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Parsing Tech Levels

Our tech goes (almost) to eleven…

Being multi-genre, Chimera accommodates campaigns in any time or setting. There’s an obvious need to quantify a campaign’s Technology Level (TL), and to keep things simple (and because I like round numbers), Chimera uses Technology Levels (TL) ranging from one (primitive) to ten (far-future).

As a game convention, Tech Level is very basic, but it does a good job of encapsulating a setting’s technical advancement. For example, typical fantasy worlds aren’t much past TL 3, but a “lost valley” area within that campaign might be TL 2. Sci-fi campaigns, almost by definition, are TL 9 or 10.

Still, it’s possible for a given setting to have mixed technology (think Ewoks fighting stormtroopers, but ignore Martin Lawrence in Black Knight). To give TL a bit more nuance, here’s a roster of real-world developments within each Tech Level.

TL 1: Primitive
The lowest level of technology is possessed by cavemen and hunter-gatherers who spend the bulk of their time merely trying to survive the elements, predators, and rivals for food and territory.

  • Science: fire, light farming
  • Medicine: leaf-poultices
  • Defence: clubs, stone spear- and arrowheads
  • Society: family- or clan based
  • Religion: animal totems, nature worship
  • Example: Neanderthals in the Caves of Altimira
  • Themes: overall survival where even the most basic tools are a boon

TL 2: Ancient
Describes early civilisations that possess crude but functional tools, codified laws, structured government, and social hierarchies. This tech level includes both fledging societies like Mesopotamia and grand empires such as those created by the Romans. A trend in many ancient civilisations is the disparity of advancement in different areas—for example, the Egyptians excelled at mathematics, but decided not to bother with the wheel when building pyramids.

  • Science: wheels, zero, the four-element view
  • Medicine: herbal remedies and good first-aid
  • Defence: metal weapons, siege machines, war elephants and chariots
  • Society: city-states, complex social strata
  • Religion: pantheism
  • Example: ancient Babylonians, classical Greeks, and mythical Atlanteans
  • Themes: rise and influence of great empires over less-developed peoples

TL 3: Medieval
Encompassing the so-called Dark or Middle Ages, TL 3 societies tend to fall behind the strides made by their TL 2 forebears, though they’re in many ways more stable in terms of religion, government, and law. Social order is established by complex ecclesiastic and secular precedents, the growth of feudal economics, and the rise of competitive power bases that seek maximum influence over the population.

  • Science: “If she weighs the same as a duck. . .”
  • Medicine: leeches and the four humours
  • Defence: mounted knights, siege machines, stone and timber castles
  • Society: feudal kingdoms, warlords, distinct social roles
  • Religion: pantheism in rural areas, with a rising monotheism
  • Example: the Angles and Saxons after the fall of the Roman Empire
  • Themes: romantic fantasy with the possible infusion of magic

TL 4: Exploration
As the medieval feudal system gives rise to a powerful merchant class, science, philosophy, art, and enlightenment are advanced in proportion. The middle class possess financial influence sufficient to challenge the absolute rule of traditional monarchies. As populations grow, revolutionary technologies allow people to expand beyond their continental boundaries.

  • Science: gravity, rise of astronomy, printing press
  • Medicine: rising interest in pharmaceuticals
  • Defence: gun power and cannon, improved cavalry and naval power
  • Society: powerful middle class, increasingly subtle rules of etiquette
  • Religion: monotheism dominant with subtle variations in theme
  • Example: the Italian trading centres of the 15th–17th centuries
  • Themes: swashbuckling and political intrigue

TL 5: Imperial
The so-called Age of Exploration spawns the discovery of and desire to control trade in foreign commodities and the practical need to shift rapidly growing populations (whether for political, religious, punitive, or secular reasons). The colonisation of new lands by powerful states brings about new social hierarchies, economic priorities, and defensive needs.

  • Science: laws of motion, advanced maths, atomic theory
  • Medicine: recognition of disease-causing microbes
  • Defence: bigger guns, better powder
  • Society: rise of trading concerns, colonial hierarchies develop
  • Religion: monotheistic worship in distinct variations
  • Example: European colonialism of the 16th–18th centuries
  • Themes: independence from patron states and economic or political freedom

TL 6: Industrial
The development of increasingly efficient means of production through advances in science promotes great industrial growth. Class distinctions become highly apparent as low- and working-class populations crowd together in conditions of filth, poverty, and disease. The upper class makes their living on the backs of cheap labourers, reap great rewards, and live in opulence.

