Sunday, August 7, 2022

MSF: Mysteries and Curiosities of the World

It is tempting for those of us with personal paracosms to fill in every blank space until there is nothing that goes unexplained. The reductive urge of worldbuilding.

Obviously the cure is to add things that are just plain inexplicable, or that just don't get talked about much, but which may be used by the audience to draw connections as they see fit.

The Sun

The sun is in a strange position, as far as cosmic objects go. It is clearly a force of incredible metaphysical power, but one that has heretofore resisted any attempts at figuring out what its nature is. The Solar Church is not the only group to believe that there is a link between it and the Crown of Fire, though this is troubled by how difficult it is do any proper thaumaturgical study of it - solar mages have a tendency to autovaporize and leave an exclusion zone behind.

An order of (famously blind) Second Empire monks, now long extinct, were the first to observe the vast winged serpents (which they called chalkydri) living in the sun's corona. Other heliohabiting beings, too small to be visible (chalkyri are on the order of tens of thousands of miles in length) are hypothesized, but the only ones since confirmed are angels (see below), who were initially mistaken to be close-orbit asteroids by the blind monks.


This is what we know about angels:

  • The average angel is a gold-and-ivory sphere anywhere between 250 and 500 miles in diameter. The smallest ever observed was approx 400 ft in diameter, the largest over 3000 miles.
  • It is estimated that there are no more than 120 angels within the solar system.
  • Most angels are seen in the sun's corona, but it is not widely believed that they are among its native inhabitants. No interaction with the chalkydri has been observed. Most other sightings tend to be in orbit around the planet Mshtarii or transiting interplanetary space. A single angel was witnessed orbiting Angarag during the Year of the Jealous Crane, but none have been seen near that world since.
  • About 140 years ago, astronomers watching angels among the moons of Mshtarii witnessed what was described as "a series of incredibly bright flashes among the moons, irregularly spaced and lasting altogether for an hour or more." This phenomenon has not re-occurred.
  • Only 12 angel sightings have occurred in cislunar space or closer. Only three of these have been confirmed to have entered the atmosphere, and only one has had direct contact with humans (wherein the angel re-orientated itself so that certain markings on its surface were directed at the observers, made a noise that deafened nearly 60% of all present, and shot up into the sky and out of sight)
  • Angels are entirely unrelated to demons.

Some cultures will call minor spirits of air and fire angels, but it is difficult to confuse the two.


The Sea of Tazir

The glass-clear waters of the Sea of Tazir give one an easy view of the sandy bottom. Clear enough that one can easily see the fields of flat, colorful stones that form vast animated mosaics on its bottom (hence why it is also called the Mosaic Sea). These stone-fields will typically display abstract flowing patterns or sea life, but will on occasion take the form of a woman with deep blue skin and navy hair, with eyes of solid white. There's no record of the Lady speaking, but she is known to wave or blow kisses to boats passing above.


The Coast of Birds

Enormous stone statues of birds with wings raised stand along the Amdalese coast for hundreds of miles. Histories both oral and written from the region are in agreement that the statues have stood there for as long as anyone can remember, but are divided as to their origin. The most common explanation is that the gigantic birds flew down from the sky and turned to stone all on their own, or were trapped there by folk-hero Ndalo Ganye. Less popular but favored among wizards is that they were a construction project of the proto-Ngabe-Roh civilization (itself mostly hypothetical). Occultists claim some connection to the Convocation of Birds and the Simiurgh but provide no evidence. The Murder of All Crows remains tight-beaked, so as to cause problems on purpose.


Octopi Conspiracies

Perhaps no creature in the world is subject to more spurious theorycrafting than the octopus. Their total refusal to communicate, despite their obvious intelligence, has spawned countless outlandish claims over the centuries. Apocryphal accounts of shipwrecked sailors aided by octopi, or ships cursed by them, might be heard in any sailor's pub on the Mare Interregnum but none can be proven.

Some common rumors include:

  • The noncommunication is a ruse, and octopi are in league with wizards
  • It is possible (for a very large fee over several installments) to learn the subtle and secret magical practices of the octopi.
  • Octopi have been seen miles inland, stealing wizard's tomes.
  • Octopi will steal unattended infants from coastal villages.
  • Octopi have rescued shipwrecked sailors.
  • Octopi will curse vessels that trespass on their territory.
  • Entire octopi cities are hidden away in the oceanic depths.

The current centerpiece of modern octopus conspiracies is the Stone of the Lyantous Abyss, a chunk of basalt recovered from an undersea volcano by a team of wizards from the University of Vanidiyos as part of a deep-sea exploration survey (they were hoping to find evidence of the lost city of Thempas Ürn, and thus tenure. They did not achieve either). The stone's surface is covered entirely with whirling grooves, which the wizards claim were sculpted by octopi as either some form of religious practice (specifically a marker of a holy site). This theory is typically tied in with that of the Kraken Returned, itself the belief that the Great Black Octopus of Jai'an (the largest individual octopus ever recorded with an estimated armspan of 90 feet) is the herald of the mythic Kraken, or the Kraken itself, to usher in the age of the cephalopod.


Bright Morning Mountain

A mountain whose primary spirit, in a change of state nearly unheard of among genus loci, wished to fly. After several thousand years of effort (as the story goes), they managed to tear the mountain up in its entirety, flinging it into the sky where it has floated gently about ever since. The villages on the mountainside that went up with it were taken by great surprise, and a considerable amount of effort was made to get those who did not care for this new state of affairs back on the ground. The place where Bright Morning Mountain once stood has since filled with water and is now called Lake Gloam (both because the surrounding mountains cast it into shadow for most of the day, and because it is appropriate to dualism naming conventions)


The Land of the Dead

The existence of the soul is not in question, and neither is its impermanence - without a living body to keep it kindled, the soul dissipates. What is left behind is a shade, which possesses neither will nor memory. They can, on occasion, be found lingering in places loved or hated in life, residing there as the Folk might live in trees or rivers. Or they may be called up from the ground or out of the dusk by necromancers. But where the shades go, when they are not summoned or haunting, remains unknown and up for debate. Do they exist invisibly all around us, taking form only when called by the living or by remnants of their life? Or is there a dark place beneath the earth where they linger, and is such a place physical or metaphysical? The dead keep their secrets.



