Relating tech levels for non-tech/history people

Telok

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Something common in science fiction is different systems/planets/etc. having different access to science, tech, economics, and such. These are often termed 'tech level' or such and given a short description attached to a number. A problem I've run across several times is relating to players who aren't steeped in tech, scifi, and history, just how their characters from "TL Bob (power armor, energy shields, warp drive)" experience things from "TL Daisy (personal force fields, infectious living metal virus, teleporting planets to different stars)".

To these sorts of players its all just scifi technobabble. Personal force fields are just treated as "power armor +3" instead of realizing that combat has massively changed in a way to make physical armors utterly useless. The difference, for them, between teleporting an entire planet and a spaceship capable of 150% lightspeed is just narration of how they got from star A to star B. This especially hits with players who are more accustomed to fantasy where "its magic" gets waved around to justify everything and nothing ever changes in the generic faux-dark ages.

My particular immediate use case is some PCs having managed to loot a few chunks of advanced delicate research equipment from a higher tech level precursor civilization. This is not something too out there for many scifi type games. But I need to easily explain, preferably with pictures, just what the leap is from their character's day-to-day tech to the random bits of advanced research lab from a higher civilization.

My best guess so far is its similar to the difference from real world about 1912 tech to about 1946 tech. To wit: Give a soldier, engineer, and chemist from 1912 a 1946 aircraft carrier, submarine, or radio and they'll understand its function and principles even without telling them the details of it. They can't produce one without years & years of work and funding, but the principles haven't changed. But if you give them, without instruction or explanation, half of a computer like ENIAC or a step of a gaseous diffusion filter system for uranium hexaflouride then they'll be completely stumped. The theories and precursor technologies were not even in place for the need to create those things.

My issue is communicating that sort of stuff to non-tech, non-science, non-history oriented people. Especially in a way that fits with the time we have during game. Moving it out of game would be ideal, but that would need to compact the information into almost a meme type of format. I've tried to find a sort of "things that were in 1910" and a companion for 1950, but there's lots of chaff. Lots and lots of chaff. Most results will be about history events, famous people, and inventions or discoveries. Not a sort of "these are the normal things & state of the art in <year>" type stuff I'd like. Especially bad is how few pictures there are and mentions of what isn't present.

My best idea, currently, is assembling sets of paired pictures (1910 vs 1950) and single line descriptions. Including blanks in the 1910 section with "x hasn't been invented/discovered yet". Which would work, although its rather more hours of work because ... ok, Getty images might work. The filter isn't great but there's basic function.

Anyone else have any other ideas, methods, or tricks for communicating the tech differences to non-technical non-scifi people?
 
Use phones and compare them to armour and transport. Everybody knows phones. Also, use bigger tech leaps as examples.

Today, regarding armour, we're like the people in the 19th century, they had telegraph and body armour that wasn't, for the most part, worth the effort. For transport comparisons, 19th century steamers and zeppelins.
Power armour is like having a wireless phone, that worked within, say, 5-10 meters from the body of the phone. And transport is like having a rotary plane, like a Cessna plane, or an oil-powered ship or submarine.
Personal forcefield and teleport is like having a faster-than-sound aircraft, a nuclear submarine or Samsung Galaxy* phone that can connect to Internet and do the whole modern array of things that phones weren't expected to be able to do.


*Because Apples aren't phones, they're fruit.
 
My method is to provide a narrative of the daily life, how it impacts what people do and shapes interactions.

It helps me write these things if I break down technology into categories such as biological, energy, information, materials and psionic (which are my base home system categories) but you may want categories less basic and closer to end use such as: medicine, communication, transport, weapons, etc.

It also helps if I start with a write up of something before present day, then do present day, then step up from there on the advanced technology.

I talk about introduction of a technology where it has limited use due to size, cost and complexity, to a point where it becomes part of daily life, and then when it becomes obsolete or just so deeply integrated it is ubiquitous and nothing special (like integrated circuits have become).

A key for me is to focus on the impact of the technology on how people live. For example on medical technology,

TL x: a time before an accurate theory of disease (disease spreads unchecked, death by disease at an age is likely, death by disease is commonplace, most will lose a children or spouses to disease before 30 years of age, periodic plagues sweep through population centers decimating them, disease is typically the primary casualty cause of large field armies, odd, contradictory and extreme/superstitious measures may be taken to prevent disease as the root cause is not understood, disease is viewed as inevitable, average life expectancy is 45 years),

TL x+1: a time there is a theory of disease (sanitation and other measures are known and greatly reducing the impact of disease on population centers, depending on societal organization all or only those in power benefit from such; odd, extreme/superstitious measures are abandoned by most, disease is still a concern but disease mortality decreases greatly and fear is lessened as the cause and ways to prevent disease take hold, disease is viewed as avoidable, in certain societies taking steps to prevent disease is considered "unnatural", population densities increase and planetary population rise, the impetus from disease to have many children and have them young decreases, average life expectancy is 60 years)

