Do you ever realize you stopped talking in the middle of a sentence? That happened to me recently when I looked back at ancient blog posts and realized I hadn’t finished a series of three posts I’d planned out early on. These were to look at the fantastic spy information of Night’s Black Agents and use that information to deepen the espionage aspects of Eclipse Phase. I went through the Adversary Pyramid and Conspiracies and today I’m digging up my old notes to bring you some ideas for creating thriller storylines in Eclipse Phase.
The Moscow Rules are a hallmark of Cold War spy novels and movies. They are just as relevant in Eclipse Phase, with a few added details. While Moscow and Russia were lost with Earth, there is another Cold War happening between the Planetary Consortium and Morningstar Constellation, making Octavia the new ground-zero for espionage.
- Assume nothing. In the transhuman future this means don’t even assume the person you’re talking to is who they claim to be. Egos can switch bodies, mannerisms can be approximated, etc. Try to confirm as much as you can and as frequently as you can.
- Never go against your gut. In a setting where science and technology prevail, instinct is sometimes overlooked. When you have a handful of leads and you’re trying to figure out which direction to go, follow the one that seems best to you. Note that this is very different than “follow the most obvious.”
- Everyone is potentially under opposition control. Feel free to switch opposition with TITAN, Ozma, or any other existential threat that Firewall might be up against. Even if your contact pans out (see Rule 1 above), it’s entirely impossible that they have modified behavior or triggers from psychosurgical procedures. Don’t turn your back on anyone who isn’t your own fork and only then make it quick.
- Don’t look back; you are never completely alone. In a world surrounded by the Panopticon this is especially true. No matter where you are, you could be watched by spimes, nanoswarms, hijacked entoptics, or something else. Never break cover.
- Go with the flow, blend in. Whether you’re on Mars, Extropia, Titania, or an exoplanet colony, do what the locals are doing. Leave your politics at the door and pay with credits when you’re in the Planetary Consortium, take the drugs when you’re on a Scum swarm, and grin like a maniac when you’re on Legba.
- Vary your pattern and stay within your cover. This goes hand-in-hand with Rule 4 above: even if you aren’t being actively followed, there are recordings of your movements available. Take alternate routes, use different faces, bounce your mesh account through different nodes… Do whatever you can to make your patterns as hard to notice as possible.
- Lull them into a sense of complacency. This one’s a bit hard. When you’re up against something as powerful as the Jovians or as terrifying as the exsurgent virus you would be forgiven a little panic. But that can get you killed or, worse, exposed. If you see a trap, prep for it and then walk in. If you know you’re being followed, stop in at shops and keep your mesh ID completely public. As soon as you start flipping out, they know they have you.
- Don’t harass the opposition. This goes for the opposition on your current mission and enemy forces in general. Don’t go poking at an exsurgent nest until you’re ready to burn it to the ground. Similarly, don’t take pot shots at the Consortium, Jovians, or Titanian Fleet Command while on an unrelated mission. They might come back at you later, but for now they’re a distraction.
- Pick the time and place for action. Preferrably, pick some place where there won’t be hidden surprises waiting for you. In the past, this might have been a public space like a city square or restaurant but the number of public spimes in those places can make it worse if anything. Instead, pick a private place that you can completely subvert: a warehouse with a network you can take over is nice, and someplace you already own and control is even better.
- Keep your options open. You’ll want a Plan B and a Plan C at a minimum and you also want to have actual backups ready. Back your ego up frequently and leave instructions for your past self in case something bad happens to you. You definitely want to include the plans you tried and the plans you had in mind in case that one goes south.
To frame a high-octane thriller story, you can use this skeleton which provides a “standard” skeleton for Night’s Black Agents and Eclipse Phase. Like it says in the NBA core book “never be afraid to let any of these scenes involve a fight, chase, contest of Infiltration or Surveillance, or other confrontation.” Also remember that this is a cyclical framework, not the structure of an entire campaign.
