Friday, 17 January 2014

Introduction to A Voice in the Dark

Before posting anything about A Voice in the Dark, I need to give some background on Eclipse Phase. If you're familiar with the setting, feel free to skip this post. I sent this as a primer for my players because, sadly, some of them are adverse to reading.

Eclipse Phase is a sci-fi RPG with three major themes:
You are part of Transhumanity, a posthuman society. Technology has eliminated aging, disabilities, and disease. Your characters are egos, a mind, either human, artificial (AGI [artificial general intelligence]), or an animal uplifted to sentience and sapience. These egos exist as digital information separate from your body. In Eclipse Phase, these expendable or swappable bodies are called morphs. Death and bodily harm are more of a setback than a lasting concern.
Egos are treated like software. They can be edited, removing trauma and altering memories. When in a digital shell, also called a cyberbrain, they can be hacked. They can be patched, adding skills, or other experiences (These experience logs are called XPs and are a large source of entertainment). You can copy and paste, creating duplicate minds called forks. In most places, an identical copy (or alpha fork) is illegal, after all, you can’t have two of the same person running around, that would just get confusing. Edited copies (called beta forks) are more common, but most people just use them for an hour or two, before having their forks rejoin the main mind (called reintegrating). The last common form of fork is the delta fork. This is the barest bones of the ego, little more than whatever memory and skills are needed for the job.
Transhumanity has not mastered faster than light travel. Trips between planets usually take around a month and are extremely expensive. If people want to travel, they sent their ego (or a copy) in a process called farcasting. Farcasting is the process of sending the ego like data; you leave your morph behind and buy, rent, borrow, or swap for a body on the other end.
Data is everywhere. There is a persistent wireless network of information called the mesh. It is essentially Internet +. With this comes a form pervasive augmented reality called entoptics (from the Greek, meaning ‘from within the eye’). Most of Transhumanity can access the mesh and programs on it via a cybernetic implant, giving them constant access to communication as well as technical information and allowing them to interface with devices. Those few that don’t have a mesh insert have to rely on a handheld device called an Ecto. The sheer amount of data a transhuman has to process in their day to day life may seem overwhelming, but they have help. Within most of transhumanity, along with their mesh insert is a simple A.I. assistant called a Muse. Muses organize, filter and search for information according to their owner’s demands and preferences. In addition to the augmented reality that is a daily part of Transhuman Life, some use complex virtual reality worlds called simulspaces for entertainment, socializing, and training.
Humanity was progressing quickly. Orbital habitats were all across the solar system, terra-forming projects were taking place on Venus and Mars. On the other hand, wars over energy and climate change ravaged Earth. Then The Fall happened. The TITANs, a group of self-improving, or seed, A.I.s rebelled against humanity and began to slaughter Earth’s population. They used robots, swarms of self replicating nano-machines, memetic patterns that affect the mind called Basilisk Hacks, and a strange virus with multiple vectors. This virus, dubbed the Exsurgent virus has strains that resemble both computer and biological virii. Then, just as suddenly as they turned, they escaped Earth and disappeared. The planet was ruined, completely uninhabitable between the massive storms and lingering TITAN nanoswarms and killer robots. Many corporations, the only powerful entities to survive The Fall, pooled together to erect a network of armed satellites to destroy anything entering or leaving Earth’s atmosphere.
The Exsurgent virus can alter the mind, re-writing an ego’s personality in weeks or minutes. The virus can also warp the body, transforming them into monsters. One of the strains, called the Watts-Macleod strain, is rumored to be benign and also the source of strange psychic powers. Those with these powers would be called Asyncs. But that’s just a rumor, no one believes those that stuff is real, right?
The casualties of The Fall were horrendous. Only 5% of humanity survived, mostly those rich enough to pay for physical passage, those well connected enough to egocast somewhere else, and those lucky, or violent, enough to get passage on a refugee ship. Those that didn’t were killed, or forcibly uploaded by the TITANs, and then killed. Space on the habitats is sparse. Organic bodies take time to grow, usually a few years. Synthetics bodies are cheaper but still take a while to make. As a result, most of transhumanity exist solely as egos, floating around the mesh as digital infomorphs. Alternatively, if they don’t have any useful skills, they go into cold storage, stuck in an inactive backup until an interested party gets the money to buy them a body. Either way, the infomorph and synthetic morph (shortened to synthmorphs) populations are largely indentured servants, working off the cost of their bodies and their rescue from TITAN infested Earth. Uplifted animals and A.G.I. are often similarly indentured to pay off the cost of their creation.
After the TITANS left, many were asking where they went. Their questions were answered with the discovery of the so-called “Pandora Gates” these strange objects, left behind  by the TITANs, allowed instantaneous transit to distant worlds. This was Transhumanity’s first  taste of faster than light travel. The Pandora Gates are barely understood so travel through them is dangerous. You could be stranded for years, or even indefinitely (If the environment on the other side doesn’t kill you first). It was after the use of the Pandora Gates that humanity experience first contact with an alien race. A group of bizarre fungal creatures dubbed “The Factors” appeared and initiated friendly contact with Transhumanity.  Oddly enough, they warn against A.I. research and the use of the Pandora Gates, refusing to contact anyone doing research into either. The Factors claim to represent a larger alien community, but they are the only one that Transhumanity has encountered thus far.
In addition to A.G.I. and Uplifts, a corporation called Cognite decided to try and grow an accelerated new generation to replace those lost in the fall. These egos were place in a VR simulation with accelerated time, giving them about eighteen years of memory in just three years. This had a side effect of driving most of them completely insane. In addition, due to some fluke (or deliberate sabotage), all of them were infected with the Watts-Macleod Exsurgent strain, giving them psychic powers. These people are usually referred to as the Lost Generation.

You are an agent of Firewall. These agents are called Sentinels. Their superiors are called Proxies. A group of Sentinels, overseen by a Proxy is a cell. Proxies give the cells their missions and the Sentinels carry them out. In the field, Sentinels have full autonomy and make decisions democratically. To deal with ties, one Sentinel is designated team leader.
Firewall is a secret organization that transcends faction and ideology. Firewall’s objective is to prevent another event like The Fall. They do this by hunting down and eliminating threats to the existence of transhumanity. Existential (Ex) Threats vary. They could be alien threats, weapons of mass destruction, meme viruses, and of course, the TITANs and the Exsurgent virus.

Hopefully we'll get to something more interesting in the next post.

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