Dungeons & Dragons is primarily a fantasy setting, but if you look around, you’ll find plenty of RPG’s that use other themes. Everything from cyberpunk to steampunk, spy thrillers to gothic horror. The RPG playing field is so large, it would actually take me a while to list all the possibilities.
So, what if you’re running a typical D&D campaign, and get a hankering to do something a little different? What if you want to arm your Ranger with a blaster rifle, for example, or your fighter with an energy sword?
Below are four easy ways to bring sci-fi elements into your D&D campaign, without breaking the world setting. All of them require building entire story arcs around them, however, so sorry, no quick and easy ways to do this one, unlike with horror.
This is probably the easiest way of all to pull it off, to be honest. Mostly because it doesn’t require a whole lot work, beyond just deciding what you want the sister planet to be like.
A sister planet is when one of the other planets in the solar system is also home to intelligent life. It can be as technologically advanced as you want, too, or take any kind of form. It can be steampunk, cyberpunk, utopian, dystopian, whatever makes you giddy to play with.
How your party of adventurers gets there can take many forms as well, and these are what you want to build your story arc around.
The first is to simply have someone from the sister planet arrive and ask them for help. Let’s say the sister world has fallen under the control of tyrant who is oppressing the people. The quest giver has come seeking heroes to help fight back. They spent some time studying the planet, and learned of the adventures of the party, and figured they’d do the trick.
Or maybe, the sister world is a commercial driven society, and the heroes have been tailed by an invisible spy camera for years. They discover that they are the stars of a reality show on the other planet, and now they are being taken to meet their adoring fans. A bit more comical, but I’m sure you can find all kinds of ways for it to go wrong.
Another way is for them to discover an ancient, lost gateway to the sister world. Maybe they are even the descendants of the first settlers to come here, or of the criminals exiled to their home world in the past. They accidentally activate it, get sucked to the other world, and now have to avoid the authorities while trying to find a way back. There’s a lot you can do with that if you let your imagination run wild for a bit.
Finally, you can always take the first contact approach. An group of astronauts from the sister world has arrived, thinking the party’s world is uninhabited. Less high tech, more modern tech, or even 60’s era tech, if you like. Or maybe pulp fiction style tech, where the sister world doesn’t have the technology to analyze properly, or send robots, but does have the ability to send a manned mission. Just hand wave it away, since you are playing in world of magic.
Basically, you could have the party trying to protect the newcomers as they try to get their ship working to get them home, the trip having damaged critical systems. Local warlords or other evil figures want the astronauts technology for themselves, or maybe they are just misunderstood to be invaders. There’s a lot you can do with it, no matter how you set it up.
Speaking of potential invaders, that is always an option.
For this, you’ll want the aliens to be really different from anything else. You could modify something in the Monster Manual, or use one of the many resources online. I recall being able to pick up Monster Manual stats for Xenomorphs and Predators in the early days of the internet. I’m sure those are still around.
That said, there’s two fun ways to do this. Full on invasion, or Body Snatcher.
With the full invasion, alien ships arrive and just start blasting the crap out of everything, leveling every major city before deploying ground troops for mop up. The party suddenly finds themselves leading the resistance, and having to forge alliances with previous enemies, be it Goblins and Orcs, or antagonist groups from the past of the campaign. Dodging alien weapons and shock troops at every step, trying to find a safe place to organize from, and being diplomatic, while planning attacks against supply depots, you could build a long term story arc out of it.
Or you could radically change the face of your world setting by having them learn the aliens were fleeing a dying world. Arriving at this, the only planet they could find suitable to them, they discovered it was inhabited, which they had not known previously. Unable to continue the journey to another possible world, they decided that, in order to save their species, they would just take over. After the rebellion is successful, or fails, have the consequences of the new world order, alien tech mixing with magic, become the new status quo.
With body snatchers, you get to set it in motion long before it comes into play, which makes it way more fun. Set up a useful NPC early in the campaign, or use one the players trust a great deal and have them suddenly change one day. Nothing overly noticeable, mind you. They just seem to forget things they should remember, like how long they have known the party, or their names. Don’t let it stand out too strongly. Just enough that it seems odd.
