Exotic Morphologies

Many morphs mark the edge of technological capabilities and redefine what it means to be transhuman. Exotic morphs enable people to live in environments that were previously deadly, see through the sensory organs of alien creatures, and experience what it means to be a spacecraft or space habitat.

Aquatic Life

The term “aquatic morphs” includes all morphs built for living in solely liquid or high-density gas environments. They typically leverage the density of the medium in supporting the morph’s bulk and enhancing its performance. When not buoyed by their medium or in a microgravity environment, the bulk of their morph becomes a serious hindrance, even life-threatening. Medium-sized aquatic biomorphs suffer a −5 penalty to their SOM, large-sized morphs suffer −10, and very large-sized morphs suffer −15. Additionally, morphs built for swimming in a dense medium will have difficulty moving when removed from it. They suffer a −10 penalty to COO and may be incapable of locomotion if they do not have an alternative mobility system. Finally, aquatic morphs normally rely on the local medium for moderating temperature and may be more vulnerable to temperature and atmospheric threats. Devices such as the neo-cetacean walker exoskeleton negate these penalties. Amphibious morphs such as the aquanaut, selkie, and cetus do not suffer from these penalties. Aquatic morphs are designed for sudden changes in pressure and are immune to all but the most extreme transitions. Most biomorphs and synthmorphs are built to permit safe transition of air or water pressure over a matter of minutes. Synthmorphs usually require infusions of hydraulic fluids to continue functioning in higher pressure environments (additional fluids are trivial in cost and can be self-applied; not adding them results in a −10 penalty while in effect) and need to bleed this fluid off when transitioning to a lower pressure environment. A change in pressure over a course of seconds may be enough to destroy a morph. For every one atmosphere of pressure change per second, all exposed morphs suffer 1d10 DV. Equipment may also be vulnerable, especially sealed equipment. Due to the robust nature of aquatic morphs, they ignore 10 points of damage caused by sudden pressure changes.

Exotic Life

It was not long after the first complex alien life form was brought back to Sol that some transhuman tried plugging their brain into it. Unfortunately, xenomorphs are not plug-and-play. Thus far, no alien life form shares a sufficiently similar or mapped neural structure to permit direct ego mapping. Instead, the grey (or pink or green) matter is partially removed, and what remains is integrated with a conventional cyberbrain, like a pod. Because the cyberbrain interfaces with the native lower brain of its biomorph, it is vulnerable to the impulses and hormonal urges of the morph. While egos sleeved in a scurrier have the rather innocuous side-effects of estrus and a desire to hide food, the complex inter-cellular signaling and networked ganglia of the whiplash morph can be overwhelming. Even some terrestrial-based morphs, such as molluscs, arthropods, morphs designed with posterior brains (such as some neo-cetacea), or specialized morphs including mentons, can have this effect on an ego. This oftentimes leaves egos new to the morph questioning who is really in control. People experienced with resleeving know the solution is compromise. Just as a neo-chimp does not need to consciously guide their heartbeat, an octomorph rarely has to directly control their arms. That ability to integrate the conscious desires of the ego with the unconscious mind native to the morph is what marks the professional resleever. To overcompensate in either direction is dangerous. Everyone is familiar with the neophyte octomorph, slapping themself in the face and incapable of locomotion any more graceful than a slug-like crawl. There are reports of egos causing cardiac arrest in their attempts to micro-manage their own morph. On the other hand, the morph needs the ego to retain control. To release control of one’s reproductive or feeding drives is a serious faux pas in most habitats. Worse, a morph may inflict a form of atavism on the ego. As painful as it is for an uplift to regress to a previous state, it is far more so for a transhuman to regress to a previous state that isn’t even of their own genestock. Even once fully integrated, some morphs continue to show personality. Limbs may act independently when not actively watched. Morphs release pheromones or prepare sexual displays. Repressed skills or behaviors express themselves. Muses can normally download software specific to the morph, to provide the ego additional insight and guidance into their new body. Beyond the ego/morph dichotomy, exotic morphs run additional risks. Each biomorph has unique living requirements. Those of human genestock are well-known by most of transhumanity, but how many transhumans realize neo-pigs can’t eat raw oranges? How many know the food requirements for octomorphs or are aware that scurriers are extremely sensitive to ozone, a common gas? Again, a muse with the updated morph software can help guide egos, but the nature of habitat living sometimes makes these hazards unavoidable.

