Almost ten years ago, Steve Jackson Games created what I think is one of the most original RPG settings out there: Transhuman Space. The world of Transhuman Space is our solar system in the year 2100 where all of the predictions and fantasies of today’s transhumanists have come true. Strong AI is available, individual brains can be downloaded and uploaded, biotechnology has produced a number of amazing developments, and humanity has begun to really explore and settle the entire solar system. I should note that while the setting was first created almost a decade ago, SJG is still supporting the game line, primarily through e-books. This was one of the first major books put out for Transhuman Space, and covers the “inner system” of Mars, Venus, and Mercury; the book has a significant emphasis on Mars, since that’s where most of the interesting gaming potential is here. Venus and Mercury are, realistically, dangerous, difficult places with not all that much value for (trans)humans.
In the Well contains eleven chapters, some of which are very short, with the first providing a brief history of Mars and its settlement and colonization. The next two contain details on the geography, terrain, and atmosphere of Mars. The fourth chapter provides a lengthy description of all of the key elements and groups, national, corporate, ideological/cultural, and religious. The next two chapters contain very short introductions to what’s going on on Mercury and Venus. There’s not a great deal of detail here, because frankly not that much is going on in either world. There are small mining in research facilities on each, and Venus has a major, long-term European terraforming effort occurring there. The seventh chapter contains a very brief introduction to the inhabited settlements on asteroids and independent habitats in the inner system. The eighth chapter contains an introduction to various character types, professional, parahuman, and bioroid. The next chapter contains information on specific pieces of equipment and vehicles found mainly on Mars. The tenth chapter contains a short piece on the genetically engineered animals, both domestic and wild, to be found on Mars. And the final chapter contains a number of suggested campaign frameworks as well as some secrets/conspiracies taking place on Mars. The book closes out with a lengthy appendix that provides a wheeled vehicle modular design system. (Designing vehicles from scratch in GURPS isn’t my idea of a good time, so I’ll leave that section to others to discuss.)
Areas I liked: I like all the details about Mars’ climate and terrain, as well as all of the game mechanics for living and operating on Mars. I think that having a prospecting or scientific/exploration sort of game would be a lot of fun, and it’s certainly possible given the mechanics provided. I also like the somewhat free-wheeling/wild West feel of Mars and think that Mars as a kind of new frontier space works very well. While there aren’t any “Indians” on Mars, there are certainly plenty of criminal/organized crime groups there which should work very well. You could easily have an interesting law enforcement/crime campaign set on Mars.
Areas I didn’t like: Mars was a fine setting, but to be honest, I found both Mercury and Venus to be, well, boring. It’s hard for me to imagine having interesting, dynamic adventures or campaigns on either of those planets. Transhuman Space, despite its many pretenses to the contrary, isn’t really a “hard” science fiction setting. That doesn’t bother me, but I know that some of its fans like to emphasize the harder science fiction elements in the setting. If you’re one of these folks, you may be a little bothered by the rapid pace of Mars’ terraforming. While I think that what they’ve done with Mars is interesting, and is a place where you could have a perfectly fine campaign, its depiction here didn’t exactly make me want to run out and immediately begin a campaign set there. While I can see that there are a number of campaign possibilities for Mars, none of them immediately leapt out at me as being ones that I feel I immediately have to run.
I give this one 4 stars out of five, and so I recommended it to both completists as well as those interested in running a game set on Mars. Mars is clearly designed as one of the main adventure settings in Transhuman Space, serving as a kind of “wild West” in which PCs can operate relatively autonomously, though still interacting with a number of established societies, and government/legal systems. The book provides a fun setting, though for me personally, it’s not my favorite in the setting.
Review copyright 2011 J. Andrew Byers