How to Describe Technology?


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion


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So recently I have been reading the Numeria AP as well as some threads on Paizo forums and other forums, leading me to write this post.

How should I, as a GM, describe technology like from that of a crashed early interstellar spaceship (like in Numeria) convincingly to a group that is (both in world and out of world) used to bog standard pseudo-medieval fantasy? That is, how should I describe them, and how would the in-world characters react?

Like, how would a medieval or possible pre-medieval tribal person understand things like robots, cybernetics/biomodifications, consciousness transfer, spaceships, advanced weapons, and computers (and a lot of other stuff, etc. etc)? What would they think of them as?

Likewise, how much info should I parse out at a time? Would/should they just remain ignorant of 99% of things they encounter?

Any help you can give is encouraged.


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The Rain of Stars was nine thousand years ago. That's plenty of time for vocabulary and understanding of some sort to build up as the Kellids of that land adjusted to a 'normal' that includes feral robots - I would avoid the old trap of portraying them as tired old "dumb tribals," even for folk who shun using advanced tech themselves.

Numerians know what a robot is after literal millennia of living alongside them, even if they don't understand how they work, and non-Numerians would probably think of it as a weird golem. A laser pistol might be mistaken for an enchanted crossbow/firearm or wand. Most things are probably mistaken for magic, as the human high tech of the surrounding continent is primarily especially-functional fantasy clockwork.

I would also say: don't let your craving for verisimilitude lead into confusing your players. Trust them to understand when you say "Oh, yeah, this thing is like a giant crab mech with a plasma cannon" that those words are their understanding, and not that of their PCs, who have the benefit of being able to see things with their eyes.


Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

They'd probably equate robots to weird, intricate looking golems or clockwork creatures with eerie lights, or an automaton ancestry if they're familiar with Guns and Gears stuff at all.

cybernetics/biomods? Mechanical limbs are featured in Guns and Gears artwork already and other products but may be construed as a curse slowly transforming a person if they've never been exposed to material from those sources

Consciousness transfer? Magic or some magic item which facilitates possession or soul stealing like a hag's gem or something.

Advanced weapons? Probably magic items or a weird looking ray gun shaped wand

Computers? Most likely wouldn't comprehend what it is unless it started responding to verbal commands, then they may think its some sort of spirit or planar being.

Mostly I think tech items would probably be mistaken for wonderous magic items though they wouldn't respond as such to Detect Magic, unless you go for a magic tech vibe.

There are some Numenara products for 5e that I got for inspiration. These ancient tech wonders are inventive but if you start converting them you realize they do pretty much the same thing as spells and existing magic items so basically they are just fancy gadgets and alchemical consumables. It all comes down to tech like a Mi-Go lightning gun doing basically the same thing as a lightning bolt.

The thing that would be strange to the adv group is if they figured out how the tech is powered, like by battery or being plugged in and realized the technology can be used without limit so long as its connected to this power source (electricity, batteries, all generated from some exotic tech power generator).

It depends of your group has any run ins with Guns and Gears type stuff or are just old school adventuring types that see crazy things that are explained by being magical


I tell players what the thing is and let them decide how to describe technology items since they have a better grasp of what their character knows and doesn't know.

Unless the fact that a piece of technology is a piece of technology and not magic is important to the story, I don't make its properties or purpose mysterious.

Liberty's Edge

To in-universe non-technologists"

Complicated, fragile, loaded with mechanical components and likely also featuring unnatural light sources. Plastic, Rubber, and Alloyed Metals would not only look but also feel VERY strange and out of place in a world where the most advanced materials that exist terrestrially would be EXTREMELY expensive forms of Steel forged only by the most experienced and in-mechanics high-level Crafters/Smiths.

Even in comparison to the more "regular" skymetals the kind of stuff you find in and around Numeria would be EXTREMELY advanced, stronger, lighter, have nearly magically smooth textures, and weight so low that in most every situation the ignorant holder of said tech would almost certainly just automatically assume it is magically enchanted/enhanced or potentially even just a straight up illusion.

Those with investments in appropriate Lore SKills or from the surrounding regions wouldn't have these impressions but if they're from "typical run of the mill" Golarion regions they should get the idea that this kind of tech is, on nearly EVERY level, fundamentally unfamiliar and deeply unnatural to their world, the crafts made there, and their general understanding of how the universe even works. The most common initial assumption that 95 our of 100 Inner Sea inhabitants should have when seeing and interacting with this stuff should be that the tech is either wholly or partially magical or otherwise potentially Divine in nature.


keftiu wrote:

The Rain of Stars was nine thousand years ago. That's plenty of time for vocabulary and understanding of some sort to build up as the Kellids of that land adjusted to a 'normal' that includes feral robots - I would avoid the old trap of portraying them as tired old "dumb tribals," even for folk who shun using advanced tech themselves.

Numerians know what a robot is after literal millennia of living alongside them, even if they don't understand how they work, and non-Numerians would probably think of it as a weird golem. A laser pistol might be mistaken for an enchanted crossbow/firearm or wand. Most things are probably mistaken for magic, as the human high tech of the surrounding continent is primarily especially-functional fantasy clockwork.

I would also say: don't let your craving for verisimilitude lead into confusing your players. Trust them to understand when you say "Oh, yeah, this thing is like a giant crab mech with a plasma cannon" that those words are their understanding, and not that of their PCs, who have the benefit of being able to see things with their eyes.

