In my SWN game, I use the mutation rules from Sine Nomine’s Other Dust setting/sourcebook. Mutations have been a part of my sci-fi games since the days when Alternity first came out. Even though the idea of radiation, nanites, alien microbes, dramatically altering a person’s DNA to create special powers or turn people into horrific monstrosities isn’t really all that believable, I’ve fallen in love with the concept and it fits into a universe that has psions firing lightning bolts and throwing foes around with telekinesis. Still, the old idea of radiation spawning mutation is a bit limiting, so here’s my background information on how mutants fit into the setting.
In the late 21st century, advances in medical science lead to the creation of gene therapies that cured all forms of cancer in humans. The discovery of these treatments, which virtually re-wrote parts of the human genetic code were discovered to come with a price. Exposure to intense radiation, prolonged exposure to chemical pollution, and even being exposed to certain alien particles, cause the human genetic structure (and the genetic structure of any species that has had similar treatments) to develop dramatic mutations.
While mutation has always been a part of life, these mutations were much more overt and shocking than anything ever detailed in the past. People would develop additional body parts, different skin colors, environmental adaptations like gills and thick fur, and so forth. Plus, rather than making slow, gradual changes over many generations, the mutations were developing within a single generation, and even sometimes immediately upon exposure to certain stimuli.
Like many maladies, the poor and downtrodden are the most affected by wild genetic mutation. Mutation is most prevalent in the most polluted or irradiated areas. Places like the “low” areas of the towering super-cities, where the waste and refuse of the higher tiers collects in the dark, lower recesses of the ground and sub-levels, also the immense “hives” of industrialized worlds see a high rate of mutation. These beings are typically the disenfranchised of society; the laborers, the unemployed, the abandoned that are forced into the dirtier areas. Their plight is usually out of the sight of the local governments (typically on purpose), so little aid or relief is given.
This lack of caring on the part of many local governments led to the Mutant Uprising of 2246, in which the mutants of several colonies throughout the Sol Alliance rose up to initially demand better working conditions and health care, but the demonstrations quickly turned to violence. The uprising was quickly quelled, and even though many programs were put in place to try and help the situation of mutants, many local governments continued to abuse mutant populations. Even today, while mutants have the same rights as other citizens of the Sol Alliance, some systems “discourage” mutants from entering the system or keep them under intense scrutiny. There are a few systems that are rumored to kill any mutant discovered in the system.
Among alien species, many look upon mutation in similar ways. They see mutation as dangerous or at least unsightly. Some see it as an affront to their god(s), and try to violently purge any “genetically unstable” members of their species. Alien views towards mutants of other species usually ranges from indifference to mistrust, depending on the species.
Mutations are nearly impossible to correct, another unforeseen side-effect of the gene therapies that helped humanity conquer many diseases. Gene therapies that, in theory, should correct or at least alleviate the mutation have, so far, had no effect. This has lead to rampant suicides, reports of back alley amputations, and other extreme measures being taken to try and correct or cure the mutation.
Even in the 25th century, appearance plays a large role in how someone is accepted by their peers. Mutations come with what is commonly referred to as “stigmata,” and they range from minor variations in skin color to hideous physical deformities and monstrous reconfigurations of flesh. For heritable mutations, the stigmata tend to repeat from generation to generation.
The discrimination that many mutants are faced with has led to the creation of mutant colonies. There are places where mutants can go and live their lives without undue government scrutiny or fear of disappearing in the night. However, these places are rarely utopias. Most colonies receive little financial or resource support, and they are typically found on worlds that the sector governments find undesirable, making the property cheaper to build a colony. Plus, there is still discrimination among mutants. Those with easy to conceal stigmata are hated by those that cannot hide their deformities. Those with more useful mutations are better received that those not blessed with a truly useful mutation. Human mutants may hate a mutant outcast from an alien species, and vice versa. Add all that in with the poverty and poor conditions in many mutant colonies and you have violence and graft rampant in many of them.