Language and Technology in the Imperium


This is a brief summary of the system given in WD 97.
This is an example of a date, using the Imperial Dating system:


0 - This can be one of 9 check codes. 0 means exact, 9 means approx.
500 - This is the year fraction (of 1000). In this case, exactly half way through.
996 - This is the current year, of the Millennia.
M2 - This indicates the millennia, in this case millennia 2 (1000-1999)


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    The common language of the Imperium is represented by English, proper names have been rendered in an anglicized form. Many of the titles of ancient institutions and organizations are presented as Latinized English (such as the Adeptus Terra). This represents an older tongue, itself a development of Twentieth Century languages, not necessarily Latin as such.

    This older tongue is known in the Imperium as "Tech", being a version of the language in which technical rituals and ancient works are recorded. This developed during the Dark Age of Technology (in fact a golden age from the point of view of science - it is only dark in the minds of the men who now fear it). It derives from the common tongue of the time, an assimilation of English, European and Pacific languages which developed over many centuries in the American/Pacific region. This was the universal medium of written record until the Age of Strife, and was spoken as a first language by many and as a second language by almost everyone. Its idioms and vocabulary now appear archaic and mystic, many of its words have acquired religious significance over the years. It is the language of the Tech-priests and of forbidden books.

    The common tongue of the Age of the Imperium is spoken as a first language on almost all civilized planets, and is accepted as a second language on planets within Imperial control with the exception of some medieval and feral worlds. This is a bastardized version of Tech, combining additional elements from several of the oriental languages of ancient Earth. Over the millennia it has changed greatly, and now bears almost no resemblance to the tongues from which it derived. Although a common language, it varies from planet to planet (and even from region to region), so that it is not always easy for two characters to communicate if they are from different worlds.

    Medieval, feral and worlds suffering from long periods of isolation may have several indigenous languages derived either from Tech or one of the ancient Earth tongues. It was quite common during the Dark Age of Technology for worlds to be settled by small communities of 'isolationists'. These eccentric groups were often self financed and their journals unrecorded, many were of racial minorities attempting to recreate a sense of national identity away from the overpopulated Earth. Some of these groups made a deliberate attempt to revive long dead or moribund languages, perceiving them as a source of national identity and communal strength.

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    Except on the occasions where a technical explanation or description was felt useful to an understanding of the rules, such explanations have generally been avoided. The book contains few descriptions of how specific items are used or function - it is enough within the context of the game that the item has the effects attributed to it. This has been a deliberate policy throughout the rules. The main reason for this is simply that the Age of the Imperium is not a technically inclined age, to have included descriptions of 'heads-up displays', 'computer links', etc, would have given the wrong impression entirely. This is an age where problems are solved by brute force and ignorance, where dangers are either too gross or too unthinkable to elicit any other response. The other reason why technical description has been avoided is that the Age of the Imperium lies more than forty thousand years in the future - at a stage in history when those head-up displays and computers are about as innovative as stone circles. What scientific knowledge persists from the Dark Age of Technology is far above and beyond anything we can imagine from the perspective of the Twentieth Century. That understanding lies only with a select few - the Adeptus Mechanicus - the Tech-priests of the Imperium. Even their knowledge is somewhat debased, and the popular image of technology can be compared with that of witchcraft in medieval times. Those who come into contact with technology use it with reservations and a reverence that are almost religious. The Space Marines, for example, treat their equipment and armour as if if were imbued with a will of its own - a fine chest-plate, well looked after and constantly maintained may reward its wearer by saving his life; whereas a Marine who neglects his equipment may be struck down by a leaking suit or malfunctioning weapons. Such is the will of the Gods.

    While it is impossible to speculate with any certainty on the technical developments of the next forty millennia, it has obviously been necessary to make assumptions during the construction of this game. The greatest assumption has involved the creation of a broad history and a universe populated by a variety of dangers. The people of the far future are mentally very different from those of today - they have a way of looking at things in which twentieth century ideas of efficiency and morality are irrelevant. Their technology reflects both their past (an age of discovery and achievement) with their future (an age of danger and survival).

