[Interview] Mr. Eclipse Phase Rob Boyle

Mit meinen etwas eingestaubten English-Skills (*hust* danke an Quack-O-Naut)  habe ich mir mal Rob Boyle geschnappt und ein wenig über Eclipse Phase, Cyberpunk und RPG gesprochen. Viel Spaß beim lesen!

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Hi Rob,
thanks that you take time for this interview. Would you please introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Rob Boyle, I’ve been in the game writing and design business for about twenty years. In the past I’ve worked for FASA, FanPro, and Catalyst; these days I am part of the collective that owns Posthuman Studios. I’m responsible for Shadowrun, Fourth Edition, and Eclipse Phase, among other things. Outside of gaming, I am an anarchist, anti-fascist, and transhumanist, and I DJ industrial music and teach modern arnis.

What’s your current RPG work?
I am currently one of the line developers for Eclipse Phase, along with Jack Graham.

In the past you and I have the pleasure to work together on “Fieberglasträume”. What do you think about cyberpunk?
I think cyberpunk as a genre and social movement really emphasized the dystopian qualities that capitalism was moving us towards, with its portrayal of unfettered corporate power, omnipresent surveillance, austerity for the poor and enclaves for the rich. It also captured the influence various technologies would have on our social fabric and how those technologies would often be repurposed away from their uses for social control.

The cyberpunk, like Neuromancer from William Gibson, has a tremendous development. What do you think about this development and in what direction, do you think, will this development lead us.
Well, I think the future that cyberpunk predicted is now here, we are living it, and so its relevance is fading. While many of its ideas will live on, I think we must look at new future trends. Cyberpunk—and the post-cyberpunk genre that followed it—leads pretty directly into transhumanism, and there has been a lot of interesting developments and discussions among transhumanists that I think we should be paying attention too. There are serious implications for our future in terms of the accelerating nature of technological change, the definition of personhood (in regards to animals, uplifts, and AIs), the ethics of genetic modification, the impact of increased longevity, the limits of intellectual property systems, the effect on our climate, the need for sousveillance to check abuses of power, and serious extinction risks, just to name a few. Future technologies are going to be game changers in a big way, from the way we work under capitalism to the way certain technologies are force multipliers.

Keyword: “Eclipse Phase” – what is this exactly?
An “eclipse phase” is the period between when a cell is infected by a virus and when it manifests signs of that infection and becomes infectious. So it is a period where things appear normal but drastic change is impending.

Our RPG, Eclipse Phase, is a game of transhuman survival. It takes place a decade after transhumanity lost a war with a group of seed AIs, during which the Earth was rendered uninhabitable and about 95% of the population wiped out, and so we have spread out and colonized the rest of the solar system. Extinction is a looming threat and the game emphasizes various existential threats that might wipe us out—along with various conspiracy and horror themes.

One of the main elements of the game is that minds can be digitally emulated, so people can back up their consciousness and memories on a computer. This means you are effectively immortal, you have a save point. You can also be downloaded into a new body, whether than is a genetically modified and enhanced meat body or a synthetic robotic shell. So your body is customizable and can be changed at whim. Want to be female? Smarter? Taller? With gills and prehensile feet? Or want to be robotic spider with terahertz vision and built-in weapons? No problem.

The setting also delves into nanofabrication and its economic impacts. With a nanofabber, you can 3D print anything you need with the right blueprints, from food to electronics to weapons. In the inner system, this process is heavily regulated—you must pay for blueprints, they are illegal to share, and fabbers are restricted from producing weapons, drugs, etc. In short, scarcity is enforced to keep capitalism going. In the outer system, fabbers are unrestricted and available to all, so everyone effectively has everything they need. As a result, other social models thrive. Instead of money, what counts is your reputation in different social networks. And if you decide to print a briefcase nuke, the local anarchist militia may want to have a word with you about your intentions.

Please tell us more about character creation?
We make a distinction in the game between your ego—your mind, skills, memories, etc—and your morph—your body. Your ego stats stay with you, transferring from body to body. Your morph, however, may impact some of those attributes, based on its capabilities.

The default character creation system in the core book is a point-buy system. You choose a background and faction, then spend points on aptitudes, skills, reputation, morphs, gear, etc. We also have two alternative character creation systems in our Transhuman book. One is a package-buy system; essentially a simplified version of the point-buy system, where you pick packages of skills, gear, etc. The other is a randomized life-path system, which produces more eclectic and sometimes less balanced characters. And, yes, you may die during character creation when using the life paths (hello Traveller!), but you just resleeve in a new morph and carry on.

Which rule set do you use?
We use a percentile system (d100), rolling under your skill, with a few twists. We use blackjack rules (you’re trying to roll under but high) and doubles (11, 22, 33, etc) are criticals.

Please tell us more about the background of Eclipse Phase, what makes it special?
We made a strong effort to bring the setting to life by addressing what a lot of the ramifications of various future technologies would be. While we’re not a strict hard sci-fi setting (more “firm sci-fi”), we felt it was important to address a lot of the ethical issues, sociopolitical impacts, and so on. We also specifically explore a lot of alternative social models, from collectivists to body-changing hedonists to animal uplift tribes to group minds. As a result, we have a very detailed setting that can be used for many different styles of game play, or just read on its own. While the default campaign is to work against threats that might destroy transhumanity, it would be easy to run games focused on political intrigue, spy thrillers, criminal activities, or extrasolar exploration.