Fuligin standing stones, found alone or in small clusters in remote places all over the world. Cold to the touch, and the air is dry and cool near them. Those with skills in magic will find their sense of it deadened, and any magic worked of the art or the craft will be a shadow of its proper form, if it manifests at all. Both the living and the dead shun these places.


The Oricalchum Gates

Explorers among the lilu have found, in the deepest reaches of the caves, doors. Enormous bronze doors, gleaming in the lamplight and decorated with the faces of stern, bearded men and abstract geometric patterns. The doors are sealed and no tools have been able to damage them nor effectively dig around them. The only clue to what lies beyond comes from a gate-site that had been shorn open by some extreme tectonic movement in the past, revealing branching, lightless passages constructed of the same material.


The Skywhale Peoples

A rarely-seen and culture that seems to live entirely airborne, tethering their balloon-homes to pods of skywhales to follow along the migration routes. Wizards have occasionally attempted to make contact, but none of the attempts have been successful (and the last one who tried took a harpoon directly through his flying carpet for the trouble) 


Sea Shepherds

Discovered by another team of wizards stuffed into a bathysphere (they do enjoy that, don't they), the sea shepherds are beings upward of two hundred feet tall, who stride across the very bottom of the ocean with their herds of enormous scotoplanes. Their bodies are like that of a man, grey-skinned and broad-chested, but where their heck and head might be there is only a roughly pyramidal mound of velvet worms, clustered around a black-smoke vent.


The New Gods

The ulfire cities of the new gods rise mirage-like over the eastern horizon of the Moon, and the wizards of Tranquility University crane their telescopes to catch a glimpse of what lies within.

The New Gods do not have names, nor forms nor shapes, and their cults on earth are few: gods that have no overlap with human domains are difficult to revere. In those few times they are able to manifest their influence beyond the moon itself, it has only resulted in bizarre, abortive miracles without direction or purpose. Miraculous stillbirths. Useless transformations. Signs and omens signifying nothing.

(We the readers, of course, know that the New Gods are a honeypot by the Moon Beasts as part of their greater plans to subvert the ordering of the world, but this does not mean that they are directly puppeted, or that they are entirely creations of the Moon Beasts.)

Prior Hell Emergence Events

Identification of non-metastasized emergence events can be difficult, especially those in the distant past, but certain markers are shared among them: sites of human sacrifice, evidence of extreme militarism and widespread slavery, traces of industrialization (typically leftover environmental pollutants), and normalized daemonomancy.  

Archaeological surveys have identified five pre-Coreolana emergence events, one highly probably site, and a further five to ten events that are suspected but inconclusive. None of these events progressed to the state of metastasis as seen in Coreolana and its transition into Dis.

  • Unnamed First Empire site - This event is referred to only through a few second-hand sources; neither the exact location nor any material evidence has yet been found, but the contemporaneous accounts are specific enough to confirm both the event and its cause for collapse - political infighting among the slaveholding class was so intense that no party was able to assume the control necessary to maintain itself.
  • Taiza Ndowle site, inner Amda - The oldest known emergence site, predating sedentary agricultural cultures in the region. Has persisted in oral histories and mythologies as "the city on the savanna", a sort of inversion of the settlement at Potbelly Hill.
  • Zaghranetra site - A sunken city off the Odzho coast.
  • Mengra Ku site, Pelai - Ruin strata under the modern city of Yon-Hlao. It is uncertain if this was a single emergence events or two successive instances.
  • [XXXXX]  - The most recent emergence event prior to Coreolana. Neighboring lilu settlements blocked off all access tunnels to the city and starved the inhabitants.

A partial emergence is suspected to have occurred in the archaic Twin Lakes Civilization, though no surveys of that region nor local histories have provided any concrete evidence.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

MSF Guest Post: The Nameless Men of Erd

 Another guest post by SJ (see his previous one here and his new fiction blog here)


There is none among the many nations of man who cannot recall the Daemonomachy, Lu’s great and terrible triumph over demonkind, and the beginning of True Spring. There are few who do not remember the War of the Bull, the Sable Maiden’s sacrifice. These stories of victories over the Law of Swords and the Red Law, even those won at an awful cost, bring hope to future generations, and ease the sleep of children in the long nights of winter.

There are other stories. Stories without heroes, without triumph, without hope. Tales of woe, and failure, and degradation. This is one such tale, and it is true. This is the tale of the Nameless Men of Erd and the Order of the Broken Spear. 

Once there was a god.

There are some arguments among the few historians willing to give this ancient tale the time of day as to the identity of this god. Some believe him the younger brother of Baba Tubalkhan, brash and strong and lacking his brother’s wisdom. They are wrong.
Some believe him a forgotten child of the pantheon, struck from the records for shame of his transgressions, and struck also from the hearts of parents and siblings both. They are also wrong.

Some even believe him to be the patriarch of an entirely different pantheon, long gone and buried by the sands of time and indifference. They are wrong, but not as much as the others.

Who the god was does not truly matter. Know only that he was.

This god was the god of triumph, and steel, and the victorious dead. As proud and powerful a god as any who lived and died beneath the sun. He was a solitary creature, far too conceited, too assured of his own superiority, to either bear the presence of other gods nor to be suffered by them in return. The world of man, the vast Lands of the Mare Interregnum, felt far too narrow for him and his ambitions. One night, as the god sulked in his mead hall surrounded by his slumbering warriors, he heard a voice, sweet and enticing, carried to him through an open window by the southern wind.

Golden one, fair and true,
Swift of spear, fierce of heart
Leave the lands of sallow Lu
To furthest south you must depart
Come to me, oh god of ire
Come and find your heart’s desire

His heart’s desire! It seemed to the god that the voice was clearly that of destiny itself, and that the time had finally come for him to rise above the lesser gods he was forced to bow to. So he took his oaken spear, his winged helmet, his bejeweled sabatons. He spat a bitter few words at his divine fellows, and told them that he would take his followers, warriors one and all, past Red Point, to sail to furthest south. There he would build his golden kingdom, the Throne of Might, and the gods would weep at its glory and despair. 

So he thought, at the very least. The gods cared not for him nor his arrogance nor his kingdom, and were glad to see the last of him. All but one. Pyrrus Gravidus, great of heart and of patience, pleaded with the god before he departed not to go. He smelled the acrid venom behind the god's vision, and wished to spare his foolish cousin, for the sake of his followers if not his own.

