If your mind is willing but the steel - as we’ve seen last time - is weak, why not improve what you were naturally given?

Genetic engineering has also been long-touted as providing us with a better human being. To quote BioTech: “But with genetic engineering, we can take control of our own cells, making our children brighter, faster, and immune to hangovers. We can even redesign people to live in space, so the next time some big rock hits, some of us won’t be here.”

BioTech does such an excellent job with talking about human genetic engineering that there’s not much to add for me with respect to game mechanics. What remains, though, is to integrate it into the setting.

Eugenic and Species Modifications

BioTech distinguishes between two types of genetic modifications: eugenic and species modifications. The latter are rather more expensive; there’s also radical species modifications which cost even more.

So, which of those are available? A look at the Racial Templates (p. 66ff) shows a few different templates.

Genetic Upgrades The first upgrade, still capable of interbreeding with humans, is the Alpha. This is an extremely simple template which boasts resistance to diseases, longevity, and a bit more DX and HT. Total cost is $64,000; there’s also a more expensive version (at $92k) with a bit more IQ. Rather more niche is the Heavy Worlder and Light Worlder (adapting to the environment rather than the other way around), and the Ishtar (“elfin”). There’s also the Orion, which goes towards engineering people as better soldiers/sportspeople. The Helot, lastly, is modified for compliance (and is argued to be unpopular if parents have a choice).

Parahumans The Gilgamesh and Herakles are the only designs which might be called universal. Gilgamesh features a bit more intelligence plus and extended lifespan and reproductive control compared to the Alpha. At $115,000, it’s also more expensive. Herakles updates this by greatly increasing in all of these aspects for $242,000. The others consist of three models playing on gender stereotypes in some way (Diana, Avatar, and Tiresia), one (possibly failed) intelligence augmentation (Pandora, notable mostly for Enhanced Time Sense), and an early longevity model.

Pantropy These are all adapted to a certain environment: Arid regions, oceans, spacers, able to fly, and able to survive in space (that one’s TL 11 for good reasons, and fragile to boot).

Specialists There’s soldiers (specifically canine trackers), pleasure bioroids, hazmat-people, a fast-breeding colonist, a perception-model, a miniature rat/human hybrid, and of course a cat/human hybrid.

Availability and Adoption

The main question one has to ask when talking about adoption is whether the modification is capable of interbreeding with humans. If they are, it’s a decision for every parent whether they want to modify their children or not. If they are not capable of interbreeding, however, it becomes far more difficult.

As GURPS Space assumes, a minimum viable colony needs about 10,000 people. Part of this is for production reasons, of course, but most is simply to keep a genetically varied breeding stock available. Accordingly, if parents decide to create a parahuman child, they need to be sure that there are at least 10,000 other parents making the same decision. Otherwise, they damn their children-race to a slow extinction. This also has social implications: Imagine you could only breed with one of ten people. Who’d inflict that on their children?

Economically, creating a sustainable population of Gilgameshes would cost about $1.15B (call it $2B including development costs). For the same price, you could buy a Betelgeuse superliner (SS2:9) or a 10,000t industrial space station (SS6:9).

Economic Implications

Speaking of economic implications: What can people reasonably be expected to buy for their children?

Average monthly pay at TL10 is $5,600, but this would typically range from $1,100 to $25,000. Using the average, that’s about $70,000 per year. The primary issue with paying whatever modifications you choose is that it’s a single payment, usually fairly early in the parents’ careers - meaning that they don’t have much money yet.

If we take U.S. college tuition and student loans as a model, people might be willing to take out a loan for $50k-100k per child(!). That would put the Alpha, at $64k, in range1. Less wealthy people or societies will not be able to buy any modification (but grandparents might pitch in). Speaking of other societies: Without the assumption that the parents have to pay the cost themselves, many more things become accessible. A public health insurance system would probably include genetic enhancement for children to greatly reduce later medical cost (and would in game terms be reason enough to use the average societal wealth level instead of the parents’ wealth level where greater).

Most Useful Traits

Only as a short overview, what kind of traits do seem the most useful? Those which cannot easily be replicated by technology. Clearly, intelligence augmentations are quite useful (IQ+2 is available without a species modification), as is a photographic memory (which could be replaced with recording software, but indexing and searching for relevant information becomes difficult). Less sleep is available to decrease sleep per day to four hours on average; that’s fairly nice. So are a few lifestyle improvements: Fit and rapid healing could be useful (the latter might be replaced by medical tech), and resistance to sickness and disease would at least improve life quality. As would more HT.

An increased lifespan is one of the enhancements which, on a societal level, pays for itself. Median lifespan at TL10 medical tech is 95 years (compared to 78 at TL8). Longevity increases this to about 180 years. Including extended lifespan gives 370 years (level 1) and 785 years (level 2). Without longevity, this again is cut in about half.

Those, just to make it clear, are absolutely astonishing. From a societal point of view, fully educated people can work for decades longer than they’d usually do - just with longevity. So, assuming that you’re not restricted in carrying capacity, that’s a really great investment for a state. And great for the individual too.

Campaign Decision

In the end, many people will sport genetic improvements. These generally are improved longevity, intelligence augmentation (although less effective than BioTech would allow), and reduced sleep. In addition, removal of zero-g bone brittleness (this is arguably a setting concession), and resistance to disease are common. Almost all of these can interbreed with humans, but about half a percent are parahuman in different templates.

In poorer societies, genetic upgrades are less prevalent, leading to the more wealthy people using cybernetic upgrades; cybernetically-upgraded people therefore have the reputation of being either self-made people or upstarts.

  1. Of course, that’s a hereditary template, so you might save that money if you’re already an alpha.