- The Hook: This is what gets it all started in the first place. Something tips off Firewall that there’s an x-threat in play and they send the cell in.
- The Curtain: In response to the Hook, the cell looks into the matter and finds some clues. Some will be good, some red herrings, but whatever happens they will start to see reactions from the opposition.
- The Wakeup: The Firewall agents get a sense of what’s really going on. Usually this involves a panicked realization that things are much worse than imagined.
- The Stall: The PCs hit a wall in their investigation. This doesn’t have to happen, but it is a good way to guide players when they’re going guns-blazing on one line of inquiry and ignoring another.
- The First Reveal: After the trauma of the Wakeup, the avenues of investigation offered by that experience become evident. If this is after a Stall, then they reopen to allow the PCs move forward again.
- The Blowback: All this investigation has led to reactions from the opposition. This can follow the adversary pyramid or be something specific to your campaign.
- The Twist: This is the point where the red herrings and misconceptions become evident. The player’s assumptions about the threat ahead of them are shredded and they have to reassess.
- The Relief: After the Blowback and the Twist, the agents are able to catch the opposition flatfooted. They might be able to liberate valuable resources from the enemy or trick them into a mistake.
- The Final Reveal: Once they’ve reassessed, this is the point where players figure out the big picture and how to defeat the forces they are working against.
- The Setup: There’s a time to prep for the final showdown, usually laying plans for a big operation but also finding the critical weapons, data, or allies that they need to succeed.
- The Confrontation: A big confrontation with either the top of the pyramid or one of the major facets. Ideally, the PCs are victorious but they also need clues to keep going in an ongoing campaign, which means they either find more data or someone escapes that they have to pursue.
Once you get to a Confrontation, send the PCs back to the beginning with another Hook to grab their attention. This might send them to the next section of the conspyramid or alert them to an entirely new threat depending on where in the campaign you are.
Active operations are those that involve going after an organization or a specific target. PCs might plan one of these when they have something in their sights and want to use them in the greater plot.
- Destroy: This is a straightforward attack, but in Eclipse Phase you want to make sure that you take the target out for good. If it’s a base you need it damaged and also compromised, if it’s data or egos you need to make sure all backups are gone too, and if you’re taking out a base make sure they don’t have farcasting facilities to make a getaway.
- Flip: The agents must win over an enemy asset, and they also need to be sure that it doesn’t blow up in their faces. Modified behavior, ghostrider modules, or nanite infestations can all be placed on a target without them knowing. Even if they genuinely come over to your side they can remain a liability.
- Heist: If the PCs are going to steal something, stealthily or brazenly, they have to plan their entrance and their exit. An added complication is the intangibility of most valuable things in the transhuman future. If you rob a bank, what’s to stop the tellers from locking the account? It’s not like you’re dealing with physical money, they just need to make sure no electronic accounts have their numbers moved somewhere else.
- Hit: Another straightforward mission, the players need to kill someone. This could be sending a message or taking out the leader of a conspiracy component. If it’s the former, just make sure you hit the target. Taking out a leader for good, though, has the same concerns as a Destroy mission.
- Hunt: Whether hunting down a person, an object, or a clue, the agents search them out. Unlike earlier times, hunting down targets in the transhuman future doesn’t even necessarily involve leaving your safehouse. You can search through public records to follow a person’s movements and hack through firewalls to infiltrate the enemy’s databases. Of course, doing this sort of thing from your safehouse might compromise it in the end.
- Rescue: In the world of Eclipse Phase it’s actually a lot easier to steal a person than objects or data. Night’s Black Agents describes it as a Heist with a human target, but in the transhuman future it can be a Hit where you grab the cortical stack afterwards. Failing that, you can steal a backup or wait until they farcast somewhere and copy a fork.
