Introducing high-tech items like laser pistols, powered armor, cybernetics, nanites, and more into a fantasy setting is controversial, but it’s hardly a recent innovation. Earlier tabletop RPGs melded science and technology with fantasy. Even before RPGs, authors were mixing modern or futuristic elements with their fantasy settings. Conan encounters an alien in Robert E. Howard’s 1933 short story, “The Tower of the Elephant.” Popular video game franchises like Might & Magic, Wizardry, and Final Fantasy often incorporate alien or futuristic technology into their plotlines. And it seems like every other fantasy movie that came out in the 1980s had some element of technology invading magical worlds, or vice versa.
Since it shows up so rarely, and since there are so few ways for PCs to build their own technological devices, technology is a great way for you to re-inject a bit of magic into your game. If you choose to include high-tech items, initially limit these items’ availability. Pick and choose what you’ll let your PCs gain access to, so you can spread out the wonder of discovery. The primary way of gaining technological items should remain finding them as treasure during the course of play—at least, the first time you integrate advanced technology into your game.
Finally, if you’re planning on playing in a game that uses technology, you should strongly consider not reading this section (at least until the campaign is over). The excitement of discovery could be spoiled if you know what lies ahead, and while many people like to know all of the available options for their characters from the very beginning of a campaign, discovering something new can be quite exciting. If you’re the GM, keep in mind that you don’t need to allow everything in this section into your game. In particular, limiting access to the technology creation feats can help preserve the rarity of these items in your game. Again, technology is a powerful element in a fantasy setting, and not everyone enjoys it. You know your players better than we do, so trust your own judgment about what level of technology is best for your campaign.
One thing to keep in mind is that when you’re designing and pricing items, the process isn’t really all that different from that of creating a new magic item. By using the magic item creation guidelines when designing technological items, you can help ensure that the end result remains balanced in the game. For example, an inferno grenade isn’t all that different than a single-use, use-activated fireball, so it’s priced out as a one-use item that duplicates a 3rd-level spell at CL 5th, for a total of 750 gp. A death ray is basically a destruction spell with a few flavor tweaks and rules adjustments. A gravity clip more or less duplicates the effects of a lead blades spell. And so on.
You can, in fact, quickly re-skin just about any existing magic item to stand in for a technological item. However, keep in mind that you can do the exact opposite as well. Even if you don’t want to add technological items to your game, a magic rod that allows a person to disrupt the arcane command structure of a golem and usurp control of it from its creator could be a cool item to throw into a more standard game—just call it a rod of construct control and use the stats for the robojack. Or perhaps you want to give an NPC in your game a set of dragon scales he’s grown over his own flesh after undergoing a strange ritual—you can give him dermal plating and call it a dragonhide blessing.
As an extension of this, you should consider introducing technological items into your game without initially referring to them by name. When the PCs encounter their first laser pistol, describe it to them but don’t just say, “You found a laser!” Instead, the NPC who first uses it against the PCs might refer to it as her “fire gun” or “red scorcher” or “crimson beam device” or whatever. Letting the PCs come up with their own names for these strange new weapons is perhaps the most satisfying solution.
Remember that the primary purpose of these items isn’t to give players or NPCs strange new options and powers. They’ll certainly do that (although not much more than existing magic items do), but more importantly, they’ll add an element of exciting unfamiliarity to your game.
Even in a world full of magic, wonders remain that perplex even the most learned of sages.
No new skills specific to dealing with advanced technology are necessary, but several existing skills gain new uses, as detailed on the affected skills detail pages. PCs who embrace super-science and futuristic tech can choose from a number of feats, spells, and archetypes to give them more options regarding technology, while those who want little to do with the strange and alien devices can select character options that grant them heightened defenses or offense against technology. Additionally, the technomancer prestige class unlocks the secrets of powering technology through magic, and of repurposing captured devices into forms unimagined by their creators.
The process of building technological items has much in common with magic item creation, though it uses different feats, skills, and facilities. As with magic items, the creator invests time and money in the creation process and at the end attempts a single skill check to complete construction. Since technological items do not have caster levels, the DC of this check is defined in the description of each technological item. Failing this check means that the item does not function and the materials are wasted. Failing this check by 5 or more may result in a catastrophic failure, such as electrocution or an explosion, at the GM’s discretion.
Unlike magic items, which often require spells as prerequisites for construction, high-tech items require a specialized laboratory with the necessary tools for fabrication. Using a crafting lab to build a high-tech item consumes an amount of power each day. Days when the crafting lab is without power effectively delay continued construction of a high-tech item, but time already spent building the item is not lost. In addition, crafting an item requires an expenditure of time (from a character with the appropriate crafting feat) and an expenditure of money used to secure the technological components and expendable resources needed for the work.
