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Worlds of Design: Is There a Default Sci-Fi Setting?

The science fiction default setting is less clear than the “Late Medieval plus some Tolkien” fantasy default, but let’s talk about it.

futuristic-5930957_1280.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Months ago I discussed the fantasy default setting in "Baseline Assumptions of Fantasy RPGs.” A default may not exist at all in some of the sci-fi categories below, but I think it’s worth discussing.

The Automation Difference​

Keep in mind the big difference between fantasy and science fiction: automation. Stories are about people, not machines, even though automation is likely to be dominant in the future. We already see this happening today, with robotic explorers on Mars, and unmanned drones fighting terrestrial wars.

It’s also possible that science fiction novel and game authors spend more time describing their settings than fantasy authors do, maybe because there’s so much more deviation from a default than in fantasy. In general, there may be less emphasis on "monsters" and uncivilized "barbarians" than in fantasy worlds.

In no particular order I’ll discuss:
  • Automation
  • Transportation
  • Communication
  • Adventurers
  • Aliens
  • History & Change
  • Technology
  • Warfare & Military
  • Demography & Habitation
  • Longevity

Automation​

Let's start with automation. In sci-fi settings, automation tends to vary immensely. We can see robots as intelligent as humans, and other settings where automation has not reached the level of human intelligence. You rarely see automation dominating the military, again because stories are about people, not machines. In Frank Herbert’s universe (Dune), the Butlerian Jihad has eliminated automation where any kind of intelligence is involved.

Transportation​

Faster-than-light travel is most common; often even very small spaceships, such as shuttles and fighters, can achieve it, sometimes it takes a big ship. If there is no faster-than-light travel, then the setting is usually confined to one star system, or involves “generation ships.” Sometimes the ships have built-in drives, so they can go from anywhere to anywhere; other times they must use fixed links in some kind of natural or man-made network, whether it’s wormholes or something else.

Communication​

Most likely, communication is at light speed, or at travel speed, whichever is faster. Once in a while you get instantaneous speaking communication (as in Star Wars); but that gets hard to believe on the scale of an entire galaxy, if only for the potential interference.

Adventurers​

Are there “adventurers” at all? Maybe we should say, people who go on, or get caught up in, adventures? I don’t see a common thread for how numerous such people are.

Aliens​

There’s no default here, but most common is a human-centric universe, possibly with no aliens, possibly with aliens ignored by or subordinated to humans. We also see humans as subordinate to aliens, in some sub-genres.

History & Change​

Time frame varies from near-future to millennia from now. Rate of change is usually very slow in the latter, so that the setting can still have some familiarity to readers and players. The pace of change in the near future is inevitably quick, as we see things change so quickly in the modern day that we’d be puzzled by slow tech change in anything like our own society.

Technology​

No default here. The paranormal may be important. Much of what goes on is still familiar to contemporary people, because that helps make it easier to willingly suspend disbelief.

Warfare & Military​

This is all over the map. Conflicts are usually between worlds or groups of worlds. What’s notable is that authors are often stuck in some kind of earth-history model where ground forces are very important. Keep in mind, typical SF situations are lots of separate star systems, much like small islands. What really counts is the (space) navy, if anyone is willing to “blast planets back into the stone age.” If they are willing to do that, ground forces don’t matter/are on a suicide mission. If they’re not willing to bombard planets, then ground forces matter, but are at immense disadvantage when the enemy controls the orbital zone of the planet.

Demography & Habitation​

Terra-formed worlds or worlds naturally habitable, versus most people live in habitats to protect them from hostile environment. In the video game Elite: Dangerous, planets are just barren places to explore, space stations are where people live. Again, there’s no default.

Longevity​

I’ve always found it odd that Elves, with vast lifespans, are as willing to risk their long future in potentially lethal adventures as they seem to be in fantasy games. If the technology of the science fiction setting provides long life or even immortality, how does that affect adventuring?

