Created By: Bisected8 on June 29, 2012 Last Edited By: Bisected8 on August 4, 2012
Troped

Archaeological Arms Race

An arms race where each side is trying to get hold of tech rather than develop it themselves

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Trope
No artificer or wizard can replicate the powerful artifacts found in Xen'drik. These objects wait to be found, and with international tensions already heightened by the Last War, possession of deadly magic weapons could easily shift the balance of power.
-- Eberron, "Eberron Campaign Setting, Chapter 7: Life in the World"

In fiction there's often a lot of reasons why opposing factions want to develop better technology (although they only need one). While some just research and create it, others just find (or supplement their own creations with) Lost Technology. When both sides scramble to secure such caches you end up with this trope.

Where the technology's being salvaged from can vary greatly depending on the setting and story;

  • Cold War (and sometimes present day) settings often have abandoned Nazi technology (and scientists). Present day settings might also treat Soviet Superscience and scientists in the same fashion.
    • More fantastic settings might provide a similar dynamic with a Fictional Counterpart: a recently defeated faction who've left lots of technology and research lying around.
  • Salvaging technology which was left behind by Precursors.
  • A variation might involve salvaging your own technology after a disaster of some sort destroyed your ability to manufacture more of it; either by digging it from the wreckage or finding caches. Or acquiring it from neutral factions who'll only hand it over to the first bidder.

The list goes on, all that matters is that both sides are struggling to get their hands on technology which they didn't develop (or build, in extreme cases) themselves. If they're merely finding the means to build their weapons (or also actively reverse engineering the technology) then it's also a Lensman Arms Race. If this is the only means of getting hold of anything then the setting is most likely a Scavenger World.

When this happens with characters rather than people, see Sealed Cast in a Multipack. When they use technology which is technically obsolete (and often already theirs) it's Break Out the Museum Piece. When everyone's after a specific piece of technology it's a MacGuffin or Sword of Plot Advancement. If the source of the technology engineered the conflict for their own ends it's War for Fun and Profit. Compare; Gotta Catch 'Em All, Gundam Jack. Particularly old technology must have had Ragnarok-Proofing and benefits from Older Is Better.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Turn A Gundam has all the major Earth-bound factions trying to dig up and salvage old mobile suits from previous Gundam Eras in a bid to defeat each other as well Gym Gingham's lunar forces.
  • Soul Eater Eibon's Demon Tools and the process of "keep away from Kishin" involving them. Specifically B.R.E.W and the Book of Eibon, and with good reason, as B.R.E.W is whatever you desire it to be, and the Book of Eibon is a collection of magical and dangerous creatures that can be summoned at any time by the user and actually IS Eibon himself at one point.

Film
  • This is alluded to in Raiders of the Lost Ark, since both the CIA and the Nazis might want to use it as a weapon (although it's more of a powerful spiritual artifact than lost technology).
    Colonel Musgrove: What's that supposed to be coming out of there?
    Indiana Jones: Lightning. Fire. The power of God or something.
    Major Eaton: I'm beginning to understand Hitler's interest in this.
    Marcus Brody: The Bible speaks of the Ark laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it...is invincible.

Literature
  • Andre Norton's Time Traders revolved around a Cold War compeitition to recover lost alien tech.
  • A recurrent theme in some of Philip K. Dick's short stories, with post war survivors whose lives are dependent on ancient or alien technology and in some cases the will and resourcefulness needed to acquire them.
  • Rivalry over long-dead races' Lost Technology creates conflict in some of Larry Niven's Known Space stories, such as "The Soft Weapon".

Live-Action Television
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Several factions are after a DNA code left by Precursors. The Klingons in particular think it's a weapon.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Private Little War" was an allegory of the Vietnam War, with both factions being armed by humans and Klingons.
  • There's a lot of this going on in Stargate SG-1. Several Earth factions are desperate to get their hands on any alien technology in order to gain a political edge and also ensure survival against the Goa'uld threat. Meanwhile, all of the galactic factions (including Stargate Command) are scrambling to find any Ancient technology that might be left behind.

