Guide to Building a Sci Fi Campaign: DnD 5e

When building a science fiction (science fantasy) campaign in DnD 5e, consider the following elements:

Mixing classic DnD 5e elements with a sci fi theme requires a bit of homebrew creativity.  However, we have plenty of tools to patch and reskin the functions of the game to suit our need for lasers, swords and laser swords.

DnD 5e laser rules

Firstly, the official 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide gives us stats for laser weapons.  In fact, we get 3 different variants.

  • Laser pistols: Deal 3d6 radiant damage at a range of 40/120. Plus, gain a 50-shot reload, as the weapon works on charges instead of ammunition.
  • Laser rifle: This two-handed laser launcher deals 3d8 radiant damage at 100/300 range.  Holy wow that’s a big distance.  However, I’ll gain a 30-shot charge for this one.
  • Antimatter rifle: A great example of fantasy rules turning sci fi, this bad boy deals 6d8 necrotic damage at 120/360 range.  The reload is only 2 shots, but the damage and range are gnarly.

Sci Fantasy inspiration: Masters of the Universe, Star Wars

The science fantasy genre has been with us for over a century, taking the wonder of magic and blending it with robots, lasers and outer space.  For a DnD 5e campaign, we have several worldbuilding examples in pop culture to pull from.

Therefore, let’s begin with the most straightforward fantasy/sci-fi mixture: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.  Sure, this is children’s show and toy brand from the 80’s, but it gives a fantastic template for a fantastical planet.  Skeletor acts as a dark necromancer emperor, with beast-like warriors and robotic cyborgs under his command.  Castle Greyskull, The Sorceress, He-man’s sword of power, and laser-gun-wielding companions blend for a unique and magical planetary adventure.

However, Star Wars gives an example that leans closer to the sci fi side, with classic fantasy built in more subtly.  Like the force, the party’s magic can be psychic or telekinetic in nature—especially with classes like bards and psi warriors.  Naturally, laser pistols, gunslingers and space knights in black armor can all work together in a DnD campaign.  Add in homebrewing elements for flying ships and extra radiant damage for special laser swords.

Spelljammer concepts and worldbuilding

Originally released in 80s, Spelljammer is a high-fantasy stellar adventure and world build.  Steampunk elements give different races a magical way to explore space with flying ships.  Now, beings of the void such as the Lovecraftian mind-flayers and beholders lurk in wait in a fantastical space setting.  In many ways, it reminds me of science fiction from the 1800s or the old Flash Gordon movie from the 80’s (the one with the epic Queen soundtrack).

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Naturally, this kind of space exploration is nothing like hard sci fi.  In fact, it barely counts as science fiction.  However, this celestial, steampunk setting is unique and creative.  Plus, it’s already built out with rules and cultures and monsters.

Vehicle ability checks

Homebrewing checks for flying vehicles can be accomplished through Dexterity and Intelligence skill checks.  Depending on the complexity of the machine—a spaceship vs personal gliding vehicle, for instance—the character will need to pass certain checks while operating the vehicle.

Obviously, Dexterity checks will come into play while operating a vehicle.  It may be an awkward way of explaining the skill in terms of piloting.  However, Dexterity is paired with traits like Initiative and reflexive speed in light armor.  Therefore, reaction time will be connected to Dexterity, making elves and rogues excellent candidates for a pilot.

Also, operating larger ships may need more of a team effort, using Intelligence checks to figure out ship systems and procedures.  Naturally, we can homebrew proficiencies in these things.  Perhaps skills like Ship Knowledge or Hacking should be included on a possible list.  Simply connect these skill checks to Intelligence, and you have a reasonable guideline.

Reskinning magic items for high-tech items

Now, we have a whole new world of possibilities: including force fields, elemental generation (fire, ice, etc.), lasers, life support systems and computers.  Therefore, consider treasures that contain some of these sci fi elements by reskinning typical magic items.  If it can be done magically in DnD, there is likely a creative sci fi solution to pair with the magic of the item.

For example, take the anti-matter rifle from the laser section above.  This is an example of necrotic damage transformed into a science fiction element.  Have a staff the raises zombies?  Maybe it holds parasites that take control of corpse brains and operate them like vehicles.  Or maybe the ray of sickness wand unleashes a unique virus that only strikes the DNA it’s told to.

We could even completely reshape an item and just keep the effect, such as changing a wand to a power-glove upgrade.

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