A Tech level is the status of a nation's technology. For instance, to have a modern naval vessel, one would have to have a minimum tech-base in steam power.
The fairly ambiguous daily issues that define NS nations often suggest, but do not necessitate, modern-technology nations of much the same social, economic and technological structure as the real-life Western nations. Some people consider this to be a restrictive format that spoils the fun of roleplay and nation-building, and as a result many variations have developed.
However, the vast difference between nations can pose difficulties in international roleplay, notably war and trade. Because of this, it is useful to agree on how to deal with issues relating to the tech Level beforehand when there is a risk that this may cause trouble during the RP. It is the decision of each player how to play his or her nation, but those who roleplay their technology irresponsibly will frequently be accused of godmodding.
Technology at a variety of different tech levels may be purchased at storefronts. However it should be noted that this is in no way an excuse for a nation to possess technology considerably beyond what it would have if it developed such technologies naturally. For example, while it is theoretically possible for a Modern Tech nation to buy an interstellar armada from a Future Tech nation, it is godmodding if said Modern Tech nation uses them against other MT nations, as such technology is not supposed to exist in their timeline. Some of the more responsible storefronts don't sell weapons to nations from other timelines, as well unrealistic quantities of weapons, and, while some do, such equipment would anyway be ignored in competitive roleplaying.
There are generally three major unified timelines - Modern, Postmodern and Future, plus a number of specific Past, Fantasy and Alternate timelines. MT and PMT nations may play together sometimes, while FT is normally separate. Past, Fantasy and Alternate are only classification of timelines, for instance Past including tens of timelines from the Ancient Greece to World War II. MT, PMT and FT tend to have open roleplaying threads which anyone may join, while others are usually closed or semi-closed, played by smaller communities of players.
Timelines are generally treated as events in different worlds happening simultaneously. However, there may be separation inside a single timeline, and nations may roleplay the move from MT to PMT of from PMT to FT pretty easily, leaving their timeline, though. There are no common rules for the use of timelines, and the separation is mostly limited to prevention of unfair or incoherent roleplays.
Past Tech is often used in Historic Roleplay and it involves the use of technology developed before modern times. Often these levels are adapted from some earlier age of human history. They can be used to re-enact such ages (with players filling in for different RL nations) or they can be used in entirely fictional histories. The use of Past Tech in NationStates generally ranges from the Peloponnesian Wars to World War II though later and earlier tech levels can also be used.
Currently a large scale PT revival has taken place with the launch of the PT RP community on the Nationstates community.
Modern Tech, or MT, uses the conventions of present day availability. One may generally assume that technology available to real world nations is also available to your nation. It is generally assumed to be the default position. The MT nations form the most of players, and there are several sublevels of the Modern Tech.
Real Life Tech, or RL Tech, also known "Strict MT", is sometimes used to denote strictly only systems fielded in the real world, as opposed to generic MT which includes supposedly feasible, but not fielded weapons. The definition of RL Tech always includes all real weapons, and small modifications like swapping 125mm gun for 120mm are accepted as RL Tech, but any serious redesign like replacing it with 140mm is rather MT. In real-life timeline, RL Tech is the current year; use of past technology in RL tech requires roleplaying it.
Modern +0 Tech, or MT+0, or just MT, is a rarely used term, denoting restriction to technologies tested, but not fielded in the real world, like electrothermal cannons. Most often it is referred to as either MT or MT+1, and MT+0 name is used only when specific distinction between MT sublevels is discussed. In real-life timeline, MT+0 usually ends at 2010. Players might have different calendars, but most commonly the current year is used.
Modern +1 Tech, or MT+1, uses modern technology, plus allows for things currently being researched. This is still much more restrictive than Postmodern Tech, and usually keeps technology within ten years of the present. MT+1 has been universally referred to as PMT before, and often still is, only less advanced techs accepted in MT. In real-life timeline, MT+1 lies between 2010 and 2015-2020. Nations recognizing themselves as MT+1 typically set the date somewhere in the future.
It is generally considered for nations from RL Tech to MT (MT+0) to be in the same timeline and have no problems playing together in most threads, as their difference is comparable to the technological difference between real-world nations and not overwhelming. MT+1 may be viewed as a separate timeline by RL-tech nations, but more often is accepted as MT, some times crossing to PMT. In military roleplaying using MT+1 against strict MT or RL tech might be in some cases considered a wank, while otherwise no distinction is made. Overall, MT is considered to end somewhere between 2010 and 2015.
Postmodern Tech, or PMT, is a halfway point between Future Tech and Modern Tech. In Postmodern Tech, societies and technologies are much like their real world equivalents, but there is some bending of the rules. It is not derived from postmodernism, although some players have very postmodernist attitude to roleplaying and design.
This nametag is contestable, allowing roughly up until the invention of FTL travel, Teleportation, or other "rule-breaking" technology. This makes it a fickle category, but one that is popular on the forums as it allows creativity while still reining in the temptation to construct armadas of starships. Many technologies which are fairly common in NS tend to be postmodern in nature, such as the use of holographic communication between national leaders (instead of the use telephones) as a plot device and entirely digital currencies.