Tabletop Game
  • In the Warhammer 40K universe, this is often the case when different factions in the Imperium of Man end up fighting each other, as they've become technologically stagnent and most of their best technology is either relics they've dug up (or stolen from each other) or created by the few xenos they haven't killed on sight.
  • In BattleTech during the Succession War era, the discovery of Lostech caches can cause small-scale wars over their possesion. Then the Gray Death Legion mercenaries discovered the Memory Core with almost complete lostech schematics and spread it contents through the Inner Sphere despite the efforts of ComStar.
  • Implied in Eberron. Several countries are gearing up for war and there are a great deal of powerful magical artifacts to uncover. Whether the trope is played straight is up the DM, of course.

Video Game
  • In Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri mysterious monoliths, artifacts and other leftovers from the creators of Planet are scattered around the terrain and can boost scientific research of the colonist group who finds them first. Meanwhile, the alien factions have to slowly rediscover technology lost when their ships crashed on the surface.
  • In the Halo universe, a theocratic alien Covenant is constantly searching for technology and structures left behind by the Forerunners (their religious fervour means that they consider them holy relics and won't modify them even slightly). The human side are more willing to reverse engineer what they can find, but still seek it out where they can get it.
  • The entire conflict in Metal Fatigue is based around this; three brothers working for their Combot building family business discover alien technology, setting off a war between it and two other companies (one of which each of the brothers ends up working for). Naturally the best way to get the best parts is to find said alien technology (as well as stealing parts you've blased off enemy combots).
  • In Xenogears, most of the best Gears used in the war between Aveh and Kislev are dug up relics from previous wars, not newly manufactured. This naturally leads to conflicts over the best salvage sites.
  • Part of the setting of Panzer Dragoon. Several factions are after technology left behind by the Ancients, generally for this purpose:
    • The Empire is the largest and most notable of these factions. They were originally formed to try and help better society with the technology, but by the time the games take place, they have become corrupt.
    • In Saga, the Black Fleet (some of the Empire's most elite forces) defect, and claim a specific artifact (the woman Azel) to keep the Emperor's ambitions in check.
    • Another notable faction is the secretive group known as the Seekers. Commonly thought to be nothing more than outlandish tomb raiders, their goal is to use Ancient technology to help humanity reclaim the world from the various monsters and hazards. They are at odds with the Empire at the point the games take place, despite some initial common ground.

Western Animation
  • The second season of Transformers Prime has the Autobots and Decepticons racing each other to retrieve the Iacon Relics - Cybertronian Lost Technology which was scattered across Earth for safekeeping.

Real Life
  • In Real Life, during the Cold War both the West and the Soviet Union were quite keen to recruit former Nazi scientists (some of the same minds responsible for putting man on the moon also developed the V1 and V2 weapons which bombed London in WWII).
Community Feedback Replies: 61
  • June 30, 2012
    Bisected8
    This YKTTW doesn't seem to be getting much attention. What needs improving?
  • June 30, 2012
    randomsurfer
  • July 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    I'm not sure about the Nazis; I think they wanted it on the assumption it could be used to chat with god (I haven't seen the movie in a while).
  • July 1, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ In Raiders Of The Lost Ark Indy, Marcus Brody and some Army Intelligence agents were looking at a picture of the Ark in action.

    Colonel Musgrove: What's that supposed to be coming out of there?
    Indiana Jones: Lightning. Fire. The power of God or something.
    Major Eaton: I'm beginning to understand Hitler's interest in this.
    Marcus Brody: The Bible speaks of the Ark laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it...is invincible.
  • July 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    Well that conversation at least brings up this trope.
  • July 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    Actually, thinking about it, I'm not sure if ST:TNG and Rot LA are examples; both sides are after a single powerful artifact, rather than arming themselves with salvaged technology....
  • July 7, 2012
    Shinr
    • In BattleTech during the Succession War era, the discovery of Lostech caches can cause small-scale wars over their possesion. Then the Gray Death Legion mercenaries discovered the Memory Core with almost complete lostech schematics and spread it contents through the Inner Sphere despite the efforts of ComStar.
  • July 10, 2012
    Blubble
    • In Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri mysterious monoliths, artifacts and other leftovers from the creators of Planet are scattered around the terrain and can boost scientific research of the colonist group who finds them first. Meanwhile, the alien factions have to slowly rediscover technology lost when their ships crashed on the surface.
    • In the Halo universe, a theocratic alien Covenant is constantly searching for technology and structures left behind by the Forerunners.

