Tabletop RPG Podcast and Roleplaying Resources

Category: Imperium

Sci Fi Technology and Setting Dials

I’m continuing my thoughts on Sci Fi setting ‘dials’. Here is a brain dump of version technologies that you should probably consider for any Sci Fi setting. At the end I give my opinion on which technologies I typically use or avoid.

Technology Questions


  • FTL Drives —Are there faster-than-light drives? How do they work? (My favorite is Classic Traveller-style Jump drives. Ships are rated with FTL drives Jump 1 to Jump 3. You have 8×10 hex subsector maps, each hex is a parsec wide, and each Jump rating lets you jump 1 hex. So a Jump 3 ship can go 3 hexes on the map. Jumps take about 2 weeks regardless of distance.)
  • Slower-than-Light Drives — What do they call that? Impulse, fusion drive, planetary drive, etc.
  • Cloaking Devices — Yeah or nay? I’d say avoid them.
  • Tractor Beams — Yeah or nay?
  • Artificial Gravity — All but the hardest Sci Fi has this; otherwise miniature combat is going to be really weird!
  • Force Fields — They have them in Star Wars but they are rarely mentioned. In Star Trek they are a key trop in starship combat (‘Shields at 13%!’).


  • Teleportation — Any teleportation devices? If you use a Star Trek style ‘beam’ technology you’ll need specific rules or else bad guys will put an A-Bomb on your bridge.
  • Levitation Technology — Is there something like repulsorlift technology like you have in Star Wars that lets vehicles hover over the ground?

Combat and Recovery

  • Guns — Are slug throwers (like Battlestar Galactica) or energy weapons the norm?
  • Healing — Bacta tanks, autodocs, etc.
  • Combat Armor — Allowed? How powerful, is this Starship Troopers?
  • Stasis Technology — Any way to freeze or put folks into stasis?


  • AI’s — Cool but may make knowledge checks OP if the computer knows everything in the universe and can give you the best plan to attack your enemy.
  • Computer Hacking — Is computer hacking and diving into cyberspace a thing?
  • Internet — Is there a datanet / data grid like the internet? If so, how does it work? Planetary? Galactic?


  • Cloning and genetic engineering — What does the setting have if any? Is it legal?
  • Cybernetics — Any implants allowed?
  • Nanotechnology — Most settings don’t have it; need to think through impacts if you add this.
  • Transhumanism — Any folks with hands for feet, extra limbs, and weird stuff?
  • Aging — Is there a Niven-style boosterspice type drug to slow aging?


  • Holography — Most settings have a bit of this.
  • FTL Communications — Is communications age-of-sail style, where you can’t communicate faster than ship travel speed? Or is it like Star Trek and Star Wars where you can real-time video chat through ‘subspace’? The latter looks good in the movies but also let’s you call for help and I think is more troublesome than helpful for RPG games.


  • PC Races — PCs as Humans-only, or other creatures? Can humans be robots?
  • Languages — Is there some sort of universal translator if/when you have an alien first contact? What is the common language called?
  • Royalty — Is there an aristocracy, with space barons and feudalism? If you want to save the space princess, you’ll want this.
  • Psionics — Do folks have it? Is it rare? Illegal?

My Preferred ‘Setting Dials’

Most settings I like (in terms of RPG settings) have these dial setting:

  • FTL — Jump drive technology like Classic Traveller.
  • Communication — Communication is Age of Sail; no subspace faster than FTL jumps.
  • No AI’s on Ships — Otherwise too easy for PCs.
  • Internet is planetary — Otherwise too easy for PCs.
  • No nanotechnology — Keep it lower tech.
  • No transhumanism — Too weird for my tastes.
  • No teleportation — Too weird or OP.
  • No psionics for PCs — Only for NPCs.
  • No cyberspace — You can hack computers Star Wars style, but you’re not doing a Tron style immersion into cyberspace.


Imperium Story Types

Been talking to Mason about his upcoming Imperium campaign. One topic that has come up is Sci Fi tropes. Here’s a table I came up with at one point that is useful to think through. Might be worthwhile to ask players which tropes they like or don’t like 🙂

12 Sci-Fi Story Types

Review the list for ideas, or roll 2d6 and to see what story to create in your next adventure. Patrons can give missions for items 2-12.

  1. Patron: Get a job from a patron such as obtaining a macguffin.

  2. Exploration: Salvage of ancient ruins, abandoned ships, exploring dungeons.

  3. Merchant: Trading cargo and working the stock market using trade tables.

  4. Heists: Con jobs or other missions to get an object.

  5. Military: Defend an outpost or fight warlords.

  6. Aliens: Encounter exotic creatures, fight predators, or safari missions.

  7. Cultures: 1st contact scenarios, modern cultural issues reskinned.

  8. Court Intrigue: Interact with nobles/politicians or become one.

  9. Distress Calls: Answer an S.O.S., but no telling what you really will encounter.

  10. Space Battles: Vacc suit fights, bridge action, fleet combats.

  11. Belters: Asteroid exploration, strikes, megacorp intrigue.

  12. Survival: Survive a ship crash, prison, hostile terrain or sabotaged ships.

RPG Space Sci Fi Tropes

Other iconic genre elements I can think of that is great to work in at Con game especially (to make it feel like you placed a Space game):

  • Melee combat with futuristic weapons,
  • Ranged combat with futuristic weapons
  • Fighting alien monsters
  • EVA in a space suit
  • Piloting a ship
  • Solving a cosmic enigma
  • Spaceship combat




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