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    Electricity formed the single most important form of transmissible energy for a very long time, and still plays a role in the Imperium. It is one of the primary motivating forces in nature, and has applications which make it ideal as an interface between the biological and physical worlds. The most significant advance in the field of electronics was the development of Stacked Atomic Chains - or 'stacks'. Atoms within a small piece of material are arranged in rows and patterns, forming the basis for molecular level circuitry. Using this technique miniaturization reached its ultimate form - so that few devices have to be any larger than necessitated by controls or aesthetics. Stacks use an extremely low voltage, depending on perfect refining techniques for their raw materials, and perfect simulation during operation. The natural electricity radiated by a human would destroy an unprotected stack based system.

    Photon lines are an extremely refined development of the fiber optic principle. Flexible hair-fine strands made from ceramic based materials are used to transmit laser light signals to photon-powered actuators. A single strand can handle a lot of information, but most systems are so complex they require a bundle of cables to function.

    Phased Crystals use crystal technology to transmit a signal - although they provide no power. The conductive material is crystalline, exploiting the way in which a chain of crystals change shape when subjected to varying heat/pressure or energy fields. Phased crystals are the chief components in monitoring devices, and act as regulators of other systems.

    Hydroplastics transmit power directly by pressure, or activate other systems by the same means. Hydroplastic lines of a suitably small bore are highly efficient, yet technically simple, means of powering a system. Bore diameters are on the molecular level. Hydroplastic actuators (small motors which transmit energy into physical movement) are perhaps the most common type.

    Sucrosol is the usual abbreviation for Sucrose based solution. It is a synthetic blood designed to feed cultured bio-tissues by means of osmotic pressure. Sucrosol is used by all mechanisms incorporating bio-engineered parts, including robots. It is usually white.

    Radio signal is essentially the same as in prior ages, although equipment now has the ability to utilize far narrower wave bands.

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    Crystal Batteries are based on specially engineered crystal structures with the ability to absorb energy modifying their crystalline form in the process. The absorbed energy is released slowly as the material's structure reverts back to its original form. Units of such crystals may be recharged almost indefinitely. Some units can be recharged by heating (even exposure to daylight), whilst the most powerful are designed to hold an electric charge and must be recharged from an electric generator.

    Plasma is the purest form of energy it is possible to generate - essentially the component material of stars. It is completely ionized matter consisting of free sub-atomic particles maintained at incredibly high temperatures. Plasma must be transmitted along armoured coils and contained within a magnetic field. Plasma is little used in the Age of the Imperium, the safety margins necessary for its containment are too tight. Regarded as old fashioned, it is still used to power steam or photon based generators and is used for space drives.

    Conventional - on most worlds electric or photon power is generated by wind, tide, photo-cell or by burning something. On many other remoter worlds machinery is powered directly by wind, steam, combustible fuels or good old animal power. Isolated settlements make the best use of local resources.

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    Hydraulic actuators rely on hydroplastic pressure to power components. These are commonly used in robotic systems and to power sub-systems on vehicles, in buildings, etc.

    Electrically Motivated Fiber Bundles are made from a fiber that contracts under the influence of an electric charge, replicating die actions of living muscles. They form the chief components of bionic parts, and are used in many robots. Powered armour and Dreadnoughts use this technology almost exclusively, as it is far more efficient and faster than equivalent hydraulic or mechanical systems - it is also difficult to produce and therefore rare.

    Gravitic Reactors are powered from a surrounding magnetic field - such as a planet. They have the ability to counteract gravitational affects, and form the basis for gravity based motors, and suspensors. The technology used in their manufacture belongs to the past. Fortunately a vast reserve of raw material still remains on Earth, from which gravitic reactors can be made utilizing conventional technology. Once this store of material is used up, however, further production will be impossible.

