Monday, May 14, 2018

Designing an Ultra-Tech Framework

Given my blog’s focus on GURPS sci-fi, I often find myself fielding a lot of questions, especially about Ultra-Tech. I often see criticisms leveled against it that it is the most flawed GURPS book, apart from (perhaps) Magic. While I do not wish to argue for or against this point, I do understand where and how people can find it frustrating. So what I want to do with this post is get to the heart of what I think Ultra-Tech is and what it isn’t. I want to discuss how I use it, and how I recommend you use it too, if you want to get the most out of it, and if you want to understand how GURPS really works, especially when it comes to sci-fi.

I think the biggest problem with GURPS Ultra-Tech stems from the fact that people try to treat it as a catalog when it is better understood as a world-building tool. I see many people try to use Ultra-Tech in a similar manner to how they might use GURPS High-Tech; For example, if you can dig through High-Tech to find that one highly specific gun you want, y ou should be able to do the same in Ultra-Tech, right? Only what they find in Ultra-Tech is, at best, very generic ("Blaster Rifle"), and at worst, potentially profoundly unbalanced. However, GURPS Ultra-Tech dedicates a considerable volume of its pages not to gear that characters could carry around, but to concepts and megastructures, like terraforming projects, cryptography and even playable robots. These certainly impact characters, but they can often be better understood as things that exist in the world with them better than things they carry in their pocket (Incidentally, this is true of High Tech and Low-Tech too, especially when you combine the latter with its companions). Ultra-Tech itself takes this stance, as you can see from the introduction where it discusses how to use the book, including different technological frameworks, different development cycles and gadget control.

My approach with Ultra-Tech has always to take it as a guidebook of inspiration and ideas. Consider, for a moment, if you were to throw up your hands over GURPS, and step over to another system of your choice for your sci-fi epic, such as Fate, World of Darkness or D20. In what sort of book would you look for ideas about your sci-fi game? You might dig through Atomic Rockets or a wiki on a setting you wished to convert, but personally, I'd just pick up Ultra-Tech again, not because I intended to directly use its mechanics, but because those mechanics act like benchmarks, and the discussions in the book offer inspiration. The point of Ultra-Tech, then, is to inform your sci-fi game. The rest, alas, must be done by you.

Just how much work this actually requires can vary from "Just create a list of appropriate technologies" to "How good are you with algebra?"

This will be a short-running series over the next couple of weeks.  Patrons ($1+) gain immediate access to, and in two weeks from this posting date, the full document will be publicly available to everyone.  You can find it (patron and patient reader a like) here.

Building a Technological Framework

What we’re actually trying to do here is to build a technological framework, which combines both the narrative “fluff” of our setting with the available gameplay mechanics of our campaign. The fact that both combine is where campaigns often go very awry. On the one hand, you want a tightly balanced set of technological gear to choose from (but GURPS Ultra-Tech only offers generic material, for the most part), and on the other hand and on a completely unrelated note, you want the game to take place in a sci-fi setting, but these two things interact. If you include cheap robots in your space-flavored dungeon crawler for flavor (“The local bartender is a robot; there’s a robot junker down the street”) then players might start to do something like purchasing robots as minions. Alternatively, if you include cheap quickheal salves meant to get your space dungeon crawlers back on their feet, but you want to depict a world full of suffering, it’s hard to line these two up, because the heroes can just hand out buckets of quickheal salve to get all those poor orphans and ragamuffins healthy again. The point here is that the fluff you include can negatively impact the gameplay you’re trying to create, or vice versa, if you don’t consider all the implications. To do this, I see most people combing through the whole book, asking lots of questions on forums, struggling with the book and often giving up.

Let’s see if we can make this easier for you. To do this, let’s break this down into steps, as follows:

  1. Built a technological catalog in layers, starting with the least consequential technologies first and work your way up to the most consequential technologies (“Conservation of Miracles”) (Part 1 and Part 2)

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