This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/201-
I’m psyched to report that there is a new sourcebook out for Eclipse Phase and that I’ve been pouring through it with great excitement. Titled X-Risks, the book covers… well existential risks but also Firewall’s response to them. How do you decide whether something is an x-risk? What if you have to choose between saving a habitat or chasing down a nanoplague sample? What the hell is an Iktomi kumobot? The answers to these questions and more can be found in X-Risks.
There are five main parts to this book: Facing the Reaper, a description of X-Risks; Active Threat Reports, that covers the Big Four (exhumans, exsurgents, Factors, and TITANs); Threat Recognition Guide, which lists descriptions and stats of old and new exsurgents; Critter Catalog, which describes simpler animals (like the Europan bolatee, police baboons, and tasty squidlings); and Game Information, which provides the numbers that GMs need for the glorious tpk they’ve been waiting for.
Facing the Reaper
This chapter is all about existential risks (x-risks) that Firewall is keeping an eye on. “Hurt Alvez, Apocalypse Engineer” describes four different categories of x-risk.
- Extinction: The threat that all of transhumanity could be wiped out.
- Corruption: The threat that transhumanity could be enslaved or controlled.
- Regression: The threat that transhumanity could be reduced to such a primitive state that there’s no coming back.
- Stagnation: The threat that transhumanity peaks and simply fizzles out.
A contentious fifth category, Attenuation, is the threat that transhumanity is changed into something “inhuman.” Some clades don’t see a problem with this.
Likewise, Alvez lists seven impact levels from the smallest to the largest.
- IL-0: Small Habitat
- IL-1: Large Habitat
- IL-2: Planet
- IL-3: Region
- IL-4: Solar System
- IL-5: Tranhuman Space
- IL-6: Milky Way
Particular x-risks are described with the categories and levels for each. For instance, Alien Conflict is rated as an Extinction-5/Corruption-5 event since it could potentially destroy or enslave all of transhumanity. On the other hand, Mega-Engineering which involves destroying a moon or planet and creating something massive out of it is an Extinction-2/Regression-4 event.
In this chapter there is also a discussion for handling x-risks and surviving x-risks (my favorite is “Running and Hiding”), as well as an awesome two-page spread on the Fall of Earth. It’s also worth noting that the x-risks above mention the Case or Operation that concerned sentinels should check with for more info and it seems like they’re all tied to the descriptions in Firewall.
Active Threat Reports
The next chapter describes some specific threat groups that Firewall might face off against. Exhumans are given a lot more detail and context, including some writing from their perspective and a listing of eleven exhumans out there and a description of major exhuman clades. I think this is a lot like the treatment of uplifts in Panopticon or of infolifes in Tranhuman: it takes an awesome idea and makes it into a complex, breathing, compelling part of the setting.
The Exsurgent Virus is the big boogeyman of Eclipse Phase and a source of whatever evil you like. The briefing and the vectors of the virus found in this book provide some excellent detail (and it’s all in character as usual so you can hand it right to players) but my favorite part is the “known strains” section which describes nine different strains (yes, including Watts-MacLeod). This section rounds out with case studies of several Firewall operations against outbreaks and a review of Contamination and Containment Protocols.
Next up are the Factors and this is probably the part of the book that I was most excited about before getting a copy. The Factors’ culture, language, relationship with transhuman groups, capabilities, and assets are all outlined in this section, as are some speculations by Firewall sentinels about the true nature of the Factors. All of it makes me think of dozens of new adventure scenes just reading through for the first time.
Lastly of the four with have the TITANs themselves. The big bad guys of the setting may seem like they’ve been covered before but this description is unlike previous treatments of the seed AIs. The history of the TITANs is covered from American military project to galactical-scale villains, and their enigmatic agenda receives some speculation. A lot of this section, though, is what I’m thinking of as “how to actually include TITANs in your game.” Let’s be honest, if you send your PCs up against a TITAN they will probably run or they’ll end up as corrupted exsurgents. So how can you have a TITAN be the actual bad guy of a campaign? Well the answers are right here: TITAN infighting, lesser TITAN forks, and rival ASIs. There are also profiles on some known TITANs to frighten your PCs with. My favorite is Akonus, the TITAN that manipulates transhumanity through social entineering.
