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Written by Nicholas - Published on November 15, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

You are a fantasy gamer! You play around in a world where humans ride around on flying lizards holding flaming swords and shooting lightning from their hands! It doesn’t have to make sense because the rule of cool dominates in the fantasy world. Don’t you just feel bad for those science fiction nerds who expect things to operate within the laws of “physics” and “common sense”? Bah!

Well, it pains me to say this but those phaser wielding dorks might actually have a point. Now I’m not saying that your wizards stop conjuring fighting badgers for another dimension (that would be crazy talk). I’m just saying that your game can benefit by giving a little bit of thought to the science beyond it.

Knowledge is Power

Obviously the first technical hurdle we run into is the existence of magic. Magic in almost ever setting follows some sort of rules. There are limits to how much it can be used, what forms it can take and the extent of its power. If we start by assuming that magic is a special kind of energy we don’t have in the real world, then these guidelines become part of a larger set of scientific laws. Now you have an opportunity to add a whole new level of character to your campaign!

How do casters tap into that energy source? How do the methods differ between the learned wizards and the natural sorcerers? What is the role of implements in the scientific caster process? How does divine magic fit into this model?

The Study of Bio

Biology in D&D can get complicated very quickly. Ever time thinking about how a beholder works? Even so, there is a value in trying to get a basic understanding of how the monsters work. Dragons could be filled with a flammable, lighter than air gas which serves as the key to their flight and fire breathing. Fire elementals might has a solid core that ignites on contact with the open air, but would be extinguished in a vacuum. Obviously in some cases you’re just going to have to throw your hands up and say “it’s magic”, but if you can at least knock that back to common sense built on a foundation of magic it is worthwhile to do so. Bring a scientific explanation to those super natural aspects can really spice up monster knowledge checks and open the door to some really creative alternate methods of monster slaying.

ruinsThe Treasures of the Past

Where D&D scientifically excels is history, archaeology and all aspects of the past. Characters are constantly crawling around in the ruins of fallen empires, looting the skeletons of former kings and cleaning up demons locked away a thousand years ago. The weak link in this chain is change.  It seems like life in fantasy worlds exists in a stasis. Sure, empires rise and fall but the dragonborn of an empire two thousand years ago are the same as the one now. The species has not advanced physically or socially in all that time. Having a social progression can make for a richer cultural backstory. What demons of the past are your characters now ashamed of?

This freeze applies to monsters and animals as well. Do fantasy monsters ever evolve? Obviously this generally would not make a difference in the timeline of your game, but it could. A little magical aid could speed up the process and it can be influenced by the slightly unnatural selection process of attacks by adventuring groups. Part of this process is creatures going extinct. Do you characters interact with the last members of an endangered creature? Or even worse, face the necromantic return of a fully extinct creature from the distant past.

Is your campaign scientifically minded or do you have owlbears with laser eyes? Tell us in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



6 Responses to “SCIENCE!”
  1. Steve says:

    This is why I love my Eberron game so much — it mixes fantasy with tech in a very steampunk sort of way. One of the players in my game is a Clockwork Engineer Artificer who uses alchemical hypodermics to heal the players and an expanding metal staff to cast rituals. Very steampunk, and very pseudo-fantasy science.

  2. Day DM says:

    i made a world thinking of all this things and making history of race it was hard but so much fun in the end looking back and seeing that if a player play this game for along they will find out some new and cool things. just the thing is the players that are power hunger, O well part of being DM it hitting the ones that only think of them self in a game. lol love what you put up about Bio and stuff. now it’s back to the note book thanks other DMs.

  3. scott says:

    Ran a Shadowrun mini-campaign recently and the savage Trolls that lived in the sewer system would hunt and eat anything that entered their territory.

    Anyway my PC’s discovered that a Mega-Corp was developing a new weapons grade virus so they heroically stopped them through sabotage and what not. What they didn’t do is dispose of the virus safely, blowing up a lab building isn’t necessarily safe diposal of hazardous material.

    The test rats escaped into the sewers and were eaten by the savage trolls infecting the trolls with a genetically modified rabies. The next time my PC’s entered the sewers they had been completely over run and the trolls they had dealt with easily before were now a much bigger threat.

    One of my favourite things to do is to take weak monsters and evolve them into higher threats.


  4. DandDGuy says:

    The Gas that Dragons Are filled with is Hydrogen and They have a special organ in their bodies that make it. Their was a special on the History channel or some where like that or was it on the BBC network well any way it was very interesting Not true but interesting for the info.

  5. Person says:

    I thought of a whole system that consists of one rule and only one rule:
    Use Logic
    If it doesn’t make sense, there are a couple things u can do:
    1: make it go boom bigger
    2: “magic”
    3. make it resemble a ritual
    and finally, its ur world, take out that old physics textbook for trajectories to see how far something would go or just wing it, do whatever u need to do and think about it, if u want a scientific-style game, it puts on a lot of constraints but often goes really well, or just do a normal one

  6. wlkeR says:

    Mm, to tell the truth, I considered the scientific aspect of my campaign ONCE and it was too much (as I’m a physicist and my player’s aren’t)… But the ideas you present here are intriguing me, especially that bit about history! I’ll SO have to try that one on the unsispecting vict…PCs.)

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