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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 (2053)

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...).

The Homeworld

"Ellen, I'm 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..."

"Berheerder's 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.

People

"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."
"Of course, there's me, too. I am large, I contain multitudes."
- Conversation with "Whitfield," the Spence household LAI


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.

Technology

"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.

Campaigns

"The sheer 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..."

The Campaigns

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 campaign.

Conclusion

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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Name: Fifth Wave

Art: Quellenmaterial für Transhuman Space; 146 Seiten; Softcover;

Publikationsjahr: 2002

ISBN-10: 1-55634-459-7

ISBN-13: 978-1-55634-459-6

Preis: 33 Euro

Kontakt: Steve Jackson Games
Homepage: www.sjgames.com

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