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Infinite Worlds


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 122
The hum of machinery on a factory floor. The gentle whirring of fans inside a computer. Even the flint and steel used to spark a world’s first campfire represents a species’ drive to create something new and harness power. Unlike the spontaneity of magic, technology arises systematically through invention and necessity; each step builds from what came before to overcome the next available obstacle, eventually allowing engineers to reach the stars and infinite worlds beyond. From manufacturing to computing to simply staying warm at night, each culture takes its own path toward greater and greater technological solutions.
Technology is as diverse as those who make it. Just as each culture has its needs and wants, so will each culture’s technologies be distinct and unique to that society. One species might not need fast transportation and thus never develops wheeled carts, instead innovating extraordinary communication technology that spans distances faster than any mundane conveyance. Plantlike species who drink energy from their sun might readily develop solar power as an extension of their own physiology, yet they might have nearly nonexistent agricultural technologies compared to herbivorous species’ farms. Elementally-infused beings capable of projecting destructive energies at great range might master metallurgical skills while never once thinking to develop weapons.
Keep in mind that a high-technology attribute need not always manifest as spaceships and lasers. After all, what desire does a culture have to brave the vacuum of space when its home planet accommodates its every need, which spares its residents’ creative energy to develop technologically peerless art or synthetic companions with which to share its utopia?
A culture doesn’t need space-age technology to thrive (even in a science-fantasy setting like Starfinder), and countless factors could explain a planet’s or region’s low-technology attribute. Cultural taboos born of past technological disasters or divine mandate could quash otherwise life-changing innovations. Environmental factors might stymie technological breakthroughs, such as an aquatic world struggling to harness metallurgy or a mineral-poor planet lacking the raw materials to fuel technological revolution. In rare cases, the environment might not have stymied innovation so much as reset it; consider a world in which overexploitation triggered societal collapse, where a supervolcano almost erased civilization, where a solar storm knocked an advanced society back to the stone age (figuratively or literally), or where emerging from the Gap upset the laws of physics in a way that invalidated much of a star system’s tech. Rudimentary technology could result simply from bad timing, as alien visitors arrived just after one of the aforementioned disasters or during the early phases of native species’ cultural development. What would a culture look like if its ancient history included first contact with alien visitors? Would its people react the same way if they had a medium-technology attribute at that time?
Technology levels often aren’t uniform within a single society, much less across an entire planet, and tempting as it might be to paint entire worlds as a monolith, variety sparks countless narratives. Oligarchic systems could restrict technologies to specific social strata, with wealthy elites enjoying wildly different devices than the everyday populace. A biologically cosmopolitan society might include some species that disdain specific technologies, while other inhabitants rely on certain tools for their survival—even creating devices that are incompatible with other species’ anatomy or lifestyles. Vastly different biomes across a planet can require an assortment of technologies, and geographic barriers might have separated societies that have simply never contacted each other or haven’t traded innovations much after discovering different civilizations. Viewed another way, technological diversity can translate to starkly different tech levels for various technologies; certain devices could exceed even the Pact Worlds’ capabilities while the surrounding culture lacks other commonplace implements.
As technology addresses a society’s basic needs, it just as readily caters to trivialities and entertainment. Most intelligent beings require some form of creative enrichment, and anything from whimsical curiosity to shallow desire could kick off a technological revolution. Consider how a society’s history, structure, values, and physical anatomy shape entertainment. One culture’s escapism might embrace familiar forms like cinema, music, and video games, whereas others could revolve around complex mechanical puzzles, targeted neural stimulation with electricity, or extreme tourism based on mind-swapping bodies with unsuspecting victims. What are the values, validations, and wish fulfillments immortalized in these media, and how have the technologies involved adapted to their creators’ unique physiologies? Does a skittermander’s vidgame controller require six hands, a drow’s horror film eschew shadows as a spooky element because of widespread darkvision, or dessamar (Alien Archive 3 14) equipment readily reconfigure to accommodate either of the species’s different body shapes? Whatever the form, remember that play itself can inspire creativity and innovation, so consider how happy accidents might have shaped a society and its technological trajectory—much as real-world science fiction can inspire and explore technologies made feasible by scientific advances decades later.
When compared to one that keeps rigidly to tradition, a society with incentive to invent far more likely has a mediumto high-technology attribute. Invention by default introduces something created and new into the world. Whether or not those inventions are welcomed determines how successfully the new technology spreads. A society where luddites quash innovation in favor of traditionalism will see fewer technological advancements on average, whereas societies that celebrate (or even deify) their greatest scientists could drive ravenous discoveries and developments as inhabitants aspire to become the next great innovator. In extreme cases of anti-technological sentiment, major developments might be forced underground or outright destroyed to maintain the status quo—an occurrence that helps explain why Triune’s Signal spread throughout the galaxy yet resulted in no noteworthy advances in some places.
No matter a culture’s technology, there are three essential takeaways. First, technology often falls into one of three broad categories—high, medium, and low—addressed in the following pages, along with an even more refined breakdown of tech levels on page 126. Second, even though technological development often follows fairly predictable paths, technological development isn’t strictly linear, instead reflecting a society’s needs and values. Third, technology isn’t shorthand for civilization or sophistication, even for the most mechanically adept or technologically rudimentary societies. With these foundations in place, you’re ready to mix and match countless tech levels to create a wide range of wondrous worlds (all the more so when combined with accord, alignment, magic, and religion attributes)!