Yeah, I recognize the technologist feat (inasmuch as I dislike it being a feat) exists to handwave tech descriptions.

But tbh I kind of think the 9000 years thing is kind of really overmuch of a time span without everything being stripped way before then, so I usually homebrew a lot of timespans and such.

Themetricsystem wrote:

To in-universe non-technologists"

Complicated, fragile, loaded with mechanical components and likely also featuring unnatural light sources. Plastic, Rubber, and Alloyed Metals would not only look but also feel VERY strange and out of place in a world where the most advanced materials that exist terrestrially would be EXTREMELY expensive forms of Steel forged only by the most experienced and in-mechanics high-level Crafters/Smiths.

Even in comparison to the more "regular" skymetals the kind of stuff you find in and around Numeria would be EXTREMELY advanced, stronger, lighter, have nearly magically smooth textures, and weight so low that in most every situation the ignorant holder of said tech would almost certainly just automatically assume it is magically enchanted/enhanced or potentially even just a straight up illusion.

Those with investments in appropriate Lore SKills or from the surrounding regions wouldn't have these impressions but if they're from "typical run of the mill" Golarion regions they should get the idea that this kind of tech is, on nearly EVERY level, fundamentally unfamiliar and deeply unnatural to their world, the crafts made there, and their general understanding of how the universe even works. The most common initial assumption that 95 our of 100 Inner Sea inhabitants should have when seeing and interacting with this stuff should be that the tech is either wholly or partially magical or otherwise potentially Divine in nature.

The only real problem with this is that the actual stuff in the tech guide is kind of a mish mash of stats and weights, and even contemporary tech making everything feel much lower tech than it should. Sort of reminds me of the GURPS tech books where things felt like a random hodgepodge of things because in a very real way they were made by ripping off a bunch of unrelated scifi and putting them together.


Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

To someone without Arcane/Occult/Primal/Divine proficiencies, Technology would/should probably be perceived as 'magic'/'magical'. It may have some common traits that often include odd metallic or strange feeling materials that seem alien... will include a myriad of seemingly unnecessary components such as nobs, gears, buttons, switches... and may typically generate eerie hums, buzzes, clicks, dings and other sounds. But they otherwise will seem very magical.

Someone with a magical background frame of reference, will look at technology as something magical... but completely WRONG. It would be magic, as in how a someone not familiar with magic views magic. They will feel that it behaves as if magic, but does it completely wrong.
They after all know the basics of how magic works, they can likely sense the flow of magic to a degree, and technology defies this knowledge. They find the strange materials and extra design components with strange sounds, unnecessarily complicated and unfathomable from a design perspective. They defy most magic users understanding of logic and sense of the universe. It is magic to them... but wrong magic... magic that doesn't make sense... not necessarily magic that more powerful than them, so they can't control it. It is just magic, as in it doesn't make sense of it, or predict what it is, or how it could be that way. It just is, and that doesn't makes sense from their perspective.


Loreguard wrote:

To someone without Arcane/Occult/Primal/Divine proficiencies, Technology would/should probably be perceived as 'magic'/'magical'. It may have some common traits that often include odd metallic or strange feeling materials that seem alien... will include a myriad of seemingly unnecessary components such as nobs, gears, buttons, switches... and may typically generate eerie hums, buzzes, clicks, dings and other sounds. But they otherwise will seem very magical.

Someone with a magical background frame of reference, will look at technology as something magical... but completely WRONG. It would be magic, as in how a someone not familiar with magic views magic. They will feel that it behaves as if magic, but does it completely wrong.
They after all know the basics of how magic works, they can likely sense the flow of magic to a degree, and technology defies this knowledge. They find the strange materials and extra design components with strange sounds, unnecessarily complicated and unfathomable from a design perspective. They defy most magic users understanding of logic and sense of the universe. It is magic to them... but wrong magic... magic that doesn't make sense... not necessarily magic that more powerful than them, so they can't control it. It is just magic, as in it doesn't make sense of it, or predict what it is, or how it could be that way. It just is, and that doesn't makes sense from their perspective.

On this, it's notable that tech devices might not actually have any sort of actual interface, if they were mainly controlled by mental commands from implanted cybernetics or something. Just an idea from my personal worldbuilding.

Then again, for something like exploring uncharted space long term, etc., you would definitely want physical interfaces of some kind
on devices and such, just in case.

TBH, the big topic here is what magic actually IS. Afaik PF has no official answer. Because frankly, I never liked the "tech vs. magic" distinction since "tech" is basically anything that is designed as a tool to do something. A sharpened stick is tech. A sword is tech. A pulley is tech. Magic is tech, technically.

More on specifics, iirc there is a ton of "magitech" stuff printed up in official PF stuff, notably Guns and Gears.


Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

its all how you present it in your descriptions and game.

In the end, tech and magic are basically going to do the same type of stuff mechanically to fit PF2E balance except with a tech trait and maybe need for electricity.

To really make it truly unfamiliar I think you could try converting weapon and armor properties from Starfinder that just dont exist in PF2e


Rude_ wrote:

its all how you present it in your descriptions and game.

In the end, tech and magic are basically going to do the same type of stuff mechanically to fit PF2E balance except with a tech trait and maybe need for electricity.

To really make it truly unfamiliar I think you could try converting weapon and armor properties from Starfinder that just dont exist in PF2e

I mean-- I don't really like SF at all, but I see what you're saying. This kind of makes sense in terms of introducing new rules.

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