Most people who get into tabletop gaming start with a broader application of the creative genres. Fantasy novels, supernatural tv shows, historical reenactment – inspiration is never far away. And it can be so tempting to try and emulate those shows, books, and movies that inspire us when we start running and playing our games.
Luckily (at least for some of us) there are plenty of actual tie-in games that will allow you to place yourself directly in the worlds that you love. Especially ones for the science-fiction genre, which has created some of the most in-depth, well-developed settings out there! Here are a few suggestions of games that tie into already established media.
Star Wars, stemming from three genre-crossing movies in the 70s and 80s, follows the story of a few valiant freedom fighters as they face down a notorious empire that spans entire planets. Gigantic space stations, speed-of-light spaceships, and unusual alien species all decorate the intergalactic world that it’s set in. And central to the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire is an additional conflict between the dark and light sides of the Force, a mysterious, ethereal power strongly associated with destiny.
Star Wars has tons of tabletop games out there, spanning all the way back to the 1970s when it first came out, and fitting into the various movies, comics, novels, and televisions shows as they have been released. In fact, we’ve got a whole other post discussing the games – you can find it, with links to find them, here: Star Wars TTRPGs: Which One Should I Play? (d20collective.com)
A classic competitor to Star Wars, Star Trek takes place in a vastly different sort of future, one of exploration and discovery and high-tech battles (when they do happen). It usually focuses on the various spaceship crews as they undertake missions for the Federation, a vaguely utopian alliance of planets, species, and worlds as they continue to expand and explore the universe.
Star Trek has been on the air for even longer than Star Wars and has had just as many tabletop games associated with it. You can find our blog post about its history (along with places to find the various games) here: A Brief History of Star Trek RPGs, and Which One You Should Play (d20collective.com)
After Star Trek and Star Wars, the most famous science fiction franchise that you can find is likely to be Doctor Who. It’s just as long-running as Star Trek as well, starting off in the 1960s, and getting continued in the 2010s after a multi-decade break.
Doctor Who follows a single main character – the Doctor – a time travelling explorer, who makes his way through time and space in his TARDIS, a spaceship which has become stuck in the form of a blue police box. During his early years, his granddaughter brought a couple of humans on board, and thus began his history of bringing various companions along for the ride. This show is full of world-changing events, historical time periods, strange and new civilizations, and plenty of whimsy.
Doctor Who is known for its serial format in its original form, in which several episodes would tell a short story arc before moving onto another ‘episodic’ sort of arc largely unconnected to the previous one. This makes for a perfect tabletop format and allows you to play through vastly different stories each time. The game is sold in a main book with separate installments for each regeneration of the Doctor (who does not die, but comes back to life in different bodies), and can be found here: Doctor Who: The Roleplaying Game Second Edition
Another iconic British series, Red Dwarf draws on more outright comedy than Doctor Who’s light whimsy. Despite this, it’s set in a gritty, dark world inspired by Blade Runner and other dystopian tales.
It follows the life of a low-level, unambitious vending machine repair man on board the mining ship Red Dwarf, who gets in trouble and put in temporal stasis, only to have it allow him to survive a nuclear explosion on his ship. A million years later, with the rest of the human race well and truly gone, he’s brought back. With just the company of a hologram, a strange lifeform evolved from a cat, a cleaning android, and a mostly-mad ship’s AI, he’s determined to get back home. If, of course, he can keep himself out of trouble for long enough.
The Red Dwarf tabletop RPG was only limited in its release, but it’s incredibly popular with the show’s cult fan base. It’s full of references to the television show, letting you play in the world and all of its humorous aliens, planets, technology, and goofy set-dressings. It’s a delightful romp, chock full of, as the theme song goes, fun, fun, fun, in the sun, sun, sun…
You can find links to buy a copy here: Red Dwarf – The Roleplaying Game – Deep7 Press, or keep your eye out in second hand stores and forums for it!
Ever popular despite its only season being cut short, Firefly is a truly beloved science fiction television show. Described best as a ‘space western’, this series-and-movie follows the crew of a smuggling spaceship as she makes her way through the ‘verse. Her crew is manned by a ragtag crew of misfits, each with their own problems, trying to survive and evading the long arm of the corporations and suspicious governments that have recently quashed an interplanetary rebellion.
If you’re also a fan of westerns, this is a great game for you. Much of the show relies of the tropes and stories found in that genre, with a layer of space exploration, frightening space monsters, and human experimentation laid on top of it. Whether you’re a smuggler yourself, or choose to take up a different role in the universe, there’s plenty of adventure to be had in it.
You can see the editions and expansions here: Firefly Role-Playing Game
Have you ever had a chance to play any of these games? Were they any good? What kind of stories would you like to tell using any of them? Let us know in the comments below!