Creating a technological item requires 8 hours of work per 1,000 gp in the item’s base price (or fraction thereof ). The creator must spend the gold at the beginning of the construction process. The process can be accelerated to 4 hours of work per 1,000 gp by increasing the DC to create the item by 5. When determining the required time, ignore any fixed costs such as the weapon portion of implanted weaponry.
The creator can work for a maximum of 8 hours per day, even if she doesn’t require sleep or rest. These days need not be consecutive. Ideally, the creator can work for at least 4 hours at a time uninterrupted, but if this is not possible (such as while adventuring), the creator can devote 4 hours of work broken up over the day, accomplishing a net of 2 hours of progress. Work under distracting or dangerous conditions nets only half the progress as well. If the creator can’t dedicate at least 4 hours of work during a day (even if broken up or under distracting conditions), any work performed that day is wasted.
A character can work on multiple technological items at a time, or even in the same day as long as at least 2 hours net labor can be spent on each item. This doesn’t let a creator exceed the limits on work accomplished in a single day, but does require separate power expenditures for each item (working on multiple projects at a time is not particularly energy efficient).
Technological items can be repaired using the appropriate crafting feats in the same way magical items can be repaired, but such methods cannot repair the more fundamental ravages of time that afflict timeworn technological items.
Although there is a wide range of technological items, the types of laboratories needed to craft objects are relatively limited. Crafting laboratories are, unfortunately, incredibly rare. A crafting laboratory is similar to a technological artifact, in that it cannot be assembled or built with currently available resources. In order to craft a technological item, one must secure a laboratory for use. (This allows GMs to limit the role high-tech crafting plays in any one game—make sure to inform your players of the limited availability of crafting laboratories at the start of your game so they know whether selecting high-tech crafting feats is a useful option for their PCs!)
The six types of laboratories are listed below. Each lab also lists the number of charges required for a day’s work on a single project—these numbers are generally rather high, and laboratories that don’t draw power from a generator can consume staggering amounts of battery power. A laboratory that uses power from a generator applies the listed charges to that generator’s dedicated yield for as long as work on the item continues.
Cybernetics Lab (100 charges): A cybernetics lab is used to craft cybernetic equipment and devices that interface directly with a living creature’s biology.
Graviton Lab (250 charges): A graviton lab is used to craft items that utilize graviton technology, such as gravity rifles, force fields, and magboots.
Medical Lab (20 charges): This lab is used to craft medical items like trauma packs and medlances and pharmaceuticals.
Military Lab (100 charges): A military lab is used to craft weapons that don’t require more specialized laboratories.
Nanotech Lab (150 charges): This lab is used to craft devices that utilize nanotechnology, such as id rifles and k-lances.
Production Lab (50 charges): A production lab is used to craft objects that don’t require more specialized laboratories.
Items with both magical and technological components, such as the null blade, use a special crafting process. The creator must first succeed at a skill check at the listed DC for crafting the technological portion of the item, and then must succeed at a check based on the item’s caster level for crafting the magical portion. Any spell or level-based prerequisites not met increase this crafting DC, as described for magic item creation. The skill used for each check is based on the item creation feats required by the item. Failure on either check ruins the item. Use the item’s listed price as normal for determining crafting time, and the item’s cost for raw materials. If the creator has feats or abilities that accelerate item creation, only the least favorable bonus applies. In other words, to create a hybrid item faster, the creator needs to be able to create both magical and technological items faster.
It is also possible to enhance high-tech armor and high-tech weaponry with armor special abilities or weapon special abilities, including magical enhancement bonuses. One could build a +2 laser rifle, a +4 dancing humanoid bane chainsaw, or a +1 ghost touch space suit. In theory, a magic item creator could even infuse a technological item with magical intelligence. To create a magical high-tech item like this, one must first secure the high-tech item itself, either via purchase, discovery, or crafting. All high-tech weapons and armor are considered masterwork for the purposes of adding magical enhancements to them (though they do not gain the other typical benefits for masterwork items). At the GM’s discretion, some magical special abilities might simply not be appropriate for application to certain technological items. When a character crafts an existing technological item into a magic item in this manner, he does not need to meet the base item’s crafting requirements—a wizard with Craft Magic Arms and Armor can create a +1 arc pistol from a normal arc pistol without having Craft Technological Arms and Armor and without having access to a military laboratory. In a situation where a character wishes to craft the entire item from scratch, the non-magical technological item must be fully crafted and completed before work on magically enhancing it can begin.
