Fifth Age: A hard science fiction 5e conversion

Capn Charlie

Explorer
I have just uploaded Fifth Age: A Hard Science Fiction conversion for 5e DnD to the downloads area.

It is the dawn of the 24th century, and an interesting point in time for the human race. Fifth Age chronicles the dawn (perhaps more like early mid-morning) of humanity exploring the stars and getting into all manner of trouble, fraught with peril, excitement and drama. The science in this sci-fi is a little on the harder side than some might be used to and the adventure is a little pulpy, a perfect mix for the 5e DnD system.
fifth age.png
This release contains:
  • New Races
  • New Classes
  • New and expanded backgrounds (with mechanical relevance!)
  • New Skills
  • New Feats (along with rebalancing)
  • New Weapons
  • New Armor
  • Hi-Tech Gadgets
  • Downtime Shenanigans
  • Investments, Trading and Retirement Rules (Contribute to your retirement fund, or wind up eating catfood!)
  • Spaceship Rules

Note that this is a work in progress, expect ongoing balance tweaks and new content.

You can find the file here in the downloads section. Please use this thread for comments.

Additionally here are links for what I have so far:

View attachment Fifth Age (0.7).pdf
View attachment Hazard Handbook WIP.pdf
View attachment fifth age sheet char sheet 1.pdf
View attachment ship sheet.pdf
View attachment Fifth Age Spaceships.pdf
View attachment ship builder.xlsx

I have written my first Fifth Age adventure for general consumption, it is available here:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/rpgdownloads.php?do=file&fileid=5608

or here:

FA01 Welcome to Indra.pdf

I think it serves as a pretty good example of what a fifth age adventure can be, and I will be attempting to extend it out into a 12 adventure series to take characters from one to ten, as a good introduction to the rules-set and setting.
 

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Jan van Leyden

Adventurer
Just looking at the title of the thread the old game Dragonlance: The Fith Age came to my mind.

Maybe you want to change the title of your work, just to avoid more confusion? :)
 

Capn Charlie

Explorer
That's a pretty good point, I was wanting a play on fifth edition, and Fifth Age sounded good, a new era of humanity and what not. But your suggestion is well placed. I will think about this some more and edit my post title here a bit to remove some confusion.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Wow, Fifth Age. This is a very high quality pdf.

The illustrations are beautiful and present an appealing setting.

I havent looked at the mechanics yet, but if theyre using 5e theyll probably be good.


Since the goal is to make this ‘hard’ science fiction, I have some concerns about how plausible any futuristic setting might be.

Consider the acceleration of technology. (See Kurzweil, etcetera). It is literally impossible to imagine what the ‘far’ future might be like.

By about year 2025, something comparable to our laptop will be as intelligent as a human. At this time, supercomputers will be even more intelligent. In our century, the 2000s, computers will become vastly more intelligent than our entire human species put together. The only way for humans to keep up, is for humans to use technology to enhance our brain, whether by implanting hardware, wetware, or genetic modification. In sum, by the end of this century, by the 2100s, a single human then will be more intelligent than our entire human species today put together.

We literally cannot imagine what year 2100 will be like.

This acceleration of intelligence makes ‘Star Trek’ scenarios impossible. By the time that humans have the technology to cross the galaxy, humans will necessarily be so intelligent, it is literally impossibly for us to predict, imagine, or even comprehend what they might be doing. Captain Picard certainly wont be worrying about whether he is bald or not.

This makes any kind of ‘far’ future setting, by definition, the opposite of a ‘hard’ science fiction.


Now looking at the illustrations in the Fifth Age pdf. The pictures suggest a ‘near’ future setting. Robots, cyborgs, ‘unmodified’ humans, and ‘synthetics’, all coexisting. For most images, I can imagine them happening within our century, the 2000s. Maybe sometime between 2030 and 2050? (I know, not far away!)

The ‘synthetics’ probably have wetware deriving from human brains to achieve actual living, sentient, consciousness. I doubt humans will understand how hardware can artificially duplicate sentient life yet.


The only problem I can see, is the spaceships. There is no way humans will invent space travel during our century. Therefore, by the time humans do invent it, humans will necessarily be ‘modified’, super-intelligent, and beyond the scope of what we can image.

However, the aliens in the setting can provide the narrative solution.

Suppose, when the Greys - the Greyliens - arrived on our planet, the Greyliens brought their space travel technology with them. So, we humans, in our century, are using their technology to travel thru space. We arent the ones who invented it yet. So us ‘unmodified’ humans can still sail around in space.

