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.