Tech in Traveller

phavoc

Cosmic Mongoose
I wrote this up to explain to new players how tech in Traveller works. After reading a couple of threads I thought I would share my perspective on how the game handles the differences in tech between worlds (updated with feedback)

Tech in Traveller
Trying to understand the flow of technology between planets works in Traveller can be daunting, especially for the new player. Why would a planet with TL-13 capabilities be next to one with only TL-5? And how can you colonize a planet using say TL-12 ships when the planet’s technology level is only TL-6? Not to mention why would any planet be building steam locomotives when grav technology has already been discovered? The answer lies somewhere between the game mechanics and economics.

Let’s address the game mechanics first. Traveller is, first and foremost, a role-playing game. The technologic and economic models that are used in the game have never been meant to mirror reality. Why? Because we already live in reality and who wants to role-player mortgage lenders, longshoremen and sanitation engineers? We have jobs that pay us so we can buy the game for that! It’s not at all unexpected that players will scratch their heads and say “I don’t get this”. A balance between the playability and a suspension of reality must be balanced. Fortunately the beauty of pretty much every role-playing game is that the referee and players can modify, add or drop any rule they find too cumbersome or annoying for their gaming pleasure.

Is there a downside to this? To an extent, yes. The downside is that you are moving away from the established rules that the game system has. So long as you keep your own rules in house (i.e. a house rule) there isn’t an issue. But when you bring a new player in you will need to provide them the tome of house rules so that they can get up to speed and find out the difference between what the book says and what your group’s modifications are. There’s also an issue when you start discussing the game with players on gaming boards and such. If you have modified the published rule set you and your discussion companions are now approaching the gaming topics from different angles. This can, as any user of a gaming board will attest to, create some potentially interesting conversations to say the least.

For those that do wholesale modifications of the rules you have now established a new gaming system – which kind of defeats the purpose of purchasing rule books, supplements and the like. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it is something that needs to be thought about – especially if you are looking to take advantage and participate in your gaming community. Being able to tap into others thoughts can be invaluable for a taxed referee or a group that needs something new injected into their regular gaming sessions.

So now let’s address the economic aspects of technology in Traveller. Interstellar travel requires a minimum of TL-8 for the necessary jump drive. These are cutting-edge pieces of equipment that is not more economically available until the planet reaches the level at which the technology is introduced. This runs true to reality as often we see things like telephones, televisions and the like available to early adopters who are willing to pay exorbitant sums to be first-adopters. The masses usually have to wait years for the price to drop to a level that they can afford. These same rules apply to the entire spectrum of equipment that is available.

Today, on Earth, you can find a mish-mash of technology around the world. Some areas on Earth have an equivalent tech level of TL-3 to TL-4. This hasn’t changed in hundreds of years due to local conditions (government, infrastructure, society, etc.). And yet that subsistence farmer who still uses animals to plow his fields and take his goods to market may own a cell phone, have solar power in his hovel and his children are being taught using a laptop. This same dichotomy is present in Traveller. Just like in the real world the game follows certain trends in the human condition. When China essentially bootstrapped itself from TL-5 to TL-8 it was able to do so in just a few decades. It was able to do this for two reasons – the first being that it had a positive balance of trade (meaning it was making more in exports than it was paying in imports). But the second, and possibly more important reason, is that it was able to import the technology from outside. By combining the ability to pay for what it did not have locally it was able to bypass the intervening required technological steps that other nations had to experience.

But there is a price to be paid for skipping the intervening tech levels – experience. China has worked for decades to wean itself off importing aircraft and developing its own expertise. They have been unable to consistently do so. On the civilian side, they have worked for over a decade to design and build a prototype aircraft that meets western certification standards – the C919, which is essentially an equivalent of the 737 which Boeing delivered in 1967. To date they have yet to fly the aircraft, even though the avionics and engines are being imported. On the military side China has been able to reverse engineer a number of Soviet designs and domestically build jet fighters, though they lack a great deal of refinement compared to western designs. In the area of military surveillance, China has been unable to quite figure out how to properly place antenna’s on an aircraft. It turns out that the actual work is as much an art as it is science, and it’s another area that US engineers had mastered. China was fortunate to have a damaged RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft land on their soil so that they could get their hands (albeit temporarily) for how it should work.

