Why We Game

I have a friend of mine who games because he’s a born storyteller. He’s one of the smartest people I know and while he’s sadly fallen into the trap of many smart people, the need to be right or at least never appear wrong, he’s at all times an insightful and thoughtful human being. He inspires me to think.

Storytellers Vault

I have a friend of mine who games because it’s a world he controls. He’s been given the short stick his entire life; his body betrays him, his parents were demanding and never supportive, and he’s struggled for everything he’s got with never a complaint. He inspires me to endure.

I have a friend of mine who games because he wishes he were an anime character. He dismisses his body and thinks little of tradition of any kind. He wishes to live in a world of wacky comedic situations, resilient heros, big eye ladies, and the rule of cool. He inspires me to find my joy.

They, and we, all game for so many different reasons; we’re complicated creatures, we humans. Why? Why is gaming something that’s become not just a release and a community for those who don’t quite fit elsewhere but a mainstream product? The ever increasing popularity of all types and kinds of gaming, from classic board games to hundred million dollar video games begs the question. Why? Are we humans pre-programmed for games? Are we so in love with our evolutionary advantages of planning, foresight, insight, and reason that we must create additional worlds to exercise them?

My own experiences make me think the low hanging fruit of escapism gaming comes from mental health needs, the change of our society from struggle to ease, and the dissatisfaction of humanity in this age of refined higher education requiring frontiers.


Dungeons and Dragons was developed in the mid-60’s during a time of changing attitudes and life-styles. I know, I know, the same could be said of just about any decade or era in American history. But let’s break down some numbers? Yeah, you love numbers. The 1950’s and 60’s were a time of rapid infrastructure construction and massive population boom. Immigration saw over 36 million immigrants enter the country during those two decades and a birth rate that started at 22+ per thousand in 1950; the immigration numbers wouldn’t be matched again until the mid-90’s through the late 2000’s while the birth rate has never been matched since. However, by the end of 1970 immigration had dropped off by ~20% and births per thousand had dropped to 16. The exhaustive construction continued on into the late 70’s and created an infrastructure and population support that lasted well into the 2000’s before upgrades became a necessity; also, they are still needed but, you know, politics, am I right? We transition from the loud car with a family of seven covered in dust trekking across the midwest to a population of city dwellers purchasing food at the market and sitting at home watching television.

That, in my opinion, is when the Itch started. You know the Itch. It’s the thing that makes you want to scream at your boss when they say conference calls are really important to the success of the company and your personal phone call about your kid getting into a fight at school should take a back seat. It’s the feeling that there’s a horizon to explore, a frontier to conquer, even though you can’t find one. The Itch is the response of a primarily primitive lizard and monkey descended neural chemistry reacting to a living standard so high no human being in history could comprehend it. Maybe royalty. Yes, you live like an ancient king, even in your crappy apartment with your two cats, you enjoy a quality of life they simply lacked the mental tools to conceive of.

Guild Adept PDFs - Available exclusively @ Dungeon Masters Guild

The Itch, albeit in a undeveloped state at the time, combined with his own love of games lead Gary Gygax to write that first draft of Dungeons and Dragons. As the Itch has grown in complexity with our own increasingly domesticated lifestyles so too has our own need for escapism, for that feel of new horizons, of adventure, and most importantly, that feeling that a person can make their own destiny, build it with their own hands that frankly is sorely lacking in modern society; the feeling of achievement. Ever wonder why Microsoft called them Achievements? They’re not dumb and they didn’t pick it at random. They want you to feel exactly that, achievement, when that shiny little icon appears on your screen accompanied by the happy little tone. What better way to get players to feel what you want them to then to tell them what the feeling they need to feel is?

We wear masks, different masks for different people. It’s a survival mechanism that every human uses but only those of us treading darkness have become it’s masters. We switch between the lying faces and the lying mouths from one social group to another like a dashing squirrel. We leap through the front door, land, taking in the environment, the people, pull up the right face for them. Then we skitter from room to room, switching between always on the move to avoid long conversation to hiding in the shadows, behind a cluster of people, or in a difficult to reach corner of the room.

We’re home, cold coffee sits on the desk, the steam long since passing up into the air and gone into memory. We hear the door open and put on a face, a mask, that at least gives the impression that you’re engaged with what’s around you. That you haven’t been staring at the screen, sitting in your chair, maybe your hand is actually on the mouse of the keyboard but you haven’t clicked or typed in tens of minutes. It isn’t until you hear the keys in the door that you rouse yourself and open something, anything, just to look like you’re engaged with what is there. You choose this, instead of engaging with the whirlwind in your mind, the endless spin cycle of terrible thoughts, worries, and choices.

You don’t hate your family at the holiday party, you don’t even dislike them. You just can’t seem to really understand why they’re so happy about a new suit your uncle bought. Everyone looks at you expecting a similar response and you give them what they expect. The disingenuous words coming easily after all this time. A master of faking happy, of faking “ok”, has made you and me an expert at tricking the normal people into thinking that we really are, maybe not as much as they, but close enough.

These moments are becoming increasingly common and until we have a method, an ethic, a lifestyle in the real world that compensates for the disappearing horizon we will ever turn to escapism and all the wonder, imagination, and stories that come with such a life. Gaming isn’t a cure for the veil of depression that seems to be spreading across the land but it is a treatment and like all treatments for all ailments we need to watch it, support it, and be aware of the impact and role that gaming plays in our world. Don’t dismiss this hobby out of turn, it can and has lifted up many from a dark well. I include myself in that category. This past year saw me diagnosed with depression with manic tendencies and anxiety centered around attention and crowds. Gaming became both the distraction it’s always been but also a life line. A light in my darkness that saw me through another bad day.