Now, according to this narrative, these Greyliens also didnt invent this space travel technology. They seem as primitive as we humans are. But they are ‘scavengers’, and ‘resourceful’, and make use of the technologies from other alien species who are far more advanced than any of us.

The narrative only needs a pretext to explain how Greyliens got a hold of this kind of technology. Maybe the advanced species that invented space flight, is benevolent. I suspect, the species must be compassionate to avoid destroying itself in the first place. So, in some context, this advanced species expressing goodwill, thought it was a good idea to give Greyliens a spaceship. Why? Who knows why? That advanced species would be so intelligent, we couldnt understand the reason why they did it anyway. But they didnt try to get the spaceship back. So maybe it has something to do with the technological species being compassionate - in some alien way.


So, a timeline for this ‘near future’ ‘hard science’ setting seems possible.

Somewhere around 2020, the Greyliens arrive on earth in their spaceship. In this decade, the spaceship itself knows how to reproduce spaceships. Humans develop a fleet spanning the solar system. Some are even spanning the galaxy. This is mostly sightseeing tours. Besides some mining projects, and a few biodome experiments, space colonization is brand new and modest.

So, the setting takes place somewhere between 2030 (after human cultures are feeling the impact of superintelligent computers, cyborg technology, and synthetic life) and 2050 (before technology accelerates beyond the capacity of normal ‘unmodified’ humans to comprehend what is going on). Greyliens have a decade or two to fit into human cultures. Notably, during these two decades, there are already supercomputers who are doing who knows what!

2030 to 2050.

This is a very small window in time for this kind of setting.
 
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Capn Charlie

Explorer
Well, down in the bowels of the pdf is the fluff (mashed alongside what of my space combat rules are written down), and I address a few problems.

For starters, it is hard sci-fi in that it more or less conforms to physics and has a minimum of junk, mostly just the ftl drive. As for hard sci-fi being impossible, you have to remember that the footing of all narration is coincidence. In this instance, humanity is just sort of dragged down by internecine fighting, as well as backpedaling conservatism. However, even with enough narrative elements to keep the setting feeling comprehensible, three of the four human subraces are transhuman.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
In this instance, humanity is just sort of dragged down by internecine fighting, as well as backpedaling conservatism.
It is impossible to slow the acceleration of technology. Wars and death cannot stop it. It is inexorable.

This curve of acceleration has been going on since the dinosaurs - since microbes first squiggled on this planet. Our scrolls, books, and libraries were part of this increasing speed of intelligence.

Only ‘near’ futures are comprehensible.

Hard science can only describe near futures.

Even just a decade away, 2025, we are entering the ‘knee of the curve’ of the acceleration.

There is no way to go back.

Tomorrow cannot be the same as yesterday.

Forward and upward, indeed.
 
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Yaarel

Adventurer
three of the four human subraces are transhuman
Actually, I love these human subspecies. These transhumans - cyborg, spaceborn, and tubeborn - feel spot on. The kind of technology that modifies them - hardware, wetware, genetics, etcetera - seem within reach soon. Scientists now are already working out how to do it.
 
I got a bunch of suspicious pop-up messages from that pdf-archive website. Would not touch it with a 10 foot pole.
 

Capn Charlie

Explorer
I just grabbed something off of google that looked good, maybe popupblocker kept me from getting anything. I will attempt to upload here.

edit: now available hosted from this site
 
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Yaarel

Adventurer
According to ‘hard’ science, here are some predictions in play.

Around 2025, a personal computer will be as intelligent as a human, can speak naturally and emotionally, and will pass the Turing test.

The following is the technology that will be available in 2029. Thus it describes what human culture will be like around 2035.