While the Chinese are able to copy and build parts for aircraft, they lack an established base of talent to actually build them from the ground up. The US, on the other hand, has continually been working towards improving commercial aircraft and their related technologies for over half a century. Technology transfers, either above-board or through espionage, are necessary for one nation (or planet in Traveller’s case) to skip the sometimes painful experience of having to learn through failure. But it is the nature of failure that often teaches as much as successes do. Which means that your local backwater TL-6 planet can get all the scientific data on how to build a fusion reactor, but without the ancillary knowledge of materials sciences, computer programming and other areas they will be unable to build one without first building up the necessary underlying infrastructure and knowledge base. This is something that will keep the planet at TL-6 until it is able to pay (or desire) a tech base upgrade.

This same concept is also carried over to Traveller. A planet with a listed tech level of TL-6 isn’t necessarily stuck on the planet unless some enterprising free trader happens by and offers them a lift to orbit. These planets were colonized from somewhere else and therefore there is a pre-existing link back to the higher tech worlds of the societies that colonized them in the first place. The TL-6 world is going to have fusion-powered shuttles to go from ground to orbit, they are going to have high tech consumer goods, weapons and medicines. What they won’t have though is wide-spread adoption of them across the planet. Locally produced hydro-carbon vehicles get you from most point A’s to point B’s just as well as an air-raft. They’ll require locally produced and supported roads and infrastructure to do so, but all of that is available locally and does not require anything to be imported. Which is the same reason today on our planet some farmers still use animals while others use GPS-enabled tractors following satellite-based paths.

From a gaming perspective these two issues can sometimes leave the players scratching their aforementioned heads. With just a little suspension of reality (which shouldn’t be a stretch considering we have 300,000 year old aliens who created our species and empires that span hundreds of parsecs as the basis of the game) all of this can fit together for your role-playing pleasure. The trick is to understand the underlying aspects of just why this may have occurred in the first place and then to use that understanding to play the game. It also offers players a rich universe in which they can explore, trade, or try to set themselves up as rulers of a planet (players usually have very lofty goals and it is the duty of every referee to keep them grounded, if slightly wounded and poor. 8) ).
 

sideranautae

Mongoose
Little correction. China's Maglev train was built by Germany. China has never been able to produce a commercial maglev train that has been implemented in other countries.

Nice write up though for new players & GM's.
 

phavoc

Cosmic Mongoose
I knew Siemens transferred some of the technology to them (that's one of the reasons they got the contract). I was under the impression they got more of it, but after you mentioned that I did some digging and found some conflicting articles. Some dated 2006 says Germany vetoed any wholesale tech transfer, and then I found another one that had Germany (in 2009) agreeing to transfer "parts of the core technology".

They have some of it, but maybe not all of it. Though it would be interesting to discover what refinements the Germans have made to the field after the initial creation by the US. I suspect they are refinements as the underlying technology (like magnets) changed.
 

sideranautae

Mongoose
phavoc said:
I knew Siemens transferred some of the technology to them (that's one of the reasons they got the contract). I was under the impression they got more of it, but after you mentioned that I did some digging and found some conflicting articles. Some dated 2006 says Germany vetoed any wholesale tech transfer, and then I found another one that had Germany (in 2009) agreeing to transfer "parts of the core technology".

They have some of it, but maybe not all of it. Though it would be interesting to discover what refinements the Germans have made to the field after the initial creation by the US. I suspect they are refinements as the underlying technology (like magnets) changed.

Yes. They transferred a lot of the tech. But, like with chip tech they stole from Intel, and still can't produce as advanced of chips because the talent and much underlying infrastructure isn't there. They couldn't build a commercial Maglev train themselves. It really is a shell of an advanced TL. Millions in China STILL live in caves after all.