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    The actual appearance of equipment is as variable as the populations of the different planets. With over a million worlds in the Imperium, local tastes and materials will inevitable produce a riot of different forms. Some worlds favour an archaic pattern of instrumentation, believing that the arrangements of buttons and levers form part of a runic pattern itself important to proper functioning. Other worlds prefer to mimic the higher technical achievements of their ancestors, utilizing the more advanced (although no more effective) pure crystal or holographic control systems. When it comes down to it, all are forms of pushing a button, and are equally effective. Only if characters encounter a system radically different from one they are used to will problems arise.

    Archaic controls are basically buttons, levers, switches and dials set into a panel and monitored by video, digital or dial display. This is the sort of thing anyone from the Twentieth Century could easily understand and use.

    Pure Crystal Technology and stacked atomic chains have no visible components - control panels often take the form of either black slabs of material or transparent sheets like glass. Held by suspensors, an inactive control panel could appear as a floating pane of glass or slab of stone - the same panel could be recessed into floor or ceiling and might float into position by vocal command, radio-signal, pressure sensors, presence detectors, etc. A panel is activated by coded radio-signal, voice or simply by touch. An active panel displays information visually like a vid-screen. Its equivalent of buttons are differently coloured lights which are touch or heat sensitive.

    Holographic Projection envelops the user in holographic images somewhat a three-dimensional wrap-round vid-screen. Activation is usually by presence, or by any of the methods used for crystal technology - so the operator simply sits in a control seat to activate the 'panel'. The projection can be manipulated to provide monitoring or control functions. Projectors sense the movement of the user's eyes and limbs and translate these into instructions - the user only has to press imaginary buttons! This is the most specialized type of tactile panel, being almost impossible for the uninitiated to use. The slightest gesture will change the entire set-up, and unique arm/hand/finger and eye movements form the basis of the operating procedure.

    Mind Impulse dispenses with any sort of panel or control gear, allowing the user to control and monitor a system by thought alone. These system are technically complex and producing them is difficult. Consequently they are rare. Their most common application is in Dreadnought suits: some spacecraft employ mind impulse links but this is not usual. Such devices require considerable training to use at all, and a great deal of practice if they are to be used efficiently. The physical component is a head ring which picks up and amplifies the wearer's instructions. A cruder, but equally effective, version is the spinal tap. This is engineered into the wearer's spinal cortex and works in the same way as the head ring but is difficult to remove without causing physical or mental damage.

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    A development of crystal technology is its use for personal ornamentation. Many races apply paint or tattoos and within the Imperium the practice is common. This is true of all levels of society, from the lowly city-scum of the hive-worlds to the most sophisticated of the Adeptus Terra. Amongst government servants and employees of the Navigator families these marks serve as identification as well as ornament. Devices are also used as secret signs by governmental and anarchist agents, psychic covens and pirates. Tattooing is commonly achieved using materials and technology of a very ancient kind - although the inks used can be of any colour (including florescent) and can be removable, temporary or degenerative when exposed to light, laser light, heat. etc.

    Skinplants are sophisticated tattoos - very sophisticated. The miniaturization possible using crystal technology makes it possible to create a functioning device between layers of skin. The device cannot include mechanical components or utilize large amounts of power. The most popular application of this idea is to power and control an electrically sensitive tattoo. So, any citizen with sufficient credit can have a device or logo on their forehead which actually lights up and flashes! This can be either controllable, light-sensitive or a permanent fixture. The subcutaneous wristwatch is a standard way of carrying the time - light pressure on the wrist activates the digital display beneath the skin. A character could even go to the lengths of having an entire limb or his whole body glow if he wanted! A light emitting patch on the palm will illuminate a small area within 10 cm and is popularly known as the 'thief's light', providing sufficient light to pick locks, operate switches, etc.