- Sneak: Entering a location to plant bugs or copy intelligence is harder with the technology of the future, but it’s also easier with the tradecraft tools available. The net result ends up being zero: for every chameleon cloak and ghost morph out there the opposition has guardian nanites and t-ray scanners.
- Trace: Similar to a Hunt mission, agents engaging in a Trace mission need to follow the movements of a person or object to figure out where it’s ended up. The ultimate Trace missions involve tracking something from before the Fall through the chaos of that period. Ghost ships and lost ego banks are always popping back up but sometimes it’s too late when they do.
- Uncover: Solving a mystery is sort of the focus of an entire campaign, but a mission to uncover data is a mini-mystery that reveals clues to the larger one. With the chaos of the Fall, sentinels are often on Uncover missions to find data caches that can provide tools to combat the TITANs.
As the name suggests, reactive operations are things that your team of sentinels does because the opposition forces are trying an active operation. They are meant to hold the ground, shore up a weakness, or prevent things from spiraling out of control. Before your cell starts to balk at the idea of sitting back and waiting to be attacked, remember that reactive operations are anything but passive and can require some crazy physical and mesh-based gymnastics to prevent another armageddon.
- Counter-Destroy: In Eclipse Phase, this sort of operation is a shell-game more than anything. If your enemy is out to destroy a target that you want to preserve, you can counter them at every turn… or you can make them think that they won. Hide a cache of back-ups where they won’t be looking, lay in contingency plans to rise from the ashes, and generally hide a seed that the target won’t find and that can be grown anew.
- Counter-Flip: Similar to the counter-destroy mission objective, agents who want to subvert an effort by the opposition to flip a friendly target can let them think the target has been flipped but retain control themselves. This can be accomplished through simulspaces where the “rogue” agent is allowed to roam freely and reveal what they actually intend to do in meatspace, then the team can use that knowledge to prevent the actual threat.
- Counter-Heist: Protecting things from being blown up and stolen isn’t something most sentinels are trained in or eager to do but they can also use clever means to counter a heist effort by the opposition. With the miracle technology of fabbers and the ability to sleeve egos into almost anything with a cortical stack, you can plant decoy targets and even trick the opposition into stealing an agent when they think their stealing a prize. Data theft is somewhat harder, and will likely turn into a digital battle through the mesh, possibly with Tron-like chase sequences.
- Counter-Hit: Just like with a counter-destroy mission, this can be a shell game to make sure that some fork of the enemies’ target survives. In terms of protecting a particular fork, however, that’s as easy as resleeving into a new morph with different biometrics. Of course, it’s also as difficult as keeping this new morph hidden in the age of the panopticon.
- Counter-Rescue: When the target your trying to protect from the opposition is a person, it becomes all about stopping up a leaky dam. There are so many ways for the opposition to copy someone’s fork that it’s actually difficult even realizing when you’ve failed. Unless you’re willing to lock someone up in a sealed room without mesh access it’s going to take some careful planning on the part of the sentinels to protect their charge.
- Counter-Sneak: The arms race between surveillance technology and stealth technology continues into the future setting of Eclipse Phase so you could end up with sentinels planting counter-surveillance bugs to spot the opposition’s surveillance bugs which only prompts the planting of counter-counter-surveillance bugs… and so on. Sometimes the best tactic is to construct a weakness in your surveillance net to tempt an incursion and then pouncing on it when it shows up.
- Counter-Trace: Obscuring your movements or data trail in the panopticon is a difficult prospect. It means not only firewalls to protect your information but also gait masking technology, cosmetic reconstruction, and other methods of hiding your physical movements as well. The mesh and meatspace are intertwined in Eclipse Phase and you ignore either at your peril.
- Counter-Uncover: Keeping information secret is not usually Firewall’s aim but it can be important to keep the information that have been recovered out of the hands of dangerous people. Whether protecting a Firewall cache from Ozma or by trying to beat a rival agency to a storage of dangerous information so that it can be secured or destroyed instead, thorough investigation into all the copies of that information is essential.