Development levels rather than tech levels (segué into soft-tech robofac factories)


In general, I like Brett’s guide to DLs. I have some thoughts of dubious value to add:

A. If this is for a player’s guide, the traditional player concerns are about equipment. Obviously, equipment that can be made locally will be cheap, and imports dear, but this document seems more oriented towards economics than retail. Unfortunately, I can’t see a compact way to handle that. Perhaps a table of various important gear types grouped by what DL makes it a “local” manufacture?

B. DL is significantly different than TL, and the whole TL structure is seriously compromised by the fact that most FB colonies are effectively post-apocalyptic. TL isn’t even a good guideline to equipment access since many things are supplied by self-replicating high tech gear. Perhaps something for "high tech stuff almost everyone has: biotech/genefixing/medical theory etc. Even with that, the TL relationship seems very rough at best.

C. Presumably most FB colonies at least had a plan for continued development if supplies from Earth stopped. It seems like most of these failed. I’m not sure this section is the right place to explain why, but my curiosity is piqued.


Tech level systems in GP RPGs such as ForeSight and GURPS are usually oriented towards describing the availability of kit for PCs, but in interstellar SF settings such as the Traveller universe, ForeScene: the Flawed Utopia, and Flat Black they have traditionally also served as an important part of the description of individual worlds, implying things about their development, technical sophistication, and social culture. What I’m doing with DL is trying to break that nexus. So, while DL will have an key influence on the relative prices of different item on different worlds and the absolute availability of weapons¹, it is also an important part of the qualitative description of a planet. The text I posted above it from the “Colonies” chapter, and specialised for that purpose. It answers “Just how poor and backward is this particular muddy hellhole?”.

When time comes for the Big Flat Black Ezi-Buy Catalogue each item will be listed with a price in SVU and a characteristic DL of manufacture, called perhaps its SL or sophistication level. SL will be kind of like TL, except that things that are commonly grown in Flat Black will have the corresponding SL of about 2 or 3. When you are on a colony with a given DL you will be able to buy local products with SL up to DL for the listed price, or one SL at bespoke prices, to two higher at prototype prices; you will be able to buy imports (except for weapons and military supplies) at a price given by the list price, the real exchange rate (0.71^(SL-DL)), and the mass (shipping costs). Or maybe I’ll tabulate an import price in crowns as well as the DLs.

As for the economic catastrophes of the colonies (1) I don’t want to describe it in the players’ guide because it doesn’t matter enough to deserve the word count it would take and I’m trying to minimise the content of history (2) I’d like to discuss it in a different thread.

¹ And to some extent ammunition. Anything that requires HEDM propellants and explosives will be interdicted by the Empire’s refusal to transport weapons even on consignment for governments. But smokeless powder grows on shrubs everywhere that’s DL2 of better. Even if the best weapon you can manage is a handcrafted muzzle-loading smoothbore, you can load it with capsules of gun-gel that you gather from a shrub — or use the same capsules in reloading cartridge-cases.


It seems as if that implies a “who made God” type of question: Do the Matrices reproduce, giving birth to other Matrices? If they do, why have the intermediate level of Beasts? It seems as if a Matrix could, on one hand, bear another Matrix, and on the other, give birth to food packages. Particularly if Matrices are large browsers.

Unless your goal is to harvest smaller or scarcer plants, which might call for a browser smaller than a rhinoceros. But then you might want comparatively small herbivores wandering around eating those plants, and giving birth to single hamburgers rather than roasts—or laying eggs, which are fairly conveniently packaged food sources.

Or are you envisioning the Beast as eating all the vegetation in an area, from herbs up to trees? That may call for a complex array of dentition and digestive apparatus.

It seems to me as if, at a DL where it’s hard to defend a large community, a Matrix, especially a sessile one, may be a single point of failure for a community, and also a single target for attack. That might make it prudent to favor nonsessile Matrices, though perhaps they ought to be sized more like ceratopsians than rhinos.


It helps to think of these things as robots rather than as animals.

Your crop plants are solar-powered organic-nanotech chemical engineering systems. Unless a malfunction has occurred they don’t grow past their design size and you don’t want them eaten. Instead they are made at or grow to design size and then stop growing. Instead of putting their production into stems and leaves and reproduction, they put it into producing specialised bodies containing drugs, perfumes, flavours, nutrients, household chemicals, adhesives, chemical feedstocks etc. at high purity and hygienically-packaged ready-to-eat or ready-to-microwave meals-for-one.

You don’t want your plants eaten. You want them harvested of their produce. You can do that either with a hard-tech machine like a combine harvester, or with a soft-tech robot that looks like a genetically-engineered beast of labour. So one of the things you want plants to produce is fuel/food for the farm machinery.

In most cases plants can produce the products you want directly, and for those you have harvesting biobots that are somewhere between a honeybee and a robotic combine harvester. Only in cases when you want something that won’t grow on a plant (perhaps because of high metabolic oxygen demand), or when production is diffuse, do you have Beasts that collect nutriment and use it to drive animal-like catabolism to grow your rib eyes or your wool.

Matrices are bioroid factories. You have Matrices because is is more efficient to use specialised capital. Beasts and other bioroids that don’t carry around a bunch of reproductive anatomy will be more efficient at their jobs. Bioroid factories that don’t harvest crops will be more efficient bioroid factories. I really prefer the sessile Matrix to the rhinoceros-like one.

Some Matrices are designed to be produced by a similar Matrix, in an incomplete state and then grow to full-size maturity, and they have a built-in self-reproduction function (gonad) and a buffet of built-in products. Others you buy fully-grown from the manufacturer.


Given the desired genre of planetary romance, the equipment used by the locals is probably at least as important as what the PCs can buy.


As far as I can recall FB does not use Biotech directly as weapons. The Empire probably suppresses WMD style bioweapons but killer “beasts” seem like they would be allowed but are absent. You don’t need to explain this in the base material but you might want to have an answer in your back pocket. You may already have one.


There’s a very handy box in GURPS Ultra-Tech for 4e (on page 148) showing, at each TL from 9 to 12, what the typical weapon choices are for personal sidearms, paramilitary forces, infantry, etc. If I were running a game in this setting, I’d find something equivalent most welcome.