    Electoos also utilize crystal technology, but involve a lot more work and a great deal of skill to create. An inert layer of conductive material is inserted beneath the skin, sometimes it is injected and allowed time to form before the process can continue. Crystal stacks are built up on this film and waste material is dissolved out. The Electoo can then be programmed to function as any control or monitoring device. On Earth everyone carries an electoo containing personal details, credit ratings, security grades and details of social record - these act as police files and automatic credit facilities. Sensors at building entrances read the details of every electoo carrying individual that passes them - so a constant record can be build up of anyone's movements. Similarly when an individual buys anything, a till-sensor automatically modifies the credit rating of the electoo accordingly. The system is also used throughout the Adeptus Terra and on some imperial worlds either generally or within specific social levels. As electoos are invisible they are ideal for carrying secret messages - information is coded so as to be almost useless except to the intended recipient. A character carrying a Electoo need not be aware of the fact, and certainly wouldn't be aware of its contents. Electoos carrying secret messages can be split between several people and only work when joined.

    Electrografts are a special form of electoo engineered directly onto the recipient's cerebellum. This involves cutting away a portion of skull and creating the electoo directly on the brain tissue before (usually) replacing the section of cranium or covering with synthetic material. An electrograft reacts with the brain to alter a creature's memory, personality and knowledge. Many of the Imperium's technological secrets are passed on by this means, and it is certainly a quick and easy way to learn how to speak new languages, operate machinery, etc. On the other hand, interference with the mind tends to cause personality disorders, problems with memory recall and occasionally total mental breakdown. Once inserted an electrograft can be reprogrammed almost indefinitely, although repeated re-use accelerates the degenerative process.

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    During the Dark Age of Technology humanity traveled throughout the galaxy, founding new colonies and exploring new worlds. Many of these colonies failed to establish themselves, others were lost, whilst a few grew into independent civilizations with distinctive cultures. Most however, established a subsistence economy and simply stopped. In such an environment the impetus for change was very low; everything the citizens needed was at hand, their new world supplied them with food, and the store of knowledge brought from Earth enabled them to maintain a high technological base without a technological society. In part this was a result of the Standard Template Construct system carried by every colony.

    The heart of the STC system was an evolved computer program designed to provide construction details for the colonists. Its prime function was to enable the colonists to build efficient shelters, generators and transports without any prior knowledge and using almost any locally available materials. The user simply asked how to built a house or a tractor and the computer supplied all the necessary plans - in short it was idiot proof. Many humans attribute the entire Orkish civilization to early STC systems - but the truth will never be known.

    The Age of Technology ended in inter-human war and anarchy. The STC systems that had helped to build it either lapsed into disuse or decayed so that they became increasingly unreliable and quirky. On some worlds they were maintained, but most suffered damage by enthusiastic software specialists or subsequent jury-rigging. Hard copies of the information they contained survived much longer, and were frequently copied and passed down from generation to generation. Today, in the Age of the Imperium, the familiar designs of the STC are still discernable in the shapes of vehicles, spacecraft and buildings. The Adeptus Mechanicus on Earth make it their business to collate and utilize STC material - it is their equivalent to a holy text, a font of all knowledge (which is exactly what it was intended to be).

    One result of the STC system and its pivotal place in human development is that many worlds now utilize designs and machinery of a similar type. Of course, the millennia have wrought changes in the basic utilitarian devices proscribed by the STC, but many humans adhere religiously to the old designs. STC designs were intended to be able to cope with anything - by the standards of the day they were rough and ready, big and brutish, hard to damage and easy to repair. Because they were intended for use by unqualified people their power-plants mere based around commonly obtainable materials, employing steam power, wind power, water power and combustion engines. High-tech material was described too (although rarely used) and designs were provided for full-scale nuclear power-grids and fission processors. However few people understood these, and the need for power was supplied quite easily by conventional means. Consequently hard copies were rarely taken and gradually written texts became lost or hopelessly distorted.

    The weapons, vehicles and much of the equipment described in this book have their roots in the STC system. Fighting vehicles often look like tractors and prime movers because that's exactly what they were copied from! STC designs can be produced in almost any material; wood, plastic, concrete, steel, plastic, etc, and can be replicated on almost any world that has raw materials of some kind. Uncorrupted STC systems are unknown and after so many years will probably remain so. Nonetheless, finding such a system is regarded by many Tech-priests as their ultimate goal - a sort of quest for the holy grail. Legends surround the existence of lost, functioning STC systems, but whether they have any basis in truth is anyone's guess.

From Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader

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