If you’ve been cooped up inside for a while and are desperate to explore exciting new places, then some of the best sci-fi tabletop roleplaying games can fulfill that exact desire. After all, what’s more exciting than outer space or the far future? Sci-fi RPGs have so much to offer because of the sheer number of potential settings that the genre can play around with. From epic space operas that span a multitude of galaxies to smaller affairs taking place in the cramped hallways of a derelict space station, science-fiction settings can scratch any number of itches you might have.
Sci-fi roleplaying games might not be as popular as some fantasy RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons 5E or Pathfinder, but they can offer experiences that are just as grand or enthralling as those focused on swords and sorcery. In many ways, as a genre, science fiction has the potential to provide more experimental or unusual settings than fantasy - as you’ll see in the very best sci-fi RPGs. Whilst there are some well-known names featured on this list, there will be several titles that you’ve likely never heard of before that could serve as a gateway to an entirely new roleplaying experience.
Best sci-fi tabletop RPGs
- Those Dark Places
- Tales from the Loop
- Scum and Villainy
- Cyberpunk Red
- Blue Planet: Recontact
- Star Trek Adventures
- Lasers & Feelings
- Dune: Adventures in the Imperium
Embark on an epic journey across space in this adventurous sci-fi RPG
Pathfinder is considered to be one of the most popular RPGs out there, especially since the release of its recent second edition. It’s unsurprising that Pazio, the game’s publisher, thought to take the mechanics of its classic fantasy title and translate them into a science-fiction game. Hence Starfinder, an adventurous RPG that promises players a host of exciting escapades across the stars. As sci-fi roleplaying games go, Starfinder is definitely more of the space opera kind, with a wide selection of different species to play as - including androids, rat people called Ysoki and even futuristic elves - and an arsenal of abilities and weapons to wield.
Should they desire it, players will be able to pilot their very own spaceship and engage in starship combat with enemy vessels they encounter in their travels. Whilst the world of Starfinder definitely feels like it’s a future version of Pathfinder - which it technically is - with the inclusion of classic fantasy species and its own form of space magic, it still has its own rich world and lore for players to explore. If you’re not confident about devising your storylines for this immense setting, Starfinder has a series of Adventure Paths for game masters to use in their campaigns, taking their players from grand adventures on exciting planets to creepy abandoned space ships. Give Starfinder a try if you’re looking for a grand foray into sci-fi.
2. Those Dark Places
Horror and sci-fi merge in this Alien-inspired RPG about the desolation of outer space
Alien may have its very own official RPG now - which Rich heavily praised in our review - but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of other roleplaying games taking cues from the beloved horror franchise. Those Dark Places is a rules-light RPG, meaning that it’s a little more straightforward to play than something like D&D 5E, that focuses on the scarier parts of space-living. Players become crew members with different roles and personalities, such as the pilot or a shady corporate shill, who will venture into cramped space stations and the surfaces of eerie planets in the hopes of carving out a decent life for themselves.
Much like Alien, the universe of Those Dark Places is dominated by unethical companies looking to make as much profit as possible, regardless of the consequences. The players are workers for one of these corporations and, as such, are likely to find themselves tied up in something illegal or otherwise extremely dangerous. The rules for Those Dark Places are easy enough for even brand new roleplayers to pick things up easily, with the experience being more about atmosphere than complex character creation and combat. For a horror heavy sci-fi adventure, you’d be remiss to not turn to Those Dark Places.
3. Tales from the Loop
Indulge your ‘80s nostalgia with a roleplaying game about weird childhood adventures
You may have already heard of Tales from the Loop thanks to the recent Amazon Prime series starring Rebecca Hill and Paul Schneider, but you might not know it began as a narrative art book. Simon Stålenhag is a Scandinavian artist who created a collection of illustrations that combined the glorious vistas of forests and plains with strange images of enormous mechs and machinery. These images were eventually adapted into a roleplaying game book called Tales from the Loop, which depicts an alternative 1980s in which the Swedish government has been conducting strange experiments.
The result of these experiments is The Loop, a facility that seems to be the origin of several odd events taking place around the countryside of Mälaröarna. In the game, players become a group of children who are curious about the goings-on in the underground facility. This group can be made up of any number of classic ‘80s sci-fi archetypes, such as the bookworm or the troublemaker. Players will need to balance the challenges of everyday life - such as school bullies and demanding parents - with the weirder troubles presented by The Loop. Lovers of classic sci-fi movies like ET or series such as Stranger Things would be remiss not to give Tales from the Loop a try.
