Review: Transhuman Tech

Posted: 7 March 2012 in Reviews
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This is the latest free-to-download web supplement for Stars Without Number, and covers common tropes of post-human science fiction. It’s larger than usual for a Mandate Archive, at 16 pages.

These tropes don’t fit with the standard SWN setting, and so the Threshold Sector is introduced; travel between the worlds of this sector is unusually hard, and travel to other sectors is presently impossible. In Threshold, a post-scarcity economy has developed, and transhuman technologies have developed. Here, raw materials and the vast majority of finished goods are negligibly cheap; only a few items requiring skilled human labour to create have any actual worth. Conflicts are ideological, not fights over resources. Factions, likewise, are about choices in lifestyle and ideology, not about where one lives or what one owns.

The GM must create the Sector – this Archive includes only rules modifications and a broad outline of the situation. And speaking of contents, we have:

An Introduction (two and a half pages) giving an overview of the setting.

Faction Creation: One and a half pages, including a table of faction traits. The GM is encouraged to use the party name generator and faction rules from SWN to flesh out the factions further. As in the SWN core rules, factions are the main driver for plots and scenarios.

Gengineering and Alienation (1 page); Hulls and Bodyswapping (4 pages): How you can improve your body through genetic engineering and nanotechnology, and the penalties for turning it into something completely inhuman; how to swap your consciousness from one body to another, what attributes and skills follow the mind from hull to hull, and which ones stay with the meat.

Post-Scarcity Economics and Status: Even in such an economy, there are some limits on what resources an individual can command. His status in his faction determines what he can acquire; while anyone aligned to a faction has the basic necessities of life, the faction must be persuaded to hand over more exotic items such as a braked AI core or a functional battleship. Characters thus have status within their faction, which is increased by being useful to it, and decreased by embarrassing it in public. Those items which still have value – data, body hulls, space and time – are rated in terms of the status you need to get hold of one. Status penalties for being naughty are also listed. Anything smaller than a vehicle from the SWN core rules is basically available from your faction for the asking.

(Parenthetically, I have given post-scarcity economics a lot of thought, and I can’t see us as a species ever giving up money. We’ll always need some means of keeping score, although I suspect it will wind up being the equivalent of those little +1 buttons on Facebook.)

We close with one page on how to set up and run a post-human campaign, and a one-page handout for players, explaining who the PCs are, what they do, and why. The key difference in both cases is that obtaining things is no longer a motivator for PCs or patrons; they fight over what the future should look like instead – which ideology should be dominant.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. Some good stuff here, but transhuman society doesn’t really float my boat for roleplaying. Your Mileage May Vary.

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