Space Adventure RPGs

Yora

Legend
I'm feeling once again the drive to start working on a space adventure campaign. And I noticed that space RPGs are not just less popular than hign fantasy ones (which everyone knows), but that they are actually barely even talked about at all.

Which quite surprises me, since there's really quite a lot of them, which are not obscure by any means. Three Star Wars games, Traveller, who knows how many Warhammer 40k games, Stars Without Number, and Scum and Villainy are names you frequently see mentioned and mostly very positively. But usually it remains at the occasional mention.

I am hesitating to use the term sci-fi games, as Star Wars and 40k are straight up fantasy in space, and for example cyberpunk games would be sci-fi but not set in space. What I am talking about are the spaceships and aliens kind of games.

With so many highly regarded games out there, how much space campaigns are actually being played? Is it really a lot less than fantasy games in general, or just a case of none of them being D&D? When it comes to running adventures, I don't see either as any better or worse suited to ease of play and creating stories than the other.
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
D&D is always the big kid on the block, and it's fantasy, so most of the talk is about fantasy by default. Traveller is pretty big, Star Wars is big, but not D&D big.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Depends on what one is looking for, sci-fi can encompass quite a range of settings. Running a sfrpg group on facebook, it has roughly 3.5k members which yeah, is tiny compared to the D&D groups. Though there are a lot of games out there, maybe I can point you in the right direction? Right now, Mothership is huge, though there is also a lot of talk about 2400. I also have a setting for Cepheus Engine, which is Traveller with the serial numbers filed off, called "Solis People of the Sun" I made a bundle on dtrpg - Sale - A Wild Bee Bundle Appears!
 


It's not a comprehensive look at what people are playing, but I think Roll20's quarterly Orr report is pretty interesting. Even if you add up all of the SF games on there it's an absolutely tiny slice of the pie.


I think @Morrus has it right: Fantasy is so dominant in part because D&D is so dominant. Kind of a chicken-and-egg situation. But I'd take it a step further, and propose that it's also a lot easier to run fantasy than SF, at least for traditional RPGs. If PCs don't have access to cars or planes, much less spaceships, the GM can prep for a narrower range of environments and encounters they'll be in. Replace blaster rifles and grenades with broadswords and area-effect spells and combat can seem more predictable and manageable on a given map. So even if D&D had somehow never become (or stayed) what it is, I bet fantasy would still be the go to, and SF a very distant second or even third.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
I think sci-if games of the type the OP is refers are alive and well in RPGs if you know where to look.

I’m currently running a sci-fi space campaign using Savage Worlds and a third-party setting called Seven Worlds. The setting has the Atomic Rockets Seal of Approval for scientific accuracy.

As that campaign is winding down, I’m looking at some other games also in the sci-fi genre, still with space faring as a primary element. They’re all rather dark in tone, as well all being rather recent games with some good word of mouth. They are:

Alien - the official licensed game from Free League, using a modified version of its Year Zero Engine rule system. Reviews praise its Stress mechanism to emulate the horror sci-fi genre.

Mothership - another horror sci-fi game that recently had a hugely successful Kickstarter for it boxed set. A system that’s like Basic Roleplaying and Traveller had a baby, with a few modern mechanical nods thrown in.

Hostile - built on the Cepheus Engine rules, themselves drawn from the OGL of the Mongoose iteration of Traveller, this is Aliens with the serial numbers filed off. Compatible with the 2d6 system of the original Traveller game.

Lastly is Death in Space: a very rules light game in the OSR vein. Also drawing influence from 80’s industrial sci-if movies like Alien/Aliens and Outland, with a bit of metaphysical weirdness thrown in. After coming off a medium-crunchy system like Savage Worlds, I’m really drawn to playing a rule light system where I don’t have to crack the book open to look anything up, and leans into improvisational play.

Death in Space also has a very open 3rd-Party license, so hopefully it will get the kind of love that it's fantasy cousin - Mork Borg - from the same publisher does.
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I’ve been playing RPGs since 1977, starting with AD&D. Traveller was my second RPG.* FWIW, Champions was #3.

In all that time since then, the vast majority of my gaming has been in some kind of fantasy campaign.

Since then, I could probably count the number of sci-fi games I’ve played in on the fingers of my 2 hands. If it’s more, it’s not by much. And a good chunk of those were in Austin, Tx as one guy was seeking the perfect anime giant robot RPG to run. We tried at least 3 different systems.

Superheroic games? Probably about the same.

