10 May 2024

Higher Technology Items on a Low Tech World

If they run, they're barbarians!
This is a post that's been brewing in my head for a while about how technology can leak down the technology levels in Traveller. It will cover mandatory high technology, common imports to both governments and private concerns, and bootstraping technology. It was heavily influenced by this image of Roman Legion re-enactors manning a machine gun.

There is, as I see it, one item of mandatory high technology that will occur on any world that has an operating starport. That is a base station to communicate and offer some space traffic control. As in, keep the free trader from crashing on approach. It's going to be a standardized design from the IISS and Starport Authority. The Imperium is heavily run by the corporate classes, and one thing I do feel safe in stating is that certain navigation features will be standardized. The minimum outfit would be a simple antenna farm, a central computer with attached communications, and geostationary satellite. On worlds lacking indigenous electricity production, or where connecting to a grid is impractical, the rudimentary standardized system is powered by low maintenance generation. Typically, 'walk away' capable fusion plants, solar arrays, geothermal, and radiothermal generators are used for surface installations, of designed power outputs. Important factors for this equipment include reliability and minimal need for spare parts for all elements. This applies to small scale, Class E, ports, in newly established areas. In my vision of the Traveller Universe, inhabited worlds rarely have a Class E starport for more than a few decades, particularly on trade routes. The development of the surrounding area may easily push it into the Class D rating. Considering how GT: Starports notes that setting up a Class I (E) port is as simple as landing two cutters, clearing an area, establishing an extraterritoriality line, and maybe setting up an office, along with a communication station. It also notes that many have an 'artist's conception' of a future starport.

Kenya's Amboseli Airstrip  
Now, looking at technological imports that are common to see. The first is equipment to protect the government. The cadre of foreign bodyguards is an old idea, stretching back to King David of Israel, see the Second Book of Samuel chapter 15, verse 18. A small unit of off-world specialists would do wonders in this case. Players forming a unit for this role was a ticket in Book 4 back in the Classic era, but not only would there be specialists, there would also be equipment. Body scanners for concealed weapons, small arms for the bodyguards, or advanced aerospace defenses for the capitol city. These I would see as near universal. The technology advantage can be used to keep the local population explicitly down, in the fashion of Burgess in "Heart of Gold", or be a final defense against enemies. The space given in the Official Traveller Universe for the nature of worlds allows a referee a vast area to determine the nature of a specific planetary government. The exact nature of a government and the populace it rules over is something wisely left to referees!  Frequently, cheap small arms will also be imported. If you have ever seen the movie Lord of War, guns are a lucrative trade good, easily available when a government fails, or if there are governments that see selling weapons as just another export industry. Finally, in this version would be simple medical practices. Things like the germ theory of disease, or useful medical treatments would end up saving the lives of many. Actions like that would do wonders in getting the loyalty of citizens.

Now, we look at bootstraping a technology base. This, I define as providing a path for accelerated technological development to provide a sustainable technology base, producing goods and technologically trained personnel. Not uplifting, but getting a low technology area developed into the stellar mainstream. I do not see this as an easy development. It would require, about half the time of a natural technological progress to occur. In some cases, that could be a century. While a resource extraction based low technology society may have a large number of higher technology artifacts, or trade goods available, these are not sustainable. What I mean, is not only are the goods available, but the labor to produce and repair them is needed. It's almost like the American westward expansion, particularly as run by James J. Hill (right) along the route of the Great Northern Railroad. The development of supply routes, provision of industry, availability of technical training.  In my Traveller Universe, one of the less official roles of established starports is to serve as education hubs on minor worlds. On all but the most xenophobic worlds, the requirement that citizens be able to enter the starport offers a release of some dissidents and a slow increase in technology at the same time. The Contact and Liaison branch of the IISS would often sponsor educational facilities aimed at improving local lives. This could also occur with some forethought, with an Alexandria location planned containing a repository of technical information in a new colony.

There are just my thoughts, and feel free to comment.


  1. While I definitely agree that tech level is a measure of infrastructure such infrastructure can be hard and costly to build. Among other things it can require a large amount of social engineering which generally goes against the imperial charter. Also it may require resources not available on the world in question, while any system is going to have the needed resources the world itself may not making it impossible to obtain out of local resources. I don’t see uplifting a tech base as being something that the imperium would invest the extreme resources to do especially since the imperium doesn’t rule worlds but instead protects trade between worlds. While if a world is seeking to build its infrastructure I can see the imperium helping I don’t see it necessarily being something they push.

    1. The presence of the C&L branch of the IISS indicates there's some preference for development in the 3rd Imperium setting. There's also the desire to improve. A way for the Aristocrats to impress each other is by improving ones demense.

  2. Knowing something can be done is half the battle. That's one of the reasons why I consider most tech levels to represent the available industrial tech and social level of the world. It is not the knowledge that is missing, but the industrial capacity. It is quite easy using Roman tech to make an open bolt sub-machine gun, for example. Although the tolerances and materials would not be up to WW2 standards. However making the ammunition for it would require a lot of craftsman laboriously hand-crafting the cartridges - enough to supply only a few.

    [In one interesting Traveller variant game I ran the costs of interstellar travel was prohibitive, so that TL dropped as you approached the Frontier. Resulting in one battle on a colonial planet that would have not looked strange to the Romans. On the other hand military tech is not just the materials, but the knowledge of how to use them effectively.]

    On the other hand, I do recommend the Turtledove short story Half the Battle [IIRC] for a fun treatment pf this idea on a post-apocalyptic game.