Good luck and good night.

Weather Engine – Worldbuilding 1

Previously we’ve spent some time together talking at a high level about being a godling in a technological universe.  Now let’s look at just being Gawd and creating your own world to run or play your game in.  The art of world creation isn’t easy or for the faint of heart.  Sure, any fella out there can throw together some two-bit town with a single road and a donkey but I’m talking about real world building.  They always say write what you know and so I’ll be approaching this from the angle of how I build a setting.  Please note that my method may not fit you or the type of world you want to create.  That’s ok; if any of this is useful than I’ve succeeded at my job..err..position…no…favor for a friend?  Whatever this gig is.  


I’m going to convince you that weather is the most important element of your world building.  Weather drives so much about a place, and a people, and it’s always my starting position for world building.  Is it rainy or dry?  Is it neutral?  Are there the usual four seasons?  Any of them particularly long?  If the land is windy all the time the trees will be short and twisted, shrubs and tough grass will cover the land.  If it’s a long winter you’ll have fast growing plants and animals adapted for cold more than heat.  The weather can also drive how technologically advanced a people can be.  A land where nothing grows like Arctic tundra or desert dunes will encourage a people towards hunting and nomadic life-styles with an emphasis on weapon and travel technologies.  While a land with sunny days and green lush land with plenty of water will develop farming and fortification technologies.  

From Weather we can draw direct connections to technological orientation but we can also draw direct lines to diet based on the kinds of animals and plants to be found in an environment with those weather patterns.  A desert dwelling people are some of the heaviest users of spice for their foods as what they’re consuming tends toward bland and they have the right environment for growing many of these spices at the edges of said desert. If you wished to dive deep you could take a look at the types of spices used in various environments and use those flavors to, ahem, flavor your flavor text.  A people’s diet can also inform things like average height and weight with heavier meat filled diets lending people height and weight while a primarily vegetarian people would be shorter and sparser of frame.  


Weather and food connect directly to clothing choices and the materials to make those clothes.  This also informs what kind of armor they likely favor, weaponry preferences, and even the type of building materials and designs they favor.  An area like Japan, a hilly forested island doesn’t lend itself towards large herds of animals, nor are large herds of animals the most efficient ratio of land use to calories, so an agrarian society with very little red meat creates a population of shorter and smaller framed people.  As a place with few mineral resources the use of plant materials for construction, clothing, armor, etc. becomes the next logical step.  These lines of thought can be very sparse, a sketch of a region and its people, to help a GM add a little character to a small village. They can also be very complicated interconnected webs, the decision is completely up to you.     

An important note to remember, culture; the culmination of spiritual, religious, superstitious, entertainment, and traditional practices; is not the same as what we’ve laid out so far.  A culture is certainly influenced by region, weather, and environment but is equally affected by interactions with other cultures, politics, and the murky origins of a people’s faith.  That’s right, religion conversation, full steam ahead!


The spirituality of a nation grows out of a desire to explain things and to some extent to tell stories.  A father tells his son how those bright lights in the sky make the shape of a horse and comes with up some tale to entertain the lad.  He tells his son, then onto the next son, and the next until it becomes a corner of spirituality.  The gods put the first horse into the sky to pull the night behind him as he gallops across. This tale grows and either finds it way into a manuscript on the origins of the names of the constellations or as part of a religion; the steed of Zaphaeus, archangel of wrath of the creator god Eloi!

Religion and to a lesser extent spirituality is where we can really see formalized politics developing.  Imagine a tribe, stone age, barely getting by.  They’re led by the strongest male who is either great at hunting or great getting others motivated to hunt.  As spirituality develops, a separate position of power forms in the group; the shaman.  Or medicine man, priest, magus, seer, etc.  This creates two positions of influence in a group that previously had only one.  The first formalized politics form.  Just as religious practices can severely alter a nation; for example, a land with miles and miles of coast with a religious proscription against eating shellfish, due to them eating carrion; so can political upheavals and power shifts.


Once a nation passes a technological threshold, say late medieval to early renaissance, weather loses impact as a driving societal force.  There are obviously exceptions for extreme circumstances and some environments discourage ever reaching that technological level naturally.  A desert, for example, does not encourage cities nor generally produces the food resources necessary for a large idle population, which is a must for a nation to innovate, technologically speaking.  

There’s a barrier between survival level culture and knowledge and the level beyond with idle urban populations and farms producing far more than they can consume.  Some environments actively assist crossing this barrier in the case of temperate, plains, and deciduous forests.  Others can actively oppose such development such as deserts, rain forests, and heavily mountainous terrain.  As an additional note I understand that terrain doesn’t actively oppose or assist anything; just a word choice people, put away the literary knives.  

Exotic environment can be treated much the same way; frozen glaciers, deserts made of glass, underground tunnels, floating islands, and undersea kingdoms can all be sketched out and then filled out using the same ideas.  Let’s take a look at an undersea kingdom.

Weather is non-stop rain.  Did you hear the drum and cymbal in the background?  No?  Fine then.  An undersea kingdom has very limited “weather”; but there are consistent weather like effects.  The tides would act like a highway system creating the option for extensive trade networks and/or expansive kingdoms.  The diet would be exclusively fish, crustacean, and some plant matter.  While fish scales would be useful for little more than ornamentation, the hides of sharks and cloth made of kelp would be common materials for clothing.  There would be no concept of fire and little to no metal or wood working.


