In the first part I focused on what I think is the traditional core of sci fi which is the kind that revolves around science / speculative science. A lot of people would say this was the only real or good kind of sci fi and the rest is space fantasy. Maybe they’re right but that just shifts the question to “what’s a good space fantasy rpg?”
I’d say any that provides the kind of combat / game play you like. If you want space combat for example and either fighter combat or big ship combat or both then your RPG would need to have that. If you want to play a Firefly type game then you want one that’s put some thought into their trading rules.
Star Wars is a good example of space fantasy as the underlying science is mostly irrelevant to the plot and it’s generally not even sprinkled on as a veneer.
However I think there’s a hybrid category in between core sci fi and space fantasy which is “sciency” space fantasy and that’s what I like.
A good example of what I mean by “sciency” space fantasy is The Expanse. I’m sure there are plenty of unrealistic things in it but they sprinkle enough realistic feeling tropes to nail the sci fi *feel* imo. For example in the first episode:
- zero g
- magnetic boots
- ice mining for air and water
- physical effects of low g on body
- cramped space – people going stir crazy
- advanced medicine, prosthetics
- effect of high g planet on someone adapted to low g
- high g manouvers
and probably more.
The underlying plot is basically a space western; it could be ranchers, herders and miners (Mars, Earth and Belters) fighting over a water supply but by thickly layering sci fi elements either as sub-plot points or simply window dressing it delivers that sci fi feel – not a deep exploration of a single trope like core sci fi but an adventure plot that hat tips lots of them.
What’s a Good “Sciency” Space Fantasy RPG?
I’m not sure there is a single one and if there is it’s probably single system and STL but i imagine most have something that can be scavenged for this purpose – which you can add yourself.
I think that’s generally going to be the case – take any space fantasy rpg you like and sprinkle sciency bits in yourself. Take each aspect of your game universe that feels too hand wavy and through scavenging movies, books, documentaries, other games etc replace the hand wavy bits with some speculative or not so speculative sci fi and/or make your standard game plots revolve around something sciency – for example:
– make the speculative science behind your FTL have inconvenient practical consequences in game e.g. related to fuel, which make it feel more grounded in reality
– if the game has artificial gravity for ships think of other ways of getting the players into zero g situations e.g. make the expensive part of artificial gravity be a component that is built in to jump drives so it’s very expensive for non starships so in system ships use rotation or make the artificial gravity malfunction at dramatic intervals
– if life support is hand waved as some kind of plug in modular system like large printer cartrifges then use that somehow – like extracting the h2o from spare life support modules to put out a fire or some kind of rodent getting into a food cartridge. separate short term ship life support from long-term colony life support requiring oxygen gardens with cartridge modules just for emergencies
– make journeys with repair and maintenance into a part of game play e.g. a free trader or exploring type game includes a process where where hazard type encounters cause players and transport to lose a form of HP in the shape of stress and strain which requires decisions over resource management and R&R
- have sciency star systems, planets, atmospheres, climates
– if the players are recruited to hunt a weird species then make the planetary conditions a plausible source of the creature’s evolution
– make energy weapon combat have heat related consequences
Part 3 – just a list