• A personal computer is 1000 times (!) more powerful than the human brain.
• The vast majority of computation is done by computers and not by human brains.
• Further progress has been made in understanding the secrets of the human brain. Hundreds of distinct sub-regions with specialized functions have been identified. Some of the algorithms that code for development of these regions have been deciphered and incorporated into neural net computers. Massively parallel neural nets, which are constructed through reverse-engineering the human brain, are in common use.
• [Human brain simulations are possible.]
• [Many humans ‘upgrade’ their own brain to keep up with the acceleration of intelligence.]
• The eyeglasses and headphones that used to deliver virtual reality are now obsolete thanks to computer implants that go into the eyes and ears. The implants are either permanent or removable. They allow direct interface with computers, communications and Internet-based applications. The implants are also capable of recording what the user sees and hears. Computer implants designed for direct connection to the brain are also available. They are capable of augmenting natural senses and of enhancing higher brain functions like memory, learning speed and overall intelligence. Direct brain implants allow users to enter full-immersion virtual reality—with complete sensory stimulation—without any external equipment. People can have their minds in a totally different place at any moment. This technology is in widespread use.
• [Telepathy via brain-to-brain networks is a common mode of communication.]
• Most communication occurs between humans and machines as opposed to human-to-human.
• By scanning the enormous content of the Internet, some computers "know" literally every single piece of public information [every scientific discovery, every book and movie, every public statement, etc.] generated by human beings. Computers are now capable of learning and creating new knowledge entirely on their own and with no human help.
• [Discoveries and inventions in every field of science and medicine accelerate.]
• The rise of Artificial Intelligence creates a real "robot rights" movement, and there is open, public debate over what sorts of civil rights and legal protections machines should have. The existence of humans with heavy levels of cybernetic augmentation and of larger numbers of other people with less extreme cybernetic implants lead to further arguments over what constitutes a "human being." Although computers routinely pass the Turing Test, controversy still persists over whether machines are as intelligent as humans in all areas. Artificial Intelligences claim to be conscious and openly petition for recognition of the fact. Most people admit and accept this new truth.
• Non-biological intelligence combines the subtlety and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence, with the speed, memory, and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence. Non-biological intelligence will continue to grow exponentially whereas biological intelligence is effectively fixed in its rate of growth.
• The manufacturing, agricultural and transportation sectors of the economy are almost entirely automated and employ very few humans.
• Across the world, poverty, war and disease are almost nonexistent thanks to technology alleviating want.
• [No more war? That is truly difficulty to imagine.]

The ‘singularity’ is estimated to occur around 2045. This is when computers that are much smarter than humans, design and build other computers. Then these new computers will build even smarter computers, and those ones even smarter ones. This is an ‘explosion of intelligence’. It is literally impossible to guess what these future generations of computers might be like, or what they will do. Or what the world will be like because of them.

Everything from internet, to medicine, to nanobots, hardware, wetware, phones, genetic engineering - genetic engineering! human speciation! - all of these scientific endeavors are accelerating faster and faster. There are profound - species altering - events that will take place within decades. Concepts that were science fiction - concepts that were the wildest trippiest messianic dreams - appear to be materializing in front of our eyes.

This is just the beginning. From then on, it gets even weirder. Faster.

Remember when the internet seemed to shop up out of nowhere?
 
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Yaarel

Adventurer
The thing that worries me the most about our reallife future ...

If humans remain unable to treat each other well, the computers that we are building will likewise be unable to treat us humans well.

Compassion is urgent. The continuity of the human species in any sense depends on compassion.
 

fuindordm

Visitor
I think the future will arrive much more slowly than Yaarel predicts, for several reasons:

1. We're reaching the limits of material science to supply infrastructure for supercomputers. R&D is underway of course, and so far Moore's Law has been upheld, but I think we will soon reach the point where the next generation of CPUs cannot be build with the current generation of factories; we will need an entirely new supply chain and manufacturing sector.

2. The difficulty of scientific problems grows exponentially along with the power of computing resources. Bioinformatics is making great strides, but after 20 years it is still very very far from being able to determine the effect of a single gene change on an organism, let alone draw a one-to-one, deterministic relationship between a given genome and the macro-organism. Long gone are the days when a brilliant physicist could change our paradigm from a patent office; now we need consortiums of hundreds or thousands of physicists to make progress.

3. People have been predicting that strong AI is just around the corner for the past 40 years, and we're no closer than we were before. Learning and perception are major factors, not just Moore's Law, and it's easy to imagine that there are other hard limits on intelligence that we haven't discovered yet.

4. Even if we do have a strong AI in 2030, with access to all public data, that doesn't mean it can design an even stronger AI. The progress of research is still limited by our ability to experiment in the physical world (see point 1 above) and strong AIs are equally bound by those limits.

