Roleplaying games in the science fiction genre are near and dear to my heart. While my friends were getting into 2nd Edition AD&D, I was trying to convince my buddy to run Traveller (the classic LBB edition) that his Dad had. Later, after staring at the cover for what was probably too long, I bought Traveller: The New Era, which we immediately used to play all our hard science fiction, Aliens, Apex, and various “B” grade direct to VHS movie inspired games. This led to Heavy Gear, Mekton Zeta, Bubblegum Crash/Crisis, Cyberpunk 2020, and a myriad of games. Now I find a whole new swath of games is out there, and they are not getting the love they deserve. So lets get into this!
This is a great minimalist science fiction game by Chris P. Wolf and Olivia Gulin, based on the successful Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) engine. Heavily influenced by both Dungeon World and Traveller, this game is a smooth if bare bones science fiction game. Its main strengths are that it’s quick to pick up and uses easily recognizable science fiction archetypes. The only drawback is that it is a barebones game, so it downloads a lot of work to the players and GM to make it work. That said, it’s remarkably easy to get into, is available to remix and rework under a CCBY 3.0 licence. Offworlders is free from DriveThruRPG in pdf format. Hard-copy is available via print on demand, and will run you $15 USD.
Sixty Mile Sky
Want a game that goes in different directions but still has some familiarity? Sixty Mile Sky by Benjamin I. Arndt is a solid choice. It has its own mechanics system that draws inspiration from a number of sources and brings them into a smooth synthesis. At 201 pages, this is a fairly comprehensive game, and it includes its own campaign setting complete with aliens. The primary strength of this game is that even though it is comprehensive, it never gets complex and maintains a very approachable learning curve throughout. The only issue this game has, in my opinion, is that it stuck with the race/species = culture for aliens. It’s not a showstopper, but it is something the GM will have to deal with. Sixty Mile Sky is available for $15 USD in pdf format on DriveThruRPG, and there are physical copies available via print on demand.
Scum and Villainy
Produced by Evil Hat Productions and Offguard Games, this Forged in the Dark (FitD) mechanics based game that is, for all intents and purposes, a slightly harder science fiction version of Star Wars. It’s right there in the name! Anyways, this a slick, professionally produced game that hits all the right buttons. The biggest thing about this game is that if you have players who are hesitant to crossover from fantasy into science fiction, it’s an amazing bridging game. Visually, the game is slightly daunting, but the mechanics are easy to pick up, and the story aspect is straightforward enough that GM’s unused to descriptive gaming can get in the grove pretty quickly. It also includes a nice selection of inspirational films and TV shows. The pdf is $20 USD on DriveThruRPG, and physical copies can be found on Amazon or in your local game store.
This is the OG science fiction game. First released in 1977, it has been published more or less continually since then, moving through several publishers. It’s most current incarnation comes from Mongoose Publishing, who have not only produced the core game and its supplements, but also expanded it into the 2300AD and Third Imperium lines of historical setting books. The mechanics are solid, the setting well developed, and if you’re looking for D&D levels of support material and community, this is the game to go for. Traveller is available in pdf format for $29.99 USD (on sale at the time of writing, normally $49.99) from DriveThruRPG. Hard-copy is available from Mongoose Publishing.
Hard Wired Island
Successfully Kickstarted in 2019, this game is a near future cyberpunk game set in space. Unapologetically progressive, it takes a different approach to the subgenre by making change in game possible. In effect, it eschews the nihilistic aspects and at the same times draws heavily from 90’s anime in the same and similar subgenres. The mechanics used are a solid 2d6 based system, and the game has a lot to offer to players and GMs who are tired of the relentless grimdark that cyberpunk has, in many cases evolved into. The game is still in production, but the playable pdf preview is available for free from both itch.io and DriveThruRPG.
Blue Planet was the game I saw in the shop back in the day and didn’t have the money for. And after a hiatus, Gallant Knight Games is bringing it back for a 3rd Edition! This game was, and is still, renowned for being one of the most scientifically sound games ever made. The planet actually makes sense, and the new edition is picking up directly from where the last left off. Mechanically, the game uses a non-percentile d10 system, and offers a moderate but not unreasonable amount of crunch. If you’re into undersea adventures, science fiction, and the environment, this game is for you. The preview/quickstart pdf is available for pay-what-you-want on DriveThruRPG.
So, there we have it. Six must try science fiction roleplaying games that have a lot to offer! All of these games are, at the time of this writing, current, available, and, by and large, affordable to get into. So take the plunge. Try out a science fiction game!