Saturday, June 9, 2018

Psi-Wars Power Technology

As discussed last month, I wanted to dive into the Psi-Wars technological infrastructure in greater detail, carefully defining how everything works.  Today, I have power technology.  There's a companion post on Patreon for all $3+ patrons, which goes into making this technology compatible with GURPS Vehicles, looks at the values behind the technology and the design process I used to come to those conclusions, and then looks at some additional technology that I don't discuss here (technology unique to artifacts or ancient civilizations).  So if you're a patron, check it out!

Power Technology

Like most advanced societies, most of the Psi-Wars galaxy runs on electrical power (though a few ancient civilizations ran on psionic power!). Power generators create this electricity, which is transported along cables, and then used to power everything from small appliances to towering industrial infrastructure. However, the power technology of Psi-Wars has advanced to include fusion reactors, advanced power cells, and high efficiency energy transportation technology.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Ultra-Tech Framework Post-Script and Comments

I wrote my Ultra-Tech Framework articles with a couple of readers/patrons in mind, who often had questions about how I put together my own technology frameworks in my campaigns, so I thought it might be nice to loosely document how I handled it.  It is, of course, more art than science, and I could do an entire series on game design elements, but I hoped it was useful.

Given that it might be useful to them, it might be useful to you as well, dear reader, so I thought it might be nice to make it generally available, and I was right!  It seems quite well received, and it generated quite some discussion.  I wanted to tackle, broadly, some of the comments and questions I received over the course of the series.  All the questions are paraphrased, because I received many of them on Discord, and I didn't save them at the time, thus they are remembered, rather than directly quoted.  Apologies if this makes some inaccurate.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 5 - Putting it All Together

Once you’ve created your technological framework, you need to get it into your players’ hands. Players will interact and learn about your framework via a setting description, a gear catalog or alternate rules; optionally, they might use it during character creation (but we can treat this as a gear catalog).

Setting description is typically the most key point, as it will occur for any and all sci-fi settings, whether or not the players even have access to a gear-list. Typically, Familiar-Tech is not worth mentioning at all; it should be implied in the basic premise of “Like X but in the future.” The exception to this is Weird Safe-Tech; you don’t need to be very explicit about it, but painting the technology’s differences helps. Convenience-Tech and Standard Issue Sci-Fi Tech also doesn’t need a great deal of discussion, at least not in the setting description, as they are meant to be familiar or to simply remove problems. These tend to come across nicely in the broader descriptions of the setting itself. In short, unless it drastically changes how the characters interact with the setting beyond default assumptions, it doesn’t need to be stated outright; it can be implied instead.

Miracle-Tech definitely needs a discussion and should be set aside and highlighted. These are the technologies that largely make the setting. You should also discuss whatever limitations are in place, or any variant rules you’re using, or how people see that technology. This can and should be fairly explicit.

When it comes to a gear catalog, preface it with any sweeping mechanical changes, including the base TL, the effectiveness of power cells, special rules for handling computer programs, etc. The gear catalog, after that, should tackle only the things that matter to your game, typically things that the players will want to get for their characters. This can be as detailed as you want, and may be divided up into different markets (“This technology is available only to Alphan players; this technology is available to everyone, but Betans get a 10% discount”) and sections. Use GURPS Dungeon Fantasy or GURPS Action as a guideline.

If your campaign framework revolves around something innovative or requires substantial changes to the rules, make sure those rules are available to the players. For example, if you have detailed hacking rules, players should be able to access those so they know what it is that they need to buy.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 4 - Customize your Technology

Once we know what our baseline technology is, we can further tailor our gadgets to our setting. GURPS Ultra-Tech offers us only the most generic material. It will offer you a grav car, but not a grav ferrari or grav pinto; it’ll offer a heavy blaster and a light blaster, but not a Deagle Blaster or a 38 Special blaster. If we want more detail than “car” and “gun,” we’ll have to make it ourselves.

This step is not strictly necessary. In some cases, baseline technology is enough. Consider, for example, a high school drama set in the future: generic technology would be sufficient for capturing the futuristic feel of the game, and you could even inject some Miracle-Tech to force your high school students to wrestle with their changing world. They live in a world where “gun” and “car” is good enough.