Weapons used in space combat roleplayed in these eras tend to include such categories as early particle beam weapons, kinetic weapons (especially mass drivers and reaction-driven missiles), and electromagnetic weapons (lasers). The concept of defensive energy "shielding" also tends to take a back-row seat compared to Future Tech capabilities.
While 2010-2020 are accepted as the start date, there is no consensus on when PMT ends. While 2015-2050 is the most commonly quoted timeline, in many non-NS settings what is referred in NS as PMT may go centuries ahead, as long as the world remains foreseeable and interstellar travel is strictly limited. PMT is often used to refer to what is really Future Tech, but doesn't take place in space. Some players distinguish early PMT, which borders with MT in terms of realism, and late PMT, which may feature strong AI as more than just unique projects, and starts transition to FT. Normally they aren't separate, however, unless the wank level is sufficient to break the balance.
The actual borderline between PMT and FT lies not as much in time as in laws of physics. In MT and PMT one is supposed to stictly observe the laws of physics. While some careless players may make actions or designs them, more observant players normally dismiss them, especially in MT. In FT, all the laws of nature are supposed to be somewhat bent, and not even mathemathics always takes priority over the writing.
Future Tech, or FT nations use a variety of technologies which are unlikely to soon be availiable or are not currently theoretically possible. This tech level is often applied to roleplay in space. Some roleplay in this area takes place in a context where travel to other systems is possible, but much space roleplay still takes place within Earth's solar system.
"Near-Future" generally adheres to hard science fiction conventions. "Far-Future" technology is more typically used to refer to technologies with no basis in currently accepted science, such as faster-than-light travel.
Tech levels may be based on existing science fiction; however, many players have taken to develop technology unique to their own nations.
Fantasy Tech is not a tech level per se, but rather the use of certain elements which are usually common to fantasy in nations. Fantasy tech is based on whatever conventions the players choose, and usually fantasy elements are embedded in another tech level.
Many older roleplaying nations have incorporated fantasy elements in their nation, and it has become a part of a very diverse roleplaying culture that mixes modern storywriting, historic events fantasy and science fiction in a big multicultural melting pot of nations. Usually this translates into populations including non-humans such as Elves or vampires.
Some players choose to dismiss any fantasy elements and may ignore nations on (for example) the mere presence of a 1% dwarven minority. Such players may be accused of Realism-wank. Other fantasy nations, on the other hand, may use fantasy elements to gain an unfair advantage (which may be Magicwank in war or claiming a paradigm economy because your people are immortal and omniscient.) Conversely, it can be unfair to use even RL tech against Fantasy Tech nations, if they don't include When engaging in competitive roleplay such as war, the tech conventions should be somewhat defined and understood.
Alternate Tech is a combination of technological levels. Alternate Tech is set in an alternate spacetimeline, where the technological history, and possibly even physical rules are different. Unlike Fantasy Tech, Alternate Tech does not deal as much with fairy-tale derived fiction, rather overemphasizing aspects of reality. Steampunk, world where the technology has never progressed beyond the steam age, and steam power became ubiquitous, is a common and representative example of Alternate Tech. However, Cyberpunk is generally referred to as PMT rather than Alternate Tech.
It is, in effect, to MultiTech what Postmodern is to Future; a way to bend the rules to conform to what is necesary, without actually breaking and rearranging them. For example, a nation might have dragons, but rather than using them as a fighting force, or enemy, has them as a national animal, while maintaining space colonies, but still making the transition to alternative energy, operating an army equipped with swords and flamethrowers, and using airships instead of airplanes.
Fantasy Tech and Alternate Tech generally form a distinctive scene, separate from other tech levels. This is especially so when using an existing setting, be it Tolkien's Middle Earth, pen-and-paper RPG Planescape setting, or world of airships dominance based on Last Exile.
MultiTech is an interesting tech level used by a few nations, mostly the older ones. It incorporates elements from all techs, thus allowing for nations that have Modern Tech armies with Future Tech space fleets and colonies and Fantasy Tech elements.
The roleplayers of MultiTech usually pick several levels and do not use "all" techs. For instance, a nation might use post-modern, future, and fatasy - not every single variety of different techs. This allows nations to be included in most roleplays in the roleplaying spectrum.
Most MultiTech nations have their nation on earth with some modern tech variation and then have several fleets and possibly a space colony or two using either post-modern or a future tech variation, and perhaps have a touch of fantasy. MultiTech roleplays tend to be more freeform with less limitations, especially in technology. When joining roleplays, MultiTech nations often do only technological aspect of their nation.
MultiTech nations have two ways of doing things. They can roleplay several different timelines of their nation (like modern tech and future tech) with different leaders and national makeup, roleplay all in the same timeline at multiple tech levels at once, or a combination of both. An extreme of MultiTech is all tech.
All Tech is taking Alternate Tech and MultiTech to a new level. Both Alternate Tech and MultiTech had limits to the tech levels, however all tech is MultiTech to an extreme. Just like the name suggests, nations with "All Tech" roleplay at all technology levels. This is slightly harder than MultiTech as it often requires multiple timelines roleplayed simultaneously. Other than that, All Tech is basically MultiTech with every single tech.
This tech level can also be used as an invite method to tell nations of all tech levels are welcome to join. These tags are only used in diplomatic conferences, parties, etc.