Saturday, June 3, 2017

What a Tech Level IS

For those who are tired of hearing about tech tables, I apologize.

At present, I find myself in difficulty.  I'm organizing my thoughts with outlining further characteristics of a tech-6 culture, specifically the presence of mines, minimal transport and cart-roads, the presence of artisan shops, connections with the world market, ending with governance and minimal religious authority.  The difficulty in describing these things are not in the things themselves: we can easily understand how a brewer's establishment might work and how we wouldn't expect to see something like that except in a well-built up community.

The problem lies in determining what a tech-6 culture isn't ~ because my mind, like anyone else's, will automatically seek to assign the next logical thing, be it an accessory, structure or way of doing things, because this is our experience.

Allow an example.  Let start with the head of a large village, a chieftain.  He (or she) has a close-knit association with his family and reliable associates, say eight extended families that number about fifty persons within a village of 400.  Now, where do they live?

If we're thinking a primitively agricultural community, like that of 16th century Hawaii or perhaps 8th century Vikings, we immediately think of a long-house.  This is certainly a very primitive variety of village feature: a long, narrow, single-room structure built by multiple cultures in different parts of the world, because it provided protection and, for some, status.

It is, however, a tech-7 building, not one found in tech-6.

Now how do I know that?  Well, I am founding this system on guidelines that were established by the tech system in the game Civilization: and in that game, the "dun" ~ a Celtic alternative in the game for walls ~ comes available at the level of masonry.  Masonry is not one of the techs that I mentioned as being available at tech-6 . . . it isn't available until tech-7.

I am making the association between duns and longhouses because both indicate a technical advancement in protection . . . and because I argue that protection, or defense, is itself a step forward.  At some point in human habitation we did develop agriculture and animal husbandry without also having developed the recognition that even the most primitive form of defensive housing would be necessary.  Thus, for tech-6, we have the first advancement, we don't have the later.

That is damn hard to get my head around, I will admit.  I find myself having to step back and step back again and again, trying to get a firm and distinct handle on just what exactly tech-6 is as opposed to tech-7 ~ and hell, I'm only just starting.  If the jump between these two is this difficult, how hard is it going to be to nail down the difference between tech 10 and tech 11?

And now here is the most frustrating part of my dilemma.  I'm trying to create a rational table that can be seen at a glance that will explain, in pure and simple terms, what a tech level IS.  So far, I haven't found a way to do that.

I'll explain briefly how I'm building up notes.  I start by going through the Civilization (Beyond the Sword) effects, buildings and units to collect details on what comes available with what technology.  I then list these in terms of physical changes that will be made to the environment and culture: structures, institutions and production.  I assign whether these are connected to coins, food or hammers, then how much of each of those is needed to mean that in that hex, that structure, et al, is present.  Finally, I try to create a list of those things that would be associated with the structure, institution and production that helps define the technology number that we're at.  Here are my notes for tech-7:

All of these things are available at tech-7 but not at tech-6.  And while the table is easily read and considered in a minute or so, it isn't immediately comprehensible what this all means.  That, I have found, is disturbingly difficult to establish with simplicity.

I have made a number of attempts now to write out a given tech level in terms of what it means and what sort of culture/experience it would represent for the players ~ and it always winds up being an exhausting description of detail that ends up being wholly useless for game purposes, as I can't sit and read four thousand words and compress it effectively enough to enable proper game play.  I find myself forgetting things and wandering into the wrong tech without thinking about it, because habit tells me that if there is a primitive society it ought to have a long-house.  Except that for about 8000 years of human history, primitive agricultural societies didn't have them.

So, I'm stumped.  The "world from scratch" posts were intended to get a handle on this ~ and I'm going to continue to try to get a handle on it, and I'm going to write those posts.  But I can see this is wrestling a mental tiger; so far, I feel more like the problem is mauling me than I am getting it chained up and domesticated.


The "super-high" column in the table above is a reference to deciding if a hex has a great lighthouse or an aqueduct based not just on the coins or hammers of a given hex, but that hex + those hexes surrounding that hex.  I am still playing with different ways to make the 6-mile production hexes pay off.


  1. Really appreciate you working at it, and enjoy reading the results.

  2. Hey Alexis,
    at the risk of me sounding like a plonker having missed your point,

    dry stone walls, earth walls and cominbations of these with logs, wattle and daube have been used in building settlements since neolithic times. strictly speaking not masonry but a precursor... and in the case of inca dry stone walls brought to a high art form.