But we’ll often find ourselves in a situation where we want more nuance to our technology. This may be because the technology in GURPS ultra-tech doesn’t quite offer what we want. A common example of this might be a desire for a specific model of robot that doesn’t exist in the book. More commonly, we’re fine with the technological principles as outlined in GURPS Ultra-Tech but we want to offer more variety, especially when it comes to our core activity. For example if our game is about space soldiers killing aliens, we might want to offer players numerous guns to choose from and we might want to make the various aliens they fight feel distinct and original.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 3 - Choosing Available Technology (Part 2: Miraculous Technology)

One way to classify SF worlds is to consider what technological miracles are inherent to the setting or story. In this context, we can think of a “miracle” as some area of technology that has a significant effect on the environment in which adventures take place. A technological miracle defines a significant difference between the fictional setting and the real world familiar to the reader or player. – GURPS Space page 29; A Taxonomy of Miracles
The previous sections may make it sound like one should avoid any technology with broader implications at all costs. This is not so! You should, however, only introduce the setting-altering technologies that you wish to introduce, and ensure that all other technologies don’t interfere with them. In fact, “Miracle-Tech” is often the most interesting part of your setting.

Now, to be clear, you don’t need “Miracle-Tech.” Much sci-fi out there uses space tropes as an excuse for exploring exotic things, much as fantasy uses magic for the same purpose. If you want your hero to rescue a blue-skinned space-babe from a tentacled monstrosity, it’s a little more believable if it’s set on the moon of a dying Jovian world than it is if it’s set in the modern world, but that doesn’t mean it must have transformative technologies and tackle deeper philosophical implications unless you want it to. If not, then use the previously mentioned technologies as advised to create a familiar setting without worrying about exotic technologies.

But if you want Miracle-Tech that provokes thought and exploration, the first thing to realize is that nearly any technology can be miracle tech. For example, even if we set aside the qualitative differences TL 12 medicine might have and just look at the quantitative differences of a TL 12 physician’s kit, imagine the sweeping implications if modern doctors could treat five times as many patients five times as effectively? That alone would mean many more lives saved and an absolute improvement on standard of living. Most of the work I’ve done in the past there sections is about downplaying the potentially transformative nature of technology. Here, we do the opposite and play it up. The best candidates, however, tend to be fairly obvious. Anything where I tell you to be careful of the broader implications is a great candidate for transformative technology.

The next question is, of course, how much Miracle-tech, and this is entirely up to you and your setting. You must understand, first and foremost, the mental cost of such a setting, and try to understand your target audience. For some groups, the crazier the better: they want to explore every facet of future technologies and how different and weird the world could be in the future. For others, the weirder the worse, and they’ll react with hostility to things that take them too far from their comfort zone. You’ll have to tailor to what your group can handle. One word of caution on excessive miracle-tech: the weirder your setting, the harder it is for your group to relate or to know what to do. A poster child for this sort of game is Transhuman Space, and the most common criticism made about the setting is “What do I do with it?” You’ll need to double down on your core activity and focus your players attention on it, so they have a starting point from which to jump into the setting. This can require a lot of work on your part as you carefully spoon feed the weird to your players in bite-size pieces until they fully grasp the setting and its implications. If done correctly, though, it can be an exceptionally rewarding experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 3 - Choose Available Technology (Part 1: Familiar, Convenience and Standard Sci-Fi)

Unrestricted tech can be challenging for the GM, especially at TL11 and TL12, due to the enormous range of possibilities and the array of resources it provides to adventurers –GURPS Ultra-Tech, “Unlimited Technology,” page 9
Once you’ve settled on your starting point, your technological “concept stage,” it’s time to move on to choosing what technology is available to us. I highly recommend against using all possible technology, in part because of the above quote, but also because it makes a setting very difficult to differentiate, as most people will naturally gravitate towards “the best” technologies they can find for a specific thing. It’s also difficult because even if you manage to work out all the implications of every technology in the Ultra-Tech book for a given tech-level, your players will have a very difficult time “getting into” your setting.