So I think we have at least a full century ahead of us where computers, physics, and biology remain comprehensible to the people of today. In that time frame I can see:

  • bioinformatics reaching the point where we can "tune" human beings for certain traits, but not design a macro-organism from scratch;
  • regenerative medicine and fully personalized medicine (where we can choose a drug based on your particular genome that will have the best effect with the least important side effect)
  • pseudo-AIs that are essentially very powerful expert systems that pass the Turing test within their area of expertise, but need intensive training and tuning in controlled environments to reach that point (e.g. the emergency medical hologram from Voyager)
  • new technologies that solve the clean energy problem on Earth and solve the fuel problem for interplanetary space travel.

To take a few examples; each of these is easily another 20-30 years away, if not more. Cybernetics, eugenics, regeneration, clean energy, interplanetary travel (in weeks to months), and pseudo-AI are all within reach this century. Designer organisms, free energy, immortality, interstellar travel, and strong AI are not, in my opinion, and even if we get strong AI it won't lower the material barriers to progress.

So the idea of aliens bringing the tech for space travel is a very good one to keep the future recognizable but still exciting.

And our internet world is perfectly comprehensible to a person from even the early 1900's -- "In the future, electric technology will allow every person to carry the knowledge of a public library with them, anywhere they go!" They might not understand how that tech could work, but they could grasp the social consequences of what that tech can do.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
:) Thanks for the nod toward aliens bringing the tech.

Regarding predictions, dont confuse the future with the present.

In 1990, most people said a computer could *never* defeat a human chess champion.

But the technological curve said a computer would. By year 1999.

By year 1997, the computer won.

This prediction seemed unrealistic when computers seemed so primitive. But the day arrived, when - as predicted - the computers were more advanced. Suddenly it happened. And in hindsight, it seems so obvious.

There are several technologies already waiting to replace the current supercomputer infrastructures.

Regarding genetics (bioinformatics), when the day arrives, supercomputers will be replacing ‘hundreds of thousands’ of geneticists. Every atom in a ‘macro-organism’, especially its DNA, will be simulated as a virtual model in a supercomputer. It is possible to pick a DNA arrangement, and ‘print it out’ in reallife. Even before this, computer acceleration means acceleration in every field of science, including computer science.

It seems to me pointless to talk about passing the Turing test, until about 2025, when the computer actually is as fast as a human brain. Then, it will be able to do things in ways that a brain can. Of course, supercomputers will do things a bit earlier, but it wont really enter culture until regular computers catch up. 2025.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Heh, I dont understand why we dont already have free energy.

I mean, cant we just dig a hole and convert the virtually infinite energy from the heat of lava into useful energy?
 

hafrogman

Visitor
Far from a comprehensive read, but a few mechanical notes regarding starting equipment.

- The soldier class offers an 'autolaser', but this isn't described in the equipment chapter.
- The soldier's starting equipment is all ranged, civilian level equipment. It feels kind of strange to have military proficiency, but no options for that equipment. Same with the melee fighting style, but no weapon.
- Giving the backgrounds weapon and armor in the starting equipment is a notable deviation from the 5e baseline. Maybe this was intentional, but it seems to lead to double stacking of equipment. And in 5e at least, stripping the background of combat implications gives them a stronger feel towards the exploration/interaction pillars.


And some thoughts on stats. A lot of the races and subraces have large floating bonuses, which allows up to +4 in a single ability. The standard 20 max doesn't get mentioned, but given the flavor of the game, with aliens and augmented humans and such forth, possibly consider establishing the baseline stat cap and then providing raised limits as racial features for cyborgs, tubeborn, synthetics, etc. instead of such large bonuses right up front.
 

Capn Charlie

Explorer
Heh, I dont understand why we dont already have free energy.

I mean, cant we just dig a hole and convert the virtually infinite energy from the heat of lava into useful energy?
This is a great example of why your timeline seems a little rushed as compared to mine. In a pure tech scenario great wonders could be accomplished in a relatively short period of time, but it is the social, economic and governmental factors that impose the "speed limit" on change. Could we go to space right now and build habitable stations out in the belt? Yes, 100% with the tech we have right now. However, all the powers that be with the resources (read: money) to make this happen have no real interest in this endeavor, because it just is not profitable at this juncture. We could build a sublight pusher ship, with a nuclear drive (check out the orion) that could journey between stars, but we don't.

In my setting, I deal with lack of momentum and plateaus in tech and policy with ever escalating "space races" between world powers. America didn't colonize mars because they needed more iron oxide, they did it because otherwise china would have gotten there first. The sino-russian alliance was formed to beat the Americans to Titan. The only reason that Japan and South Korea even launched a mining expedition to the inner belt was to put in actionable claims that the corporate mining outfits couldn't contest. Then a whole pissing match of bigger and bigger cargo ships for moving supplies and conveniently doubling as warships to defend interests...