High Technology

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 124
High technology not only conveys the power and capabilities of a society’s technology, but also how readily accessible that technology is. A high-technology society might be defined by space travel, infosphere networks, or advanced computer intelligences. The general populace of these places often enjoys a plethora of electronic amusements, such as virtual reality sports or star system broadcasts. High-technology worlds often develop synthetic life and artificial intelligence, such as androids or sentient robotic organisms. The Pact Worlds and Veskarium both serve as excellent high-technology system examples, yet they’re far from the only ones.
High-technology cultures often develop serious dependencies on their advanced machinery for everyday life. The greater the technology’s role, and the more centrally controlled it is, the more vulnerable the society becomes in the event of a disaster. Accidental mismanagement leading to overloads, physical sabotage, solar storms that fry electronics, cyberattacks, and magical interference could all threaten the power grid, life support, and more. Player characters might be called upon to protect these systems, or they might be the ones hacking it.
Either way, a high-technology society is bound to feel the repercussions of a security breach. A highly-mechanized world might experience chaos and limited communication if its infosphere and vehicles grind to a halt, whereas a space station might become uninhabitable within hours or be unable to maintain its orbit and crash. This possible turmoil is especially true when a society’s technology advances swiftly—sometimes due to great innovations, but often thanks to outside intervention, such as benevolent alien patronage or even divine intervention— as the inventions quickly surpass the society’s ability to adapt to and understand its wealth of new devices. Triune’s Signal in particular provided an extraordinary boost to countless worlds’ technological innovation and, while this development has connected worlds like never before, it has also provided dangerous tools enabling some cultures to run before they could figuratively walk.
High technology often helps a species surpass its physical limitations. Planes and space suits allow humans to defy gravity and breathe in inhospitable environments; in a science-fantasy world there are even stranger possibilities. The Burning Archipelago on the surface of the Pact Worlds’ sun has architecture that allows lifeforms to live in an impossibly hot realm; starships carry inhabitants far beyond the worlds where they evolved; and Drift technology puts the whole galaxy within travelers’ reach for a modest investment. Space stations might orbit black holes, defying crushing gravity and time dilation through extraordinary safeguards while scientists collect priceless data. Elsewhere, cloud cities float above methane seas, and entire civilizations thrive amid ceaseless volcanism. With a high-technology attribute, life could exist anywhere, even in the most unlikely places. Of course, whether outsiders can access these settlements is another matter!
Technology presents the means for creatures to exceed their worlds’ natural carrying capacities, like how artificial fertilizer and mechanization revolutionize a planet’s agricultural output. Most high-technology societies harness extraordinary manufacturing and material-manipulation capabilities, such as the use of universal polymer base (or UPBs; Core Rulebook 233), that allow citizens to surpass many physical resource limitations. Taken a step further, technologically extraordinary societies might transcend mortal bodies by developing robust networks, where uploaded digital consciousnesses can exist indefinitely without need for sustenance. These uploaded consciousnesses differ from true AI, however, and while the functional differences might seem academic, the questions of life, death, and identity are often crucial to these postcorporeal cultures.

