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.

Familiar Tech

Without advances in these areas, tomorrow’s people won’t be much different from today’s, except for the quality of their technological toys. This sort of background is popular in supers and science-fiction settings, especially those rooted in the 1960s-1970s. If combined with a hard science path, it may even be realistic! – GURPS Ultra-Tech, page 10, “Safe-Tech”
The simplest way to handle advanced technology is to treat it as modern technology, “only better.” When characters get up in the morning, they step into the Shower of the Future, and then get into their Car of the Future, and then go to their Work of the Future, and then if they get hurt, perhaps by a Gun of the Future, they to go the Hospital of the Future, etc. The idea here is that all technology is ultimately perfectly familiar, it has simply been refined and made more efficient, effective, and has more LEDs on it, plus an electric whine.

A lot of sci-fi fans might frown here, finding this to be “boring,” but the point here is to establish a baseline from which the players can springboard towards the interesting things. You can think of this as the general, uninteresting technologies of the setting. This is actually an exceptionally common strategy in sci-fi of all stripes: most sci-fi still depicts characters as driving cars, or wielding gun-shaped weapons that they keep in holsters, or using computers to file their reports (Foundation featured someone reading a newspaper before putting tossing it into an atomic disintegrator bin). They may feature really interesting technologies, but those are grounded in a surprisingly familiar world.

This isn’t even unrealistic. We’ve been using essentially the same internal combustion technology for over a hundred years for our cars; we may well keep the “gun shape” not because our weapon technology doesn’t change, but because it’s an ideal ergonomic shape for weaponry. Sometimes, technology can only get “so good” before it essentially stops improving; alternatively, if humans do not substantially change in the future, then the human condition itself can ensure that certain elements remain the same into the future.

The core proposition of Familiar Tech is that it offers no new benefits to the user. It might be lighter, cheaper or more efficient, but it is familiar (hence the name) to any modern character. A setting with nothing but this technology will feel like the modern world, albeit with more wealth and nicer stuff. This has added benefits in addition to the ease of player adjustment: it’s also easier on the GM, since he knows precisely what the characters can do: the same things that modern characters can do. There’s no need to worry about things like “How does privacy work in this setting?” or “How does one buy something?” or “Can you even commit crimes in this setting?” because if it works in the modern world, it works here.

Examples of this technology can include (but is not limited to):

  • Computers (non-AI; UT 22)

  • Attache Case (UT 38)

  • Cable Jack (UT 42)

  • IR Communicator (UT 43)

  • Laser Communicator (UT 44)

  • Radio Communicator (UT 44)

  • Sonar Communicator (UT 44)

  • Encryption (UT46-47)

  • Translator Programs (UT 47)

  • Planetary networks (UT 49)

  • Datachips (UT 51)

  • Data Banks (UT 51)

  • Digital Cameras (any; UT 51)

  • Media Players (any; UT 51)

  • Night Vision Optics (UT 60)

  • Infrared Imaging Sensors (UT 60)

  • Hyperspectral Imaging Sensors (UT 61)

  • Hydrophone (UT 62)

  • Sound Detector (UT 69)

  • LADAR (not small; UT 64)

  • Multi-mode Radar (not small UT 64)

  • Sonar (not small; UT 65)

  • Portable Laboratories (UT 66)

  • Wristwatch Rad Counter (UT 67)

  • Meal Pack (UT 73)

  • Flashlights (UT 74)

  • Glow Stick (UT 74)

  • GPS (UT 74)

  • Inertial Navigation (UT 74)

  • Envirobag (UT 75)

  • Power Tools (UT 81)

  • Rope (UT 81)

  • Tool Kits (UT 82)

  • Fire Extinguisher (UT 87)

  • Factory Production Line or Robotic Line (UT 89-90)

  • Electronic Lockpick (UT 95)

  • Variable Lockpick (UT 96)

  • Disguise Kit (UT 97)

  • Keyboard Bug (UT 100)

  • Armored Doors (UT 1010)

  • Electronic Locks (UT 192)

  • Safes and Vaults (UT 102)

  • Biometric Sanner (UT 104)

  • Comm Tap (UT 105)

  • Homing Beacon (UT 105)

  • Laser Microphone (UT 105)

  • Surveillance Worm (UT 105)

  • RF Bug Detector (UT 106)

  • Cufftape (UT 10&)

