Recently I wanted to try something different for our semi-regular role-playing group. I had recently picked up Eclipse Phase after having it recommended by one of our players and wanted to try it out. The two of us managed to convince the rest of the group to try a one-shot game of it and I offered to GM.
Since Eclipse Phase is a bit more complex in both setting and rules system than the games we usually play I decided to use an idea I had seen used in a Role Playing Public Radio Actual Play podcast. Basically they ran the game as a “programmed introduction” to the game, similar to the way a video game will have several “tutorial” levels as the first few encounters. I would introduce both game concepts and the background of the world as we played.
To do this, I used pre-generated characters but I had several copies of each character sheet, each with different parts of the sheet blacked out. This way the players would only be exposed to a limited amount of information at a time. The characters all had generic names like “The Doctor”, “The Soldier” and “The Detective”. All were standard Splicer morphs.
I wound up with four players, one of whom was the one who first introduced me to the game. They experienced…
Eclipse Phase: A Tale of the Fall
I had pitched the game to the players as horror/sci-fi and gave Dead Space and Event Horizon as examples. As we started, I described the world as being like Blade Runner; hypercorps and a small group of the hyperelite controlled the world’s economy, there was increasing environmental collapse and destruction, widespread unrest, wars and terrorism. But there were also advances. There were colonies on most worlds of the solar system. The Internet (now called “The Mesh”) was ubiquitous. Artificial intelligences and life forms like Blade Runner‘s Replicants exist (except here they are called “Pods”) as well as more traditional robots (here called “Synths”). There are even animals that have been uplifted to sentience like apes and dolphins and even octopi and crows. (I deliberately didn’t go into the details of Morphs and Sleeving at this point and left it at that.)
The players then selected their characters, taking “The Soldier”, “The Hacker”, “The Doctor” and “The Fighter”. Their character sheets only had Ego related attributes and skills showing and I explained how I was using a “tutorial” approach to the game. They all seemed to like the idea.
I told the players that they all found themselves waking up from a nap. They were in a subshuttle station, a terminal for high-speed rail that ran though evacuated tunnels underground. I explained that they had to use the subshuttle because all air traffic over the US had been suspended. After the destruction of the Argentinean refugee flotilla a few weeks before the government had responded to possible retaliatory terrorist threats by shutting down all air travel. When asked about the attack I told them how there were food riots in South America caused by environmental shifts and the near-total destruction of fishing in the Pacific after the collapse of the still-under-construction Pacific beanstalk.
After filling in a bit more of the background the players started looking around. I told them that the terminal concourse was filled with people all apparently waiting for the subshuttle but that all of them seemed to be asleep. The only other person awake was an AI in a worker pod acting as a gate agent. The overhead displays are all showing “Delayed” for all shuttles while screens that would normally show entertainment or advertising are all showing the equivalent of “No Signal”.
The players introduce themselves and talk a bit. Eventually one of them asks why they are there and I have all of them make COG rolls. I tell them that they aren’t sure why they are there; they can’t remember how they got there or where they were going. Only those who made their rolls realize that there is anything odd about this.
This causes immediate concern. Everyone except the Doctor had made their rolls and the other three take a moment to convince him that something was wrong. The one player who was familiar with Eclipse Phase realized that they had been hacked and explained this to the other players
The question then turned to who hacked them and why. They try to wake up some of the other people around but are reprimanded by the gate agent who asks them to leave the other passengers alone.
They then turn to the gate agent and start demanding answers from her. She tells them nothing, simply repeating her request that they leave the other passengers alone and assuring them that their shuttle would be along shortly. The players start getting angry and threaten her but get nowhere. I explain that the agent is simply an AI and explain the differences between AIs, AGIs and Seed AIs.
Getting nowhere with the gate agent and being unable to wake any other passengers they decide to leave. They leave the gate area and get to the main concourse, only to see it extending infinitely in both directions. Gates line the concourse and they realize that are millions of people here, all asleep and waiting on their shuttles.
This confuses the players for a bit and I prompt for rolls before explaining that they must be in a Simulspace (and a fairly basic one at that). This allows me to explain Simulspaces to the players. When they ask if they could interact with the Simulspace I explain the Mesh, Mesh Interfaces and Entropics. The Hacker makes an Infosec to hack into the Simulspace node, find the players and release them.
