Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sunward - Eclipse Phase heats up

I'm not sure what I expected to see in the new Sunward: The Inner System sourcebook for Eclipse Phase. In hindsight, I suppose what it contains (which I will discuss below) is exactly what one would expect. Yet, somehow, I feel slightly disappointed. I bought the pdf from DriveThruRPG and have nothing negative to say about the production quality. The artwork is beautiful, the editing appears tight, it has a good ToC and index. The "hack pack" version I bought for $15 includes a printer-friendly map of the inner solar system as well as other goodies made available for use under the Creative Commons License. Really, I have nothing to complain about, so what's the problem?

Sunward: The Inner System is basically an encyclopedia of the inner solar system in the Eclipse Phase setting. It provides an exhaustive list of colonies and space stations throughout the inner system, from the hell mines of Mercury to the nomad settlements of the Martian outback to the luxurious Venusian aerostats, there are plenty of ideas and settings to exploit. I found two of these particularly inspiring and it may be a window into my soul that both are bleak and gritty. One is the "TITAN Quarantine Zone" or TQZ on Mars and the other is Earth itself. At this point, a little background may be in order. Eclipse Phase is set in the far (but not really far) future after a "war-against-the-machines" scenario. The machines, in this case, are the TITANs (Total Information Tactical Awareness Networks), military AIs, not unlike the famous Skynet, that turn on humanity. They don't simply nuke us to extinction, however. They collect our consciousnesses (usually by way of decapitation followed by download directly from the harvested brain) and store them for some unknown purpose. Most of humanity is slaughtered, but many escape offworld. The lucky ones are able to escape intact, but most are infugees, digital consciousnesses uploaded and stored in hope of one day earning the means to have a body or "morph" and becoming a functioning individual. Most never will. Anyway, the TITANs were not defeated, although the commonly held belief is that they were contained. The discovery of Pandora Gates, portals to other star systems, which have distinct TITAN design features lead most to conclude that the TITANs built them to leave the solar system completely. The problem is, even if the TITANs left for good (an open question, to be sure), they left behind most of their automated weapons. Nanoswarms and warbots patrol the scorched ruins of Earth's great cities, while dormant viruses lie in wait to infect any biomorph that encounters them. Yet, despite these horrors, small pockets of humanity remain on Earth, ten years after the Fall. Do these survivors look up to the heavens and wonder if rescue is just a few thousand kilometers away in the glittering space stations that orbit overhead or do they assume the TITANs must have pursued humanity to the very edge of the solar system and left none alive? How can one not find that compelling? In fact, the TITANs did pursue humanity beyond Earth, most notably to Luna, the near-Earth orbital habitats and Mars. The most troubling reminder of that pursuit is the TQZ on Mars. It is a little taste of what Earth is like on the most populated planet in the system. The same technological horrors inhabit the zone, yet for some reason, do not seek to expand for the moment. Imagine the role-playing possibilities. Corporate agents, separatist militants, desert nomads and TITAN technology, Mars is a pretty interesting place.

So, what about the crunch? I guess perhaps this is where I feel a bit let down. Maybe, there wasn't much left to offer after the core rulebook, but a paltry selection of new morphs, some rather silly (sun-worshipping space whales, WTF?), as well as new traits and gear. There's also a selection of new character templates. The Earth Survivor is the coolest damn thing I've seen in months, but the Martian Ranger, the Scavenger and the Siftrunner Techie are pretty sweet too. An encounter between a group of Scavengers in their flexbot morphs and Earth Survivors, looking like Tusken Raiders after ten years on a heavy diet of steroids and hate, would make for a pretty sweet evening of hardcore gaming. While Sunward is not everything I'd hoped for, it has a lot to offer and the hack pack is worth the extra few sheckels if you want to customize your game setting or maybe use some of the artwork for a blog or other website.


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