  • Electronic Cuffs (UT 107)

  • Antitoxin Kit (UT 196)

  • Disposable Hypo (UT 197)

  • Disposable Test Kit (UT 197)

  • ESU (UT 197)

  • First Aid Kits (UT 198)

  • HyMRI (UT 198)

  • Pneumohypo (UT 199)

  • Physician's Equipment (UT 199)

  • Surgical Equipment (UT 199)

All of these technologies exist in the modern world, though not all might be immediately familiar to the GM or the players. The only real difference with more advanced versions of these technologies is that they offer a modest improvement in efficiency (a TL 12 physician can deal with more people per day than a TL 8 physician; a TL 12 radio has 10x range that a TL 9 radio has, but otherwise works the same).

Some technologies are worth a very careful examination though. Computers, for example, should not be allowed to have any additional capabilities beyond what they have now (if you want them to remain “familiar tech”). A TL 9 mobile device is the equivalent of a modern desktop PC (or a vacuum tube driven mega computer) while a TL 9 desktop PC is equivalent to a powerful modern server. At TL 10, a mobile device is as powerful as a modern server while a desktop PC has the power of a modern megacomputer. By TL 12, a small, handheld device has the power of a modern megacomputer. These might sound like huge advances, but I can absolutely imagine what it would be like to have my desktop computer fit into my cellphone: it would game better and browse faster, and I might reasonably run virtual machines on it, but it would not be a life-changing upgrade. In fact, one might question the need to even have the equivalent of a megacomputer in a handheld phone if you’re running AI on it (modern examples of “AI” like siri typically run on big servers and then communicate their information to your handheld computers “thin client,” which means you can access megacomputer “AI” on a phone already. All a TL 12 device would let you do is carry a copy of a SIRI-like technology in your pocket).

Medical technology is often an issue as well, especially when one gets into drugs. The best way to handle it, if you want it to remain simple and familiar, is to treat it the way the generic GURPS book does: physicians can heal X hitpoints per day, and they can “treat problems.” If you get sick, they have appropriate medicines to fix it, and you needn’t worry about anything else. I wouldn’t even bother going through the drug list, but if you did, look at Bio-Techs list of modern medicines and take examples of medicine that look essentially the same, or simply make existing medicines a little better. if something offers +1 to a particular HT roll, consider improving it to add +1 per additional TL, so TL 12 penicillin adds +7 to recover from infection rather than +3; alternatively, they might remove or lessen side-effects: TL 12 aspirin is just aspirin that you can never overdose on and that will never make you sick.

Communication technologies typically get smaller and smaller and with more and more range, but otherwise work the same. Where a modern walkie-talkie, similar to those used by cops, weights 0.5 lbs and has 5 mile range, the TL equivalent might be a tiny thing that weighs 0.05 lbs and has a 10 mile range, but both are vulnerable to electrical interference and anyone on the same band can listen in on the conversation.

Basic tools are especially interesting as they essentially never change; it’s just that if you want to fix TL 12 technology, you need TL 12 tools, which happen to weigh and cost the same as TL 8 tools. So, a TL 12 mechanic has a belt as filled with as many tools as a TL 8 mechanic.

Using this approach alone makes for a surprisingly approachable, if somewhat boring, TL 12 setting.

Alternate Familiar Tech

I, Mark Phellius of the Independent Republic of New Samarkand, given the insult to my word and honor, demand satisfaction from Phi’kl’ataraph of the N’kan Empire by blood and blade. – Pyramid #3/55, Ultra-Tech Swashbuckling
One can look at the list above as “default choices” for their setting, but just because it appears in the list above doesn’t mean you have to take it, or that all sci-fi settings must use modern assumptions as their base. Many sci-fi settings (especially space opera) use other base assumptions: typical examples include WW2, the age of piracy, or medieval Europe. The approach here is essentially the same: take what are baseline technologies of that era and advance them. If a technology does not exist in the baseline, then it does not exist in the advanced version. You can think of them as TL X+Y, with standard Familiar Tech as TL 8+X (so TL 12 standard familiar tech is essentially TL 8+4)

For example, a TL 12 “Medieval Tech” would have TL 12 swords, TL 12 plate armor, TL 12 Esoteric Medicine, with forest witches using TL 12 herbalism as their excuse for creating especially deadly poisons or performance enhancing “potions.” If we accept the spyglass as a “medieval technology,” then characters might have exceptional optical devices with enormous amplification. If we accept the premise of “beacon towers” as a means of signaling, when we might have enormously powerful light towers that can project their signal for intercontinental or interplanetary distances. If we have compasses, we might accept inertial navigation systems. But if we feel that computers are “out of place” in a medieval setting, then we do not have computers in the setting, of any stripe.