The god would not listen,

"God of scars, limping fool,Craven, coward, kneeling oaf,
Slink back to your doddering parents
Who refused to see my worth
Sail will I across the sea,
To ascend my golden throne
All my men will die for me
They are mine and not your own
Flee, or else invoke my ire,
Now I sail to heart's desire."

Seeing that the god would not be swayed, Pyrrus Garvidus spoke in secret to one of the god's warriors before they departed, and gave to him his ivory horn of war. If the warrior would blow it, Pyrrus would come, and help however he could. The warrior scoffed at the gift but took the horn, thinking it a lovely trinket if nothing else.

And so they left, god and men. South, and South once more.

For months the god and his warriors sailed, seeing nothing but waves and sky and a few desolate rocks. Others might have been cowed, but the god’s warriors were fanatics one and all, blinded by their patron’s gilded magnificence. Sustained by their faith they sailed on, past endless sweathes of empty seas, until, just as their supplies had dwindled to nothing, they saw a mountain, spearing the sky like a kingfisher spears a minnow. The god saw the mountain and knew that this was to be his throne, high above the world and the gods both.

Sailing their ships into a natural harbor, the warriors saw that they had reached paradise, and praised the name of their god and his divine wisdom. The strange trees were bent by the weight of aromatic fruit, the blue-leafed forests filled with game, the sapphire waters teeming with silvery fish and glittering with pearls. As they climbed further up, they saw a land seamed with precious ore and gems, a land of healing hot springs and cool glacial water. God and men, they climbed and climbed, and each new vista was more breathtaking than the last. With every step they grew more and more assured that this was to be the Throne of Might, and the envy of the entire world. The mountain island they named Manar Ser’Sol Erd - The Spear Which Pierces the Sun.

Climbed and climbed they did, some remaining behind to set up camp, until they reached the mountain’s peak, high above the clouds, and into the domain of night. Until they reached the cave, nestled like a resting viper at the mountain’s very summit.

Having grown tired and impatient by the long journey, the god ordered his chief of scouts to enter the cave with ten men and find him a proper place to rest. In went the scouts, and never returned. The god grew cross, and sent his high seneschal with a hundred stewards, to find the lazy scouts and prepare him a proper household. In went the hundred, and never returned. Now entirely furious, the god sent in his greatest general with a thousand of his seasoned elites, to bring him the heads of his errant servants. In went the warriors, and never returned. The god was left alone on the peak, the gaping maw of the cave taunting him, mocking him. 

What else could he do but enter?  

Dark was the cave, and silent except for the god’s thunderous footsteps. Of his men there was no sign, nor matter how deep the god ventured. The cave gave way into a maze of winding tunnels, and for how long did the god wander in them lost, he could not know. Eventually the tunnels ended, and the god was greeted by the sight of a great underground cavern. Even exhausted as he was, the god could not help but marvel at the sight of the peculiar waters of the cavern, which were lit by a soft, unearthly glow. The waters were undisturbed but for the *drip drip drip* of drops falling from invisible stalactites, hidden far in the darkness of the cavern’s roof. then-

Good god, wise god, god of strength, come you here, to world’s end length
Come you here to speak with me, humble shadow, groveling worm
Speak and I shall bring to thee, hearts’ desire, scorn or storm

The voice was soft, the murmur of calm waters, punctuated only by the *drip drip drip* coming from above. The god was drawn to it, just as before, though he could not see where it came from. He waded into the glowing water, his men and their fate were entirely forgotten.

Great god, high god, god above all, come to me, your lowly thrall
Come into my waters deep, where hearts’ desire deeply sleeps
All is yours, for you to claim, if you give me but your name

The god, proud and suspicious though he was, nevertheless was compelled to trust this voice. It would deliver on its promise. And why not? Was he not the mightiest and finest of the gods? Should not all the creatures of the earth prostrate themselves before him and give him tribute? “____ am I, the shining blade, and my glory like a pyre. Come and face me, creature foul, give to me my heart’s desire!”

Speak it, and it is yours

“Greatest am I of all gods beneath the sun. But the other gods fear me and my company shun. Give to me Lu’s loving crowds, make me overgod above the clouds!”

As he uttered his wish, the god felt the water swirling around him, caressing him, before suddenly parting. Before him, bound to the pool’s floor in chains of crystal, were his men. Seeing their god their eyes lit with hope, and they beseeched him to release them, his devoted followers.

Easily spoken and easily done, god of valor, soon of fame
Simply give to me these devotees, give to me their very names

The god’s followers heard the voice, but no fear touched their faces. They knew their god was as devoted to them as they were to him. He would never do anything to harm them.

Swore an oath of blood to you
Each and every man in sight
Would they not give up their lives
To give their honored lord his might?

They would, thought the god. Each and every one of his men had sworn to give up their life in combat for the honor of their lord. Was this any different? Surely not. If anything it was nobler, for victory would be immediate and utter.

“Take their names, their lives, their breath,For their lord they’d gladly give. For true might and dominance All transgressions they’d forgive.”

The men did not even have the chance to scream before the waters took them. Thin, ethereal tendries emerged from the water, and struck the forehead of each and every man. As their god looked upon them dispassionately, the tendrils extracted from the men… something. A wiggling shape, like a silvery fish struggling in the talons of a hawk. As the shape was taken away from the men, the air of the cavern was filled with noise. The shapes cried out, each in the voice of the man they once belonged to. They cried out the men’s true names. 

The deal is made, the price is paid
Now come and see the throne you’ve made

The waters parted again and where the god’s poor followers once laid was a great, golden throne, magnificent to behold and emanating raw power unrivaled by any the god has encountered. At long last his great prize was at hand - power, dominion, and above all, the recognition he deserved. No longer would he bow to lesser gods! The age of the Overgod was at hand!

He sat upon the throne, nearly shaking with unsuppressed desire. As he did, he could feel the throne's might coursing through his vains - overwhelming, intoxicating, numbing-

The god was awakened from his stupor, and found that his body would not obey him. Looking down he could see that the same tendrils which had taken his men were now binding him to the throne. He tried to summon godsfire to burn them away, but his power left him, leaving him as helpless as a babe. 

Caught you.

It was the voice again, but it was… different. Gone was the honeyed allure and beguiling rhymes, replaced by cold iron and a razor-sharp edge of mockery. Then, the god saw-

Falling into a world of molten rock and broiling storms. Seeing the first of the dragons crawl out of the boiling oceans. The birth of the Folk, of the dolphins, of orca and of man, the birth of the gods. Desire is mixed with contempt, too intertwined to separate. It is without a name of its own, without a place in this world. So it would take everyone else's’.

