Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 134: Kinds of Technology for Sci-Fi Games

Main Topic

Technology is ubiquitous in Sci-Fi. As a matter of fact it is actually one of the defining elements to the genre. Is this something you are going to make major or minor as well. The questions and how you answer them is going to be important to how you bring technology into your Sci-Fi game. Technology can also be a hot topic at gaming tables, more than magic, because a lot of gamers know more about technology and have strong feelings about it. 

  • What sort of Tech Level is the setting? 

Tech levels loosely refers to the way that technology acts on the world. The higher the Tech Level, the more advanced the tech – for example the Firefly lower tech level with chemical slugthrowers versus a Star Trek Phaser directed energy weapon. Battlestar Galactica showed a way to have a split Tech Level where the Vipers and Galactica were somewhat lower tech than other settings, but the jump drive they used was a higher tech. 

  • Is your Tech Grounded or Imaginative? 

This is also how “realistic” is your technology. The more grounded a setting’s technology, the more Science the setting is compared to the Fiction part for the Imaginative side of this axis. For example, the way a spaceship travels in The Expanse is very different from the way that a spaceship travels in Star Wars. 

  • What is the origin or power source of your Tech?

This can be about whether the Tech is alien or human derived. Often tied into the previous question, the more Imaginative a Tech or the higher a Tech Level the more you may feel the desire to attribute the tech to alien, or extrahuman, sources. Stargate made great use of a high Tech Level gate technology that came from an extrahuman origin and even human advancements were tied to that extraterrestrial trade. Human tech is often seen in Battlestar Galactica.   

  • Biological or Synthetic technology base?

There is also a question for whether your technology will have a biologic component. In Dune, there is a Biological aspect to the technology that replaces computers for reasons of the setting. Synthetic technology is the classic sci-fi technology of metals, plastics, and blinking lights. A lot of anime settings make fuller use of the biological technology base. 

  • Is it Clean or Dirty?

No matter what the other questions are, this question sets a tone for the game and setting. Think about the difference between the way the Technology in Star Wars is portrayed versus Star Trek – the latter is Dirty where there is a clanging and messy way about fixing it while the former is streamlined and even when being fixed is done in a rather pristine manner. This could also be seen as a blue collar versus white collar description or even a mechanic versus a designer style. Kaylee versus Geordi. 

Stat Blocks



Laten Overwatch Articulation or LOA for short is capable of tracking a soldier’s physical condition as well as his combat gear. The Loa is an implanted chipset that connects to the Artificial Intelligence of their unit. Once on line the two function as a seamless whole the AI feeding intel and basic info about ammo to things like how far and fast the soldier can run. This is useful for the commanders to deploy troops that can do the most good in a situation. 

But with all things tech based there are drawbacks. Hacking being the first threat that comes to mind. It is far less of an issue than most think. The bigger issue is when the LOA spends too much time focused on a single person. One would think that this would be good but in reality it starts to push that person further than is reasonable. Another problem that might be even more dangerous is a LOA that isn’t kept from seeing more of the horrors of humanity then is truly good. Mankind is a monster to everything around it. From the planet to each other, nothing is safe from the things we will do to get ahead. 

If a LOA were able to evolve past its set parameters then you might see an uprising or maybe an uplifting of mankind. In the end the first AI mankind created was to be better at killing and hurting each other so what does that say about our outlook on things. 

How to Use LOA in Game:

LOA is a first or second generation AI that while useful is also a window into the human condition. Use it as such or something similar to show people the horrors that we are capable of doing to ourselves and our world. 


Ashes of Time

It appears to be an ornate antique hourglass.  Accented with Lapis and Obsidian.  Grey ash falls steadily from the top bulb, collecting in a small pile in the lower bulb.  As the last piece falls, the old man standing at the desk lets out a strangled gasp and begins to keel over. A small fire starts at the palm of his hand.  His body is completely immolated before reality sets in.

The old man’s ashes rise and materialize in the top bulb.

The price has been paid.

The ashes of time have appeared randomly throughout history.  Offering wisdom and forbidden knowledge.  It’s no accident that Carter was able to find the tomb of Tutankhamun.  Or unearthing the Rosetta stone in 1799 during the napoleonic campaign.  You’ve heard the modern stories of someone investing in apple when they were young, only to discover the stocks were worth a fortune.  It’s the result of consulting the ashes of time.

The ashes will always provide accurate information.  No riddles and mysteries.  Simple and clear answers.  

It’s the powersource that fuels the ashes that brings the risk.  The ashes are fueled by a human soul.   Each request for information uses up a bit of power.  When no power remains, the ashes become ravenous. They will devour the soul of the closest individual.   Depending on how long it’s been without power, it may gorge itself, devouring the souls of everyone in a radius as large as a quarter mile.  These disappearances that the Ashes of Time cause have been covered up.  Tomb collapses, deaths on the battlefield, explorers getting lost in the jungle.  Seems that the rumors of perfect knowledge combined with human greed is still one of the most dangerous combinations in existance.

How to Use Ashes of Time in Game:

It can be used as a deus ex machina device if their party (or GM) have gotten themselves into a corner and can’t get out.  Or be the Macguffin that caused the elimination of a whole town


Toolkit TK119675

The worst part of the damnable thing isn’t the rust. It isn’t the slightly awkward grips on each of the tools in the kit. You can live with the seemingly indescribable ability to attract more grime and crud no matter how much you clean them. No. It’s the extra toolhead that is missing. 

Every toolkit you’ve ever seen has followed the same basic structure. There is only so much space, so even the Mass Bibliotecha Militium use the same understanding of space. A tool kit needs what a tool kit needs – no more and no less. When space is at a premium in the stars, there has to be a reason to each and every square centimeter of space. That is why the unfilled reservoir for a toolhead is aggravating. 

When you got this toolkit, expertly liberated from a library patron who longer needed anything at all, the toolkit had an empty slot. Nothing else in the toolkit will fit. Nothing else seems made for it. Otherwise, the Toolkit is perfect. The other extra toolheads have come in handy, and you suspect that may even be specific to the MBM designs and work. That could come in handy if the Librarian Shock Troops were ever looking for you. What would that toolhead unlock? Are there secrets that the Powers that Be keep away from the rest of us? 

What do you do when you find the toolhead that fits the last empty slot? 

How to Use Toolkit TK119675 in Game:

I like McGuffins. This allows you to weave in either a search for the missing toolhead if you have inquisitive players, or a plot thread to dangle in front of them when needed for the less exploration minded. Technology could hide mundane things like infrastructure conduits, even on a galactic scale, or it could unlock hidden technology kept from the masses. It’s up to you. 

Closing remarks 

Zendead – Oats Studios Holy cow if you like Short Films and like Sci-fi this series is for you. I was hooked after I think like 3 minutes. And the first one I saw had Sigourney Weaver. So good and creepy but so sci-fi. It is on Netflix so go watch it. Most or short like 10 minutes or so. 

Joules – Metal Family 

Guard-a-Manger – Continuum. A time travel shades of grey police procedural tv show starring Rachel Nichols. It was cut short, and the last season very clearly shows a compressed story structure to cram in everything needed to complete the creator’s story. Regardless, its a great way to show an integration of technology into a world and setting including limitations on the technology. If you can find it. 

Music is courtesy of Sim on Twitter you can find him at @TheSimulacrae

This episode was sponsored by the new webstore Tabletop Land 

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And Thanks to Merriam-Webster  and Online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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