High-Technology Adventure Hooks

D20 Adventure Hook
1 A recently awakened AI seeks aid in emancipating its core from a heavily guarded corporate facility.
2 A cloning accident causes havoc in a top secret laboratory.
3 A fleet of automated starships sends an SOS from a hazardous area.
4 A popular vidgame starts blackmailing its players.
5 Dangerous virtual reality characters have escaped into the real world.
6 A strange alien signal interrupts all communication arrays in a system, including vital emergency transmissions.
7 Life support systems in a hostile atmosphere begin to fail.
8 An anomalous planet in the Vast turns out to be a titanic computer calculating an unknown equation.
9 A world develops an organic computer network that begins to painfully absorb the minds of any who access it.
10 A robotic civilization begins a campaign to “liberate” all technology.
11 Members of an advanced culture offer to sell technology that can create a star from nothing, sparking a bidding war.
12 Mysterious tractor beams have been pulling starships into a seemingly empty area of space. No ship has returned.
13 A rogue computer virus has shut down most electronic systems and caused security robots to turn on citizens.
14 A dangerous nanite malfunction threatens an entire world.
15 A mischievous hacker is creating digital graffiti on a settlement’s holographic billboards that riles citizens toward an uprising.
16 A comet is actually an immense hologram populated by electronic duplicates of hundreds of historical and pop culture figures.
17 The inhabitants of an advanced society leave all decision making to an AI network. One day, they’re told to declare war on a neighbor.
18 A mysterious signal emanates from a world ruled by the collective uploaded consciousnesses of the entire world’s population.
19 The antigrav generators beneath a floating city begin to fail for unknown reasons.
20 A massive colony ship careens toward an inhabited world, and the crew members are all in an unknown form of cryogenic sleep.

Medium Technology

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 124
Cultures with a medium-technology attribute have taken important steps in their scientific development. They might exhibit powerful technology in particular areas yet lag behind high-technology worlds in most other disciplines. Citizens of medium-technology worlds can expect their basic needs to be answered via scientific and technological means. These worlds also might be capable of staffed or entirely automated space travel, but would rarely have access to Drift technology. Worlds of medium technology have mostly, if not entirely, analog and archaic weapons and limited access to technological items.
One of the most spectacular advances for medium-technology societies isn’t flashy—it’s sanitation. Sophisticated sewage and medical care help inhabitants live longer and limit disease, and the resulting increase to lifespans allow more time for leisure, art, and learning that drive subsequent innovations. As a result, medical capabilities present a common benchmark for this attribute—at least for ecosystems where medical care is a vital need, which might not be true for undead societies or stranger worlds.
After medicine, consider a world’s other threats and limitations, as many medium-technology societies endeavor to overcome these factors: deadly weather, hazardous terrain, and voracious animals; such immediate dangers necessitate sophisticated shelters, inventive transportation, armaments for self-defense, or barriers built on a massive scale. Other goals are more aspirational, like developing more productive agriculture and devising new techniques for procuring essential resources. These factors uphold a very human perspective; nonhuman cultures might have vastly different goals than mere safety and material needs, such as creating esoteric technology strictly for artistic ends, designing massive infrastructure to channel telepathic communication, or creating sophisticated homunculi only to sacrifice them in divine rites. Always think beyond Earth-like concepts when creating your strangest worlds.
Consider inventors’ physiologies and needs. Would a quadruped species intuitively build land vehicles if they naturally evolved for running and sprinting? Would a species that filter feeds invest in agriculture or culinary arts? How might a species with 360-degree vision approach photography or visual arts? While some technologies are universally helpful, what one species deems vital another might find a novelty. These differences distinguish cultures of similar sophistication without presuming one as more advanced than another.
These idiosyncrasies make medium-technology worlds exciting opportunities for first-contact scenarios; these worlds support countless intelligent minds that could readily adopt and adapt the visitors’ technology to explore the stars, and at the same time, these inhabitants might have innovated their own technology in sufficiently strange and advanced ways that are practically unique to galactic culture. Simultaneously these conventions can spark disastrous consequences for societies that can quickly grasp the practical applications of gifted technologies but not their greater ramifications, causing a world war, a breakdown of longstanding cultural norms, or the empowerment of interplanetary invasions. Spacefaring explorers like Starfinders and Weydan’s faithful often exercise protocols to limit cultural and technological shock when meeting unfamiliar species, yet even the best intentions can result in dozens of local disasters and revolutions.
One of the most interesting consequences of this is when individuals of these younger species choose to join the galactic community. Adventurers from medium-technology worlds might consider high-tech gear fascinating and wish to learn more, becoming passionate mechanics and technomancers in the process. They might also become invaluable ambassadors, interpreting for medium- and low-technology societies based on shared experience. No matter the profession, anyone hailing from a medium-technology world would needs to be a fast learner to make use of other civilizations’ technologies.

