The familiar sword and sorcery trappings of D&D can get boring. But it doesn’t have to be! Here are 100 science fiction encounters to get your roleplaying off the ground!
You’ll note that few of these lead immediately to “roll initiative.” Instead, these are meant to add intrigue, introduce an important NPC, or perhaps serve as a red herring. And, you know, some actually will lead to the words “roll initiative,” so that’s nice.
You can read through them to work as inspiration for encounters you want to spring on your players, or you can roll 2d10 and take your campaign off the rails by letting chance dictate.
100 Dungeons and Dragons Sci-Fi Encounters
1. The warp drive is malfunctioning, inverting coordinates and misplacing vectors. It’s causing mayhem for armies, merchants, and travelers.
2. You have to return a princess to an “uncivilized” world where she was being forced into a marriage
3. A sector of space is rumored to be haunted, a pirate gang took advantage of this for some easy scores. Only now it turns out they weren’t just rumors.
4. A colony of deadly space chickens escaped from their prison block and the planet is evacuating out of fear of retaliation.
5. The PCs must get a spy back to leaders of the other side.
6. Someone has invented a new and improved version of the cred-stick for interplanetary purchases. It’s suspected that they’re siphoning funds off the top of every transaction, just fractions of a space penny.
7. Cof-E, the magical substance that fuels the automaton manufacturing lines, is in scarce supply. Fears of an uprising fester…
8. An escape pod was accidentally jettisoned to a nearby planet, its contents unknown.
9. The galaxy is on the brink of war after allegations of a widespread cheating scandal surface, which profoundly impacted a popular sports tournament.
10. A planet is the only source of a rare element.
11. The group is part of a expedition that stumbles on a device left behind by one of the elder races. In exploring/investigating it, one of the expedition accidentally activated it. This causes a miniature black hole to open sucking the expedition and some of their supplies in and spitting them out on the entire other side of the galaxy. Now they have to survive in an unknown environment with limited supplies.
12. Sentient spaceships attack and want to “mate” with your ship.
13. A new power source is discovered that will revolutionize the energy industry. Existing companies want it, and all record of it, destroyed.
14. A strange transmission is being repeated across communication arrays, but it seems to be coming from the future.
15. The latest issue of Glitz and Glam details an exciting fashion that’s sweeping the galaxy. If you don’t participate, you risk being excluded from much more than just ‘the cool table.’
16. You find a cred-stick with an unreasonable amount of money on it. On the side, it says, “Property of: The Swordfish Conglomerate.”
17. A planet suddenly appears out of nowhere in front of your ship, swirling with a strange fog.
18. You’ve been hired to investigate a series of multi-planet murders that are linked by a mysterious calling card.
19. A famous musician begs for protection. It seems that a growing musical sensation has put out an ‘anonymous’ bounty to get rid of the competition and take control of the Billboard Top 20.
20. The military is dangerously augmenting its soldiers. One comes to you for help.
21. A profitable asteroid belt is running out of resources to mine and a replacement needs to be found. Some have suggested demolishing a planet to create their own, artificial belt.
22. An illegal pet market is getting out of control and reports of rabid pets are popping up all over the city.
23. Rumor has it that the planet’s leader is the fifth in a line of clones, which explains her unusually long life and why she never seems to age.
24. A planet has been ‘bought out’ by a mega corporation. At least, the company reports massive profits and a blossoming workforce. A low-level paper-pusher, however, indicates that the corporation is just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.
25. A cult worshiping old-tech has cropped up on a neighboring planet. Their following is building, and they have been vandalizing and destroying technology all over the planet.
26. There is a broadcast being sent out from a remote section of the system, repeating the same word in many languages: Twins.
27. A racing league is searching for a new, charismatic face for their marketing campaign to gain market share over their fiercely competitive rival league.
28. Territorial creatures have begun nesting closer and closer to the capital city, harassing citizens and disrupting day-to-day activities.
29. A raid on a data center reveals people hooked up to a gigantic mainframe computer. When they are unplugged, the people are groggy and terrified of electronic technology.
30. An old guy with large weapons claims he is a time traveler sent back to help the PCs. It can’t be true, can it?
31. A planet has become dislodged from its outer rings, sending debris hurtling towards an important satellite array.
32. Facial recognition software is being combated by special visors and masks, much to the dismay of the developing company. They begin staging crimes to influence lawmakers of their product’s necessity.
33. A monstrous space-borne creature died. A rag-tag crew has docked their ship to its corpse, which is drifting through space. They are “mining” the organic matter, which is fetching a huge price on the black market.
34. A planet was conquered and its inhabitants exiled. The defeated warlord returns to “parlay” with the new lord, for he knows about the ancient cache buried beneath the capital city and wants to liberate it from under the noses of the usurpers.
35. The party is selected for a deep space colonization effort and put into stasis. When they awake they are far off course, dangerously low on supplies and unsure of their location. Do they try and get home or do they try and set up a new home on a nearby planet?
