Creating Tech Items - The Art of World Building
May 312021
 
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Unlike with magic items, technological ones are unique, rather than repurposing an everyday item, like a ring, to have technological significance. Both can be done. A smart watch is more than just a watch but was created to have those extra features, rather than being repurposed. With all tech objects, we’ll want to balance the good with the bad so that few items are without their issues. How to do this is covered throughout this section but amounts to altering properties, forms, and origins to produce pros and cons. Characters complaining or praising these details adds believability, as does their avoidance of some things and pursuit of others.

Technological Prevalence

How common is technology in the setting? This will have an impact on how it’s perceived and the likelihood of our characters having technological problems. Many objects will be taken for granted, but how often does technology fail or get in the way? We notice a failure more than expected results. The frequency of technology ruining plans may be on par with how often they help. This can be a story issue, but the more technology that exists, the more likely things are to fail and affect lives.

Properties

Aside from what purpose this item serves, we should determine considerations such as battery life (and if its rechargeable), reliability, durability, usability, its interface, and data connectivity abilities. Technological items almost always have an “on/off” switch, and possibly a battery that will eventually die. Decide that most can be switched on and then we only need to decide which ones miss this feature – or have a flaky one.

Reliability doesn’t need an explanation because we all understand that some items are great and others aren’t. Just decide some manufacturers produce items at one extreme or another, based on what we know about the species/race, sovereign power, or company involved. Battery life may be an issue at the item, product line, manufacturer, or species level. It’s less common that everything by a race, for example, has poor battery life.

For durability, higher priced items are typically better, but manufacturers know that if an item lasts forever, we’ll never buy another from them, so the conspiracy theory that some are designed to break down after a given time – right after the warranty expires, say—is quite believable.

Usability and the interface are major areas for us to characterize. Who hasn’t complained about how something is designed? Give every manufacturer a reputation and our characters will have an attitude about their other products. The interface can mean how intuitive or cumbersome it is and is a way to give a good item a flaw. Maybe it’s powerful but hard to use.

For connectivity, our default should be that a technology does not play well with technologies from other planets unless someone has purposely built that in, which requires previous interaction with species from that world, or at least acquisition of and familiarity with their technology and language. This is a believable limitation. Even on Earth today, if we travel from Europe to the U.S. or vice versa, we need an adapter for something as simple as electricity. The tech for advanced systems is interdependent and simply hooking up to something shouldn’t be as easy as it’s often shown in SF.

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