D&D General Tech in DnD; What should be included and how much is too much? (+)

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Dave Arneson, co-creator of D&D, was really into sci-fantasy combos. His Blackmoor, the first D&D fantasy setting, was a post-apocalyptic setting devolved into a medieval one.
Yeah it was a real surprise to me when I first encountered Blackmoor, it was very different than the D&D games I was playing at the time. Even the 1e DMG mentions several science fantasy sources. So in later years, when people started griping about "science fantasy doesn't belong in D&D", I was like "uh...whatchoo talkin' bout, Willis?".

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I think magi-tech can work, if you make an effort to keep the "magi" front and center. Having gunpowder be made by Alchemists helps; likewise, having a lot of guns be enchanted helps; also, if they ever revise the Gunslinger in the future, it would be cool if they were to borrow an idea from the Powder Mage series and have the Gunslinger actually consume black powder as a "material component" for their Grit abilities.

Or to get away from guns and focus on infrastructure, I think Eberron's lightning rail is appropriately magic-centric, and there's plenty of flying ships that work via magic in Tal'Dorei or Faerun or Spelljammer, or Ravnica's magic-based power generators and steam engines and boilers and vehicles and water and sewer systems and transit tunnels, courtesy of the Izzet League.

Have you actually done Dieselpunk using a DnD rule set? I’m not sure its a mechanical fit, but I’m happy to be proven wrong (I suppose modern rules can be adapted)

Oh, no. I can't find a group to save my life. But I presume you could twist the DMG firearms and the vehicles rules into something approximating the 1930s.

I'm also looking at Old-School Essentials as a fallback incase Wizards goes COMPLETELY off the Lighting Rail and guess what got a conversion to B/X semi-recently. https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/292055/


I think, because the combat rules of original D&D (1974) are contained in Chainmail, the game should have included everything in Chainmail including the arquebus and cannons, the idea being that it provides rules for adjudicating combat in all eras of the medieval period. The arquebus however (and I believe cannon as well) is notably absent from the D&D equipment lists. I think Arneson and Gygax made the decision to leave them out to bring the game closer in line with the Sword & Sorcery and High Fantasy fiction of the time. As a result, you have rules for shooting an arquebus, but you can't buy one.
As I recently found out, the Greyhawk book has the arquebus listed on a table.

I’m fine with anachronistic “artifacts” from OUTSIDE the setting’s ability to create.

E.g., the spacecraft, robots, and laser guns on the crashed ship in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks exists in my Greyhawk.

Also, I have a Stargate in the Comeback Inn in the ruins of Blackmoor, from which a tiny bit of tech has leaked in - one MagLite and a FN pistol - from an SG team.

But I dislike magic in place of current day technology, like magic railroads and magic airships.


Follower of the Way
Every setting doesn't need gunpowder, but to me the idea that gunpowder makes something feel not fantasy is really weird. Like have people not heard of Warhammer Fantasy?
Or the Wheel of Time, so yeah, pretty much this. It's a good thing that many settings don't have gunpowder, but it's a problem if no settings are allowed to have gunpowder.

Some of it, I think, may come from a place of desiring representation. For someone who feels gunpowder reduces the fantastical feel of a setting, featuring it makes them feel somehow excluded, while avoiding it doesn't feel (notably, to them) like it's excluding folks who like both that and other things. But when you take this principle from guiding a single setting's construction and turn it into a pattern, it becomes, "Because a contingent of people don't like gunpowder, no one is allowed to have gunpowder."

It's a bit like choosing to have a female main character, or a gay main character, or other similar things, in a video game or film. Folks who are used to always having tons of representation will feel a sudden and unfamiliar disaffection, and thus avoid or even boycott it...but they have no problem expecting everyone else to be perfectly okay with not being represented.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had a while back with someone, about someone they knew who had a genuinely understandable issue with a particular character in a video game being revealed as gay (or, at least, bisexual and formerly in a relationship with another man.) Specifically, this was Soldier: 76 from Overwatch. The person posting the comment didn't personally care--but his grandfather had gotten invested in Overwatch in part because S76 made him feel included, represented, in a way video games (and most entertainment media) doesn't do. It's rare to the point of nearly unknown to have a core, important, respected character who is clearly around retirement age, apparently 58. Presenting the character as gay/bi, however, alienated him from that representation, and even though I myself am not straight, I empathize and sympathize with him for feeling alienated like that.

All of this is to say, tech or non-tech, gunpowder or non-gunpowder, whatever we might consider, they all need to be presented for what they are: worldbuilding tools. That's why I so strongly push for, as an example, spending (say) 2-4 pages of the DMG talking about deities, different ways they can interact (or not!) with the world, and how these choices can affect the feel and story of a campaign, preferably with a couple of examples. Same for tech level, class/race availability, world geography (e.g. standard continents, islands like Iomandra, dry worlds like Dark Sun, etc.), overall tone (e.g. dark stuff like slavery/sexism/bigotry, settings mostly at war vs loosely at peace, the prevalence of magic, etc.), and similar topics. That should easily round out a 20-30 page chapter, not telling people WHAT to make, but showing them HOW to make a setting, and what knock-on consequences and effects their choices are likely to have.

IMO, the presence of such a chapter in a DMG would immediately elevate it to one of the better ones yet written. If it is but one such chapter of tools, guidance, and demonstration, it would almost surely deserve pride of place next to the most beloved D&D manuals ever written.


Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Though it's also worth remembering that, even quite early, there was appetite for technology of some kind. Gygax himself wrote Expedition to the Barrier Peaks in 1980, only six years after the 1974 boxed set.

And this is quite in keeping with the pulpy, sword-and-sorcery style. Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories include technology. Helium's twin capital cities, Greater and Lesser Helium, are connected by an ultra-fast underground bullet train system, and their power is in part due to their fleet of highly advanced "fliers," which we would call airships. Like the fiction it draws on, D&D doesn't really cut a clean line with regard to tech.
No doubt, cross-pulp genre pollination is in the DNA of D&D. In the original D&D random monster tables there’s even a table for encounters in Barsoom, a setting in which firearms are ubiquitous. Nevertheless, the rules for PC creation and equipment pretty strongly typify them as characters of medieval fantasy. You can't really play John Carter, for instance, because you can't buy a rifle.

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