Science Fiction and Space Games (or supplements)

Question: What scifi systems have you run and what do they do well or not?

I’m talking big tent scifi: swords and spaceships, space opera, hard scifi, mecha games, maybe even cyberpunk.

Which games are good for campaigns versus one shots? What games have you wanted to try but haven’t? Any good ones for solo play?

To answer my own question: I’m using a hack of a hack of 5E to run spelljammer (Dark Matter?) but I spent a lot of time reading the original spelljammer modules before doing so. I’m aware of Starforged and Mothership but have not played them. There’s a game I hear mentioned called “Cepheus Engine” but I know nothing about it.

I know there’s a wide world so scifi games out there.

As for supplements/fun mini games to incorporate:

Bucket of Bolts is great BUCKET OF BOLTS by Jack Harrison
Also: Amnesiac Space Whales and Renegade Nebulae by Planetary Games
If you have dominoes you can pickup my free game: Tiled Orbits by hopefulweirdwonder


It’s not really a specific system so much as a general observation, but I’ve found that classless games (or ones setup more in a ‘backgrounds’ fashion) feel more appropriate to the genre usually.

I think perhaps because sci fi is often about particular people being very good at particular things, while fantasy is often about living a certain life? (if that makes any sense at all).


What’s funny is I am running a super crew structured campaign with defined ship roles so it’s a little opposite this but in general I agree.

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I never played a long term sci-fi campaign, only one shots and short campaigns, so I have mild experience with a good chunk of systems. I’m gonna try to be brief about each one so I mention a lot of then.

  • The Cepheus Engine is a Classic Traveller retroclone. Being Traveller, it’s concise, neat and very good (@Jim can talk much better about it). The best part about it is that you gonna find Cepheus hacks/supplements for basically everything: Traditional Space Sci-fi? There’s a Simplified light (and free) version and a complete, cover all bases edition. You have cyberpunk, radiocative post-apoc, plus a bunch of things that aren’t really sci-fi (like sword and planet or mordern day). Great for both campaigns and oneshots.

  • Stars Without Number is Basic d20 + Traveller skills. Focused in space, but you can make any sci-fi with just a little work. I describe it as “What more do you want?”, because it just covers everything you need, plus having one of the most impressive GM sessions ever. This one shines a bit more on longer campaigns.

  • 2400. Various modular games in a single package, mostly focused in space, but there’s cyberpunk in there. Probably the best ultralight game out there, easily adaptable to everything with a more “gritty” vibe. Perfect for oneshots, doesn’t go that well with super long games.

(I need to speed up and be more concise)

  • Running out of Time (Cyberpunk) and Screams Amongst the Stars (Space Horror). Both Into the Odd hacks made by the same guy. Both great, similar and with amazing toolkits. Great for both campaigns and oneshots.

  • Offworlders is a light PbtA (pretty sure it started as a WoDu hack) for space opera and it’s JUST PERFECT. It has so much space identity and that narrative PbtA vibe, while such a little page count. It’s great for everything, specially short anthologic campaigns.

  • Two other WoDu hacks: Yesterday’s Tomorrow (Cyberpunk) and Phasers + Photons (Star Trek). I haven’t played neither, but reading them and knowing the source material, I can say they are safe picks.

  • The Mecha Hack is probably the best fix for your giant robot needs. Sure, if you want super tactical and crunchy combat, there’s Lancer. But Mecha Hack is perfect for that insane kaiju punching action. Great for both campaigns and oneshots.

  • Mirrorshades is cyberpunk (yes, another option!) using The Black Hack engine. While the other cyperpunk options on this list are more gritty, this one focus on doing action (if you know TBH, you know how it goes). Great for both campaigns and oneshots.

WELL THAT WAS A LOT. I skipped some stuff that I felt didn’t need commentary, like you already know mothership (average system, great content), and some stuff that I didn’t have much to say about. Nevertheless, this should cover most of your sci-fi curiosities.


Thank you Xenio! I really need to look at traveler and its clones. I love the idea of these pbta and WoDu hacks

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CE is a Mongoose Traveller derivative with some ideas grabbed from Classic. It’s not a direct CT retroclone though. It’s my favorite sci-fi system which I am proud to have translated in Italian, even though there is not a big market in my Country for this genre.