At its most conservative, science fiction invokes as few miracles as possible. - GURPS Space page 29
While we tend to think of sci-fi as about being “exotic” and chock full of wondrous technologies (“miracles,”) most effective sci-fi limits the number of truly unusual technologies or truly strange societal changes. Altered Carbon mostly focuses on sleeving technology with almost everything else readily recognizable by a modern audience; Asimov’s robot stories are essentially set in the “modern” 1950s but with intelligent robots. Even when we have a host of technological advances, most of them are stand-ins for readily recognizable technologies: Star Wars has blasters and lightsabers and droids and hyperspace travel, but it’s mostly just WW2 in space with mystical space samurai; Star Trek has numerous, highly advanced technologies, but borrows heavily from the naval traditions and American culture of the 1960s, and wields the technology in a familiar fashion.

Every setting element you add to your game has a “mental cost,” an amount of effort necessary for your players to expend to “get” the setting. It also has a “learning curve,” the speed at which they must expend mental effort to learn everything. By reducing complexity to just a few “miracles,” we can reduce mental load and focus audience attention to only those technologies that we care about. Similarly, if we “disguise” technology in a familiar form, then our audience can wait to learn more about them (a phaser is not a gun and can do a lot of things that a gun cannot, but you can think of it as a gun, and that’s helpful for getting up to speed on the setting).

So it behooves us when thinking about our setting to decide on what the general feel of the game will be, and then what technologies we want to highlight and explore. Any technology that is not a highlighted one should be made as simple and intuitive as possible. We have several methods of doing that. We can break these methods into broad categories: Familiar technology, Advanced Technology, Standard Issue Sci-Fi technology, and Miracle-Tech. These methods are not choices of approach to take; think of them rather as layers that build atop one another, like layering paint: first you lay down your foundation, and then you more sparingly apply the more unusual and distinct levels atop it as necessary.

The following section will list appropriate technologies for the approach. This is meant to be a sampling, rather than an exhaustive list. I also don’t touch on weapon or armor technology, not because you can’t treat it this way, but because few campaigns do, and if yours does, you can simply apply the same principles below.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Ultra-Tech Frameworks: Step 2 - Choose a Tech Level

The tech levels of the various items in this book should be treated simply as guidelines – a culture may develop some technologies more rapidly than others. --GURPS Ultra-Tech, page 8
The first step most people take when designing a sci-fi setting is to choose an appropriate tech-level. This is fine, but the first thing you must understand is that tech level is only a starting point, at best a loose guideline. You should not treat tech-level as an absolute. The point of tech level is not to define what is available and what isn't, but to describe what is generally available. This, by the way, is true of all TLs. American TL 8 is not really the same as Nigerian TL 8, and Chinese TL 3 is definitely not the same as British TL 3. Even works like Dungeon Fantasy or Action don't precisely hit a single TL: DF is better understood as TL 4 "but without guns," and Action is often "TL 8 but with a sprinkling of select TL 9 super-gadgets." If I say that a setting belongs to a particular TL, it already tells you a lot, but there's a lot it doesn't tell you.

Furthermore, all tech levels assigned to ultra-tech gadgets is ultimately arbitrary. Just because a setting is pegged at a particular TL doesn’t mean it has access to all technology of that TL, or that it has no access to higher TL technology. GURPS explicitly discusses alternate development paths and advocates breaking down TL into categories. Personally, working with split tech-levels is less important than understanding that tech-level is really just setting a baseline of expectations and pointing you in a particular direction. This is especially true of Super-Science technology, as there is no physical basis for them anyway, so you can declare them to be available when and if you want. This is explicitly true of super-science power cells, cosmic power-cells and most psychotronics, but all the tech levels of super-science gadgets in Ultra-Tech are definitely just suggestions.

So, given that all future tech-levels are ultimately arbitrary, the authors of GURPS Ultra-Tech seem to have chosen particular themes around which to wrap the idea of tech levels, guesses at how advanced and strange a society would have to be to gain access to a tech level. If we’re going to use tech levels, it behooves us, then, to understand what the assumptions behind a given TL is. GURPS Ultra-Tech lays this out for us starting on page 6, but allow me to approach them with more explicit themes in mind.

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