At the end of this chapter is a section on Other Threats, something that could take a backseat to the rest of the chapter but that holds some awesome surprises. The Church of Luminous Saints, for example, is a church following the divine word of a being that may or may not be a TITAN. The Red Five Advanced Heuristics Lab, on the other hand, is trying to reverse-engineer TITAN memetic warfare… you know, for the good guys or something. Even the Ultimates are discussed here as a potential x-risk, although that just makes me want to play them all the more. Lots of great ideas here.
Threat Recognition Guide
The threats described in this chapter of the book are given one-page write-ups in the same easy reference manner as the morph write-ups in the Morph Recognition Guide. Each threat has a description of the locations to find it, the numbers they usually come in, stats, Firewall comments, game stats, and “What Do Sentinels Know?”
Threats also come with levels, but these are different than the impact levels of x-risks.
- Yellow threats are only a threat in groups.
- Orange threats are equal to a standard Firewall sentinel.
- Red threats are as strong as several sentinels together.
- Ultraviolet threats are off the charts and are best met with a GTFO response.
There are so many in here and all of them are awesome. Some are familiar from other Eclipse Phase products like the fractal trolls from Rimward, the ny’knikiin from Zone Stalkers, or the skrik from Million Year Echo. Others are new like the horrific gut eater, the insidious hollow nanoplasmas, or the pile of screaming mouths known as the immolator mother. Every one of these will eat up your PCs and spit them out, and isn’t that what we all want?
This is the shortest of the section but still extremely helpful for the GM. Animals and creatures have been a part of Eclipse Phase since the core rulebook but they end up scattered here and there through books. This section gathers them all together in one spot for easy reference.
These creatures aren’t really x-threats but many are serious threats to individual Firewall cells. The carnivorous avian-primates called clown sprites which are found on Echo IV, for instance, are hardly comparable to wrappers or fractals. If sentinels don’t prepare, however, they can be just as deadly.
Like the other sections of this book, the Game Information section is more than just it’s title would imply. Sure there are rules on running swarms, expanded rules on the exsurgent virus, and more psi-gamma sleights but the real star section of this chapter for me are the expositions.
It starts off with “Making X-Threat Scnenarios” and there’s a lot of non-intuitive advice from people who know what they are talking about. I consider myself a veteran GM of Eclipse Phase but I will freely admit that I was stopped short when I saw subsections titled “Transhumanity is Scary Enough” and “Why Now, in AF 10?”
In many ways, this sets the tone for the chapter. existential threats are huge, that’s why they rate the “existential” part, and they can easily overwhelm. Recently someone commented, after running me and a friend through a scenario where we were like transhuman Jason Bournes only to be overwhelmed by a TITAN virus in seconds, that 50% of Eclipse Phase scenarios end in TPKs. Maybe that’s as it should be but if you’re involving TITANs then the number can easily reach close to 100%. The real skill in GMing with things on this scale is not killing everyone in sight.
Take, for example, the exsurgent virus strain called babel. When someone gets infected with this, they lose the ability to comprehend any language whether text or spoken. This covers both understanding and speaking, and they start to see anyone not speaking Babel gibberish as aliens. Stage 2 involves them speaking in Babel entirely (which they start to understand as a language) and this gibberish works as an aural basilisk hack. The final stage involves the Babel-speakers developing a paranoia that anyone else is out to get them. They arm up, barricade in, and try to kill all the other “hostile aliens.”
So there you go: deadly, creepy, brilliant, crazy-powerful, and totally doable for a team with their head in the game. Great tools for a GM looking for action and terror without sacrificing fun.
[5 of 5 Stars!]