Bringing Starfield to the Tabletop!
You’re playing it on your computer or console. You’re loving it. You want to bring it to the tabletop. This post is all about bringing Starfield from the screen to the gamer table!
The first big thing you’re going to want to do is look at the aspects of Starfield that you want to get into at the table past the aesthetic. “NASApunk” is a look and a tech vibe that many systems can deal with. The real question is what parts of the game itself do you want? Exploration? Resource extraction and settlement building? Story? Pirate hunting? Being a pirate? Look at all that stuff first and then talk to your players about what they’d want from a Starfield type game. Once you’ve got some notes, it’s time to do some system shopping.
Just a caveat before any of these… No matter what, you’re going to be looking at some work as a GM to make content. Some stuff in the games can re-skinned or palette swapped, but a lot of other things will need you to make stuff. That’s a reality of converting a CRPG to TRPG. Everyone good? Right on, let’s get into it! The games are broken down by vibe, and all prices are in USD:
I want a Bethesda Vibe in my game!
Fallout by Modiphius is a 2d20 System game that’s already taken on converting Bethesda for tabletop use. So we know it works to an acceptable degree. This is the choice if you’re looking to nail down a fairly accurate to Bethesda game experience.
· It’s already approached Bethesda’s gameplay style and will make that part easier on you.
· Lots of heavy lifting, you’re starting from a chassis for a game in a related genre and building up.
Character Conceptualization is the Vibe for us!
The Stars Are Fire by Monty Cook Games is an expansion and setting book to their successful Cypher System RPG. This is where to come if you’re looking for strong character conceptualization and creation and are fine with leaving some of the more technical stuff by the wayside.
· It’s a solid sci-fi baseline that will ease your workload.
· The Cypher System has a lot of easy flex in it for the weird aspects you might want to add.
· This is system doesn’t have a steep learning curve, but its abstract nature can be an issue for table used to crunchier games that rely less on self directed development.
Only the Cypher SRD is free, the Stars Are Fire isn’t and the hard copy will set you back $49.99 (the pdf is $18.99 though!).
We want an OG Vibe our game!
Traveller by Mongoose Publishing is the current official edition of the original sci-fi TRPG. You want hard sci-fi and potentially hours of time spent carefully designing your ship? This is the game to come to.
· Traveller is a rock solid, proven system that can deal with a lot of what Starfield has to throw at it.
· It’s extremely well supported with official and third party content.
· Traveller has a strong if low key setting vibe that needs to be accounted for.
· Traveller thrives on design sheets, so… be ready.
Traveller is a game driven by trade and capitalism, so it makes sense that there’s no free content for it. The hardcover and pdf are both around $30 depending on the exchange rate from pounds sterling to USD.
No, no, we want the REAL OG Vibe for our game!
For this you’ll want Cepheus Engine by Moon Toad Publishing. Cepheus Engine is a lovingly crafted OSR clone of Classic Traveller and does it right. There’s a lot of content for it, and it’s a solid 2d6 sci-fi game you can build a lot from!
· It’s an extremely approachable retro-clone of Classic Traveller that’s got a lot of support and third-party content.
· It’s very affordable compared to other games.
· More or less the same as modern Traveller by Mongoose; Traveller is going to Traveller.
The SRD is pay what you want, and getting the softcover and pdf combined for Cepheus Engine will set you back about $13.54; but be aware that there’s a lot of expansions (equally low cost) so you need to plan for what you’re doing.
We want a Smooth Crunch Vibe for free!
Stars Without Number: Revised Edition by Sine Nomine Publishing has your back. SWN is a modern take on classic sci-fi gaming. Meaning there’s crunch, but the gameplay is smooth, and the learning curve is gentler.
· This is a well-built game that has a crunch level that matches a lot of the vibe that Bethesda CRPGs have.
· The free version of the Revised Edition is incredibly comprehensive and more than enough to get started.
· Transhuman mechanics, True AI, mechas, and some other stuff you’ll probably want are only in the paid version.
I can’t overstate how fantastic the free edition of this game is, it’s more than an SRD, it’s a complete game. But if you need those extra rules and mechanics, you’re looking at $19.99 for the pdf or $59.99 for hardcover and pdf.
We’re more into Indie Vibes, like PbtA!
Offworlders by Chris Wolf is the goto here. Based on the successful PbtA game Dungeon World, it keeps it simple and if you’re in that design ecosystem already, offers a good starting point to develop from. The best part is the price is free for the pdf!
· As a PbtA game, it facilitates extremely fast gameplay and story development.
· Minimal resources needed to make it work.
· Character creation is more limited and scripted owing to the nature of PbtA.
· Lots of heavy lifting for the GM in terms of creating equipment, aliens, etc…
This is one of my personal favourite PbtA games, and well worth checking out even if you’re not trying to bring Starfield to the tabletop. The pdf is free, and a physical copy will set you back $6.59.
What about… [Insert Game Here]?
To be honest, this list could go for pages. There’s a metric tonne of great sci-fi and sci-fi supporting games out there right now that would no doubt fit your needs. For example, if you’re already into the Genesys, Savage Worlds, Cypher System, Cortex, FATE, or Open Legend ecosystems and your table likes those mechanics, then you’re set! Crack on and do some conversion work. Already into Starforged? Can’t stop creating in 24XX, Dash, or Charge? Loving Coriolis? Again, do the legwork and you’re set.
But I was hoping you’d say 5e…
That’s fine too, it’s just not my bag. I find that D&D mechanics make everything feel like reskinned D&D, and can only take on the aesthetics of other genres without being able to get into the substance without significant time and effort spent rewriting rules, developing your own mechanics, and bypassing not insignificant parts of the 5e system. If you’re looking at getting into a sci-fi game, in my opinion, it’s best to start with a solid sci-fi basis to build up from instead of starting with the system built around fantasy dungeon crawling and trying to reshape that to fit a interstellar epic.
Truly Old School Bonus Round!
I’m including this section for fun because the games are the right match and there’s some people out there who might have them on their shelves or who decide to hit up the retro side of DTRPG.
Fuzion System by R. Talsorian Games. This is a toolbox system that was developed in the late 1990s using parts of the Interlock and Hero systems to make something legitimately cool. It’s flexible, offers the lifepath development system, and has supported the kind of heavy sci-fi Starfield brings to the table in the past in the form of the Bubblegum Crisis and Armor Trooper VOTOMs games. It also has a good level of crunch and variety that neatly matches Bethesda’s vibes.
Traveller: The New Era, Brilliant Lances, and Battle Rider by GDW. This was the last GDW edition of Traveller and it was contentious because it used the Twilight 2000 mechanics instead of Traveller’s 2d6 system and for its metaplot development choices. That said, it’s a banger for this kind of gaming. Brilliant Lances was a ship to ship combat board game designed for TNE, and Battle Rider was the fleet level battle game. Combine all three and you’re looking at a full-service operation for player sand GMs who like crunch, space warfare, and realizing that it’s 2am and everyone should have gone home hours ago.
Sci-fi is my passion and I could go on for days about this stuff, but Starfield is making a splash now and people are looking for games to get the screen experience to the tabletop, so here we are! Starfield is a very cool game and as much as “NASApunk” grates on my brain, it’s driving an explosion of sci-fi love right alongside Cyberpunk 2077 and I’m not going to miss out on fostering love for my favourite genre at the tabletop. Whatever system you pick, have fun with it and don’t hesitate to lean on your players to help make it all work, especially if you’re doing a lot of creation.