  • July 11, 2012
    Blubble
    • A recurrent theme in some of Philip K Dick's short stories, with post war survivors whose lives are dependent on ancient or alien technology and in some cases the will and resourcefulness needed to acquire them.
  • July 12, 2012
    Goldfritha
    Literature
    • Andre Norton's Time Traders revolved around a Cold War compeitition to recover lost alien tech.

    Sorting by media would help improve the trope -- easiest to do it now, with a handful of examples.
  • July 12, 2012
    Bisected8
    Yeah, I never seem to notice when I have enough to sort...
  • July 14, 2012
    cygnavamp
    • Star Trek The Original Series episode "A Private Little War" was an allegory of the Vietnam War, with both factions being armed by humans and Klingons.
  • July 15, 2012
    0blivionmobile
  • July 15, 2012
    Generality
    • There's a lot of this going on in Stargate SG-1. Several Earth factions are desperate to get their hands on any alien technology in order to gain a political edge and also ensure survival against the Goa'uld threat. Meanwhile, all of the galactic factions (including Stargate Command) are scrambling to find any Ancient technology that might be left behind.
  • July 15, 2012
    DennisDunjinman
    This is the overarcing plot of Transformers Prime, where both sides are hunting for the Iacon Relics.
  • July 15, 2012
    Bisected8
    Could you elaborate on what the "Iacon Relics" are (I made my best guess by skimming the page...)?
  • July 19, 2012
    nitrokitty
    • In Xenogears, most of the best Gears used in the war between Aveh and Kislev are dug up relics from previous wars, not newly manufactured. This naturally leads to conflicts over the best salvage sites.
  • July 19, 2012
    Unown
    I'm not sure Halo is a proper example, since from what I gather from the entry, there is only one side pursuing tech through salvaging.
  • July 20, 2012
    Bisected8
    True, but the human side are perfectly happy to make use of what they discover.
  • July 20, 2012
    ShadowHog
    • Part of the setting of Panzer Dragoon. Several factions are after technology left behind by the Ancients, generally for this purpose:
      • The Empire is the largest and most notable of these factions. They claim rights to all Ancient technology, and were originally formed to try and help better society with them. By the time the games take place, however, the Empire has gone corrupt, and generally seeks Ancient technology for its power status.
      • In Saga, the Black Fleet, some of the Empire's most elite special forces, defect and claim a very particular remnant of the Ancient era, the woman Azel, before the Empire can, in an attempt to keep the power-mad Emperor's ambitions in check.
      • Another notable faction is the secretive group known as the Seekers. Publicly thought to be nothing more than outlandish tomb raiders, they are, in actuality, trying to use Ancient technology to help humanity reclaim the world from the various monsters and hazards that make day-to-day living so hazardous. Despite initially working together and sharing similar goals, they are at odds with the Empire at the point the games take place.

    This might be too wordy.
  • July 24, 2012
    Bisected8
    So, no thoughts on a better title, page quote, page image, etc?
  • July 25, 2012
    ShadowHog
    You can leave the page image to Image Pickin' Discussions, we'll figure something out. Nothing immediately comes to mind, however.

    As for quote, there was Panzer Dragoon Saga's intro, but it'll need trimming:

    • Thousands of years have passed since the fall of the utopian civilization. The survivors live in fear of the biological weapons created by ancient technologies. Then the Empire rose to power with the technology of the lost civilization on their side. The age started anew. The Empire drove away the nightmarish creatures with ancient weapons excavated from the dormant ruins. The people rejoiced, believing that humans could live without fear. But power gave birth to ambition, and ambition to war. The Empire declared war on its neighboring nations, but they too discovered the ancient weapons. The battles became epic struggles. To maintain superiority, the Empire intensified their search of the ancient ruins. A research institute was established at the Imperial Capital, to unlock the mysteries of the Ancient Age.

