great. I think they and their players must either have the patience of a saint or are not bothering with most of the rules and house ruling rather than playing by the book. The vast majority of the game system as written is a waste of page count in my opinion. If I was to GM this game I would bin the game system and use another game’s system that actually works well.

    The other thing I really dislike about this game is the handling and use of real world mental health conditions. Their use in the game is simply offensive.

    However I do like the setting. The setting is overall very good, it is just a shame about the actual game bit of the roleplaying game.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.