Using 5th Edition D&D to do Sci-Fi: Class Talk

Would it be worth it?

The main reason I enjoy the 5th edition ruleset is it’s simplicity, and the ease at which you can arbitrate the rules at the table. I’ve enjoyed a number of sci-fi rulesets throughout the years, but I can think of none that can match the simplicity of 5e. Could a conversion be worth it? Would the feel of the sci-fi genre be lost in that translation?

GURPS and Traveller are my two favorite systems that can be used for sci-fi, but both of these systems are complex and definitely not pick-up-and-play friendly. In some ways that is the charm of these systems. Traveller character creation is, to me, a game in itself. However, could the ease of play of 5e be used to make a simple and fun sci-fi system?

In this series of posts, I will first lay out my ideas for the conversion, and then start spitballing ideas and hoping they stick.


Using 5th Edition D&D to do Sci-Fi: Class Talk

When it comes to sci-fi, most agree that the most important element is the technology present. From the wikipedia entry for “hard” sci-fi:

Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy or technical detail, or on both.

And “soft” sci-fi:

Soft science fiction, or soft SF, is a category of science fiction that either (1) is based on and explores the “soft” sciences, and especially the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and so on), rather than engineering or the “hard” sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry), or (2) is not scientifically accurate, or (3) both of the latter.

Either way, accurate or not, science fiction is, obviously, concerned with science, and especially technology and futurism.

Dungeons and Dragons is a system meant to arbitrate imaginary play in a fantasy world of magic. How easy is the transition? Does sci-fi NEED more complicated rules in order to better translate the rigors of actual science and space travel?

I’m not so sure. I believe much of the technology and science can exist as fluff, with the simple rules of 5th edition arbitrating the various methods of science and technology with simple unified rules. I think that this can be done while still maintaining that sci fi flavor. I think this starts in the character classes themselves.

What Would Classes Look Like?

Immediately when thinking about character classes in a sci-fi D&D system, my mind went to the Scientist. The first thing I thought is that, much like the Cleric, the Scientist should have a wide variety of disciplines. This class could cover everything from engineering to xenobiology, from medicine to anthropology. This class in itself would be a pillar of the system, and probably the most important one in terms of bringing the system closer to the wanted setting.

This led me to think that perhaps there should be very few classes, each with a wider variety of “subclasses”. Since magic is not a issue, I think this would be a fairly easy task in order to cover the majority of tropes in science fiction. Thus far, I have narrowed the list down to the following rough classes and disciplines:

  • The Scientist: Astronomer, Biologist, Chemist, Engineer, Medicine Doctor, Physicist, Planetologist
  • The Professional: Diplomat, Explorer, Hacker, Pilot, Smuggler, Spy
  • The Fighter: Soldier, Mercenary/Bounty Hunter, Officer

I do think a number of those disciplines are far too narrow or far too broad, but I think it’s a good starting point. Having the subclass carry the weight of variety keeps the game simpler.  Adding appropriately sci fi backgrounds and feats on top of that would surely cover the necessary sci fi tropes. One or two of the disciplines mentioned above might in fact be moved to feats and backgrounds easily.

The main thing about sci fi as a genre is that, in general, I believe you’ll see less combat. The three pillars listed in the 5th Edition ruleset are even more important to think about, because solving social and technical problems will more than likely take place more than combat (though not absolutely, and obviously it depends on your playstyle). The three classes I chose are in fact representative of this. The scientist is for those who want to solve a problem with thinking and exploration, the professional is for the social or more espionage oriented players, and the fighter of course covers the disciplines that will be doing the fighting.

There is of course bleed over. Like with the Eldritch Knight in D&D, the Mercenary/Bounty Hunter Discipline will have a few Professional style tricks up it’s sleeve, and the reverse for the Smuggler. The question is, is three enough?

Should there in fact be four? Splitting the Professional into social classes and more deft type of disciplines might make sense. I feel like these disciplines are close enough to fit under one skilled umbrella, but I’m not really sure.

Then we have the Scientist, whose disciplines are bit more literal, and probably too narrow. The medical subclass and the biology subclass would be close, maybe too close. The chemist as well. These disciplines MIGHT just work just as well as skills. Can I do justice to a Planetologist like D&D does for a Fiendish Warlock? I’m not exactly sure. If I do represent the sciences as skills rather than subclasses, then the Scientist subclass list might look something like this:

  • Engineer
  • Expert
  • Medic

But what else? Could in fact the Hacker be moved here as a Computer Scientist?

At this point I’ll ruminate on it. This is something I’m excited to think about, and I hope I can go forward with a simple ruleset for sci-fi using the 5th edition rules. What I need now, I suppose, is feedback. What do you think? Can 5th edition do sci-fi justice? Are the three classes enough? The disciplines too narrow/broad/silly?

Let me know!

8 thoughts on “Using 5th Edition D&D to do Sci-Fi: Class Talk

  1. Hi! So I too was thinking about using 5e DnD as a base of making a custom sci-fi set of rules when I stumbled upon your post. I like your idea of much fewer classes, and a lot


  2. Of subclasses. (Sorry, I accidentally pressed the post comment button). But I also was thinking of having more benefits from your race, rather than you class. As well as removing feats, and replacing them with less powerful hero abilities that you pick at character creation. And because of this, the main progression would be getting new technologies.


  3. I am in the process of future creation. This may help. I took time to divide out what makes a class and what makes a level. It boils down to this. All classes gain 2 useful features on levels 1 – 10 and one useful feature on levels 11-20, minus gaining abilities/feats once about every four levels.
    Also, a feature at level 1 becomes a continual progression feature, ie second wind, or spellcasting. There are some exceptions, but this could be a good rule of thumb to follow.
    I have four classes: Mutation, Soldier, Technology, Magical. I will fix the names after I finalize the data around them. Mutation features have a fixed change to the character’s physical properties. Soldier features are specialized training with weapons, ammo, bombs, ect. Technology features surround quick setup tech, tech focused on your self, and tech focused on baddies. Magical features are focused on elemental, summoning, and illusions.


  4. What if rather than defining strict classes such as d&d does, you instead use a point system in place of classes.
    Im sure a player who is only good at combat is going to get quite bored out of combat. For example.

    Perhaps give each player about 20 points for level one, and additional points as they level up or complete task.

    A certain amount of points in science may now allow you to assign points in artifical biological modifications. Which you may then spend points to “research” types of augmentations.

    So, Jenny has leveled up a bit and has 50 points, Jenny pours 5 into science, she can now specialize in a type of science and gains some sort of bonus to checks requiring general scientific knowledge. Jenny then spends 10 points for spider climbing.

    Jenny has 35 points remaining. She may want to put some of these into combat, or social skills.

    Jenny puts 5 points into combat, she gains some sort of bonus for combat in general. Jenny decides she wants to specialize into firearms. she puts another 5 here, gaining an additional bonus to use of any firearm. Then she puts 10 into sniper rifles, gaining yet another bonus to that type of weapon. (maybe something simialt to a feat, or a class feature for some of these bonuses, or perhaps start with a negative modifier with skills you have skill points in or less than 5 or so)

    You see where I’m going with this, right?
    Thanks for posting this stuff though, it has given me some ideas, good luck with your work!


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