Designer's Notes: GURPS Ultra-Tech

by David L. Pulver

The original GURPS Ultra-Tech was the first book I wrote for Steve Jackson Games, back in 1988, and so I was very pleased to be able to update it. The road to this proved unusually rocky, however. Originally, we'd planned on a very different book, one that would feature a complex technology path, weapon, armor, and gadget design system. To this end, I worked closely with Kenneth Peters (and also with Hans Christian-Vortisch, co-author of the new High-Tech). Unfortunately, a lengthy playtest confirmed my fears that that the resulting first draft was too complicated for casual use. After attempts to simplify it were less than successful (and with the book now over deadline), Kenneth left the project, and I completely rewrote the book, basing it far more closely on my original Third Edition work. (Hans and I hope to release a significantly revised version of the weapon part of the design system at a latter date.)

The result was a vast improvement: a new edition that combines Ultra-Tech and Ultra-Tech 2 into a single unified book, but fully updated to Fourth Edition specifications. In addition, it adds completely new material, such as ultra-tech vehicles, customizable robot templates, and many new gadgets. It's designed for a wide variety of science fiction settings. In particular, I included more examples of "domestic" technology and consumer goods for ordinary people, to help GMs providing a sense of "ordinary life in the future." Full support was also included for cyberpunk campaigns, with numerous examples of cybernetics, and military games, with more heavy weapons than the original books, including tanks, battlesuits, and cannon. The book also complements GURPS Bio-Tech with additional examples of future medical technology, hardware-based nanotechnology, and uploading.

Gadget Out-Takes

With the space freed up by the removal of the overly-complex weapon design system, almost all gadgets that I wanted to go in the book actually made it in! But a few were left out for reasons of space.

Household Manager System (TL9)

An array of sensors and microcommunicators scattered through a house and its appliances. They keep track of the state of the household chores, tracking dirty dishes, laundry, etc. +1 (quality) bonus to Housekeeping skill and may coordinate housebots or cleaning swarms. It is not a burglar alarm, except indirectly (e.g., a bloody corpse may signal as a "mess" to be cleaned up). $1,000.

Stage Equipment (TL9)

This is a set of portable gear including multiple directional sonic comms, spotlights, and 3D media screens designed for sound stage, dance floor, etc. Use several for large venues. $20,000, 200 lbs., 10D/20 hr. LC4.

Anti-Sex Pheromones (TL10)

This "don't-hit-on-me" perfume produces pheromones that actually cause sexual disinterest in people of a specific sexual orientation. It is popular for people who do not wish to be sexually harassed. Anyone who has Lecherousness who is within two yards or downwind gets +2 to their control roll if the only viable subject in the area is using anti-sex pheromones, or if the pheromones are in the area. People without Lecherousness also experience reduced desire. Someone attempting to use Sex Appeal on someone who is exposed to these pheromones will have a -2 (if that person is susceptible to them). The effects linger for a minute after they have been breathed. $10 per dose. LC4.

Empathic Interfaces (TL10)

Empathic interfaces are neural interfaces that incorporate additional equipment similar to a veridicator. They can translate the user's emotional state into a digital signal.

Empathy Upgrade (TL10): This is a hardware upgrade of a neural interface. It can record feelings and translate them into particular values ("he's registering happy"). A computer or other device that is linked to the neural interface can then be set to respond in accord with a particular emotion. This should be pre-set, e.g., "if I'm frightened, turn on the force screen" or "if I get curious, activate my camera." An empathic neural interface 1.5 as expensive as any other interface.

Emotion Interpreter (TL10): This software provides the equivalent of the Empathy advantage but only in situations when it is run on a computer that is receiving input from someone using a neural interface with an empathy upgrade. Note that the user of an emotion interpreter does not need a empathic neural interface; only the subject requires one. However, if the user does have neural interface with an empathy chip, he can set it so that it will let him experience the incoming emotions (as his own brain is triggered to manufacture the appropriate electrochemical signals).

Complexity 4 software, LC4.

Industrial Antimatter Factory (TL9-12)

A purpose-built facility for production and storage of antiprotons and the creation of antihydrogen. Antiprotons are produced by accelerating protons (or other particles) to energies high enough that, when they collide with a target, a part of the energy is transformed into particle-antiparticle pairs. These are then captured and assembled into antihydrogen.

Antimatter Factory (TL9): A large, optimized antiproton particle-accelerator system. It manufactures antimatter at a cost of $25,000 per microgram, and can manufacture 1,000 micrograms per day. At these prices, antimatter is used in nanogram levels as both a radiation source for medical treatment, and as a catalyst for fusion or fission in small nuclear pellets or warheads, although the latter are very expensive. $25 billion. LC1.

Antimatter Factory (TL10): Manufactures antimatter at a cost of $2,500 per microgram and can make 10,000 micrograms per day. Antimatter-catalyzed fusion is common; micrograms of antimatter are routinely used as a catalyst for nuclear weapons. Antimatter is also used to fuel antiparticle beam weapons. $5 billion, LC1.