Medium-Technology Adventure Hooks

D20 Adventure Hook
1 A world’s first contact comes via an alien lawsuit alleging a metal slug its denizens launched ceremoniously into space damaged a starship.
2 A small settlement in the Vast struggles with an alien pathogen and requires delivery of new sanitation equipment.
3 A manufacturer wants to sell advanced arms to a mercenary company on a less-advanced world despite significant opposition.
4 A scientific probe that crashed on an inhabited world and sparked its industrial revolution must be recovered.
5 A destabilizing economic boom occurs when rich veins of precious metals are discovered deep underground.
6 An ancient transmission from offworld foreshadows catastrophe.
7 A millennia-old probe from an alien culture has been recovered and holds encrypted data believed to lead to its utopian home world.
8 A scientific facility testing new advances in technology vanishes.
9 An astronaut of an alien species is stranded on a world that fears them.
10 A newly contacted species asks for help clearing a mass of satellites and space junk that prevents space travel.
11 An individual claiming to be a time traveler attempts to advance the technological development of an industrial culture.
12 A sudden increase in pollution levels on a particular world sparks several ecological disasters. The inhabitants must evacuate for their safety.
13 A world’s miraculous advances in medicine are traced back to a captive alien beast that’s being unethically experimented on.
14 A humongous spacefaring creature enters orbit around a world, dangerously affecting its tides.
15 Invasive alien flora is taking over a planet’s natural areas, and the indigenous culture doesn’t have the resources to combat it.
16 A seemingly low- or medium-technology species not only isn’t fazed by first contact, but presents a technologically-advanced gift.
17 The society of a world with rare megafauna pleads for help to combat poachers wielding advanced weaponry.
18 A society claims that its planet’s landmarks were built by aliens.
19 A planet’s strong magnetic fields preclude computer technology.
20 A local war escalates to other worlds with the introduction of starships.