Weird Safe-Tech

Many technological items listed in GURPS books could potentially be biogadgets. Mostly, it’s just a matter of changing their description – a strength-enhancing exoskeleton could be formed of living bones and muscle, a respirator might be a living creature that you breathe through, and a bug detector could resemble a snail with big antennae that hisses when it senses electromagnetic emissions. – GURPS Bio-Tech, page 95, Bio-Gadgets
One reason to play in a sci-fi setting is to play with unique “distancing mechanics.” We often want the setting to feel different, even if it doesn’t operate different. For example, instead of going into a familiar hospital with doctors and nurses, when Luke Skywalker is gravely injured, he goes into a bacta tank and is watched over by medical droids. This sort of approach can make your setting feel unfamiliar without allowing player characters access to unfamiliar levels of resources. It’s especially good for making an alien race feel alien (perhaps humans and aliens have the same level of technology, but humans use familiar metals and plastics to do familiar things, while aliens use icky carapaces and weird crystals to do familiar things).

GURPS Ultra-Tech is chock full of interesting technologies that, at the end of the day, fulfill a similar niche to other technologies, but are simply substantially weirder. The essential element here is that it should fill the same niches as technologies in the Familiar Tech, only operating in an unfamiliar way. Examples include (but are not limited to):

  • Cleaning Gel (UT 38)

  • Digital Shampoo (UT 38)

  • Bioplas Contact Lenses (UT 38)

  • Suitspray (especially Living Suitspray; UT 39)

  • Swarmwear (UT 40)

  • Clothing Belt (UT 40)

  • Scent Synthesizers (UT 52)

  • Sonic Projector (UT 52)

  • Chemsniffers (UT 61)

  • Sensor Gloves (UT 67)

  • Cleaning Swarm (UT 69)

  • Anti-grav Hammock (UT 70)

  • Firefly swarm (UT 74)

  • Smart Rope (UT 6)

  • Construction foam (UT 83)

  • Grav hammers (UT 84)

  • Gravitic Tools (UT 85)

  • Scent Masking (UT 100)

  • Security Swarm (UT 104)

  • Microbot Nanobug (UT 105)

  • Surveillance Swarm (UT 106)

  • Bughunter Swarm (UT 106)

  • Forensic Swarm (UT 107)

  • Paramedical Swarm (UT 201)

Psychotronics from GURPS Psi-Tech and Bio-Gadgets (BT 95) can also work like this. For example, instead of using radio, a psychic race might have psychotronic crystals that electrokinetically turn sounds into radiowaves, but it’s essentially the same as a radio, or instead of having a wristwatch rad counter, one has a small blobby creature that changes color in the presence of high radiation levels (sort of a canary in a coal mine). A swarm-based race might not pull out a forensics kit at a crime scene, but a forensic swarm, while another civilization might strap on a sensor glove and start carefully going over the entire scene with their “hands.” The effects in all cases are the same. We might also consider using alternate sorts of effects that closely mimic existing technology. For example, instead of using radio waves, we use gravity-ripple waves. This has the disadvantage in that interference with gravity waves is totally different than interference with radio waves, but the general principle is close enough that we might consider them the same, especially if we adjust their ranges or weights to be the same.

Convenience Tech

Where Familiar-Tech pulls unimportant technologies into the background, Convenience-Tech goes a step further and pulls entire problems or setting elements out of the picture. Convience-Tech is any technology that automatically solves a problem so that we no longer have to worry about it. It’s an especially popular element in a lot of cheap sci-fi, as it allows the writers to hand-wave away problems that don’t interest them. Why don’t we see characters in Star Wars or Star Trek swapping out their ammunition, and why don’t they seem to worry about logistic chains? Uh, because their power cells are like really good, anyway, back to shooting people! Pew pew!