Antimatter Factory (TL11): Manufactures antimatter at a cost of $25 per microgram and can make 100,000 micrograms per day. At these prices, antimatter reactors are used where high-performance power plants are more important than fuel efficiency (e.g., military craft). Antimatter warheads of intermediate yield between conventional and nuclear weapons are introduced (a microgram of antimatter equals about 90 lbs. of TNT). $1 billion. LC0.

Antimatter Factory (TL12): It manufactures antimatter with high efficiency at a cost of $5 per microgram and can make 1 gram per day. At these prices, antimatter is used directly in some high-performance rocket engines, and is common in weaponry. However, each pound of antimatter still costs $2.2 billion (and explodes with about 20 megatons yield), so nuclear bombs remain the only cost-effective way to create big explosions. $200 million. LC0. In comparison, at TL8, antimatter production, primarily for research purposes, rarely exceeds 0.01 micrograms/year at $60-70 million per microgram.

Antimatter factories are cheaper if they can benefit from solar collection facilities, especially close to the sun, e.g., on Mercury. For such a facility, multiply the start-up cost by four due to the specialized equipment and transportation that is needed, but divide the cost per microgram of antimatter by two. This can be much more efficient.

Electrothermal-Kinetic Slugthrowers (TL10)

"ETK" guns are similar to both liquid propellant guns and electrothermal-chemical weapons; they are the final evolutionary stage of conventional firearms before a complete transition to electromagnetic weaponry. Instead of relying on the chemical energy of the propellant, they use a powerful electrical charge to vaporize it. The expanding steam and plasma accelerates the round to a very high velocity. They use more energy than an electrothermal-chemical weapon, but less than a gauss gun.

All TL9 conventional slugthrowers can also be available in TL10 ETK versions. They propel projectiles at roughly twice the velocity of a conventional slugthrower. ETK slugthrowers get double their normal piercing damage, double the range, and have 1.5 times as many shots of a conventional-propellant slugthrower. Two-handed weapons (rifles, shotguns, SMGs, etc.) also add +1 to Acc. They are also twice as expensive. They have the same variable velocity setting as LP slugthrowers. Other statistics are the same.

The grip or stock of an ETK slugthrower incorporates a removable B cell (for pistols) or C cell (for SMGs, PDWs, shotguns, rifles), or D cell (for larger weapons) to provide the electrical pulse. Each provides enough power to fire 10 magazines worth of ammunition.

Inquisitor Robot (TL10)
188 points

This is a sinister machine equipped with three flexible weapon mounts and three manipulator arms. The basic model is a cylindrical machine that moves on a cushion of air. Its strength belies its size. It is also called a "torture robot," although its large brain (for its mass) and array of sensors let it analyze behavior and make it very good at psychological manipulation. A typical mix for its weapon mounts might be a pneumohypo, a holdout electrolaser, and a neural lash. Its second mouth is mounted on an arm, and can be used to take samples for its taste sensor. $20,000, 64 lbs. LC2.

Attribute Modifiers: ST+1 [10]; HT+2 [20].
Secondary Characteristic Modifiers: HP+4 [8].
Advantages: Doesn't Breathe [20]; Discriminatory Smell (Emotion Sense, +50%) [23]; Discriminatory Taste [10]; DR 10 (Can't Wear Armor, -40%) [6]; Extra Arm 3 (Extra Flexible, +50%; Weapon Mount, -80%) [9]; Extra Mouth 1 [5]; Flight (Low Ceiling, -25%) [30]; Infravision [15]; Machine [25]; Protected Hearing [5]; Protected Vision [5]; Radio (Burst, +30%; Reduced Range 1/10, -30%; Secure, +20%; Video, +40%) [16]; Sealed [15]; Sharp Teeth [2].
Disadvantages: Aerial [0]; Cannot Float [-1]; Electrical [-20]; Maintenance (one person, weekly) [-5]; Restricted Diet (Very Common, Power Cells) [-10].
Features: Compact microframe computer brain.
Availability: $60,000 (TL10), $15,000 (TL11), or $4,000 (TL12). LC2.

Hardware Upgrades

Contragrav (TL10^) (+15 points): Floats silently through the air, which only increases its menace! Remove Low Ceiling, -25%, giving it Flight [40]; add Silence 1 [5].

Jump Communicators (TL10^)

This directional comm teleports energetic subatomic particles (e.g., mesons or anti-particles) across space, where they arrive and decay with enough energy to be noticed by a properly-tuned receiver (but without enough energy to inflict any damage). They must be aimed at known coordinates; if the receiver is moving and not already in communication by this or other means, the GM may require an Electronics Operation (Comms) roll to successfully transmit (takes 10 seconds per attempt).

They cannot be intercepted in transit, since they vanish and then reappear, rather than traveling through space. They can penetrate anything except a reality stabilizer (page 194) or other device that blocks matter transmission. It may be a precursor to actual matter transmission (MT) technology, or it may be that particles are all that can be transported.

