Agnostic Sci-Fantasy Engine?

Hey Folks,

Though were only about halfway through the current campaign of The Session Tapes, I'm laying the groundwork for the next campaign, and I'm looking for some advice.

I'm a bit burnt out on pure Fantasy, and was looking at doing a multi-century time jump into the future of my homebrew setting. The concept is essentially "what would happen if a high-fantasy setting developed futuristic technology?"

I'm just at a bit of a loss for what is the best engine to use for the setting. I've had Numenera recommended to me, but it seems really setting-specific and also a bit too "fantasy with some science bits". The tech/society level I was looking for was something more like Destiny or Star Wars, and less like a John Carter/Flash Gordon/Dune sort of Mythic Sci-Fi. Essentially hard tech but with some magic (which could just as easily be super-advanced science in the spirit of Clarke's 3rd Law).

I was circling around Starfinder, the only worry I have is that it seems a bit less setting-agnostic than Pathfinder was; so I had a few questions:

1.) How hard is it to make Starfinder fit a non-Pact Worlds setting? Does the game suffer as a result?

2.) Other than Starfinder, are there any similar "hard tech with fantasy tropes" systems out there? Someone recommended Stars Without Number to me, but I was a bit underwhelmed.

3.) Was there ever an official "Space Opera" update for Shadowrun made? I can't find anything, but that might just be because my Google-Fu sucks.

Thanks for any help you can give!
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I don't think that it would be that hard to take Starfinder away from the Pact Worlds setting. At least, I don't think it would be any harder than taking any other game rules and applying them to a home-brewed science fantasy setting. You're going to be replacing a lot of the lore, sure. But you'd be making it up from scratch anyway.

Have you considered Star Wars Saga Edition? It's out of print but really useful for the whole science fantasy thing. We adapted it into a Mass Effect campaign with relatively little fuss.
If you don't have access to the OOP SWSE and it has to be something you can get ahold of now, there's the Fantasy Flight Star Wars games. They're pretty flexible on the whole science fiction/magic balance with a bit of reskinning - flexible enough I've been contemplating how to run a Cyberpunk-style game with them.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm a bit burnt out on pure Fantasy, and was looking at doing a multi-century time jump into the future of my homebrew setting. The concept is essentially "what would happen if a high-fantasy setting developed futuristic technology?"

2.) Other than Starfinder, are there any similar "hard tech with fantasy tropes" systems out there? Someone recommended Stars Without Number to me, but I was a bit underwhelmed.
So, the real thing here is that I don't think we'd agree on what "hard tech" is. For me, "hard tech" probably means "no FTL travel" - "hard" sci-fi is stuff that sticks to the laws of physics as we know them at the time of the writing.

3.) Was there ever an official "Space Opera" update for Shadowrun made?
No.

I imagine you could do what you want pretty easily in Savage Worlds. Slap the Fantasy and Sci-fi Companions together, and Voila!
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I don't think it would be any more difficult to take the setting out of Starfinder than out of Pathfinder, as long as you were OK with the default selection of races.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Numenera’s base system- Cypher- could be used with the setting of your design.

I would think that one of the various Star Wars games, Shadowrun, or World of Darkness games could do the job, if you file off the serial numbers. So might a superhero game.

Then, of course, there are the toolbox systems like HERO and GURPS.
 

innerdude

Adventurer
Depends on what you want the game to feel like.

Do you want it to still feel like D&D but with different serial numbers? Then go with Starfinder or Star Wars Saga.

Do you want something with a more action-pulp, free-wheeling sensibility? Savage Worlds would be a fantastic fit. Especially if you pick up the Sci-Fi Companion and Interface Zero campaign setting.

Do you want it to feel more "grounded" in real science / real world flavor? Go with GURPS.

Do you want more player narrative input without completely abandoning a structured character-building system? Go with Genesys / Fantasy Flight Star Wars

To say nothing of the fact that Wil Wheaton's Titansgrave setting for Fantasy AGE is pretty much designed to capture this feel out of the box.
 

rOLUNDE

Villager
Has no one mentioned Stars Without Numbers?

Usually when someone says the words "sci-fi rpg" that one gets a mention.

If you don't know, its basically OSR based d20 Sci-Fi. There's room to squeeze in some magic.

You can get "the original edition" free as a PDF, the update print book is great, IMO.
Stars Without Number: Original Free Edition

At the very least it always gets a mention for the tool kit for building planets, systems, etc.

Being OSR you could basically tack on pretty much any D&D magic that makes you happy, there's also an in-setting book that can be used as well.
The Codex of the Black Sun: Sorcery for Stars Without Number

Anyhow, hope this helps.
Cheers!
~R~
 

Eltab

Explorer
Alternity wrote a Gamma World conversion that you might be able to work with.