For further reading, see Atomic Rockets. It’s a website describing various SF topics, often baring the fundamentals of what reality might demand. Such as why interstellar trade is likely to be very sparse or non-existent.

Your Turn: Have you devised a campaign setting for science fiction role-playing?
 

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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

Emerikol

Adventurer
Your Turn: Have you devised a campaign setting for science fiction role-playing?
I haven't ran a full blown sci-fi campaign. I've played in a few.

I would think though that science fiction encompasses two large a gap to be just one default but a rules set may force you into a default.

So I'd say there might be near-tech which is an Expanse like setting.

But there is also space opera which spans galaxies with FTL travel. Is that travel slow or fast though? Is it Star Trek/Star Wars style fast travel or is it Asimov/Traveller style travel.

So yeah, I've noticed GURPS space makes none of these decisions for you. So you can "make" any game you want. Whereas a game like Star Wars or even Star Finder imply a technology setting.
 

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Hussar

Legend
Sci-fi is about changing something fundamental about how we live and then examining how the human animal deals with this change. They are "what if" stories that feature some technology that alters the status quo in a distinct way. Star Trek is a great example of sci-fi, using numerous tech changes to ask what if stories, largely focusing on what it means to be human in these situations. Star Wars, on the other hand, is not a good sci-fi story, because it doesn't ask "what if" with the technology changes, but instead is a pretty straightforward story about good vs evil. And I say this as a die-hard Star Wars fan. I've seen "space opera" tossed about in this thread, but not in the way it's meant to be used. "Space opera" is a story about good vs evil, or other 'outside the ken of men' forces vying for control with the trappings of sci-fi. They don't ask "what if," they just use some technology fantasy to tell a story about these contesting forces. Space travel does not equal space opera.

As for the trope/genre discussion, sci-fi has so many conflicting tropes that it's very, very challenging to pick central or shared tropes like space travel as definitional. If any tropes are definitional, they are the "what if" focus of the tale, and also that some technology is altering the human condition that does not exist at the time the story is told.

Traveler is a great example of a sci-fi game, because it's focus is really on life in a changed universe, using technology to affect that change. However, that said, the sci-fi-ness of a given Traveler game is going to be up to the table, not really the rules or the setting. Traveler enables sci-fi, it doesn't define it.
I really, really have to figure out how to do this. You are saying pretty much exactly the same thing I've said in this thread, but, I get nothing but pushback and arguments and you get a thumbs up. :erm:

And, @Umbran, that's true. But, arguments from dictionaries, on points that are woefully misinformed are pretty good indicators of a lack of background in the subject matter. If you have to point to a dictionary definition to make your point, you've already lost the argument.
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
As a more practical answer, the difference for most RPG groups is that you only have to ask, "Where do the elves and dwarves live on your world map?" And once that is answered, the players move on and roll dice.

Yet in SF, there are no immediate questions of why they live there or how they live there unless the DMs make it a point to mention it because it (should) change the world in a significant way.

Tolkien is in the High Fantasy subgenre with recognizable tropes (and I find that D&D is almost become a subgenre of High Fantasy at this point.) On that level,

When it comes to sci-fi, geeky judgement comes out much more quickly as the participants try to line up the SF world next to their favorite franchise, most often a Space Opera, which also has it's own recognizable tropes.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And, @Umbran, that's true. But, arguments from dictionaries, on points that are woefully misinformed are pretty good indicators of a lack of background in the subject matter.

For someone who supposedly knows the subject, you seem to have forgotten a cardinal rule - know the audience!

If folks need to meet some minimum subject mastery to speak with you, a public messageboard is not the place for that conversation. Next time take it somewhere else. Because what you did here was incredibly rude.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
And, @Umbran, that's true. But, arguments from dictionaries, on points that are woefully misinformed are pretty good indicators of a lack of background in the subject matter. If you have to point to a dictionary definition to make your point, you've already lost the argument.
No. If you start arguing against dictionary definitions it means you’ve lost the argument. If you start resorting to argumentum ad verecundiam or ad hominem you’ve lost the argument. If you actually lost the argument but can’t admit it, you’ve lost the argument.

