Monday, June 3, 2013

What Replaces "Magic" in SciFi Campaigns?

"Technology suitably advanced will effectively be magical" or some such. I'm paraphrasing somebody but damned if I know who.

In any, magic is a staple in fantasy RPG campaigns, whether we are talking spells or items.

Spells kinda match up to psionics or psi powers, but what matches up to the magic items?

Now, I'm not saying that D&D is simply killing things and taking their stuff - I'm mean, it is that but it's more too. The thing is that "stuff" is often magical in nature - potions, scrolls, rings, swords, etc etc... What is the parallel in SciFi?

Better loot... er, weapons?

I'm guessing alien artifacts.

Damn, I've really been away from SciFi RPGs for way too long ;)


  1. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

    -- Arthur C. Clarke

  2. Depends what you're playing I guess. In Traveller it's, well, nothing really.

    In Stars Without Number it's bizarre, weird, or alien tech. Given your current interest in SWN I highly recommend you check out Kevin Crawford's Hard Light setting. This is essentially an old school dungeon sandbox reskinned into SWN and, in which, the place of magic items is taken by ancient alien artifacts.

    My old school group ran through this setting over several months last year. If you want to see how a published setting transfers into actual play, you can read our campaign blog over at Obsidian Portal, here...


  3. As Keith Davies said.

    Magic Items equals Black Box Technology of the Ancients/Founders/Primordials/etc.

    Push the button, it works. Take it apart to discover its secrets, you have a pile of scrap pieces. Or it self-destructs, either Mission Impossible or Predator style.

    Or why not just use magic? No reason it won't be figured out by the ??th Century. Or aliens. Just because it isn't viable in the Human 21st century doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

  4. Just use magic if that's what you want. It's called space opera after all.

    The Force comes to mind.

  5. For a 1:1 non magical counterpart of a spell-user, you can always use nanomachines (replacing bloodline or magical talent or holyness) to reproduce spell-like effects through physics manipulation.

  6. ive run mny sf games with no personal property - friends game software was loot - for exiting hardware or instructions for replicators (nano-3dprinters)or jump route or uploaded ancient personality or an AI - you just go to shops and buy better bigger sneakier gun or better ammo or a good upgrade - starwars pc game had crystal that could enhance sabre light emitters but im pretty over crystals in any fantasy...Blakes 7 always after black tech to keep one step ahead of law but they all failed mostly and all died so not such a good example.

  7. For Traveller, Marc's comment above aside, it would be the artifacts of the Ancients, which are ridiculously high tech items. The grav platforms/teleport disks of Twilight's Peak are one early example, and the Droyne alien module had the Oynssork ("a combination disintegrator and personal shield"), though the latter was not something that the players were allowed to keep - it's a Droyne thing, you wouldn't understand. ;)

  8. (posting this for sam curry)

    The two most obvious answers to me are merely (a) technology or (b) psionics of some sort.

    Laser guns and flamethrowers produce effects much like lightning bolt and fireball, and a range of miscellaneous technology from anti-grab to transporters, replicators and the like seem to fit the bill. Star Frontiers even had the notion of personal shields and defensive suits tailored to things like illusion, invisibility, laser absorption ("Albedo"), impact absorption (like Kevlar today), sonic absorption, electric absorption ("Gauss") and so on. I never understood why these didn't last in other settings as they seem the obvious answer to avoid instant death: most eat up energy defending you, so they work out and can balance a campaign with lethal gyrojet, laser, flame, sonic, electric and other killer energies flying around.

    Psionics seems like an obvious one that I'm not seeing above for some reason either. You can turn "mental" powers into a pseudo-magic system, and the trappings work in Sci-Fi. It's basically magic.

    There are two other ways that I can think of: first, use actual deities or perhaps super advanced creatures who can "delegate" magical ability. Second, use super advanced science that responds to intuitive actions for control and actually appears like magic. For a laugh, Jack Vance's novels were in fact not fantasy for the most part...they were science so advanced that they seemed like magic, so what's most amusing here is that we're trying to figure out how to get magic like D&D into a scifi setting when the whole system came from a scifi setting! -samcurry


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