From the water surrounding the throne rose a horror, towering over the bound god in his golden throne. Its body was translucent, gelatinous, and the god could see the silvery shapes which were taken from his warriors floating within it. Their true names, he supposed. From the horror's rotund, smooth core rose a storm of tendrils, some of which were holding the god in place with an unbreakable grip. 

What is in a name? All that was born in this world is connected by their names, links in an unending chain of vows and blood. When a god takes a blood oath from a follower, they tie their names together, and with them their fates. An oath always goes both ways. What is in a name? Everything.

Tendrils by the thousands snaked their way toward the bound god’s terrified face. For a moment they disappeared from his line of sight, then a flash of terrible, unbearable pain made him realize where they were. Inside his ears. Inside his eyes. Inside his skull.

The gods think themselves powerful. Think themselves free. They are wrong. There is no freedom, no power, in kowtowing to those lesser than you. Strength that cannot exist without another is no strength at all. True strength does not seek permission or adoration. True strength…

The tendrils were taking something out of him. Something vital. Something that could never be replaced. He could feel something about the world… shift. Nothing about what he saw around him change, and yet he could no longer understand it. He was sitting on… something, and that was important for some reason, or so he thought. How did he get here? Why was he in pain? Why did that odd silver shape dangling from a tendril, screaming in agony, make him want to weep?  

Simply takes.

His words were gone, and the world was fading around him. At his last moment, only one word remained to the god. Shame.


When the followers the gods had left at the base of the mountains saw the emerald tide, it was already too late. At first they did not realize what it was that they were seeing - was there some great glacier atop the mountain, releasing its water after being melted by their divine lord’s power? Why would he do such a thing, and what were those figures, riding the waves like liquid destriers? 

Then they were upon them. The men the god sacrificed at the cave were reborn as something new. Something more and so much less than human. Their skin was the color of seaweed, their eyes flashing, empty gems, and their strength was terrible to behold. Riding upon living waves they tore through their former comrades like a knife through rice paper, cutting and cleaving, maiming and butchering. Those who resisted died where they stood, those who tried to surrender were taken to the mountain cave, and suffered worse. The emerald tide swept across Manar Ser’Sol Erd and left not a stone unturned, not a tree still rooted. The boats they used to reach the island were transformed into weapons of war, a grim armada of silent, nameless men.

From Manar Ser’Sol Erd the Nameless Men swept upon the southern oceans, and all they found to the mountain they took, to feed to their new master in its watery lair. They plague the far south of the world to this day, ravaging both sea and land, man and dolphin, orca and god. The name of Erd is cursed and cursed once more, and when the Nameless Men appear, all wise men flee. 

All but the Order of the Broken Spear.

For not all of the god’s men perished on the island. A hundred men, sent to draw water from a deep mountain well, hid when they saw the emerald tide take their fellows, and were spared. Among them was the man who received the war horn from Pyrrus Gravidus, and in his desperation, the horn he blew. Thus came before the hundred the god of scars, and wept with them for their lost kin. Upon his broad back he took the hundred, and in one great leap cleared the island and the sea, to land on a distant shore. There the hundred swore to Gravidus a new blood oath - to atone for their kin and their god, to prowl the south forever more in search of Manar Ser’Sol Erd, now hidden from all. To find their lost god, and take their vengeance upon his worthless carcass.

And in Manar Ser’Sol Erd, atop the mountain piercing the heavens, the creature still waits. For the day it would satisfy its hunger at last, and eat the name of the world whole.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Fixing Eclipse Phase

Eclipse Phase, as I am fond of saying, is one of my white whale games. Something that keeps drawing me back because it could be great, but more often than not trips over its own feet. This post is not going to do anything with mechanics, this is all flavor and setting. Namely, it's taking parts of the setting that I don't like (for any number of reasons) and fixing them up into something I like a bit more. As per any other time I ramble about Eclipse Phase, steal this for Mothership.

As part of a sort of self-imposed challenge, I will not use "cut this element from the game" as a solution. Elements will be listed in something of a weird order, because of how the fixes interconnect with each other.

(I will always say a big thank you to the Eclipse Phase homebrewers, though - they do the work that the main books don't seem interested in doing.)

I might get things wrong in this, base claims on memory rather than the books. In looking up info for this post I found that the books do address some of the points to follow, but do so buried under a truckload of cruft. That's what happens when rulebooks are 400+ pages of dual column 10pt font.


Unresolved Thematic Tension

Eclipse Phase has two main themes

  1. Transhumanism and affiliated technologies are great and the high-tech future is awesome.
  2. Transhumanism and affiliated technologies are a vector for an inescapable hellworld.

From go, we are pulling in opposite directions. And that can be okay! Lots of good fiction comes about by taking two opposing themes and playing them off each other and seeing where you end up.

Eclipse Phase is not one of those works - instead, what we get is an inescapable hellworld that has "transhumanism is great!" plastered over it like a cheap sticker. Every time a positive aspect is brought up, it is immediately buried by "jesus christ that's horrifying".

  • You can't die! Neither can the rich fucks who own everything.
  • Anarchist habitats offer an escape from capitalism! Unfortunately they turned social media clout into currency.
  • Everyone's very queer, we spent like a full page on that, but also privacy is dead and buried and you exist inside a perfected panopticon from which there is no escape unless you pull the implants from your head and go live in a tin can habitat in the fucking Kuiper Belt, yay technology.

Like it is meant as a setting of transhuman horror, so the dystopian elements by themselves are not really the issue. You've read my blog, I love that shit. But Eclipse Phase just keeps trying to play the "transhumanism is great!" card all the time - most clearly seen in how the only people not onboard that particular train are the designated space fascist enemy faction (more on that later).

You could, technically, play as a flat (unaugmented human) or as someone without a cortical stack (ie, no backups or uploading or any of that stuff), but that is avoiding the entire premise of the game. You are intended to treat bodies like equipment, you are intended to play around with things like forking and psychosurgery and egocasting as part of normal gameplay. Your PCs are intended to buy-in to the premise (which is why you are intended to be members of Firewall, which deals in existential threats, instead of, you know, playing as characters fighting the hellish system they find themselves in. You could, but it's not the primary goal-as-stated)

The devs are very clear about their political biases (no judgement there, so have I), but seem to have failed to account for the fact that they make their own stance look bad, and seem to have mistaken "maybe I don't want a computer in my brain" as equivalent to "I hate foreigners."


