From the most recent updates of the Eclipse Phase Second Edition Kickstarter, the new edition is heading for production in the fairly near future. The rules sections seem pretty well established and it’s just the source material to work out before at least the electronic forms can be sent. With that in mind, I thought I’d go through the backer preview and let all of you who aren’t in the Insiders’ Club know just what’s changed for characters from the first edition.
Package System All the Way
The first big change compared to the first edition is that point-buy system from the first edition has largely been replaced with the package system from Transhuman. This isn’t a full lifepath system, just chunks of points to prevent the need for a freakin’ spreadsheet to make characters. All the fiddling around with skills up and down was a great way to fine-tune your character but it was certainly intimidating for starting players. It seems like the best of both worlds here a little bit as you get a nice chunk of Customization Points but not a mountain.
We’ll get to the familiar Backgrounds and Factions in a bit but the two other package choices you need to make are Careers and Interests. Careers are things that you do for a living, a substantial set of 220 skill points that is your primary field of experience. The options are Academic, Covert Operative, Enforcer, Explorer, Face, Genehacker, Hacker, Investigator, Medic, Mindhacker, Scavenger, Scientist, Soldier, and Techie. Interest is, unsurprisingly, less intense background skills. The book says this could be a previous career, a side job, or just a hobby and they have sets of 140 skills points. The options are Animal Handler, Artist/Con (why are these together?), Async, Commander (military or corporate), Fighter, Forensics Specialist, Jack-of-All Trades, Jammer (drone operator), Networker, Paramedic, Pilot, Rogue, Slacker (some passive skills), Spacer, Student, and Survivalist.
I like all of these but I foresee lots of house rules with new Careers and Interests. The lists here certainly cover a wide range of options but definitely not everything. For instance, there’s no Career option that quite matches up to a journalist (Investigator comes close but there aren’t any people skills). Similarly, I can see a player really liking exoplanets and wanting an Interest besides Student (which is half computer skills) for that purpose.
Backgrounds and Factions
Fans of the game are used to these pillars of character creation, Background and Faction, but the list has changed to reflect the favorites out of the core rulebook and Transhuman. The second edition’s Backgrounds are Colonist (an average of Lunar Colonist, Martian, and Original Space Colonist), Enclaver (living in a gated community, but with guns), Freelancer (a company woman/man), Hyperelite, Indenture (probably closest to the Re-Instantiated), Infolife, Isolate, Lost, Underclass, and Uplift (back to species non-specific).
Interestingly (though maybe sadly for some) Faction no longer has a mechanical effect. I think the glass-half-full side of this is that it’s a cinch to make new Factions if you want that for your game (I ran a Barsoomian-only game, for instance, that had a spectrum of sub-factions to keep things interesting) and there’s no extra work for the GM. The factions that get official shout-outs in this edition is the same list as the first edition with Reclaimers added, Ultimates removed (!), and a catch-all at the end of Regional which covers locally-minded Solarians, Sifters, Belters, Europans, Ringers, and Skimmers in one basket.
I don’t want to veer too far out of character creation here but there are a few changes to how skills work in the second edition that are relevant. First of all, the dichotomy between Active and Knowledge (now reduced to Know) Skills is alive and well but the Active list now is split into some categories: Combat, Mental, Physical, Psi, Social, Technical, and Vehicle. This lets traits, gear, and morphs apply modifiers to a bevy of skills altogether by just specifying a category. Know skills likewise have been revamped with Academics, Art, and Interest though Language isn’t a skill anymore (it’s all-or-nothing like other RPGs) and Profession is now called Professional Training.
The second thing to mention is how skill tests actually work. It’s still a roll-under percentile system where you’re trying to roll as high as possible while still getting under your skill rating. Previously there were references here and there to getting really close but not going over (the “Blackjack rule”) and for failing but not by too much. Sometimes the rules had specifics on what that meant but most GMs in my experience just sort of hand-waved things. Now there are some specific results called the “33/66 Rule.”
If you roll a 33 or more and you succeed you get a superior success and if you roll 66 or more and succeed you get two of those. Superior successes mean picking from a list of cool stuff (PbtA style) such as having Quality work and making future tests easier, making more things than you planned or using fewer resources, or dealing more damage. If you roll under 66 and fail you get a superior fail (is that a real term?) which is the inverse of the above, while a 33 and under fail is two superior fails. Also, yes criticals are still a thing and they work the same.
Lastly, but perhaps most interestingly, are Pools. In the first edition there was a pool stat called Moxie which provided some extra gumption for characters. This let you ignore modifiers, flip a d100 die result (turning an 83 to a 38, say), and lots of other stuff. In my experience, people either had high Moxies (4 or 5) or they stuck with 1 and concentrated on other stuff. The designers this time have split things up by creating four separate pools of points to change your rolls.
- Insight is the pool for all mental rolls, tasks linked to Cognition or Intuition. You can take the initiative for mental tasks (including the mesh), take an extra mental action, or acquire a clue from the GM.
- Moxie is now for social rolls, tasks linked to Savvy or Willpower but also Rep and async stuff. Additionally you can ignore mental traumas for a bit, refresh your rep favors, get a clue from NPCs, and retcon a social gaffe you (the player) made that you (the character) would be smooth enough to avoid.
- Vigor is for physical stuff so tasks linked to Reflexes and Somatics. You can also take the initiative for physical actions, get an extra action in, and ignore physical wounds for a bit.
- Flex is a wild-card pool that can be used for any roll or for narrative effects such as introducing an NPC, introducing an item, defining the environment, or defining a relationship to an NPC.