Horror, westerns, and everything else? A half-dozen of each, max. (Oddly, the two playtests I’ve been a part of were NOT fantasy games.)

And just so we’re clear, I have a bunch of non-fantasy RPGs on my shelves. But getting players to play those games seems nigh-impossible. Hell- in some groups, getting players for non-D&D games is an exercise in futility.


* Yes, I did have a character die in ChaGen.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
While Starfinder RPG is certainly science fantasy, as magic abounds, and the default setting is scientifically problematic at best, but that exists now.

Now I'm a third party publisher for Starfinder, but I lean harder sci-fi personally, and to a degree create content that is less fanciful. I've published supplements and modules, created a bunch of starship deck plans (I was a pro cartographer, long before I was a publisher). My most recent publication provides the tools and incentive for me to take the default setting used as back story in all my products, and create an expansive series of mini setting guides, one star system at a time for an interstellar setting of dozens of systems.

My new toolset is from The Planet Builder, a series of tables (designed by an astrophysicist) to custom generate entire, scientifically viable star systems: stars (even multi-star systems), planets, moons, orbits, belts, trojans; planetary cores, composition, type (asteroid to super gas giant), atmosphere, hydrosphere, climate, weather; lifeforms, simple to advanced, if sapient technology, power source, government; and a full stat block. A planet point system allows you to adjust table rolls, use as a macroeconomic trade unit for interstellar trade, and build extra-planetary resource stations, and other structures to grow your system over time. While it was designed to be Starfinder compatible, it's easily usable for any sci-fi game system - Traveller, Alien RPG, Stars Without Numbers, any system lacking star system generation rules. (I developed this last year, published in December, $3.99)

The Kronusverse, my default setting, began as humanity from Earth forced to leave and settle the nearest planets under megacorp dystopian rule which lasted for half a century, before the vast underclasses got generational colony ships funded in a great odyssey to escape the region now known as Corporate Space, into the unsettled systems beyond in region called Colonial Space. Today 36 star systems have been colonized, and a number of systems have indigenous alien civilizations now active members of the colonial government. The colonial government was formed following an alien incursion that destroyed an entire star system forcing the independent colonies to combine their forces to oppose the aliens. (My plan is to create at least a couple dozen colonized star systems as separate guides, and a small overview guide).

Here's my planned lineup of initial products for this new series...

2022-gamer-printshop-lineup.jpg



Not trying to be an ad, but suggest that some "science fiction" games are current with ongoing first and third party support, so you needn't be fully dismayed for the lack of games in this genre... and while 1st party is more "fantasy", my third party stuff is more "science".

However, I've played Star Frontiers back in the early/mid 1980's, and while I've created some custom Traveller based deck plans in the not-so-distant past, I've only actually played Traveller back in the 80's too. I owned several supplements and system guides from Space Opera, played a bit in the late 1980's. Also played Paranoia then, but I don't think that counts as "sci-fi". I'd been absent from playing any sci-fi, up to the time I got my itch and started creating deck plans, and then because I'd published a Japanese horror setting for Pathfinder, once I learned Starfinder was on it's way, I was ready to jump on it. One of the author/designers I'd collaborated with long ago with another publisher (I was cartographer), wanted to write a sci-fi horror one-shot series, had heard about Starfinder, saw my deck plans and asked if I'd publish it, so I did...
 
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Mezuka

Hero
Esper Genesis based on 5e:

In 2021/2022 our group played The Expanse, Aliens and Dune. I'd say 50/50 with fantasy games. Which is extremely rare in my 41+ years of roleplaying. During which it has been 90/10 in favour of fantasy (D&D).
 


I could be wrong, but I don't think the OP was soliciting SF RPG recommendations. Seems like the point of the thread was to discuss the fact that SF RPGs are nowhere near as popular as fantasy games.

Maybe the reasons for that are so cut-and-dry that it doesn't merit a full discussion, but I didn't get they sense that they'd never heard of or can't find any.
 

payn

Legend
There is just a ton more of published stuff out there for fantasy/D&D games. Stuff I didnt have interest in like Star Wars ate up all the module space (seemingly). I love Traveller and it was very difficult 10+ years ago to find gamers. The internets has made that a lot easier. I have also had the chance to introduce a lot of players to Traveller in the last 10 years and enjoy it. Now if somebody would just run a game I could play in for once...
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
ENworld also seems to have a strong D&D focus, perhaps with PF and ENworld Publishing as secondary. I honestly am unaware if Space adventure RPGs are more spoken of elsewhere and this is just a bias of these boards, or if it's more universal.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
ENworld also seems to have a strong D&D focus, perhaps with PF and ENworld Publishing as secondary. I honestly am unaware if Space adventure RPGs are more spoken of elsewhere and this is just a bias of these boards, or if it's more universal.
It's probably universal. I know on the FB communities, the Stars Without Numbers, Alien RPG, and other non D&D/Paizo game community memberships are more limited in number, compared to D&D or Starfinder communities.
 