The Hacker tries to find out who is controlling the Simulspace. I tell him he immediately detects a presence that appears to him as an incredibly complex shape. He finds it hard to look at but at the same time can’t look away and, the more he looks at it, the more complex the shape seems to become. He feels his own thoughts starting to shift to follow the bizarre shapes he is seeing at which point he makes a roll and pulls out of the Simulspace. He loses SV and I explain the sanity rules to the players.
The players wake up on a sidewalk in Atlanta. All around them are hundreds of people lying on the ground, unconscious. Vehicles under AI control have landed but the passengers in them are unmoving. Emergency sirens wail, smoke rises in the distance and they hear sounds of gunfire and explosions around them. The players are all in standard splicer morphs and I give them expanded character sheets containing the rest of their attributes and skills.
The players’ Muses come on-line at this point and I explain Muses to them. The Muses say that the players have been unresponsive for several hours. The players have no memories of the last few days and their Muses quickly bring them up to date. I give them a quick tale of a world falling apart; riots in New York and LA, a three-way war between China, India and Australia, continuing unrest in South America and so on. Things had suddenly escalated in the past 24 hours and wars, rioting and unrest are now breaking out all across the globe. Even off-world was getting involved; there were reports of the Lunar-Lagrange Alliance firing rocks from the Lunar mass drivers at Miami.
Several hours ago reports had started filtering through the Mesh and more traditional media that the hypercorps and governments had been urging their leaders and other elite to get off-world as quickly as possible. There was strong evidence that something bad was about to happen. This was turning into a panic as millions of people were now starting to rush to find a way off planet.
Before the players can fully absorb this a swarm of quadrotors appear at the end of the street. The rotors grab the unconscious bodies and, deploying a pair of rotating blades, sever the head from the body. The rotors then fly off, taking the head with them and leaving the body behind. More quadrotors appear and start “harvesting” more heads, moving towards the players.
Panic sets in, especially since the players are unarmed. The Warrior has unarmed skill but the rest don’t and so try to leave the area. They try to take a nearby vehicle but something has overridden the controls and forced it to the ground. They start retreating down the street.
They try to access the Mesh to get information but all they find are news that the situation is continuing to deteriorate across the globe and alerts urging everyone to evacuate the city.
Someone asks if they know anyone who can help them. I hand out the third set of character sheets and explain networking and reputation to them.
Accessing their networks the players are able to determine more about what is going on. Primarily, The Solder gets in touch with one of his contacts and discovers that the military activated the TITANs about 24 hours ago in response to a perceived threat. Things seemed to go fine for several hours then all hell broke loose. I gave a short explanation by saying “Basically, they activated SkyNet.”
They also get a warning that a battle of some kind is taking place in Atlanta and that if losses get too high the military has authorized a “total containment” solution. It is suggested that they get out as fast as they can.
Finally, the Hacker uses his contacts to find a weapons dealer in the area. The Fighter is trained in unarmed but the rest need weapons so they head there.
They have to dodge around more of the quadrotors but they get to the dealer. Inside there is blood everywhere and signs of an intense fight; it looks like the dealer and her customers attempted to fight the quadrotors and failed. A dozen or more headless bodies are in and around the shop and the remains of two quadrotors lie in the street.
The players collect some weapons from the bodies then check out the store. I explain fabricators to them as they find one in the back. They quickly fabricate some more weapons, ammo and body armor.
An alarm goes off in the front of the store and they go to investigate. They discover it is a nanoswarm detector and I explain nanoswarms to them. They see a foglike swarm around the bodies outside the store. As they watch, the bodies alter. The severed neck seals and the arms and hands lengthen into long claws. The bodies stagger to their feet and start lurching towards the players. A brief combat follows in which the players handily dispatch the “zombies” while learning the basics of combat.
The gunfire has attracted several of the quadrotors and the players dispatch two of them before fleeing through the back of the shop. They manage to find a vehicle that hasn’t had its controls frozen, get it into manual mode and take off.
The main roads are jammed with vehicles that were attempting to flee the city when their controls were overridden. They decide they need to get out of the city as fast as they can and find a way to get to orbit.
I explain there are three ways to get off-planet. They can try to find a spaceport, though they can quickly determine through the Mesh that the local spaceport is already overrun with people trying to get onto one of the remaining shuttles. They can try to get to the lone operational beanstalk at Kilimanjaro, though they will have to find a way to get there. Or, they can find an Egocasting facility and transmit themselves somewhere else. This led to a long explanation of Egos, Morphs and Sleeving. I finally got around to explaining Cortical Stacks at this point as well, and the players realized that the quadrotors stealing the heads were really stealing their stacks for some reason.