36. A planet-sized monster has appeared, throwing off orbits and making galactic travel incredibly dangerous. What does it want and what are its intentions?
37. Your ship needs some expensive upgrades. You’ve decided to earn extra income by offering passengers a Lyft lift from planet to planet. Let’s just say that some of the passengers and destinations are interesting…
38. An oceanic planet is drying up. Sources believe that its due to the emergence of a high-pressure vent underneath the water. Scientists want to understand what, or who, is beneath the first layer of the planet.
39. You find yourself on a planet that is full of delightful little wuzzly, fuzzly creatures. But everyone keeps telling you to get off world before its two moons align. And the day before the alignment, a key piece of your ship is missing. Should you really be afraid? What are you willing to do to have your ship flying again?
40. The Frozen Man. Recovered from space. Is he evil? Disease ridden? Or something else.
41. A group of robots has gained sentience, refusing to perform automation work. It’s far from an uprising, but it seems like they’re offering their talents and services to the highest bidder.
42. One of the system’s most influential celebrities has gone missing. Although hologram technology can temporarily fool the public, it’s only a matter of time before eyebrows are raised.
43. When a notorious convict breaks out of prison, guards find an incredibly realistic costume resembling that convict in their cell. Did they even have the real criminal to begin with?
44. A race across the system draws fantastically outfitted spaceships from every corner of the galaxy. It’s an ‘anything-goes’ race promising a life-changing cash prize to the winner. You’ve been hired to film the event, which is arguably more dangerous than being a part of the race.
45. Spectral beings have been spotted lingering around discarded electronics. It seems that they have unfinished business regarding the data previously held within. What secrets are being brought to light by these ghosts from the machines?
46. The sun begins to fluctuate its colors, ranging from a deep azure to a vibrant pink. Scientists believe that the star might be entering a new phase of its life, while others see it as a sign of an impending apocalypse.
47. A corporation has released a delicious new snack food, causing everyone to becoming obsessed with the edible craze. When it’s discovered that the snack is really a sentient being, how come people seem completely okay with it?
48. Rumor is circulating that a bounty hunter is searching for a person to collect on an exorbitant overdue library fine. Turns out that the fine isn’t the real concern; the bounty hunter needs the contents of that book.
49. When a new opera is released in full 5D, technicolor-holocast, people begin to rely on the enhance sensory experience to escape the doldrums of the every-day. Some people are capitalizing on this opportunity to create Escape Pods where people can live in this secondary world for an exceptionally low price.
50. A close associate’s dark past is unlocked through memory manipulation when abducted.
51. Hunt for a MacGuffin that turns out to be a person. Or robot.
52. A new wonder drug has just been released by a pharmaceutical company, the first planet to receive the drug has also begun reporting troubling mutations and other unintended physical changes due to the interactions of the drug with something in the atmosphere. The party is sent to investigate.
53. A creature is rising to power, taking over a planet’s governing system. Their brainwashing techniques are unrivaled, and they’re threatening the balance of existing peace treaties.
54. The group is welcomed into a hospital/recovery area having dropped off some supplies. Only one of the party resists the nanotech/psionics/hallucinatory gas that disguises the horror show occurring within the building.
55. People are having their minds wiped. When pieces of a notorious criminal leader’s memory are restored, it seems the threat is more widespread than originally thought.
56. The party receives a distress call from a massive space station. An entire sector of the station has gone dark, and the inhabitants fear foul play.
57. An heir to the throne is having second thoughts about joining the ‘family business.’ She’s asked you to smuggle her off the planet and take her to a safe location. The information she has about her family is certainly intriguing…
58. The ship’s radar picks up a person floating in the middle of space. There are no other readings in the area, but the unconscious person is wearing the colors of a prominent shipping federation.
59. A shady biotech dealer is providing patrons with prosthetic limbs containing the actual DNA of deceased criminals. It’s suspected to be tied to a vast network of illegal operations.
60. You have a special ingredient to deliver to a star chef that expires at a very specific time. It’s a race!
61. The latest galactic casino has opened its docking bay doors, promising riches to gamblers everywhere. Once people enter the casino, they seem compelled to remain there until their entire fortune is depleted.
62. A new teleporter promises to revolutionize the universe: shipping, travel, and military ventures are changed forever. When the tech goes missing, the only lead is a radical group of technophobes.
63. Solar flares have been spiking, causing massive heat waves on the nearest planet. The cause appears to be some sort of molten creature trapped within the sun’s core.
64. Seeking extermination crew. Containment breach of lab sample. Potential subjects range between 3-15. Fertile. Contact Dr. Brennaman.
65. A security expo is going well until some expensive items are stolen from the displays. The party will need to team up with some of the best in the business to recover what was taken.
66. Explorers have found a community containing a humanoid species. Communication is in its infancy, and delicate demeanor are necessary to establish trust.
67. A specific, triangular sector of deep space causes instrument malfunctions and mysterious disappearances. You are hired to investigate and take readings of the area to see what is amiss.