The TORG rules may (or may not; I've never played) be usable for your purpose.

Traveller is a straight sci-fi game, but if you look at it through Clarke's Law lenses you could be able to concoct something.

(And my but I sound hesitant about these.)
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
I'm just at a bit of a loss for what is the best engine to use for the setting. I've had Numenera recommended to me, but it seems really setting-specific and also a bit too "fantasy with some science bits". The tech/society level I was looking for was something more like Destiny or Star Wars, and less like a John Carter/Flash Gordon/Dune sort of Mythic Sci-Fi. Essentially hard tech but with some magic (which could just as easily be super-advanced science in the spirit of Clarke's 3rd Law).
Honestly, there are any number of "generic" rules that could quickly be framed to do this. I mean...the technology/sci-fi part is basically just trappings for the game engine. What kind of at-table feel were you looking for from the rules? Like, do you just want D&D with space trappings, or do you want an entirely different experience/focus? That would determine more about whether I'd recommend for a system. Things that pop to mind:
Genesys...possibly just file the serial numbers of EotE.
Fate...pulpy action is its home turf.
Savage Worlds...a bit crunchy for my tastes, but I'd imagine its easy to bash together some of its supplements. Probably closest to D&D-ish on this list.
Scum and Villainy...a wholly different experience. The "magic" part could be easily cranked up.
Uncharted Worlds could do it, especially adding in the "Far Beyond Humanity" supplement. Its PbtA.

I've never done anything with Starfinder, so I can't really comment on that.

Good luck, whatever you do.
 

Derren

Adventurer
Starfinder might be a little too much fantasy. It does very little with the Sci-Fi part of its setting.
In the D&D 3.5 era there was also a short lived Dragonstar setting from FFG.

Edit: To clarify what I mean, Starfinder does not have a lot of connection to the Pact Worlds. Each planet receives a small writeup and thats it. And as basically everything remotely humanoid is playable you do not need to have a connection to them at all. So basically what you want.

The trouble starts with playing SF as Sci-Fi because the system makes very little use of science fiction concepts and instead follows the usual fantasy/D&D concepts of four guys crawling through a dungeon far away from civilization, only visiting it to unload million credits worth of loot to spend it all un the next tier of weapons with nonsensical prices which are also locked behind a level requirement based on their adventure usefulness. So even healing or cure disease potions or board games that give a bonus to a skill roll when you played them require a minimum competency in monster slaying (I am not making this up. The board game is a level 6 item)
The system offers no support for science fiction or even modern concepts like surveillance technology, modern or futuristic laws and how to bypass them (In SF its normal to walk around a city in heavy armor armed with rocket launchers based on some published adventures). Computers more resemble things from the 80s. Self contained boxes which control 1 or 2 functions. There is no support for large networks or even matrix style systems and the skill system quickly reaches its limit when you try to implement it as every computer must be of the same level as the PCs computer skill as otherwise its either trivial or impossible to hack them.
That extends to the setting itself. Nearly all of the Pact World planets are less developed than modern day earth and mainly consist out of wilderness. The most SciFi you can get are floating cities like on Star Wars Bespin on a minor planet. The major planets look more like Tatooine or Kashyyyk, depending on the climate there.
Starships are the worst. They just exist, but are disconnected from everything else. Neither do you need to spend ressources on them, they just get better as you level up and the GM is supposed to invent a reason for why. There is no interaction between them and the rest of the setting. The only thing they can do is to serve as an explanation how you got from A to B, have space fights with a very limited set of constrains (one PC ship vs. 1 or 2 equally leveled enemy ships) which are very unbalanced (turret weapons and powerful shields beat everything else easily) or to install crafting stations for your PCs to use. Every interaction between starships and the rest of the game is actively discouraged. Shooting the large, lone monster on a barren asteroid in the middle of nowhere with no one else around with your starship weapons (actual scenario from one adventure)? Nope, not in Starfinder. Go down and fight it mano a mano.
Even in the lore starships are problematic as for example installing self replinishing nuclear weapons is a low level option and no one has a problem with it.

Sure, you can try to houserule all those issues and make SF SciFi compatible, but you have to fight the system tooth and nail to do it as it is simply not designed for it. Gun restrictions in civilian areas? Now you hosed the soldier while making the already powerful operative a god. More sensible item prices? Now you broke the reward loop and potentially made spells much stronger than normal attacks (or the other way around). Create better computer and hacking rules? The limited and level based skill system makes that very hard. Its not unsolveable, but the question is if it is worth it, especially when you have other settings to choose from.