The player’s don’t like any of their choices but realize they have to at least get out of town before it gets nuked. They stay in their groundcar and start heading along surface streets out of town.
The initial consensus is that the spaceport will be mobbed with people and that they won’t be able to get to Kilimanjaro. They start trying to locate an egocasting facility but the player familiar with the setting tells them they will at best wind up as Infogees if not simply getting shoved into cold storage. They are stymied for a bit until I suggest that there are smaller starports catering to the hypercorps and hyperelite. They locate one north of town and head out that way.
Along the way they pass a battle between the military and a thing. It is spider-like, with a black nodule of a body with seven legs. About halfway along its length each leg splits into seven more legs, each of which in turn splits into seven more and so on. The thing is firing some sort of energy beam and the military seems to be doing little if any harm to it. They wisely completely avoid the area.
They get to the hypercorp field and find a fence guarded by a large number of private security in fury morphs. There is a crowd around the entrance trying to get in and the fury morphs are keeping them out, firing indiscriminately into the crowd at one point to keep them back. The players abandon their car and start circling the field looking for another way in. They eventually find a drainage tunnel. There is a locked grate over it but they manage to get though and onto the field.
They check a few of the hangers and find most of them either heavily guarded or empty, but finally find one with a shuttle being prepped and only a pair of security guards. They are debating trying to hijack the shuttle when a groundcar pulls up outside. Four people get out, two security guards and two hypercorp types in sylph morphs. One of the sylphs is unconscious and the other sylph and one security guard are carrying her between them.
The Doctor suddenly rushes towards them, identifies himself a doctor and offers to help. The hypercorp executive accepts this and the guards allow them to approach. The Doctor examines the sylph and can’t find anything wrong and the Hacker realizes that they have been affected by the same thing that locked the players into simulspace earlier.
He tells the group that he might be able to help but not where they are. He asks if they have a shuttle.
The executive is suddenly suspicious but the Doctor comes up with the story that they are with another hypercorp (using the name on one of the empty hangers) and says they were there to evacuate but their shuttle left without them. He identifies the Hacker as one of their IT experts and the other two players as their security detail. He burns all of his remaining moxie but manages to convince the executive. The combined group heads into the hanger.
Everyone gets on board the shuttle and it preps for launch. The executive tells the two guards that had been at the hanger to remain there as more people would be coming and they would be sending another shuttle for them. Everyone straps in and the shuttle takes off.
The shuttle climbs to high altitude as an aircraft then switches to its main engines and starts accelerating into orbit. As it does, the unconscious sylph starts shaking violently as if they were having a fit. Suddenly, their head falls off, spouts seven spider-like legs and starts climbing up the cabin. (Think the spider-thing from The Thing) The body’s hands morph into claws like the bodies the players had seen earlier and rips itself free of the seat restraints.
This leads into the climatic final battle, fought in an accelerating shuttle. The apparent gravity keeps shifting from “down” being towards the back of the cabin at several Gs to zero-gravity, depending on what the shuttle is doing. Player get to use everything from Fray through Free Fall to Freerunning to stay alive and kill the two creatures.
They succeed but one of the two security guards is killed and everyone is wounded before both exsurgents are defeated. Unfortunately, the shuttle is leaking air.
They throw the creature’s remains out the airlock and climb into vac suits. Everything in orbit is being overwhelmed by shuttles and other spacecraft attempting to dock as anything and everything capable of spaceflight is leaving Earth and despite their damage they are having to wait their turn to dock.
Meanwhile, transmissions from Earth have changed. Distress signals are everywhere and more and more official broadcasts start urging everyone to evacuate the planet. They watch in their drifting shuttle as flashes of light mark nuclear strikes occurring across the planet and see the massive flash as an antimatter strike hits North America. Fires rage everywhere and the atmosphere becomes dark with smoke, ash and shifting clouds of nanoswarms. Slowly, the transmissions from Earth fall silent. As they watch, the Earth dies below them.
I explain the aftermath. How the TITANs leave the Earth, the establishment of the quarantine, the discovery of the Pandora gates and how 95% of the human race dies in a period of two weeks. They have experienced the Fall.
While the players enjoyed the scenario most of them expressed no interest in playing again. The main complaint was that the rules and the setting were too complex and that there was too much for them to have to keep track of. So it doesn’t look like we’ll be playing again anytime soon. Still, it was fun.