68. The cure for a deadly epidemic needs to be dispersed to save as many lives as possible. The afflicted are drawn to the chemical makeup of the serum.
69. An overbearing traffic authority somehow got the green light to restrict interplanetary travel outside of specifically designated ‘lanes’. Piracy is on the rise.
70. Signs of an ancient civilization have been uncovered underneath a major intergalactic metropolis.
71. A local dignitary is requesting a security detail from a group unaffiliated with the current government. They fear a threat on their life, and they’re finding it hard to trust anyone.
72. A nearby gas giant is slowly growing in size. Seismic activity is being recorded at the center, despite there being nothing solid at the core. Or is there?
73. Someone has hijacked the skylights projections that mimic planetary comforts in the space station. The entire station is now a horror-scape of epic proportions.
74. Your ship’s space-radiator has sprung a leak, forcing the crew to rely on the nearest ship to respond to the distress call. It’s a galactic trucker, and she seems nice enough until an incendiary device is found as the source of the radiator trouble.
75. At a banquet celebrating the party’s exploits, one of the more prominent guests gets murdered. It’s a mystery on a space yacht!
76. When your ship crash lands on a strange planet, you discover archaic technology that seems older than anything previously found in the known universe. Can your crew figure out how to use this technology and survive whatever dangers inhabit this planet?
77. After winning a droid at a galactic carnival, the party realizes that the droid contains sensitive government information. If it falls into the wrong hands, who knows what could happen?
78. A robot assassin is programmed to eliminate corporate targets!
79. The forests are migrating, as sentient tree-like beings move away from the inhabitant parts of the planet. Are they prophetic, predicting that something terrible is about to happen?
80. You return to Earth to discover the smartest creatures there have always been penguins.
81. When a new sport, Scrooving, arrives on the scene, the general public is going crazy for it. Your crew is hired to provide protection for the championship cup, a tournament involving eight talented teams.
82. While on a sight-seeing safari, the local wildlife is suddenly overcome with an intense rage. You are able to tie it to some leaking pheromones originating at the base camp.
83. A technological experiment goes horribly wrong, trapping the scientist within his own AI creation. The party needs to replicate the experiment and retrieve the scientist from the computer system.
84. Your ship requires a firmware update. When you connect to the Starlink network, however, the system becomes infected with a virus. You’re trapped inside a ship that’s taken on a life of its own.
85. A sprawling amusement park is opening up and the shareholders are searching for a group of explorers to model some of their rides after. Is it just your likeness they’re after?
86. Huge monoliths turn out to be spaceships designed by an ancient alien species. Unfortunately, they were just being parked, and now the owners have come calling to pick up their property.
87. A mysterious fire is burning in the vacuum of space, despite the definite lack of oxygen. Similar fires are popping up at various points throughout the galaxy.
88. Digital currency is being forged! The authorities have traced the source to a defunct factory that used to produce physical currency.
89. It’s a planet-eating worm! Luckily, it’s a picky eater, but can you figure out what it craves to satiate its destructive tendencies?
90. Power surges are felt throughout the planet as scientists attempt to link two consciousnesses together.
91. Your ship is swallowed by a GIGANTIC beast. The only way out is to navigate through the various cavities and deal with everything else the monster has swallowed.
92. Tasked with filming a documentary of a remote star, your party captures a shadowy image on the digital video. You’re certain that you didn’t see it, but the film shows otherwise.
93. You’ve been hired to reverse-steal an item of great importance, placing it back in the vault that it was stolen from. This mission is possible, right?
94. When a wormhole opens up, planets rush to be the first to claim the spoils beyond. What they find, however, is not something that can be owned; a parallel dimension.
95. When a well-known actress gets snubbed from an award, she begins targeting the sets for upcoming feature-length films. The party will find themselves in many pseudo-locales as they follow the clues to her whereabouts.
96. The party comes across a blueprint for a ship that would shatter all known space-travel records. With that kind of speed, the owner could evade anyone trying to pursue them.
97. When a city center is plagued with rolling blackouts, a rogue length of conduit is discovered, leading into the sewer infrastructure. Whatever’s being powered down there requires a significant amount of juice.
98. A gigantic crater has opened up on a planet, revealing a gorgeous array of shimmering crystal caves. It becomes a tourist-trap hotspot akin to a gold rush, and everyone wants to cash-in on the new location.
99. A researcher has found a way to create small, pocket-sized worlds. They wish to create pocket-sized worlds within these new worlds as well. People say that this might be a slippery slope to go down.
100. You receive an encrypted message on your datapad, and it looks like a treasure map. Then, a surprise delivery of flamboyant hats, eye patches, and wooden augmentations suggests that this treasure hunt is going to be priceless.
Other encounter hooks:
Enjoy. Much thanks to the Nerds on Earth crew who teamed up to help compile this list. If you want more ideas, follow @origamigoblin on Twitter, check out the work of Johnn Four, or visit the nice little town of Sandpoint.