MGibster

Legend
In all that time since then, the vast majority of my gaming has been in some kind of fantasy campaign.
I've been gaming since the 80s, and the vast majority of it has been some kind of fantasy. And let's not kid anyone, the vast majority of my fantasy gaming has been D&D. In the 80s and early 90s, my group played a variety of games including TSR's Marvel Superheros, various Palladium games including Robotech, TMNT, & Heroes Unlimited, WEG's Star Wars, FASA's Star Trek, Cyberpunk, Gamma World, and probably a few others I can't remember right now. We did give Cyborg Commando a try, but unfortunately I can't forget that. AD&D, and therefore fantasy, was the bread and butter of our gaming experience. Given the popularity of Star Trek, I would have thought an RPG would have been wildly successful but no version has ever come close to D&D. Maybe there wasn't as much crossover between Trekkies and RPG players as I would have thought.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I'm feeling once again the drive to start working on a space adventure campaign. And I noticed that space RPGs are not just less popular than hign fantasy ones (which everyone knows), but that they are actually barely even talked about at all.

Which quite surprises me, since there's really quite a lot of them, which are not obscure by any means. Three Star Wars games, Traveller, who knows how many Warhammer 40k games, Stars Without Number, and Scum and Villainy are names you frequently see mentioned and mostly very positively. But usually it remains at the occasional mention.

I am hesitating to use the term sci-fi games, as Star Wars and 40k are straight up fantasy in space, and for example cyberpunk games would be sci-fi but not set in space. What I am talking about are the spaceships and aliens kind of games.

With so many highly regarded games out there, how much space campaigns are actually being played? Is it really a lot less than fantasy games in general, or just a case of none of them being D&D? When it comes to running adventures, I don't see either as any better or worse suited to ease of play and creating stories than the other.
I'm running 3 at the moment.
STA set immediately post TNG.
Star Wars set in year 2 of the Empire - with a twist - a very pregnant Padme is in stasis...
Alien - the adventure is, however, planetbound.

Basing upon the various published sources of information (mostly online play) it looks like about 2/3 of all plays are fantasy, 1/6 are non-space non-fantasy (moderns, supers, CoC, etc), and about 1/6 are various space fantasy, space opera, and space sci-fi.

The ones I'd Recommend?
If you like the struggling to keep flying subgenre of Space Opera, best exemplified by Firefly...
  • Firefly by MWP. Out of print.
  • Any edition of Traveller
  • FL's Alien or Coriolis
  • FFG SW: Edge of the Empire
  • WEG d6 Star Wars with Galaxy Guide 6.
  • Nocturnal's d6 Space (Essentially WEG d6 Space 3e.)

If you want active duty crews of military ships, I'd suggest
  • Star Trek Adventures
  • Alien or Coriolis, minor tweaks may be needed for tone.
  • WEG d6
  • FFG SW Age of Rebellion, especially with the Ace and Commander sourcebooks.
  • Any traveller edition but modifying to contract rank.

Warhammer Rogue Trader RPG was good fun, and isn't quite either of those, but also blends elements in, and can support diversions into all the other of the FFG warhammer line. I don't have any real experience past skimming it for the new ones.
 


aramis erak

Legend
Which one is that?

d6 Star Wars is the only game I've ever seen that has a good GM Handbook. Very much recommend that one for any campaign, but especially space adventure ones.
GG6: Tramp Freighters.

includes the "expanded" trade rules.

Also note: anything for WEG Star Wars 2R&E is almost a perfect fit to WEG/Nocturnal d6 Space.
 

beta-ray

Adventurer
I love me some Star Wars and Star Trek. I actually really liked WEG's D6 system for Star Wars but for some reason I could not get into it as much as D&D. I wonder if (for me) there is just too many possibilities? D&D has the advantage of being around a long time and being popular. Although you can do "anything" with D&D as well, I wonder if (for me) it is just easier to grasp doing kind of easy adventures?
 

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