TL x+2: a time where disease preventatives/vaccines are developed (death by many disease of old (at TL x) is rare, depending on social organization and mores widespread vaccination eliminates many diseases, death by disease is viewed as not just avoidable but rare and perhaps "conquered", few lose a child or spouse to disease before 30 years of age, old diseases no longer ravage population centers although new diseases and mutations of old diseases may, disease is no longer the primary source of casualties for large field armies, in this early period few vaccines/preventatives (primarily developed for the worst bacterial diseases of old) as the period progresses more diseases can be prevented and the speed of vaccine development occurs, near the end of the period preventatives for viral and genetic diseases become available, in certain societies develop of medicines explodes with a pharmacological state developing, in others the success of vaccines is so great society becomes complacent abandoning preventative measures for diseases once common place and feared even at TL x+1, in certain societies preventatives and curatives are used indiscriminately resulting in rapid emergence of preventative resistant organisms possibly resulting in a TL x+1 level of danger from disease, population densities can increase ever further reaching levels unsustainable at TL x, average life expectancy is 80 years)

TL x+3: preventatives widespread, development rapid, susceptibility reduction developed (e.g. genetic editing) (a preventative can be developed, fairly rapidly, for most all causes of disease, societal organization may make such preventatives available to all or only a few, depending on the extent of the rise of resistant organisms at TL x+2, disease may be so rare only professionals know the meaning of the term or society is playing constant catch-up / wack-a-mole to keep ever emerging diseases at bay, techniques are developed to lower a person's susceptibility to disease through changes in their genetics and microbiome, originally complex and limited, by the end of the period suffering from any disease or genetic disorder is rare for all or a few depending on societal organization, in certain societies extreme backlash may arise against such "unnatural", in certain societies extreme societal stratification arises based on lifer expectancy, in certain societies suffering from a disease is consider a radical experience done for kicks, increased life expectancy could put extreme pressure on societal infrastructure and resources, increased life expectancy can radically change societal organization as life expectancy is double that at TL x+1, increased life expectancy decreases the drawbacks of long interstellar flights, life expectancy is 150 years.)


Traveller's Book 4 Mercenary has an example in the Ironmongery section for the weapons and means of war.
 
Those are all nice but I'm really dealing with a couple seriously non-tect, non-science, non-history folk. Well, only one is all three but...

Anyways. Closest I have so far is

"Your FTL spaceship is like
gettyimages-55749123-612x612.jpg
And your interplanetary comms are like
Field-telephone.jpg
And your max advanced A.I. computer looks like this (can handle 3 chess peices, two kings and a rook, communicates by blinking lights)
1912-chess-comp-king-and-rook-only.jpg
But you just looted that youre sure is a comm of some sort
Aircraft-radio.jpg
Out of a wrecked
gettyimages-90779965-612x612.jpg
And took what you think is an information storage unit likegettyimages-90728607-612x612.jpg
Out of a half melted
Eniac-1537638434.jpg
And you can probably get them to sort or work, with a lot of effort. Maybe even make crude copes that kind of function, after a few years of experiments and a lot of money. But some of the ideas for the basics of the tech that the advanced tech uses haven't even been (re)discovered yet."
 

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If your players are really uninterested or unaware of history and technology, then I would suggest using pictures of current stuff to represent the new super-tech they have found in the ancient lab, and pictures of older tech (mid-20th century, maybe?) to represent what is normal in their world. I’m not sure if images of 1910 vs 1940s will mean much to them.

@Xanther’s medical tech levels are interesting. If you want to make them reflect the trajectory of disease and medical knowledge in Europe, then a few tweaks might be in order. Vaccination (and more broadly inoculation) predated the germ theory of disease or actual knowledge of the real pathogens. Pretty massive public health systems are even older; by c. 1500 some European cities had them, designed above all to deal with plague. Whether they were effective is another matter.

Likewise, for the higher tech levels it seems to me that a key step is the development of cures for diseases. To stay with plague, the bacillus responsible was identified in the 1890s and much of the rather complex mechanisms by which the disease circulates from animal hosts to humans was worked out in the first decade of the 1900s. But there was no real cure and the vaccine that was created was not very effective. It wasn’t until the rise of antibiotics—the result ultimately of a happy accident—that plague became easily curable.
 
If your players are really uninterested or unaware of history and technology, then I would suggest using pictures of current stuff to represent the new super-tech they have found in the ancient lab, and pictures of older tech (mid-20th century, maybe?) to represent what is normal in their world. I’m not sure if images of 1910 vs 1940s will mean much to them.
I feel iffy about that. While there have been real revolutions in technology over the past 50 years they aren't the level of "new invention" type stuff that I think tech levels represent. We had general computers, television, and phones in the 50's. Your smartphone is just a crap ton of miniaturization and combining them. A "like x but smaller & easier" or "like x but with y added" heading back to tech levels being just another +1 bonus of magic armor or tool. Going from a wireless telegraph that takes up a large desk to radar directed gun turrets is a change in radio tech that I think is more indicative of a 'tech level' difference.

