This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/argonauts-review/
The latest Eclipse Phase release is one that I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Argonauts is a small-scale sourcebook funded through the Transhuman Kickstarter way back when. This book is intended to fill in some of the details on the Argonauts faction the way that Zone Stalkers filled in information on the TQZ and the beginning of The Devotees filled in information on Nine Lives. How did they do? Well, no surprises, amazingly.
Argonauts has four major areas that it covers: History, Organization, Plot Hooks (my own assessment of several different sections), and Game Information. Let’s go through each of them in turn.
Some of the Argonauts’ history was covered in the Firewall sourcebook since the two organizations share some of the same origins. In a nutshell, the Argonauts are the successors of the real-life JASON advisory group that advises the U.S. government. They weren’t the such group in the years leading up to the Fall but they were well-funded and fairly international. The result is a group of concerned scientists who have a front-row seat as the world was ending. They had a few conferences (Argo 1 and Argo 2) close to four decades before the Fall and from these hashed out the start of the Argonaut movement.
Numerous details are provided in this section for setting up the Argonauts in your game, including their founding doctrines, the debate over the precautionary stance (No to dangerous tech!… Until we can vet it, at least…”), and the Magna Cortica (their official policy on transhuman intelligences and basic rights). There is a ton here to lay the groundwork of scenarios dealing with the time before the Fall and it has the distinct advantage of centering on a group that has advanced tech, private labs, and a reason to protect their findings from falling into the wrong hands. Just reading through gave me dozens of ideas for Firewall missions.
Oh, and in case you think these things are talked about in vague, hand-waving ways (maybe you haven’t ever actually read an Eclipse Phase book, I don’t know) then you should know that there are multiple, in-character sidebars detailing how your characters (PC or NPC) might interact with the Argonauts’ principles as well as the full text of the “Charter on Scientific Responsibility” and the Magna Cortica. Seriously, so much in here.
Eclipse Phase originally presented its factions (from the Planetary Consortium and Titanian Commonwealth to the criminal syndicates and anarchist collectives) as general intersections of physical territory, social memes, and foreign relations. There was plenty for GMs to build from there and I certainly have done so in my games. However, the creators have also done a great job of fleshing out these organizations with each new sourcebook and providing us with new ideas as well as meaty details.
This section is the latter. The Argonauts are lead by an elected Senate and a triumvirate of positions: the Chancellor, who sets the vision of the faction and represents them externally; the President, who handles operations, resources, and security; and the Provost, who oversees consultants and the dissemination of research findings. Not only are these positions and their offices described, but the current occupants are given a paragraph or two to outline their details and how they might interest a group of PCs. As usual with Eclipse Phase NPCs, they are colorful and complicated.
The Senate of the Argonauts gets its section next, detailing its responsibilities and providing some hilarious digs at higher education (for example: “Unlike in academia, though, the Senate has some real power, and thus some inducement to act.” … Can you tell that some of these folks are academics?). Although the Argonauts aren’t a government, the Senate acts a little like their legislative branch and approves plans from the Chancellor as well as electing the triumvirate positions described above.
Research is overseen by the Directors, a group of people given wide discretion in the running of particular lines of research. If this sounds like Firewall proxies, I think that’s entirely intentional. They might wear two hats or provide the role of “boss” in an all-Argonaut campaign. There are also project heads which are sort of like baby Directors hoping for their project to be formally backed by the Argonauts.
Some description is given of the faction’s rank-and-file (i.e. the PCs and their friends) then Factions and Groups within the Argonauts. There are five of those given: AutoSub (the futurist’s futurists), Backups (similar to the same group of safeguarders in Firewall), the Great Dismals (socioeconomists who quietly calculate when revolution and war are coming), the Institute for the Study of Emergent Trends (ISET, the publicly innocent think-tank that doubles as a Firewall operation), and the Medeans. Personally, I’d like to see more on this last group, the Argonauts’ group of badass problem-solvers: if you have the Firewall book, you can combine the information there with this short paragraph but there’s still so much more that could be said about them. Ah, well…
The next five sections of the sourcebook are all focused on providing plot hooks for the GM. First is a section on Important People and this runs the gamut from a former Chancellor and Director of the Argonauts’ extrasolar research teams to an influential journalist who regularly writes about x-threats and a “rockstar polymath” who lives an ascetic lifestyle. My favorite, though, is Ravinder Khan (unfortunately one of the shorter sections) who leads the proactionist wing of the Argonaut Senate. He has some past accomplishments, including being one of Extropia’s founders, and is constantly pushing the envelope. His potential as both a patron and an opponent for a team of PCs has me giddy.
Next up are Locations that are important to the Argonauts. These four locales (Hooverman-Geischecker, Ilmarinen, Mitre, and Markov) have all been described before but I still really like this section. First of all, it identifies four prominent Argonaut strongholds through the solar system (around the Sun, in Lunar orbit, near Neptune, and in the Kuiper Belt) for GMs to use as bases where they need. Secondly, and relatedly, it’s good to have all of these places together so that you can do things like identify the extent of the Argonauts’ reach. Lastly, there is information here that updates and clarifies things based on information in books written since those locations first appeared, including Argonauts.
The section on Life As an Argonaut is for players and GMs alike. There’s suggestions here for players to make their Argonaut characters more than just the party’s resident egghead. There’s also lots of suggestions for how to create compelling stories focused on the Argonauts and how the education community looks in Eclipse Phase. It’s less than a full page all told, however, so again I could stand to have some more.
Last of all, the Argonauts’ Relations with Others are explained to give the GM some tools for creating conflict outside of the faction’s research labs. This is done in general terms but also with reference to specific NPCs and projects listed here and in other sourcebooks. I particularly like the discussion of how the Argonauts relate to the RNA rep-network. In a game where the Argonauts are playing a big role, it’s good to know what effect if any your r-rep can have with hypercorps executives and autonomist clades.
I think it’s a testament to Eclipse Phase‘s writing that the game mechanics section of their sourcebooks are not the part I go to first. In fact, I often get there last and not just because it’s at the end of the book. In the case of Argonauts, I definitely combed through all the setting detail repeatedly before I even looked at the red pages of stats and equipment.
It’s definitely worth it, though. There are short profiles of various PC roles that might be used when the Argonauts come up in your campaign: the async, the consultant, the field scientist, the hacker, the journalist, the Medean, the psychosurgeon, the reverse engineer, the xenoscientist, and the x-risk generalist. In an all-Argonaut party this is a must-have list to differentiate player characters. After that come some NPC archetypes: the consultant in distress, the info liberator, the lab scientist, the mathematician, and the ordinal (experienced and resourceful Argonauts). There are no stat blocks for these NPCs (a weakness of Eclipse Phase in general) but they are ready-made descriptions of people within the Argonauts that can definitely help with your campaign planning.
After this come some Prometheans (!) in the organization, some mechanical benefits of registering with the movement, and some Argonaut plots to get your campaigns going. In the interest of protecting your campaign secrecy, I’ll leave the latter for you to peruse on your own time. You should also print out and keep close the “Argonaut Index” which refers you to Argonaut matters throughout the line of Eclipse Phase products.
This is a great book and a must-have for any GMs who are even considering having the Argonauts in their campaign. It’s full of excellent ideas for both sides of the screen and adds both depth and breadth to the faction. I think it could have been twice as long and still seemed to short but I understand that this came out as a stretch goal on a Kickstarter and so I understand why it is only 25 pages. I just hope we get more products like this and will hand over all my credits for them.