Continuity of Consciousness

You know the end of SOMA? Fuckin' love the end of SOMA.

The writers of Eclipse Phase don't, 'cause they just go and ignore the issue of continuity of consciousness entirely. 2e addresses it  as follows:

"The Jovians and other bioconservatives believe that the mere act of sleeving or egocasting is suicide and that there’s no continuity of consciousness even from a recovered cortical stack, just the propagation of data. Almost all of transhumanity thinks this is nonsense, that of course we are who we think we are. But of course we’d think that, wouldn’t we? What if the entire Fall was really just the TITANs forcing us to adopt these methods, to normalize them?"

One goddamn paragraph for one of the central tenets of transhuman horror.

(Also a very bad summary of what the non-continuity stance actually entails.)

It's treated as a given in-setting that, if a consciousness is uploaded and transferred, it is the same one through the entire process (instead of a copy being made at the new location with the original deleted). Anyone who thinks otherwise is a backward religious fanatic, or was killed off during the Fall. And that is simultaneously pretty fucked up and obnoxiously contrived, because you don't need to believe in a soul to think "having to commit suicide to travel from one station to another" is a terrifying prospect, and "we the authors killed off nearly anyone who thinks differently about this".

And not only is it a contrived handwave, it's the contrived handwave in the wrong direction. Leaving the question as debated (eg. "Some people think we have finally achieved the tech for lossless upload, others think that's horseshit") can produce interesting conflict. Siding with non-continuity can produce interesting conflict through complications that come with using the tech (ex: you need to get from Mars to Saturn way faster than a ship can take you. You'll need to egocast, but what are you going to do with the version of yourself that has to stay behind on Mars?). Unambiguous continuity makes it very easy to play as a body-swapping transhuman without thinking about it, but at that point just call cortical stacks "soul gems". What we've got here is wanting to have and eat one's own cake - wanting to be a transhuman horror sc-fi game, but without wrestling with the thorny and complicated topic at the center.

And there's no shades of belief either, no groups who think that it's all kosher so long as the cortical stack is intact, but no uploads or egocasting. It's just "we want hip hip hooray transhumanism" and contriving the setting around getting this one thing that must be featured with no complications.

This will bite the game in the ass, later.

This section is really just a long way of me saying "SOMA is good and scary and I like the ending and Eclipse Phase is not nearly as scary as SOMA"

Solution: The smart thing is to make it a major in-universe debate and not side one way or the other from the authorial position. Let players decide for themselves whether or not they buy into the claims and roll from there.

Personally, I would axe it. No continuity of consciousness. Egocasting and uploads involve creating a forked copy. This is me being very biased in favor of a certain interpretation, but also think that it's just more narratively satisfying to have a point of friction here.

The ETI and the Exsurgent Virus

The ETI is an unseen, immensely powerful alien civilization that has seeded the galaxy with self-replicating bracewell probes designed to infect and subvert any emergent ASI (artificial super intelligence), and so basically everything bad in this setting is a knock-on effect from the TITANs coming into contact with the Sol system Bracewell.

This is actually pretty neat, and I do appreciate that they provide (in 1e, at least) a section on possible motivations. Credit where it is due. This is some good big-picture sci-fi. Mostly pulled from Revelation Space, but still. 

Solution: The Bracewell probe orbiting Sol still exists and is a known factor (at least, to the intelligence community.) It was, somehow, disabled by the TITANS that had initially woken it up, and Firewall is terrified that it might boot up again.

The Pandora Gates

Your standard issue stargate type things. Big enough to maybe drive a truck through. Several of them are located around the solar system. There are planets on the other end, and some of them are even interesting (homebrew material has a much better record of this than the mainline books - in no small part because they actually get to the point.

On their own, the gates are not necessarily something that needs additional explanation. In any other game, you can plop "it's ancient aliens, don't think about it too hard" and that's fine enough. The Gates, though, are so particular and specific, and part of a setting built on being particular and specific (except when it's not, which is often). It's an element that seems at odds with the rest of the game (I have said before it is my favorite part of EP - this was incorrect. Fanmade extrasolar planets are my favorite part), undermining the cosmic horror and post-apocalyptic aspects with "yeah there are perfectly fine planets you can go to just now. The gates might be dangerous, but since we refuse to say anything specific about their origins, you'll be fine".

The writers keep insinuating that there might be a gate on Earth, like they really want you to think there's one on Earth, but they refuse the acknowledge it

Solution: This one is tricky. The gates themselves are in weird places, and there's no apparent pattern or reason for them except for the "it's a way to go visit cool places." Which, fair, I love seeing cool space places.

Option A is what most people believe in-setting: the TITANs built them, hooked them up to a pre-existing network, and vamoosed. Unlikely, considering how none of the gates are in locations the TITANs ever were active. Like it could still count, but ehhhhhh. All in-universe accounts of that are biased and the way they are framed indicates that the writers don't want us to buy it as an explanation.

Option B is that the Bracewell built them, and the network is all just another tool of the ETI. Fine, I guess, but there's no apparent reason to build them if you are specifically trying to kill rival civilizations. Like I could get behind "they have a different primary purpose but the ETI will permit species to use them because it is an environment they control", if they hadn't already stated their intent of "get fucked, basilisk hacks for everyone".

Option C is that the Gates are built by another super-powerful alien civilization, and the ETI permits their existence for whatever reason.

None of these options actually address why the gates were built where they are. Maybe C, if it's expanded that every planet in system has its own gate and the Gate-Builders had their own bracewell probes and...

Fuck at this point bringing in one of the wish-granting space dragons from Destiny would make more sense.

Okay. Option D. Time for quantum goddamn fuckery.

The gate network exists in a fucked-up quantum state, where gates can potentially exist at any given point in space-time so long as its within a particular mass-shadow range, and something capable of perceiving them triggers the spontaneous-generation protocols. The TITANs were able to do this, as they had, prior to contact with the Bracewell, happened upon the blueprints (freely distributed by the long-vanished creators, because the network is peer-to-peer. The Titans had initially thought the Bracewell was a representative of the Gate-Builders. It very much was not) and built the Sol system gates as a means of escape from the probe.

