Rayguns and Spaceships in D&D?!?

But hey, if that’s your thing, cool. I’m still a fan of fantasy mecha, steampunk, Victorian era fantasy, and other assorted combinations of fantasy plus whatever. I just think if I’m personally going to run a starship game, I’m leaving the elves at home and running Star Trek. Where we have Vulcans…


Not exactly a new concept, but…

So, your character is a standard issue, run of the mill knight or even barbarian in what would seem like a regular fantasy style RPG campaign setting. There’s magic swords, elves, dragons, and of course lots of spells being flung about. Characters look up at the stars at night and wonder about where the gods live.

Pretty standard D&D game for the most part, right? Could be Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or even the Witcher. Right up until the dropships come down and start unloading their payloads of jump infantry and grav tanks.

“What in Murlyn’s name?!?” exclaimed the halfling wizard.

Dragons vs Twin Linked Laser/Radar guided 20mm Vulcan cannons? What sort of magic is contained in this “electromagnetic railgun?” How can common men fly without magic in these jump packs?

Meanwhile, out of character players are groaning and throwing various things at the unsuspecting DM. No one mentioned this at Session Zero. That was weeks ago. The DM didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Nobody mentioned lasers!

Two great tastes that have been known to start riots at conventions.

You got science fiction into our fantasy world!
You got fantasy all over my science fiction!
Star Trek!
Middle Earth!
Star Wars!
Game of Thrones!
And the feud continues to this day. Some fans sincerely refuse to cross the line. Others show up to a Ren Faire dressed in Star Trek costumes and pretend to be an away team. It takes all kinds, I guess.

I’m not going to get into the debate over which is better or worse. I love both, honestly. On any given day, I’ll watch either. I’ll run either. I’ll play either.

In terms of gaming I do tend to lean a little more toward sci-fi. I’m an old Star Wars GM from when all we had was the D6 system, which was recently reprinted for its 30th anniversary, I believe? I also love anime, especially mecha games. But I grew up watching Conan and Hawk the Slayer between D&D sessions, too.

A handful of games have tried to do both over the years.

Dragonstar by Fantasy Flight Games

I remember Dragon Star by Fantasy Flight Games for 3rd Ed D&D. I remember the campaign was pretty unique and cool at the time. It was a pretty big change of pace at the time.

I remembered mentioning it to my players at the time and watching the group divide almost straight down the middle. My wife and one of my other players who were die-hard fantasy fans said, “no.” My two hardcore sci-fi guys said, “no,” but for completely different reasons that the other folks. That was an easy call and campaign was shelved before it ever started. Yet Star Wars was not beyond us? Hmm…

Starfinder by Paizo is another prime example of a game that crossed the boundaries and does it all pretty well. Someone on Twitter recently remarked that it is a bit daunting when you look at the rulebook with everything it has going on. Unfortunately highly detailed games that do multiple genres together require complex rules sometimes.

Starfinder by Paizo.

.

Of course, Palladium’s RIFTS probably does it all the most. I won’t say best because it’s literally a mashup of every genre, but mostly confined to Earth. Supers, post apocalyptic combat, giant robots, dragons and magic all under one roof. Some would say the rules are unwieldy at best. I was a huge fan for many, many years. I still love that game, but others have better rule systems.

Spelljammer Logo.


The reason I mention all of these games is because D&D is once again poised to cross the line itself with Spelljammer coming back. This classic campaign did things the other way around. It was fantasy applied to science fiction. To me, t would be like reversing the polarity of a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup and putting the chocolate on the inside.

To use my example above, it would be like a Centurion outpost bristling with guns and housing jump infantry and grav tanks suddenly coming under siege with magic fireballs and dragons. Instead of complex science star drives, there are spelljamming engines capable of traversing vast distances of space.

I can’t say I’m a huge Spelljammer fan. I’d rather run one of the other three I mentioned above. I was cool with Alternity and Amazing Engine Bug Hunters, which were available around the same time. I just couldn’t get into the whole Elminster in space vibe. I mean yay, I suppose. It’s no Babylon 5 by any means.

But hey, if that’s your thing, cool. I’m still a fan of fantasy mecha, steampunk, Victorian era fantasy, and other assorted combinations of fantasy plus whatever. I just think if I’m personally going to run a starship game, I’m leaving the elves at home and running Star Trek. Where we have Vulcans…

To complete the circle of the peanut butter cup.

I think Session Zero is really the key to not having a campaign fizzle and die horribly. Please, be upfront with your players about the type of campaign you intend to run. Or at the very least mention things like, firearms, spaceships, zap guns and giant robots potentially coming up in the campaign to gauge where the players stand on such things.

If it’s going to derail your campaign plans entirely, just re-word things. “Robot” becomes golem. “Gatling gun” become fireball launcher. “Laser” becomes magic wand, or lightning bolt. Instead of deep space, the threat comes from the shadow dimension. I think you get the idea. It’s the same concept, just with a different trope attached.

Thanks for being here. Hope you’re having a great weekend. See you soon.

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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