Tabletop RPG Podcast and Roleplaying Resources

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.



  1. Mason

    Great list, Stan. I’ve been thinking through practically all of this stuff, actually. Our list of preferred dials is practically identical. I’ve got some story ideas regarding past events that have lead to no AI, transhumans, or cybernetically enhanced people.

    I’ve also come up with an idea for our campaign/setting creation session. I thought it might be fun to have the group come up with say 3-4 major life altering events. Things like when humanity discovered FTL or aliens. The possibilities are enormous. It would be fairly structured to keep it from getting out of hand. The guideline would be: 1 MVP in the event, a few sentences describing what it was, and a few sentences describing the immediate impact it had on humanity.

    In theory, this would give everyone a base knowledge of important history their characters should have. Hopefully, that will help create some solid immersion.

  2. Stan

    Awesome! Love the campaign setting technique you’re floating. Looking forward to that session.

    In most Sci Fi settings that are retro / non AI, I always figured that there was some Terminator kind of event in the past that made certain things like AI’s outlawed, with folks near superstitious about their usage due to ancestral memory of barely averted extinction events tied to the AIs (or transhumanisms, or nanotechnology or whatever).

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