Transhuman Space - Fifth Wave
Earth. The cradle of humanity. Though Outer Space
has become increasingly populated in the Transhuman Space
setting, the vast majority of humans, transhumans, posthumans, uplifts,
bioroids, artificial intelligences - to make it short, the vast majority
of all sapient beings - still make their home there. And Fifth Wave, the
first supplement for the Transhuman Space
line, attempts to cover this vast world inhabited by myriad people of
various shapes and personalities.
This is quite unusual for a near-future SF RPG. Most
of these (such as those of the cyberpunk
genre) tend to focus on a specific country or continent first, usually
North America, and the other parts of the world are only covered in
future supplements, if ever. But with Fifth Wave, the Transhuman Space
line does it the other way around - it gives us the global picture
first, while more regional detail will be covered in future supplements.
This gives the setting a truely global feel, which is appropriate for a
world where ideas - memes -
propagate with the speed of light and few places are truely isolated
from each other. And this is something that I, as a non-American
appreciate - and applaud.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's cover the
contents chapter by chapter.
The Building Wave
Never mind what
either God or a billion years of hard-won evolutionary experience have
given us. A few technical marvels turn up and these people are ready to
rewrite themselves from scratch. Is it any wonder that they lose
something precious along the way?
- Carl Edward Stokes, founder of the Human Alliance
This chapter covers the history of Earth in the 21st
century beyond what we have learned in the Transhuman Space
Core Book. It clearly shows how the present came to pass - and what
historic events the elderly (which can be quite frequent as PCs) have
lived through and how it might have shaped them. From the beginning of
the biotech revolution and first Transhumanist mass movements, to
military conflicts like the Andes and the Pacific War, to the rise of
nanosocialism and artificial intelligences, it helps the reader to
understand how the world came to be. Far from being "pointless fluff",
like some gamers seem to see long history writeups in gaming
supplements, it drives home that Transhuman Space
is a setting that has gone through many changes in short times - and
that it will likely go through more in the future (though these will
have to be made up by the GM, as Transhuman Space
has no metaplot...).
afraid we can't overlook these violations of company policy much longer.
You've been putting in as much as 30 hours a week, and refusing to use
your discretionary leave. Your supervisor has been monitoring you for
signs of stress, and he doesn't like what he's seeing. Go take a
vacation, take up a hobby, think about dating, okay? The last thing we
need is a hostile work environment suit."
- Peter Wallace, employee counseling session
This is the "lifestyle" chapter - it describes where
people in 2100 live (in arcologies, planned communities, artificial
islands), for how long they live (essentially, as long as they want, if
they can pay the medical bills), and how they live. There have been some
drastic changes in modern society thanks to modern technology - in a
world where even gender is optional and fully changeable (though few
people want to go through that icky business with pregnancy, whether
they were born female or not - they just buy an artificial womb
instead...), traditional concepts of marriage (to name just one example)
are seen as rather quaint. Increasingly sapient computers have also
freed up a lot of time for most workers - and made societies possibly
where a very large percentage of the population comfortably lives on
social welfare benefits. Crime and law enforcement, arts, sports, and
music - all these have taken new and interesting turns.
I'd also like to add at this point that I really
liked the vignette at the start of the chapter, which describes the
experiences of a space-born woman who arrives on Earth for the very
first time. This text really drives home the scope and grandeur of this
planet, something that we who were all (presumably) born here all to
often forget, though we shouldn't.
States and the Stateless
"Officials of the
Olympus Consortium, meeting in Nairobi, have agreed to accept World
Court arbitration in their ongoing dispute with the United States over
orbital zoning rights. Consortium spokesman Jean-Jaques Nouveau said,
'Naturally we feel that the American claims are without merit, and we
look forward to seeing them dismissed by the Court. The Olympus Project
will go forward on schedule."
- Teralogos International Newsbytes, January 3, 2100
This chapter is the heart of the book and covers the
nations of the Earth - nearly all of them. While I personally regret
that it doesn't include all of
them, as it did in the playtest manuscript, it probably doesn't matter
too much - when seen from a global scope, not all Caribbean micro-states
are really that impotant. And even they are on the handy sheets, which
cover the nations allegiance to one of the Great Powers (if any), its
population, social stability, relative power in international affaris,
Control Rating (a GURPS term that indicates how oppressive its laws
are), and the average wealth in the world. Allmost all nations get a
writeup of a paragraph or two, many of which can give the reader plenty
of ideas for an adventure, or even a campaign of its own (my favorite
is the entry for Kenya...).
All in all, this chapter does something that few
other RPGs even try to do, and does so admirably.