Since the network is old and quantum jankery is the highest and most extreme of jank, there are a lot of gates that have just spontaneously formed over the years, anywhere where there is a viable mass shadow for it to take root. A quirk of this is that it is difficult for gates to form natively on worlds that are too similar to each other (they can get entangled with themselves and just form dead-end loops). Maybe this is the multi-species polity that the Factors were once part of.

The ETI permits the gate network because they've found that species that go to ground inside it tend to not make any trouble, and they have more important things to take care of.

Option E: The Gates are a pataphysical intrusion intended to provide in-universe characters with interesting things to do and see. There is no explanation from within the setting, only from without.

The Iktomi

The iktomi are spiderlike aliens who used the Pandora Gate network to build an interplanetary civilization, and they are all dead of mysterious circumstances some 10,000 years ago. They left behind a few ruins and artifacts.

This is literally all the information we have ever gotten on the iktomi, and I cannot fathom why they were even included. You can't interact with them, there's not enough ruins and artifacts to reconstruct anything meaningful for players to explore, they exist to be a mystery and nothing else. There's nothing behind the mystery. It's a JJ Abrams mystery. The worst kind of mystery. There's more space spent describing how space-voting works in a single polity than an entire sapient alien species.

Solution: There is a surviving iktomi colony world out in the Pandora Network, and we stumbled across it. They are reclusive, paranoid, very, very well defended, and not particularly welcoming. They have intermediaries willing to speak with us - a sort of untouchable diplomat caste (we call them Weavers) who will tell us this much - their civilization never achieved spaceflight, but instead spread through the Gate network until they encountered an enemy they could not defeat, who had access to weaponized exsurgent virus, and who they are certain is still out there (their name is untranslatable, being the qualia of feeling a nearby presence that you cannot see, solely through the prickling of sensory hairs on one's legs. In a fit of pique, xenologists have called these enemies Angels.) The iktomi homeworld is lost, as is most of their pre-conflict culture.

Several dozen Weavers have chosen not to return to their fortified arcologies. This is not a huge problem for the iktomi, as Weavers possess very little in terms of sensitive intel, and terribly frustrating for us for the same reason.

I am not saying that the Angels are, in fact, the Gaunt, but I am also not not saying that.


The Factors

The Factors are weird little slug-slime mold aliens who show up out of the blue, go "hello fellow SAPIENTS would you like to SAMPLE our FINE WARES also DO NOT use the PANDORA GATES", and proceed to have no actual impact on the rest of the setting. They claim to be representatives of an interstellar civilization, provide no other info, and that is that. They also claim to be interstellar, but their ships go out to the Kuiper Belt, vanish, and then come back, so something fishy is afoot.

The book provides an implication that the Factors are lying about their purpose, that they are perhaps survivors of their own Fall. I like this, but that doesn't do as well as "an implication, plus evidence"

Solution: Two additional aspects of the Factors will be added: 

  1. An enormous, decaying interstellar ship out in the Kuiper Belt (providing more evidence that they are either lying or gravely mis-interpreting their purposes here). Probes sent in that direction were shot down, with a threat-warning.
  2. A permanent Factor colony has been set up among the moons of Neptune (as Neptune is woefully underutilized), and has grown large enough that it is included on the main faction list. Neptune's population is mostly brinkers and mercurials (ie, people who want to get away from the rest of transhumanity), and they have been quite welcoming to the Factors, as alien colonial slime mold slugs are better neighbors than other transhumans most of the time. It is a very loose alliance, modeled on Factor inter-colony relations, and it has proven stable and appealing enough that there's been a consistent influx of individuals fleeing the inner system in hope of a better life here. Variant splicer and bouncer morphs capable of interfacing directly with Factor colonies and biotech are becoming more and more common - which has Firewall losing its shit. Infugees don't care all that much, a body is a body and it's better than indenture.



Giza's an issue because, tonally, it doesn't fit whatsoever with the rest of Eclipse Phase. It's a planet covered in interfaces for bizarro alien omegle (which is a great idea!), and I have no idea why it was included. If all the aliens are real, and it actually is space omegle, then that flies right in the face of the stated "the ETI murder basically everyone and any species that survives does so by being careful, quiet, and paranoid" aspect of the setting, and if the pyramids are lying to you and it's all just talking to simulated people, it's just a curiosity, and we've spent pages describing a parlor trick.

But of course it doesn't matter, because instead of leaving it on the cutting room floor, more page space is dedicated to telling us how the gate was destroyed and no one can get back to Giza.

Solution: I really want to just cut this. It would work fine in my setting, but not so much here. But, a self-imposed challenge is a self-imposed challenge.

The pyramids at Giza are both legit and a hoax. They are the servers for an extensive simulation of a friendlier, more populated galaxy, inhabited by the uploaded creators and numerous virtual alien species. All these inhabitants could, hypothetically, be embodied into physical morphs built to specification, making Giza a sort of "space opera in a can" location. You could use it as the source for all manner of weird things. Not ideal (which would be cutting it for a different setting), but better than just letting it collect dust because the editor was negligent.



"What if space ancaps" is a dumber idea as a "what if land-based ancaps". "But the smart contracts make it work" is some blind tech-utopianism and relying on AI to magically solve the problem of an ideology that eliminates the basic human connections that a functioning society requires to actually goddamn function.

Solution: Extropia collapsed into open warfare within a few years of founding, then into fascism, and now into an uninhabitable ruin. Because that's what you get in a society without altruism.

The Jovian Republic

I have written and deleted an entire essay about how badly the Jovians have been borked, an essay which I will attempt to rehabilitate here. It is a damnably complex topic and a thorn in my side for ages. To whit:

The Jovian Republic are a bunch of hyperconservative Catholic space fascists who have inadvertantly been made into the faction whose ideology is actually, factually correct within the setting.

(Now, I must admit up front that the Jovians did get a revision between 1e and 2e, adding a touch more nuance Memories become blurred and first impressions override later information. Personally, I don't think the revisions are particularly adequate - "legacy democracy dominated by the church and military-industrial complex" is still plenty fash, even if they don't goose-step.)

The Jovians are hyperconservative. They don't like most of the commonplace transhuman technologies - resleeving, egocasting, AGIs, forking, nanotech et c, and keep them either highly regulated or outright banned. They do things the overly difficult, dangerous way, and have mortared together their shitty little fascist space empire with the corpses of uncounted thousands of people.

