Since the announcement of the Open Gaming License for the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons, we’ve dreamed of creating a unique sci-fi setting and ruleset using 5E. Bringing our shared loves of science fiction, medieval fantasy, and eldritch horror to the table, we began to build something we’re pretty proud of – something we call Harbinger.

Harbinger’s first official limited playtest is fast approaching, taking the existing 5E rules and augmenting them with an entirely new set of spacefaring classes, along with a dangerous but dynamic new magic system. Check out our first recorded Harbinger playtest below to see us test drive three different classes – the mancer, the treader, and the mechanist – as well as putting the new risk/reward magic system through its paces.

 

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What is Harbinger?

Harbinger is a dark science fantasy roleplaying game, inspired by elements of both science fiction and medieval fantasy. It includes aspects of weird horror, space fuedalism, and political intrigue. The setting is one of change, conflict, and uncertainty – it is a time of danger and discovery. Technology and magic strike a delicate balance. Mancers wield volatile space magic, while mechanists build, maintain, and innovate with ancient, dwindling technology.

On the gas giant Bastion and its numerous moons, humanity clings to the splendor of the past – a time when men and women leapt across the stars and commanded unfathomable technology. Those secrets have been lost to time and conflict, while humanity has succumbed to a feudal class system, with dangerous magic now existing alongside dilapidated technology.

Humanity has resided on the moons of Bastion for untold centuries, confined by their lack of interstellar travel. These moons are controlled by the septs – ruling noble houses that vie for power and resources, warring and allying in a constant flux of control.

So it has been for hundreds of years – that is, until the Harbinger darkened the skies.

The Age of the Harbinger

One year ago, the Harbinger appeared – a leviathan, alien structure that drifted in the void of space for untold millennia before falling into Bastion’s orbit. With the arrival of the Harbinger comes the possibility of wealth, power, untold secrets, and perhaps the lost key to interstellar travel. The massive vessel, labyrinthian and teeming with myriad, unknown dangers, represents the next age – and for many, is worth fighting, killing, and dying for.

So ends this age of humanity – and so begins a time of upheaval, exploration, and opportunity. So begins the age of the Harbinger.

An Entirely New Magic System

Astra is the lifeblood of Bastion. This volatile space energy fuels space vehicles, powers tools and weapons, and allows humanity to wield its greatest asset – magic. When channeled through a gifted individual, astra manifests as powerful magical effects.

Spellcasters in Harbinger channel this dangerous energy to cast spells. Rather than spell slots or a mana pool, Harbinger instead uses an escalating scale of risk and reward. When a spellcaster wields magic, they add a certain number of astra to their total – when they exceed their limit, they experience something known as astra fade, which causes myriad side effects. However, casters can continue slinging spells well past their limits, sculpting powerful spells and pushing themselves to the brink of their astra fade – and paying the price in kind.

This unique risk/reward system results in dynamic and dangerous spells that can be bolstered and adapted with unique boosts. Casting is flexible and fun, without being complicated or difficult to track.

Bullets and Blades

The warriors and explorers of Harbinger wield guns and melee weapons in equal measure – toting arcane sawed-off shotguns alongside energy-shrouded broadswords. Many vehicles and tools – including space vessels and firearms – are relics, unable to be replicated, but capable of being retrofitted and maintained by technicians (such as our mechanist, featured in the playtest video above).

Harbinger introduces item conditions – simple but effective mechanics to denote the wear and tear of a lived-in sci-fi setting. Skilled technicians can repair and enhance items, and even modify them with attachments. An arcane scope turns a common rifle into a high-powered sniper rifle. An astra generator wreaths a battleaxe in fiery energy. The possibilities are endless, as weapons and armor become priceless, personalized artifacts.

A New Sci-Fi Setting with Familiar Rules

For those familiar with 5E, Harbinger will feel familiar yet fresh. The sturdy foundation of the versatile 5E ruleset supports the unique flavor and tone of Harbinger, while new rules for interplanetary travel, starship combat, scavenging, repairing and modifying items, and wielding volatile space magic all present new opportunities and challenges for Game Masters and players of all types.

The age of the Harbinger approaches – will you uncover its secrets?

Keep your whisperlinks close, treaders. We’ll be unveiling more Harbinger in the coming months.

(Featured art by John Sommo. See more of his work here.)

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About The Author

Matt is Absolute Tabletop's resident word guru and deadline lich. His dragon-torched world of Erenoth is one of AbTab's featured campaign settings, and he's currently hard at work creating Harbinger, a dark science fantasy RPG. He dwells in the PNW with his wife, dog, and two cats.

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5 Responses

  1. Thomas

    I am unbelievably excited for this to come out. The astra sounds amazing, and the classes are exquisite! I’ve told my friends about it, and already we’re creating a story and ideas for characters for this new system. I’ve been dying for a sci-fi RPG system that suites my tastes, and I think you guys nailed it. The playtest video in particular sparked my interest, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the playtest material.

    I’ve created my own story (I love being GM and creating stories) about how the galaxy was invaded by an alien empire whose technology was terrifying and unknown, and conquered the home planet of the heros during their medieval period. Decades have passed and the Empire fell through a civil war, and the alien race has destroyed itself from this galaxy from its own apocolyptic future weapons. Now the once enslaved species fight for ammo, food, oxygen, water, and fuel to survive. Basically – think Mad Max in Space. Even if we don’t end up playing that story, I thank you guys for getting my lazy butt to create that story in depth, and I look foward to getting this system ASAP. Good luck making it, and know we’re rooting for you guys!

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