Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Psi Wars: A Technological Setting Part 2 -- General Considerations

Last time, we looked at how hyperspace travel might work, and thus shape the universe in which the heroes of Psi Wars live.  Now we'll take a look at how technology shapes the rest of the infrastructure of the Psi Wars universe.  Specifically, we'll look at the larger picture: Industry, agriculture, trade, medicine.

While an action-oriented game like Psi Wars might not spend a great deal of time on, say, farming, the details of day-to-day life certainly inform a typical action adventure.  In a GURPS Action game, terrorists might take over an oil refinery, and the heroes' government might send them in to take care of the problem.  The players would intuitively understand why an oil refinery might be something of national interest, even if the specifics of global oil trade aren't interesting to the players. We need to understand how the world of Psi Wars works, so that we can create similarly believable and consistent adventures and descriptions, and we need to inform the players, so that they understand the context of their actions.

However, too much detail will bog down play.  Psi Wars demands dynamic action, not slow exploration of sci-fi concepts.  We don't want to ask our players to do homework to understand our setting, and so less is more.  Our setting should resemble the real world (or, really, the world of the 1930s), only with cooler, more advanced technology.

This entry will discuss the core technologies of power generation, computers, industry, agriculture, medicine, security and transportation.

Power Generation

GURPS Ultra-Tech offers an eclectic variety of advanced power generation: Advanced fission, fusion, solar power, anti-matter, and three varieties of power cells: standard, super-science, and cosmic.

Fission is too retro and dangerous for a rather cavalier setting like Psi Wars, and solar power doesn't fit either.  Anti-matter could work, but suggests very volatile and explosive technology, and I would prefer that ships in Psi Wars don't dramatically explode, but instead crash into planets and remain there, slowly decaying as a reminder of older, better times.  That leaves fusion power.  As for power cells, cosmic cells or power tends to create dramatically powerful "god tech" where the power of a warrior is defined by his weapon and defense.  Star Trek is a good example, where a man with a disintegrator trumps pretty much everyone else.  As Psi Wars is focused on people first, this sort of technology is too powerful.  We'll settle on super-science cells instead: Lasting 5 times longer than usual, this lets us hand-wave away the need to track batteries.

Remember, though, our decision from the FTL-section: Hyperspace travel requires a special, refined "hyperspace fuel" that must be mined from planets.  Some planets will be richer in the stuff than others.


Star Wars comes from an older era of sci-fi, before the transistor and before cyberpunk, and thus its computers are large, dumb things that act as slightly intelligent controls rather than clever tools that can be configured to do nearly anything. Thus, hacking into a computer allows one to open and close doors, view camera feeds, shut down tractor beams and so on and might allow one to call up space station plans or star charts, but they don't feature AI, or complex hacking rules, nor do characters carry around portable laptops of hacking "decks."

Psi Wars, of course, does have AI in the form of robots.  These act more like characters, though, than advanced machines that can download themselves into a variety of bodies.  We'll tackle this more in a later section, as robots deserve considerable attention.

Agriculture and Industry

TL 11^ certainly allows for food vats and biofabricators and wet-nano, but we want none of this.  Our players are familiar with a romantic image of farmers who till the soil and slaughter cattle and carefully watch the sky, worrying about storms and whether they'll make enough money this season to make their mortgage payment.  We want to provide them with this version of agriculture, except we replace spare farm hands with farm-bots, and we have plump, spotted alien-cows that give blue milk.  It also means that grassy, temperate planets can serve, logically, as breadbaskets for the rest of the galaxy.  It also means that ships need to carry meal packs to feed their crew, rather than relying on food vats to come up with food for them.

Naturally, TL 11 agriculture is superior to TL 6-7 agriculture: They have genetically engineered crops that are remarkably resistant to diseases and tolerant of alien soils.  Farmer-bots mean that a family can handle far more land at TL 11 than they could at TL 6-7.  Nonetheless, it visually and thematically resembles early 20th century farming.