I don't think I can quickly and effectively use "day in the life" with unknown civilizations, weird aliens, because that's going to be too much and too dry of reading. Likeise I know the disease stuff won't work because that's still too technical and dependent on understanding history stuff. Like the plague, polio, & small pox are basically meaningless history footnotes saying "and medicines got better over time" to this sort of person. The horror and societal changes of defeating diseases has to be explained for fifteen minutes to make it relevant.

I'm trying to drive home something closer to "tech level x discovers subatomic particles exist and has some theories about them, level x+1has quantum computers and nukes, level x+2 has forcefields and meson cannons that can shoot through solid objects like mountains", but to people who don't instantly realize that these things are related or what other effects that sort of advance does. Worse, I need to do it at game time, without stopping play for in depth explanation.

Ideally there'd be a easy to filter/search slate of "tech/stuff in <decade>" where it'd be easy to tailor stuff to individuals. If you know person is a auto mechanic you can pull up a steam boat, early 2-stroke engine motorcycle, turbine jet engine, electric motor quad-copter, mag-lev induction like for a train but without the rails. Then a simple meme-like differences text between them to drive home that this isn't just "engine power & efficency +1" at each step.

That sort of what I think I'm looking for. Sets of pictures easily searchable (the usual search engine stuff is kind hit or miss for me and getty is actually quite bad at it) by era. But if anyone knows other resources for quickly & easily explaining tech level like differences to... I kind of hate the term "lay person" but its almost appropriate... folks who don't have the tech, science, or history backgrounds that you'd normally expect a scifi ttrpg player to have. Those are what I'm looking for. The usual generic "gear available at TL X" lists from most games aren't cutting it for this.
 
I feel iffy about that. While there have been real revolutions in technology over the past 50 years they aren't the level of "new invention" type stuff that I think tech levels represent. We had general computers, television, and phones in the 50's. Your smartphone is just a crap ton of miniaturization and combining them. A "like x but smaller & easier" or "like x but with y added" heading back to tech levels being just another +1 bonus of magic armor or tool. Going from a wireless telegraph that takes up a large desk to radar directed gun turrets is a change in radio tech that I think is more indicative of a 'tech level' difference.
I'm sure it is, to you, or to someone who knows a good deal about the subject. My guess is that if you are dealing with somebody who knows and cares little about the history of technology, their reaction to the first two sets of images is likely to be "that's a big old radio" and "what do gun turrets have to do with radio?" Whereas if you give them these two pictures:

Old Phone.jpg IPhone14.jpg

Their reaction will be that the smartphone represents a quantum leap in technology, not just miniaturization and building on what existed before. I'm not arguing that they are right, just predicting that this will be their reaction.

To put it more analytically, these series of photographs only work--they only get the idea that you want to express across--if the viewer already knows something about the details of the technology involved. But the premise for needing the pictures to begin with is that they don't know much about technology...
 
If your players are really uninterested or unaware of history and technology, then I would suggest using pictures of current stuff to represent the new super-tech they have found in the ancient lab, and pictures of older tech (mid-20th century, maybe?) to represent what is normal in their world. I'm not sure if images of 1910 vs 1940s will mean much to them.
Exactly, even then may be hard to convey. Pretty sure my kids do not get the vibe and way of life before cell phones, or the internet. Going to the reference section of the library to get information, completely foreign to them. How made plans and met at places before cell phones, not sure they believe it was possible. :smile:

One could also take images of current tech and then use as a comparison some future tech they are familiar with from the movies. If they can't grasp the difference of what tech was like even 24 years ago.

@Xanther’s medical tech levels are interesting. If you want to make them reflect the trajectory of disease and medical knowledge in Europe, then a few tweaks might be in order. Vaccination (and more broadly inoculation) predated the germ theory of disease or actual knowledge of the real pathogens. Pretty massive public health systems are even older; by c. 1500 some European cities had them, designed above all to deal with plague. Whether they were effective is another matter....
Personally would suggest the TL progression to line up more with concepts, more than to mimic Earth history. There may be exceptions and perhaps Earth leaped ahead. Well at least for TL meant to cover large interstellar spaces with many non-humans. For example, I put nuclear weapons on my TL long after Earth developed them. Another conceit of the TL concept in itself is one of step progression and not the messy stops, starts, leaps ahead and steps back characterized by reality. In general theory can often proceed practice, it's not necessary but practice will be based on tried and true, and trial and error.