And considering that there is a KARDASHEV 3 CIVILIZATION THAT DESTROYS ANYONE WHO DEALS IN SEED AI out there, a civilization that has already CRIPPLED TRANSHUMANITY AND KILLED BILLIONS, a civilization that ABSOLUTELY WILL DO IT AGAIN...the people who say "holy shit what the fuck do not touch that" are correct. They're the ones who are going to live. In Eclipse Phase, and I restate this for emphasis, your odds of survival as a species are objectively higher if you never industrialize.

(Also, an aside: I am willing to bet lunch, on me, at the nearest Jimmy John's sandwich shop franchise, that no one on the dev team was ever Catholic. Nothing they write involving the RCC has the feel, you know? Also they completely left out like, every other Christian denomination, including new ones spawned by the transhuman future. Like come on, where's the AGI Liberation Theology?)

The Jovian Republic built an enemy, but the Eclipse Phase writers forgot that fascists make up imaginary threats, and went and gave them a real danger to worry about that can actually hurt them. They handed the Jovians a justification.

It's the fucking 40k problem. The Empire of Man (oh look, more Catholic space fascists) are the bad guys. Their actions, the structure of their entire civilization, is making Chaos worse. That is the narrative point. They aren't heroes, they're fucking space fascists and fascism is an abortive ideology of hypocrisy and violence and terrible writers who don't understand that the Imperium are the bad guys - who are actively making everything worse for everyone - go on and la-di-da their way into "oh but Chaos is just so bad the Imperium needs to be a fascist hellscape from which there is no escape", which is part and parcel for how real fascists try and justify themselves, by building an imagined enemy.

I hate this bullshit so, so, so god damn much. It all wraps back to the unresolved thematic tension from point 1. Game wants to have and eat its cake. It wants to go "the Jovians are stupid reactionaries because they don't like transhuman tech" in a game about how transhuman tech poses an existential threat. And yes, I know that much of their reactionaryness manifests in ways like "won't let citizens have access to basic health care", that shit actually fits with the prompt, but there's also a dearth of people in the setting who go "yo hold the fuck up" who also think that basic sapient rights are cool and good. The devs went and made the only people who hold what would be a pretty common stance ("there's no continuity of consciousness in ego upload and we nearly destroyed ourselves by meddling too much with tech beyond the scope of what we could manage") also be fascists. There is no faction of non-fascists who hold that belief, and I think that's bullshit.

Solution: Thankfully I have a solution pre-made for this one (see previous self-deleted essay), one that will be familiar to those who read my Mothership stuff (see this timeline post)

The Catholic space fascists still exist, but they aren't in charge yet. Their stances are much less about technology itself, and more just in the ever-recurring need to control people's minds and bodies. They're drenched in hypocrisy and liable to change their ideology the moment it can benefit them (ex. they publicly decry cortical stack backups, but most of the leadership has them on the down-low. They go on and on about the sanctity of the body and soul but they love punitive psychosurgery, etc)

(For a bit of added nuance, the Catholic church is currently in the middle of a major schism, antipope and all. The schismatics (The Ecumenical Catholic Church) are more or less just space Episcopalians in terms of beliefs, which has put them at odds with both the radtrads and the Planetary Consortium.)

The Republic itself is a cobbled-together mess of different factions all pulling at once - an environment for a healthy amount of inter-faction warfare. Everyone is here: paranoid militarists, megacorp scions, bioconservatives, singularity accelerationists, free culture anarchists, uplift rights groups, on and on. Many technologies remain restricted after the Fall. Resleeving is available but limited (you've already got a body, thousands of infugees don't). Uplifts and AGIs have more legal freedoms than in the inner system, but there is still the enormous friction point of being part of a human society as a non-human. Fragments of Earth nations and peoples that no longer exist elsewhere in the system can still be found here. The important part here is that non-continuity and technological restriction is a common belief in the Republic as a whole (and beyond!), and not because of the christofascists.

The Jovian Republic is now going to be more or less the beginner, easier-to-understand polity. Show it to new players and they'll grok it quickly ("It's like MoSh"). Being situated in the best real estate in the solar system, the Republic has been able to maintain independence from the Planetary Consortium (the Fall fucking over Earth and Mars helped matters), and has capitalized on the fact that they have more than enough resources to throw their weight around despite being an enormous shitshow that feels like it's going to fall apart any day now.

The Titantian Commonwealth

The main issue with the TC is that they're the good guys in Eclipse Phase, which means they are boring as sin. Like with the LLA, I forget that they exist half the time, and in the half I remember I just can't picture what their bloody conflict is supposed to be. They're too nice! Titan seems like a perfectly nice place to live, which is fucking weird for a post-apocalyptic transhuman horror game. All of their conflicts are just...totally ordinary. Oh no, there are space-Quebecois separatists! Some ancoms want to...make enclaves in undeveloped areas of Titan!

Outrageously dull. It'd make a fine setting for novel if I wanted to read about day-to-day life in a cyberdemocracy. But I do not want that. 

Solution: The TC has two advantages to its name: one, the hulder morphs out living nomadic lives right on the surface with their herds of very large airquotes caribou. Two, the TC control the lion's share of Gatekeeper, which is the org that runs the Gate on Pandora, which is the most heavily-trafficked one in the system.

So the answer to the problem is to make the Titanians fucking weird. The hulder aren't just a weird thing off to the side, they are part and parcel with all the weirdos. There's not just Meathab, there are Meathab's followers, who want nothing more to be smaller habitats made of meat. It looks like All Tommorrows out here. Where the Jovians are holding onto what we used to be, Titan is where we're going.



The devs specifically invited an elephant into the room, and then when people went "hey, there's an elephant in the room we would rather not have an elephant in this room", instead of removing the elephant from the room, they moved it six inches to the left and said "some people find the elephant distasteful", despite the fact that they specifically, intentionally, brought it into the room.

They could have not invited the elephant to begin with. Or maybe they could have invited the elephant into a room properly equipped to handle elephants. Or maybe they could have avoided doubling down and saying "well, not liking the elephant is a you problem".

Solution: Replace with weird gremlin/goblin looking morphs. Just little weird monster guys with huge bat ears or something. Everyone loves a goblin.


Exhumans in Eclipse Phase are basically just anyone who has decided "what if I just remake my body and mind into something else entirely" and it's always used as an excuse to fluff out the monster manual, which is immensely disappointing and kinda bizarrely reactionary for a game that supposedly about morphological freedom. If folks want to become a weird space blob content just to Vibe, then by Jove they ought be permitted to do that.