Exotic Morphs

A number of morphs count as exotic for the purposes of Integration and Alienation Test modifiers (–30):

  • All uplift morphs other than neo-hominids and neanderthals.
  • All non-humanoid pods: chickcharnies, novacrabs, scurriers, whiplashes, etc.
  • Unusual biomorphs such as ariels, cloud skates, hulders, ripwings, salamanders, and suryas.
  • Synthmorphs, bots, and vehicles with unusual morphologies: fenrirs, flexbots, nautiloids, skulkers, smart swarms, swarmanoids, and takkos.
  • Habitats.

Habitats as Morphs

Sleeving into a habitat cyberbrain is an experience unlike many others. This possibility is discussed in detail on Habitats As Morphs.

Pod People

Prior to the Fall, pods were designed as human-looking biological robots for customer-facing jobs. Early pods were operated by limited AIs in primitive cyberbrains and were designed to bridge the uncanny valley without making their masters feel the guilt associated with owning an actual human being. Though it was possible for transhumans to sleeve into pods, the practice was practically unheard of. The Fall completely changed the morph market, and suddenly every braincase with a body was repurposed to meet the demand, pods included. Neither the law nor social perceptions have caught up, and many people still consider pods to be staff, AIs, or moochers. In a few jurisdictions, the protections and rights normally extended to one’s body do not apply when wearing a pod. Current pods are manufactured with transhuman ego operators in mind rather than AIs. An unfortunate few limit cognitive or emotional functions or require expensive maintenance packages (almost all pods require at least minor regular maintenance). A few models created before the Fall have a built-in lifespan (apply the Whole Body Apoptosis trait; many are due to expire soon), but this practice has been discontinued. Excepting a few knock-off brands, pods frequently have their creator’s logo embedded visibly on the body and coded in the genetic sequence. Pods in the same model line also tend to look identical, barring some minor cosmetic variations. The first thing most egos do when sleeved in a pod is “own” it by having the morph biosculpted or otherwise custom modified. Some logos stubbornly resist removal, and sometimes there may be legal ramifications for doing so, but changing other cosmetic features is normally within the morph’s license agreement. Transhumans sleeved in pods are frequently confused with AI-operated pods by the general population. Pods are considered gauche and barred service at discriminating outlets. Where service is a luxury and morphs are a choice, many people don’t see any issue with this. Thus far, pods tend not to have been embraced by the clanking masses movement, which makes social change for them seem unlikely.

Robots and Vehicles as Morphs

Modern robots and vehicles are designed to be operated by an AI. Though they have sufficient sensory input and processing power to host an ego, the ego cannot sleeve into and control the body unless the shell is equipped with a cyberbrain. Very small bots such as specks are not large enough to equip with a cyberbrain. These cyberbrains come equipped with mnemonic augmentation. Bots and vehicles are considered to have access jacks, mesh inserts, and puppet socks by default. Aside from wholly-mechanical controls such as emergency exits, sleeved egos can lock out local physical or remote operators. Almost all bots and vehicles include a basic suite of sensory inputs to support safe operation, including 360-degree vision, laser range-finders, ultrasound or radar, microphones, collision- and damage-detection, GPS, radio communications, and navigational aids. These sensory inputs are designed for interpreting environmental and traffic conditions, however, and are frequently inappropriate (–10 to –30 modifiers) or unavailable for transhuman use. Even with cyberbrains, vehicles and bots are not designed as transhuman sleeves, and so the experience can be dull, chaffing, and bothersome. Most bots and vehicles do not support higher-level cognitive functions. Their aptitude maximums are 20. Bots and vehicles that provide aptitude modifiers have an increased aptitude maximum of 20 + modifier for that aptitude only. Smaller vehicles and bots frequently have lower aptitude maximums, while some security and high-performance vehicles have maximums of 30 (gamemaster discretion). A few vehicles, custom-built for that purpose, can sustain an aptitude of 40, but these are rare. Unless otherwise noted, all bots and vehicles are considered to have a Speed of 1. While sleeved in a bot/vehicle morph, characters use Climbing, Flight, Free Fall, Freerunning, and Swimming skill (not Pilot skills) for tests related to movement, as appropriate to the bot/vehicle’s mobility system. Egos do not require skill tests to move normally, only for difficult or exceptional circumstances.

