It’s impossible to know the future, but various science fiction and multi-genre games have tried. Below are six radically different “Technology Level” or “Progress Level” systems from five different tabletop role playing games and one guy who just thinks about them a lot.
d20 Modern Progress Levels
From the d20 Future SRD.
|0||Stone Age||fire, textiles, domestication, agriculture|
|1||Bronze/Iron Age||metal working, communication, empires|
|2||Middle Ages||printing, sea travel, middle class|
|3||Age of Reason||“science”|
|4||Industrial Age||steam, electricity|
|5||Information Age||computers, fission, internal combustion engine|
|6||Fusion Age||fusion power, intra-solar travel, cyberwear, gene-splicing|
|7||Gravity Age||“gravity induction reactor”, star drives|
|8||Energy Age||“power plants the size of marbles”|
|9||“beyond reach or comprehension”||subatomic assembly, folding space, time travel|
Verdict on d20 PLs
Progress Levels give equal attention to past and future eras, but lack detail.
- PLs 0-5 give a reasonable if somewhat overgeneralized breakdown of historical technology.
- PL 6 is plausible near to mid future.
- PL 7 is space opera.
- PL 8 is science fantasy
- PL 9 is the inevitable “a miracle happens”. If you want to categorize science fiction according to broad genres, those last four TLs are OK. If you want an idea of which speculative technologies imply which others, look elsewhere.
GURPS Tech Levels
From “GURPS Lite”, 4th Ed and GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns.
|TL||Earth History (C.E.)||Description||Examples|
|0||prehistory+||Stone Age||counting, oral tradition.|
|1||-3500+||Bronze Age||arithmetic, writing.|
|2||-1200+||Iron Age||geometry, scrolls.|
|4||1450+||Age of Sail||calculus, movable type.|
|5||1730+||Industrial Revolution||mechanical calculators, telegraph.|
|6||1880+||Mechanized Age||electrical calculators, telephone and radio.|
|7||1940+||Nuclear Age||mainframe computers, television.|
|8||1980+||Digital Age||personal computers, global networks.|
|9||2025+?||Microtech Age||artificial intelligence, real-time virtuality.|
|10||2070+?||Robotic Age||“Nanotechnology or other advances start to blur distinctions between technologies …”|
|11||Age of Exotic Matter|
|12||Sufficiently Advanced Technology||“Whatever the GM likes!”|
Notations for Variant and Divergent Tech
Technologies lead or lag the general tech level get a parenthetical note, e.g.
TL8 (Communications TL7, Medical TL9)(p. 512, GBSC).
Borrowed technologies use a slash, e.g.
TL2/3(p 513, GBSC) to indicate a society generally at TL 2 but has skills to use TL 3.
Divergent tech uses a plus sign, e.g.
TL5+1(ibid) means technology diverged at TL 5 to produce an effectively TL 6 society, but with steampunk or something.
Superscience tech – advancements that violate known physical laws – use a carat after the TL, e.g.
TL3^means that the general world is TL 3 but somebody “invented” FTL, telepathic communication, rays that levitate stone blocks, etc.
Verdict on GURPS TLs
GURPS TLs give a good thumbnail sketch of historical eras, and even have a notation for alternative histories and divergent technologies. It doesn’t give a framework for future eras though, and by TL 12 it simply gives up. (Earlier editions designated TL 10 as Sufficiently Advanced.)
SWN Tech Levels
From Stars Without Number Revised.
|0||Neolithic||stone tools, carved wood, textiles, domestication|
|1||Pre-Gunpowder||metallurgy, wind & water power|
|2||Early Industrial||steam, internal combustion, telegraphs, gunpowder|
|3||21st Century||fission power, nuclear weapons, computers, telecoms, primitive spaceflight|
|4||Postech||Baseline; interstellar starships, cyberware, gene-tech, fusion power, energy weapons|
|5||Pretech||true AIs, psi-tech, jump gates, nanotech, immortality, limited time manipulation|
|6||Pretech-Plus||“Impossible effects indistinguishable from magic”|
Verdict on SWN TLs
SWN’s tech levels are tied to its future history in which the wondrous “Pretech” era collapsed, and space colonies cobbled together “Postech” in the wake of the disaster. It’s short and sweet, but compresses all historical technology (and then some) into TLs 1-3.
