In order to play Car Wars effectively I found it necessary to create tech levels in which to group weapons, equipment, and general knowledge. I tried to follow the GURPS rules time line but found it didn’t add enough variety to the tech levels near the Car Wars level, which is 8. Listed below are the tech levels and some of the things you would find at those tech levels. This does not mean that a character from a lower tech level would have no clue what a higher tech level device does, but he will definitely be at a disadvantage when trying to use it.
Tech 1: Items at this level are bows, spears, leather armor, animal mounts, catapults, pit fall traps, and smoke signal and vocal communications.
Tech 2: Here we have crossbows, swords, metal armor, anti-vehicular cross bows, mechanical traps, and signal mirrors, flags and musical instruments for battlefield communications.
Tech 3: Black powder firearms and cannons, balloons, and gliders.
Tech 4: Repeating hand guns, gattling guns, steam engines, bicycles, railroads, basic electricity, metal armor for vehicles, blimps, tanks?, and telegraph communications.
Tech 5: Machine guns, gas engines bazookas, cars, planes, flak jackets, tanks, and radio communications.
Tech 6: This era covers the time from the middle of World War II to the early 80’s. Assault rifles, missiles, jets, helicopters, bullet proof vests, crude cyber-links, antiaircraft missiles, crude hovercraft, and television and computer communications.
Tech 7: Covers from the early 80’s to a little ways past the turn of the century. Chobham armor, inferior electric vehicle motors, inferior plastic vehicle armor, Kevlar body armor, target lasers, and satellite communications.
Tech 8: This is where most of the Car Wars gadgets lie. However, there are a few I have chosen to put in the next tech level just to make them rarer. I’ll only list a few as I hope to eventually list the tech level for all devices as they show up in future articles of mine.
Tech 9: Power armor, magnetic cannon, gauss gun, twin laser, all infrared lasers, X-ray and heavy X-ray lasers, all pulse lasers, gauss pistols and rifles, vibro-knives and swords, ANDICE, and jet packs.
Tech 10: Atomic engines, anti-gravity, robots, advanced power plants, and advanced armor.
Tech levels in the campaign
Now that you have an idea of the possible tech levels it’s time to integrate them into your campaign. There are 3 levels that need to be considered; The current tech level of the community your characters will interact with. The tech level your characters actually understand and use, and finally, the highest tech level that is available anywhere in your campaign. Below is a break down of these areas.
Community tech level: This is the most complex as there may be several different groups in the immediate area, each with there own tech levels. For instance; In a typical fortress town you have the very rich who live at tech level 8 or 9, the middle and upper class that live at tech 8, the poor which vary from 3 to 8, and the scum hiding in the ruins and sewers, who vary from tech 1 to 5. For the general populous a specific tech level is not needed, but one should be assigned to any groups the characters will interact with. Example: The cannibal scum that live in the abandon building next to your gangs hide out may be spear carrying tech level 1, while the police that show up to harass you are tech 8, and the wimp rival gang down the road still drive old gas burners with metal scraps welded on, tech 6. This doesn’t mean these groups must be strictly limited to equipment of their own tech level or lower, but it will be rare for them to have higher level stuff.
Players tech level: What tech can the players use? A starting level should be set by the GM who may or may not allow the characters to modify it. I recommend any level from 8 on down. The biggest impact tech level has for characters is in the cost and availability of equipment and the knowledge to use advanced items. If a character wants to purchase an item of equal or lesser tech level he can use the standard price. When purchasing a higher tech item the cost is simply doubled for every level of tech above his. This applies when the player is purchasing equipment during the creation of his character and I also apply it when the character seeks to add something new to his arsenal. In addition when using connections to track this stuff down apply a -2 penalty roll to their chance to find it. (See my character generation rules for more on connections). Also any character attempting to perform a skill on equipment of a different tech level suffers a -2 to their roll per level of difference, regardless of whether their tech level is higher or lower than the item. Characters using weapons suffer only a -1 per tech level difference unless they have specifically taken skill levels in these weapons, in which case only weapons of a lower tech level may be learned. Characters can however, learn to use items from a different tech level, either higher or lower, at full proficiency during the course of a campaign. This takes time and usually a teacher and the device that the character wants to learn about. (More on this in a future article).
Highest tech level achieved: This is what the big people use. Your average Car Wars campaign should top out at 9. I usually save the tech 10 stuff for campaigns that involve alien invasions or in post-apocalyptic campaigns as rare one of a kind artifacts from a long dead civilization. Always keep your characters reaching for these toys and let them have them only if they are willing to pay the big bucks.
I originally set up tech levels in my campaigns because after several months of playing my characters all had enough money to buy long barreled, heavy lasers with cyber-links. Now, I don’t throw armored truck loads of cash at my players. In fact, players who aren’t careful usually end up losing more money than they make on my adventures. The problem is, the way the rules are written anyone can go into an Uncle Albert’s shop and get all this stuff for cheap. This new way of pricing things and the use of connections instead of Al’s has greatly decreased the chances of my players acquiring the big guns without first searching long and hard and then paying through the nose.
I put tanks in at tech level 4 with a question mark. For my reasons behind this I recommend reading “The Iron Cavalry” by Ralph Zumbro. Among many fascinating stories of armored combat is his reasoning on why tanks could have easily been developed as early as the Civil War. This is a great book and I recommend it to role-players as well as wargamers.