Sidebar: Optional Rule: Anti-Vehicle Weapons

The combat system in Eclipse Phase is optimized for medium-sized characters in standard humanoid morphs. Larger vehicles have a notably high Durability, reflecting their ability to take an amount of damage that would devastate a standard morph. This factor can be exploited by characters sleeved in vehicle morphs.  To counter this, the gamemaster can designate certain weapons as anti-vehicle weapons. These area-effect weapons are particularly troublesome to any morph, bot, or vehicle with the Large Size or Very Large Size traits. Under this optional rule, these anti-vehicle weapons inflict twice their DV against large and very large targets. For this rule, the following weapons are considered anti-vehicle: plasma rifles and HE, HEAP, and plasmaburst grenades and seekers.

Stigmatized Morphs

Many morphs come with social baggage. Uplift morphs are stigmatized by those prejudiced against non-human persons, pods are associated with subservient AIs and even TITANs, and the clanking masses suffer from class discrimination and biochauvinism. These morphs are universally cheaper and more available, however, as many transhumans avoid them or even refuse outright to sleeve them. Characters that do can expect to be snubbed, shunned, treated as invisible. They may even be met with hostility, depending on the social environment. This can extend beyond the simple modifier to social skill tests that comes with the Social Stigma trait; simply by wearing the sleeve, the character inserts themselves into a social class that is more at risk and that enjoys fewer privileges. This experience can be mind-opening to previously prejudiced people, as they are forced to walk a mile in someone’s morph, or it may have the opposite effect and reinforce their opinions. Each of these oppressed communities has their own cultural identity, which a character may or may not slip easily into. These communities often have their own particular slang, style of dress, and behavioral patterns. New members of this downtrodden social club tend to stick out to those that are an integral part of the caste. Characters that fail to show any class awareness may be ostracized as a result, viewed as tourists or dilettantes who are roughing it. In some circumstances, the less privileged stick together and support each other; in others, they savagely compete and oppress each other, fighting over the scraps dropped from their masters’ tables. In a few rare scenarios, notably when dealing with radicals who take their stigmatized identity very personally, the Social Stigma trait may have the opposite effect and serve as a positive modifier. These radicals appreciate others who take the risk of wearing a stigmatized morph and so view anyone who does favorably.

Vacuum Life

Space is big, empty, and despite our best efforts, pretty quiet. Without the engines, without the tethers and handholds, a transhuman in the void is a pitiful thing, and few egos can handle exposure to the vacuum for long. Few people choose life in deep space, and those who do are either intensely independent or incredibly desperate. Astronomical distances mean the mesh is barely functional. Attempts at real-time communication are impossible past a few light-seconds. A morph can barely move, and only with great forethought, because reaction mass can’t be generated from solar cells or nuclear batteries. Ultimately, for the average transhuman, there just isn’t that much to see out there. Most people left in space for more than a few days crack, beginning with increased sensitivity, then hallucinations, impulsiveness, and difficulty thinking. Eventually, the ego fractures into catatonia. Having a muse extends that time to weeks. Having a mesh connection, even a weak one, pushes it out exponentially, but depression and eventual nervous breakdown comes for almost everyone. Characters left helpless and with limited stimulation (whether in deep space or due to another form of isolation) must make a WIL x 3 Test or suffer 1d10 SV every 24 hours. A muse doubles this time, and a limited mesh connection increases it by a factor of 10. A character with a full mesh connection does not suffer stress this way, because they can continue normal operations as an infomorph elsewhere. Derangements resulting from this isolation do not go away until the character has been removed from isolation for at least one day.  A few elevate void-living to religious experience, in attempts to “see the face of God.” They still experience the symptoms of prolonged isolation, but they transmute them to constructive thoughts. A number of deep-space egos have become prophets in the wastes. Some transmit their revelations, but most are content to keep to themselves. Lacking a common credo or tradition, they still come to the same conclusion: “it is better to store your treasures in the heavens, where thieves cannot steal and rust cannot consume.”