Eclipse Phase – Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

In the middle of November, I ran another one-shot adventure for Eclipse Phase using the game’s pre-generated characters, which – word to the wise – do not print out on your home printer, because they will use all of your color ink.

Eclipse Phase bills itself as a “roleplaying game of post-apocalyptic transhuman conspiracy and horror,” which I would describe as follows:

  1. Your mind, for all important purposes, is backed up on a hard drive at the bottom of your head, and probably elsewhere. So, generally, death is more inconvenient than permanent.
  2. Earth was destroyed in a cataclysm involving rogue military artificial intelligences and their many war machines, from destructive nanobots to giant war robots. We live on or around all the other solar system’s bodies now. Some of those weapons still remain to ruin your day.
  3. Every major organization not run by libertarians is deeply corrupt and/or incompetent. Corrupt but competent organizations are also actively malevolent. If you work for Heritage Action or Organizing for America you will find this game’s politics implausibly Randian.
  4. The supplement Sunward has rules for you to play a cyborg space whale powered by swimming in the electromagnetic field around the sun. My entire gaming group will mock you forever if you do this.

This session’s adventure (linked if you want to try it yourself) was based on three things which I love:

  1. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, the radio show of insurance investigation on WAMU’s “The Big Broadcast,”
  2. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot, and
  3. The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service.

So, I had the players be “backup insurance” investigators – they were going to investigate whether the insurance company storing copies of some folks’ minds would have to pay to upload them into new bodies due to a covered incident. In this case, the seeming death of all crew members on the bulk freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. Investigating this would reveal something truly horrible in the engine room.

Using the pregenerated characters was okay, although I should have emphasized the need for people to have the “Free Fall” skill for microgravity movement more; there was a lot of wasted time with characters slowly crawling along the outside of a spaceship because they couldn’t make efficient rolls.

This is one of the issues with Eclipse Phase‘s percentile roll skill system; if you are not good or only kind of good at something, you roll poorly quite often. The poor rolling problem was also true with spacecraft maneuvering rolls, which made it tough to be a gamemaster. There’s always a risk of true, dangerous failure, but if the situation just requires a little bit of skill, it’s just not dramatically appropriate to screw the player over for repeated bad rolls. So there were a lot of rolls just to determine how much time was being wasted not succeeding.

Another issue I discovered with the Eclipse Phase system on this go-round was that a large number of knowledge skills (the skill category for areas of study or trivia) are remarkably needed for things the books encourage you to take not very many and have in super-niche areas such as “Profession: Art Restorer” and “Interest: Octopus Pornography.” If you don’t have any spaceship knowledge skills, despite your Pilot: Spacecraft, a fair reading of the rules says that you don’t know anything that isn’t directly related to flying a spacecraft; example – reading a transponder code to know that the ship designated on the code is way too large to be the ship indicated on the radar. And then, you’ll need a cluster of other knowledge skills – most of which you probably never even considered taking – to figure out who the ship belongs to. A lot of the session was folks asking each other if they had appropriate knowledge skills. Sometimes no one did.

One of the players was playing an artificial intelligence uploaded into the ship’s computer; because the setting allowed for constant networked communication between all players through cybernetic implants, not having a body wasn’t much of a hindrance except when physical force needed to be applied (e.g., opening an airlock), and even then, there were robot drones for that. This was especially helpful when the cybernetic octopus who was the pilot confronted the nameless horror (okay, it was named “Tabitha”) in the engine room and ended up fried; the AI could both know what happened and still more or less fly the ship home.

Despite the wonky skill system, Eclipse Phase remains fun; would run again, although next time on Mars or in the clouds of Venus.