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Sci-fi + Fantasy

   
Sci-fi + Fantasy

Typically, I've always liked my fantasy to be strongly themed and not have any dirty modern or science fiction elements sullying it (one reason I was, like many people, initially resistance to Psionics in D&D - before I realised how silly that was) - but I also like mixing up genres and I've started to think about ways to mix sci-fi and fantasy together in order to try and create something a bit different.

However I only have vague ideas right now, and nothing that can really be turned into a game. Perhaps people can suggest ways to do that, or perhaps some of these ideas might inspire people to run their own weird games.

Fantasy with Sci-Fi Elements
There's a long history of just throwing sci-fi elements into fantasy stories. This is the sort of thing I used to hate, but it dates way back to old-school D&D where they would just throw whatever the hell into stories, just like comic books. A more modern example is Pathfinder's Iron Gods. Another is the proposed history/future of the Mindflayers in Lords of Madness which is also weird and incredibly awesome in a pretty metal kind of way.
This is pretty easy to do because the sci-fi stuff is probably in a minority and probably doesn't need a lot of integration - if the players fight a robot, is that any different to them fighting a golem? It's also the easiest to make a game out of, you just throw a sci-fi adventure into a fantasy world.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Mash-Up
This is where you just mix elements of the two together. Basically the first thing but with more of a 50/50 balance of the two. Imagine if magic existed in our world... and also it was more in the future. The hard part here for D&D-type game is the mechanics of it (other systems may be better-suited); Pathfinder at least has the technological stuff (but then, the drawback is that it's Pathfinder ). Also there's the age-old question of what the players actually do. I don't have any unique story hooks here.

Fantasy-as-sci-fi / Sci-fi-themed fantasy
The idea here is that it's just a fantasy, but it's a fantasy where magic takes the role of technology in a sci-fi. So genre-wise it's basically a sci-fi even though technologically there's no science at all. Maybe we could call it "space fantasy".
This is related to a separate idea I have of a "modern fantasy" but plus one, because you're now in Space.
Eberron is probably the closest thing to this with all the magitech stuff, and Pathfinder has some of these elements too (Pathfinder has multiple planets, inteplanetary teleport, etc).

What's cool about this is that you don't need to make a lot of changes to existing stuff, just refluff and not even that much. Maybe Mindflayers are not Aberrations, but Aliens, etc. Magic is still magic and nobody has laser guns, you might just need to homebrew a couple of spells and items for, say, surviving the boiling vacuum of space, whatever.

The Thousand Arabian Skies
This is basically the last one, except I think it deserves a special mention.

Turns out, the Thousand Arabian Nights is a sci-fi. A couple of the stories apparently have some guy travelling to other worlds and stuff. I've not read those ones but I still think that's pretty cool - we kind of tend to think as sci-fi as a fairly new (and maybe kind of Western) thing, but that's not entirely accurate.

Also, in the vein of mashing up genres, an Arabian-Nights-themed sci-fi would be awesome. Robots... genies. Dervishes... with laser sword (wait, hasn't that already been done?). Anyway, you get the idea.


So... any other ideas? Anyone tried this sort of thing? (Obviously people have done Iron Gods, etc) Any cool plot hooks? etc.

I have two settings I really like for this reason, both going a different way.

The first one is Fragged Kingdom from the Fragged Empire line of RPGs. Kingdom is the fantasy variant of the game, whereas Empire is the scifi one. But Kingdom takes place in the same universe: on a lost planet thousands of years into the future of Empire. The world is medieval fantasy level tech, but a lot of the fantasy elements are in fact the same scifi elements in Empire, but nobody knows this. The evil goddess in the sky, sending down showers of demons? It's actually an organic battlestation AI gone rogue, manufacturing genetically engineered organic war machines. Zombies are corpses reanimated by nanoswarms, and ghosts are psionic traces of the dead, given form by unknown machines.

The rulebook frames the world as a fantasy setting, but at the end of certain topics it mentions "the truth" of the planet, telling you how things actually are and what technology drives them. It's well divided so that the scifi elements are disconnected enough that it's easy to use the setting as pure fantasy if you want, but you can also incorporate those scifi elements into the game should you like to.


The other setting I really like is from the Destiny video game. It's basically scifi but with heavy fantasy themes. You've got magical knights wielding the divine power of light to defend humanity against the minions of darkness, but instead of swords and bows you've got assault rifles and rocket launchers (and also swords). You could easily take the setting and put it in a generic fantasy land, but the scifi aesthetic works wonders with the fantasy themes. Most things that are magic are still framed as technology, and those that aren't are still treated with some form of (scifi pseudo-)science in order to make it seem like they make sense.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
Fantasy-as-sci-fi / Sci-fi-themed fantasy
The idea here is that it's just a fantasy, but it's a fantasy where magic takes the role of technology in a sci-fi. So genre-wise it's basically a sci-fi even though technologically there's no science at all. Maybe we could call it "space fantasy".
This is basically a description of Star Wars, since it's not really science-fiction by any formal definition that makes sense. It's fantasy, where people use speeders instead of horses and spaceships instead of sailing ships. You can convert any D&D adventure ever made into a Star Wars adventure by just translating things over like that, and it works perfectly.