Factory City by Gulavisual

Industry also looks like TL 6-7 industry "only better."  No nanofacs exist.  Instead, most factories are robotic production lines, supported by fabricators and robofacs for prototyping parts (see UT 90).  This makes a certain amount of sense: A production line is more efficient than a robofac for a specific product: if you want to produce a million Typhoon-class deep space fighters, then a production line is the cheapest way to do that!  Robofacs and fabricators limit themselves to producing a variety of small-scale components which the production line assembles into the final product.

The factories are highly automated, but not completely automated.  We can see humanoids and humanoid robots working on the line, inspecting parts, repairing machines, or even tackling some of the more complex production line elements directly.  The spacious designs of automated factories like this allow us to use them as a backdrop for dramatic battles, of course.

The deep capital investment of factories (which have specific purposes) means that we have shipyards and arms factories etc, typically owned or controlled by capitalists or other powerful individuals.  These would prove prime targets for military attack or sabotage.

Resources and Trade

Lacking replicators, nanofacs or biofabricators, the civilizations of psi-wars need to farm and mine for raw resources, and rapid and cheap FTL travel means that worlds that have an abundance of a particular resource can trade another world for resources that they need.  You can get an idea of what sorts of resources worlds might trade by looking at elemental rarity tables, such as this one from wikipedia. Other ideas include unobtanium, like "stardrive fuel" (see the FTL entry), monopoles that might be necessary for advanced fusion engines or contragravity devices, strange psi-enhancing crystals, or biological components such as the core ingredient for anti-aging drugs, exotic poisons or powerful medicines.

Large Scale Technologies

Psi Wars features both contragravity and artificial gravity, including gravity plating (UT 78).  It also has pressor technology, which it uses to create "hover cars" and speeder bikes (See UT 230).  Contragravity is sufficiently economical so as to allow floating "cloud cities" (UT 72).  Materials technology is strong enough to allow domed cities (UT 71, or UT 72 for a force screen version), though be cautious about including those.  They imply a hostile environment that would require a vacc suit to endure, but most Star Wars adventures take place in environments where even airmasks aren't required.
Jupiter Assault by Pangeawizard

Psi Wars is sufficiently advanced "Fast Martian Terraforming" or "Venusian Terraforming", both on UT 78.  The former takes 1000 years, while the latter takes 1500 years.  In practice, this might explain why so many planets in the galaxy are so hospitable, particularly if interstellar civilizations are particularly old.  

Psi Wars is advanced enough to make space colonies too, but we should avoid those as well: Psi Wars is set primarily on planets.  We have space stations, but few people really live in space, or even need to.  Psi Wars also doesn't do much Industrial Megaprojects outside of ridiculously overwrought weapons: No dyson shells, no planetary brains, no starmaking.  They might move or create blackholes as a part of a terrible super-weapon, and they might do some kind of hyperspace manipulation to create artificial "lanes" between two systems, like a canal.  Perhaps they can create artificial wormholes at great expense.  Most such creations, especially things like planetary brains, should be ancient and mysterious, things for players to explore, from a greater, grander older time.  Weather satellites, however, are common, especially on core worlds.

Medical Technology

Psi-Wars uses the normal rules for TL 11 medicine (See B424-425), but is otherwise conservative in its use of the technologies in ultra tech.  Doctors regularly use Medscanners (UT200) to diagnose patients, pnuemohypos (UT199) to inject drugs, plasti-skin bandages (UT 198) to cover wounds, Neural Inhibitors (UT201) in place of anaesthesia, and Nanostasis (UT200) to keep a patient on ice for long periods of time.  We should also consider the use of automeds (UT196), as most default ships in GURPS Spaceships have them.  Doctors have access to all non-nano drugs on UT 205.  Also, consider Insenium (Bio 159) as a controlled substance, to allow certain elites, like galactic emperors, to live for hundreds of years, and to require biological unobtanium ("the spice must flow!") that can be fought over.  