  • Science: steam power, electric lights, telegraph, photography
  • Medicine: principles of vaccination discovered, cocaine as a cure-all
  • Defence: even bigger guns, repeating firearms
  • Society: growing gap between the poor, the working class, and the rich
  • Religion: monotheistic, but with solid variations in different faiths
  • Example: Victorian London or the American Civil War
  • Themes: unrelenting development at the expense of humanity

TL 7: Modern
Borne of the huge industrial monopolies that provide unprecedented levels of mass production and luxury, the modern era sees powerful nations strengthen their global influence. Governments continue to morph as citizens demand the rights to self-determination in an increasingly shrinking world.

  • Science: telephone, radio, television, automobile, air planes
  • Medicine: disease cures and vaccinations, miracle drugs
  • Defence: air warfare, machine guns, tanks, submarines, atomic weapons
  • Society: increasingly vocal and participatory in securing individual rights
  • Religion: worship grows casual as material luxuries grow abundant
  • Example: 1920’s America, Russian revolution, WWII Europe
  • Themes: global conflict, peoples caught between old and new ways of life

TL 8: Post-modern
The so-called post-modern era consists of more or less stable governments that, through overwhelming military and economic development, hold each other in check within the global forum. Armed conflicts are based as much on ideology as territorial gain, and people exercise greater freedoms within and across national borders.

  • Science: jets, early computers, particle accelerators, nuclear power, space travel
  • Medicine: organ transplants and miracle operations, early genetics
  • Defence: guided missiles, basic bio-chemical weapons, precision bombing
  • Society: values of personal freedom eclipse social obligations
  • Religion: traditional beliefs questioned, fringe cults popular
  • Example: Vietnam-era America, establishment of United Nations, present-day Earth
  • Themes: political awakening, contemporary settings and conflicts

TL 9: Near-future
As humans crowd the planet, there’s an increased focus on extraterrestrial resources and the colonisation of the solar system. Greater cooperation between nations (whose populations are set to bursting) occurs as countries coordinate resources to combat global disasters, famine, and pandemics. Threats to peaceful society manifest as radical religious and terrorist groups, though the unchecked consumption of developed nations can, at any time, lead to a level of resource scarcity that plunges civilisation into absolute chaos.

  • Science: planetary travel, advanced robotics and early cyborgs, fusion power
  • Medicine: brain mapping, genetic manipulation, synthetic blood, cryo-revival
  • Defence: rail guns, targeted chemical and biological agents, SDI
  • Society: globally aware with subtle migrations to a single world order
  • Religion: self-empowered mono-spiritualism replaces more traditional religions
  • Example: 21st century Earth
  • Themes: expansion into the solar system, vague social morality

TL 10: Far-future
What we’ll call the post-Terran era, the far future sees extra-solar travel and the possible contact between humans and intelligent alien life. Earth is perhaps governed by a single council of representative nations, who seek to craft a utopia where disease, famine, and poverty are all but eliminated. Efforts to do so are compromised by the global damage already wrought by humanity, but are not categorically doomed to failure. At some point, Earthlings pool resources either to save the planet and realise their utopian vision or leave the dying Earth to scatter themselves amongst the stars.

  • Science: sub-light travel, self-aware androids, limited teleportation
  • Medicine: bionic operations, nerve regeneration, advanced genetics
  • Defence: plasma beams, disruptor rays, thought weaponry
  • Society: extraterrestrial colonisation constantly reinvents society
  • Religion: monotheistic devotions become an afterthought
  • Example: post-21st century Earth
  • Themes: Colonisation of the stars, galactic empires, interstellar conflict

Final Words

The levels above are deliberately general, with many overlaps in technological advancements from period to period. This allows flexibility when combining genre with technology to describing your own campaign settings. For example, an Old West campaign setting is TL 6, a campaign based on The Maltese Falcon is TL 7 pulp, and the TV series Stargate: SG1 is a sci-fi brew set in TL 9, but integrated with TL 2 undertones.

  1. December 16th, 2009 at 23:45 | #1

    I found this wonderfully helpful. I’ve played and run a few GURPS games, and whenever anyone starts talking TL at me, I completely shut down. But I have seen the light! Thank you so much!

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