A fantasy and cyberpunk-infused RPG about the clash of magic and technology
Shadowrun is the RPG that likes to challenge the statement of ‘you can have too many sub-genres’ in one thing. This beloved roleplaying game is a veritable pick-and-mix of genre tropes, from science fiction and cyberpunk to fantasy. Shadowrun manages to fuse all of these somewhat disparate elements together into one stonkingly original setting. First published in 1989, Shadowrun is an RPG that takes place in the near-future where corporations have finally taken the next step to complete world domination and have generally made things bad for literally everyone else.
Living in cities haunted by a past cataclysmic event, humans, elves, dwarves and other classic fantasy species attempt to survive their harsh and dangerous lives. One important thing to note about Shadowrun is that, like many older RPGs, it contains several problematic elements related to the way it depicts species like orks and trolls as the result of the horrifying aftereffects of the aforementioned event. Nonetheless, Shadowrun’s deep worldbuilding and unusual mishmash of cyberpunk and fantasy elements has made it a household name in the tabletop industry, leading to multiple spin-off titles and video games. Playing Shadowrun may feel like diving straight into the deep end of complex roleplaying games, so it’s probably not an ideal starting point for beginners, but its rich lore and wide variety of character creation options provide plenty of opportunities for engaging storytelling.
5. Scum and Villainy
Fly through the stars on the hunt for your next paycheck in this Star Wars-inspired RPG
The Forged in the Dark system has been used to make many excellent roleplaying games, including John Harper’s own Blades in the Dark. One of these RPGs is called Scum and Villainy and sees players becoming a crew of spacefaring folks just looking to make a bit of money. Whilst the game is clearly inspired by the likes of Star Wars and Firefly, it still manages to present its own original take on the sci-fi genre. Life is hard in space - where bands of dangerous aliens, the ruling Galactic Hegemony and quarrelling noble families clash with one another - so you’re going to have to come together as a team if you want to survive.
Players will need to plan their jobs carefully if they’re going to get out alive. Luckily enough, the Forged in the Dark system allows players to pause the game to describe a flashback during which their character and others can do something to prepare for their current heist. Completing jobs will net players experience, money and gear that they’ll be able to use to improve their characters and equip them for their next big heist. The more jobs players successfully pull off, the greater the reputation and the more work will come their way. However, this is a double-edged sword, as they’ll also gain plenty of notoriety as well. If you’ve ever dreamed of being Han Solo or Captain Reynolds, Scum and Villainy is the roleplaying game for you.
Buy Scum and Villainy on the Evil Hat Productions online store.
6. Cyberpunk Red
This newest edition of the classic dark futuristic RPG brings it into the modern age
You’ve likely heard about the Cyberpunk series via the release of the video game Cyberpunk 2077. The multi-million dollar video game is set in the world of a roleplaying franchise that began with the launch of the first edition of Cyberpunk back in 1988. The theme behind the series can be found within the name itself, with Cyberpunk Red - last year’s fourth and latest edition - depicting a sleazy and dangerous futuristic world where wealthy corporations hold all the cards, cybernetic implants are freely available and gangs roam the wastes outside Night City. Whilst there’s plenty of shiny things to be found in the world of Cyberpunk Red, a lot of it serves to hide the grimier and sinister elements of a terribly corrupt system.
Players are able to create characters based on some of the game’s key archetypes - such as the accomplished hackers, netrunners, or celebrity rockerboys - and advance them through the ranks of Night City by taking lucrative jobs from suspicious sources or otherwise grabbing success and power for themselves. Though the game can be unnecessarily bloated in some areas, such as the sheer amount of skills or the sluggish combat, Cyberpunk Red still shows how far the series has come since its initial conception - with the Jumpstart Kit providing newer players with a good jumping off point to get into the game. Once you are into it, the world of Cyberpunk Red is a sprawling one filled with social commentary, engaging stories and a good mixture of the weird and the cool.
7. Blue Planet: Recontact
A roleplaying game with a bold premise that does something a little different with sci-fi
It’s the far future. Earth has been ravaged by a terrible event. While some of humanity live on a colony on a distant planet called Poseidon 2199, there are those who remain on what’s left of Earth, desperately hoping for their eventual rescue. Blue Planet is an unusual tabletop roleplaying game that tackles some pretty important themes of environmentalism and modern sociopolitics, which are perhaps more relevant topics now more than ever. Though the first edition of Blue Planet was published in 1997, a newer edition called Recontact was released to modernise the roleplaying title.