Allow this to spread, bit by bit, to other NPC’s the party has frequent contact with, until the time is right. Then, the shapeshifters, or parasites, or whatever you want the body snatchers to be, seize control, and try to change the party, as well. Maybe even separate one of them for a short time, so when they return, the party isn’t sure if they are still them or not.
Again, we follow the basic rebellion structure, with the party having to gather unturned allies in order to fight back, and find a way to stop the invaders. Be it destroying their control node, or interrupting their psychic wavelength, it can be any victory condition you want, so long as it plays to the kind of body snatcher you want to use.
There’s a ton of good body snatcher stories out there, so do a bit of research, and find the one that you think will be the most fun, while still being a good challenge.
The trickiest of ways to add sci fi to your campaign.
There’s two ways you can do this. By having the party get flung forward in time, or by having a time traveler come back to meet them.
With the first way, there’s any number of triggering events. An evil mage using a spell he doesn’t fully understand, a device from an ancient culture, a temporal vortex, or people from the future pulling them from the past to help them against some great evil.
If they get there by accident, go nuts with the setting. Aliens walking around, Star Wars levels of tech, whatever you want. Strangers in a strange land, the party has to find a way home, all while dealing with the new era they find themselves in. You can have ton of fun with this kind of a setting, too. Pretty much anything goes in terms of how you want them to deal with it, including getting in trouble with the law and having to figure out how to explain where they are from.
If they are pulled from the past, the best thing is to really mess with the players heads, and have it be because some terrible evil has returned after thousands of years asleep. Turns out, the party was what defeated it last time, so the future people figured they’d know how to do it again. Except, cause there’s always an except, they pulled them from to far back in the past, and the party has yet to face this terrible evil. Go nuts with how you want to deal with that, including an attack on the time base by minions of the evil force, stranding them in the future until they find a way to save the day.
Then, for fun, have them encounter the evil force after they return home, and vanquish it with ease, because they already know how, thus insuring that the people of the future will keep the time line intact.
Yup. Actually let the party think about the fact that the only reason they were taken to the future was because of knowledge they gained by being taken to the future. That’ll mess with their heads for a while.
Or, you could just trap them in a time loop, having to fight the same battle over and over and over and over again, until they figure out how to get past the monsters, and stop the spell that’s causing it, all within a certain amount of allotted time. Even better, make it a small arcane device that’s hidden in a random pot they keep passing up, part of a trap the Rogue didn’t notice.
This, by the way, is why all my friends think I’m a dick.
This one is strange, because as any D&D player knows, there’s already a multiverse in place in the D&D cosmology. The elemental planes, and more, are readily accessible to most any adventuring party.
But, what if, instead of going to the known planes, the party wandered off into an alternate universe. One where they met alternate versions of themselves. Or where everything is just slightly different, leaving them to wonder if they are really in a different world or not.
What you could do with this idea is almost endless. Just on the front of meeting their other universe doppelgangers, you could have so much fun, as the party tries to deal with slightly different versions of themselves.
Of course, the most fun thing you could do with it is to toss them in a world where the player races are the savages, and Orcs, Goblins, Trolls and so on are the civilized races. Very Planet of the Apes thing there.
This idea is hard to nail down to a specific thing, because really, the limits are endless. Have them turn up in similar world that is in its version of the 60’s. Have them end up in a world where talking squirrels are the dominant form of life. Have them end up up in a super advanced tech world run by angst ridden koala bears. Pretty much, no matter how far out and crazy you get, you can do it.
Now, I’m not saying that any of these ideas are the right fit for the campaign you are running. Ultimately, that’s for you to decide. What I am saying is that if you’ve reached a point where you feel the campaign needs something to really shake it up, because the party has just done so much already that it’s getting hard to justify new threats not running away from them immediately, or that the players just aren’t that into the traditional fare, there are things you can do.
Whatever you decide to do, always remember that the greatest advantage of D&D and RPG’s in general, is that only your imagination limits what you can do. Never be afraid to really swing for the fences.