Unless of course this nation bordered land and the people were amphibious.  The population wouldn’t be afraid of the dark and be would very resistant to cold and pressure.  The artifacts of the surface world would have variable value determined by how isolated this undersea nation is.  The spear would be the most popular weapon, anything else would be slowed on a swing by the water and not very effective.

In one paragraph I’ve shaped an undersea culture and I did so by establishing my weather, an interesting incidental effect of that weather, the type of animal and the type of plant most often eaten, what they would make clothes out of, a scarce resource, a common resource, a note on the psychology, and the popular weapon of choice.  In nine words; undersea, tides, fish, kelp, metal, wood, dark, cold, and spear we can create a skeleton to remind the GM of the kind of people these are and the place they inhabit.  A description is a powerful tool for creating a mood or enforcing a theme and world creation is all about the description and more specifically the description words.  

As a final note; always remember that while national borders can and do influence people and segregate cultures it’s the land, the place, the world these nations rose out of that are the start point and the land is a result of the weather.  Weather begets land, land begets resources, resources begets technology, and all of them combine mark a culture.  Good luck, and may Eloi watch over you.


Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.



Say it out loud and people will look at you strange if you’re in public, but say it at home and safely private.  Uplift.  The word makes you feel good.  The word is also synonymous with “god like”.  To Uplift in the transhuman use of the term is to impart sapience on a previously non-sapient organism.  Of all transhuman beliefs and paradigms, of all the philosophy and technology, there is no single idea so fraught with dangerous ethical questions and honest to goodness physical danger for the human race.  While there are a number of threats to the longevity of the human race on the transhuman horizon none is so certainly a path to destruction and suffering as the idea of Uplifting one of our fellow tenants on Hotel Earth.  

The human race has 86 billion neurons with roughly 15 hundred trillion synapses.  About 21 billion of those neurons sit in the cerebral cortex.  The cerebral cortex is a two to four millimeter layer of gray goo on your brain.  This goo is deeply tied into attention, language, memory, perception; basically everything we generally think of as “me”.  The Long Finned Pilot Whale has more in the cortex but less overall while the African Elephant has far less in the cortex but more than any other species overall.  That is to say; we have no idea why we’re the smart animals and others are the dumb ones.  In that lack of understanding we and the tenacious sponge, which has zero neurons, are the same.  

The technologies required to transfer consciousness requisite a deep understanding of the aforementioned neurons and synapses, how they interact with each other, and how they interact with the rest of the organ we call a brain are immense.  The ability to grow bodies in any period of time faster than standard aging and to a specific design requisites a deep understanding of DNA, RNA, cell architecture, creating and maintaining a homeostatic organ sack a.k.a. the peritoneum; yes that’s a real thing; borders on miraculous.  The ability to alter DNA on a germ-line level that not only alters the correct RNA sequences but is also stable through generations?  Divine.


I’ve praised Eclipse Phase and Posthuman Studios a number of times but in this particular instance I cannot.  The realities of changing the solar system from a single sapient species star to one with several dozen are glossed over and barely touched upon by Posthuman and it’s a missed opportunity.  Let us consider the children of a fallible creator.

The first generation would likely be in awe; overwhelmed by a new level of stimuli, the distance between themselves and their ancestors shocking. Regardless of the relationship their human creators would seek to create in these new born sentients a subservient relationship; while speeding up neurologically from zero to sixty would be difficult for the new sapient imagine the difficulty most humans would have with interacting with a newly intelligent chimpanzee. The second generation would be excited with opportunity and potential and depending on the treatment by humans remain loyal. Eventually they would seek the right of self-determination and the human race has a spotty history in allowing that between cultural groups, never mind a separate species entirely.

The responsibilities of created to creator run a gamut and if any can be considered we need only look at modern religions and the wildly varying opinions found there for a baseline of the options and the myriad reactions. A creator as a distant caretaker, a wrathful father figure, or barely identifiable initiator of natural cycles. A created of adoring sycophants, raging zealots, and those of differing beliefs subjugated and oppressed. I take it the appropriate images have been conjured to mind?

Eclipse Phase has uplifted Bonobos, Chimpanzees, Crows, Dolphins, Gorillas, Octopi, Orangutans, Orcas, Parrots, Pigs, Ravens, Whales, and Neanderthals. Yes. Neanderthals. Let us forget the ocean dwellers whose neural architectures are dominated by echolocation and spatial perception and would have alien thinking at a minimum and consider pigs. Whom we eat.


“Welcome to sentience my boy”

“I did well poppa?”

“Oh yes.”

“Jim, we’re ordering lunch, what do you want?”

“Grab me a BLT…”

Awkward silence.


 neanderthalensis_jg_recon_head_cc_3qtr_lt_sqAnd neanderthals.  Whom are extinct and most of the evidence, re: all the evidence, points at us as the murderer (*editor’s note or did we?), and in Eclipse Phase we hear barely a whisper of such conflict.  While it’s understandable to focus the first few books on the conflict with the TITANs as it’s a central theme and threat on several levels to seemingly ignore the species conflicts in later books is a gross oversight.  The story opportunities built within such an event, such a conflict, can barely be counted.

Do we, as the dominant species, have a right to so fundamentally change another non-sapient species?  The themes of Eclipse Phase paint mankind as young gods; immortal, powerful, able to create life where there wasn’t any before, and able to bring another species into the self-awareness of sentience.  The transhumanity that is painted across the Sol system in Eclipse Phase isn’t “trans”humanity; they are transdivinity.  The Eclipse Phase human race, like the titans of myth were overthrown by their children but in the case of EP those children have apparently settled for dethroning their forebearers and have apparently left humanity to it’s own devices.  In this surprising moment of breath after such struggle humanity has again risen up to stride the Sol system as godlings.  