The elimination of death (mostly) in the setting also has lots of ramifications. Your character will probably never fully die, though they might change due to experiencing death, whether they lose memories or suffer mental trauma from the experience. They might fork and duplicate themselves, splitting into multiple versions that each take their own path. This applies to NPCs as well, which brings a new dimension to bad guys and how you handle them—they will come back after you kill them, and they might not be happy about it.

Could you provide us a little overview of upcoming Works from you?
We just released After the Fall, our first fiction anthology. This includes a half-dozen new stories as well as all of the fiction we have included in previously published Eclipse Phase sourcebooks. The ebook/PDFs are available now, and the print version will be available soon.

We are also close to releasing Transhumanity’s Fate,which is is a conversion guide for using the Eclipse Phase setting with the popular Fate system.

Next up after that is X-Risks, which is part monster manual, part sourcebook on various existential threats. We’ve had a lot of fun working on this and the art for it is fantastic. It will be released in the late summer/fall.

Did you work on other RPGs besides Eclipse Phase?
I haven’t had the time to do much freelance work lately. We do have some other RPG ideas in the works at Posthuman, but they are still a ways off.

When I have the chance to ask someone from the other side of the world, i like to ask one thing. Which experiences do you have with the german RPG market and will your current and future work be available as german version(s)?
My experience with the German market is a bit dated—about a decade old, from when I worked with FanPro. I keep abreast of the newer games, thanks to several German friends and occasional travel (usually to Berlin, my favorite city).

We tried unsuccessfully to find a German publisher to translate Eclipse Phase; none were willing to take the risk for a new sci-fi game. We may look to have the book translated ourselves in the future, to make available as a print-on-demand release.

Did the US and German Market have something in common?
Well it’s interesting that a large number of German RPG players can read English, and as a result many simply buy the English-language versions of games when they first come out, rather than waiting several years for a German translation. Unfortunately, this seems to be a counter-incentive for German publishers when it comes to negotiating translation rights.

I do think there are similarities in that many German RPG players cut their teeth on Das Schwarze Auge, much like many US players were first exposed to D&D. Considering that DSA is a bit of a crunchy system and emphasizes the setting detail, I think this might predispose German players to games of a similar style. I know Shadowrun always did quite well there.

In Germany we see a problem with missing up-and-coming RPG players. Did you have the same discussions in the United States?
I think there were fears of that about a decade ago, that we were losing new players to video games, but I think those fears have largely passed. In part, video games have helped keep gaming culture alive, and many video games of course use terminology and systems taken from tabletop, so there is still a bit of crossover. But I think the explosion of board game popularity (thanks in part to many German and European games), the ease of self-publishing, and the widespread availability of tools to play RPGs online have all come together to keep tabletop games thriving, or at least not dying off. Plus there’s really no substitute for the type of social, cooperative gaming that RPGs provide. On top of that, the availability of PDFs (along with tablets) and POD mean have helped our industry get past one of our biggest chokepoints—in that retail game shops that carry RPGs are few and far between.

What do you think about RPGs in TV-Series (e.g. The Big Bang Theory)?
I’ve honestly never seen BBT, nor do I watch many TV shows that aren’t sci-fi, so I am probably the wrong person to ask. I do think shows like that help keep RPGs popular, or at least in the public’s awareness.

How political RPGs could/should be?
Well, I’m of the opinion that everything is political, whether it claims to be or not. I sometimes hear the complaint that Eclipse Phase is too political, or at least that our personal political biases are too apparent in the writing. Any game writing is going to be infused with such biases, however, even if the default is simply neoliberal capitalism. Frankly I think we could use a bit more discussion about say, the fascist overtones of games like Rogue Trader and Warhammer 40k, the romantic idealization of feudalism you often get in fantasy games, or the law-and-order/vigilante ideology implicit in most superhero settings. I mean, Dungeons & Dragons alignments still endorse a simplistic black-and-white good-vs.-evil world view. Don’t even get me started on misogynistic tropes or the way “race” is often used in RPGs.

All of this is to say—you can’t avoid politics, and it’s often more interesting when we tackle those political issues head-on. The reason I like science fiction is because it explores alternative possibilities and potential ramifications, this is absolutely something that fantasy and other RPG genres should be doing too.

What did you think, which were the best three Sci-Fi/Cyperpunk novels of recent times?
Nexus by Ramez Naam, was fantastic. I’m currently reading 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson, and enjoying it quite a bit. For third, I would recommend almost anything from Ian Banks’s Culture series, though I particularly like Use of Weapons and Surface Detail.

Thank you for these interview, the last words are yours.
For folks interested in checking out Eclipse Phase, we release everything under a Creative Commons license; you can find the PDFs on my website.

Since this interview is for a German audience, you might also be interested in the first card game that we at Posthuman Studios have published, Shinobi Clans, which was designed by a German, Jürgen Mayer.


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