It also describes a lot of the early pulp "science fiction" stories like the John Carter series. That has a lot of trappings of sci-fi but it's really just an excuse to put a modern man in a scenario with rampaging barbarian hordes and scantily clad princesses.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Actana View Post
The world is medieval fantasy level tech, but a lot of the fantasy elements are in fact the same scifi elements in Empire, but nobody knows this. The evil goddess in the sky, sending down showers of demons? It's actually an organic battlestation AI gone rogue, manufacturing genetically engineered organic war machines. Zombies are corpses reanimated by nanoswarms, and ghosts are psionic traces of the dead, given form by unknown machines.
That's pretty cool. Isn't Numenera kind of like that? That's the classic, Arthur C Clarke, "technology is indistinguishable from magic" kind of thing. I guess what I'm thinking of here is things which still have actual fantasy in them, but "sci-fi as fantasy" is still interesting too.
Quote:
Originally Posted by StarryKnight View Post
This is basically a description of Star Wars, since it's not really science-fiction by any formal definition that makes sense.
Well, I think part of that is just that the lines blur because a lot of "sci-fi" is not at all scientific - I've heard the term "science fantasy" used to point out that a lot of it may as well just be magic, it's just justified with technology instead. Is there any functional difference? I guess not, but I'd still think of Star Wars as a sci-fi with fantastical elements more than anything (the theme of space travel and alien worlds is quite sci-fi, you have space battles, etc, and that would be the same even without the psychic space wizards).

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred

Fantasy with Sci-Fi Elements
There's a long history of just throwing sci-fi elements into fantasy stories. This is the sort of thing I used to hate, but it dates way back to old-school D&D where they would just throw whatever the hell into stories, just like comic books. A more modern example is Pathfinder's Iron Gods. Another is the proposed history/future of the Mindflayers in Lords of Madness which is also weird and incredibly awesome in a pretty metal kind of way.
This is pretty easy to do because the sci-fi stuff is probably in a minority and probably doesn't need a lot of integration - if the players fight a robot, is that any different to them fighting a golem? It's also the easiest to make a game out of, you just throw a sci-fi adventure into a fantasy world.
1e: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.
2e: the Illithiad, by Bruce Cordell, introduced (? - not 100% sure this didn't exist prior) the "History/Future" of the mindflayers that 3e's Lords of Madness reintroduced.
* Tale of the Comet, a small box set where the PCs investigate a space ship crash, complete with aliens and laser guns. Sort of a 2e homage to Barrier Peaks.

Is a golem different than a droid? Yes and no. It is a blurry line between mechanics and fluff. Constructs that baffle arcanist golem builders? Might be a robot. Tech vs Magic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by theFred
Sci-Fi/Fantasy Mash-Up
This is where you just mix elements of the two together. Basically the first thing but with more of a 50/50 balance of the two. Imagine if magic existed in our world... and also it was more in the future. The hard part here for D&D-type game is the mechanics of it (other systems may be better-suited); Pathfinder at least has the technological stuff (but then, the drawback is that it's Pathfinder ). Also there's the age-old question of what the players actually do. I don't have any unique story hooks here.
d20 Future has a decent amount of Future tech that can be adopted into a 3.5 D&D campaign. I also borrow from SWd20 and.... WoWd20 for various types of tech.

Quote:
Originally Posted by theFred
Fantasy-as-sci-fi / Sci-fi-themed fantasy
The idea here is that it's just a fantasy, but it's a fantasy where magic takes the role of technology in a sci-fi. So genre-wise it's basically a sci-fi even though technologically there's no science at all. Maybe we could call it "space fantasy".
This is related to a separate idea I have of a "modern fantasy" but plus one, because you're now in Space.
Eberron is probably the closest thing to this with all the magitech stuff, and Pathfinder has some of these elements too (Pathfinder has multiple planets, inteplanetary teleport, etc).
Dune, Star Wars, to a degree John Carter of Mars, examples of "Sci-Fantasy". Spell-Jammer has one Material Plane, but within that single plane a galaxy with "Crystal Spheres" containing the various D&D settings (I'm not a SJ expert, so I might be mistaken).

Quote:
Originally Posted by theFred
What's cool about this is that you don't need to make a lot of changes to existing stuff, just refluff and not even that much. Maybe Mindflayers are not Aberrations, but Aliens, etc. Magic is still magic and nobody has laser guns, you might just need to homebrew a couple of spells and items for, say, surviving the boiling vacuum of space, whatever.
I do treat Aberrations as aliens. They are not from any of the Material worlds, they come from farther "Outside" than Angels and Demons do. The Far Realm.

Quote:
Originally Posted by theFred
The Thousand Arabian Skies
This is basically the last one, except I think it deserves a special mention.

Turns out, the Thousand Arabian Nights is a sci-fi. A couple of the stories apparently have some guy travelling to other worlds and stuff. I've not read those ones but I still think that's pretty cool - we kind of tend to think as sci-fi as a fairly new (and maybe kind of Western) thing, but that's not entirely accurate.