Low Technology

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 125
A low-technology attribute conveys limited technological development—anything from early stone and metal tools to rudimentary mechanization and early electrification. Sciences such as medicine and physics are likely fairly early in their development, and lower tech often introduces challenges to building and maintaining larger urban centers and empires alike.
From a high-technology society’s perspective, it can be easy to assume low-technology inhabitants are somehow intellectually inferior, yet this reasoning is harmful, dismissive, and inaccurate. There are numerous reasons a low-technology attribute might manifest. The simplest reason is that a society is young and hasn’t had time to develop beyond basic machinery; millennia later, the population might achieve or even surpass the standards of current high-tech life. Relatively older societies could lack key resources, stymieing their growth, such as how an alternate Earth without fossil fuels would struggle to power its Industrial Revolution. Environmental conditions might inhibit certain technologies, such as a planet exposed to intermittent EMP bursts that devastate any attempts at developing electronics. Physiology could also limit technological development; for example, the lack of dexterous prehensile appendages (or a suitable substitute, such as precision telekinesis) could inhibit all but basic tool creation regardless of a culture’s innovative potential.
The above ideas assume inhabitants even aspire to higher technology levels. A civilization might possess extraordinary intelligence and sophistication while also upholding taboos against certain technologies. These attitudes might arise from reliance on magic. A high-magic attribute could fulfill most needs of a world’s inhabitants, so necessity never drives mechanical innovation; or, perhaps, an oppressive government disdains technology to preserve an arcane ruling class’s hegemony. Technophobia could arise from the ashes of a once-industrialized society laid to waste by warfare or natural disaster, with legends of machinists’ hubris haunting the survivors generations later. In each of these later examples, low-tech societies remain cognizant of technological developments yet rarely pursue them. Alien visitors who expect low-tech worlds to accept their futuristic inventions with open arms might be surprised to find the inhabitants violently rebuking these forbidden offworld devices.
Advanced technology often relies on batteries and ammunition, which can prove difficult to recharge on worlds without power outlets and where UPBs are unheard of. This limitation makes exploring low-tech worlds—especially if the PCs crash-land there—an exciting challenge, where survival skills and mastering less familiar technology becomes as perilous as any predator. Not only might the PCs need to secure the means to return home, but they might have to do so while shielding their wreckage or even their presence from the planet’s curious inhabitants.
Reversed, low technology could present an exciting way to begin a Starfinder campaign, eventually opening up to interplanetary and galactic travel as the PCs secure the essential technology, magic, or both—either by developing it or by scavenging it from outside sources. Page 500 of the Core Rulebook presents guidelines for adapting Pathfinder fantasy roleplaying game concepts into Starfinder, which might represent an exciting and unique way to capture low-tech concepts. Once such characters reach the stars, their backgrounds could shape their strategies and styles: think, mystics who styles themselves as clerics of long-dead deities, vanguard luddites dedicated to destroying the high-tech devices that ravaged their home world, or soldiers who turn outwardly archaic weapons like bows or slings into devastating armaments that can fell towering battle robots.
Above all, a low-technology attribute is never the product of inhabitants being wrong or imperfect, merely different. The galaxy’s an extraordinary and diverse place, and every planet, no matter its technology, is full of surprises.

Low-Technology Adventure Hooks

D20 Adventure Hook
1 The rust red dust of a remote moon is discovered to be ancient nanites that could still hold data of an advanced civilization.
2 An impending natural disaster threatens mass extinction of the nascent ecosystems on a planet where technology doesn’t function.
3 A starship seemingly made from stone contains a Stone Age culture of people who don’t realize they’re in space.
4 A world’s inhabitants shy away from any form of technology, a repercussion of a previous calamity caused by such machines.
5 A member of a low-technology culture found advanced technology that gives them immense power over others in their society.
6 A world is dotted with an advanced civilization’s ancient ruins that the natives claim are haunted.
7 A war between two analog weapon–wielding nations escalates when an unknown arms dealer gives one side laser weaponry.
8 A criminal group takes an entire starport hostage after grounding all vehicles with an EMP.
9 Anomalous weather patterns on a distant planet threaten the safety of a group that has forsworn technology.
10 A creche containing larval versions of living weapons has been occupied by a dangerous military force.
11 Rival corporations enact plans to uplift the same low-technology civilization and make them loyal customers.
12 Visitors to a planet that’s home to enormous sapient life forms are captured and treated like beasts.
13 A postapocalyptic civilization has built its recovering society upon buried megacities, not knowing what technology might lie beneath.
14 Explorers are treated as returning royalty upon first contact with an alien species, whose legends tell of ancient monarchs who came from the stars.
15 A low-technology civilization builds its settlements on the backs of massive, flying fauna, but trophy-hunting tourists now threaten that society’s growing population.
16 First-contact tours have become popular with the hyper-rich, but one such ship needs rescuing from a hostile low-technology civilization.
17 First contact is made with a pre-industrial alien species that already speaks Common. They claim to have learned it from ghosts made of starlight who live in a nearby system of caves.
18 After first contact, a low-technology society becomes addicted to Pact Worlds consumer goods and willingly barters away crucial resources for steady supplies.
19 A strange disease renders the affected unable to comprehend even the simplest technology.
20 The society of a resource-rich planet rejects proposals to harvest these resources, but certain groups refuse to take “no” for an answer.

