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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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(permanent link) added: 2012-06-29 16:01:54 sponsor: Bisected8 (last reply: 2012-08-04 10:39:11)

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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).
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