All pools can ignore modifiers to tests, increase target numbers (making them easier), flip dice results, upgrade successes to superior successes (or one to two), or downgrade a crit fail to a regular fail for rolls in their purview. You can only spend one point of anything on a single test and your pool is probably going to be 1-3 or so; nothing to break things constantly. I’ll get into this below but your ego only tracks their Vigor score, everything else is from gear and morph.
Most gear is handled with gear packages like in Transhuman (you get a collection of gear based on your Career and also some campaign-starter equipment) but morphs, as always, are an exception. In the first edition you bought your morph with Customization Points which meant that if you started with a better morph then you had worse skills, reputation, etc. This works just fine and balances the game neatly, but in my experience it means that players were less likely to get an awesome morph because it felt like putting all of your eggs in one basket. Sure everyone loves the idea of a steel morph or Martian alpiner but when was the last time you had a player sleeved in one?
Now the same sort of effect is achieved with Morph Points. These are much the same as Customization Points (the exchange rate seems to be 1 MP to 2 CP) but this shift has some important implications. First of all, it’s earmarked for your body so you have to opt not to have a cool morph this time around. Secondly, unspent Morph Points can be spent on lots of things that Customization Points can be spent on, but not everything. You can spend Morph Points on positive morph traits, extra gear, and Flex points. This means you don’t have to worry about that jerk who is in a rustbucket case morph and skill ratings through the rough.
Morphs still have wound thresholds, Durability, Death Rating, movement types and rates, sometimes included traits, and usually included wares (cyberware, bioware, etc). There’s also an Availability values so that a GM can easily roll a percentile die and see if you can actually get a neotenic or an olympian or whatever. The biggest thing, though, is that morphs are your biggest source for those pools we talked about above which take the place of the Aptitude modifiers that were in the last edition. No more do you need to say “My Interface is 53… except I’m not in a menton anymore so that’s lower… Do olympians have a bonus to Cognition?” Instead, there’s one location for pools (except Flex) so you can just spend the points of your morph to boost things.
Let’s look at some examples. The default morph is a splicer (Availability 90 which is the highest here and just 1 MP). The splicer has no points in any pool except for Flex 1. If you want to be a hacker type, you can add a Mind Amp modification for +2 to Insight and a Multi-Tasking implant for another +2 Insight. Or you can start with a more expensive (4 MP) but you start with Insight 3, Moxie 1, Vigor 1, and Flex 1 plus they have the Mnemonics augmentation which is instant memory recall and normally limited to synthmorphs. On the high end of things, the most expensive biomorph in the book is the remade (it’s 7 MP, only the reaper and potentially the flexbot are higher) and that morph has all sorts of implants and two in every pool.
As far as morphs in the book, everything in the first edition’s core rulebook is repeated here so you won’t be missing anything (though there are a few name changes). Uplift morphs get three versions of neo-hominids (neo-gorilla, neo-orangutan, and neo-bonobo/chimp) as well as neo-neanderthal as per the uplift expansion in Panopticon. Three additional pod morphs appear: the basic pod and security pod (from the Morph Recognition Guide) and the shaper (from Panopticon). In the synthmorph section, Flexbots benefit from the revamp in Transhuman and there’s also the steel morph (from Sunward), the spare morph (from Gatecrashing), the savant (from Rimward), and the galatea (from the Morph Recognition Guide) all of which should make a lot of folks happy. Finally, the infomorph section is expanded following the eidolons in Transhuman: there are digimorphs (Digimons?) that are your basic infomorph as well as ikons (socializing infomorphs), agents (digitized hackers), and operators (drone-piloting morphs).
I’ve never really gone in for the async stuff much so I looked at this section last. There are some interesting changes but I’ll leave it to more familiar players to say whether they’re good or bad. First off, there are now different strains of the Watts-MacLeod virus that each give you a different choice of negative trait and free sleight. The Architect strain pushes you to explore and build new things, which you often don’t know the function of. The Beast strain sort of seems like playing a vampire trying to keep their hunger in check. The Stranger strain is full on split-personality with a whispering voice that points things out to you. Lastly, the Xenomorph strain makes you increasingly alien in your outlook and abilities.
The second thing, and the thing that makes me want to try an async for the first time, is that using sleights is no longer just an attrition test with your hit points. Previously, when you used a psi sleight you took some damage. Now the infection is a living thing that can affect your character in increasingly problematic ways. When you use psi-gamma sleights (or push yourself with psi-chi sleights) your infection makes a test, a roll with a target number equal to your Infection level and increased by the Infection mod of the sleight you just used. If the test fails then nothing happens (a crit fail means you don’t have to worry about Infection effects for a bit), but if the infection succeeds you roll on a table according to your sub-strain.
The results might involve being pushed to a particularly behavior (hoarding things for the Architect strain, changing your environment to be more alien for the Xenomorph strain), restricted behavior or behavior limits, and (yes) physical damage. Some of the high-number results on these tables are pretty bad (the Beast has you potentially going on a killing spree) and a superior success by the infection adds one to your roll so you’re more likely to get these terrible results. Plus, a critical success by the infection could mean lost time the next time you sleep and messing with you at a critical time. These changes seem great to me as a GM because it turns the asyncs from slightly-damaged superheroes (the wild mages of Eclipse Phase) into time bombs that slowly get worse and worse. I can see playing an async as accepting that your character will eventually be unplayable since their Infection value will be too high.
I like every one of these changes. It’s clear that the Posthuman Studios team took a lot of time looking over the game and figuring out what could improve gameplay. I’ve loved this game ever since I first saw it and have run it probably more than anything in my career besides D&D (probably more if you divide D&D into separate editions). Lately, though, it hasn’t been on my radar so much as I’m diving into other games. This brings me fully back into the fold, though, and I can’t wait to get the full product and run a brand new campaign of transhuman terror and high-octane action.