You lost the argument.
 

John Lloyd1

Villager
There is a whole Wikipedia article on defining science fiction.

My favourite quote is:

Andrew Milner. 2012. Science fiction "is a selective tradition, continuously reinvented in the present, through which the boundaries of the genre are continuously policed, challenged and disrupted, and the cultural identity of the SF community continuously established, preserved and transformed. It is thus essentially and necessarily a site of contestation."

This whole thread is an example.
 

Hussar

Legend
No. If you start arguing against dictionary definitions it means you’ve lost the argument. If you start resorting to argumentum ad verecundiam or ad hominem you’ve lost the argument. If you actually lost the argument but can’t admit it, you’ve lost the argument.

You lost the argument.
The argument that you just agreed with? That's the argument I lost? Ok, you win. I completely agree with the person you agree with.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
The argument that you just agreed with? That's the argument I lost? Ok, you win. I completely agree with the person you agree with.
Nope. You can’t spin your way out of it either. Your comments are here for all to see, you’ve been censured by a moderator and made a fool of yourself in the process. Have a better one, next time.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
And, @Umbran, that's true. But, arguments from dictionaries, on points that are woefully misinformed are pretty good indicators of a lack of background in the subject matter. If you have to point to a dictionary definition to make your point, you've already lost the argument.
Yes but when you start mid-way contextually without explanation and just assume everyone on the thread is right where you are at then that is not ideal. Even if someone mistakenly understands the term as you or someone else is using it, the polite thing to do would be to say "This term has taken on a new meaning in gaming analysis or this term is popularly used this way in this gaming style" etc.... Instead of arguing about what a word means because the guy with the dictionary wins on general meaning.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
One can have cross-overs like spaceships in fantasy without it destroying the genre. In a scientific analysis, if you have 100 samples, and one is somehow an outlier, it is common to just discard that result, as it is within an acceptable margin of error.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
One can have cross-overs like spaceships in fantasy without it destroying the genre. In a scientific analysis, if you have 100 samples, and one is somehow an outlier, it is common to just discard that result, as it is within an acceptable margin of error.
I would say you can have practically anything but if a popular choice it takes on it's own identity as a genre all it's own.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I would say you can have practically anything but if a popular choice it takes on it's own identity as a genre all it's own.
If one had 100 samples, and 50 came back same as the outlier, then its more than just an outlier. So yes, sword and blaster is sort of its own genre, and that is the space fantasy of Star Wars. I would still say that the hallmarks of SF are spacecraft or some other tech and aliens, which most post apocalypse games have as well. Given that the fantasy of surviving a nuclear war would be like mad max, and not Threads, which would not be as fun an RPG setting.
 

Hussar

Legend
Nope. You can’t spin your way out of it either. Your comments are here for all to see, you’ve been censured by a moderator and made a fool of yourself in the process. Have a better one, next time.
Sorry, no red ink there bud. No censure. Just a friendly poke to tell me to tone it down. Which I most certainly will take to heart.

But, when you agree with someone who says exactly, virtually word for word, the same thing that I said, and then disagree with me, that doesn't exactly make for a winning argument.

Anyway, back to the actual discussion.

Let's see if I can do this without annoying people. Would be a nice change.

I don't think it's terribly controversial to say that D&D is the iconic fantasy RPG. Heck, for a lot of people it's the only RPG, but, even among us gamers, D&D is the iconic fantasy RPG. Anyone want to take a swing at that? Can I say that without a great deal of argument? Now, if we presume that to be true, that D&D is the iconic fantasy RPG, again, I don't think it's controversial to say that no single work of fantasy has as much impact on D&D as Tolkien. Whether it's the playable races, the iconic monsters (remember orcs actually had White hand clans and they still worship a one eyed god), or whatnot, Tolkien looms pretty large over the game and is largely inescapable. That's not to say that there aren't other influences. There are. There's been lots of ink spilt talking about them. But, again, no single writer looms larger in the D&D zeitgeist than Tolkien.