At least in part for me TL progression isn't just that certain things can be done, but why they work is known; without knowing it can be hard to progress to even more advanced ways of doing things or do anything more than what has been achieved by trial and error, without a lot of trial and error..

There is also the question of scale, in a lot of sci fi games the scale of a population is planetary and what is widespread. One can assume a ±1 TL variation in certain instances and possibly across the planet between polities if it is one of those primitive ones without a planetary governments. :smile:

Also as an aside, what I wrote was just off the cuff and typed rapidly to give a feel. No research or attempt to line up with Earth history involved.
 
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I feel iffy about that. While there have been real revolutions in technology over the past 50 years they aren't the level of "new invention" type stuff that I think tech levels represent. We had general computers, television, and phones in the 50's. Your smartphone is just a crap ton of miniaturization and combining them. A "like x but smaller & easier" or "like x but with y added" heading back to tech levels being just another +1 bonus of magic armor or tool. Going from a wireless telegraph that takes up a large desk to radar directed gun turrets is a change in radio tech that I think is more indicative of a 'tech level' difference.
Going form a computer that fills a room to a more powerful one that fits in your hand is the very essence of TL change. Depending on how fine a scale you want this could be a single TL from the early to late stage.
I don't think I can quickly and effectively use "day in the life" with unknown civilizations, weird aliens, because that's going to be too much and too dry of reading. Likeise I know the disease stuff won't work because that's still too technical and dependent on understanding history stuff. Like the plague, polio, & small pox are basically meaningless history footnotes saying "and medicines got better over time" to this sort of person. The horror and societal changes of defeating diseases has to be explained for fifteen minutes to make it relevant.
Wow! Not sure what help can provide if that is the case. If they seriously cannot conceive of the suffering, a quick internet search can show you waht famine and disease look like. Have they no personal experience of forgetting their cell phone or losing it and the difficulties that imposed? If they are younger an analogy that might be closer to home is opioid overdoses, except imagine that four times more people died, and it could happen to you no matter what you do...to give them an idea of disease.

Otherwise there really is not much one can do if there is a failure of empathy + failure of understanding + failure of imagination. That's a bubble that is pretty hard to penetrate.
Ideally there'd be a easy to filter/search slate of "tech/stuff in <decade>" where it'd be easy to tailor stuff to individuals. If you know person is a auto mechanic you can pull up a steam boat, early 2-stroke engine motorcycle, turbine jet engine, electric motor quad-copter, mag-lev induction like for a train but without the rails. Then a simple meme-like differences text between them to drive home that this isn't just "engine power & efficency +1" at each step.
If the player's have such a lack of understanding not sure how you can ever get across the vibe or qualitative difference. I'd also seriously doubt if they are into and know something now they have any concept of how qualitatively different it was before.
That sort of what I think I'm looking for. Sets of pictures easily searchable (the usual search engine stuff is kind hit or miss for me and getty is actually quite bad at it) by era. But if anyone knows other resources for quickly & easily explaining tech level like differences to... I kind of hate the term "lay person" but its almost appropriate... folks who don't have the tech, science, or history backgrounds that you'd normally expect a scifi ttrpg player to have. Those are what I'm looking for. The usual generic "gear available at TL X" lists from most games aren't cutting it for this.
Frankly, I think the background level needed to grok what I wrote (once it is cleaned up, typos corrected etc.) is pretty low, as it frankly explains what life was like. If a person cannot grasp what it may have been like to lose half your kids before they hit 6 due to disease, and how that could impact people's view of the world, ....let's just say it is sad if that level of understanding is beyond the lay person.

Book 4 Mercenary has that kind of description, it is not just a list.


Then again, why bother? Let them think it is engines +1 or +3 whatever. If they fail to grasp the broader significance so what. Have someone show up and buy it from them, then someone show up to assassinate them to keep it secret. Perhaps then they will realize this is not just engines +3.
 
I advise to bullet point it
*Energy and use change
*Telecom change
*Transportation change
->effect on economy
->effect on living standard
->effect on politics
And then write 1-5 lines for each and you get as short as possible while conveying a lot of things
 
TL is extremely vague to begin with. If the players aren't really into it, I see no reason to go any deeper than Renaissance, Victorian, early 20th century, late 20th century, modern times advanced etc.

If they have no clue that the people of Victorian London didn't have cell phones then you have your work cut out for you.

Technology is not linear, new tech often lays dormant with outside forces encouraging and retarding its adoption. It would be very easy to have a planet that is modern in some areas and 1890s in another simply because a certain area of technology got a boost, while others didn't. Some technology is based on happy accidents so TL is at best a short hand notation.
 
TL is extremely vague to begin with...Technology is not linear, new tech often lays dormant with outside forces encouraging and retarding its adoption.

This is the reason I've always found the notion of tech levels a bit confusing and not terribly useful. For example, IRL today, I've used technology ranging from wireless internet to a plain ol' pencil, both of which are perfectly valid technologies in 2024.
 
