Science Fiction vs. Fantasy – What’s the Adventuring Difference?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0861

RPT GM Sky Slayton asks, “Sci Fi adventure ideas — how are they different from traditional fantasy?”

Hmmm. Tricky one.

As I’ve played a bit of sci-fi lately, and am GMing a fantasy campaign, I mulled over the question and quickly brainstormed this list in Campaign Logger:


Sub-genres blur the lines.

But as far as coming up with sci-fi adventures versus fantasy adventures? I don’t feel there’s much difference.

Each has classic story tropes, like the space beacon drawing PCs towards a derelict spaceship, or the King trying to defend his kingdom against the necromancer’s army.

I’d be inclined to swap and reskin typical plot hooks. The blinking light in the sea drawing the PCs’ boat towards an abandoned ship, or the King of a planet needing PCs to infiltrate the AI coreworld.

For sci-fi I think you need to account for PCs having access to more information about the universe and its denizens. You also need to account for faster point-to-point trips if your system has FTL. Your party might be more agile. But teleport, gates, flight, and other tricks also move fantasy parties around pretty fast between encounters.

You will also be on the hook for creating entire planets. But I’m not sure that’s much different than creating cultures. Use my 3 Line Culture format for that.

Tech in sci-fi can get quite granular. Gun bunnies, players in IT, and avid readers might want lots of gadgets and details. However, fantasy has this too in terms of spells and magic items, for example — pages and pages of player options and rules.

I’d be most concerned with tech breaking my plot crucibles: the boundaries I think will constrain players and the obstacles I think will challenge them. But again, fantasy does this too. I remember a Speak With Dead spell unravelling one of my plots in but a short moment, for example.

Therefore, Sky, for your question of how are sci-fi adventures different from fantasy, I feel they differ little. Use adventure ideas from any genre and reskin them with your sci-fi trappings and rules.

All story ideas vector back to what it means to be human. Genres provide us fresh lenses to explore our fears, trials, and hopes.

What do you think? How do sci-fi adventures differ from classic fantasy?