Like Unto Gods
Really High Tech Levels for GURPS
by Dmitri Scull
If one is playing a high Ultra-Tech level campaign (even one as low as TL 12-13) one sometimes run into the problem that many of the "Precursor Artifacts" that are out there are not particularly that far advanced from the campaign tech level; in higher tech level campaigns, the potential for such advanced civilizations is even further curtailed; no guidelines exist for tech levels above 16, and TL 16 is only lightly detailed.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious; at such high tech levels, physical threats tend to fade; if one can build infinity rooms and full conversion power plants, what kind of dangers must one face to provide a challenge? "A rogue black hole? <yawn> Throw up the gravitic repulsors, and don't wake me again unless there is a real emergency."
Of course, not all campaigns focus on "killing the bad guys," and a political campaign at high tech levels can be quite rewarding, especially if everyone is at an appropriately high tech level. If a truly high level Precursor device enters the scene, the race to acquire the device can be several adventures; the struggle to keep it can become the focus of an entire campaign.
This article presents an example at what these incredibly high tech levels (ascendant tech levels, as they lead towards racial "ascension" into a higher level of being, much like the auroras of GURPS Aliens) might look like. Some of these devices might (possibly) fit into lower tech levels, assuming that there is a "shortcut" to the technology that allows its creation; the tech levels were set assuming a "hard" science fiction background.
Note also that costs are not given for any of these technologies; it is assumed that they will either be rare (and priceless) Precursor devices, or that they will be in a society that has gone beyond the concept of money (the ability to create gold at will has that effect).
TL16: Total Conversion
Tech level 16 is covered in the GURPS Ultra-Tech sourcebooks, but the full ramifications of matter-energy conversion are only lightly covered. In addition to nearly infinite power supply from random matter, energy can be converted into matter. This is what allows teleportation. At TL16, teleportation is STL, so it is mostly used for in-system travel.
A side effect of teleportation is the Chrysalis Field; like a Chrysalis Device, this destroys harmful micro-organisms and repairs damage; unlike a Chrysalis Device, this is an instantaneous walk-through field that is often fitted to airlocks or included as part of a teleportation chamber.
Similar to this is the Genie Device. These simple energy-matter conversion auto-factories create matter -- in any shape or form, including cooked food -- on demand. No need for time-consuming nano-bot construction any more. Anything that can be designed can be created (most come with simple AI CAD programs, to assist in unusual requests).
At the ultimate end of this scale, planets can be created from raw energy, and can even be programmed with the patterns for plant and animal life. However, at this tech level, this is an experimental technology and demands much energy, which means only simple (ordinary) planets can be created.
TL17: Unlimited Miniaturization
At TL17, space-time is man's plaything. Through such manipulations, sub-atomic nano-bots (called quark-bots) can be created; at this size, these creations can subtly change some of the laws of physics. Two of the most common types of quark-bots are Ghost-Bots and Aegis-Bots. Ghost-Bots alter the atomic structure/vibration of their subject (or host), so that physical matter and energy will pass through without interacting, effectively rendering the subject insubstantial. They leave the soles of the subject's feet substantial so that they won't sink into the ground; some, however, have been programmed as assassins without this safeguard. "Ghost Bullets" are slugs with Ghost-Bots in them; they become solid inside their target, and have a damage multiplier of ×2. They ignore armor. At TL18, "Ghost Beams" with double the normal damage multiplier become available; they also ignore armor.
Aegis-Bots are almost the reverse of Ghost-Bots. Rather than make their subject (or host) insubstantial, they "harden" space-time around the subject, rendering them impervious to normal matter and energy ("ghosted" matter and energy can still affect them, as can TL18 temporal disruptors and TL19 uncreation beams). Aegis-Bots are often used to enhance starship hulls and armor.
Boosted by this new miniaturization technology, Codebreakers are now available; these are pills, slugs, or energy fields (depending on the design) that analyze the target's genetic code and rebuilds it for a specific purpose. The subject is then instantly transformed to make use of the new genetic data. This is often used for the elimination of unwanted traits, addition of new traits, or the creation of tailored species to fit the environment. Because of their analytical properties, Codebreakers can be used on any species.
Teleportation technology now employs space-time compression to shorten distances, allowing them to travel interstellar distances at FTL speed; this also allows time travel. If not already available, both warp engines and jump engines are now available as means of FTL travel. Artificial jump gates can also be made. These still require teleportation booths and similar large devices; however, for in-system STL teleportation, Personal Teleporters, the size of a watch or pocket calculator (and getting smaller as the tech level progresses) are available.
If actual travel to a new location or time is not desirable, one can instead scan the area or time, creating a one-way "ripple" in space-time that allows the subject to see through to the new location.
As another "minor" breakthrough, time travel has the side effect of creating the Lazarus Device. This scans the remains of a subject, locates the subject just before death, and rebuilds them in the present, effectively bringing them back from death . . . even if they have been dead for years or centuries.
TL16 planet-building technology is now mature; in seconds, any planet -- including ring-worlds and Dyson spheres -- can be built from raw energy. Custom planets, such as ones of uniform construction (made of gold, for instance) are similarly possible.
