This article originally appeared in Pyramid #29

Bio-Tech Designer's Notes

Designer's Notes: Bio-Tech

by David Pulver

Both cops wore smart blue Kevlar vests and carried shock sticks and holstered Glocks. One was overweight and pushing 40; her face was red from climbing the stairs. The other was an uncertain-looking rookie, his youthful good looks only slightly spoiled by acne. Still, kind of cute, Mara decided.

"Dr. Mara Omokage?" the fat cop puffed, staring down at her.

"Is this about the parking ticket?" Mara said coolly. She adjusted her kimono, wishing she'd had time to put on makeup. They were only police, but she was as fastidious as a cat. "If so, bother my attorney."

The cop fingered her stick. "Don't give me any lip, lady. We're shutting down your little clinic. Under the Uniform Code of Criminal and Civil Justice, I place you under arrest for unlicensed genetic surgery and tax law violations."

"I don't think so," Mara said.

The cop activated her stick. Sparks crackled from the tip. "Make my day, bitch. You gene hackers think just because you're rich as all damn, you're different -"

Mara grinned, wide. Then wider. Her jaw snapped out like an egg-eating snake, then it retracted. The female cop's body hit the floor with a wet thump. Mara spat out a chunk of esophagus, turned her smile on the trembling, blood-spattered rookie.

"She was right - we are different." As the shocked rookie stared, Mara's waist-length hair drifted out, coiling around the rookie's Glock. "You won't need this, little boy . . ."

But the cop was no longer looking at her. He was looking at the thing that had slithered in behind her.

Mara turned, glanced over her shoulder.

"Don't worry, copper," she said. "It's just one of my babies."

Writing GURPS Bio-Tech was a very dynamic experience. I was blessed with an exceptional group of enthusiastic playtesters, including some real-world experts in biotechnology. One problem: we kept thinking the book was finished, only to see yet another new breakthrough making the news - tissue engineering, artificial chromosomes, post-embryonic cloning. Heck, Bio-Tech is likely the only game supplement held back for a rewrite due to the birth of a sheep!

A criticism of my previous Ultra-Tech books was that they didn't explain enough of the science and technology behind the gadgetry. Bio-Tech takes a very different approach - it's a sourcebook rather than a catalog, that begins by detailing today's developments in the field, and then builds on them to suggest how they could be extrapolated into the future.

Bio-Tech covers the genetic engineering of humans, plants, animals and microorganisms, as well as cloning and other reproductive technology, transplants, organic body modifications, nanotechnology, braintaping, cryonics, industrial bio-tech and biological warfare. Left out were cybernetics, medicine, inorganic nano and drugs - but these kinds of "bio-tech" are extensively dealt with in Ultra-Tech and, especially, Ultra-Tech 2. Actually, the one thing I regret not being able to fit in this book were rules on magical biotechnology.

Biological Magic

Fertility magic is nearly as old as humanity itself; wizards in fantasy literature are forever brewing up strange creatures in their vats, and fairy godmothers often bestow gifts or curses on unborn children. And in a technomagic setting, who knows what strange hybrids the combination of biotechnology and sorcery could spawn? What are gengineers like in the worlds of GURPS Voodoo or CthulhuPunk? Dr. Mara Omokage knows . . .

The spells described here can form the arsenal of any mage who specializes in bio-magic. The colleges they belong to are:

Body Control: Accelerate Pregnancy, Ease Labor, Remove Fetus, Transfer Pregnancy, Warp Fetus.

Enchantment: Create Chimera, Spellgraft.

Healing: Ease Labor, Remove Fetus, Sense Disease.

Knowledge: Analyze Genetics, Genomancy.

Necromancy: Hellspawn.

Technology: Manipulate DNA, Sense Nano, Sequence DNA.

The spells in the technology college are unlikely to appear before TL7, but you never know . . .

Accelerate Pregnancy

This spell speeds the safe development of an unborn baby.

Cost: 20 to double rate of development, plus 10 more for each additional doubling of speed. Thus, a baby developing at 16 x speed (50 to cast) would come to term in only two weeks.

Time to cast: 20 seconds.

Prerequisites: Ease Labor and Haste.

Item: Wand, staff or jewelry, only usable by a mage. Energy cost to create: 1,000.

