Inscrit le: 19 Sep 2009
Sam 17 Oct - 14:42 (2009)
While the technology in S.A. makes our current best efforts look like childrens’ toys, there is still room for improvement. Those who wish to have their characters invent new technology should follow these guidelines. This is an extended action requiring a number of rolls, typically using Cognitech & Engineer. Some pieces of medical or computer technology might use Medical or Programmer instead of Engineer; use your best judgement.
First, you must design the device or prodecure. Work with the GM to decide on the tech’s Capability rating. Every roll you make must reach a threshold of 10 times the device’s Capability rating. Rolls below that amount waste time, but do not otherwise hurt the project. Rolls above this rating reduce the project’s “Reserve” rating exactly as if you were in combat with it. The project has a total “Reserve” rating 10 points, which it cannot spend for any purpose.
Each roll takes one month for Cognitech 1-3, one week for Cog 4-7, or one day for Cog 8-10. Reserve that you spend on invention rolls cannot be used for other things until you’re done with the process. Once the invention’s “Reserve” is gone, you’ve successfully designed it.
Devices built one or two levels below your civilization’s native technology level have two fewer points of Reserve, and a threshold of 8 x Capability. For devices that must be 3 or more levels below your civ’s technology, reverse and double these modifiers for working with such archaic, low-tech devices. (“A clock with gears? How could that even work?”). You can often intentionally build these things with higher-level technology (for example, electric motors instead of gears) to ameliorate these penalties. For devices one point above your civ’s tech level, increase Reserve to twenty and increase the threshold to 12 x Capability. Something two levels above should be effectively impossible to invent — it would be like a caveman trying to invent a radio.
The Comprehension Theme, given the right descriptor, can bypass this process entirely. The design time decreases to one hour for Cognitech 1-3, ten minutes for Cog 4-7, or one minute for Cog 8-10. Once your technology has been designed it will take a little time to create the first prototype. This stage doesn’t require any rolls. The time required is dependant on the resources available in the Capability the device falls under. Crafting a new advertisement relies on the Metatech databanks in the local area. Implementing a new military countermeasure hinges on the local Stringtech infrastructure. The time required is one week if the device is at the local tech level, one month if it’s a point above, and a year if two points above. For devices a point or two below the local tech level, it should be doable in a day. Three points or more below brings it back up to a week.
All of the above assumes a relatively small device; something personal. If you’re trying to create an electrical infrastructure, new kind of group-mind, or other large structure, the time will go up substantially. These times also assume a relatively high-tech society, with a score of at least 5 in the relevant Capability. High-powered computer modeling, replicators, full-scale neural-net simulations, transmutation, and similar tools become available around then, which speeds up the process immensely. If you have less than this available, multiply time by at least a factor of five.
After this time you have a working prototype: finicky and prone to the occasional malfunction, but functional (-1 to any rolls using it). Improving their reliability to the consumer level requires going through another invention cycle from the beginning.
As an example, if someone from the Independents wanted to build a weapon that fired a transmutation beam, that could reasonably be Stringtech 8. The inventor is at home in Independent space, with a Stringtech 9 infrastructure, and has a Cognitech of 5. Each roll has a minimum result of 64, and takes one week. If the roll is at least 64, the device’s Reserve drops by two points. A roll of 128 will drop it by three. If there are no failed rolls, but no spectacular ones either, it should take five weeks to design this device. The first prototype will take just a day to fabricate and test.
Invention for GMs
This game’s author is a physicist. You’re probably not. And you know what? That’s ok.
Sometimes the author wishes he wasn’t a physicist either. But you’ll still need to invent a little of your own tech every now and then.
You’ve just seen the rules for in-game invention, but that’s a different topic. Those rules discuss the mental and physical process of taking a new device or procedure from concept to finished product. This section, on the other hand, is about the societal ramifications of such devices.
The most important thing about a piece of technology is not how it works, or how it could be made, or even whether it’s possible or not. We think that most of the tech listed here is at least physically possible, but we could be wrong. Don’t worry if the flying belt you’ve introduced couldn’t hold someone up, if only because it would give them a giant wedgie. That’s not the point. If you think it’s cool, go with it.
Instead, spend your time thinking about how society would use this invention. What would you do with this device? What would your average party of RPG characters do with it? What would world leaders do with it, or humanitarians, or terrorists, or developing nations? Given all that, how big a price should the Patent Office set on it, and how long should they wait before making it free to everyone? Should it ever be free to everyone? The social ramifications of your inventions are far more important than the technobabble, and in the end, they’re more interesting too.
In this game, the pace of technological advancement hasn’t slowed down. It suffered a bit of a speed bump during the Diaspora, but has more than caught up since then. GMs are encouraged to let qualified characters come up with their own new ideas and adaptations of existing work. Even if the character isn’t smart enough to create the device or procedure, the chance that someone else did (and that blueprints can now be found on the infosphere for a reasonable price) is very good.
When describing new technology, it can help to start with existing devices and speculate. Make your device look like modern technology, and assume that all the modern inconveniences are solved one way or another.
As an example, let’s say that you live in the year 1800, and you want to play a game of Sufficiently Advanced that takes place in the year 2010. You need to describe a futuristic means that people use for getting from place to place; something believable but still amazing. You could can call it a “carriage,” since that’s basically what it is. How much better is it? It won’t need horses, but run off of some sort of advanced technology that you don’t understand. It’ll be made of the most powerful stuff of your day (read: metal) or something your time hasn’t invented yet. Nearly all of the inconveniences of the modern carriage will be solved: better lanterns that run forever, the glass never gets messy from water, and some sort of protection to avoid accidents. You could hand-wave it, or you could could even come up with something that sounds silly — perhaps pillows jump out of the front and sides of the vehicle to cushion an impact.
