While reflecting on Marinov’s Science, Engineering, and the Kingdom of God (a good read), I am left reflecting on how the question of WHAT we want t0 research, determines WHAT we discover.
And in a cosmos of time, talent, and resource scarcity, we will discover first what we are looking for, and are quite unlikely to discover what we are not looking for.
For example, the Vilani are not known for their love of research and innovation: but they went out of their way and did it anyways… when the rewards were high enough. “Rewards” including the ability to alter or delete ‘unsocial personality complexes’, a stunt that would take decades of research and experimentation and, yes, innovation (shock!), before you can do it reliably and predictably and safely. *cough*
On the other hand, the Vilani saw no reason for looking for a weapon that would revolutionize space warfare, and so the First Imperium never put together a meson weapon, despite being quite capable of doing the R&D. “We already have the
best only star navy in Charted Space! Why push for an innovation that would only weaken our superiority, and change the environment where we reign supreme?”
Or the Vargr. You’d think that they wouldn’t be able to discover a single thing, with their pro-chaos view of life: and you’d be wrong. Per capita, they have just as many TL 14+ high stellar worlds as the Zhodani Consulate and the Third Imperium – and more than some of their enemies, like the Yilean-dominated Second Empire of Gashikan (in 993: Third Empire of Gashikan in the Classic milieu), stuck at about TL 12.
I’d love to grasp how the Vargr conduct science, and how discoveries spread in the Extents. I bet it’s a lot more exciting than university-based symposiums and seminar talk shops!
Vargr science & technology definitely have their own flavour: for example, robots are typically poorly neglected (as they don’t give their owners Charisma). Pirate ship/raider naval architecture, on the other hand, must have all sorts of slick tricks and refinements that would make the Vargr raider the best in the galaxy… if they could collect all the scattered discoveries and trade secrets info in one place, after translating it from a horde of languages and conflicting technical standards.
But anyways, back to the main point: it would be what a sophont values most, what they are truly interested in, that would be the main focus of their research.
- Social harmony or enforcing a social hierarchy (or both!);
- Military tech & tactics focused on conquest, or extermination, or fast and hard raids;
- Cheap and reliable vs. expensive and potent tools…
these are the background factors and choices that shape the world of the PC.
The Players are unlikely to notice it, no more than a fish in the ocean monitors the oxygen content or the level of trace elements.
But it’s there nevertheless, and if the PCs could somehow both read their environment and make that information work for them (in knowing their market, and grasping what tech would be in the highest demand here… or what local blind spots can be exploited), they should be rewarded for doing so.