Light speed and faster-than-light jump versions are both available.

Very Large (TL10^): 50-mile range. $200,000, 1,500 lbs., F/10 hr. LC2.
Very Large (TL11^): 500-mile range. $20,000, 60 lbs., 2D/10 hr. LC2.
Large (TL11^): 50-mile range. Includes video screen. $6,000, 6 lbs., 2C/10 hr. LC2.
Medium (TL11^): 2,000-yard range. $2,000, 0.6 lbs., 2B/10 hr. LC3.
Small (TL11^): 200-yard range. $500, 0.06 lbs., 2A/10 hr. LC3.
Micro (TL11^): 20-yard range. $100, neg., AA/1 wk. LC3.

Multiply ranges by 100 per TL after introduction.

Neutral Particle Beams (TL10)

These weapons are intended for use in vacuum and trace atmospheres, where a charged particle beam would rapidly defocus. Instead of light (and negatively charged) electrons, the beam is composed of heavier hydrogen atoms. In order to accelerate the beam, an extra electron is attached to each hydrogen atom. The now-charged heavy ion is accelerated in conventional fashion, but as it exits the accelerator it passes through a tenuous gas that strips away the extra electron, producing a neutral beam.

The extra machinery means that neutral particle beam weapons are more complicated than charged particle beam weapons, appearing one TL later. Neutral particle beam weapons are mostly used as spacecraft weaponry, sometimes with accelerator tubes that are hundreds of feet long. However, semi-portable neutral-beam weapons may be available if vacuum combat is expected; for example, troops operating on a lunar base or in an asteroid belt might be equipped with these weaponry. In vacuum or trace atmospheres their range is not reduced (unlike a charged particle beam). In atmosphere, they can fire a normal electron beam (rather than a hydrogen atom) and will thus perform as an ordinary charged particle beam blaster.

Neutral particle beams otherwise have the same statistics as ordinary charged particle beam blasters, but appear one TL later.

Wrist Line Shooter (TL10)

This is a miniature launcher for a 100'-long carbon fiber line terminating in a molecular adhesive cup that will stick to anything and support up to 200 lbs. The user can use it to travel by swinging from buildings, tree branches, ceilings, etc. He adds +2 to Climbing skill, and can move at half Basic Move while swinging along. $200, 0.5 lbs. LC3.

Plasma Lance Warheads (TL11^)

Plasma lance warheads are similar to plasma warheads, but generate a highly penetrating shaped plasma jet designed to burn through armor. Plasma lance warheads inflict burning damage with a (10) armor divisor and the surge damage modifiers.

Plasma lance is available for any 10mm or larger round. Hand grenades and mines use the warhead damage. Guns and launchers with plasma warheads replace their normal piercing damage with the warhead damage shown below.




6d (5) imp inc sur


6d 3 (5) burn sur


20d (5) burn sur


6d 5 (10) burn sur


6d 8 (10) burn sur


6d 12 (10) burn sur


6d 20 (10) burn sur

Plasma lance warheads are 15 cost. LC1.

2D Force Warhead ("Grav Slicer") (TL10^)

These create a two dimensional hypergravity pulse, usually parallel to the local gravity gradient. This flat disk of expanding gravitational force inflicts cutting damage with a (3) armor divisor. The GM should adjust hit location based on the position of the victims; this can be a nasty surprise if they don't realize what type of grenade was used, since the normal reaction ("hit the dirt") might be the wrong thing to do. If someone drops prone when a "grav slicer" grenade lands near them, any location could be struck. If they time a jump just right, it will miss them, and if they remain still, it may slice off their feet at the ankles. Warheads may be programmed to airburst at a given height (e.g., neck level, torso level, etc.) to maximize a particular effect.

2D force is available for any 15mm or larger round. Hand grenades and mines use the warhead damage. Guns and launchers replace their normal piercing damage with the warhead damage shown below.




1d(3) cut ex


1d+2 (3) cut ex


2d(3) cut ex


4d(3) cut ex


8d(3) cut ex


8d2(3) cut ex

They are 10 cost. LC1.

Tachyon Communicators (TL12^)

A T-Com is a directional communicator using a modulated beam of faster-than-light particles (tachyons). A tachyon beam is not affected by intervening objects, but the user must know the exact location of the receiver . . . so interstellar communication works best between fixed relay points rather than mobile ships, unless some other means of communication is also used. The beam travels at 1 parsec per hour (57 AU per second). Tachyon beams may not penetrate reality stabilizers (page 194).

Large (TL12^): 10 parsec range. $60,000, 400 lbs., 2E/1 day. LC3.
Medium (TL12^): 1 parsec range. $20,000, 40 lbs., 2D/1 day. LC3.
Small (TL12^): 0.1 parsec range (20,600 AU). $2,000, 4 lbs., 2C/1 day. LC3.

Article publication date: March 2, 2007

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