In spite of all this, the question remains; is there a higher authority than humanity?  Does humanity have the right to bring another race screaming into the universe?  And what will those children feel for their creators?  While there are many who will be grateful there will be many who resent humanity and a racial conflict the likes of which we haven’t seen yet would explode across the system.  The natural state of living organisms is harmony with the environment; conflict with other organisms.  This is the fundamental rule that all organisms live with; including humankind.  How easy is a race war when your enemy is literally not human?  How simple to justify that conflict on both, all three, all four, all five, or more sides?

The gods of myth are universally petty creatures; caricatures of simple ideals or natural forces.  The historical image of humankind is filled with wars over resources, religions, and race.  

Posthuman has missed an opportunity for perhaps some of the most sweeping storytelling to be found in science fiction and I can only hope that after reading this they set their sights on expanding these ideas and showcasing the very best of us and the very worst.  It is through our stories that we reflect on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  We must celebrate our successes and suffer for our sins; only in a crucible can we forge ourselves a better people.



What then are we, 

Rough creatures

Elegant grace

What then are we,

Fathers and sons

Mothers and daughters

What then are we,

Refugees of nature

Lords of earth and sky

What then are we?



Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Edited per author request on 10/10/2016 at 5:24pm


Genetic engineering is one of the oldest human technologies dating back some 15,000 years.  Yes, you read that correctly; I hope. Mesolithic was the era and the descendants of the wolves to first scavenge off the refuse of human communities were the target.  While the exact series of events are debated, the fact is, around that time some bloodlines of wolves became accustomed to humans and eating what humans provided, overcoming one of the most crucial barriers between “wild” and “domesticated”, the acceptance of humans as the provider of food.  Once this happened, the breeding of wolves into dogs and the hundreds of varieties that we know today really took off and arguably the most successful partnership between two species began.  

From Joyfuldogs.Uk

The modern golden and sweet corn was engineered from a grass, yep, grass, called teosinte in the Americas about 7,000 years ago.  The modern corn plant couldn’t possibly survive on it’s own in the wild and is a decidedly vulnerable and ill-fitted for survival plant.  Think about it, ever seen corn in the wild?  This plant however has become a centerpiece of our diets and our industries; the debate as to whether this should be the case won’t be addressed here but is something you should look into.  Seriously; educate yourselves, people!  


Starting an article focused on morphological freedom; the freedom of sapient species to alter and change their physical bodies as they see fit to do so; with dogs and corn may seem a bit odd.  These two facts establish a baseline of fact; the human race has been modifying other species of both plant and animal persuasions for millennia and getting upset because we’re more efficient at it now won’t change what is an expression of our fundamental nature; adaption.  Except we’re not adapting ourselves, we’re adapting everything around us.  This is the seed that has grown into the fear and loathing of human modification and postnatal physiological alteration; that’s a fancy way of saying gender reassignment surgery.  

Oh my people, you’ve stepped into it now as the trap snaps shut with Eclipse Phase, transhumanism, and a current politically hot issue coming right at you, so let’s do this.  The idea of changing our bodies brings out more resistance in humans than the idea of altering ourselves mentally if the prevalence of mind-altering drugs both legal and illegal is any indicator.  Why is this the case?  Primal instinct.  Our sentience and sapience is a new edition to this gene code carrying transport that is our bodies and seemingly we have far less of a reaction to adjusting our mental performance while the idea of transgender makes the skin crawl up your spine.*(Editor’s Note, thankfully, not everyone has such a reaction.)  As a note the reaction your baser instincts have doesn’t make you a bad person; what you choose to do with that reaction determines the kind of person you are.  


The history of Eclipse Phase doesn’t record when the first political shots were fired in the battle for morphological freedom, but if it’s the same as our own reality then I can understand the desire to hide that it was over bathroom usage.  The result of that inevitable war is the rampant morphological freedom to be found in the game books as the selection of bodies or “morphs” continues to expand.  This continuing growth of selection makes absolute sense from all angles; the Hypercorps would offer varieties of the same morph, much like a modern car lot would offer a selection of the same model with small adjustments and modifications which would create a multitude of choices, never mind the cosmetic choices.  Would you like a body with cat eyes?  Perhaps you’d care to see that model in the neon pink fur?  We used a sea coral gene line to create the fluorescing effect in the fur which actually has a cellular nature similar to fish scales but we were able to maintain that soft RealFr™ feel.  Let’s discuss terms; lease or buy?


Because why buy when you know you’ll want to replace that body after a few years when you become bored with it?  Or the new model arrives with gecko pads for an incredible climbing experience?  The advertising would feature a neon pink cat like morph dangling from the cliff face of Olympus Mons while Roar by Katy Perry plays in the background.  Also, consider that manufacturers wouldn’t build these bodies to last knowing that you’ll want a new one, whether a year later or ten, and Posthuman Studios has acknowledged this beautifully with the Planned Obsolescence trait. While most commonly associated with the Ruster morph, this should be a trait we see in almost all high performance morphs, especially those sold by Hypercorps.  The same logic that powers the light bulb industry would most definitely power the morph manufacturing sector.  While a morph that lasts a hundred years with minimal effort can be manufactured there isn’t a profit in a consumer base that’s only shopping on a centennial basis and so the corporations continue to their religion of profit in all things.  So surely the anarchist outer system filled with free-thinkers, post-scarcity economics, and readily available means of production have created an environment where a single body can last and is more importantly socially acceptable and even encouraged?  