The only things you can’t assume just go away are waste heat and the need for a fuel source. Those are at the core of physical technology (that is, everything that isn’t Metatech). Waste heat and power requirements can be reduced, but never eliminated. Within those two limitations, it’s amazing what innovative people can accomplish.
Here’s a list of ten questions you’ll want to think about when you introduce a new technology into the game.
1. Is this technology an incremental improvement, a radical alteration, or something entirely new? The latter is exceptionally rare, and will be cause for great interest across the civilizations. The Patent Office will probably also set its price higher in the beginning.
2. Does it replace an existing technology? The answer here is often yes, but sometimes new niches are created and filled by new things.
3. Does it need a lot of electrical power? If so, it probably produces a lot of heat, and costs a bit of money to use.
4. Who would benefit most from it? A particular civilization or society? The rich? The poor? Those in power, or those trying to overthrow them? Does it work best in combination with other items, and if so, who uses them?
5. Would anyone suffer from its mere existence? Usually the creator of the technology that this one replaces will suffer a loss of money, as people start buying the newer item.
6. Would anyone suffer from the proper use of this device? Does it interfere with existing technologies, or prevent their use?
7. How high is its potential for misuse? Almost all pieces of technology can be used for nefarious purposes, or accidentally used on the “wrong” target. How bad would it be?
8. What civilizations or societies would embrace this technology immediately? How extensively would the average person be affected by it?
9. Which ones would be offended by it? How far would they go to prevent others from using it, both in their territory and outside it?
10. If a Cargo Cult formed around this technology, what might they think about it? Could it provide any “godlike” powers, or do things that a relatively unadvanced culture would find unbelievable?
Example: Transmutation Chambers
Transmutation chambers are a good example of an “average” important technology. They’re not world-changing, but they can’t be ignored either. We’ll use them as one example of the sort of impact a new technology can have.
The advent of transmutation removes the need for any industries related to mining (such as ore hauling and prospecting), as well as any enrichment facilities (as in enriched uranium). The commodities exchange will utterly die, since no element has any intrinsic value any more. Transmutation will definitely put a good number of people out of business (true of nearly all the technology in S.A.). That’s how the world works: new technology creates some jobs and destroys others.
Elements that can be purified more easily may be more valuable, but by this level of technology, chances are good that replicators already got rid of that problem. Denser elements may be slightly more valuable, due to their greater portability. Ten kilograms of hydrogen gas can be turned into ten kilograms of lead, but the volume is quite different. Really common elements (hydrogen, oxygen, silicon) will still be much cheaper than transmuted materials, but as electricity costs drop, the differences become smaller and smaller.
If you’re building something, there’s no reason not to use the best material for the job. Want gold contacts for your electrical work? Go for it. Need some osmium, dyspropium, platinum, or niobium for some reason? It’s yours. High-Z elements (those near the end of the periodic table, and those off the end of our current one) become readily available, though they might be rather dense and eat up a lot of raw material to create.
Transmutation requires a rather high amount of energy to work, though most of it can be reclaimed afterwards. Ergo, there’s a need for better electrical infrastructure before transmutation can really take off. This is actually true for a lot of the stringtech mentioned in S.A.
All in all, transmutation is a relatively minor improvement on the world-shattering changes that replicators make. It’s something that people from non-transmuting cultures would view as amazing and unbelievable, but it’s really not all that big a deal unless you work in the nanotech or stringtech industries. For them, it’s a very big deal — they get to play with whatever elements they like without worrying about cost or accessability, which makes it much easier to develop new devices. The pace of progress is accelerated yet again.
A somewhat more mundane example, but illustrative nonetheless. Elevators are a technology with a surprising amount of impact.
Elevators, perhaps this goes without saying, allow things to be easily moved up and down inside buildings. We typically think of them for people, but many industrial buildings also have cargo elevators for heavy machinery.
This comparatively simple innovation allows the creation of taller buildings — you could make a 20-story apartment building or office complex without elevators, but no one would use it. Cities in industrialized parts of the world are much more compact, because electrical power there is reliable enough to have elevators that don’t freeze in place several times a day. Cities in third-world regions sprawl, covering areas far beyond what their populations would occupy in industrialized nations. Children and the elderly, especially, simply can’t live in tall buildings without the aid of an elevator.
Taller buildings allow cities to “build up instead of out,” increasing population density and reducing the number of square miles that the city’s infrastructure needs to cover. Living closer together makes certain things more efficient, while also introducing certain psychological stresses that drive some folks out into the suburbs. Broadcasts, from TV and radio to cell phones and wireless internet, can reach more people at once, which allows the creation of a larger number of “niche” services that couldn’t survive in less compact areas. Eventually, when pollution problems set in, higher population density will drive a need for cleaner technologies and better infrastructure, which in turn leads in a roundabout way to a cleaner environment.
All that, just because of the elevator.
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Author’s Comment on Elevators
No, of course elevators don’t directly lead to an improved environment on their own. They just create social pressures that make it happen in the long term. There are certainly faster and perhaps better ways to improve the world than cramming a bunch of people into a tiny space.
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