Sci-Fi D&D FTW 2.0

After I posted my last thoughts about Sci-Fi adaptations, I got a few very helpful responses from people. In an effort to leave no moonrock unturned (see what I did there?) I’m back with a few more additions.

First off, I want to make it clear that I’m concentrating the the many adaptations of D&D 5e and Pathfinder that have come out in recent years (i.e. about the last two). There are so many awesome sci-fi RPGs like my hard sci-fi love Eclipse Phase, the fantastic Stars Without Numbers, the wild PbtA game Farflung (which I already reviewed), the other PbtA option Uncharted Worlds… the point is there’s a lot. I can’t cover everything but I can highlight this niche case a little bit.

Esper Genesis

Esper Genesis Cover
Image © Alligator Alley Entertainment

This one I think I can be excused for not knowing about since it’s brand new. Esper Genesis was Kickstarted in April but the basic rules are up on DriveThruRPG… and they’re free! Like HyperlanesEsper Genesis uses spell-like abilities to create class features for all the different options. There are various humans in the book as well as robots and a few aliens, all of them interesting but not groundbreaking. Unlike Hyperlanes, though, not all the classes are set up like this so it sort of ends up like a new version of D&D 5e with science-fiction tropes instead of fantasy ones. That might sound like everything in the last post and this one so let me explain a little.

First of all there are four classes and they roughly correspond to fighter, thief, mage, and cleric. More accurately, there’s the warrior (pretty identical to the fighter with new archetypes) and the specialist (ditto but with the rogue) and then two “caster” classes. The power of these classes is related to “the Crucibles”, a setting element of ancient ultratech that allows people to do crazy things. After people used them for generations without knowing much about them, the Crucibles have begun to change people and give them strange new powers (think Exalted but with lasers). Every PC in Esper Genesis is one of these people, called an esper, though the warrior and specialist just have better-than-normal physical abilities. The engineer has purposeful, innate abilities and can pick an area of particular power (like clerics and their domains) while the melders are truly incredible wielders of power that can effectively cast spells powered by Talent Points (so more like a sorcerer than a wizard).

The world for this game seems pretty cool and I’m interested to see the final product. In the meantime, though, there’s a great map that comes with the free basic rules and a (free) starter adventure called Fall of the Eos Keldor. Check it out if you like your sci-fi to have some heavy mysticism and a grand vision, like the strange child of Star Wars and Mass Effect.

Fifth Age

Fifth Age Cover
Image by Charlie Beavers

Another awesome and free option is the fan-made Fifth Age written by Charlie Beavers. While it’s awesome to see an amateur make something so pretty out of love and ambition. That’s certainly something I can relate to. There are a lot of great things in this and it might meet some of the issues you have with other options.

First and foremost, the races in this book are great. While I personally love the many different variations on human for Ultramodern5, some people may want some more focused options and Fifth Age manages to do that with each subrace still being evocative and fun (something I can’t say of a good chunk of the humans in these games). There are grey alien options and some limited options for other aliens, so you’ll probably have to build your own if aliens are going to feature heavily in your campaign… or borrow from another game on this list!

Fifth Age also follows some of the same paths as Ultramodern5 with character classes built independent of any spell-like mechanic, which is my favorite way of doing things. The soldier uses a lot of the same territory as the fighter but with new fighting styles (“combat focuses”) and archetypes, while the operative is the same but for a rogue. The technician is new with a lot of mechanical abilities (including a specialization called “robomancer” that effectively turns you into a Shadowrun rigger). A surprisingly interesting class is the officer, counterpart to the fantasy bard with inspiration and leadership but with specializations that make them an ace pilot, a ship’s captain, or a gun-toting sergeant. Often the leadership option is the less-desired one but Fifth Age has certainly flipped in my book.

Interestingly, the savage class is a mashup of the ranger, barbarian, and (arguably) monk for someone who wants to step back from all the sci-fi business. I don’t know that I would ever pick it since it’s the quirkiest of the mix (and who doesn’t like sci-fi business?) but it’s a solid class with a lot of varied abilities so you can tune it to just what you want. The opposite side of this coin is the civilian, which is also highly customizable (even getting to borrow abilities from another class!) but designed for tech-focused sci-fi characters rather than backwater brutes. The survivor specialization for that class is particularly interesting: the harrowed survivor of a destroyed colony? Yes please!

I also love all of the backgrounds (company man and missionary are awesome!), equipment (gauss rifles take me back to fighting the Zerg while the slew of medical supplies is great), all the different robot models, the powered armors, and the extra book on starships. Just to call out some greatness, the discussion of AI in Chapter 11 (evocatively titled “If You Meet the Buddha in Dock, Kill Him”) is novel and awesome. There are great rules for business ventures, retirement, and downtime expenses that you could use in any game while the interplanetary markets rules are an excellent trade engine for 5e.

In the end, I think Fifth Age is a great set of resources and you could use it for an awesome sci-fi game using the 5e ruleset. It is free, after all, and I think it works just as well as a deep pool of awesome ideas and options to mesh into a game of Hyperlanes or Ultramodern5 (both discussed last time) to give you and your players more options.

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