Traveller Tech Levels
Adapted from the Cepheus Engine SRD.
|1||Primitive||Bronze Age, Iron Age|
|3||Primitive||mass production, standardization, steam power|
|5||Industrial||widespread electrification, tele-communications, internal combustion|
|6||Industrial||fission power, advanced computing|
|7||Pre-Stellar||planetary orbit, telecom satellites|
|8||Pre-Stellar||primitive interplanetary flight|
|9||Pre-Stellar||gravity control, early Jump Drive|
|10||Early Stellar||interstellar travel|
|11||Early Stellar||primitive “low autonomous” AIs|
|12||Average Stellar||weather control|
|13||Average Stellar||“high autonomous” AIs, battle dress|
|14||Average Stellar||man-portable fusion weapons|
|15||High Stellar||synthetic anagathics, Black Globe generators|
Verdict on Traveller TLs
Like TLs in other games, Traveller invents its own future history. TLs 8 seems like plausible near-future tech, but at TL 9 the system takes a left turn at antigravity and Jump Drives. Likewise TL 15, “High Stellar”, merely lists what the Original Traveller Universe regarded as the next steps in technology.
That said, TLs 0-7 give as good a breakdown of historical technology as GURPS, although I question the assignment of the Bronze Age and Iron Age to one TL, and the Renaissance to the next, with no space for technological advancements in the Late Medieval period like water wheels and windmills. I supect it’s the “Dark Ages” canard once again.
Diaspora Planet Generator
Adapted from the Diaspora SRD.
|+4||On the verge of collapse||Many garden worlds||All you could want|
|+3||Slipstream mastery||Some garden worlds||Multiple exports|
|+2||Slipstream use||One garden and several survivable worlds||One significant export|
|+1||Exploiting the system||One garden and several hostile environments||Rich|
|0||Exploring the system||One garden world (perhaps additional barren worlds)||Sustainable|
|-1||Atomic power||Survivable world||Almost viable|
|-2||Industrialization||Hostile environment (gravity but dangerous atmosphere)||Needs imports|
|-3||Metallurgy||Barren world (gravity, no atmosphere)||Multiple dependencies|
|-4||Stone Age||No habitable gravity or atmosphere||No resources|
- The +4 … -4 range comes from Diaspora’s exclusive use of Fudge dice. 0 is the most likely result.
- “Slipstream” is Diaspora’s version of FTL that uses pre-existing portals between suns.
Verdict on Diaspora Planet Generator
I like that Diaspora has three variables for the technological and industrial capabilities of a planet. See “Life on Theta Priori” for one world generated by this method … and a lot of thinking and writing.
That said, it commits the twin “sins” of compressing historical technology and relying too much on its assumptions about future technology. In particular it assumes that after +4 civilizations will either collapse or reach some sort of technological transhumanist Singularity, which from the perspective of less advanced worlds looks identical.
My Tech Levels
From The Stellar Alliance.
- Tech Level, a rough guide to the technological capabilities of a civilization and the sophistication of their artifacts.
- Relative Tech Levels, i.e. difference between the average for interstellar civilizations and a particular TL.
|TL||RTL||Description||Earth History / Other Civilizations|
|0||-5||Stone Age||< -3000|
|1||-4||Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval||-3000 … 1450|
|2||-3||Age of Sail, Industrial Age||1450 … 1950|
|3||-2||Information Age, Space Age||1950 … 2200|
|4||-1||Interplanetary Age||21001 … 2300|
|5||0||Interstellar Age||2300 … 2400|
|6||+1||Alliance Age||2400 … ????|
|7||+2||Transhuman Age||Transhuman Commonwealth|
|8||+3||Teletransport Age||(Outer Ones?)|
|9||+4||Sufficiently Advanced Technology||Dominion of the First|
|10||+5||Weakly Godlike Entities||Ylem Wraiths2|
Assessment of My TLs
I wrote this version mainly to support a space opera campaign inspired by Star Trek and The Orville. I don’t vouch for its historical accuracy.
After I defined technologies leading up to the Stellar Alliance, I ran out of inspiration for technologies beyond the Alliance. I only knew I wanted the galaxy’s average technology to be one step below the Alliance and that I wanted an equal number of levels above and below that point for random rolls and the like. (RTL was obviously inspired by Diaspora.)
Because of this the Earth / Solar System timeline is all messed up and historical technologies are just as compressed as in SWN TLs. So not a great job.
Also I’m not sure why I originally put this in the Mini-Six rules not the general ones. Maybe because Cepheus (Traveller) has its own TLs? Everywhen, the next system to which I was planning to port the setting, doesn’t have much of a list of future weapons, so I can probably just punt on TLs. In Alliance Space, there’s Alliance Tech (with warp drives, exo-beams, and other miracles) and everyone else (with jump drives or hyperdrives and gritty Star Wars / Firefly kit).