    Wikipedia tells me that there were neolithic longhouses, single entrance no windows, housing 20 to 30 people, villages containing 5-8 houses
    an example

    the advent of high tech allowed more complex strucutres with more functional perforations.

    Would this not be in the TL6 ball park?


  3. Kimbo, it is very hard to get this, I know.

    Does every high functioning post-Neolithic culture possess the features you describe, everywhere? Did they achieve them at the same time? Why?

    I am not viewing the world as a single entity. Why do you insist on providing examples as though it is?

  4. I'm really loving these 'world from scratch' posts Alexis, and I really appreciate you sharing your efforts and reasoning with us all.

    I, for one, don't find it particularly strange that some communities might have developed animal husbandry and farming but not the defensive structures made possible by the 'discovery' of masonry. Plenty of reasons might lead for the absence of incentives for the development of static, built defensive structures (I'm inspired, in this regard, by James Scott's excellent book, The Art of not Being Governed, which talks at length about the strategies of 'uncivilized peoples' to remain uncivilized, including specialization of farming techniques to keep groups on the move and out of the reach of more organized and bureaucratic nearby communities). Here are a few ideas:

    - lack of necessary materials (or the technology to transform available materials into useful inputs for such construction);
    - low population density making the effort to construct permanent structures not worth the cost of investing time and energy in such structures (i.e. an opportunity cost problem, combined with collective action/coordination difficulties, as well as the perception that attacks are rare, and the harm done is limited when they occur);
    - the nature of tech-6 warfare: perhaps mobility is more important than static defenses and supporting a specialized warrior class to proficiently use these defensive structures; perhaps natural, environmental advantages are useful enough, most of the time, for the community to organize a defense and/or protect more vulnerable community members;

    These all might explain why a community might find it unnecessary to develop masonry and invest in fortifications, even of the most primitive sort. Another reason might be that defensive structures might be built out of softer material, and that the near-nomadic lifestyle of these communities might also suggest that there is no incentive to build hard structures to hoard the communal bounty within such structures. In other words, if wealth is the communal hoard of dried fish and yams, you have no reason to build stone walls and watch-towers: at this level of development, your greatest wealth are the individual members of your community and their offspring. The best protection for them is constant scouting of the lands around, and a decent emergency plan for when a more powerful neighbor comes too close for comfort.

    Just a few thoughts which I hope might be useful.

  5. Hello Alexis,

    I'm happy to see the subject of Tech Levels back !

    Sadly I don't have much to say about your current quandary. How can a given Tech-Level can be easily described isn't easy - part of which is also because many earth-cultures don't have a "full" tech level, but have developped what suits (or is needed / forced by) their situation.

    As much as I loath it, maybe using real-world examples, with some notes indicating that such and such tech is / is not available ?

    All said, however, your work here is impressive.

  6. Is the tech level meant to be uniform down-column? In other words, are civilizations given a general tech level or do they have various tech levels for each group?

    Please disregard if that's answered in an earlier post. I just found your blog and am working my way backwards. I think the tech levels are a great idea and I am super excited to read about 6-mile production hexes in greater detail as that's a problem I haven't worked on yet but it has been on the horizon as I make progress on my AD&D 2nd Edition build for hexcrawling.

    Anyway, my intuition is that the problem is at least partly a disconnect between the coarse-grain abstraction of tech levels and the high resolution of the information you're attempting to put into them. The more precisely defined the tech levels are made, the more accurately they can support useful information while simultaneously the information they are built to contain becomes less reliably related to the tech level--if that makes sense. You may find it necessary to apply some kind of bonus/penalty modifier based on a variable like terrain or climate, although of course that defeats the point of an at-a-glance table. Unless you wanted to do the work on the front end and pre-modify the tables by culture? I dunno. I look forward to your solutions.

  7. The difficulty is hammering myself into the tech level concept; like anyone else, I have preconceptions and habits that say a culture ought to have this or that.

    Primarily, I want to use the tech system to limit the resources a player can count on - so they have REASON to approach high level cultures in order to obtain specific things, while retreating to low level cultures in order to enjoy the freedom from a restrictive social expectation. The players can then use the nuance to decide how high they want to go or how low, as it suits them.

    You haven't seen it yet, Stan, but the tech levels are based on a given region's population density. The size of the region is not considered; but small regions tend to have a greater density. My game has more than 1,500 regions, so there's plenty of options.


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