Alter Nanovirus

This spell alters the nature of a particular nanovirus (see GURPS Bio-Tech) that is either dormant (e.g., stored in a vial) or is within a host but has not yet finished transforming its subject. Each casting allows the mage to add or subtract one advantage or option from the virus.

Cost: (T-8) x 10, where T is the higher of 9 or the minimum TL required to add that option or ability to a nanovirus.

Prerequisites: Sense Nano, Manipulate DNA.

Item: Wand, staff, jewelry or nano-manipulating and imaging system like scanning tunneling microscope, only usable by a mage. Energy cost to create: 1,500.

Analyze Genetics

This allows the mage to ask a question regarding the genetic heredity of the subject, within the limits of his knowledge of genetics. For example, a TL1-3 mage could ask "is he a son of King Richard" or "will this mare pass on the blood sickness to her foals?" and get a true answer; a TL7 mage could get answers equivalent to those available from a DNA test.

Cost: 3.

Prerequisites: Sense Life and (at TL6+) Genetics-12+.

Item: Silver pin or (at TL6+) microscope. Energy cost to create: 500.

Create Chimera (VH)

This spell must be cast on a test tube or other container holding genetically distinct early embryos from different species. It magically mixes the cells, obtaining a blastocyst that will develop into a single organism if surgically inserted into an artificial womb or surrogate host mother. The organism's physiology will be a mixture of the species as selected by the caster, with appropriate advantages and disadvantages (if desired, use the rules for Chimera in GURPS Bio-Tech).

Modifiers to skill roll: 0 if very close cross (e.g., wolf- dog), -3 if closely related (e.g., ape-human, sheep-goat or tiger-lion), -6 for distant hybrids (e.g., fox-human or alligator-viper), -8 for radical hybrids (e.g., crocodile-bat or human-hummingbird). Add +4 if trying to duplicate a previous success using the same mix, -4 if mixing three species, -8 if mixing four, -12 if mixing five, etc.

Success means a viable chimera forms but (especially if the caster got very ambitious) it will not be perfect: the GM should give it several unplanned disadvantages. Critical success means an excellent mix of advantageous traits and mild disadvantages. Failure means the organism dies within 3d hours. On a critical failure the creator gets something that appears to be viable enough to carry to term, but it will be stillborn or be born horribly deformed.

A success, critical success or critical failure still requires that the caster be able to implant the blastocyst in an appropriate host who can carry it to term (GM's discretion) - see the rules in GURPS Bio-Tech for surrogate mothers and artificial wombs.

Cost: 20 per embryo in the fusion.

Prerequisites: Alter Body, Analyze Genetics, Enchant.

Ease Labor

Cast on a mother who has gone into labor, this spell eases the pains and ensures a relatively trouble-free birth. If using the rules for birth in the Surrogate Mother sidebar in GURPS Bio-Tech it gives a +2 on HT rolls to avoid problems if maintained for the duration of labor, or +1 if maintained only for the last half.

Duration: 1 hour.

Cost: 4 to cast, 2 to maintain.

Time to cast: 6 seconds.

Prerequisites: Lend Health, Resist Pain.

Item: Staff or wand, usable by mage only, must touch subject. Energy cost to create: 500.

Regular; Resisted by mother's IQ

Conjures a malign demonic spirit to replace the soul of a developing embryo (before it has become a fetus). The result will usually be born as a demonic familiar if conjured into a non-sapient animal, or a cursed half-demon (give the character lots of Occult and Paranormal Disadvantages) if a sapient race.

Critical failure may conjure a real demon outside the mother's body, or accidentally summon some other entity to possess the developing fetus - maybe an angel?

Cost: 20.

Time to cast: 5 minutes.

Prerequisites: Permanent Possession, Summon Demon.

Manipulate DNA (VH)

Lets the caster magically splice genes and manipulate DNA to produce specific traits. Successful use of it gives the caster a +10 to Genetics (Genetic Engineering) skill at the working model stage of genetic engineering (see Chapter 2 of Bio-Tech). This bonus adds to other modifiers in the genetic engineering rules; the spell also allows working with improvised facilities (e.g., a kitchen) at a -10 "lab quality" penalty (which exactly cancels the +10 bonus the spell provides for no net modifier). Only one try is allowed per weekly attempt at genetic engineering; the GM should roll secretly for success.

