Posted by: markfender | November 23, 2011

Transhuman Space

So, we reviewed Eclipse Phase. But there’s another transhuman game on the market.

Transhuman Space is for GURPS 3rd edition. I’m not a GURPS fan (roll-under, bleah) but it’s kinda generic so it’s not too hard to take the world information and move it over to another system. It tries to be a rational explanation of the future of humanity based on the science of the day. Unfortunately, it was published in 2002 and so a few breakthroughs were missed (It still refers to Pluto as a planet and Ceres as an asteroid, for instance). However, that’s not really it’s fault. Eclipse Phase has the advantage for having more up-to-date scientific information, but then introduces crazy sci-fi elements like psionics and stargates. Transhuman Space places it much more realistically with its big extrapolation being the discovery of primordial black holes.

The art is by Christopher Shy, which means it’s dark, murky, and doesn’t seem to fit the setting. His spacecraft are cool, but too many pictures of glowing-irised people emerging from the shadows gets a little trying. Later books in the line go back to the traditional GURPS stable of artists and the results are mixed. There is a color version of the game available, which would probably help in discerning some of these vague shapes, but I don’t have it.

Transhuman Space starts out with a big ol’ timeline and a quick discussion of the elements of the setting. The timeline starts in 2010. Uh oh. Did you know, before 2010, the first human clone was born and that China has put a man on the moon? I didn’t either. Wearable computers are all the rage in 2011, which is somewhat right, if by wearable you mean in our pockets. We then get an extensive timeline taking us to the starting date of the setting, January 1st, 2100. Coincidentally, this is also the year in which a game of Civilization ends (and a game of Alpha Centauri begins). Weird.

The next section is a grand tour of the solar system. There’s a lot of scientific facts given in charts and tables, and a smattering of discussion of transhuman colonies in the solar system. As a basic primer to our solar system, it’s pretty good but if you already know that stuff it doesn’t introduce much setting material. Of course, this being a GURPS book, you were probably expecting a lot of basic information, so this book will meet those expectations. There’s also more rules for low gravity, radiation exposure, and how horrific outer space really is.

The next section is the Encyclopedia of Transhuman Space. It details all the technology, operative nations, militaries, criminal organizations and memes of the 22nd century. This is where the real meat of the setting lies and it’s all pretty interesting. Some of the technology gets a little more space dedicated to it than it probably needs, but I’m not sure you can blame the authors for this. After all, this book came out before Youtube so everyone wasn’t quite as familiar with memes as they are now. One quibble I have is that the Canadian underworld element is called the Maple Syndicate, apparently with a straight face. The author of the book is Canadian, but that’s still no excuse. Interspersed throughout this section are some call out boxes with interesting bits: The 20 poorest nations, the top military powers, etc. These are handy for giving you the lay of the land without having to extrapolate from deep reading of the setting material (do you have any idea which nation in Forgotten Realms has the largest military? Me neither.) There’s also an interesting statement about religion that I’d like the authors of Eclipse Phase to pay attention to:

…no meme can survive centuries or millennia without being resilient enough to adapt.

You’re welcome.

The next chapter is the traditional GURPS Character chapter. This section starts out with example careers that a PC might have in the setting, including such exciting jobs as Hazmat Specialist or construction worker. Man, what an exciting game we are playing! There’s also an extensive set of templates to apply to your characters to be all transhumany. These hover in the 50-60 point range, which if you’re familiar with GURPS, is half or more of your average character budget. For that reason, Transhuman Space plays with higher point values. However, some of the cybershells run into the hundreds of points (963 points for the UCAV, but then it is a fighter jet), so GMs probably need to set some parameters and know the options available. Plus, it’s got space octopi (and, unfortunately, catgirls).

The next section is Technology, which means there’s lots and lots of numbers. This is your rather large equipment chapter, covering everything from weapons to batteries (this being GURPS, you will need to track your power usage). Not much to say about this section, other than that it’s pretty extensive. I’m a little confused by some of the prices (Is it really important that Anti-glare optics cost exactly $37? Why not $35? Or $40? Just seems a little easier to track.), but sections like build-your-own microbot swarms are pretty cool. And it’s nice to know that both transhuman games on the market have the stats for duct tape.

The book finishes off with three Appendices on spacecraft creation, sample spacecraft, and space combat respectively. This is a simplified version of the GURPS Vehicles rules, but keep in mind we’re talking about GURPS so simplified still means you’ll need to know your ship’s delta-v. Seriously, every component will require at the very least multiplication and probably some other math. It’s extremely unfun. Skipping ahead to the sample spacecraft, we can see that all that math in the former section actually boils down to very few numbers. Armor/radiation shielding, hitpoints, modules installed, power usage and creation, and a couple speed/mass numbers. It seems like a lot of work for very little actual detail when you actually get right down to it (and honestly, I could get rid of most of these Empty Mass/Loaded Mass, Burn Endurance numbers and be happy). The last section details space combat. As you can imagine from the previous realistic numbers generated, this is not Star Wars combat. Ships see each other from hundreds of thousands of miles away, are moving rather quickly, and have to worry about their radiators being blown off and having a catastrophic heat build-up (or, you know, exploding). There’s a statistic called Burn Points, which captains can freely spend to add to their Piloting rolls as bonuses. The Burn Modifier table ranges from spending none to 200, granting a +12. Checking back with the sample vehicles, the sample Space Dominance Vehicles have 1800 Burn Points. So, that’s a meaningless bonus… Of course, Burn Points are converted from your Burn Endurance (how much fuel you have) and are converted back after the battle, so I suppose the idea there is to make sure you have enough fuel to reach your final destination while still providing your side with an edge in combat, but since this conversion requires mathematical formulas, it’s seriously unfun for a player to keep track of how many Burn Points he can honestly spend without endangering the ship. So this whole last section looks like an exercise for people who really, really love GURPS with a mad and beautiful passion.

So, summing up – how is it? It’s good, I guess. Like I said at the top, I would have no interest in using this in GURPS itself. But there are lots of ideas that are pretty cool. I’m particularly enamored with nanosocialism, the TSA, and the Duncanites as being unique concepts for the setting. Transhuman Space does suffer a little in presenting a world, but no guidance on what PCs would be doing. Eclipse Phase offers that easy buy-in of danger to humanity from the TITANs, but Transhuman Space just…is. The line has fought against this ever since, presenting up to five books of pre-made PCs to show how various adventuring parties would look in the system, with mixed results. But, as far as a new and unique GURPS setting, it ranks as one of the best (Somewhere in the back of my mind is an unholy amalgamation of GURPS Transhuman Space, GURPS Voodoo, and GURPS Cabal. Oh, it will be awesome, it will.). It’s presented in that classic GURPS too-much-information style, which in the case of a far future science fiction setting, is probably not a bad thing.

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