Psi-Wars does not use any regeneration technology: If it had that, it wouldn't need cybernetics!  Similarly, it does not have cloning or advanced genetic engineering.  While Star Wars certainly has cloning, cheap clones would remove the need for robots, and as that I want robots, cloning is out of the picture.

For cybernetics, use the standard TL 9 rules, and allow Bionic Arms, Hands, Ears, Eyes (including Thermal imaging eyes), vital organs, or voicebox. Characters who already have cybernetic limbs may upgrade them with weapon mounts or claws.
Burning Suns Medical Droid by Ellixus

Security Technology

We've already touched on this in Iteration 2.  Conspirators will regularly switch on privacy fields (UT105) to protect their conversations.  The space patrol and security agencies use verifier software (UT 106) during interrogations.  Security forces secure their prisoners with electronic cuffs (UT107) or, if vicious, neuronic restraints (UT 108) with the agony option, while they'll use power damper collars (UT 109) on those with psionic powers. Surveillance Sensors (UT104) usually mount IR Cameras (UT 60) or small Ultrascanners (UT 66), which are equally adept at sensing people (bioscans) as they are droids.  Areas are typically fenced off with Force Wards (193) or Force Screens (191), but sensor fences (UT 102), razor fences (UT 102), X-ray laser fences in an open configuration (UT 101) aren't unheard of. The sadistic might install neural disruption fields (UT 103) set to Agony to dissuade any repeated attempts at gaining entrance to a particular facility.  Electronic Locks (UT 102) and Biometric Scanlocks (UT 104) secure doors, and security forces use ultrascanner portals (UT 104) to check for contraband.

Character Considerations

The core infrastructure of our worlds definitely shapes characters too.


Animal Handling (Alien type): Many of the weird critters of Psi Wars have their own animal handling skill; typically had by farmers.
Armoury (Force Screens): Repairs damaged Force Wards and Force Screens
Computer Operation: For using a computer in a complex or unexpected way, or repairing computer software.
Computer Hacking: Breaking past a computer security system.
Computer Programming: Don't worry about this skill.
Electronics Operation (Medical): For using medscanners, neural inhibitors and nanostasis, especially under unusual circumstances.
Electronics Operation(Sensors): For operating an ultrascanner or ultra-scan portals under taxing circumstances (for example, attempting to penetrate some kind of interference). Ultra-scan portals normally just benefit Search rolls.
Electronics Operation(Surveillance): For operating surveillance cameras under taxing circumstances(for example, spotting someone trying to sneak past one)
Electronics Repair (Medical): For repairing, improvising or sabotaging any medical equipment.
Electronics Repair (Security): For repairing, improvising or sabotaging biometric scanlocks, electronic cuffs, electronic locks, neuronic restraints, power damper collars, sensor feces, razor fences and x-ray laser fences.
Electronics Repair (Sensors): For repairing, improvising or sabotaging ultrascanners.
Electronics Repair (Surveillance): For repairing, improvising or sabotaging surveillance cameras.
Engineer (Civil): Is to factories and infrastructure what Architecture is to buildings and Engineer (Starship) is to starships: This will inform you about the structure of a planet's industrial architecture, and insight into how best to break into, or destroy, an automated factory.  It also gives you insight into what such a factory might be used for.  Furthermore, you may use it for understanding industrial megastructures like flying cities, domed colonies, space stations, dyson shells, etc. It grants insight into things like life-support systems, vast antigravity machines, and so on. 
Farming: I suppose if we're going to have farmers as a central element of the setting, we'll need some kind of Farming skill.  Let's treat this like Naturalist: It acts as a complementary skill for socializing with farmers, for camouflage, stealth or traps in farmland, and for repair, improvisation or understanding of farm equipment.
Machinist: Using fabricators to create parts.
Mechanic (Robotics): Will let you know how to repair (or sabotage!) a fabricator or automated factory.
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