Convenience tech often has the capability to enact major societal transformations. If you have a power cell that allows your blaster an effectively unlimited number of shots, for example, then you have the ultimate in energy portability! We could make extremely small, lightweight battery systems, or extremely reliable energy storage systems, making things like renewable energy far more effective. The economics of such a world is potentially very different. However, this is not the point of Convenience Tech. This isn’t to say you can’t explore the implications of one of these technologies, only that once you do, you’re no longer using it as convenience tech, and you should look at the Miracle Tech section below for discussions of how to treat it.

We use Convenience Tech to remove a potential problem, game-stopper, or inconvenience that we don’t want to deal with for whatever reason. The primary reason to do this is to focus attention on what you really want your game to be about. For example, if we want to have super-human androids in a police procedural to explore what it means to be human, super science power cells might explain why it can have super-human strength without running out of battery power in an hour, but you might not want to have a similar convenience tech for forensics, as that’s a major focus of the game. When choosing convenience tech, think about the things you don’t want the game to be about, and use technology to remove them from the equation.

Examples of such technology might include:

  • Super-science power-cells (UT 19)

  • Broadcast Power (UT 21)

  • Dedicated AI (UT 25)

  • Grooming Spray (UT 38)

  • Ultra-Tech Clothing Options (UT 38-39)

  • Universal Translator Program (UT 48)

  • Domestic Nanocleanser (UT 69) or Industrial Nanocleanser (UT 83)

  • Food Factory (UT 70) or Food Vats (UT 74)

  • Pressure Tent (UT 76)

  • Survival Watch (UT 77)

  • Air Tube (UT 77)

  • Gecko Adhesive (UT 83)

  • Morph Axe (UT 83)

  • Repair Nanopaste (UT 84)

  • Sonar Probe (UT 84)

  • Universal Tool (UT 85)

  • Any suitcase factory, but especially suitcase nanofac (UT 91)

  • EM Autograpnel (UT 96)

  • Gecko Gear (UT 96)

  • Document Fabricator (UT 96-97)

  • Programmable Wallet (UT 97)

  • Holopaper (UT 97)

  • Disguise Fabricator (UT 97)

  • Distortion Field/Distortion Chip (UT 99)

  • Programmable Camoflage (UT 99)

  • Remote Controlled Weapons (UT 102)

  • Surveillance Sensors (UT 104)

  • Nanobug (UT 105)

  • Multipsectral Bug Sweeper (UT 106)

  • Bug Stomper (UT 106)

  • Neural Veridicator (UT 107)

  • Automed (UT 196)

  • Bandage Spray (UT 197)

  • Biomonitor (UT 197)

  • Diagnostic Bed (UT 197)

  • Plasti-Skin (UT 198)

  • Pocket Medic (UT 200)

  • Medscanner (UT 200)

  • Neural Inhibitor (UT 201)

  • Regeneration Tank (UT 201)

  • Suitcase Doc (UT 201)

  • Regeneration Ray or Pocket Regenerator (Both UT 202)

  • Antirad (UT 205)

  • Hyperstim (UT 205)

  • Crediline (UT 205)

  • Ascepaline (UT 205)

  • Purge (UT 205)

  • Quickheal (UT 206)

Super-science power-cells, cosmic power-cells and broadcast power all remove the need to worry about tracking the duration of your gadgets: cosmic power cells will never run out, broadcast power is never a problem so long as characters remain within “range,” and super-science power-cells do run out, but it takes them 5x as long, which is the cut-off Action and other frameworks use for “basically don’t worry about it anymore”). There are broader implications with cosmic power cells and broadcast power to consider, however. Cosmic power cells can power cosmic devices, which can unbalance the game (unless, of course, you don’t include them) and might imply a setting with a very different economy. Similarly, broadcast power tethers most gadgets to broadcast stations. If you don’t want this to be an issue, make those broadcast stations broadly available (for example, the entire game takes place in Neo-Chicago, and the power transmitter covers the whole city, and terrorists never try to blow it up).

Medical Convenience tech is a good way of removing downtime for injuries. It might be especially useful in combat-oriented games where characters will inevitably take damage, but we don’t want the players to really worry about anything less than death, similar to how a typical Dungeon Fantasy game works with healing potions and convenient temples full of healing magic. Be careful with regeneration rays and regeneration tanks as they can fix damage “caused by aging,” which can substantially change the setting. You can, of course, simply ignore or remove this effect (like Star Trek does).