Tech Categories

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 126
With an area as vast as an entire galaxy, different civilizations possess divergent levels of technological advancement, from archaic to the most cutting-edge. Tech categories are an optional subsystem for determining the types of technology available (or not) on a given world with more nuance than the general distinctions of low, medium, and high.
The table below presents nine tech categories. Categories 1 and 2 represent low technology, categories 3 through 6 represent medium technology, and categories 5 through 9 represent high technology; the overlap between medium and high allows some flexibility when choosing a tech category.
To use this subsystem, first choose the general technology attribute of the world: high, medium, or low. Then choose one of the specific tech categories within that attribute from the table below. Alternatively, you can randomly determine a world’s category (and corresponding technology attribute) by rolling a d10 (rerolling any result of 10) and using the result for the category.
Each category has a descriptive name as well as a list of example technological advancements and items usually available in that category, divided into five groups: space travel, weapons, armor, vehicles, and other. The categories are additive, meaning that technology from lower-tech categories is available in higher categories as well; lower categories don’t have access to technology from higher categories. For example, PCs visiting a Space Age world (category 3) wouldn’t generally be able to find sonic weapons, which are not available until the Digital Age (category 4), but they could purchase flame weapons since those are Industrial Age (category 2) technology. While these tech categories aren’t comprehensive, you can use the examples in the table as guidelines to determine the specific technological items available on a world. For example, holographic technology is a hallmark of the Digital Age (category 4), so a technological item that uses holograms should generally be available in that category.
No two worlds are alike, even within the same tech category, so feel free to mix and match specific technological advancements from different categories to match the needs of your campaign. If you want a Space Age world to have powered weapons or for domestic drones to be available in a Digital Age civilization, go for it! Likewise, a world doesn’t necessarily need to advance from one tech category to the next in numerical order. It’s perfectly possible for a Cybernetic Age world to jump directly to the Pre-Drift Age without developing biotech at all. There’s room enough in the galaxy for worlds and civilizations with every possible combination of technological prowess—and this subsystem gives you the tools to create them all!

Tech Categories

Tech CategoryAdventure HookWeaponsArmorVehiclesOther
1: Archaic Age archaic archaic biological transport, nonpowered land and water pre-industrial technology
2: Industrial Age analog flame, melee, and non-automatic projectile land, water industrial technology
3: Space Age suborbital and orbital flight automatic, laser, and non-analog flame and projectile space suits air computers (tier 0–2), nuclear technology
4: Digital Age limited satellite flight sintered melee; sonic nonarchaic armor with environmental protections computers (tier 3–4), modern Earth–equivalent technology, holographic technology, infospheres, personal comm units
5: Cybernetic Age limited sublight interplanetary travel, starships (thrusters only) powered, shock; integrated weapons; ultrathin melee powered armor multi-type, tunneling artificial/virtual intelligence, computers (tier 5–6), cybernetics, domestic drones, jetpacks, jump jets, robots, starship data nets, system-wide comm units
6: Biotech Age biomechanical starships (thrusters only) living weapons dendron armor, preserver’s mantle biotech, spore starship weapons
7: Pre-Drift Age interplanetary travel, non-Drift interstellar engines molecular rift melee, cryo, plasma, and gravitation weapons hover artificial gravity, computers (tier 7–8), force fields, graviton and hover technology, x-ray visors
8: Drift Age faster-than-light Drift travel dimensional blade/slice and zero-edge melee, disintegrator, nanite quantum computers (tier 9–10), nanotechnology, quantum technology, regeneration tables, standardized credit currency, unlimited comm units, UPBs
9: Intergalactic Age non-Draft faster-than-light travel, travel beyond the galactic rim, sivv rel-space drives, witchwyrd planar aperture drives AG weapons, degenerator weapons, dimensional disruption AG armor advanced or unknown alien technology, Azlanti technology, computers (tier 10+), kishalee relics, sivv relics, witchwyrd technology