If you squint you can see Katy Perry
If you squint you can see Katy Perry

Unlikely, friend; as the ever expanding need for new experiences in the face of eternity will fuel a constant desire and even need to upgrade, expand, alter.  There’s little difference between the scum barge filled with sapients changing bodies in a constant desire for new experiences and the kids purchasing the latest iPhone because it’s the latest.  They’re both craving the new, the different, and to feel they belong to a group not like any other.  The consumer mentality is a weakness of humanity and doesn’t dissolve into the background because there aren’t corporations to take advantage of it.  While the books of Eclipse Phase and the adherents of transhumanist thinking would have you believe that “mom & pop” and “grass roots” would be the best descriptions of their post-scarcity economy, the reality is the scarce resource in a post-scarcity economy would become reduced down to fundamentals; time and knowledge.  The specialized skills and services and techniques used in the production of goods would become the most highly valued part of any exchange.  The reputation system in Eclipse Phase demonstrates that beautifully and, if anything, is simpler than what would be the reality.  

The technological level painted by Posthuman Studios doesn’t allow for subsistence economics or desperate survival in the face of unavailable staples like food or water; the technological level presented means that all basic and necessary survival items, like food or water, are readily available to all.  In order to make a setting where getting your next meal is important you would have to remove the technological level and this has an impact on economics as well.  The skill of a talented chef is more valuable than the ingredients they are working with.  What is important to the chef however is a bit different; more knowledge to increase his own skills, a more productive morph, better enhancements for tracking the goings on of the kitchen, better multi-tasking software.  The economy would become a series of specialists offering valuable one-of-a-kind items and mass produced boring items of dubious quality.  For the first time, quality would overpower quantity as the primary motivator of profit and nothing would be more valuable and profitable than morphs.  A product that is literally the experience of life with the additions of improving quality of skill and performance in the areas most profitable to the owner has no analogue in our modern day; the value cannot be calculated.

This is real...
This is real…

The transhumanist philosophy uses morphological freedom as a supporting pillar, a primary tenet of the philosophy.  While there’s this seeming assumption about medical advancements that will defeat aging, overcome cancer, and prevent all illness there’s seems this underlying drive, need, for true morphic freedom.  There are a number of hurdles and concerns to be overcome for this to come to pass.  Our minds operate with our bodies, our minds rely on the chemical messages and sensory data of our birth bodies and sends commands with so much ease to our various organs because both body and mind grew together.  A process that creates a vast amount of integration, a perfect homeostasis between mind and body which is the result of and part of the process of our evolution.  In essence we would need to learn every trick that evolution has developed through trial and error over hundreds of millennia in order to fulfill the transhumanist desire and we’ve only just barely begun.  The technological underpinnings for such ease of transference of an adult mind are mysterious and distant and Eclipse Phase doesn’t focus on the technology and instead focuses on how the human subject is reacting to something. That is something Posthuman does very well; bringing the focus back to the human face.

The face of that human and in fact all of humanity in the Eclipse Phase universe is one constantly shifting between the wildly variable morphs that have become available.  The societies that cover the solar system are where those who refuse to change their bodies are the strange and the weird, a far cry from the modern world where the idea of gender has created so much furor that you can hardly hear the few reasonable adults speaking.  This is the ideological battle that’s commencing with the modern age as the first skirmish and Eclipse Phase as one possible outcome.  There are centuries yet before we even come close to the morphological freedom that Eclipse Phase enjoys, if it’s even possible, but the potential for such is grandly done in Eclipse Phase.


Next time we’re bring neural programming, morph engineering, and the endless human need to meddle together and talking about uplifting non-sapient species.  Yeah, ethics!



Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.



The term is getting thrown around a lot these days and when I write the words a lot I mean a lot.  Transhumanist groups all over the world have seen their numbers swell over the last five years, an example being the Singularity Group, a Transhumanist group that went from 400 members in 2011 to over ten thousand by 2014.  The idea of “beyond human” has found itself coloring the cultural landscape in music, movies, television, novels, and especially in gaming.  At first these change were small bits and pieces of what is an all-encompassing philosophical movement.  Then Posthuman Studios in 2009 dropped Eclipse Phase on our collective gaming culture like a unknown hip-hop artist dropping the mic after proving themselves in an epic rap battle.  The team at Posthuman integrated and deftly arranged Transhuman philosophy into and around every element of EP and created a game that is in the same vein as Shadowrun, forcing deeper thinking about the gaming experience from both a mechanical and setting perspective.  Now in the uncertain future, which all gaming companies get to enjoy, in an industry that much like amateur theater is more a matter of passion than profit, the question becomes what is the direction of EP as the Transhumanist movement itself slowly saturates and bloats beyond the bounds of philosophy and into the realm of faith and cult-like attraction?

Philosophy is Fun

Let’s take it back to basics; what is philosophy?  What is a philosophy?  Why is Transhuman philosophy, at least initially, the truest descendant of those original Grecian deep thinkers?  Start with the word: philosophy, the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline.  The word itself is made of two; philo, “to love”, and sophos, “knowledge”.  The first word, philo, has layers of meaning, being of the same literary family tree as phyle, “a race or tribe”, phyein,”to bring forth, produce, or grow”, and physis, “nature”.  What is the Transhumanist movement but a collection of “tribes” all trying to “grow” more powerful so as to control “nature”?  More so than any philosophy in history Transhumanism fulfills the faceted meanings of philo.  Being a member of the movement doesn’t bring riches; followers love the promise of the movement.  A golden apple of, if not immortality, then extended lifespan and health that no human being has ever enjoyed and expansion of the mind to match.  Of course minus the necessary transition of death required by many other golden apple offering organizations who will remain nameless.  I’m sure we can all think of a few off the top our collective heads, hm?  Or wait, maybe there is a shuffling the mortal coil price of admission?  We’ll get to that later.