One frequent misconception I read about CE: it’s not a hard sci-fi system. It’s quite hardish to represent technology, but it is geared to offer the 60’s/70’s space opera feel. I’m talking about authors like E.C. Tubb, H. Beam Piper and Poul Anderson. The original whole concept of “traveller” comes from Tubb: a space adventurer who lives in the moment.
In the end is a system-light, technology-based, space adventure toolbox:

  • system-light: I can’t say that is rules-light, since there are plenty. But the whole mechanic is simply roll 2d6+modifiers >= 8+ → success. It’s heavy only if you use all the subsystems. Combat is not so streamlined, but neither that cumbersome.
  • technology-based: it’s not science fantasy. You have space traveller under a plausible (not realistic though) premise. You have many technology level from the Stone Age to the Advanced Interstellar (quite transhuman). On the average you’ll play on planet with technology equivalent roughly to our age or less.
  • space adventure: you can play anything with CE. If you want to play a political intrigue in the imperial capital you can. But the system is designed to go out there and explore, commerce and risk the character lives.
  • toolbox: it’s a complete game with a lot of subsystems. You have all you need to generate whole space sector, star systems, planets, animals. You can design your own spaceship. You don’t have to use anything of these, but you have to tools to populate the sky if you will.

For a one-shot session I strongly recommend the Faster Than Light version.


No one has mentioned Mothership?

Huge Kickstarter currently for a boxed set but a post-OSR d100 based ultralight soace horror system with a robust community and good adventures.

Upcoming version seems to remove some of its less common rules changes and change the way its stress/breakdown mechanics work for more impact and better campaign use. Changing from a one-shot horror game to more general greebley space hobo system.


Rovers (from is what you get when you mash together Classic Traveller and World of Dungeons: Turbo.

Rust Hulks - it has a few more typos than my brain can handle (but it is hard for me to turn off my editor brain), but that said I really think it does some interesting things vis-a-vis connections between crew mates. It is PbtA Space Truckers. :slight_smile: (Solid podcast about it here.)


Hey Gus! Sorry – there was a similar thread where 80-90% of the suggestions were for Mothership. I didn’t want to be redundant, so I held back on this one … :smiley_cat:

Recommendations for Sci-Fi Modules?

But maybe it *is helpful to link that conversation here. Thanks for the reminder!



Umm. I don’t have any other Sci Fi game recommendations.

Old Star Frontiers isn’t as bad as one might think? The series of adventures for it about the lost planet are pretty good really. Sci-fi hexcrawl.


Oh star frontiers!!! I love star frontiers, more for the world and what it inspired in me than the actual systems. I should really do a star frontiers rework sometime, taking inspiration from it. Big fan of the Sathar I am. Romulan space worms.


I ran a oneshot using the Blue Planet: Recontact quickstart last year. I would love a good planetary sci-fi game, and I’m not sure yet whether Blue Planet will be able to be that for me.

You build characters kind of similarly to Fate, where each player fills in a bunch of blanks to come up with their background and skills. I understand that the older editions of blue planet had long skill list instead. Skills are grouped into skill sets so it gives it more structure then something like Fate, which I appreciated. I am intrigued by “freeform” character creation, am I think this did it pretty well.

I thought though system itself was kind of clunky though. You roll a d10 dice pool under a target number determined by your skill level and one of your four attributes, and then how far you roll under determines how well you did. It seemed clever on the page, but in play I had to explain it over and over.

I backed the kickstarter, and I’ll be excited to read the setting regardless (apparently that’s the real draw of the system, historically), but I hope that some of the mechanics and explanations are cleaned up for the final release.

Edit: The quickstart also had some “campaign-level” mechanics, like relationship or organization tracks that could move up or down depending on your actions, and then can modify your target numbers in relevant situations. Again, that seems a little fussy to me, but it didn’t really come into play at all during the one-shot, so I can’t really evaluate it fairly.

When I was in college, my older brother ran a Doom-inspired one-on-one game using GURPS. It would’ve been 3e at the time and I’m not sure which sourcebook(s) he may have used. I think Space and High Tech are likely. It was lots of fun but didn’t last long enough that I can tell you how well it would work for campaign-length play.

I’ve played one-shots of Classic Traveller and Mothership. Both were fun, but again, not long enough to say how well they work for long term play.