I think things here are both to specific and too generalized at once. I should go back and look at book 4 again though, I'll get it off my shelf tonight if I can. Part of this is I have a specific instance I'm trying to work through where some PCs of a specific set of players have looted a few devices that are... they have WW1 radio/wireless telegraph levels of knowledge and these are a more like a microwave oven, a radar jammer, and maybe part of an CAT scan machine. The other part is that I'm looking for a more general solution because this sort of thing will come up again with different kinds of tech and with potentially different players and other game systems.

The disease eradication thing: its not that people wouldn't be horrified if half their kids died, not that they're not happy to have modern medicine. Its that eradicating diseases is literally just incrementally better medicine if you aren't looking under the hood. So for that to work as evidence of advancing tech I'd need 15 or 20 minutes for game time to explain that one under-the-hood part of a tech level jump. And I really need something faster than that. Sending people off to do independent research isn't going to work either.

The rotary phone to smartphone thing: my specific instance isn't a Luddite, or only post-internet & cell phone, or on any of those extremes. Just juxtaposing a smartphone and a rotary dial is again the "phone +1" stuff because these folk use their phone for the same thing they used their first Garfield push-button phone that meowed instead of ringing, calling their friends. Its just the smartphone also has games and wireless internet. You could have made a smartphone analog 50 years ago. It'd be huge, take an entire trailer, involve a TV camera, only connect to someone with the same insane set-up, and basically be limited to 2-way TV plus playing stuff like pong by radio-control, but it'd do the fundamentals of 'smartphone'.

The radio-radar thing: you're right, that specific example wouldn't work. It's not visually immediate enough without the background in the development of radio & radar. But that's the level of tech change I'm trying to convey. Going from the most basic utilization of a energy form or something (spark gap radio to do wireless Morse code transmission), to completely new devices doing things that were literally impossible before ("see" airplanes through impenetrable clouds well enough to aim a gun at them). And I don't think just written lists of gear will cut it because those are typically shopping lists for gamers and I'm not trying to map this to "loot tombs for +1 weapons & armor".

If I were talking to Traveller players I could say "spaceship defenses start with sand-casters, upgrade to energy shields, then get to black globes. You're at sand-casters and you found a partial black globe generator but you're missing the middle how to energy shields knowledge" and that would work. But that's predicated on the background of them knowing what those things do and the differences between them. Something like "abacus to electric calculator to modern computer" doesn't work because there's no fundamental technological change there, people know that computers are just adding stuff really fast in fancy ways. Any calculations you can do with a computer you can ultimately do with an abacus. So while I have a specific use case I'm looking for a more general solution or resource. Something that can manage to avoid the "gear +1" type of mentality that is provoked by fantasy games, and avoids the sort of "its a A with a B built in" type of thing where you go from phone to phone+computer phone+computer+wireless and its just the same device but more convenient or smaller.

Hmm. Maybe its I need something like that Traveller sand-shield-globe thing but with popular enough and widely enough known things. Maybe that primitive radio-microwave oven-CAT scan thing would work?
 
Managed it. Without pics and with a little more time taken than I'd like.

What worked was steam engine -> gasoline engine (now we can have airplanes and hovercraft) -> electric engine (now we can have tiny drones & robots in space) -> anti-gravity engine (now we can have ???).

Got them talking about the current tech level being like WWII planes & trucks and the looted tech being a mix of the high end current robotics (understandable but you don't have the engineering to build at that level) or the anti-grav that we have no clue right now how to make.

And yeah, as expected smartphones are just small computers with a phone in them. Not any serious tech shift, just miniaturization and combination. Socially they've caused serious shifts, but as tech they're just an example of miniaturization as a tech & engineering matures.
 
Whatever works, works:thumbsup:.

Though I'd note that my example of smartphones as a shift wasn't that computers didn't exist before, it was the idea to combine a communication device with an audio, video, photo, and computational device:shade:.

Besides, miniaturisation is a meaningful difference to me, maybe because SIZe is, in my book, a good idea for an attribute...:grin:
 
So, I did tech very broadly the last time I did a setting where this sort of thing mattered. My conjecture about technology is that the hard part is the know how to do the 'clever stuff' that enables technology, rather than the theoretical basis of the tech - especially in a universe where the 'how to' is widely published. This means that the limiting factors are things like materials technology such as how to consistently mass-produce high grade steel or synthesize chemicals to high purity in a process that takes place at 500 degrees. These are the things that are hard to learn and take effort to get up to a usable standard.