Many of the technologies allow a character to carry a whole host of technologies with a single tool: multiscanners are all scanners in one; Universal Tools and Morph Axes are an entire toolkit in a single catalog entry. A disguise fabricator means you can have any disguise you want on command. This often destroys the ability to “specialize,” but ideally, if you use this sort of technology, you don’t want specialists. A Star Trek Engineer with Engineering! might carry a universal tool, so he can always fix any problem he comes across, as opposed to grumbling that he left his electrician kit back in his quarters.

Some of these technologies will make certain elements of gameplay effectively impossible. For example, if you have industrial nanocleanser, it may make forensics virtually impossible, or at least completely different from how it works in the present. If you want the chance of characters “being caught,” then you shouldn’t include a technology like this. The whole point of it is to allow “convenient cover-ups.” However, in a black-ops game where you want to explain why local law enforcement never finds alien bodies of evidence of weird activity, then you can wave your hands and say “Industrial nanocleanser!”

Standard Issue Sci-fi Tech

Sometimes considered a subgenre of its own, space opera is SF with the dials all cranked to 11. The scale is titanic; seldom are characters concerned with the fate of anything less than a whole planet. The range is usually vast. Psychological realism takes a back seat to battles of Ultimate Good against blackest Evil. Scientific realism is back there, too, cowering helplessly as physical laws are broken with contemptuous ease – GURPS Space page 9, Space Opera
Most RPG players have consumed a lifetime diet of basic, mass-market sci-fi and are by now extremely familiar with certain sci-fi tropes. The core concept behind familiar tech is to keep technology on a level that the player will readily know, but the same can easily be said of more unusual technologies that don’t exist in the modern world, but do exist routinely in our fiction. The most common example of this is FTL travel: we do not have it, most people do not begin to understand the physical implications of such travel, but if we limit our FTL to space opera versions of it, everyone will intuitively grasp it, often grasping the finer points of it (“Of course you can’t detect a ship in hyperspace, it’s in a higher dimension!”). This gives us the opportunity to include “unusual” technology without actually placing additional mental costs on our players because these technologies are not actually unusual.

However, we must be cautious when we approach such technologies. Most such mass-market sci-fi media borrow their tropes from better sci-fi stories and fail to grasp their deeper implications or simply include something out of convenience without diving too deeply into what that technology might really mean for the setting. Star Wars uses robots because they were virtually ubiquitous in sci-fi at the time, but neglects any of the major questions that those stories often posed; Star Trek included teleporters because filming shuttles going up and down was too expensive, and in so doing, introduced one of the most philosophically provocative sci-fi technologies of all time, as well as a potentially setting breaking technology, entirely by accident.

Stories can get way with this sort of thing by simply ignoring the deeper implications and perhaps distracting their audience from it. Few people who watch Star Wars wonder why droids don’t rise up in rebellion, because it’s not what our focus is on. However, RPGs lack this potential protection as the “audience” interacts directly with the world, so while the writers of Star Trek might simply ignore a possible short-circuit of their story using teleportation technology, a player almost certainly will not, especially if it seems a particularly clever solution. It is here, thus, that most of our problems arise: we wish to include something because it is “in genre” but in so doing, we sow the seeds of our campaign’s ruin.

We can get around this a few ways. The first is through similar techniques that mass-market media use, namely drawing attention towards more interesting technologies or story elements. This works especially well if you can get players on board with your chosen genre (and you outline that genre well). Star Wars, for example, can succeed quite well despite ignoring virtually everything that makes robots interesting because robots aren’t interesting to Star Wars, they’re just background elements that remind you that you’re in a sci-fi setting. The second is to strip potentially setting-corrosive implications from your technology. If you change teleportation to be some sort of “macro-scale quantum jump” using “reality softening beacons,” you might side-step the issues of identity and you might require that a “beacon” be present for teleportation, which prevents randomly kidnapping people from enemy ships.

Some examples of typical technologies of this sort include:

  • FTL Travel

  • Fusion Generators (UT 20)

  • Antimatter Generators (UT 20)

  • Volitional AI (UT 28)

  • Holoventure (UT 40)

  • FTL Radios (UT 46)

  • Holoprojectors (UT 52)

  • Augmented Reality (UT 56)

  • Ultrascanner (UT 66)

  • Sonic Shower Head (UT 70)

  • Food Tablets (UT 73)

  • Hovercart (UT 75)

  • Invisibility Surface (UT 100)

  • Laser Fences (UT 101)

  • Neuronic Restraints (UT 108)

  • Hibernation Chamber (UT 198)

  • Nanostasis (UT 200)

Many of these are essentially harmless and can easily be included in a game. Food Tablets verge on convenience tech, as do Ultrascanners. Sonic Showerheads are essentially cosmetic. Laser Fences will harm nothing, and may well be too weak, as a sufficiently armored character can simply walk through them.

