Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tech Sense

I always had a love hate relationship with Traveller's Tech Level System. I loved the simplicity of the system, hated the way it seemed to stagnate and not allow the really wild stuff to be reachable by any known cultures.

I also felt that it far too broadband for every world. Some smart ass somewhere was going to get off world tech and figure out how to copy it with local means. I drew inspiration from all those Third World metalsmiths dutifully making machine pistols and more by hand. In my own products I introduced Zaonia where they found a way to generate antigravity fields with vacuum tube technology.

But anyway, I am always looking for alternate ways to portray technology levels. One of the more interesting variations was on The Unwanted Blog (thanks to William Black for pointing this out to me.) Instead of listing levels by number they characterize technology by when it will be available (roughly). You have five categories: Now, Real Soon, On the Horizon, Beyond the Horizon, and Magic.

Note this refers to present day Earth. Also note that some of these estimates were way off. Fusion power. for example, was going to be developed real soon for a real long time. Then again present day earth is a familiar reference for most players (mine at least. If you have off world players cool!)

If you were sticking Star Trek style gear on this scale it might look something like this:

Series
Star Trek: TOS
Now

Real Soon

+1
On the Horizon

+2
Beyond the Horizon
+3
Magic


+4
Present

Tricorder
Spray hypos
Warp Drive Transporter

We've almost got Tricorders now. Ours aren't as versatile. On the other hand our communicators let you take pictures. Take that Starfleet!

Spray hypos are almost doable now. You need a ballsy air compressor and battery and probably some new materials but we could have them very soon.

Warp drive is a theory now (or several that people bicker over). Will we live to see something like it? Probably not.

Transporters (the way Trek characterizes them) are magic. There are many physical laws that indicate they should be impossible. Teleporting a person is something we could barely comprehend.

Seen another way:

If an item is +1 tech level above you you could fix it and probably build your own version. It would cost more, possibly do less and be heavier or clumsier.

If an item is +2 tech levels above you then you could possibly repair it. If you copied it the prototype would be operable under lab conditions and not be portable (if it was before.)

Items +3 tech levels above you are not going to be copied anytime soon. Their secondary systems might spark several revolutions in your development. For example our warp drive's intercoolers might show the way to more efficient heat dispersal methods.

Magic items are just that. They work according to principles that either defy what you understand of the Universe or have not discovered yet.

Unobtainium -unobtainium is a material we can't make or acquire yet (look at the name). Generally speaking things beyond  the horizon use unobtainium, for example our warp drive uses antimatter (okay we can't get appreciable amounts of antimatter but we can make pico-amounts).

Handwavium -is a material or energy that thumbs the nose at physics as we understand it. We can get none of this stuff and it may not even exist. The transporter uses phased matter (whatever that is) to teleport its guests. It's almost required for magic devices.

So a planet at a Victorian level of technology might deal with energy generation the following way:

GenresNow

Real Soon



+1
On the Horizon

+2
Beyond the Horizon
+3
Magic


+4
Vic-Fic
Coal/ Steam Power/DC Current
Internal
Combustion/
AC Current
Radio-activity/
X-rays 
Photo Electric CellsFission/
Fusion

the way it works in your setting is that you choose what the 'average' or default level of technology is on your setting. Generally the military, Ginormo Corp, and other elite organizations will have access to technology that will be available to civilians real soon. Mad scientists, who have little qualm about unsafe working conditions, human testing and the number of chromosomes their offspring will have could produce things on or beyond the horizon. or such things might be possible with unobtainium. They could use handwavium to allow magic items (ensuring their rarity). Alien gizmos are often 'magic'. No one has ever found an alien ATM or an 8-track tape player in an SF story I've read.

The scale can be as specific or general as you want at different stages of world building. A backward planet's space travel development might be listed like this:


GenresNow

Real Soon



+1
On the Horizon

+2
Beyond the Horizon
+3
Magic


+4
MTU - Space Travel
The planets
Nearer stars
The Local Bubble
The Orion ArmThe Galaxy


More on this next time.

