Before I start this review, I'd like to clearly set out some goals. I think any review should be based on a variety of factors. Primary among these factors is how well a product fulfills it's purpose. If the product is called pirates v. ninjas, there damn well better be some pirates, ninjas, and adversarial relationships between the two. So my main intent in this review is to establish how well the product (Transhuman Space: Transhuman Mysteries) provides information on mysteries set in transhumanist sci-fi settings, specifically the SJGames GURPS setting “Transhuman Space”.
However, in addition to this, I will be making value judgments that are necessarily personal. Layout, art, readability, mechanics, usability outside the system or setting it was written for, etc. Some may disagree with these judgments, and that is their prerogative, but hopefully I can provide my reasoning for these personal judgments so that readers may decide for themselves whether they agree with my underlying assumptions and accompanying judgments.
Transhuman Space: Transhuman Mysteries is a PDF release available at Steve Jackson Games' online store, e23 (e23.sjgames.com). It is 38 pages, will set you back 7.99 USD, and may be re-downloaded as many times as you wish so long as SJGames stays in business (as is their policy with everything they sell there, as I understand it). Only the Basic Set (Characters and Campaigns, the core books for GURPS), Ultra-Tech, the sci-fi gear catalog for GURPS, and the core Transhuman Space book from 3e is required to utilize Transhuman Mysteries, but the more Transhuman Space (henceforth abbreviated as TS when generally referring to the setting) supplements you have the more potential use this supplement has, and GURPS Mysteries would give you a lot of grounding in the essential structure of mysteries and how to run them in RPGs.
The PDF is divided into five chapters and an index. Each chapter begins with a short fictional vignette (3-5 short paragraphs) followed by a one-paragraph introduction to the contents of the chapter. The PDF is entirely grayscale, with a white background and black text, and has quotes from various inspirational novelists (Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, Michael Flynn, etc.) scattered throughout. The text is separated into two columns, with callout boxes throughout.
As the name implies, the subject of the PDF is sci-fi mysteries, particularly those with an emphasis on harder near-ish future technology that includes an emphasis on robotics, biotech, computing, human augmentation, and information technology.
1. Setting and Genre:
The first chapter is only five pages, and defines the key fictional scientific innovations that distinguishes Transhuman Space (TS) from our modern world, with specific in-setting examples of each trope. It also goes into detail on the different sub-genres of mysteries (classic, pulp/hard-boiled/noir, procedurals, the cozy, and young detectives) while providing specific campaign frames and in-setting locations that work well for the sub-genres.
Roughly half this chapter is specific to the TS setting, but importantly it describes the places and people that would make good settings for different sub-genres and technologies that would create interesting mysteries and conflicts, and why. Even if you’re not using TS, you should be able to find (or create) locations with similar conditions in an alternate setting. There
are no GURPS-specific portions of this chapter.
The second chapter is ten pages, and deals with character aspects that are important for transhumanist mysteries, from templates to allies to equipment. There are seven occupational templates, a new martial arts style for uplifted canines, several enhancements and variations for existing GURPS advantages and disadvantages, some more detail on which specific skills are important in mysteries as well as how to use complementing skills to increase your chances of succeeding at a certain task, and five new racial templates for various robotic allies, though one only references Transhuman Space: Changing Times.
This section is very GURPS-centric, with lots of stat blocks and rules text, but could provide useful information for the types of PCs you might expect in a transhumanist mystery and the allies and equipment you might expect them to have access to.
3. You Know My Methods:
This is the GURPS gameplay mechanics chapter. In nine pages, it covers how to use the existing mechanics from the core set to solve mysteries in the future. You could easily pick each subsection, create a PC with skills that let them specialize in the specific actions described within each (Data Searches, Computer Access, Surveillance, Forensic Methods, Memetics, Simulations, and Legwork), and have a very competent team ready to handle almost any transhumanist mystery. It’s clear, concise, well-organized, and basically all-around wonderful for any GURPS GM trying to figure out what skill his players should use and what modifiers his players should face for trying to do some data mining on a public access government database vs. trying to rewrite an AI’s core honesty programming or deprogram some people who have bought into a memetic attack in order to gather enough information to trace it back to it’s originator.
While this chapter is pretty thick with GURPS-specific skills and the modifiers are keyed to a GURPS probability curve, the overall “this is what skills are useful for certain actions and these are the things that make things harder and easier” would be very useful even to non-GURPS GMs, in my opinion. Likewise, very little of this chapter is setting specific, aside from assuming strong encryption.
4. Crimes and Criminals:
This five page chapter goes over the bad guys, or at least the people committing crimes and the methods they use to get away with them. It covers various levels of criminals, including when politicians are criminals all the way up to kleptocracies. It covers the types of crimes you tend to see. And it covers the methods criminals use to get away with their crimes and escape notice.
This chapter isn’t very GURPS-focused, but it is very TS focused. There are a lot of assumptions about how society is structured and what groups of people might turn to crime either as a career or in desperation, but to be fair a lot of these assumptions are grounded in the type of world hard sci-fi transhumanist technologies entails.
5. Designing and Presenting Scenarios:
This four page chapter covers the various stages of a mystery scenario, and the specific variants that are typically covered in transhumaist sci-fi mysteries. This includes a blurb on NDAs, plot twists, ongoing subplots, concealing the fact that you’re sending a message with an implanted communications device (somewhat oddly placed in this chapter, I’d have said it belonged in “You Know My Methods.) It’s useful as an overview, but for readers that want more depth GURPS Mysteries is highly recommended. This is more of a reminder of the information in that book with notes for exceptions due to genre.
The only GURPS material in this chapter is the section on unobtrusively sending messages with an implant (see what I mean about it being out of place?) and the rest is pretty setting-agnostic as well. It’s broadly useful to GMs everywhere, but if you’re completely new to mystery RPGs you probably want a deeper and more in-depth coverage. It’s definitely useful for GMs familiar with the broader genre but wanting some pointers on issues that crop up with a high-tech setting, however.
This is a typical example of GURPS' quality layout and excellent readability, including a well-organized and detailed index. However, as is usual for these GURPS PDF releases Transhuman Mysteries is entirely in black and white and the art is minimal and merely functional rather than inspiring. In addition the cover is a collage of four of the five interior art pieces, making this supplement more bereft of artwork than most GURPS supplements.
Because of the repeated interior and cover art, minimal flavor quotes, and lack of color this PDF gets a three for style. High quality, but not as good as it could be.
The substance of this supplement is a five. Particularly the third chapter shines, but most of the other chapters still provide a solid value for your investment.
I’d only lower that to a four to a non-GURPS reader or someone using a non-TS setting. Explanations about about why different GURPS rules or TS settings are appropriate for certain actions or types of make the supplement broadly useful to any group running a transhumanist mystery, though not as useful as actually being able to use the templates and exact rule suggestions, obviously.