Some of the others have broader, but easily ignored implications. FTL Travel should violate causality or require mind-boggling levels of exotic matter and might still have weird causal effects, but most people, if they even realize it, happily ignore it. This is also true of FTL communication or some form or FTL sensor, all of which mainly exist to shrink space to manageable levels. It might be worth spending some time explaining why FTL doesn’t violate physics, but I generally find, at best, you get a couple of gold stars for effort from physics students and nobody else notices.

Fusion generators imply a vastly more productive economy, but this is usually folded in with superior industrial processes to explain why TL 10+ people have more money than TL 8 people.

Some technology implies other technologies. If you have holoprojectors, you might have other forms of holotech, like holographic disguises, or the ability to create holographid distractions. Think carefully about how you present holograms and things like holographic controls. Low resolution or “crackling” holograms, as seen in Star Wars, will not “fool” anyone and are entirely cosmetic; “realistic” holograms, like those seen in Star Trek, have many, many uses and players will certainly use them.

Antimatter Generators imply other antimatter devices, like antimatter explosives and portable antimatter containers, and also raises the question of where one gets such antimatter (hint: it’s probably not the anti-matter mines of Rygel XVI). It also implies highly explosive ships. You can get around this by suggesting that you have a means of creating antimatter but only in vast “generators,” or that anti-matter (mostly likely created and stored in vast solar arrays which convert energy into anti-matter via some high efficiency process) requires very bulky containment and precise manipulation to get the most out of the energy of it. Even so, be cautious with it, because most players readily know that anti-matter is extraordinarily destructive and will want to use it as a means of destruction.

Volitional AI absolutely raises all sorts of sticky moral and philosophical questions, but we often use it as a means of creating interesting optional races. If your intent is to create “robots-as-people,” use some form of “neural net” that makes the robot distinct and something you cannot copy or back-up, and limit them to IQ 10 (with some variation, perhaps, excused by the flexibility of the neural net). If you want to avoid tackling “Robots as slaves” or the “Robot revolution” make them a separate “race” of independent beings. Someone may ask who created them, in which case, it’s best to suggest that they were created many centuries ago by a now extinct race. Taken together, it allows robots to feel no different than any other race (they have some distinct traits, but so do the space amazons, or the shapeshifters of Rygel XVI)

While Teleporters are exceptionally common in sci-fi (from Star Trek to FTL), I would be very cautious in using them. Taken at face value, they also imply disintegrators and replicators, which can be spectacularly unbalancing and require deep thought on how to handle properly. The first thing I would ask yourself is “Why can’t you use shuttles and boarding pods,” and your answer will tell you a great deal about your setting. If you must use them, add some kind of “reality softening beacon” or “reality stablizing screens” to prevent people from just teleporting people off of ships and out into space or what have you.

Some technology implies a lack of other technology. This is especially true of hibernation chambers or nanostasis. Plenty of reasons can exist for using them, but the most common I see in sci-fi is to survive long, interstellar trips. If you introduce the technology for this reason, do not also include FTL unless that FTL is sufficiently slow and the distances sufficiently long to make hibernation chambers useful. In all cases, you must realize that hibernation chambers and their like primarily exist to allow something to survive for very long periods of time, and this creates disjointed narratives. Characters who go on 50 year journeys will return to find a very changed world with everyone they knew dead. Likewise, they make it plausible to find long lost ancestors or heroes of a bygone age and revive them. While common in sci-fi, tread cautiously here, though it should be noted that players will rarely abuse this technology. The problem is more that it implies things about your setting that you might not realize.

Some technology, like Ultrascanners and invisibility surfaces don’t necessarily cause problems, but they may have implications on gameplay mechanics. Invisibility surfaces (and chameleon suits) create stealth systems that you typically need a good eye or ready access to superior sensor technology to defeat, and ultrascanners can create a mess of questions about how to evade their detection, typically through super-science Deception jammers.

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