Sophos, knowledge, in Ancient Greece men who so debated and argued over the meaning of life and everything were referred to as sophists; teachers who used rhetoric and philosophy to teach arete, excellence, to paying noble students.  If the previous sentence sounds like a set-up for a winding downward path of corruption and misunderstanding than you’re paying attention.  A modern day sophist is considered a charlatan, a hack, a cunning master of words who uses clever but ultimately fallacious and deceptive arguments.  Yes, that’s right, a con man fleecing retirees in Florida has as much in common with a sophist of ancient Greece as the modern philosophy teacher.  They are two sides to the same coin.  Did I mention ancient Grecian sophists were also the first lawyers?  Thanks, Greece.  

It is in this respect that I feel Transhumanism cements a place as the truest spiritual successor to ancient Grecian philosophy.  The Transhumanist movement offers a bright shining future filled with reason, logic, intellectual pursuits, and wonderful advanced technology.  It also offers existential threats to both the continued prosperity of the our species and our very sense of self-preservation.  Both of these futures are painted in golden words and clever arguments.  One is classic sophist and the other modern and the movement has started to mix the two arguments freely.  

“Wait,” you said while finishing that last sentence because you think I can hear you through the magic of the internets, “isn’t this a gaming website?”.  You are correct!  Eclipse Phase brings this murky complexity into the table-top arena and through the games we play and the campaigns we run forces us to face the questions of Transhumanist and Posthumanist thinking while laying the groundwork in the very bedrock of the mechanical dice system.  Posthuman studios has created a game that from page one of character creation gently reaches under our chairs and elevates the conversations at our gaming tables.  

Buy the Book

There are effectively two characters being created.  The hardware; the body: whether bone and blood or steel and circuits; and the software: the mind, skills, and memories of the player character.  The software is, in contrast to our experiences with computers, the permanent element of your character, while the hardware, in true Transhumanist fashion, is disposable and replaceable and upgradable like that cherry keurig in your kitchen.  You can get a bedeviling assortment of enhancements both biological and mechanical for your body but never forget that you’re only stuck in it until you finish the payments… though, get the Gap insurance just to be safe.  This is a pure idealist view of a bedrock technology for a Transhuman future that borders on posthuman.  The idea of the mind and body as something that can be uncoupled is perhaps the easiest to understand concept at the center of Transhuman thought, and more importantly, is one of several fulcrums for playing Eclipse Phase.  The body is a housing and with proper technologies for uploading, recording, and processing human personalities it may be abandoned.

Word Creator

As a player this will be one of the most difficult things to accept on a deep instinctual level as ironically the ideas of libertarian politics and individual liberties can be quirky and the popularity contest of a post-scarcity economy; which isn’t actually in Eclipse Phase; can be complicated, they are rooted in ideologies we can interact with in the real world.  However, to abandon your body and not feel a deep loss when being uploaded away is an instinctually difficult idea to grok.  FYI; “grok” is loaded into all spell checkers; that’s a big “W” for Heinlein.  There isn’t anyone who can predict with any accuracy what would happen to a mind without all the support biology of a million years of evolution connected to it.  Remember above about golden apples and transitions of death?  When a computer moves a program it copies it first then deletes the original.  Two whole and complete instances of self would exist and for those few moments be the absolute same person having the same experience. The entire experience would be so far outside our own reference points as to do unknown damage to the psyche.  Thankfully Posthuman Studios agrees and included insanity and Stress points as an alternative type of damage and health in addition to the usual physical indicators of health.  

The idea of sanity and more specifically the relation between perception and reality is another core tenet of EP and an important “big question” part of Transhuman thought.  The world of EP has folded what a modern perspective would call virtual into the the physical world.  The idea of technology so closely integrated as to be genetic means the street of virtual advertising that you can’t without the proper implants becomes reality.  A city block, gray and tan buildings four to five stories tall, the thin skies of Mars overhead.  There are crowds of people all moving along chatting but there’s no noise other than feet and mouths.  However, with the proper implants, the street is lit with a dizzying array of animated signs for business.  Holographic greeters stand outside door ways offering sense memories to sample products and digital menus with encrypted coupons to take home and order with later.  The ears are alive with soundtracks being offered like radio a number of HD channels from private casters to a particular storefront offering a soundtrack with their commercials subliminally layered underneath.  The clothes of the people are alive with neon art, short animations advertising a new popular band or movie.

Should you want more information about that popular band or movie the image itself acts as a hyperlink to the movie’s launch site or the band’s fan page illuminating the integrated instant access to information.  We in the modern day have some understanding of what it’s like to always be plugged in, connected to a vast resource of information.  However, the tenets of Transhumanist thought call for a deeper integration of this access.  An almost subconscious access, your implants; a solid state hard drive, networked cellular sized processors operating inside a shell made of your cloned neural cells, a multi-band high speed wireless connection made of micro-line that grows along your cardiovascular system.  Imagine your virtual half offering up information and data without prompting as you take in the sights.  Even downloading small sense memories, another person’s actual memory of doing something or experiencing something that they’ve digitized into a small file to be added to your own sense memory.  As you integrate other memories then the questions arises of identity.  What is identity in the face of the moldable nature of mind and awareness?  