As a world seemingly entirely made of water, Poseidon is an equally weird and intriguing setting for an RPG - with Recontact exploring elements of both fantastical science fiction and the darker side of human progress. Although there’s plenty for lovers of speculative technology to enjoy, Recontact also has a surprising amount of content focused around marine life and biology. As players will be diving into their fair share of oceans and swimming through alien tropical reefs, they’ll need to be aware of the wonders and dangers that await them. It’s refreshing to see an RPG embrace the more ecological side of science fiction, whilst still ensuring that players will be able to indulge in fanciful aspects of world-building. Oceanic enthusiasts and environmentalists owe it to themselves to experience Blue Planet: Recontact.
Buy the Blue Planet: Recontact Quickstart Kit on DrivethruRPG.
8. Star Trek Adventures
Travel to the Final Frontier in the name of Starfleet in this licensed roleplaying game
Created by Modiphius, a seasoned publisher of licensed roleplaying games, Star Trek Adventures seeks to bring everything that fans of the original television series, as well as its many sequels, spin-offs, films and such, expect to see in an RPG adaptation. Players become members of Starfleet, the organisation dedicated to protecting the many species that occupy the galaxy, who form their very own crew and travel across the United Federation of Planets and beyond. The core book for Star Trek Adventures focuses on the emergence of a new threat in the Gamma Quadrant, providing players with a breadcrumb trail towards the Dominion and the danger they pose.
If all this lore sounds a little intimidating, there’s no need to worry - the Star Trek Adventures core book comes with guidelines for newer players as well as veterans. The most important thing about Star Trek Adventures is that it provides a gateway for fans to explore the world of the franchise, including the Federation, as well as Alpha, Beta and Gamma Quadrants. Be prepared to face off against some classic villains such as the Cadassians, Borg, Romulans and, of course, the Klingons. Or even, in the case of the recently released Klingon core rulebook, play as one yourself. Trekkies will be able to indulge in their passion for the franchise with this genuinely good RPG adaptation.
9. Lasers & Feelings
A simple RPG about travelling through space using either your head or your heart
The tension between emotions and rationalism is something that’s often explored in science fiction - for example, creating something that’s technologically impressive, but incompatible with empathy. Lasers & Feelings is a roleplaying game that seeks to tackle this concept in a more direct sense, with player characters literally using either lasers - otherwise known as rational skills - or feelings to overcome the potential problems they encounter. Another game from John Harper, Lasers & Feelings sees players becoming crewmembers of a spaceship called Raptor, with the aim of ensuring the safety of the Consortium worlds.
Players create characters based on several potential archetypes - such as the alien or hot-shot - and select a role for them to play on the ship itself. They then select a number between two and five as their set target number. Whenever players want to perform an action, the GM determines whether they think it concerns lasers or feelings - with the player needing to roll over their target number for feelings and under for lasers. This means that players who are more empathetic will be looking to use persuasion or compassion to their advantage, whereas more scientifically-minded characters are better suited to smarts or knowledge. Having such a simple system makes Lasers & Feelings the perfect sci-fi themed RPG for fresh-faced roleplayers.
Buy Lasers & Feelings on John Harper's Itch.io page.
10. Dune: Adventures in the Imperium
Frank Herbert’s series of science-fiction novels are brought to life in this RPG adaptation
The Dune series has always been on the heavier side of sci-fi, exploring the topics of religion and politics with zeal, so it’s unsurprising that its tabletop roleplaying adaptation contains around 70 pages dedicated to lore alone. However, if you’re intrigued by the world of Dune - or you’re a tried-and-tested fan - you’ll likely relish the intensely detailed nature of Modiphius’ Dune: Adventures in the Imperium. There’s certainly a lot to take in with the Dune RPG, from espionage missions to all-out warfare, but it’s all very true to the spirit of the franchise.
Based on the 2d20 system that also powers Star Trek Adventures, players roll two d20s and attempt to get under a target number with each die. Players will be able to use their characters’ abilities and skills to improve their chances of success but, more importantly, also need to consider factors beyond just the numbers of their sheet - such as their position in society and what assets they have access to. This might sound like a lot - and it is - but it helps to immerse players in a deep and engaging world that rewards clever roleplay and punishes hastiness. It helps that Dune: Adventures in the Imperium provides GMs with guidance on how to tackle some of the outdated and problematic elements of the franchise - making it a lot more accessible. Devoted fans of science fiction will have plenty to bite off with Dune: Adventures in the Imperium.