If you’re a fan of science fiction (or speculative fiction, or whatever you want SF to mean), then things are pretty decent right now.
If you’re a SF fan and a gamer, then things really couldn’t be much better.
So I thought I’d touch on some of the things happening in RPGs right now, specifically focused on science fiction.
Dune is Back!
I read Dune many, many years ago—I was thirteen at the time—and it became one of my favorite SF books of all time. I ended up reading the entire series, by which I mean all the books written by Frank Herbert. (The less said about the painfully terrible books by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, the better.)
I was not one of those lucky people to get my hands on a copy of the one and only Dune RPG, Dune: Chronicles of the Imperium by Last Unicorn Games. With only 3000 copies ever printed, it has become a collectors’ item that fetches some rather high prices on the rare event that one actually becomes available.
But just ten days ago, Gale Force 9 announced that they had acquired a license to produce official Dune tabletop games. And within that announcement was the amazing news that late 2019 will see an official RPG from Modiphius, the same company that has published the Conan RPG, Star Trek RPG, Tales from the Loop RPG, Mindjammer RPG, Coriolis RPG, and Infinity RPG.
Which brings me to some of those SF properties I’ve just mentioned. If you’re a SF gamer, then Modiphius pretty much has you covered, with a bunch of great games (not all developed in-house, but all published by them).
- Star Trek—while I have not personally played this yet, by all accounts this is a fantastic game that totally captures the feel of the ST universe. Modiphius’ house engine, the 2d20 System, has been heavily modified once again in order to ensure that the rules fully support the kind of games that would be expected by fans of Star Trek.
- Tales from the Loop—the setting for Tales comes from the very cool narrative art books by Simon Stalenhag, and the RPG expertly captures the same vibe of young people living in a world that has been affected by the construction of a massive particle accelerator that has resulted in some strange events. Consider this a SF version of Stranger Things and you won’t be far off the mark.
- Infinity—this RPG takes place in the setting developed for the tabletop miniatures wargame, and provides an amazing take on digital and social conflict in addition to the standard guns and powered armor one would expect. Unfortunately, this game is coming out very slowly, as by all accounts getting approvals from the license holder is a painstaking and time-eating process. However, the core book is amazing and one could run any number of great campaigns using just one part of the rich universe developed for the wargame.
- Mindjammer—written by the very talented Sarah Newton, this game uses the Fate Core engine and takes a very interesting approach in how cultures are affected by one another when people interact. Another very deep setting that provides nearly limitless campaign options, this game is very obviously a labor of love for Ms. Newton.
- Coriolis—described by the authors as “Arabian Nights in space,” this game drips with flavor and interesting mysteries.
Ulisses Spiele just released their new Wrath & Glory RPG, based in the Warhammer 40,000 setting from Games Workshop. This game is only one week old, but already the book has garnered some great reviews.
This edition of the game breaks with the past system developed by the Black Library and continued by Fantasy Flight Games through their Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, Only War, and Black Crusade games. The new edition uses a d6 pool system, and provides a great deal of flexibility for characters of different types to all band together.
Yes, that means you can have an Inquisitor, a Space Marine, an Eldar, and Rogue Trader in the same “party,” though of course you’ll have to come up with your own explanation as to why they’re together.
The other major break from tradition is that this game takes a slightly lighter approach to the Empire, reflecting GW’s relaxing of the relentless grimdarkness that smothered their properties for so long. Hope is an actual thing in the WH40K universe now. It may not be easy, but at least it’s possible to hope for a better future.
I haven’t picked this one up yet, but I can pretty much guarantee I’ll end up buying the PDF fairly soon just to give it a more in-depth look.
The second edition Eclipse Phase, the transhuman horror game—though it can be so much more than just that—has experienced significant delays, but Kickstarter backers have had access to the playtest documents for some time. At last update, this one is going to be released within the calendar year, but there’s no definitive date just yet.
Regardless, Eclipse Phase is an amazing setting, and the sourcebooks are fantastic. This, like Infinity, is a game where one could run multiple, entirely different campaigns within the setting and still not touch on all of the elements that could be used.
I know a great many people are waiting for the second edition to drop, and while I didn’t back the Kickstarter, I will likely pick this up shortly after it’s released.
On a related note, I posted a series of articles on how use the HeroQuest 2E rules with the Eclipse Phase setting (1, 2, 3, 4).
The Cyberpunk 2020 game from R. Talsorian Games was one of my favorites back in the early 90’s. I ended up picking up the vast majority of sourcebooks for it, and I always preferred it over FASA’s Shadowrun.
With CD Projekt soon releasing their video game Cyberpunk 2077—and it looks freaking amazing—word is that the RPG will be getting an update as well. Unfortunately, R. Talsorian is not the company it once was, and many of us fans are worried that we’ll get another terrible game like Cyberpunk V3.
If the new Witcher RPG is any indication of what they’re capable of, I’m going to suppress my enthusiasm and excitement in order to avoid the likely disappointment when the product actually comes out.
Then again, as silly as it is to use their Interlock system for The Witcher, at least it was a good enough system for Cyberpunk back in the day, so there’s a chance that they’ll just update the tech and timeline and put out a new version that is at least playable.
I was so excited at first to hear that The Expanse is getting an official RPG. But then it was announced that Green Ronin got the license, and that pretty much ended it for me. They’ve already put out a quickstart, because they’ll just be porting over their AGE system used in the Dragon Age RPG.
This one is a real shame, as the AGE system is a terrible choice to use for running a game like The Expanse. Like R. Talsorian, Green Ronin isn’t the company it once was when it was putting out Mutants & Masterminds first and second edition, and the great Freeport setting materials. For various reasons that I won’t get into here, they are also not a company that I want to support in any way.
But for those who want sourcebooks for The Expanse, this is going to be your chance. Even if the system is totally inappropriate, there will likely be a lot of material consolidated in one place to let you run a game in The Expanse setting even if you use a totally different system.
Other Great Options
Without going into a lot of detail on these other games, I want to mention some standouts that SF gamers might want to check out:
- Stars Without Number 2E—a great game based on the OSR, Sine Nomine always delivers amazing tools for developing and running campaigns, even if you don’t use an OSR-adjacent set of rules.
- SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists—this game has been getting a lot of attention lately, and it’s easy to see why. An interesting premise married to what is, from all accounts, a decent system.
- Alternity—another very recent release, this is a new version of the game published by TSR in 1998. I don’t know much about this one, as I wasn’t a fan of the original Alternity system, but it does have a following and if you have fond memories of the original, it might be worth checking out.
- Esper Genesis—an alternate Player’s Handbook for D&D 5E, this book provides SF character classes and associated abilities using the 5E rules. A Esper Genesis Dungeon Master’s Guide (to be called the Master Technician’s Guide) is coming.
- Torg Eternity—some might not consider this SF, but I’m including it here because Torg was a pretty popular and innovative game back in the day. Unfortunately, this edition is marred by some sloppy editing and some truly broken rule bits. Reviews from customers have been uneven, so if you’re a Torg fan, take a look but definitely read up on it before you drop your cash.
Fantasy has dominated the roleplaying game industry throughout its history. But these days there are so many good SF games out there, that a group of players should be able to find something that meets their preferences without a whole lot of difficulty.
Now, I didn’t mention a bunch of other SF games (like Mongoose’s Traveller, for example) because I wanted to highlight some new games or games that do something different. But any game that I left off this list shouldn’t be taken as any kind of sleight—I just need to keep this post to a manageable size.
What is your favorite SF RPG? What do you like most about it and what does it do really well? Tell us about it in the comments.