Also, in the vein of mashing up genres, an Arabian-Nights-themed sci-fi would be awesome. Robots... genies. Dervishes... with laser sword (wait, hasn't that already been done?). Anyway, you get the idea.
Interesting. Would Genies be aliens?

Quote:
Originally Posted by theFred
So... any other ideas? Anyone tried this sort of thing? (Obviously people have done Iron Gods, etc) Any cool plot hooks? etc.
I some times pepper strange tech into my games. Lightsabers, power armor, crashed star-fighters, etc. In my tabletop players have used aliens from other d20 products, such as a Twilek Bard, Wookie Barbarian, and Fraal Psion.

edit: also in one of the Shackled City chapters I planted some alien artifacts that the PCs had a chance of learning how to use.

There's a saying that the difference between fantasy and SF is the difference between a magic sword and a ray gun. I don't entirely agree with that, but it is possible to take a lot of the story beats from fantasy works and put them into science-fiction stories. A young hero who grows up thinking they're a commoner but inherits/discovers an ancestral weapon that proves their linage and starts them on the path to being a knight errant -- that's a good start of a fantasy novel. It also describes a couple situations in the Battletech universe. Similarly story structures that we think of as being integral to SF works can show up in fantasy without skipping a beat; you can write a story about humans being under the heel of an evil alien empire until our plucky young hero masters the alien technology and leads the fight against the oppressors, or you can talk about how all the races are oppressed by the Dark Lord until our protagonist discovers how to use magic against the minions of evil. Both stories work, whether you dress them up with dragons or spaceships.

And I believe a straight mixing of the two also works. One of my favorite old settings from D&D 3.0 days was Dragonstar. Dragonstar was a setting with SF and fantasy elements living side-by-side -- you could have a laser rifle and power armor, but there were also dragons and elves. A wizard's spellbook was a computer tablet that was wirelessly connected to the Imperial College of Magic and would automatically update with the "standard" spell list when they hit a new casting level. Faster-than-light drives were mass teleport spells powered by liquid mithril! It was a lot of fun to see the two genres sitting side-by-side and living harmoniously.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Raveled
And I believe a straight mixing of the two also works. One of my favorite old settings from D&D 3.0 days was Dragonstar. Dragonstar was a setting with SF and fantasy elements living side-by-side -- you could have a laser rifle and power armor, but there were also dragons and elves. A wizard's spellbook was a computer tablet that was wirelessly connected to the Imperial College of Magic and would automatically update with the "standard" spell list when they hit a new casting level. Faster-than-light drives were mass teleport spells powered by liquid mithril! It was a lot of fun to see the two genres sitting side-by-side and living harmoniously.
I am a little ashamed I forgot about Dragonstar. I never got that book, but it did lead to me buying d20 Future despite having a dislike for d20 Modern.

FYI: sci fi + fantasy = space opera

Quote:
Originally Posted by Drowbane View Post
I do treat Aberrations as aliens. They are not from any of the Material worlds, they come from farther "Outside" than Angels and Demons do. The Far Realm.
There's a difference. Actually, Aberrations in D&D typically do come from the material plane - Outsiders from the Far Realm or wherever are still Outsiders. If they're from farther "Outsider" then I guess you could call them "Further Outers" instead. But that aside, I'm suggesting that some of these creatures would fit perfectly an entirely-material aliens, from the same plane but a different planet.

I do kind of want to try a Spelljammer-esq planesfaring game where ships plough the Astral Seas in a manner actually very similar to space travel.

Also Spelljammer, forgot that. Point is, yeah, this is not exactly a novel idea, but there are loads of ways you can slice it, some of which are rarer or more interesting than others.
Quote:
Originally Posted by shawnhcorey View Post
FYI: sci fi + fantasy = space opera
Eh, I wouldn't say so. Space opera perhaps tends to portray fantasy-like in a literary sense but often does not feature anything explicitly magical (though it does commonly feature fantastical "soft sci-fi" technology stuff).

Shadowrun, for example (yeah, another example) is sci-fi + fantasy, but tends not to be Space Opera (in fact I don't think it typically goes into space, but even if it did it wouldn't matter).

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFred View Post
There's a difference...
I seem to have failed to indicate that I was referring to how I do things.

In my campaigns: Aberrations originated from the Far Realm. Many types of them can be found in various material locations. Anything coming out of the Far Realm into Creation is either some form of Aberration and/or has the Pseudonatural Template, which makes it an Aberration. The Outsider type refers to beings from the Outer Planes (and native spawn there of on Material planes and elsewhere) that are usually incarnations of those planes. Such as Demons being incarnate chaotic-evil.

Whether or not a given campaign brings it into focus, my games do have a certain amount of "Call of Cthulhu" cosmic horror in the background.

Quote:
Originally Posted by theFred
I do kind of want to try a Spelljammer-esq planesfaring game where ships plough the Astral Seas in a manner actually very similar to space travel.

Also Spelljammer, forgot that. Point is, yeah, this is not exactly a novel idea, but there are loads of ways you can slice it, some of which are rarer or more interesting than others.
a Spell-Jammer with planar sails, not sure if that term exist outside of my games
Plane-Jammer Pirates with a hidden Island base in the Astral plane?







 

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