SF RPG's OTOH, don't have the same figure. Sure, we can talk about the impact of Star Wars or Star Trek on Traveller, presuming that Traveller is the iconic SF RPG. Star Wars I'm not so sure, considering Traveller came out in 1977, only a year after Star Wars was released. And, it's not like you have Storm Troopers or X-Wings in Traveller. And, thematically, Star Wars doesn't really fit since Traveller is all about exploration and discovery, rather than opposing an evil empire. Star Trek might be a better source, but, again, it doesn't really fit. Star Trek, even TOS, was about a flying city - the ship was huge compared to the typical Traveller ship. And, it's not like Traveller really fits with the whole Federation thing, nor Star Fleet. Traveller characters aren't necessarily part of any larger organization with rank structures and whatnot. Better influences might be things like the Lensman series, or even Buck Rogers or some of the earlier Heinlein stuff.

And, really, can we talk about iconic SF without Asimov? But, Foundation bears little resemblance to Traveller and AFAIK, there are no Three Laws of Robotics in Traveller. Granted, Traveller incorporates elements from all sorts of SF works and that's fantastic, but, we're talking about a default setting. An iconic setting so ingrained into the genre that it's easy to envision.

Heck, how can we really talk about iconic SF without going back to the grandaddies of the two biggest streams of thought in SF - Wells and Verne. Wellsian SF with it's cautionary tales of technology and science where the loss of humanity comes with the rise of technology (see the Morlocks of the Time Machine or the Martians of War of the Worlds) isn't really represented in Traveller which is far more Vernian in approach. Technology and science are things to be celebrated. They let us travel around do these wonderful things, and learn and explore. It's a very positive take on the genre.

So, no, I don't see a "default" setting in SF. I don't see it like I see one in fantasy because there is no single author that stands so large in SF as Tolkien does in fantasy. SF RPG's will incorporate all sorts of elements from SF, of course. But, a given SF RPG will tend to incorporate a selection of genre works that fit with the general theme and tone of that particular SF RPG. So something like Sufficiently Advanced incorporates Trans-humanist elements. The latest version of the Star Trek game looks almost exclusively at Star Trek and doesn't really incorporate anything else. So on and so forth.

Two fantasy RPG's, unless they are deliberately working against trope will tend to share a very large number of fantasy tropes. Two SF RPG's will only share similar tropes if they are creating similar RPG's - exploration style like Traveller, or much more story telling style like the Doctor Who RPG.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
Sorry, no red ink there bud. No censure. Just a friendly poke to tell me to tone it down. Which I most certainly will take to heart.

But, when you agree with someone who says exactly, virtually word for word, the same thing that I said, and then disagree with me, that doesn't exactly make for a winning argument.

Anyway, back to the actual discussion.

Let's see if I can do this without annoying people. Would be a nice change.

I don't think it's terribly controversial to say that D&D is the iconic fantasy RPG. Heck, for a lot of people it's the only RPG, but, even among us gamers, D&D is the iconic fantasy RPG. Anyone want to take a swing at that? Can I say that without a great deal of argument? Now, if we presume that to be true, that D&D is the iconic fantasy RPG, again, I don't think it's controversial to say that no single work of fantasy has as much impact on D&D as Tolkien. Whether it's the playable races, the iconic monsters (remember orcs actually had White hand clans and they still worship a one eyed god), or whatnot, Tolkien looms pretty large over the game and is largely inescapable. That's not to say that there aren't other influences. There are. There's been lots of ink spilt talking about them. But, again, no single writer looms larger in the D&D zeitgeist than Tolkien.

