Are you taking your D&D game into the great beyond and sailing the astral seas? D&D has a lot in common with the sword and planet genre. Very early in the game’s history, it put the pulp tradition of John Carter of Mars and Buck Rogers alongside Conan or Lord of the Rings. If you want a change of pace from a standard dungeon crawl, there are a lot of fun stories out among the stars.
The Reach for the Stars series explores rules to augment a game with options beyond your campaign’s home world. And this installment can get you started. Not every GM comes ready with over-the-top ideas to insert space battles and aliens into their game, so here’s a few idea-generating tables.
Using the Adventure Idea Generator
These tables can help you come up with a quick adventure idea. Start by rolling on the Adventure Seed table. Fill in any capitalized words by choosing from or rolling on the corresponding table afterward. You can also use the appropriate table to flesh out any other aspects of a space themed adventure!
Adventure seeds give you the general idea for a plot for your space themed adventure.
|1||Pirates/Privateers||Characters are either part of a pirate crew or are setting out to hunt pirates that are troubling a shipping lane between a planet and another LOCATION.|
|2||Aberrant Being||An NPC has mysteriously arrived from a dark nebula with no stars. The creature appears normal when it hires the characters to retrieve a MACGUFFIN, but once they return with it, the true nature of the being’s dark horror is revealed.|
|3||Ancient Civilization||An ancient civilization on a distant moon or planet was wiped out because of a mishap with a MACGUFFIN. The party is called in by an NPC with an interest in the civilization’s magitechnology. The NPC wants the party to determine why the powerful spacefaring civilization suddenly died out and recover the technology that did it; possibly to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, or to use it against some other threat.|
|4||Dead God||The body of a dead god can be found near a distant LOCATION and the NPC believes that the dead god’s body contains a useful substance that could reactivate a MACGUFFIN. Unfortunately, the dead god’s residual magic has attracted a warlock and a band of demons (or other threat) that seek to harvest the corpse.|
|5||Evil Empire||An evil alien empire is coming for the LOCATION, and all that stands in the way is the party and the NPC. If they can get there first, they might be able to evacuate the residents, lay an ambush, or locate the MACGUFFIN that can stymie the evil empire’s approach. The evil empire makes a great recurring villain for your campaign!|
|6||Space Race/Hunt||The characters participate in an annual event race to the LOCATION and back or to hunt some rare alien animal at the LOCATION. While there is bound to be danger, the biggest threat is an NPC in the race who seeks to cheat by eliminating the competition or sabotaging their ship.|
Adventure locations fill in the place where the majority of the action occurs, but this table can also be used for ideas where the characters might rest or seek out a helpful NPC.
|1||Lunar Mining Facility||A self-contained mining facility on a distant moon run by dwarves or constructs such as gearforged. The mine might be traditional rare metals or something even more interesting like unique radiation needed to power certain space-faring ships.|
|2||Space Hulk||A massive ship of alien design floats silently in space. It might be damaged or abandoned.|
|3||Orbital Station||An outpost on the edge of a star or orbiting a hostile planet provides a stopping-off point for trade or an anchorage for ships.|
|4||Dead Star||A small star glowing with only residual heat in a dead system.|
|5||Massive Stellar Beast||A huge space-travelling beast has an equal chance of being alive or a floating corpse. It’s so big that other creatures live on its surface. If the creature is alive, it might be friendly, dangerous, or even ignore smaller beings as it goes on its voyage.|
|6||Nebula||A cloud of colorful gases allowing a quick place to hide. About one-third of nebulas have “storms” with electrical discharges or massive ice crystals smashing into each other that make traveling through them extra dangerous.|
|7||Asteroid Field||A large area of space peppered with rocks, many of which are large enough to land on. Asteroid fields frequently contain dangers such as pirates, hunting monsters, or even the rocks themselves ricocheting off each other. They can also often be mined for valuable metals.|
|8||Alien Planet||A totally alien planet with an unusual ecosystem. Is there water? Poisonous atmosphere? Dangerous flora and fauna?|
There’s lots of reason you might need an NPC, from ally to enemy, or even curious bystander.
|1||Space Wizard||The stars are filled with all sorts of strange arcana and unusual substances which has attracted this wizard. They are always looking for new things to enhance their studies.|
|2||Cocky Pilot||The cocky pilot is convinced they can fly anything in any situation. They constantly seek the next thrill to conquer.|
|3||Artificer/Engineer||The engineer wants to bridge science and magic with a new form of magitech. They are very detailed oriented and able to do things that seem miraculous by combining their fields of study.|
|4||Alien Lifeform||The alien lifeform is so different that it might be hard to communicate, initially. Are they a plant, ooze, or sentient radiative light?|
|5||Diplomat||The diplomat has a mission and is looking for that negotiating edge to help them complete it. They prefer to avoid violence.|
|6||Alien Prince/Princess||The haughty nobleperson sees you as a useful pawn in their struggle among the stars. Some seek power, while others look to protect their people. Their origin might be more advanced than the characters, or significantly less so.|
|7||Aberration||Different from an alien lifeform, these creatures from beyond space and time are a danger to all reality. In their presence, the laws of nature become skewed.|
|8||Merchant||Part traveling peddler, part conman, the merchant offers new wares and will buy items acquired under questionable circumstances.|
Rather than a magic sword or crystal ball, fantasy adventures in space often use magitech hybrids, or strange alien substances.
|1||Lost Ship||A unique kind of ship, powered by an unusual helm.|
|2||Doomsday Device||A device capable of massive devastation on a regional, planetary, or system scale.|
|3||Artificial Intelligence||A unique form of alien life housed in an object.|
|4||Shield Device||A device capable of increasing the armor class, or providing resistance, to everything inside a large area, from a ship to a city.|
|5||Portal Technology||A magical device capable of a teleportation effect; frequently from one planet to another.|
|6||Power Generator||A device capable of powering other devices, from charged wands to entire ships.|
Let’s try the tables out to come up with an adventure idea for your next 5e game in space. Rolling a 1 for the Adventure Seed table suggests the characters are either going to be pirates or fighting against pirates. This adventure seed contains a LOCATION, so we roll on the Location table and get a 7—an asteroid field.
Let’s flesh it out with some more ideas and roll for an NPC and MacGuffin, getting a 2 (cocky pilot) and 3 (artificial intelligence) respectively.
Using these ideas as a skeleton, we add some detail to generate a quick adventure: The characters encounter a small, sleek vessel piloted by an artificial intelligence called Agile Muse. Agile Muse infuses the entire ship allowing the sentience to pilot the vessel at the speed of thought with skills unmatched by most humanoid pilots. Agile Muse is one of a pair of a prototypes whose creator has long since passed. The sibling sentient ship has been captured by a band of pirates in a nearby asteroid field. While Agile Muse can pilot the field easily, it cannot just land and sneak into the pirates’ base. The sentient ship implores the characters to rescue its sibling.