So if having fantasy fights with technobabble weapons like plasma scythes are enough for you then you can take SF and throw out the few mentions of the Pact World. But if you want adventures which deviates from that and add more Cyberpunk/Shadowrun, Transhumanism or just more SciFi feeling you are better off with something else.
 
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ninjayeti

Explorer
Have you checked out Esper Geneisis? It is a 5E based sci-fi ruleset and there are a free set of basic rules here. Personally I found it to be a bit too literal a translation of 5E - e.g., Engineers are basically just re-skinned clerics who do stuff through tech rather than divine power. But very high quality and maybe what you are looking for.

Starfinder is a great game that does a fantastic job of mashing up sci-fi and fantasy elements. I don't think it would be a major challenge to tweak it to fit your homebrew setting. Personally that is what I would go with.
 

Blackrat

He Who Lurks Beyond The Veil
So, there was the oft overlooked d20 Modern with its supplements. You could try to find those. d20 Future had several different tech eras and there was a couple of books that gave rules for magic and fantasy in the modern/future settings.
 

rOLUNDE

Villager
Doh! I totally missed that (obviously), haha (y)

Well, let's see if I can actually contribute something then...

Other SciFi games that may or may not have been mentioned also include-
There's also Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn a pretty old school sci-fi game, Star Frontiers came out about the time of B/X D&D.

There's FrontierSpace which apparently uses the same system as BareBones Fantasy and does include rules for Psionics. (I have not played this but BareBones Fantasy is a pretty fun system for getting up and running so this should be good too.)

There's the Cepheus Engine RPG I'll just grab this blurb from the Publisher-
"
From the Author of CFTL:
Cepheus Engine is based on the Mongoose OGL 2d6 sci-fi SRD; it is quite detailed and very faithful to the SRD. "

And then one I also see recommended A Lot but doesn't seem to have been mentioned yet is Mothership!
Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG you can get as a PWYW pdf there.
As far as "how hard is the sci-fi" it's basically made to copy the sci-fi genre of Alien and such, so pretty hard.
It does lack any form of magic though.

Savage Worlds has been mentioned but I'll +1 the heck out of it, as mostly you can do whatever you want with it, mostly.
And if you've never played it, I've seen this said and will say it here myself "it plays better than it reads".
IMO it really falls into the lane of "rules enough" as it has pretty much whatever you need a ruling for, but you can totally just fake it as you go along and the odds are if you check for an actual rule later it'll probably be what you just did anyhow.

So anyhow, hope there is something useful in all that.
Cheers!
~R~
 
Thanks everybody! I had given a passing glance to a lot of these, but none really twisted my tentacles; hadn't really looked deep into Genesys before now, though as I thought it might be too much work. Digging deeper (thanks to some good advice here and other places) I might actually give it a try. You've been a great help, thanks!
 

Ulfgeir

Explorer
Another point regarding Starfinder. Yes, you can have spacehip-to-spaceship battles, but they are quite bland to say the least where it is so obvious what the only move is in each phase. And they all depended on what the pilot of each ship rolled for initative.

It is still a fiddly hack-n-slash game that just happens to be set in a space setting for framing. And where gear has costs that are exponentially higher the better the better the item. And nope, you can't use said items if you are not of high enough level.


One game that oddly enough imo might work as inspiration for things with different tech levels, is one that is extremely setting specific. And that is Atomic Robo from Evil Hat. It is based on the comic Atomic Robo (which is brilliant), and is of course FATE-based. But, this is important, it differ a lot from how Fate Core/accelerated works. It lends itself very well to pulpy stories, as it has to cover things that range from dinosaurs (well one of the villains claim to be one that has travelled forward in time from 65 million years ago to stop the large Hadron Collider form starting), to pulp stuff in the 20's to hardboiled action in WW2, and space exploration and other dimensions. And everything is "For Science!".
 
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aramis erak

Adventurer
Cepheus is Mongoose Traveller's SRD made more like Classic Traveller.

It's well suited for the Traveller style of Space Opera. (Marc's been very clear that Traveller was intended to be Space Opera, not Hard SF, but some Traveller supplement authors, especially GT ones, never got the memo.) It retains the built in tropeset of Classic Traveller.

There are a couple adaptations of the MGT SRD to fantasy. Wanderer being the one coming to mind.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I ran a "Steampunk Byzantium" game using M-Space/Mythras (RuneQuest 6), and Mythic Constantinople on a planet I made, even had some fun with Galley battles, and Dirigibles where they were blown off course to "Monster Island".
 

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