SF RPG's OTOH, don't have the same figure. Sure, we can talk about the impact of Star Wars or Star Trek on Traveller, presuming that Traveller is the iconic SF RPG. Star Wars I'm not so sure, considering Traveller came out in 1977, only a year after Star Wars was released. And, it's not like you have Storm Troopers or X-Wings in Traveller. And, thematically, Star Wars doesn't really fit since Traveller is all about exploration and discovery, rather than opposing an evil empire. Star Trek might be a better source, but, again, it doesn't really fit. Star Trek, even TOS, was about a flying city - the ship was huge compared to the typical Traveller ship. And, it's not like Traveller really fits with the whole Federation thing, nor Star Fleet. Traveller characters aren't necessarily part of any larger organization with rank structures and whatnot. Better influences might be things like the Lensman series, or even Buck Rogers or some of the earlier Heinlein stuff.

And, really, can we talk about iconic SF without Asimov? But, Foundation bears little resemblance to Traveller and AFAIK, there are no Three Laws of Robotics in Traveller. Granted, Traveller incorporates elements from all sorts of SF works and that's fantastic, but, we're talking about a default setting. An iconic setting so ingrained into the genre that it's easy to envision.

Heck, how can we really talk about iconic SF without going back to the grandaddies of the two biggest streams of thought in SF - Wells and Verne. Wellsian SF with it's cautionary tales of technology and science where the loss of humanity comes with the rise of technology (see the Morlocks of the Time Machine or the Martians of War of the Worlds) isn't really represented in Traveller which is far more Vernian in approach. Technology and science are things to be celebrated. They let us travel around do these wonderful things, and learn and explore. It's a very positive take on the genre.

So, no, I don't see a "default" setting in SF. I don't see it like I see one in fantasy because there is no single author that stands so large in SF as Tolkien does in fantasy. SF RPG's will incorporate all sorts of elements from SF, of course. But, a given SF RPG will tend to incorporate a selection of genre works that fit with the general theme and tone of that particular SF RPG. So something like Sufficiently Advanced incorporates Trans-humanist elements. The latest version of the Star Trek game looks almost exclusively at Star Trek and doesn't really incorporate anything else. So on and so forth.

Two fantasy RPG's, unless they are deliberately working against trope will tend to share a very large number of fantasy tropes. Two SF RPG's will only share similar tropes if they are creating similar RPG's - exploration style like Traveller, or much more story telling style like the Doctor Who RPG.
Having a protracted ramble, where you attempt to reinvent everything said on this thread, doesn’t make you right either. I have ‘liked’ other people's posts on the points they made, that you didn’t. Y’see, I don’t have to agree with everything others say to respect them.

You may also want to check a dictionary as to what ‘censure' means too. You were not just told to ’tone it down’. You were told that a specific comment was rude, unwelcome and objectionable. I’ve yet to see anything approaching an apology, so I have little interest in anything else you have to say, and they haven’t proven to be particularly insightful on this thread anyway - just rehashing the same stance in increasingly verbose ways.
 
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John Lloyd1

Villager
It seems to me that you are using the term "default setting" differently than I've seen it elsewhere. Usually, I've seen Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk described as the default setting for D&D with Third Imperium as the default setting for Traveller. You are invited to make up your own universe for the RPG, but they have provided this one and the adventures they have written occur there.

Do you mean something closer to "influence"? D&D is heavily influenced by Tolkien with its use of elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs and goblins. But, it is also heavily influenced by Conan, Vance (magic), Cuthulu, ancient history and myth, etc. While Traveller was influenced by Tubb, etc.

Tolkien is certainly a big name out of all the other influences combined. A lot of these others have fallen back into relative obscurity.
 

Hussar

Legend
Think of it another way.

If we were to draw Venn diagrams of genre works that fit within specific parameters of settings, what would it look like. For example, if we were to draw a Venn diagram of Fantasy works where the setting is pre-industrial, vaguely European, feudal with monsters and magic of varying degrees, that would cover a LOT of the genre. That circle, while there are works outside and overlapping, would be a very big circle.

OTOH, if we were to do the same with SF, and draw a circle that is set in space, far future, impossible (by current standards) technology, that would be a big circle, without a doubt. There are a lot of genre works that fit in that space. But, it would by no means be as big compared to other circles as our Fantasy circle. There are simply too many other kinds of SF out there that are just as popular as space opera.

