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