Idea Guild > Cosmic Pluralism

Unearthed Machina!

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My campaign world appears superficially to be a traditional D&D setting but historically a far greater technology once existed.  This bore little resemblance to the 'cars, televisisions' nature of our own world - but rather was created by an insidious race, who once dominated all organic life.

Some of these "machines" can be discovered by intrepid explorers.  

What ideas do you have for such creations?  How might they appear and what strange purposes might they serve?

The more sinister the better...!

Well, how about this:
A production city.
The heroes, while lost in the desert, come to a large city, surrounded by extremely-high, iron walls. Smokestacks and towers and machinery of all kinds protrude out the top.
When they enter, they find that it is a huge factory, with worker robots and such, that has been producing who knows what for thousands of years, even though the race that created it is extinct.

What you have here is a definite need for Clarke's law.

(If you don't know who Clarke is...  shame on you... )

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic from the view point of a technologically less sophisticated viewer."

Imagine, if you were from the 1930s, and saw someone wave their hand (that happened to have their car keys in it) and their car door unlocked and even opened.  Magic right?   While they wouldn't say it, people in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, (heck even certain parts of the world in the 80s) would think its magic.  You have now seen Clarke's law in illustration.

Think of how enemy combatants in the Middle East respond to the US troops that seem to move effortlessly through the night and dark, can seemingly shoot around corners or across the horizon, and explosions appear at their command. Unfortunately this plays up the Minion of the Great Satan angle, but Night Vision Goggles, laser target painting, and computer controlled guns, stealth fighters/bomber air support, can seem like magic if you do not know about them.  Another more topical example of clarke's law.  

The Cargo Cults of the South Pacific and the Amazon Sky cults are perhaps the most classic examples of Clarke's law.  There is enough of a technological gap that these peoples had no frame of reference to even comprehend how these things occured, even when explained to them.  

This last example is the most important.  The gap between the two group's technologies was so great, they did not even have a strong common frame of reference to communicate ideas.  

If Erebus is talking about technology far in advanced of our own, it would be like the "zap" technology of certain science fiction works.  Even we might not be able to comprehend it, from our lofty view -the 21st century.  So it is much magic.  

Now imagine a world where magic is an everyday occurance, not a mental crutch to deal with the world you don't understand.  All advanced technology would be is a set of magic items that are not effected by dispells and counter magics.  You are not going to get much effect from these items, because the characters will explain them away by using odd magic and the Players will go..."oh tech".

It is going to be very, very hard to get much dread and awe from the use of hypertechnology in the campaign. It, itself, will not do it.  What it can be used for... that might scare the players.  (and make sure all description is effects based, rather than using short cut words like cars, use enclosed cart with demonic laterns, that vibrates for no reason you can see. )

Gibson once said, "The best Science Fiction is on CNN". Things people would never dream of years before (super molds in aging space stations, computers causing brain damage (seizures), and cloning) are now everyday things on CNN.  Good science fiction takes the science and social issues of the day and expands them to their semi-logical conclusions.  

(If you don't know who Gibson is... sigh... cultural illiterates ... He defined a literary genre... )

To find technology that would be useful for you... scary and alien,  take modern technology, and think about the people in the 1950 or 30s would think about this tech.  Push it a bit to make science fictiony, and you have your hyper tech.  

For example: people in the 50s would not understand the value of instant casual communiation across the world and real time sharing of info (and the results in expanded productivity). We take Computers, IM, and an interconnected society for granted. Expand it to lets say a mental connection... where you now have to know how to mentally tune into the stream of information you want...if not you are hearing the thoughts of EVERYONE on their little net (and the Aleph and memories of those gone).  The system auto logs anyone in a certain area onto their mental net.  The poor players would think it is an attack of some kind, as they would be losing their ability to think and focus. Those with low INTs or Egos/ wills might even become "devices" on the net. Entities on the net, might check out the new device to see what it can do.  The Utility might or might not work perfectly, so the person might crash and have to be reset (sleep). Evil? Perhaps.  But all it is, is an analogy of a wireless network.  (Telepathic bluetooth.. cool).

(Some ideas were stolen from books and other places.)

 A huge supercomputer that tries to solve The Question of Life, Universe, and Everything, or another important quesion for that long vanished race. May have any shape, like a high black pylon with myriads of tiny little lights appearing and vanishing. Undoubtly a powerful magical artifact.


 A computer, that may try to commnicate with these primitives. Anything from a little oddly beeping device, up to thundering godly voices coming from nowhere.


 A group of strange constructs approaches the party. These are in fact "Tamagochi"-like robotic pets. They are solar-powered, and can repair themselves to a degree. Though humanoids may not resemble their masters, they yearn for company and pushing the right buttons (determine what makes them feel good, caressing or beating...). An skilled character may adopt one of them.


 A group of strange constructs approaches the party. In a hopeless war long-long ago, one side tried a new weapon: little robotic killers created to defeat the other side. Due to faulty programming, or another reasons, this weapon turned even on its masters and obliterated both sides of the conflict. Now, the rests wander aimlessy and stand guard against an invasion that will never come.

 Luckily, the sentient races of these days are different enough to not trigger their hard-coded instincts. Still, one should better evade them...

Siren no Orakio:
Genetic Factories, used to build the soliders of the distant past, but certainly not robots. Methodical arrangements of tanks release engineered monsters on cue from a central system. It's one thing to walk through a burnished hallway and get challenged by a robot, it's quite another to be assaulted by a hundred Zerglings in the middle of a half-collapsed ruin.

Huge underground facilities to control the movement of the ground and sky themselves, generators of storm and earthquake.

A leaking nuclear plant, complete with Binky the three-eyed fish in the surrounding lake. Tales abound of water that causes the body to rot, to develop horrible lesions.

While I know it's not quite what you're looking for, I suggest you check out the following CRPGs for ideas: Phantasy Star 4 (End of the Millenium) is an excellent example of a fantasy world built on the ruins of an advanced civilization. However, it's a bit too friendly to the  party for your needs. For good examples of how the less technically oriented character can deal with technology, I suggest you check out Fallout 2.  The potentially devestating consequences of Clarkes law can be dodged, at least in part, by allowing the characters to develop at a partial understanding of what's going on.. but by no means complete. Ideally, they should be able to develop a set  of expectations about the capability and patterns the technology follows: that's when you throw the curveball. Got them used to dealing with the aforementioned bio-engineered mosnters? Drop a mecha on them.

High tech, or even techo-magic, can be an interesting tool for creating a world, but there has to be enough understanding for the PCs to interface with it, to create something you can be afraid of.


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