Roger Burton West
3 February 2011

Table of Contents

This document is intended to be read in conjunction with GURPS Ultra-Tech for Fourth Edition. It details options and changes from baseline technologies presented in that book.

1. Ultra-Technology

1.1. Ages of Technology

The tech level is broadly TL9 with no ^ items. Some limited TL10 equipment is available, as noted.

1.2. Tech Level

This is a medium-progression setting; TL9 is reasonably mature, but TL10 won't be along for a while yet.

1.3. Buying Equipment

Rules for Black Markets apply in full. Antique weapons, typically as far back as 20th century, remain popular among professionals who don't need the full punch of a modern firearm.

1.4. Integrating and Modifying Equipment

Bodging is an art form. Combining devices is standard practice, and universal buses make this much easier.

2. Core Technologies

2.1. Power

Power cells exist as written; they are potentially explosive. Portable fission generators exist; fusion generators are too large to be anything other than a permanent installation. Antimatter generators are city-sized facilities in orbit.

2.2. Computers: Hardware

A computer that supports an AI will normally be optimised for neural-net software (2x cost); if not, subtract one from effective Complexity.

2.3. Machines as Characters

The core problems of AI - the creation of a personality which learns and thinks like a human - have been solved. However, the more intelligent the AI - and the less it's integrated with humans, usually done by placing it in a human-like shell - the more unstable its personality tends to be. Non-humanoid AIs are used in some specialised applications, but not near civilians or in charge of expensive machinery. AIs in human-like shells are generally referred to as Artificial Persons, or APs. AIs have no civil rights; they are property. They are generally programmed for loyalty to their owners and satisfaction with this state.

2.4. Personal Gear and Consumer Goods

Electronic ecstasy has been developed but is not in general use, due to the lack of cheap direct neural interface.

3. Communications, Sensors and Media

3.1. Encryption

Encryption is a constant arms race by pure mathematicians to find new trapdoor problems and to work out new ways of cracking them. Even if a cryptosystem has a sound mathematical basis, there may still be implementation flaws. Basic Encryption as presented here is standard for communications that are worth the trouble of encrypting at all; Secure Encryption is rare, and its presence signifies something of importance. One-time pads are in heavy use, and couriers carry key material between star systems.

3.2. Translators

Translator software has not been developed. But pretty much everyone speaks English.

3.3. Neural Interfaces

Neural interface implants are expensive and rare, generally confined to military pilots and computer intrusion specialists.

3.4. Networks

Networks generally span a single planet and its associated orbital facilities. Beyond that, light-speed delays predominate; while there may well be data interconnections, they are inevitably slow and generally expensive. FTL movement of data requires a courier drone.

3.5. Media and Education

The standard house-level "screen" is a multimedia wall, often taking up the whole of one wall of a room. They can support limited 3D for viewers with goggles. Actual VR is rare, being used mostly for specialised industrial applications and of course pornography for the discerning customer. Augmented reality is primarily a military technology. Sensies have not been developed.

4. Housing, Tools and Survival Gear

4.1. Expedition Gear

While a constellation of GPS satellites is a relatively minor expense when building a whole off-world colony, it's a line item that can easily be struck off by the accountants. Inertial platforms remain popular in small settlements.

4.2. Exploration, Safari and Salvage Robots

The TL9 robots are available. Note that they are fairly stupid, and require intelligent direction.

4.3. Manufacturing

Fabricators of all sizes are universal; most buildings and spacecraft that support more than two or three people will have one installed.

5. Weaponry

5.1. Beam Weapons

Blinding lasers are available but rarely used; the risk of permanent damage to future corporate assets (and the cost of disability payments, much higher than death benefits) is considered unacceptable. The various hand-held high-energy laser weapons are usually reserved to vacuum and zero-gravity troops. Electrolasers and sonic nauseators are common stun weapons, in use by police forces and military groups in less-lethal configuration. Microwavers are available, but with few combat robots in operation they are rarely useful.

5.2. Fluid Projectors

Vortex projectors are a common choice for underbarrel mounts or even as backup sidearms for police officers.

5.3. Guns and Launchers

Binary-propellant and electrothermal-chemical weapons are available; the latter are the norm for military or security use.

5.4. Combat Robots

Since AIs tend to be a bit twitchy at the best of times, there's a general agreement not to arm them. At least where anyone's watching.

6. Vehicles

6.1. Spacecraft

Broadly, spacecraft are divided into landers and deep-space craft (including starships). The technology is marginal enough that building both capabilities into a single vessel would leave insufficient room for payload.

The normal deep-space drive is an antimatter plasma rocket (TL10); other ship systems are TL9 (except for the nuclear saltwater rocket, TL9^), and ships are armed with missiles, lasers and/or electromagnetic guns. (Some experimental military ships may carry TL10 particle beams.)

6.1.1. Landers

Landers are normally flown with nuclear thermal or saltwater rockets, or (where they may also be used for short-range in-system travel) external pulsed plasma (Orion) drives. Some deep-space craft deploy small craft in space combat, though their utility has not been proven to general satisfaction; missiles are more popular.

(Nuclear saltwater rockets are Not Used anywhere that the integrity of the ecosystem is considered important. Not that that covers many places.)

6.1.2. Deep-space craft

Visually, deep-space craft tend to be long, thin and slab-sided; consider spacecraft from Aliens and the Earthforce ships from Babylon 5. GZG's NSL miniatures are also relevant.

The primary drive is the antimatter plasma rocket, though some craft intended for combat may also carry nuclear thermal rockets (running off the same hydrogen reaction mass) for short bursts of high acceleration.

Jump drive is available. It allows instantaneous travel, but only via known routes, and only where local gravity is less than about 0.00026854421m/s/s at both ends. An interstellar voyage usually consists of a month or more of outward travel, an instant jump (without decelerating, as the velocity vector can be adjusted in jump to point inward to the new star system), and a month or more of inward travel to arrive at the destination. Some systems maintain stations outside the jump limit; this allows for instant communication between them (by courier drone) and lightspeed communication (typically with an hour or so of travel time in each direction) between such systems.

Jumps may only be conducted safely with a pre-plotted route, modified for local conditions; the usual approach to developing a new route is to send several hundred automated probes with small variations on a predicted route algorithm, and see where they end up. 98% or more of them will be lost on the outbound trip, and a similar proportion on the return. The longer the trip, the harder it is to modify the route (to account for the specific locations from which and to which one is jumping, and to point the ship's velocity vector in-system), so most ships jump from system to system rather than directly from origin to destination.

Because of the long travel times, months for an interstellar journey, non-crew members are normally kept in hibernation chambers for the duration of the voyage.

For safety reasons (they do after all contain stabilised quantum black holes), jump drives are installed as sealed units: if power and data are provided, they move the ship. Maintenance is conducted at major shipyards, and quite often involves removing the drive module completely (for prolonged work elsewhere) and replacing it with a matching unit.

To set up a ship for jump roll Navigation (Hyperspace), with a base time of an hour (half an hour with Enhanced Time Sense, and time modifiers from B346 may be used):

Modifier Situation
-10 No route template available
-1 Per light year travelled
-10 If prone to Hypersickness