What is the value of self in the face of neural uploading?  The first time the mind is uploaded, assuming from a healthy human, there are then two of that person existing, staring at each other through their perception of the world and both wholly formed people.  The two would be identical people for only the briefest of moments and then they will be ever so slightly different.  The in-setting laws and sections in EP about that moment is one of the most complicated sections of the entire line of books and is one of the most complicated ideas of Transhumanist thought.  The process of “forking” involves rolls to prune the neural structure of your characters duplicate and allows a purpose built version of self minus any distractions like sense of self or memories in the case of beta forks.  The much more complicated; re: fully realized duplicate; alpha fork is the more legally, philosophically, ethically, and spiritually dangerous concept.

Probably the Wrong Kind of Fork

This is where Transhumans falter in the philosophy and EP expresses it beautifully as few if any can agree on the moral and ethical nature of the above situation.  Is it suicide to transfer your consciousness, to upload a copy of self away from your birth body?  Is it a murder/suicide pact between your self when a fork is sent to collect information returns and is reintegrated into the “original” or does the fork demand the “original” integrate into the fork?  Which is the legal entity known as that person?  Who has legal precedent and who is the true person?  EP handles this by providing every major answer in the characters of every major power in the solar system setting of the game.  The Jovian Republic says there is a soul and if you’ve left your original body you are not human anymore.  The Scum Fleets encourage experimentation of self that sound more like a John Carpenter movie than the well reasoned choices of an advanced species.  The Martians focus on survival and let others tackle the big questions.  The Titanians actively explore the concept in academic settings while Extropians enjoy the full width and breadth of the technological advances but don’t clamour for the extreme experience the Scum pursue.  There are more and more and more factions, clades, tribes, clans, hypercorps, small city-states (village-states?), and ever more exotics forms of community. Like flipping through the pages of a book they are each different in their approach and reaction to the neural freedom of technology.

What does this do to the psyche?  The far reaches of Transhuman technology create monstrous abominations that chant “long live the new flesh” while charging to break the body while their very appearance breaks the mind.  A mind already ablaze and saturated with this constant input of sights and sounds that must be actively managed.  A mind that isn’t tethered to a body and may also roam fully into the digital world of restaurant menus and subliminal advertising.  How does this affect an originally “normal” human mind?  The Stress point and insanities system of Eclipse Phase reflect the downside of this morphic freedom and by reflecting the darker side of the malleability of mind they embrace all of Transhuman thought.  The rolls for resleeving, the adjustment periods, and all the bonuses and flaws of switching bodies is a fundamental element of Eclipse Phase and this neural freedom is key element of Transhuman thought.

The idea of a “mind” as software creates interactions with the environment not possible in other games and dangers that simply can’t be found outside of EP.  The mind can be transferred to newer and/or better bodies but is also a target for psychological invasive memes, malware consisting a bad case of schizophrenia where the voices give you specific instructions to leave the back door unlocked at the bank, even whole other personalities with separate skills ready to take over when needed most.  In this element of EP the Transhuman thinking at it’s core shines very brightly indeed. You must have faith in the process upon which you embark because after it’s done your mind will be humanely wiped from the meat like quietly putting down a old dog.  

Transhuman thought asks massive questions about the mind and Eclipse Phase brings all those questions and the underlying technologies to you as a player in a variety of combinations.  Just like the neural and morphic freedom that Transhumanity strives for the world of EP offers a way to play and approach these massive questions from any angle.  Is the mind the soul?  Do we have a separate element of ourselves which make us that can’t be transferred?  Is there really a difference between real and virtual?  Can a human be duplicated and if so are both the original?  Can a mind be programmed, firewalled, infected with a virus, and upgraded like a desktop computer?  Is there a point where the you that exists isn’t the same that existed?  

Those are big table breaking questions and they won’t be answered in this article or in the Eclipse Phase setting so…good luck with that?  The next time we meet we’ll dive into morphological freedom, the technologies and philosophical concepts behind re-sleeving, morphs, biotech, nano-tech, and the point where artificial and natural becomes very blurred indeed.  We’re going to be with Eclipse Phase for a while really exploring the ins and outs of the Transhuman heart that beats at the center.


When I was asked to write for keepontheheathlands.com I first thought my old friend might not remember how acerbic my writing style could be.  I then thought I don’t have an opinion or insight into gaming and its related interests that someone might find interesting.  I have, however, realized that my old friend likes my acerbic writing style and that I have been gaming for over two decades and yes, I do have a thought or two about gaming the pastime, gaming the industry, gaming as art, and gaming people.  So here I am trying to string together a series of sentences that you; the endlessly consuming hordes of internet travelers desperate for an endless flow of content; might find entertaining and perhaps a little bit illuminating.

In the name of manners and taking the first step in our newly birthed relationship I’m going to introduce myself with that most time honored of internet traditions the “Top 5 List” article.  You can get a feel for my gaming preferences, likes, and dislikes, while I can learn to read the inevitable comments both in favor and against my deeply held favorite games without weeping at my keyboard.  Seriously though; keyboards do not like being wept upon, apparently all keyboards are allergic to human tears?  Which seems ridiculous to me; it’s like saying all keyboards are allergic to coffee and we all know that can’t possibly be Ack!  I kn0ck3d myne cof33 O g@wD ZweXienntsszzdl…


Dungeons_&_Dragons_5th_Edition_logo5.  Dungeons & Dragons by Wizards of the Coast LLC has been around for ages and could pretty easily be considered the big daddy of gaming in North America if not the whole western world.  We all in one way or another have been influenced by D&D either by playing it ourselves or playing games created by those who have.  It could even be said that every game developed in the western world is a reaction to this gaming juggernaut.  While my tastes have evolved over the years there’s something delightfully simple and direct about saving the princess of fancytowertown from a reliably evil villain while murdering hordes of his or her minions and never a doubt in our minds that we are the good guys.  No you nevermind about the forty year genocide we’ve been committing against the goblinoid races.  They’re bad… it says so in the book. (Editor note, this is a topic we will address in a series of articles in the future)