TL18: Tomorrow is Yesterday
Time modification technology comes into its own in TL18. Whereas TL17 time-porters were large booths, TL18 time travelers make do with devices much like watches or calculators. Interstellar teleporters have similarly shrunk, and many such devices include both features.
New levels of teleportation are possible; it is now possible to teleport intergalactic distances (and scan at such distances as well). This opens new frontiers, since below TL18 it is difficult to travel between galaxies.
TL18 medicine is simple; the subject takes a Lazarus pill. This essentially gives the Advantages of Instant Regeneration (at double speed), Regrowth, and Resurrection (with no loss of character points) until the quark-bots that the character has ingested are destroyed . . . not an easy task in and of itself.
The field of weaponry has a new toy with the temporal disruptor. This device shatters atomic bonds by rapidly aging and rejuvenating adjacent atoms in the area. When designing temporal disruptors (using the rules in GURPS Vehicles) calculate damage and power requirement as a disintegrator, and calculate the remaining characteristics (including range in vacuum) as a laser; although its base TL is 18 in all cases.
With the advent of the temporal disruptor comes temporal shielding. A device treated with the temporal shielding quark-bots has double its normal armor against a temporal disruptor (which does not get its armor divisor). It also cannot be time-ported or teleported.
TL18 also sees the ultimate in macro-scalar design technologies: the Starseed, which will create a new main-sequence star (type and magnitude are up to the designer). Technically, a Starseed can be made to create just about any type of star, including dwarf stars, neutron stars, variable stars, and black holes, but those are mainly the toys of research scientists; main sequence Starseeds are used to create new solar systems for colonization. They require a lot of energy, however, and do not usually become tremendously widespread until TL19.
TL19: Let There Be Light
Tech level 19 sees two major breakthroughs. The first is DimTech, or dimensional technology, which gives access to alternate realities. This creates dim-porters, which are usually built into personal time-porters (which themselves are now capable of intergalactic teleports as well). Such devices are also capable of scanning the new reality, and analyzing it quickly to determine major differences. A detailed survey, which can determine even minor and subtle differences, might take as much as a full day.
With the advent of DimTech, hyperspace technology becomes available (if it were not available sooner), offering the full range of FTL options.
The second major breakthrough of TL19 is energy/matter genesis. This technique uses quark-bots to "weaken" reality barriers until matter or energy is created from nothingness (like a tiny Big Bang). This renders power plants obsolete, as the major use of this is to create self-powering circuits. This eliminates the need for power cells, power plants, and anything at else to generate power, as the self-powering circuit generates a small surplus (enough to handle any foreseeable contingency) of energy . . . forever.
A new type of Genie Device, the Unending Clip, makes slug-throwers never run out of ammo. Unending Clips are usually not removable (raising reliability one step). Build an Unending Clip using the normal clip rules, but it need only hold enough rounds for a single turn (3 in the case of 3~ weapons).
The reversal of the genesis technology is the uncreation beam. This device manipulates the fabric of reality so that the target ceases to exist. Build uncreation beams as if they were displacers, but with 100 times range and at 1/100 the weight. Uncreation beams leave no traces to be brought back using normal Lazarus technologies (although one could scan back with the standard time-porter and use that data to recreate the target).
Tech level 20 is marked by really only a single technology: the Transcendence Device. This has one main effect: it effectively turns a physical being into a Being of Pure Thought (see GURPS Psionics for more information). At this level, the race has transcended the need for physical technologies and has become an advanced race, such as the auroras (from GURPS Aliens).
As a side effect, any limitations on psionics -- such as taboo powers or skills, required Disadvantages, or racial limits -- is waived for the TL20 culture, even if they choose not to become Beings of Pure Thought. Similarly, raised IQ and Mental Advantages can easily be gained, even after character creation.
As a campaign plot device, the race to TL20 and the Transcendence Device is a powerful story, especially if two warring factions are struggling to obtain the technology. This can be done several ways for dramatic effect. The players could be from one of the two races, with some third party serving as a mediator. Perhaps it truly is a race, to see who is worthy and develops the technology first (or a test, and they can only succeed if they work together). Another possibility is that the players are from a third, less advanced race, whose fate will be determined by which race transcends first.
TL21+: A Sufficiently Advanced Technology
At such advanced tech levels, "technology" is usually no longer physical in nature. Such technology now takes the form of energy constructs; these energy constructs are simple patterns (often taking the form of songs or gestures) that create a specific effect.
Anyone can learn how to use an energy construct, once he or she has been introduced to it; most such constructs are Mental/Hard skills, while some are Mental/Very Hard. Eidetic Memory does not help much, adding only +1 or +2 to the roll.
In other words, such energy constructs function exactly like the spells from GURPS Magic and GURPS Grimoire, although Magical Aptitude is not required as the energy constructs do not function through mana (although the GM can change this, or allow the bonus for Magical Aptitude even if they do not work through mana, due to the familiarity the mage would have with the concept). GURPS Magic and GURPS Grimoire are recommended as sources for energy constructs.
Most of the spells from GURPS Magic and GURPS Grimoire should be TL21 energy constructs; for higher tech level energy constructs, the GM should limit himself to the more dramatic spells or create new, more powerful, and far-reaching spells.
Article publication date: July 5, 2002
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