Cost: 8.

Duration: 1 week.

Time to Cast: 5 minutes.

Prerequisites: Analyze Genetics, Apportation, Small Vision and Magery 2+.

Personal Divination

Genomancy is divination by examining the pattern of introns in someone's DNA. A blood sample is required.

Prerequisites: Analyze Genetics, 2 Healing and 2 Body Control spells.

Remove Fetus
Regular; Resisted by mother's HT

Cast on a pregnant mother, this spell allows the mage to reach through the mother's belly and into her womb and safely detach the fetus. If the fetus is old enough to survive (or can be rapidly transferred to an artificial womb or incubator) this is effectively a painless alternative to Caesarean birth. Otherwise, it serves as a means of abortion.

Cost: 3

Time to cast: 3 seconds.

Prerequisites: Ease Labor, Minor Healing.

Item: Gloves. Energy cost to create: 400.

Sense Disease
Information; Area

Tells the caster if the area is dangerously contaminated with contagious disease particles (viruses, bacteria, etc.). Caster can also specify he is looking for a particular type of biological agent.

Base Cost: 1/3 (minimum 1).

Prerequisite: Sense Life.

Item: Staff, wand or jewelry. Energy cost to create: 100.

Sense Nano
Information; Area

Tells the caster if there are any nanomachines in the subject area, and gives a general impression (on a good roll) of what kind. Caster can also specify he is looking for a specific type of nanomachine, or even a named brand he is familiar with.

Base Cost: 1.

Prerequisites: Seek Machine, Small Vision.

Item: Staff, wand or jewelry. Energy cost to create: 120.

Sequence DNA (VH)

This spell allows the caster to magically determine the correct DNA sequences needed to produce specific traits. Successful use of this skill gives the caster a +10 to Genetics (Genetic Engineering) skill at the concept stage of genetic engineering (see Chapter 2 of GURPS Bio-Tech). Only one try is allowed per week; the GM should roll secretly for success.

Duration: 1 week.

Cost: 6.

Time to Cast: 5 minutes.

Prerequisites: Genomancy and Magery 2+.

Item: None.

Spellgraft (VH)

This gives an unborn child inherent magical ability. This spell is thus a favorite of genetic engineers, fairy godmothers and pagan deities.

A spellgraft can be made using any spell known to the caster at skill-15 or better that has a magic item listed for it. When the child is born, it will gain the knack (see Magic, p. 96) of casting that spell without having to have either Magery or the prerequisites.

Only one try is allowed to give a child a particular knack. A critical failure gives the child a cursed or twisted knack (the GM should decide whether this is a reduced-cost advantage or a disadvantage) of some sort.

Cost: Half the energy cost of an equivalent magic-item creation, but can only be cast on a developing fetus.

Prerequisite: Enchant, one spell from each of 10 different colleges.

Transfer Pregnancy
Regular; Resisted by HT

This spell transfers an embryo or fetus from the mother to the mage's own womb, or from the mage to another female's womb. At greater energy cost, the spell can transfer to a male, creating an artificial pocket womb, although any birth must be through Caesarean section, this spell or the Remove Fetus spell.

The subject of the spell (not the fetus or embryo) resists, whether the baby is being transferred to or from them.

Cost: 4 for an embryo, double for a fetus. Triple energy cost if person receiving the fetus is male.

Prerequisites: Remove Fetus and Magery 2+.

Item: Wand, staff or jewelry, must touch subject, usable only by a mage. Energy cost to create: 1,600.

Warp Fetus
Regular; Resisted by mother's HT

If cast on a developing embryo or fetus, it will be born deformed. The child will be born with 10 points of disadvantages (caster's choice) for every energy point put into the spell. Only disadvantages that could be biologically hereditary are possible, e.g., Epilepsy or One Arm is allowed, while Pacifism or Reputation are not. Disadvantages may include racial, occult or paranormal disadvantages, but these cost double, i.e., 1 energy point per 5 points of disadvantages granted.

Cost: variable

Time to cast: 10 seconds.

Prerequisite: Alter Body, Strike Barren.

Item: Staff, wand or jewelry. Energy cost to create: 2,000. Usable only by mage.

Article publication date: April 3, 1998

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