D&D has a long history of injecting weird sci-fi themes into its game. There are enormous statues in Waterdeep that go all Jeager when kaiju attack, There are alien mindflayer controlled spaceships that sail the cosmos, Eberron has mechanized people and magical trains, and that isn’t including the material in the DMG to help you run a sci-fi game. In spite of these obvious spins on modern or futuristic tech there have always been a vocal group who are willing to die on the hill that D&D is a historical fantasy game. Hopefully I can show you how adding a bit of a futuristic fantasy spin to your game is easy and fun.
More than Magic
It is really easy to lean heavily on magic to explain certain effects. How did the bad guy do that? magic. What happened to make the swamp that way? magic. Why is the hamster 30 feet tall!! Magic. Over time that answer begins to loose its effect, the players stop asking questions, and the wizard simply rolls up their sleeves to begin casting dispel magic. Having just one answer to the various problems of the world, flattens the world and makes the world we’re making less magical as a result.
Instead of answering ‘It’S MaGiC!’ for the 12th time, why not let the cause be something more scientific? It’s not difficult to reskin one of the hundreds of spells to have a sci-fi bent. If you want the bad buy to use their weird mastery of physics to warp time/space giving them the ability to use blink, time stop, or other similar magic is reasonable. This also shows the players that the world is maybe more complicated than they thought.
A Different Kind of Problem
Expanding the pallet isn’t the only perk of adding tech to your game. You can’t counterspell physics. Dispel Magic? Pppth* It’s not going to work of that freeze ray friend. Magic happens when players are presented with a situation that they can’t solve the same way they did the past 4 encounters. Do they attempt to break the mechanism, disable it, circumvent it, or redirect its effect for personal use? By plopping a non-magical element into the encounter that simply can’t be turned-off with a 3rd level spell slot, the player is forced to consider unusual methods of addressing the obstacle.
You also have the opportunity to give weird rewards to your adventurers. There is nothing stopping you from giving your players a flamethrower (burning hands), death ray (disintegrate), Jekyll Hyde elixir (tenser’s transformation), or some other crazy item. It is also reasonable to put a hard limit on the item to represent the fuel tank or energy cell of the contraption. This way the players have a fun toy to fiddle with, but its not going to ruin your game since it has a shelf life.
Anyway, I hope you found this article fun, and I’m interested in hearing about sci-fi elements you’ve used in your game 🙂 Thank you for reading.