New technological items can and should be created, using existing items for inspiration. A new item may resemble an existing magic item, such as how jet packs function like winged boots, but there should be differences beyond just battery power to keep technology distinct. When pricing a new technological item, use the existing guidelines for estimating magic item value. There’s no extra cost associated with technological items since they have extra weaknesses to go along with their advantages. Items that use charges should be priced as if they were use-activated, not as if they were charged in the way a wand or ring of the ram is charged, unless the item is disposable and has 50 or fewer charges, as the assumption is that a newly crafted technological item can be recharged with relative ease.
A large number of technological items essentially duplicate existing magic items or spells, though, and while they are powered by super-science rather than magic, their game effects are the same.
For example, a pair of anti-gravity boots would function identically to a pair of boots of levitation, while an energy sword might function as a brilliant energy shock longsword. of course, the actual effects of these items, being technological in nature, function perfectly well in areas of primal magic or antimagic. At the same time, though, such items require power to function.
As a general rule, an item of this nature has a capacity of 10 and uses 1 charge each time it is activated. Items intended to have a continual or long-term use may instead use 1 charge per minute or 1 charge per hour—exact specifics can vary. An item’s capacity or charge use does not affect its pricing if the item is fully functional and can be recharged—if the item has limited charges (see Timeworn Technology), its price is halved.
When you’re adding technological items to the game, remember that some abilities should remain the purview of magic. Effects that technological items should not have include summoning extraplanar creatures through summoning or calling, influencing the attitudes of others through enchantments, divining the future or the best course of action through divination, and traveling on or between other planes of existence. GMs should, however, feel free to add such devices to their games should these devices meet the GMs’ needs.
to set a technological campaign apart from a standard fantasy adventure, you need a variety of unusual futuristic items. But be it a laser gun in the hands of a terrible enemy or a set of strange gravity armor found in the treasure trove of an oddly uniform metal dungeon, technology from the future (or even the present-day real world) in a fantasy setting should be handled in a manner similar to magic items elsewhere in this game.
Many technological items replicate specific spells or magical effects. However, they do not use magic in any way, and thus function normally in areas of antimagic or primal magic, and are otherwise unaffected by any effects that target or affect magic items. (See page 8 for spells that specifically affect technological items.)
To set a technological campaign apart from a standard fantasy adventure, you need a variety of unusual futuristic items. But be it a laser gun in the hands of a terrible enemy or a set of strange gravity armor found in the treasure trove of an oddly uniform metal dungeon, technology from the future (or even the present-day real world) in a fantasy setting should be handled in a manner similar to magic items.
Many technological items replicate specific spells or magical effects. However, they do not use magic in any way, and thus function normally in areas of antimagic or primal magic, and are otherwise unaffected by any effects that target or affect magic items.
This section collects dozens of new items in the following categories.
Technological Weapons: The majority of technological weapons are ranged weapons, although some high-tech melee weapons can be found in dungeons as well.
Technological Armor: Technological armor works in a similar manner to standard armor, but often requires a power source to fully function.
Pharmaceuticals: Pharmaceuticals include drugs, poisons, and medicines. They can be ingested or injected, and generally have relatively minor or temporary effects.
Cybertech: Cybertech is a form of technology that must be implanted in a body before it can function. Cybertech typically augments a character’s abilities and statistics.
Technological Gear: This catchall category includes a wide range of devices, from relatively minor gizmos like zipsticks to technological wonders like clonepods.
Technological Artifacts: Artifact status refers to items beyond the means of mortals to create or replicate, as well as beyond conventional measures of value. Unlike magical artifacts, technological artifacts can be destroyed just as other items could, and indeed may be quite fragile.
Many technological items follow a color code that organizes similar items (such as nanite hypoguns, force fields, or gravity clips) according to their overall power. The power level for each color is listed below. Note that there are nine colors in the scale—the effects of an item of any individual color should roughly correspond to the power level of a spell of the associated level. Seven of these colors are associated with the seven skymetals. The least of the colors, brown, is associated with base ores, while the greatest of the colors, prismatic, is associated with all of the skymetals. In some technological items, actual skymetals of the appropriate color are used in the creation of the object, but in most, synthetic plastics and metals are used in place of the more valuable skymetals.
Most of the technological wonders presented here require energy to function. These items each have a capacity score, which indicates the maximum number of charges the item can store at any one time. The number of charges an item consumes when it is used varies from item to item. An item’s capacity can be filled from any power source—like a battery or a generator—as a standard action. When an item is charged, it always takes as many charges from the attached power source as it can hold, filling as close to its capacity as possible. Note that charging an item from a generator is more efficient, as any charges drained from a battery in excess of the number of charges an item can store are lost.
The equipment presented here is described in full working condition and priced as such. Equipment that has been damaged or degraded over time works less consistently and is worth less money than new technological items. Such equipment is called “timeworn.” See Timeworn Technology Glitches for details.
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Technology Guide © 2014, Paizo Inc.; Authors: James Jacobs and Russ Taylor.