Faces of the Fifth Wave
"Since the early
2040s, there has always been a Berheerder or 'director' of the Europort. Each has
been a computer close to the leading edge of AI development, whose task
it was to help make sense of the massive logistical tangle that is
Europe's largest port..."
official duties require only a fraction of its attention. The rest of
the time it manages its investments, carries on correspondence with
hundreds of friends and aquaintances around the world, and finds time to
write a popular series of science fiction novels..."
Since one- or two-paragraph country writeups can't
serve as a "home base" for PCs without a lot of work, this chapter
features three cities that are described in detail. These are Quito in
Ecuador, currently the Earth's biggest spaceport, Rotterdam-Europort in
the Netherlands, Europe's biggest ports and one of the wealthiest
cities on the planet, and Singapore, a wealthy city-state sitting at a
vital shipping lane in South-East Asia and between the mutually
antagonistic power blocks of China, the Transpacific Socialist
Alliance, and the Pacific Rim Alliance. All three provide plenty of
possibilities for adventures, but since they all are fairly prosperous
and have a high technology base, they don't provide good locations for
more action-oriented adventures unless the PCs are law enforcement
officials or a particularily suicidical type of criminals. NPC writeups
for various inhabitants ranging from fairly ordinary people to powerful
movers and shakers round this chapter off.
"I'll admit, the
Spences are pretty well-off, so they can afford a lot of dependents.
Let's see. There are four of them: Mr. and Mrs. Spence, their son
Harold, and their daughter Marian. Mr. Spence has the infomorph in his
interface implant, and another one in the old wearable he carries as a
notebook. Mrs. Spence doesn't like VR, but she has a wearable too just
to keep track of her medical condition, and that's running a NAI of its
own. Little Marian just has her kindercomp, but Harold is into robokits
and has built half a dozen. Then there's the cyberdog and Mrs. Spence's
Monkey Plus. For that matter, everyone suspects the house cat is an
uplift, but it won't talk about it."
there's me, too. I am large, I contain multitudes."
- Conversation with "Whitfield," the Spence
Of course, to play a campaign on Fifth Wave Earth,
you need to have a few PCs. This chapter provides additional
suggestions and options beyond those found in the Transhuman Space
main book. New character types like the Eloi (members of Earth's large
and politically influental leisure class) are provided together with
suggested advantages and skills, and new human variants ranging from
various econiche parahumans (humans genetically adapted to extreme
climates like deserts or arctic wastes) to the Avatar series
(parahumans with exaggerated physiological and psychological
differences between the genders, which are popular in patriarchal
societies), as well as new bioroid types, cybershells, and infomorph
characters. All this brings home that Earth is an extremely diverse
world where you can run into just anyone - or anything. Both players and game
masters will likely delight in coming up with new types.
"Lost in his reverie, BrainStorm didn't
immediately notice the flag his wearable had started raising in the
periphery of his visual field. The NAI soon took stronger measures,
causing the display wall in front of him to beep and flash red. What
was going on? Oh, just a flood of email messages coming in. Some
marketing spammer must be trying to fill out a quota. Brainstorm lit
off his "get lost" autoreply software, wiped the queue and went back to
watching the progress of his virus."
"It never occurred to him that he had just sent out
a dozen messages stamped with his computer's authentication codes. Or
that the software he had downloaded from the web to mask his codes was
fatally flawed. Or that the U.S. Treasury Department might have the
tools necessary to see through the tissue-thin deception. His
subconscious mind toyed with the notion that the hack had been too
easy, but he shrugged that off too. Everyone knew the federales were incompetent..."
This chapter showcases a few additional
technologies and products in common use on Earth. The heart of the
chapter is a system for gaming computer intrusion, which seems to be
workable and useful for any setting featuring computer networks except
for cinematic virtual reality hacking as it is featured in some
cyberpunk games. There's also a short list of vehicles ranging from
ground cars to personal aircraft.
density of the Earth web provides a complete secondary environment for
adventure. A lot happens in virtual space, from casual social and
business contact all the way to whole digital kingdoms. As a result,
it's feasible for an adventuring group to be made up of people living
all over Earth who have never physically met..."
chapter provides game master advice on how to run a campaign on Earth in
the year 2100... or in previous decades. It lists several possible
campaign frames, most of them quite intriguing (how about playing yourself,
97 years in the future? That's enough time for anyone to become a
possible adventurer...), and a few adventure seeds to kick-start a new
With Fifth Wave as its first sourcebook, the
Transhuman Space line is off to a great start, and I have high hopes
for the future of this setting. I recommend this book to anyone with an
interest in the world of Transhuman Space - even if your campaign is
completely off-world, there are 11 billion people living back on Earth
- and almost any of them can have an impact on your adventurers from
millions of miles away...
(This review was previously published on rpg.net)
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