Part of the problem is cultural. They stopped advancing in TL (from internal sources) about the time they invented gun powder. Most societies on Earth stopped advancing in TL at some point. From TL 0 in parts of Africa, Australia, New World to TL 2 most everywhere else. Only European cultures advanced under their own steam (pun intended) beyond that. Considering that it was hunter gatherer much more recently than places like China, India, Persia, Japan, Korea, et al that is quite an anomaly. Logic would have dictated that China would have been one of the leading Tech societies to emerge but, it wasn't to be.
 

phavoc

Cosmic Mongoose
sideranautae said:
Yes. They transferred a lot of the tech. But, like with chip tech they stole from Intel, and still can't produce as advanced of chips because the talent and much underlying infrastructure isn't there. They couldn't build a commercial Maglev train themselves. It really is a shell of an advanced TL. Millions in China STILL live in caves after all.

Part of the problem is cultural. They stopped advancing in TL (from internal sources) about the time they invented gun powder. Most societies on Earth stopped advancing in TL at some point. From TL 0 in parts of Africa, Australia, New World to TL 2 most everywhere else. Only European cultures advanced under their own steam (pun intended) beyond that. Considering that it was hunter gatherer much more recently than places like China, India, Persia, Japan, Korea, et al that is quite an anomaly. Logic would have dictated that China would have been one of the leading Tech societies to emerge but, it wasn't to be.

That's true. The educational system has a great influence on the efficacy of the educational system. While they may be able to steal the books, if they don't quite understand it then you can consider them smart monkeys, but not great apes. Plus the Asian educational system is rooted in teaching by rote - not a great platform upon which to base a creative tech society on.

I have updated my initial post based on your feedback about the maglev stuff. I substituted aircraft in place of trains.
 

sideranautae

Mongoose
phavoc said:
That's true. The educational system has a great influence on the efficacy of the educational system. While they may be able to steal the books, if they don't quite understand it then you can consider them smart monkeys, but not great apes. Plus the Asian educational system is rooted in teaching by rote - not a great platform upon which to base a creative tech society on.

Sucks getting old. I knew about the rote learning as a young man but I forgot. It explains a lot and I should have tied it together. Thanks for nudge to my brain! I wonder if that started with studying for the all important civil service exams in ancient China?

phavoc said:
I have updated my initial post based on your feedback about the maglev stuff. I substituted aircraft in place of trains.

Yes, they are going to be a MAJOR source of commercial aircraft in the not too distant future.
 

phavoc

Cosmic Mongoose
sideranautae said:
Yes, they are going to be a MAJOR source of commercial aircraft in the not too distant future.

I think the jury is still out on that. The C919 has yet to make its first flight and nobody knows if they'll be able to get western flight certificates - a pre-requisite to fly anywhere in the west or in most parts of the world.

Another issue that most don't know much about is that just because you can get the plane to fly and eventually pass certification, it doesn't mean people will buy it just because it's cheap. COMAC has done nothing to set up the necessary infrastructure to support their aircraft. Doing that is also another skillset the Chinese have yet to acquire. There have been rumors that it would be cheaper for them to purchase a smaller company, like Bombardier and leverage their expertise and setup to support COMAC aircraft. When Airbus first launched they, too, ran into this issue and it took them years to come to grips with it. And they were a fully western company with complete access through their industrial partners to the Boeing infrastructure system. And yet they still struggled. I can only imagine what type of nightmare it would be for COMAC to try and build it from scratch.
 

sideranautae

Mongoose
phavoc said:
sideranautae said:
Yes, they are going to be a MAJOR source of commercial aircraft in the not too distant future.

I think the jury is still out on that. The C919 has yet to make its first flight and nobody knows if they'll be able to get western flight certificates - a pre-requisite to fly anywhere in the west or in most parts of the world.

Another issue that most don't know much about is that just because you can get the plane to fly and eventually pass certification, it doesn't mean people will buy it just because it's cheap. COMAC has done nothing to set up the necessary infrastructure to support their aircraft. Doing that is also another skillset the Chinese have yet to acquire. There have been rumors that it would be cheaper for them to purchase a smaller company, like Bombardier and leverage their expertise and setup to support COMAC aircraft. When Airbus first launched they, too, ran into this issue and it took them years to come to grips with it. And they were a fully western company with complete access through their industrial partners to the Boeing infrastructure system. And yet they still struggled. I can only imagine what type of nightmare it would be for COMAC to try and build it from scratch.

Oh! I didn't think of the logistical & marketing side. I was only thinking of their apparent success in locally manufacturing Russian designed war planes.
 
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