Standard Sci-Fi Setting

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"In the far future, the [human group] fights a pitched battle against the mighty [alien name] Empire, but deep in the mysterious [region of space], among the ruins of the past, a darker threat looms."

Does the above sentence sound familiar? It should. It's probably the single most popular Space Opera premise around. In fact, you could even call it the Standard Sci-Fi Setting. Typical features of the Standard setting include:





A typical plot involves the humans fighting the Proud Warrior Race Guys until one or the other stumbles upon the ruins of the Neglectful Precursor civilization and unleashes the evil third race. Then a bunch of people die, there are lots of a cool explosions, and the first two races team up to take out the genocidal aliens. Usually they have to track down some Forgotten Superweapon and use it to destroy the alien queen/mothership/homeworld, thereby saving the galaxy... for now.

Not surprisingly, this setting tends to fall toward the "soft" end of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness. Examples come mostly from TV, Movies, and especially video games, where scientific accuracy often takes a back seat to awesome visuals and an engaging storyline. Compare Sci-Fi Kitchen Sink, which takes a Standard Sci-Fi Setting, then crams as many other Speculative Fiction Tropes into it as it can.

Examples of Standard Sci-Fi Setting include:

Comic Books


  • Star Wars is more or less the Trope Codifier in modern fiction. While it's far from the first and has its own unique quirks, Star Wars made the Standard Sci Fi Setting palatable for the masses.
  • Equally important is Aliens. While the movie lacks other alien civilizations and faster than light speed, it single handedly defined human culture, technology, military, and visual style for Standard Sci Fi Settings for decades to come. Babylon 5, StarCraft, Free Space Halo, and Mass Effect are more or less directly based on this movie.


Live Action TV

  • Star Trek is one of the main sources of this setting and has used the basic plot for both The Next Generation with The Borg as The Virus and Deep Space Nine where they fought against the Dominion, not to mention countless one-off episodes that have used this plot to preach An Aesop of cooperation.
  • Andromeda had The Commonwealth, the Nietzscheans, the Magog, and various Precursors. It was following the standard plot pretty well until the mysticism took over and it got weird.
  • Stargate SG-1 - originally a planet-of-the-week adventure centered around the titular device, with not that much overall continuity - mutated into this slowly, picking elements over time (especially starting with season 6), although it took the addition of Stargate Atlantis to complete the transition. The Ancients are the Neglectful Precursors, the Wraith and Replicators are the genocidal planet looters or Planet Eater (and the former wiped out the Ancients), the Tau'ri (us, modern Earthlings) are the spacefaring humans with grey ships, and the Jaffa are Proud Warrior Race Guys serving the Goa'uld, a race of Scary Dogmatic Aliens.
    • The Stargate Verse differs from the Standard Sci Fi Setting in a number of ways. First and most importantly, the characters are mostly modern Americans, and all the high-tech stuff is unknown to the general world simply because of a Masquerade. Morality is more black and gray than in many Sci-Fi settings because the military often has to Shoot the Dog. This is almost unique in that most of the protagonists are Genre Savvy. However, by the end of the series Earth basically is playing the role of The Federation, thanks partially to the Very Neglectful Precursors and partially to Earth's role in freeing the Proud Warrior Race Guys from millenia of slavery.
  • Babylon 5 has the Narn as the Proud Warrior Race Guys, The Minbari as the Closer to Earth race, and the Shadows and Vorlons being both the Neglectful Precursors and the Planet Looters at the same time, in varying amounts.
    • It's worth noting that B5 sets the cliches during the first season and then proceeds to Deconstruct them in short order. The Narns mellow down considerably, the Minbari demonstrate serious flaws and hypocricy, the Centauri who initially seemed to be ineffectual, comical figures develop a darker edge, and so on. The less significant races keep to their cliches pretty tightly, though - the Drazi for example demonstrate the Proud Warrior Race traits quite a bit, when the Narn set them aside.
    • The dark side of the Minbari is shown almost right away though they always have an attractive side as well as a dark side and the Narns don't really mellow although G'kar does(they simply change from the would-be Empire into The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized). The Minbari curiously are both a Proud Warrior Race and a Proud Scholar Race. The Centauri are a big surprise; no one would expect them to be good enough at fighting to be brutal conquerors anymore. EarthGov is a surprise; we expect it to be The Federation and instead it evolves into a Police State but with the twist that it is an isolationist and nativist Police State rather than The Empire and spends more time supressing internal rebellion then in aggression. Interestingly most of the characters including the command staff and all the main ambassadors, at one time or another end up as La Résistance to their own government in various ways and degrees. The Vorlons are a real surprise turning out to be almost as evil as the shadows except for kosh. The shadows follow the generic description above almost exactly being the Sealed Evil in a Can that forces leaders from other races to form The Alliance.
  • Firefly is arguably a Standard Sci Fi Setting adapted to fit closer to the realistic end of the Sliding Scale of Realistic Versus Fantastic. It clearly has many of the elements, as listed below, but lacks the more fantastic ones like aliens.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40,000 is something like this painted black and covered in skulls, with a lot more races, a great deal of Gothic Punk and a heaping helping of Cosmic Horror Story.
  • Rifts's Phase World setting. The Consortium of Civilized Worlds is The Federation, the Transgalactic Empire is The Empire of Scary Dogmatic Aliens, and the Crystal Spires and Togas are handled by the United Worlds of Warlock. Any examples of The Virus or Planet Looters are, for the time being at least, nascent and/or lying in wait.
  • Fading Suns uses a setting which falls nearly exactly into this trope. The Excints Ur have littered space with floating portals that allow for travel ans strange technologies, the Known Worlds are United under the new Phoenix Emperor, harboring numerous races amongst the humans. The Vau are the wise race living in their own world outside the empire. And constantly straining to get in the Empire are the Symbiots, a metamorphic plague/virus/infestation. Of course, space pirates, political conflicts and psychics manifestation abound.
  • Traveller has many fairly familiar tropes. However it develops them extremely well.

Video Games

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Averted / subverted in Orion's Arm, which tries to be a hard sci-fi setting without sacrificing any of the appeal of the more traditional Space Opera. The result is a transhumanist setting ruled by godlike Artificial Intelligences called Archai, which have experienced not one, but several Singularities and rule over their lesser subjects like benign deities. Advanced nanotechnology and relativistic spaceflight are commonplace, and while true FTL is impossible, wormholes and Reactionless Drive technology have been created by the Archai. Creating Life is also not that hard, and baseline unmodified humans represent only a tiny part of the extremely diverse terragen (originating-from-Earth) civilization composed of genetically modified transhumans and sentient animals and sentient human-animal hybrids, cyborgs of all kinds, sentient robots, and several kinds of infomorphic lifeforms. And that's just the lower toposophic (read: number of Singularities crossed) levels, before you get to the various planet-sized AIs, Dyson Sphere-sized AIs, and the wormhole-based AIs that are the higher toposophic beings (the 'godlings' and full godlike Archai). And that's just the terragens, not counting the handful of very alien aliens that the setting features. Basically, any technology or lifeform that isn't banned outright by physics in in there, somewhere.