    Let's try trimming it down to:

    • ...the Empire rose to power with the technology of the lost civilization on their side. ... But power gave birth to ambition, and ambition to war. The Empire declared war on its neighboring nations, but they too discovered the ancient weapons. The battles became epic struggles...

    There's probably a more succinct quote out there. If somebody can find one, they're welcome to suggest it.
  • July 25, 2012
    Bisected8
    I'll put the quote in and see how it looks....
  • July 25, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Considering there is a continent (called Xen'drik) that has plenty of magic goodies including forgotten artifacts and their is a continent's worth of countries (on khorvaire) preparing for another continent wide war. I would be surprised if this wasn't happening in eberron. (but i don't remember it being actually stated, and i think the countries are also developing tech to).
  • July 25, 2012
    Bisected8
    I suppose it could be listed as an Implied Trope example, unless someone knows that it's actually been a part of the story?
  • July 26, 2012
    ShadowHog
    As for better name, "Salvaged Arms Race" would probably be better than "Arms Salvage Race". Same words, but more logical flow.
  • July 26, 2012
    Bisected8
    Good idea. Although I'm a little worried that Salvaged Arms Race could sound like an arms race which was salvaged/restarted rather than an arms race which uses salvaged technology....
  • July 26, 2012
    captainsandwich
    this is a line from eberron campaign setting: No artificer or wizard can replicate the powerful artifacts found in Xen'drik. These objects wait to be found, and with international tensions already heightened by the Last War, possession of deadly magic weapons could easily shift the balance of power.
  • July 26, 2012
    Bisected8
    Hmm, that might make a better quote (since it's more concise without needing to be cut down).

    I'll store the Panzer Dragoon one here and switch them out (if anyone prefers that, just say) and put whichever one isn't on the quotes namespace.

    ...the Empire rose to power with the technology of the lost civilization on their side. ... But power gave birth to ambition, and ambition to war. The Empire declared war on its neighboring nations, but they too discovered the ancient weapons. The battles became epic struggles...
    --The intro of Panzer Dragoon Saga
  • July 26, 2012
    captainsandwich
    I hope its okay I modified the quote citation, if you think you can improve it or it was better the way before, go ahead and change it. I also put the quote in italic as per Trope Entry Template
  • July 26, 2012
    ShadowHog
    Like I said, there was probably a more succinct quote waiting to be used; I think we found one.
  • July 27, 2012
    Arivne
    I would change the Laconic and description to delete the part about the races not trying to develop new technology themselves. It's an unnecessary limitation that excludes otherwise worthy examples.

    Note that most of the examples given so far don't even mention that neither side is developing technology on their own, making them technically invalid.
  • July 27, 2012
    Bisected8
    ...there's nothing in the description that says they aren't developing their own technology, just that they're salvaging some of it rather than developing their own.
  • July 27, 2012
    captainsandwich
    ignore this
  • July 27, 2012
    Bisected8
    @captainsandwich: Why did you edit the OP?
  • July 27, 2012
    ShadowHog
    I can't vouch for him, but I edited the grammar of the Panzer Dragoon section a bit.

    Is it not OK to edit the YKTTW-in-progress for minor tweaks like that? I'm still a bit new to this whole YKTTW process.
  • July 27, 2012
    Bisected8
    You should usually only edit the draft if you're sponsoring it (or taking over sponsoring), so the sponsor can make sure examples actually are examples of the trope and such or if something's breaking the page. Minor corrections are usually fine, but the edit history doesn't list the difference, so it's usually best to say what you did in a comment (or just point it out and let the sponsor do it).

    If you're new, you might find this page helpful: YKTTW Guidelines.
  • July 28, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^^^^ @Bisected8: I was referring to the following:

    • The Laconic says "...rather than develop it themselves."
    • The description says "While some just research and create it, others just find Lost Technology."