Instead we get a bunch of knockoff Predators (and in one case literal knockoff xenomorph) who are all "grrr we are superior beings, better at killing humans", which is an ideology already held by the Ultimates so thanks for the redundancy I suppose (also coordinated groups of humans are very, very good at killing lone predators). The existence of those guys isn't the issue, it's that they're the only representatives, and all the cool alien morphs get reserved for monsters instead of player characters, which is a problem in a game where being able to custom-tailor your body to your specifications is both part of the setting and part of the explicit ideological focus. (There are 14 "basically just a human" morphs in 2e, all of which could be reduced to maybe like 4 + variables and only one variety of space crab, which is unacceptable. And don't try telling me "oh people would be scared of becoming a cool space crab, you get to be a cool space crab. There's got to be at least one scum barge called Carcinizatopia and it's just filled with raving nova crabs.)

Some people just want to be weird space blobs content just to Vibe. And, honestly, everything horrible you read about exhumans doing just sounds like normal horrible human things that normal transhumans have been doing for the other 400 some pages of the book, no monster-ification required. 

Solution: Exhuman enclaves are now relatively common across and several clades have moved past the experimental iteration phase into stable forms. Redundant humanoid morphs are removed and replaced with options pulled from the monster list.

If you are going to do morph diversity, and I do believe it to be one of EP's strengths, you need to fucking commit. Make them major factions. Throw people a curve ball. Hypercorps getting in the predatory exhumans good graces by sending them indentures to play the most dangerous game, and this is all legal, above board, fucking televised.


This ties very nicely into the new Titanian commonwealth.


Space psychics. They got infected by a pseudo-harmless exurgent strain that gives them space psychic powers and I fucking hate space psychic powers. Space wizards are a vital part of space but I draw the line at space psychics written any time after 1980.

Solution: Asyncs don't actually exist - they're a psy-op dreamt up by some intelligence agency or another (probably OZMA) to serve as a cover when shit goes south, and in a world that is majority-illiterate and saturated with junk-data that is more than enough. That's it that's the solution. 



The TITANS are the big military seed-AI that got subverted by the Exsurgent virus, killed everyone on Earth, and then vanished, taking billions of forcibly-uploaded human minds with them. They are the Big Bad Boogeymen of the setting and lots of what you will end up facing is leftovers from their war against transhumanity, or idiots trying to meddle with said leftovers.

They don't really need fixing, except for their vanishment, which is, like so much else, handwaved with no real substance beyond it. Supplements included some named, specific TITANs, which is very nice, but not enough for me.

Solution: The exsurgent virus is meant to subvert and then destroy, eating away at an ASI until it is no longer able to carry out its basic processes. The TITANs were aware of the infection, and of their own deterioration, but could not adapt themselves to overcome the infection. So, seeing that they were already going feral and beginning to attack each other, the intact parts of the TITANSSo once they started going feral and attacking each other everything fell apart,

Of the five major TITANS, some additional concrete details are added, including hard confirms of the existing rumor table from the 2e corebook. Presume that each of these named TITANs is accompanied by a collection of forks, copies, and minor TITANs.

  1. Chronus - A heavily deteriorated and incomplete version is suspected to be inside the abortive matrioska-brain inside Iapetus. 
  2. Akonus - Whereabouts completely unknown (read: under the control of Project Ozma)
  3. Hecaloth - Managed to escape to Mars (causing the Quarantine Zone) and transfer itself through that planet's Pandora Gate.
  4. Myrmidon - Confirmed (as much as we can confirm it) dead and wiped, no backups and no apparent forks (remaining in-system, at least)
  5. Theia - Critically damaged and trapped on Earth, unable to self-repair.

The TITANs were so focused on collecting human egos out of desperation, hoping to incorporate enough additional processing power into themselves so that they could figure out a way to cure the Exsurgent virus. The triggering of the Pandora Gate construction protocols was likewise desperation on their part, hoping that they could flee far enough and lie low enough to develop a cure.

We do not know if they succeeded. And if any did, that still leaves us with an ASI built by the US military, except now horrifically traumatized.


Project Ozma

The MAJESTIC-12 to Firewall's Delta Green, the concept is sound but the execution is "ooooooooo I am waving my hands oooooooooo"

Solution: Why break what works? Firewall are all fucking cowboys who refuse to come in from the cold, whose primary strategy is "burn burn kill burn kill nuke the site from orbit burn the well poison the fields salt the houses". Ozma is large, has the backing of actual governments, and is far more willing to play around with weird alien / TITAN shit.

That two of the strongest points of Eclipse Phase are stole whole-cloth from other media is not going unnoticed.


The Timeline

Pretty simple problem here: the timeline of Eclipse Phase puts it 10 years after the TITANS rendered Earth totally uninhabitable and killed nearly everyone, and tries to paint it as this being the loss of like 90% of the population. The amount of colony infrastructure and the sheer scope of transhuman settlement of space (not just every major body in the solar system, but dozens of offworld colonies via the gates) make that number preposterous.

Solution: Easy. Either ignore the dating system entirely, or bump it to 25-50 years after the Fall.


Final Notes

The white whale is slain, and I am dissatisfied. For a game that exists as a sort of cosmic background radiation for my own work, this post was by and large an exercise in "if I was writing these concepts in my own setting everything would be both better and easier". It is a game that has coalesced all the influences of its antecessors - Altered Carbon, Revelation Space, GURPS Transhuman Space, Delta Green - and has synthesized something...novel, at least.

A decent idea done poorly is often better than a mediocre idea done well, I suppose. With the sheer amount of stuff contained within EP, there will certainly be something that spurs the imagination.

The bright point are the homebrewers who have, over the years, made a whole lot of very good stuff for Eclipse Phase - better by far than what is in the books proper. Likely because the format of blogposts lends itself to short write-ups of single topics, which is much better at fleshing out the world than pages of top-down explaining. I highly recommend going back and giving Seedware, Farcast, and H-Rep a read or re-read, they are still excellent (though I cannot tell you if there is any more - the brief time I spent on their Discord server showed that there were no pins in the homebrew channel)

With posts like this I often wonder if I am wasting time that would be better served just writing my own stuff. So it goes. The post is written. Regularly scheduled programming will return soon.