Archives Fellow Travelers Voices of Reason Where am I? Making Fantasy a Reality The Guild Companion Please vote for us once every day by clicking here!

Transhuman Space

Reviewed by Jamie 'Trotsky' Revell ©2002

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

 

            Transhuman Space is a new science fiction setting for use with the GURPS system. It's described as being 'Powered by GURPS' rather than being an actual GURPS supplement, although what the difference might be is a little unclear. At any rate, you'll need the usual GURPS rulebooks to use Transhuman Space as written, although translation into systems such as Spacemaster probably won't be too hard.

            The setting is intended to represent a plausible, 'hard science' view of what the world might be like in AD 2100. Thus, there are no aliens, no faster-than-light travel, no force fields or gravitic technology, and no worldwide government. Instead, there are colonies across our own solar system, moderately advanced nanotech and lots of genetic engineering. Oh, and there are robots you can even have one as a player character if you like.

            The first chapter describes the history of the twenty-first century. Mostly this is presented as a fairly detailed timeline, describing the wars, scientific discoveries and shifting political alliances that have changed our world into that of Transhuman Space. Additional sections expand upon such topics as the terraforming of Mars and the development of the genetically modified humans and artificial intelligences that are perhaps the setting's most distinctive feature.

            The second chapter describes the solar system of 2100. Some of this summarises real astronomical data, but for the most part the emphasis is on the various colonies that have been established. The number of large space stations at the earth-moon Lagrange points, many of them independent of any Earth government, is large enough that the GM can easily create and detail his own without changing any of the fundamentals of the setting. The chapter concludes with rules for space travel and its various hazards, such as radiation exposure, vacuum and operating in low or zero gravity. It's clear upon reading this that our own solar system provides plenty of interesting places to visit, without the need for the alien worlds of other science fiction RPGs, many of which are simply variants of Earth.

            Next we reach the largest section of the book, which details the technology and organisations that define the setting. Genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology predominate, which gives Transhuman Space a very different feel to the more usual science fiction fare. Cyberpunk is perhaps the closest analogy, although here player characters are more likely to upgrade their genomes, or simply use advanced gadgetry, than they are to employ cybernetic implants. This is a world where even some robots are biological in nature artificially constructed life forms with some resemblance to Bishop and Ashe in the Alien films. You can even upload your mind onto a computer to become a 'ghost', with many of the advantages of artificial intelligence (such as immortality and the ability to make back-up copies of yourself to protect against the possibility of accidental death).

Nations, military and terrorist forces, corporations and organised crime gangs are all described, too, giving plenty of potential employers and foes. The section on memetics does seem a little odd, however, since it just seems to be putting a trendy scientific-sounding term to what is really nothing but good old public relations. On the other hand, the list of memes (political and religious beliefs) itself is useful as a guide to things player characters can be campaigning for or against.

All of the above takes up about half the book. The remaining chapters provide the more rules-oriented material. Character generation includes options for genetically upgraded humans, electronic and biological robots and uplifted animals, as well as more typical humans. On the downside, the point totals for some of the electronic robots are so high that it is difficult to see them as player characters. There's a pretty good equipment list, done in the style of GURPS Ultra-Tech, from which further ideas could probably also be culled. Spaceship design and combat is covered in the appendices, so this book is wholly independent of, for example, GURPS Space although, bearing in mind its other pre-occupations, GURPS Bio-Tech could be handy.

All in all, this is a distinctive and detailed setting, bringing to mind the novels of Ben Bova, Greg Egan or Ken McCloud rather than Star Wars or Star Trek. Where it falls down is that there isn't really much in the way of guidelines as to what you should actually do in the setting. There's plenty of plot hooks to be sure, but only two pages of guidelines on constructing a campaign and taking advantage of the unique opportunities offered. A larger section here as there is in most GURPS books would have gone a long way to making this book more accessible to the general roleplaying market.

Nonetheless, if you're looking for a different sort of science fiction setting, especially if you're interested in hard SF novels or running a game that explores the relationships between human, parahuman and artificial intelligences, this is a setting worth looking at. Among other science fiction RPGs, only Blue Planet comes close, and either could possibly be used as additional source material for the other.

Steve Jackson Games intend to produce a line of source material to further expand on the setting, with books on Earth and Mars being first on the schedules.

           

 

Editor's Note: Transhuman Space is published by Steve Jackson Games who can be reached at http://www.sjgames.com/

 

Where am I? Archives Voices of Reason Fellow Travelers Vote for us on the RPG 100 Sponsored by Mimic Media & Data Systems