GURPS Bio-tech Capsule Review by Robert A. Rodger on 15/02/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Bio-tech succeeds not just as a game supplement but also as science fiction.
Product: GURPS Bio-tech
Author: David Pulver
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Page count: 144
Capsule Review by Robert A. Rodger on 15/02/01
Genre tags: Science Fiction Far Future Space
A good friend and fellow gamer called me up last night.
"Why didn't you respond to my last e-mail," he asked.
"Because you're completely wrong. To say that human intellect is incapable of successfully directing evolution…"
"That's not what I'm saying! I'm saying that evolution has goals indistinct of…" he cut me off; so I cut him off.
"That's exactly what you're saying, and this is why I didn't answer!"
The argument (nee debate) continued on for a while. No consensus was achieved, no conclusion reached. In the end it broke down into a standard, age-old disagreement. I believe nature is greater than environment, and he that environment is greater than nature. (To some degree, both the arguments are much strong and in greater depth than that, but that's the most convenient phraseology.) But when it was over, I started up the computer, opened up the guidelines I'm writing for my latest campaign, and rewrote some sections that dealt with biological technology based on thoughts and ideas developed or expanded by this last exchange.
See, I've been reading GURPS: Bio-tech.
Bio-tech by David L. Pulver is one of many GURPS' "catalog" supplements. It is a tool for GMs designing their game world, not a game world in of itself, and offers ideas, options and technologies for genetic manipulation in a GURPS game for technology levels (TL) 8 (just around the corner) to 13 and more (far future dreams). It requires many choices from the GM; he must decide what type and style of game to run and then choose what technology is appropriate and available for that setting. Just because it's in the book, does not mean it's available in that game world.
The book opens with a well-written and very useful chapter outlining the basic science and premises on which the rest of the book is based. It is a crash course of biology, explaining many little details I had forgotten or never knew, including many little terms and concepts I've seen popping up in fiction in the likes of David Brin or Greg Bear… things I didn't quite understand at the time, and didn't feel like stopping the book to do some research (for instance, the difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, bacteria and, apparently, everything else). The chapter also explains the projected timeline of progress, including Pulver's optimistic but tentative statement that we could achieve TL 13 in fifty to a hundred years.
The rest of the book lists various biological procedures, from cloning to producing new species and sub-species, body-sculpting and new biological based gadgets (such as sentient building) to longevity and immortality. Each section describes the various procedures and technology, and then describes the affect in GURPS terms, specifically translating the effect into existing advantages and disadvantages, and providing point and expense costs. Character and campaign notes are included in the final chapter, and few new advantages are provided and some alterations are included in an appendix, thus Compendium I is required to use this book in a GURPS game, and frankly Bio-tech is not needed to run a science fiction game using genetic manipulation…all the game effects can be created using Compendium and Supers.
But that would be missing all the ideas.
It has been said that science fiction is the genre of ideas. Bio-tech is flooded with them. Listings for various procedures and technologies often include a quote or two from fictional characters giving a sense of how these technologies are perceived and used in a fictional world. Short paragraphs filled my head with characters, plots and ideas, things I wish to use in my game, and things I would run a game just to use. Particularly vivid to me was a young girl whose parents were uber-goths. She was genetically designed to be pale and waif-like. On her 16th birthday she had a body-sculpting procedure to change her whole frame, complexion and hair. Another exchange of dialog discussed two escaped neo-raccoons, who were fully sentient and could type on computers, even though they couldn't speak. So many ideas on each page, any of which would be worthy of a whole book of exploration.
And more so than GURPS: Ultra-tech, Robots, or other such catalog books, Bio-tech seems particularly relevant. The technologies feel just over the horizon, and the issues raised in designing a game world are the issues we must raise in designing our world.
If we are able to give fellow Terran animals sentience, should we? Would we? What would their role in society be? If you had the ability to change your appearance, would you? Should you? If others knew you modified yourself how would they react? Can we support near immortality? Would overpopulation destroy us? Is there an ethical solution?
Bio-tech only provides about fifteen pages of character and campaign rules and advice. And while it succeeds as a game supplement, while it makes an excellent and easy reference for incorporating bio-modifications into a game world it succeeds even better as science fiction. It has encouraged investigation, it has encouraged prediction, and, most impressive of all, it has encouraged discussion about important, relevant issues.