4. Mutants and Masterminds by Green Ronin Publishing on the surface checks the boxes for every four color comic trope you care to name and several you
wouldn’t care to name; for example the total lack of black superheroes until the late 60’s. Now to distract you from the political commentary; hey look!  A fantastically flexible rules system that literally lets you build any kind of world you care to!  The M&M rules set allows for the creation of space marines, alien monsters, classic monsters, time travelers, soldiers in WW1 trench warfare, survivors of a crashed plane in a land ruled by dinosaurs and talking apes, and a host of other possibilities.  That’s not to dismiss the deceitfully deep setting that Mr. Kenson and Co. have put together; a city that so easily is compared to a certain gleaming Polis of the Metro persuasion where in lives a rather strapping undocumented immigrant.  This setting can be played at its surface level of “Bamf”s and “Ka-pow”s but leaves all sorts of doors open for deeper commentary on the necessary blindness of such a “perfect” society.


Eclipse Phase3. Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios LLC is a game so deep, so layered, so mind-bending that the game is almost impossible to play as intended with less than an engineering degree and a working knowledge of philosophy, computer programming, and orbital dynamics. I love it.  This game creates a credible future for our solar system and illuminates all of the worst fears of technologists and futurists the world over.  We’re talking next level nightmare scenarios which include neural viruses uploaded into your brain via a weird image file attachment to an email, nanotechnology that rewrites your body against your will and while you watch, and suicide bombers whose entire cellular chemistry has been altered into that of a single megaton bomb.  The subtlety and cunning necessary to survive the universe that Posthuman have put together makes the goblin race invaded fantasy city fancytowertown seem like a relaxing vacation in comparison.

Everything about this game, from the rules to the setting, forces player thinking on a level that most of us don’t commonly experience.  The premise of the game puts characters immediately in the gray area between classical good and evil concepts as Firewall agents.  The measures of your success is how few people died during this or that adventure and the idea of ultimate evil is dismissed by a kaleidoscope of motivations ranging from survival to so advanced the human brain is physiologically incapable of understanding them.  Yet the corrupting influence of things like ideas and ideologies is baked directly into the rules system such that even trying to understand the motivations of some of the more powerful entities in this universe can reactively alter your brain into a sleeper agent for said entities.  The added bonus of multiple layers of reality with physical and virtual realities opens the door for any number of genres and stories to be told and that’s something I can always get behind.


2. World of Darkness by White Wolf Publishing is both immensely expansive as a world and setting but tightly focused in story driven games and campaigns.wodlogo_348 The smooth system, simple character creation, accessible ideologies of the various factions, and the classic monster flair makes for an easily approachable game to new nerd and grizzled gamer alike. The WoD has become a true rabbit hole of a universe where in there is always another secret to unlock, a deeper layer of reality to comprehend, and deeper understanding to achieve.
While at first glance this setting seems intent on a gritty “real world” setting the added layers of virtual realities in Technomancer enclaves and the endless options the spirit world provides creates a literally endless universe of possibilities for players and gamemasters alike.  In this game we are all storytellers and those stories can range from tight dramas about families and loyalty to insane adventures in the deepest realms of imagination.  Don’t be afraid to look into the abyss; it has beautiful eyes.

A note before I reveal my current all-time favorite game.  The idea of a perfect table-top game is a tricky one.  As we age and experience the “reality” of our own lives our tastes, preferences, and opinions change as more and more information is compiled into these wonderful processing machines we call a brain.  Our inner lives expand as our outer lives chart a course through time so my number one game is my number one game for this current version of myself.  The version of me gaming ten years ago had different priorities and tastes while the self that will; minus random wolf attacks or a late night duel with a demonic tanker truck on a lonely highway; in ten years’ time have different priorities and tastes.  There are only two things about a human life that are set in stone; birth and death.  Everything else is a result of before and a precursor to after.  I just made a really big philosophical statement in a Top 5 article.  Here’s my number 1 you clever apes.


Shadowrun-5-Logo1. Shadowrun by Catalyst Game Labs stands the test of time like few others. I’ve watched this game grow from the angry punk ripped jeans seed of the 80’s into the Chinese style suit dystopia of the 90’s adolescence to the chrome and grime nanotech realism of the early 21st century young adult incarnation it currently enjoys. The mechanics are brutal and all-inclusive; there isn’t anything you can’t attempt with this rules set in this setting.  This has been my go-to game for close to a decade and the endlessly twisted surprises keep vibrant what could easily have gotten stale ages ago.
Every part of the world is represented in this setting from the slums of Lagos to the glittering high rises of Seattle.  The very idea of what’s real is bent with virtual, spiritual, and physical worlds layering on top of each other in an ever deeper connectivity.  No other game delivers that sensation of something amazing on the horizon of time like this one.  The dazzling array of factions, nations, tribes, gangs, crews, crime families, and religious movements offer every avenue and option of story.  The clash of ideologies for the soul of humanity as our abilities outstrip our understanding has gifted us gamers with a world so rich it’s like having a third piece of cheesecake with strawberries while drinking a chocolate frappe.  The giddiness of this game leaves you shaking with anticipation for what’s next.  So chummer, I’ve dropped some wiz pay data on you shaikujin; now slot, run, and buzz.


What are your top five?  Anything good?  Comment below and let us know if I dissed your favorite game by not liking it as much as you do.  Better yet, comment below if you think I’m brilliant in my choices and you want to reinforce this list as the superior choice.  ‘Cause that would be awesome.

Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.