Eclipse Phase Session 11: The End of the Beginning
At the start of last night’s session, the PCs found themselves at the dim reaches of the solar system, on the frigid, barren rock called Eris. Their task was to find the slippery Mr. Jiang, the arms dealer who had information about how Phelan’s Recourse had been obliterated several months earlier. Now they were hoping their stealth suits, obtained by way of an alliance of necessity with the thin remains of a Jovian special ops strike force, would keep them hidden from the Ultimates who searched for them like angry bees.
Sneaking back to the outskirts of the Torii settlement, Blazer, the group’s hacker, slipped into the local mesh undetected. He made contact with Shiguru. As one of a handful of Gate Scheduling Officers, he had the ability to get the team through the Discord Gate. Mochi, the group’s master manipulator, convinced Shiguru that because they knew he had already been bribed by Mr. Jiang, it would be in his best interest to let them through as well.
After a hair-raising game of cat and mouse with the Ultimates, the three PCs and their two Jovian companions met with Shiguru. He led them through odd, obviously alien-constructed tunnels and into the Discord Gate control complex. Using his high-level security clearance and aided by no small amount of bluffing, the team was brought into one of the gate’s six staging domes. The cover story was that because of an above-ground intrusion, Go-nin was providing additional security for this gatecrashing mission.
As fate would have it, this was the third batch of scientists and explorers heading to a newly-discovered exoplanet as part of the D329-K expedition. Well-funded and staffed by a secretive consortium of Inner System universities and hypercorps, D329-K had already found vast resources on the new planet. The expedition leader, Dr. Eve Sorenson, found the new addition to her party distasteful, but tolerable.
Then the prep was over. The door to the Gate Room opened, and as the expedition members walked through one by one, each felt that strange, disorienting bending of time and sensation before stumbling out into a wholly new planet.
The gravity was heavier even than Earth’s. The single sun in the thin azure sky was smaller than Sol, bluer and more intense. The air was breathable, warm, thick and moist. Jungle foliage towered around the small clearing that surrounded the exit gate. A cacophony of animal noises greeted the gatecrashers as they rose up from their knees and shook away the gate-induced nausea.
Despite all this splendor, the characters had a job to do. They knew Mr. Jiang was hiding somewhere in the expedition, just as they were. They didn’t know what sort of morph he was inhabiting. But they saw a figure at the head of the procession of recovering crashers stand up and make for the thickest part of the jungle. They pursued, knowing they’d found their quarry.
After chasing him for a time, they established ad hoc mesh contact and convinced him to meet them on ground of his choosing. En route to this meeting they encountered a small group of exceedingly large-mouthed, dingo-sized, hyena-like creatures and dispatched them. Finally they reached Mr. Jiang. He stood at the top of a hill, an Olympian ready for anything the jungle could throw at him.
Tired of running, Mr. Jiang related the tale of how he had spent many years running a criminal organization back on Earth. How he had seen the rise of the AIs coming. How he had moved his operation to space. How after the Fall he had realized that despite the virtual eradication of transhumanity, people were still more than willing to fight and kill each other. How he had shifted to arms dealing and related smuggling and piracy operations.
He then told of how he had discovered that Cyrene, the runaway daughter of a minor Octavian politician had been abducted and altered, turned into a new kind of biological weapon. He described how when she arrived on Phelan’s Recourse and met with five others who had been similarly altered, the combination of their pheromones triggered otherwise inert biochemistry, turning the six of them into a massive explosive device. This ultimate suicide bomb wiped out most of Phelan’s Recourse and nearly pushed transhumanity into another spasm of war.
It was all orchestrated by one of the original TITANs, an AI called Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which ostensibly worked for Jovian military intelligence. As soon as Mr. Jiang related this part of the tale, Blazer, Cooper, and Mochi turned on Jask and Felix, the two Jovian special operatives. It ended with a wounded Jask and Felix surrendering. Mr. Jiang, following his own notions of honor, took their railgun assault rifles and suit helmets, and set them free.
Blazer went back to the gatecrashing group and discussed exobiology with Dr. Sorenson, telling her the truth about who he was and why he and the other PCs had crashed the gate. She was sympathetic, but she also informed him that Go-nin would doubtless send Ultimates through the gate to find them. Blazer reluctantly went back into the jungle to rejoin his friends.
After trying unsuccessfully to work an alliance with Mr. Jiang, the PCs decided to stay on this wondrous new planet for a while, exploring it and perhaps discovering a way to work with the scientists while avoiding those who might come through the gate looking to even old scores.
While the session was quite fun, this point in the evening is where things got truly interesting. At the start of the campaign we’d all agreed that it would be character-driven. While the Cyrene-Splinter story was the backdrop to everything the PCs encountered, how they dealt with it was really entirely up to the PCs. But here’s the rub: We’d started with characters that had been hastily created as “throw aways”. Our original intention had been to play the game a couple of times, then throw those characters away so we could start “the real” campaign.
But we loved the first session so much that we kept using those characters. Unfortunately over time we all came to realize that their skills and motivations didn’t make for a cohesive group. Blazer wanted to preserve natural environments. Mochi and Cooper wanted to mine them. Mochi saw money as the only security, while Blazer saw it as superfluous. This wasn’t a player clash by any means; in the course of fleshing out their characters, they all realized that the fit wasn’t right.
Interestingly, as Blazer, Cooper, and Mochi spend more time on this astounding new planet, their goals may change. Mochi may realize that in this setting, money is worthless. Cooper may come out from under Mochi’s shadow. Blazer may find that he misses the bustle of Octavia. Regardless, these realizations, if they come at all, will take a long time. This is exploration best suited to backstory, not game play. So this is a natural end point for these characters.
Our plan now is for the players to create new characters. I’ll run a more traditional Firewall-oriented game, and the PCs will be built to fit together better as a group. There will still be plenty of room for individual goals, personality friction, and so on, but as Firewall operatives they will all have the same north arrow.
I’m going to continue the campaign timeline, so these new PCs will start playing after the events put into motion by the first group. Splinter is still there in the background. The D329-K discovery is still there. Blazer, Cooper, Mochi, Mr. Jiang, Jask, and Felix are still on the newly-discovered exoplanet. Who knows what distant effects their actions will have on the new PC group?
Having now gone through a full story arc in eleven game sessions, I feel like as a GM I’m just beginning to tap into the potential of the Eclipse Phase setting. It continuously astounds me and provides me with exciting ideas, without making me feel dependent on the next sourcebook. That said, I’m ridiculously excited about Rimward, and can’t wait for its arrival.