Even for those who are not particularly familiar with the games, the term role playing game is nearly synonymous with Dungeons & Dragons. The game of elven wizards and dwarven fighters slaying ferocious dragons is one of the few mainstream role playing games that exist. Between the name value of Dungeons & Dragons and the popularity of the massively multiplayer role playing game World of Warcraft, role playing games are almost completely associated with fantasy settings. Despite this perception, not all role playing games have fantasy settings. In fact, some of the most popular role playing games actually have science fictions settings. The following are the five best science fiction role playing games ever published.
5. Battletech aka Mechwarrior (FASA) – The premise of Battletech is that in the far future wars are fought with giant humanoid robots call battlemechs. This simple premise is the groundwork for an incredibly complex back story involving feudal societies, mechwarrior clans, and aliens with super advanced technology. The one drawback to this intricate story was that it was nearly impossible for players to significantly alter it. Still, the battlemech combat was exhilarating and the game continues to be popular decades after it was first released.
4. Paranoia (West End Games) – Welcome to the world, comrade. If you are reading this, please be advised that you will be terminated due to your lack of clearance to read this. Hopefully, termination will not be necessary for you next clone. Good luck, comrade. That disturbingly cheerful bit of fantasy is a prime example of play in the Paranoia universe. Set in a dystopian future where everything is dictated by the strict clearance levels and a cheerfully sadistic computer, dying is practically a given in a game of Paranoia. Conveniently, you have clones that replace you when you die and the game continues without missing a beat. Paranoia campaigns are rare due to the high death rate, but one-shot games are common and always a lot of fun.
3. Trinity (White Wolf) – Primarily known for its horror role playing games, White Wolf explored the science fiction genre with the Trinity role playing game and surprisingly produced a massively impressive game. Set in the same timeline as White Wolf’s Aberrant and Adventure games, Trinity reveals a future where incredibly powerful psychic beings have apportioned the world according to their guidelines, arguably for the good of everyone. The truth is actually a good deal uglier than that and the hidden mysteries upon mysteries add an air of noir to the science fiction genre. The game play mechanics are some of the best ever created by White Wolf and the game is truly a top notch science fiction masterpiece.
2. Warhammer 40k (Black Industries / Fantasy Flight) – Most people familiar with Warhammer 40k think of it as a tactical war game. And for over two decades it has been one of the most popular miniature war games ever produced. The massive battles between arcane and futuristic armies fill multiple tables and sometimes entire ballrooms. As part of this massive war game, an extensive amount of background information was produced. Eventually, a role playing game was produced in order to tell parts of the story that don’t involve massive armed conflicts. The enormous wealth of background material, that is practically biblical to some players, makes for an incredible wellspring of material. The mixture of races ranging from hive-like group mind creatures to militaristic techno-clerics makes the game enjoyable for long time fans. The one downside of the game is that entry can be rather confusing for brand new players.
1. Shadowrun (FASA) – Despite having a rather weak game play mechanic and easily abused character creation rules, this is by far the best science fiction role playing game ever designed. The story is what makes it so impressive. Set on Earth in the far future, elves, dwarves, orcs, and magic inhabit the same world as cyberware filled street samurais, virtual reality controlling deckers, and gear-heads called riggers. The emergence of magic in the world of futuristic technology creates havoc that causes corporations to practically run the world from giant archologies and leads to an underground society called shadowrunners. The true genius of the system is that players aren’t heroes. They are more like mercenaries and the very concepts of right and wrong are basically discarded for a gritty realism amidst the fantastic and futuristic. If the system is ever actually perfected, the game could easily challenge Dungeons & Dragons for best role playing game on the market.