Monday, February 26, 2018

You Can Run But You Can't Hyde

Nothing would have come of the doctor's formula. Nothing should have come of it except a friend, another man of science, felt it had to have some use. Perhaps he was right. The doctor's notebooks were brought to the Ministry of Defense in the darkest of hours.

The Frankenstein Monster was spreading havoc and fear across Europe. The Japanese had seized the work of the other great doctor and were creating man-animal hybrids. Success in the Allied Electric Trooper Program and the Unseen Agent Project continued to elude discovery.

Avatine was described in the lab book as unlocking a person's inner self, of providing clarity of purpose and resolve. Unfortunately the doctor used it on himself and he was a repressed and bitter basket case. The inner self he unlocked was a violent sociopath who committed murder, robbery and possibly forced the fate worse than death on some poor women.

Therapists and psychoanalysts were set to find people without inner demons, or at least only run f the mill ones. The drug was tested, refined, tested again. The results were amazing but most were quietly shipped off to duty in distant areas and forgotten.  A winning combination of chemical refinement and hypnosis created the first successes in the Avatar program. A reaction with testosterone was the key to most of the subject's violent mood swings and explosive temper. With the refinements and female subjects the first test subject was used in a Commando operation and pronounced a success.

They jokingly referred to her as Lady Hyde and the name stuck.

Avatar agents are mostly women. The drug they take unlocks their 'inner self'. Mentally they possess a certain clarity, decisiveness, and are without fear. Physically the drug gives them increased strength, agility, and durability. Physically they grow several inches under the drug and gain an athletic, mesomorphic body type. The drug also gives them an intangible allure.

Male subjects who took Avatine experienced the same mental benefits but also soon developed explosive tempers and were prone to violent outbursts. Physically they benefited from bursts of strength (due to increased adrenal action) but became shorter (actually slightly hunched), stockier, and hairier (almost bestial) causing them to develop an air of menace. Many men also become addicted to the drug or worse stuck in their transformed state.

Personnel using Avatine are incapacitated for 5 rounds as they change. After changing they receive a +1 to all attacks and damage with melee weapons. Their forceful natures give them (and their group) a +1 to initiative rolls. In addition they do not have to roll against their level when exposed to horrifying scenes or run of the mill carnage.

Men and women both can force opponents to make a ST vs. Surprise. In the case of the men they are frightening their enemies and in the case of women they are using their bewitching good looks. Male agents have to make an ST when confronted with a frustrating situation (like being pinned down by a sniper or machine-gun fire).

The effects of Avatine last six hours (plus the taker's Constitution modifier).

Avatine was refined and developed further after the British turned research over to the USA. The Americans managed to create an antidote. their screening process for agents was not as stringent as the British program and they insisted on using men. Some disappointing results caused them to put it on a back burner while they worked on their Electric Trooper project. It did create several situations to keep American mystery men busy on the Homefront for years.

Later in the war the long term effects of the drug were noticed. In game terms a person using Avatine get no experience for that mission. The length of a mission is up to the referee. Their Avatar gets the experience. This means the Avatar will go up in experience level while the default character has their advancement slowed or even stopped. When the Avatar has double the experience level of the default character things get surreal. The character must make a saving throw every mission or time of stress to avoid taking the drug. This is at -1 for each level the Avatar is above the character. In addition 1 point of strength is added to the Avatar's stats but subtracted from the default character's strength for each level above the default character's level.

Some agents taking the drug had their default physical forms reduced in stature becoming shorter,  thinner, and weaker as they take more and more of the drug. This led to some interesting tactics as operatives used the Avatine for an undercover mission and then reverted to a smaller less imposing form to throw off pursuit.

An antidote to Avatine was developed. It will end the effects of a does in 1-6 rounds. The agent taking the antidote is incapacitated for that time. They will be unable to use Avatine for one day afterwards. Taking Avatine before then will result in 1d6 damage and incapacitate the agent for 1-6 hours with excruciating pain. The antidote was one way to treat agents addicted to the drug. Even if the agent uses the antidote they still forfeit their experience to the Avatar for that mission.

After the War Avatine fell into disuse as other enhancement techniques were developed. It became a tool of Third World dictators eager for any superhuman to boost their image.