    Judging from your response you didn't mean to imply that the people involved weren't developing technology on their own, but it can be interpreted that way.
  • July 28, 2012
    Bisected8
    What I meant was that they can't develop it on their own if they're looking for it. I didn't mean that they couldn't do both at once.

    I'll add a note to clarify.
  • July 29, 2012
    Bisected8
    So, has anyone got any thoughts on the title (Salvaged Arms Race vs. Arms Salvage Race, or a new one entirely)?
  • July 31, 2012
    ShadowHog
    Race To Salvage Arms, Salvaging Arms Race, Archaeological Arms Race... Actually, I kind of like that last one.
  • August 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    I like Archaeological Arms Race as well.
  • August 1, 2012
    Cider
    Should have left it as salvage. If you're stealing modern technology from a civilization that is currently using or developing it(a scenario put forth in the description) then you aren't really doing Archaeology, even by Hollywood standards.
  • August 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    If you're stealing it from someone else it's not technically salvage either. Archeological sounds better.
  • August 1, 2012
    Cider
    Its closer. After all, if you're at "war", "acquired" equipment will be called "recovered" or "salvaged" in the same way rebels will become "insurgents".
  • August 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    Just about any term could serve as the same sort of innuendo, archaeological terms included (and AFAIK there isn't a documented case of an army using "salvaged" in such a fashion...and if it is then it should be avoided, given it would presumably be politically loaded as a result).
  • August 1, 2012
    ShadowHog
    Reclamation Arms Race, maybe?

    Shame, I rather liked Archaeological Arms Race.
  • August 1, 2012
    captainsandwich
    I like the new title.
  • August 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    @Shadow Hog: Who said we aren't using it?
  • August 1, 2012
    ShadowHog
    Well, nobody, but Cider did raise a fairly decent point about it...

    ...although I'd argue that the description is generally describing reclaiming weapons from lost civilizations and such, and the one quip about stealing weapons from other factions is about stealing said lost civilziation's weaponry from the ones who did the initial reclamation. That's how I read it, anyway; I suppose his reading could fit in there...
  • August 1, 2012
    captainsandwich
    I think if you steal from an active civilizations its just mundane espionage or theft, not this trope.
  • August 1, 2012
    Bisected8
    Good point. I'll tweak the wording tommorow morning.
  • August 1, 2012
    captainsandwich
    I don't like the note about only needing one weapon. In modern warfare different weapons are suited well to different situations, and sometimes 2 types of weapons could work well together. Even if you have access to lots of nukes, if the enemy has them to, all they will do is ensure MAD. Also the decedents of the civilizations in eberron are still there, but they have been reduced to small tribal structures, and they intentionally stay that way because they are afraid that madness strikes any sufficiently large and advanced society on their continent. so the civilization is gone, but the people that made it, and some of their magic goodies, as well as traps and architecture remain.
  • August 2, 2012
    Bisected8
    ...what note?
  • August 2, 2012
    unitingswine
    Related to Scavenger World ? Might want to toss in a reference to it.
  • August 3, 2012
    Bisected8
    Well, that's a page quote, title and examples. I don't suppose that anyone can think of a page image (I'm not sure the trope really lends itself to one)?
  • August 3, 2012
    ShadowHog
    Like I said, you can just leave it to the guys at Image Pickin' Discussion. No guarantees we'll pull through with anything (topics can stagnate in there, admittedly), but we can try.

    Although, I went ahead and did a GIS, but couldn't come up with anything good. Some tropes are unpictureable, regrettably.
  • August 3, 2012
    Bisected8
    Fair enough. I'll launch this either Saturday or Sunday, unless anyone needs to bring up anything else?
  • August 3, 2012
    SharleeD
  • August 4, 2012
    Bisected8
    OK, this seems to have been silent since yesterday, so I'll launch this in an hour or two (let's say about...19:00 GMT+0).
  • August 4, 2012
    Bisected8
    20 minutes....
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