So I was recently reading through some of my RPGs, specifically Cyberpunk Red, Star Wars, and the like, and I began to wonder about futuristic gear and equipment in RPGs. Specifically, how should I decide how advanced it should be, what it should do, and what future equipment would be like?

For example, how should I determine what a future weapon would be like and what it should be able to do? What about “utility” devices and technology? Medicine? Power sources?

Also, in terms of combat (and utility as well), how should I adjudicate/differentiate between less and more advanced gear and equipment, like ships and weapons (and utility things like medicine and power sources, etc.)? If there is magic, I think magitech would be a huge factor to consider as well.

Thanks for your help!


Hey Bill, great to hear from you again! 

This is a really broad and complex topic, so it’s impossible for me to give a single answer, especially considering that the answer changes depending on the system. Instead, I’ll try to give an overview. 

Statting high-tech gear is notoriously difficult in RPGs. If you make high-powered laser weapons even a little realistic, every hit will be an instant kill, which makes combat a campaign ender. The Last Unicorn Star Trek RPG had this problem, where a phaser at its highest setting could blow away most of a mountain. Utility gear is even harder. How do you quantify surveillance drones giving the PCs’ team tactical information about the combat area? 

There are generally three approaches, and which one you go with depends on your game. 

1. Simulationist Stats

This is where you try to stat equipment based on literal interpretations of in-universe effects. If the flavor says that a grenade can destroy a building, then it needs enough damage to destroy a building. This approach tends to be easy for players to understand, but it gets complicated fast, and the gear rules can easily break or become unmanageable. You’ll also have trouble coming up with rules for a lot of utility gear. 

Systems that use this approach:

  • Eclipse Phase 
  • D&D
  • Spycraft 
  • Shadowrun 

2. Gear as Flavor

Here you don’t need any special rules for gear; you just describe it as part of the fiction and roll as you normally would. This is much easier from a balance perspective, but it means that gear often doesn’t feel real. You can’t expect your PCs to care a lot about their signature sword if it doesn’t do anything. And even in this model, some gear can get unbalanced. If one PC has a gun that destroys planets, it’ll probably mess with the story even if there aren’t any rules for planets getting destroyed. 

Systems that use this approach:

  • Mouse Guard
  • Primetime Adventures
  • Fate
  • Shadowrun Anarchy 

3. Gear as a Game Mechanic

With this method, your system has a robust structure for handling play, and gear affects that structure. If your game is about keeping a ship working as it flies through space, one PC’s Favorite Wrench might give a free attempt to repair the engine, while a Flashy Pistol might give bonuses to social interactions rather than combat. This method is a lot of fun, but it requires a fairly complex set of rules to begin with. And if the equipment doesn’t behave the way players think it should, immersion will suffer. 

Systems that use this approach

  • Torchbearer
  • Blades in the Dark
  • Heart: The City Beneath
  • Lancer

Unsurprisingly, many systems use a combination of these approaches, or simply alternate between them. The most common pattern is to use simulationist rules for combat gear, and then treat everything else as flavor. Which you go with will depend on what you want out of the game, and if you’re working with an existing system or designing your own. 

Hope that answers your question!

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.