Hard science fiction games

I’m interested in finding some hard science fiction games set in space. That is, games where the science is reasonably accurate: no magic, no FTL, etc. In terms of fictional touchpoints, think “Gravity” and “The Martian” or, at the very outside, “2001: A Space Odyssey”. I’m not super concerned at the moment with the ‘mechanical genre’, as it were, whether it’s PbtA or traditional or something else entirely.

While I’ve played (and enjoyed) other science fiction games, this is a really specific itch that things like Traveller and Scum & Villainy don’t quite scratch. Thoughts / suggestions / pointers welcome.

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The most recent hard SF I can think of in media is The Expanse. Somewhat realistic, from what I have heard, and praised by the people that are really into hard SF.

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There’s a hard sci-fi Forged in the Dark game in development called A Nocturne.

I’m not a hard sci-fi fan at all, but I’m fascinated by the tone of this game. The tag-line is “See you amongst the haunted stars…” and the vibe seems to be very much dealing with the mind-shattering horrors of life in space-- going on years-long interstellar journeys while decades or centuries pass for everyone else due to relativity, dealing with truly inhuman AI’s and alien species, possibly committing all sorts of atrocities, only to leave that solar system and any consequences behind for centuries… It’s got me really interested in hard sci-fi for the first time!

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There is, of course, Shock: Social Science Fiction, which has room for “softer” sci-fi but lends itself exceptionally well to hard sci-fi, as well. However, if you’re looking for a world built for you or a sourcebook, you won’t find it there: it’s a game where you do the world-building collaboratively, as you play.

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Diaspora, a fate hack maybe ten years old.

Two points of nonesense physics:

  1. Yes, our constant acceleration drives work just fine, thank you very much.
  2. wormholes connecting systems. All at about 5 AU above the star, and forming a web.
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+1 for The Expanse. If you really dig down, it might not be hard sci-fi but it’s plausible enough as it is set inside our solar system (Venus to Saturn) and uses plausible near-future technology.

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Far Horizon makes this actually work at the table.

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Blue Planet could be up your alley. It’s not about space travel but about colonization efforts on an aquatic planet after Earth became uninhabitable. It’s as hard as sci-fi gets - world is detailed and technology is believable. IP went from hands to hands and I don’t know what its status is but FFG version (2nd ed) shouldn’t be that hard to acquire.

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You could always go with GURPS. You’ll be able to choose whatever combination of tech you want, but on the other hand you’ll have to choose what combination of tech you want…

I would also recommend the boardgame High Frontier if you can find a copy of it. It’s detailed enough to work as a ship movement system for a roleplaying game by a large margin. Like “you need to calculate how much reaction mass you need for this particular type of engine moving along this path from this Lagrange point to that specific asteroid, oh and don’t forget you’ll want to be able to land, and also the trip will take four years there and maybe you won’t be able to come back home again” detailed. It also includes a bunch of more or less reasonable technologies that can make for a fun setting.

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I would recommend Jovian Chronicles - I would not be surprised if the original Expanse narrative (prior to the show and books) used this system when they originally roleplayed their narrative.

Edited: Actually, I am guessing they used a different system as Jovian Chronicles is full of medium sized mecha.

I would also add that Praxis Odin’s Eye - using the Protocol system looks cool.

Mothership is popular right now. The characters are all working-class spacefarers in a primarily human universe. It’s a horror game that focuses on the human scale, so it’s probably a bit more Alien or Moon than Maritan or Gravity, but the intimate, almost claustrophobic focus on individuals fits with what you’re asking for, and any tech you deem off-limits can be safely excluded for the same reason. The larger universe is very much in the background.

http://www.tuesdayknightgames.com/mothership

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What kind of story would you like to tell? To me, if the main detail is that it is hard sci-fi in space that implies you will want stories that deal with the difficulties of space travel/living. To me, this then implies you might want a system or module that really supports having the rigors and difficulties of space come into play.

BUT maybe you just want that as a backdrop, in which case you might be able to do a bunch of different things (that don’t have magic) just with a space sci-fi backdrop.

For me, my first recommendation is Dialect with either the “The Outpost” or the “2081, Solar Slums” backdrops. Though “Sing the Earth Electric” might also work.

I haven’t played it yet, but “Flotsom: Adrift amongst the Stars” by @rabalias might work as well.

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I reckon Flotsam would, if you choose the right set of options. The “spirits” would need to be AIs or aliens rather than gods or ghosts, for example. But the game does provide those options, you don’t have to do any reskinning.

I think my question would be, what are you looking for the game to do for you in the way of supporting hard SF? If you’re looking for rules for interstellar travel and hard vacuum, that’s a totally different game from one which allows you to create interesting social situations of the sort you find in hard SF, but leaves all the tech and physics simulation up to you.

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Based on a few articles I’ve seen the system was apparently d20 Modern with homebrewed space combat. Personally I find it interesting that people often recommend the Expanse as hard sci-fi because while many aspects are (notably space travel / flight mechanics) there are many bits that aren’t (which I won’t mention due to spoilers). I skipped the RPG kickstarter so I’ve no idea how well it does in emulating a hard sci-fi feel.

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If you haven’t checked out Eclipse Phase, give that a look.

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@yoshi gets to the point. Being hard sci-fi isn’t much of a premise for a game. People go to science fantasy and pulp sci-fi because they want games that include travel to different planets and zipping about on spaceships. The Expanse is a ship based adventure story, so the main way it breaks the hard SF mandate is in a silly powerful drive system.

So what is the actual premise of the game? What do the PCs do?

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As a follow-up, this is the map of the solar system for the third edition of High Frontier:

The fourth edition is currently on Kickstarter…

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Holy crap! That is AMAZING!

@diyanddragons And Mothership is super fun to play! Even decent in PbF! It is pretty OSR so the amount of tech available and how fast ships travel is entirely up to the GM as well.

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It’s pretty groovy, and despite its esoteric appearance it’s fairly easy to use in play. (Very roughly, you can follow a line without spending energy, if you encounter a purple dot you have to spend energy, and if you want to change directions at a place where there isn’t a dot you need to spend even more energy or wait until next turn, essentially trading time for energy.)

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