Friday, April 4, 2014

Super-Science & Sorcery: Magic Items as Technology

I know its not everyone's cup of tea, but I've always loved a little bit of science fiction mixed into my fantasy. I enjoy the idea of characters living in a seemingly medieval setting interacting with advanced technology and creatures from beyond the stars. Its the reason why I love Paizo's Distant Wolrds supplement and can't wait for the Iron Gods adventure path.

However, when dealing with advanced technology within a fantasy setting, you have to figure out how to actually handle it mechanically. There are a few ways to do this, such as actually creating the items from scratch or trying to adapt them from other game systems, but I feel like there's an easier way: reskinning magic items.

Reskinning is one of the most useful techniques for any game master, allowing you to use existing mechanics for your ideas instead of trying to build it from scratch. Reskinning magic items as advanced technology is relatively simple, but you should consider few things beforehand: 1) The origins of this item and 2) how the item works within the game.

The most common origins for advanced technology in medieval settings are aliens who either A) crash-landed sometime in the past or B) visited the world sometime in the past, or the item is an artifact from an ancient civilization that was more advanced technologically then the current one. Each one brings there own unique elements to a setting (Where were the aliens going when they crash-landed? Why did they visit this world? How did this advanced civilization fall?) that could lead to some interesting plot points in the future. You don't have to answer these questions, but you should give them a quick thought.

The much easier question to answer is how the magic item works within the game. You already know how what its basic mechanical effect is due to it already existing within the game. All you have to do is figure out how it works within the game world.

For example, let's say that I'm going to reskin a wand of scorching ray as a laser pistol. The origin of this pistol is that it happens to be an artifact from the ancient Vraal Empire that was brought low by the aboleths thousands of years ago. The wand becomes a sleek, futuristic pistol that shoots a scorching ray at its target as a ranged touch attack and deals 4d6 points of fire damage with a range of 30 feet. Instead of magical charges, the pistol possesses a energy cell that allows the wielder to make 50 shots before being depleted.

Now, I know this entire concept isn't a revolutionary one. I'm not the first one to bring it up (Paizo even mentions it in the Inner Sea World Guide), but I thought it would be fun to actually delve a little deeper into it and see it in action.