System Split: Eclipse Phase

Welcome to System Split! Today, our very own Level One Wonk will examine two very similar systems to see what sets them apart. When the genre, complexity, and even rules system are exactly the same, what makes a game unique? Today we take a first look at the modern dual-statting phenomenon with Eclipse Phase, a game that started out as a percentile system but was later released in Fate Core.

Dual-statting has existed almost as long as role-playing games themselves. Any writer who was interested in writing only supplements had a vested interest to get their product to as many readers as possible, and would do that by including mechanics in the supplement for as many rulesets as possible. This practice started to fade in the 80s as the market exploded, but came back with a vengeance in the 2000s when the OGL made it cheap and easy to include d20 stats in anything you wrote. Now it’s been reborn yet again, as several popular rulesets have adopted open licensing and creator-friendly stances to using mechanics and trademarks. Games like Nova Praxis and Interface Zero have been written and released for both Savage Worlds and Fate Core, and there are numerous others that use one or the other.

Eclipse Phase is an interesting example of this because the game was originally released using its own system. Eclipse Phase is a game of transhuman horror, and is built around a percentile system similar to the original breakout horror game, Call of Cthulhu. Eclipse Phase has received accolades for its inventive setting and unique design, but the system is very detail-oriented and requires a fair amount of work to use, especially for character creation. While supplements helped streamline character creation and other more mechanical parts of the system, the game was still quite crunchy and wasn’t reaching a segment of the gaming audience who’d otherwise love the intrigue and existential questions of the setting. Posthuman Studios addressed this by releasing Transhumanity’s Fate, a version of the Eclipse Phase core rulebook using Fate Core.

Stock Eclipse Phase and Transhumanity’s Fate show two different approaches to attacking the broad conceit of Eclipse Phase’s setting: In the future, anything is possible but everything is dangerous. The game takes place after a cataclysmic Singularity event both depopulates the Earth and propels humanity across the solar system. At the same time alien teleporters called Pandora Gates are discovered, both allowing travel to the farthest reaches of the galaxy while also allowing any number of unknowable dangers to stream through in the other direction. While the core mystery of the setting has to do with the origins of these gates and the AI that caused the singularity in the first place, humanity has changed dramatically as well, in ways that players must interface with from the word go.

Across the solar system there are multiple groups operating under vastly different economic systems. The Inner System resembles most Cyberpunk games with a corporate-led polity, while beings in the asteroid belt are anarcho-capitalist and the humans of Jupiter are under an authoritarian regime. While this could be just setting flavor, the game has a detailed reputation system so that each character has an understanding of who they align with and what the mechanical impacts of that are. And that still isn’t the most interesting departure from traditional character systems. In the future of Eclipse Phase, characters are distinctly post-human, and their Ego, their mental construct and self, exists completely separately from their Morph, their physical body. Characters in the game can swap bodies at will, and if they’re killed they can be rebooted from their last (literal!) save point.

As you can see, the world of Eclipse Phase is both deep and inventive as well as quite overwhelming. The stock system was designed with this in mind, and using a percentile system allowed for a range of mechanics that covered everything that was important to the game. While this gives players and GMs a lot of power over what they want to focus on, it does make things very complicated. In the stock system’s core rulebook, character creation is done with point-buy and requires the distribution of 1000 character points among three different categories. Within these three categories are at least seven different things you must buy with points. In contrast, a typical GURPS character requires the distribution of between 150 and 300 points with no distinct typing to buy three things (stats, skills, advantages/disadvantages). There have been frameworks written in Eclipse Phase supplements to simplify this, but even so that’s a lot of things to balance.

This level of detail ends up working strongly in the favor of Transhumanity’s Fate. Character creation in Transhumanity’s Fate works like Fate Core, with some additions. There’s more structure around picking initial aspects, the skill list is slightly longer, and you immediately need to think about Faction and your Morph. The ending character will not be as precisely defined as one from stock Eclipse Phase, but the broad strokes and key story hooks will all be there. Using Fate also carries one of the key benefits of a percentile system: Aspects are all scaled the same way, so just like in stock Eclipse Phase everything uses the same basic mechanics and interacts with everything else quite nicely.

Ultimately, once the game gets going both iterations of Eclipse Phase are relatively easy to run, and both require a lot of background reading to fully absorb the richness of the setting. Stock Eclipse Phase has a full gamut of options and mechanics that is as broad as the setting, as indicated by the sheer amount of control given in character creation. Transhumanity’s Fate takes the setting elements and gives a more straightforward, less granular approach to integrating as many story elements from the setting as desirable. With the number of options presented for both players and GMs, it’s immediately clear to me why Eclipse Phase was originally written with the system it was. Percentile systems offer an easy uniform mechanic and an ability to integrate a whole slew of options without a lot of math. On the other hand, I also think publishing Transhumanity’s Fate was a great move. The setting of Eclipse Phase has a lot of detail, and Fate provides an intuitive mechanical way for players to decide what part of the setting they want to explore, without worrying about the statistical implications. To put another way: Transhumanity’s Fate is a great way to explore a character in the body of an octopus, while stock Eclipse Phase lets you better assess the tactical consequences of having eight arms. Between these two options, Eclipse Phase provides an inventive and original vector by which we can explore some really gnarly transhumanism.

Eclipse Phase, Transhumanity’s Fate and other supplements can be purchased at DriveThruRPG.

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