A BARREN WASTELAND: The State of SF RPGs

Last Friday, I ran a session of Star Wars Saga. It did not go well. For one thing, the rules are so complicated it makes Pathfinder look like D&D 5E. leaving aside my own GMing style, I can’t see how anyone can be expected to learn every feature of a ruleset so sprawling. Then there’s the difficult. Perhaps it’s the way my players (a party of three experienced roleplayers) built their characters, but it seemed like every weapon in the game was capable of taking down an opponent or a player in a single hit. The final problem is perhaps the most glaring: Why would you choose to be anything other than a Force user? With literal space magic on your side, there’s very little that can pose a threat to you. Lightning does more damage than any weapon, and with a lightsaber you can deflect incoming blaster bolts. Clearly, Jedi are the ultimate warrior. this is great for a film series. less good for an RPG with Jedi and non-Jedi characters.

So, after about two hours, I wrapped up the session and sadly crossed it off the list of SF RPGs I’ve tried.

As you may have guessed by now, I’m about as massive an RPG nerd as I am an SF one, but I repeatedly struggle to find a way to combine these two loves. The Warhammer universe has several RPGs, which also have complicated rulesets. And to be honest, I’m not that keen on the setting as far as roleplaying is concerned. Again, space magic isn’t really my thing. And while being a tyrannid shapeshifter is fun in theory, any system that automatically makes you go crazy and eat the nearest person every time you shape shift does not make for a good infiltrator.

You see, I prefer my SF to be distinct to my fantasy. Space magic aside, I prefer my science to be, if not hard, then at least crunchy. Star Trek features gods on a semi-regular basis, but there’s enough technobabble to at least pretend they’re something less than omnipotent superbeings. Even Q is limited by some rules. Unfortunately, I seem to be in a minority here. Give me robots, give me clones, give me hyperdrives. Just don’t give me psionic superpowers.

Starfinder looked interesting at first. I’m fairly experienced with Pathfinder after all, and it’s the same basic rules. But then I took a closer look. It’s not just the SF equivalent of Pathfinder, it is literally Pathfinder in space. Complete with elves, goblins and wizards. further from my taste, it could not be.

Traveller holds some appeal for me. The rules look sturdy enough, and it seems to fit the sort of style I run my campaigns with. However, it’s also near-impossible to get hold of for a decent price. The starter set alone is around £50, which I can’t justify on a gamble. Not when I’ve been disappointed so many times before.

The solution I’ve employed the most is to wholly homebrew a rulebook. Four efforts in, and I’m pretty decent at it (if I do say so myself), but it is an effort. And I’m not a game designer. there’s always something I’ve overlooked, some change that needs making. The rulebook gets fully revised every few sessions, and it still is far from perfect. But that’s the only solution I’ve found that is anywhere near workable.

If anyone can recommend an SF RPG system that has:

  1. Manageable rules
  2. No space magic
  3. No playable aliens/nonhumans

I would be very interested to hear from you.

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