In my setting we just literally growl at each other and posture, and squander trillions in treasure with no immediate return just to play keeping up with the joneses, and in the process accidentally find the untold wealth of space. Once we bump into aliens we insanely begin to explore and colonize to 'beat' them there, a way they don't even think, until they start to copy our behavior. Heck, in my setting we have almost as well developed a space war fighting doctrine before we leave our system as the galactics do, and they've been interplanetary for thousands of years.

Keep in mind, this isn't my prediction of how things actually play out, but it's a compelling narrative (I think) and casts humanity in one of its best roles, as the barbarians shaking up the status quo and not understanding "No".
 

Capn Charlie

Explorer
Far from a comprehensive read, but a few mechanical notes regarding starting equipment.

- The soldier class offers an 'autolaser', but this isn't described in the equipment chapter.
- The soldier's starting equipment is all ranged, civilian level equipment. It feels kind of strange to have military proficiency, but no options for that equipment. Same with the melee fighting style, but no weapon.
- Giving the backgrounds weapon and armor in the starting equipment is a notable deviation from the 5e baseline. Maybe this was intentional, but it seems to lead to double stacking of equipment. And in 5e at least, stripping the background of combat implications gives them a stronger feel towards the exploration/interaction pillars.


And some thoughts on stats. A lot of the races and subraces have large floating bonuses, which allows up to +4 in a single ability. The standard 20 max doesn't get mentioned, but given the flavor of the game, with aliens and augmented humans and such forth, possibly consider establishing the baseline stat cap and then providing raised limits as racial features for cyborgs, tubeborn, synthetics, etc. instead of such large bonuses right up front.
Good catch on the autolaser, that is a relic of an earlier version, I have subsequently removed it as a standalone weapon when I generally buffed longarms to keep them competitive with dual pistol fighting style.

As for the weapon and armor gearing options in backgrounds, this is intentional. This allows someone like, say, a Technician from some backwater world (with the colonist background) to have better armor and a solid weapon right out of the gate, better portraying that archetype. There are some instances of "gear stacking" that is both possible and seems odd from the normal D&D standpoint, why would a fighter need two greatswords, but makes more sense in a modern or postmodern setting. A soldier with two laser rifles is an firearms aficionado. Have you met many gun enthusiasts? In an industrial society high end weapons can be collected by the common man like stamps.

As for soldiers not getting military weapons by default, this is a bit of a stylistic push by me. The military weapons in my mind are to exist as early game goals and gear upgrades. In real world terms, I see a laser rifle as a top of the line ar-15, basically the same as out military carries but just a bit stripped down for civilian markets, while the gauss rifle is more of the type of weapon a military might provide. And a note on "civilian", civilian weapons in this conversion are still high powered lethal weaponry and might require special licenses to own, security clearances, and in any case might be illegal in some ports and on certain worlds.

It is my fear moving in to this game that as opposed to normal d&d that it will be the combat pillar that is under utilized. My players have proven bloodthirsty, but there are still whole sequences of play where the two soldiers in the group just sort of stand around and hold up the wall while the rest of the party has "done stuff". Then we get into a fight and it shifts right back. This could be my steering, or just the playgroup, but that is performing to expectations.

As for stats, you raise valid concerns, I will look at this further. I indeed intended a normal 20 point maximum for attributes, but sent out an error in the document. My base character creation assumption is a maximum starting attribute of 15 (if using the baccarat rules I changed it to add your card total to a base of 6, not 8, to curb some higher results that were consistently showing up), plus whatever racial bonuses you accrue at character creation. This allows a tube born human specifically engineered for a trait, like dexterity or intelligence, to start the game at a 19 in that score. This makes them exceptional and stand out, crunch meeting fluff.
 

Morlock

Visitor
Since the goal is to make this ‘hard’ science fiction, I have some concerns about how plausible any futuristic setting might be.
From a naysaying POV, sure. But far-future speculation actually opens up more setting possibilities, not fewer. See, technology enables the will. Opens up more plausible avenues for "hard" sci-fi.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
From a naysaying POV, sure. But far-future speculation actually opens up more setting possibilities, not fewer. See, technology enables the will. Opens up more plausible avenues for "hard" sci-fi.
But the more ‘speculative’ the scifi becomes, the less ‘hard’ it is.
 

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