These technological levels also cover economic capabilities, on the assumption that the 'how' will be fairly widely available in a sci-fi setting, even if the economic base to do it isn't.
  • Primitive - stone age, tribal subsistence culture using technology built from local materials by a society with no outside contact. The sort of thing you can see on the Primitive Technology channel
  • Pre-industrial - a broad period going from advanced stone age (Aztec) through to the renaissance. Gunpowder or advanced metallurgy may or may not be available. Items are available on a crafted basis, but the economy doesn't have the base to support an industrial capability. This could also cover 'little house on the prairie' style frontier settlements that might have some imported tech but don't have local industry capable of building it - and thus make use of a lot of locally improvised materials.
  • Industrial - a broad period covering enlightenment, industrial and steam tech up to the capability of materials tech that could support internal combustion engines, industrial chemistry or electronics. Crude mass production is possible, as is heavy industry capable of producing items that don't require advanced materials technology such as the mass production of high quality steel.
  • Technological - Vehicles, aircraft, electronics, radio communications, advanced industrial chemistry, advanced materials, heavy industry capable of producing large machinery. This is as much an economic capability as a technological one. With this level of technical capability, one could licence production and technology for higher tech items. This level could conceivably support early spaceflight tech and maintaining satellites in orbit, although would be more likely to import these from outside unless they were isolated or economically disadvantaged to the point that this was not possible. See King David's Spaceship for an example of the latter situation.
  • Spacefaring - the society is capable of maintaining spacecraft and orbital facilities, and has a spaceborne economy at some level. This implies technology such as reusable SSTO spacecraft and nuclear propulsion. If isolated, these could have been developed locally; If not isolated, this is more of an economic distinction from Starfaring than a technological one. Generally, one would assume higher tech spacecraft and infrastructure to be significantly cheaper than items produced with lower technology.
  • Starfaring - More of a political or economic distinction than a technological one if you assume that FTL drive technology is widely available. the society is capable of maintaining an interstellar economy. If technological change or inequality is to be a thing in the setting, this could be further split, but I just used this as a proxy for 'the technology readily available on the open market'.
  • 'Alien high tech' - Higher technology than the players normally have access to.
 
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I don't know. 40 years of introducing new players to Traveller and I've never had to do more than have someone read the TL descriptions in the game material and ask a few questions. And explain about TL & what can be manufactured based on that. I've not had someone not understand the basics after that.
 
And yeah, as expected smartphones are just small computers with a phone in them. Not any serious tech shift, just miniaturization and combination. Socially they've caused serious shifts, but as tech they're just an example of miniaturization as a tech & engineering matures.
I don't like cell phones or smart phones. I don't even own one.

But, to me, reducing the juxtaposition of an old rotary phone to a modern smartphone to 'it's just miniaturization' misses the point. The smartphone is a gateway to the internet. It offers access to metric f*tonnes of information that were very hard to obtain in the 1960s. In fact, information that in the 1960s absolutely no computer held--so even if you had a minaturized computer then it could not have had the same functionality. What the juxtaposition points towards is a broader information revolution.

I also find it somewhat weird that these players on the one hand are described as knowing nothing about technology or history but apparently do know enough to say that a smartphone is just miniaturization of an existing technology of the 1960s.
 
I think it's worth noting that a smart phone is just a computer that happens to have built-in comms and media capabilities - radio, screen, video camera, speaker and microphones. Most of the functionality of the phone - including making phone calls - is just software running on the computer. In other circumstances, people might well think of this as a hand computer that happens to have comms. There was a point when we had a gizmo known as a 'Personal Digital Assistant', perhaps exemplified best by the Handspring Palm Pilot. This was essentially a smart phone without the multimedia. It's arguably Apple's hype about the iPhone that drove the industry from that direction rather than any other. It could just as easily have gone the other way.
 
Whatever works, works:thumbsup:.

Though I'd note that my example of smartphones as a shift wasn't that computers didn't exist before, it was the idea to combine a communication device with an audio, video, photo, and computational device:shade:.

Besides, miniaturisation is a meaningful difference to me, maybe because SIZe is, in my book, a good idea for an attribute...:grin:
Size is, to me, an important attribute at the tactical level of the game. "Can I pick it up? Do I need both hands?" Tech level is more of a operations or strategic level of the game. "Where do we need to go? How do we get there?"

Last night's game had a bounty hunter attack a player on a city bus. The bus was automated because that's the tech level of the planet. I just replaced the driver's seat and controls with a big box and an emergency button. But the size of the computer driving the bus doesn't matter at the "describe the planet's tech level" layer. Could be a singe super microchip, a person size box, or a big room offsite doing remote control. The tech level thing is "computers sophisticated enough to drive a car", not if its bigger or smaller than a bread box.

That's just my view on tech level. Miniturization is useful and a sign of a mature tech, but its not the demarcation between levels like "industrial age" and "space age".
 
Yeah, we're not talking about the same thing at all.
 
Saying a smart phone is just a little computer is a gross oversimplification. The current smart phones put more computing power in your hand than the most powerful computer in the world in 1978 (Cray 1).