So, if the question is, what is the "default" SF setting, I'd have to ask for a clarification. What kind of SF are you talking about?

And, @TrippyHippy, I keep trying to move past this, but, you keep dragging it up. So, again, I told you you were 100% right. I totally agree with the post that you agree with. You completely win the argument. I 100% defer to your judgement in this. You are completely, and absolutely, without a doubt, right. Here is the point that we completely agree on on more time:

Ovinomancer said:
As for the trope/genre discussion, sci-fi has so many conflicting tropes that it's very, very challenging to pick central or shared tropes like space travel as definitional. If any tropes are definitional, they are the "what if" focus of the tale, and also that some technology is altering the human condition that does not exist at the time the story is told.

Now, since you agreed with this point, I have zero idea what you're actually arguing with me about, since this is exactly what I've been saying all the way along. About the only point of disagreement might be that I would call the "what if focus" a theme and not a trope. But, at the end of the day, I'm not going to die on the hill of that level of pedantry.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
And, @TrippyHippy, I keep trying to move past this, but, you keep dragging it up. So, again, I told you you were 100% right. I totally agree with the post that you agree with. You completely win the argument. I 100% defer to your judgement in this. You are completely, and absolutely, without a doubt, right.
Good. Now apologise.

And, for the record, that was not the point of disagreement.
 

S'mon

Legend
The science fiction default setting is less clear than the “Late Medieval plus some Tolkien” fantasy default, but let’s talk about it.


Months ago I discussed the fantasy default setting in "Baseline Assumptions of Fantasy RPGs.” A default may not exist at all in some of the sci-fi categories below, but I think it’s worth discussing.

The Automation Difference​

Keep in mind the big difference between fantasy and science fiction: automation. Stories are about people, not machines, even though automation is likely to be dominant in the future. We already see this happening today, with robotic explorers on Mars, and unmanned drones fighting terrestrial wars.

It’s also possible that science fiction novel and game authors spend more time describing their settings than fantasy authors do, maybe because there’s so much more deviation from a default than in fantasy. In general, there may be less emphasis on "monsters" and uncivilized "barbarians" than in fantasy worlds.

In no particular order I’ll discuss:
  • Automation
  • Transportation
  • Communication
  • Adventurers
  • Aliens
  • History & Change
  • Technology
  • Warfare & Military
  • Demography & Habitation
  • Longevity

Automation​

Let's start with automation. In sci-fi settings, automation tends to vary immensely. We can see robots as intelligent as humans, and other settings where automation has not reached the level of human intelligence. You rarely see automation dominating the military, again because stories are about people, not machines. In Frank Herbert’s universe (Dune), the Butlerian Jihad has eliminated automation where any kind of intelligence is involved.

Transportation​

Faster-than-light travel is most common; often even very small spaceships, such as shuttles and fighters, can achieve it, sometimes it takes a big ship. If there is no faster-than-light travel, then the setting is usually confined to one star system, or involves “generation ships.” Sometimes the ships have built-in drives, so they can go from anywhere to anywhere; other times they must use fixed links in some kind of natural or man-made network, whether it’s wormholes or something else.

Communication​

Most likely, communication is at light speed, or at travel speed, whichever is faster. Once in a while you get instantaneous speaking communication (as in Star Wars); but that gets hard to believe on the scale of an entire galaxy, if only for the potential interference.

Adventurers​

Are there “adventurers” at all? Maybe we should say, people who go on, or get caught up in, adventures? I don’t see a common thread for how numerous such people are.

Aliens​

There’s no default here, but most common is a human-centric universe, possibly with no aliens, possibly with aliens ignored by or subordinated to humans. We also see humans as subordinate to aliens, in some sub-genres.

History & Change​

Time frame varies from near-future to millennia from now. Rate of change is usually very slow in the latter, so that the setting can still have some familiarity to readers and players. The pace of change in the near future is inevitably quick, as we see things change so quickly in the modern day that we’d be puzzled by slow tech change in anything like our own society.

