In June, the BBC reported that North Carolina is dealing with the late fallout from a Eugenics program. Eugenics is, in essence, the attempt to improve the genetic “quality” of a given population. When you hear that you automatically think of the Third Reich, but few people realize that the Nazis actually took cues from the United States – they just pushed it into the extreme. What I did not know – and I am sure most other people also do not realize – is that such programs were still going on until 1979 – twenty four years after the end of World War II!
The possibilities for plots are endless.
- The players are hired to look into a Eugenics program that ended in the 1970s, and uncover that the program only served as the cover for something more sinister: Human experiments, where the early geneticists attempted to “play god”. It could be a simple political conspiracy – maybe a Presidential candidate was involved as a young administrator – or these experiments could have created monsters (Call of Cthulhu campaign) or been done in cooperation with the Greys (X-Files style campaign).
- In a supernatural campaign, a ghost may be restless because he was subject of such a program, and the players’ motivation is to bring the evildoers to justice so the ghost can rest in peace.
- Human experimentation or Eungenics in the USA, Argetine or other countries could be based on Nazi medical research. In a “secret history” campaign, the traces could eventually lead to the Nazi base under the ice of Antarctica, or to the secret Nazi moon base.
- Whatever the case, an option is to have the experiments continue until today, which the perpetrators naturally would not wish to come to light.
- If you are playing a Cyberpunk game, a corporation might start a Eugenics project – for medical research reason, most likely. Or Eugenics could become acceptable again; in a society that does not value individual human life highly, it’s entirely conceivable that criminals or the very poor might get sterilized.
- In a Science Fiction setting, Eugenics could be conducted on a remote Terran colony world, or the corrupt Galactic Empire could be conducting large-scale experimentation on the Slave Caste.
- In a fantasy setting, any demi-human race could be the subject of Eugenics at the hands of the dominant races – usually humans. For example, Goblins, Orcs, Kobolds, or similar species could be bred for more intelligence or could be sterilized to limit their breeding rates. This might be especially true if they are capable of interbreeding with humans: Half-Orcs are a likely target for experiments or worse. In some societies, even Half-Elves could be considered an abomination that should not be allowed to produce offspring.
- No matter what the setting, the players could portray members of a race or class that is subject to Eugenics. This might add a sinister twist and more urgency to the old “You are slaves/prisoners and need to escape” plot.
- For a good twist on Eugenics, see the computer game Mass Effects: There, the Kroogan (reptilian aliens) were hit by a genetically engineered plague that reduced fertility of their females radically, saving not only the Milky Way galaxy from being overrun, but also stopped the Krogan from constantly warring amongs each other due to population pressure.
At any rate, Eugenics – and human experimentation – provide a good motivation for players, or a complication to any other adventure.
The header image for this post is a 1930s propaganda poster, copyright claimed by the Wellcome Library. Used under CC-BY-SA.