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Hard sci-fi systems?


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Near Orbit had a second edition called Deep Space, though it was still mostly about orbital space. Hardwired is the other space-based supplement (based on Walter John William's setting) - When Gravity Fails is based on George Alec Effinger's Middle Eastern setting.
Thank you. It's been a couple of decades since I last looked at them.


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Traveller can handle all the OP's points. While I don't often play "hard" science fiction (most of my games are explicitly science fantasy), those that are tend to have the following features:
  • O'Neil cylinders and other artificial constructs tend to be the most common sort of civilization you'll run into in space (I'm utterly fascinated by O'Neil cylinders in particular and work them everywhere). And because space is so staggeringly vast, they tend to cluster relatively near heavily populated earth-like planets.
  • Civilization itself doesn't tend to span across the galaxy. One or two dozen "worlds" is usually about it. When you treat every world (including artificial ones) as an entire campaign setting in its own right, you don't often have to go far to keep things interesting.
  • Even on a single planet, civilization is highly balkanized, with many competing factions vying for supremacy. Game play tends to stay within a sub sector or two. Aliens are usually either genetically modified humans or are uplifts.
  • Slug-thrower firearms are the default in Traveller. As is expendable fuel.
  • Ships in such games will tend to be designed more like space-faring skyscrapers with thrust-based gravity rather than maritime ships.


Unabashed optimist
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Thirding Diaspora, particularly as it encourages group world design and sets the stage as being a cluster of solar systems, linked together. One of its central ideas is that being sufficiently hi-tech will cause a society to disappear as it either ascends to some unknowable state or changes into a form that we cannot recognise. This makes it possible to find empty, "haunted" worlds littered with bizarre and dangerous "left-overs".

Tom B

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You might check out Shadows Over Sol. It's set entirely within the solar system, no FTL. The game itself has a distinct horror bent, but it's not built into the mechanics if you don't wish to emphasize that angle. That's more setting-oriented (black-ops bio labs, more SF-horror than supernatural horror.)

The sticking point for some is that it uses a standard card deck for resolution. I was doubtful, but after using it for a bit it grew on me. It makes use of the extra features of a card deck...the face cards, the suits, etc. It adds extra depths and effects with no extra actions.

In any case, definitely worth checking out for hard SF. (Free quick-start here.)


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I would recommend that you check out Zozer Games' Orbital 2100. It's basically everything you need to play The Expanse with Traveller.

You might also like their Hostile setting: it's pretty much Alien with the serial numbers filed off.

In both of these settings, space is not friendly to humans.
This is a good recommendation.

As for The Expanse, well there is an official Expanse game coming out shortly - Kickstarter backers have been promised a preview very soon, perhaps this week. It’s based on the *Age system (DragonAge, etc)


Social Justice Dragon
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It depends on what you want. Do you want a high tech pre-interstellar travel campaign, then GURPS Transhuman Space is perfect, and if you want a grittier and more apocalyptic feel, so is Eclipse Phase - just eliminate the Pandora Gates (but perhaps keep the Exsurgents, since they could have arrived aeons ago via light speed alien space probes), and eliminate the Pandora Gates would change very little about the setting.

If you want interstellar SF, then my suggestion would be Mindjammer (available for FATE or Traveller rules), just set it at T8, prior to the 2nd Age of Space (when FTL is discovered) and assume FTL is impossible. In this era, you have a vast galaxy, with a region more than 1,000 light years across that has been colonized by humans using relativistic starships. This is quite a high-tech setting, but gravity engines are less likely to break physical laws than any sort of FTL, and might be possible with sufficient tech.


Master of Folding Chair
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Diaspora is the one I usually point to.

If you're willing to edit out the anthropomorphic aspects, the Albedo RPG (Platinum Catalyst edition) is low-medium complexity and hard sci fi.

I remember the comic was actually my first experience with hard sci-fi and the terrifying idea that space combat was - "1) talk with the AIs about expected strategies a few weeks from the encounter, 2) get into your space suit, strap in, and hope the CRVs stop any incoming CRVs and take out the enemy, 3) if alive, see what parts of the ship got destroyed and who of your crew turned into paste, 4) decide if you want to spend weeks/months looping around for another pass."

- Chris


Rogue Conformist
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Near Orbit had a second edition called Deep Space, though it was still mostly about orbital space. Hardwired is the other space-based supplement (based on Walter John William's setting) - When Gravity Fails is based on George Alec Effinger's Middle Eastern setting.
Deep Space is almost exactly the setting for The Expanse


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If you want to run 2001: A Space Odyssey then you want DramaSystem from Pelgrane Press because that's all about interpersonal drama and that's most of the movie until Dave goes into the Monolith.
No, not the plot of the movie, but a setting something like it.
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