 
Saying a smart phone is just a little computer is a gross oversimplification. The current smart phones put more computing power in your hand than the most powerful computer in the world in 1978 (Cray 1).



And here we are with a supercomputer in our pocket, using it to shitpost on forums.
I think there is value in pointing out that the top end, only mega corps or governments have this capability tech of TL-X becomes your borderline homeless guy has that at TL-Y.

There are folks who hand out smartphones with prepaid minutes to the homeless in my area so that above isn't a complete exaggeration. Think about that implication. What only the Biggest of the big could justify operating at one level is so pervasive and common at another we feel the lowest on the economic rung must have to survive. I think that might help get the seismic shift across.
 
There's an article on Bunnie Huang's web site where he pulls apart a phone that sells for less than $10.
 
I think there is value in pointing out that the top end, only mega corps or governments have this capability tech of TL-X becomes your borderline homeless guy has that at TL-Y.

There are folks who hand out smartphones with prepaid minutes to the homeless in my area so that above isn't a complete exaggeration. Think about that implication. What only the Biggest of the big could justify operating at one level is so pervasive and common at another we feel the lowest on the economic rung must have to survive. I think that might help get the seismic shift across.

Right, when the Cray 1 was introduced, the NSA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were fighting to be the first to receive one. Now pretty much every teenager in the developed world has one in their pocket.

I think the effect of the internet also gets overlooked. That is easily on par with the development of the printing press. When you combine smart phones and the internet you end up with peasants in the 3rd world having access to some of the greatest libraries on earth.
 
Right, when the Cray 1 was introduced, the NSA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were fighting to be the first to receive one. Now pretty much every teenager in the developed world has one in their pocket.

I think the effect of the internet also gets overlooked. That is easily on par with the development of the printing press. When you combine smart phones and the internet you end up with peasants in the 3rd world having access to some of the greatest libraries on earth.
Here's the example of how massive a smart phone is as a change to society.

Take a far out place in Africa. We completely leapfrogged the need to run electrical cables out to get electricity to a small village because "Hey Solar! and Good Batteries!" Do we need to run long telephone/coaxial/fiber cable there? No we just set up some Cell Towers! Suddenly the farthest flung places can be connected to the most powerful computers in the world in real time to with a fraction of the cost.
What does that mean for said village? Well it means it can now find out the actual price of the goods sold in the nearest major city. So when some middleman says I can only pay you X when they know they can sell it for 20X the villager can say " No it costs 2x to transport it and 2x for your time so for you to make a good profit you can still pay me 4x."
 
Here's the example of how massive a smart phone is as a change to society.

Take a far out place in Africa. We completely leapfrogged the need to run electrical cables out to get electricity to a small village because "Hey Solar! and Good Batteries!" Do we need to run long telephone/coaxial/fiber cable there? No we just set up some Cell Towers! Suddenly the farthest flung places can be connected to the most powerful computers in the world in real time to with a fraction of the cost.
What does that mean for said village? Well it means it can now find out the actual price of the goods sold in the nearest major city. So when some middleman says I can only pay you X when they know they can sell it for 20X the villager can say " No it costs 2x to transport it and 2x for your time so for you to make a good profit you can still pay me 4x."

Similar to the situation in "The boy who harnessed the wind" except he had to use books, since he didn't have internet available. A teenager in Africa around 2000 built a small power generating windmill from bicycle parts. Initially just enough to power a lightbulb so he could read after his farming chores were done. Eventually he built a large enough windmill to provide basic electricity to the village.

In an interview he said people asked him why he didn't "just use Google". They didn't have internet in his village so he didn't know what Google was. When he was shown Google, his reply was "that would have been very useful". :smile:
 
I think the effect of the internet also gets overlooked. That is easily on par with the development of the printing press.
Except education level leapt upwards with invention and use of the printing press while the opposite has happened with the internet. I know that this effect has been overlooked.
 
Except education level leapt upwards with invention and use of the printing press while the opposite has happened with the internet. I know that this effect has been overlooked.

Hey stupid people are going to stupid. I don't actually believe the internet makes people dumb, it just makes it easier for them to share it.
 
Straw man. The FACT is that since the WWW came online education levels have plummeted in school age people.
I'd be interested to see a strong study & data behind that. I have a feeling it might be more akin to people lamenting education was being ruined by books because kids weren't memorizing everything.

Subject change:

How does everyone conceive of or use "tech level" in their games? Because I'm seeing a lot of things thrown around under the auspices of "tech level" that I consider more side effects of specific technologies on specific societies, something I use a "civ level" measure for.
 
Straw man. The FACT is that since the WWW came online education levels have plummeted in school age people.