Technology​

No default here. The paranormal may be important. Much of what goes on is still familiar to contemporary people, because that helps make it easier to willingly suspend disbelief.

Warfare & Military​

This is all over the map. Conflicts are usually between worlds or groups of worlds. What’s notable is that authors are often stuck in some kind of earth-history model where ground forces are very important. Keep in mind, typical SF situations are lots of separate star systems, much like small islands. What really counts is the (space) navy, if anyone is willing to “blast planets back into the stone age.” If they are willing to do that, ground forces don’t matter/are on a suicide mission. If they’re not willing to bombard planets, then ground forces matter, but are at immense disadvantage when the enemy controls the orbital zone of the planet.

Demography & Habitation​

Terra-formed worlds or worlds naturally habitable, versus most people live in habitats to protect them from hostile environment. In the video game Elite: Dangerous, planets are just barren places to explore, space stations are where people live. Again, there’s no default.

Longevity​

I’ve always found it odd that Elves, with vast lifespans, are as willing to risk their long future in potentially lethal adventures as they seem to be in fantasy games. If the technology of the science fiction setting provides long life or even immortality, how does that affect adventuring?

For further reading, see Atomic Rockets. It’s a website describing various SF topics, often baring the fundamentals of what reality might demand. Such as why interstellar trade is likely to be very sparse or non-existent.

Your Turn: Have you devised a campaign setting for science fiction role-playing?

I think 'RPG SF' has some pretty clear space opera defaults.

Automation - intelligent robots, but little automation in view; even starship guns are often manually operated.

Transportation - flying cars, space ships are common.

Communication - traditionally no FTL communication; this seems to be changing as 1980s Star Trek brought in real time videoconferencing, and this has been followed in eg new Star Wars. It does cause plot issues enough that Traveller type no-FTL-coms remains popular.

Adventurers - uncommon but not unheard of.

Aliens - lots of widespread alien intelligent species, at least some humanlike.

History & Change - as with fantasy settings, tends to be slow.

Technology - restricted to familiar analogues. Artifical gravity that looks like real gravity.

Warfare & Military - restricted to familiar analogues, in particular naval (starship) combat; aerial (starfighter) & ground combat to a lesser extent. RPG & fiction writers may work hard to come up with reasons why ground combat is still significant.

Demography & Habitation - most people live on planets, most of which have terrain similar to Earth.

Longevity - radical life extension is not the norm.

__________________________​

These are the kind of familiar defaults from TV and film that players assume, that don't need explaining. Deviations such as in Transhumanist games do need explaining.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
I think 'RPG SF' has some pretty clear space opera defaults.

Automation - intelligent robots, but little automation in view; even starship guns are often manually operated.

Transportation - flying cars, space ships are common.

Communication - traditionally no FTL communication; this seems to be changing as 1980s Star Trek brought in real time videoconferencing, and this has been followed in eg new Star Wars. It does cause plot issues enough that Traveller type no-FTL-coms remains popular.

Adventurers - uncommon but not unheard of.

Aliens - lots of widespread alien intelligent species, at least some humanlike.

History & Change - as with fantasy settings, tends to be slow.

Technology - restricted to familiar analogues. Artifical gravity that looks like real gravity.

Warfare & Military - restricted to familiar analogues, in particular naval (starship) combat; aerial (starfighter) & ground combat to a lesser extent. RPG & fiction writers may work hard to come up with reasons why ground combat is still significant.

Demography & Habitation - most people live on planets, most of which have terrain similar to Earth.

Longevity - radical life extension is not the norm.

__________________________​

These are the kind of familiar defaults from TV and film that players assume, that don't need explaining. Deviations such as in Transhumanist games do need explaining.
Yep.

And for the point of an example, Paizo found it easy enough to establish the Starfinder game as a science fiction counterpoint to Pathfinder for fantasy.
 

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