It's very easy in this hobby to get caught up in some of the infighting and labels that are thrown about. I know I have, and usually when that happens, I find I am no longer actively sharing cool stuff about RPGs, which is a shame. So, to counteract that a bit, over the next couple weeks I'll be sharing my list of recommended role playing games from various genres. First up, we have Space/Sci-Fi. This genre is probably only second to fantasy in the amount of products published for it, but remains an elusive niche to fill in many gamer libraries.
With that in mind, and in no particular order, here are four space and sci-fi RPGs I feel very comfortable in recommending for further reader research. Of all the space/sci-fi games I've played over the years, these stand above the crowd. Some are rules-heavier, some are rules-light, but each recommendation is actual play-based, meaning I have personally had good a game table experience with each of the RPGs below. I have tried to provide up-to-date product links wherever possible.
Whether you're a new gamer, just new to space/sci-fi gaming, or a veteran gamer looking for something new, I hope you find something here to like.
The other night I had a dream about being a detective in space. It was awesome, and has inspired me to work on a campaign. My choice of system? StarCluster 3. This is a massive 400+ page game that boasts multiple options for resolution systems, amazing campaign and world building power, and the consideration that comes from years of actual play. It also focuses on civilian characters, which is not something every sci-game can claim. When mixed with sister product In Harm's Way: StarCluster (focusing more on military matters), this is about as close to an ultimate space gamer's toolbox as you'll find. There's a reason I selected SC3 as my Game of the Year back for 2010, and a couple of years has not dulled its excellence. It's an example of a rules-medium game that provides support for just about whatever you need. Don't let the page count intimidate you; take you what you need at first and build from there.
StarCluster 3 is available in pdf through RPGNow for $12, with the Developer's Version (with license and special index) for a dollar more. It is also available in print at lulu.com. Check out the free light version here.
Stars Without Number
Stars Without Number is a retro-clone cousin of sorts, built on the rules of legacy products like early D&D boxed sets, but manages to very smartly present a product perfect for sci-fi adventure among the stars. Character creation is simple but fun, and the mechanics are grounded in legacy systems, but differentiated enough that they completely support the genre. This is a near-perfect resource for Game Masters wanting to build a space sandbox of their very own. SWN manages to be chock full of resources and dead simple at the same time, and is a great option for old and new school GMs alike.
SWN is available in a free version at RPGNow, as as well as both softcover and hardcover options that include the additional material from the Core Edition.
What is left to say about Traveller? After 35+ years, this game is still the premiere name in sci-fi gaming. Happily, the Mongoose Publishing version of the game is largely a clean-up and tweaking of the classic rules, which remain mostly compatible with the modern iteration of the game.
Simple mechanics, the most entertaining character generation of any game, period, and the ability to focus deeply on military, merchant, scout, or other games keeps this RPG fresh and full of possibilities. There's a reason it has kept its position among all sci-fi games for so very long. There's also the wonderful, rich setting of the Third Imperium, which is easily the largest extended campaign setting of all time, and one of the best supported through the various iterations of the game.
Mongoose Traveller is available through RPGNow, Amazon, or the Mongoose webstore. For Classic Traveller material, check out the collections for sale over at the Far Future Enterprises shop.
Hard Nova ][
Using only 2d6 as part of its genreDiversion ruleset, HardNova ][ is one of the lighter and easier games on this list. With fast resolution, this game is perfect for one-shots, but has enough support material to be used for a longer campaign if desired. All the basic ideas for space adventuring are included here, as the easy default assumptions (easily tweaked) tend more towards the space opera side of thing. Released back in 2004, HN2 has done what many other Precis Intermedia products have done over the years--quietly provide excellent value and good gaming foundations.
The HardNova ][ RPG is available as a standalone pdf or virtual boxed set over at RPGNow for $7.50, or in print/pdf bundles over at the Precis Intermedia webstore starting around $12.50.
Further Afield: Readers finding the above selection insufficient or not what they're looking for should also check out VSCA's massive, FATE-driven Diaspora, the free goodness of Rob Lang's ICAR, the amazingly archived (and also free) Star Frontiers community, or the d12-and-H. Beam Piper-loving Thousands Suns RPG.