Blaming plummeting education levels on the internet alone, is simplifying the problem in my opinion.
Social heritage also has a big impact on such things for example. Technology has advanced so rapidly, that society as a whole has a hard time keeping up with it, not just the education system.
Here in Denmark for example, the school system has finally begun to take kids phones away from them, while they are in school. Just so they can concentrate on actually learning. The kids love it by the way.
 
Straw man. The FACT is that since the WWW came online education levels have plummeted in school age people.

I find that doubtful, considering how much easier it has become to learn. I like to see a well documented study backing that claim.
 
[ . . . ]

How does everyone conceive of or use "tech level" in their games? Because I'm seeing a lot of things thrown around under the auspices of "tech level" that I consider more side effects of specific technologies on specific societies, something I use a "civ level" measure for.

I'm not convinced that the concept of technological progression is terribly useful unless you want persistent technology differences baked into your world. If so, what are you hoping to achieve by doing that?

We still have tribal societies in the world today, and their state is more of a function of isolation than anything else. You can also see tribal societies where folks live in villages out in the middle of the cuds but have cell phones.

I did a sci-fi setting where I mostly threw out the concept of tech level. There are some specific examples of isolation, which are there specifically as a mcguffin, but otherwise it's assumed that if a technology is on the market it will get pretty much everywhere fairly quickly. You can see something a bit like it in Star Wars, where the technology just sits in the ambient environment.

Now, there is a reason for this. The universe is intended to be an interstellar society, with quite a lot going on between the worlds. Some other sci-fi will treat planets as being an isolated theme park ('pleasure planet', 'desert world', 'forest moon'). I wanted to do a space opera where interesting things happened between the worlds. Star Trek and The Expanse are more like this with much of the fun stuff happening off planet - they are very centred about their spaceships. Some other franchises such as the Dumarest Saga treat individual planets as relatively isolated and self-contained islands that each have their individual mcguffin.

Technological inequality can make for a good literary mcguffin, but (hot take) is less interesting in a role playing game where it normally only manifests in the armament of antagonists. A lot of technological inequality is just for show, or is actually just a proxy for economic circumstances. For example, Zulu depicts tribesmen armed with spears and traditional dress, whereas Shaka's army actually had quite a lot of rifles. If bunches of trigger-happy adventurers routinely turn up armed with blasters, perhaps the locals might try to get hold of some for themselves.

So, I'll answer this question with another question in three parts:
  • Why is technology so unevenly distributed in your universe? What forces are preventing the dissemination of the know-how, or simply trade in high-tech goods?
  • Is the technological inequality a specific feature of your universe, or just an assumption inherited from Traveller - what purpose does it serve?
  • Why not both? Economic inequality and local resources, plus some imported goods.
Also, I could write an even longer and more tedious rant about the role of happenstance in the development of technology, what its triggers and limiting factors might be, and how some technologies could have been developed much earlier than they actually were. For example, we went from the invention of the transistor in 1949 to IBM having transistorised computers on the market (1401 and 7090 series) in about 10 years, and to machines based on 1st generation integrated circuits in another 5.

Most of the technology needed to make transistors (e.g. growing silicon crystals) was available by about 1875. What might have happened if quantum theory and Turing's halting problem paper had been developed and published 50 years earlier?

If you think that's preposterous, consider that Babbage published the first of his papers about the Analytical Engine (a real, live stored-program digital computer) in 1837, and had previously built other mechanical computers. He was limited by the precision manufacturing technology of the day, so he never got it working. However, somebody did get funding to build one in the 1980s and proved that the design actually worked.
 
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Anyone else have any other ideas, methods, or tricks for communicating the tech differences to non-technical non-scifi people?
Who doesn't know (adults) what fission, fusion, iron age, etc., is? It really doesn't take a person with any education above Jr. High level
 
Who doesn't know (adults) what fission, fusion, iron age, etc., is? It really doesn't take a person with any education above Jr. High level
Because there's bits of the US public education system that are criminally underfunded*. Adults whose exposure to the historical "iron age" is the movies Gladiator and 300. For whom fusion and fission are both "nuclear energy" that do the same thing. Because to people who came into the hobby from playing World of Warcraft read the Traveller tech level list like a "where to go buy big guns" list.

My setting has varying tech for varying reasons. Some places got nuked back to the stone age. Others lacked critical expertise, knowledge, or resources when a trade route dried up. A few have despotic rulers keeping folks down with their army of imported grav-tanks. Just like not every state in the USA has a jet aircraft factory and large research particle accelerators so does not every system have a warp drive factory or is researching stellar engineering.

The tech level is, in my game, a fast way to say "this is the sort of stuff that's most common and locally produced, imports will cost more or be unavailable".

* my state hasn't increased base funding in something like ten years. There's a condemned school in use. Never got the funds to fix the roof.
 
Because there's bits of the US public education system that are criminally underfunded*.
If it's just bits then the vast majority should be fine. I'm sure it's only a couple of % of the total
 
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