Artwork by Winchell Chung

So You Want to Run A Hard SciFi Campaign?

A friend of mine is currently working on a scifi campaign set into our solar system. Instead of a campaign spanning lightyears he plans to focus on our own cosmic backyard. Instead of racing through the galaxy with faster-than-light starships, the players will hobble along using more realistic technology.

If you’re planning to run a hard SF campaign, there’s one website you definitely should check out: Atomic Rockets. It’s a vast well of knowledge for scifi writers and gamemasters alike. You want to understand why reactionless drives can’t work or what project Orion was all about? Look no further! Especially if you want to keep a sense of realism to your campaign, you should make sure you make your research.

But even then you should consider your audience. If one of your players is a aerospace engineer or a physicist, you should make sure your science is rock solid, if you don’t want to get into discussions all the time. Or at least ask them if a certain level of handwaving is ok. If noone in your group has a firm grasp of physics, you can probably get away with a lot of bad science, as long as it feels plausible enough.

In most space opera games space travel is commonplace, cheap, and relatively safe (aside from random pirate attacks). This should never be the case in a hard SF campaign. While new technologies can make extended space travel more feasible, it will always be very dangerous. Space ships will probably still be very expensive, so only governments and multinational corporations own them. In addition to that interplanetary space ships will probably be pretty huge while the living compartments are rather small and very cramped.

Again, I can’t recommend Atomic Rockets enough at this point. The site is full of good information on realistic space flight, which can be sobering at times, but also very inspiring. It cites from a lot of Science Fiction books and movies, so you’ll easily find more sources for inspiration.

If you don’t want into too much detail regarding space flight, I advise using torchships. Torchships are space craft with high thrust and high acceleration, often using fusion reactors or even matter-antimatter-reactions as power sources. With a reasonably high acceleration, space travel becomes much easier. Instead of complex navigation you basically just “point and shoot”. As Atomic Rockets puts it, torchships are “unobtanium”, impossible to build at the moment, but plausible.

A torchship capable of constant acceleration of 1g or above can reach Mars in about 2 to 3 days, but reaching another solar system is still a totally different ballpark. But if you don’t mind putting your crew into the freezer for 6 years even trips to Alpha Centauri are possible.

So what are you’re thoughts on creating hard SF campaign? Have you ever done so? What experiences can you share? Please comment below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

6 thoughts on “So You Want to Run A Hard SciFi Campaign?”

  1. I usually play High Space (Storyweaver), but am also a big fan of Trav 2300 (Mongoose), and ‘Cold Space’ (Better Mousetrap Games).
    Hard SF games are a lot of fun, but unless you set the game on a slow-moving starship between systems, you may as well just pick a system (like ours) and base the whole game there! There are pro’s for doing the later – the research on our solar system is better than for any other system, and it will satisfy the urges of those who like Hard SF who don’t like ‘cheating’ ; )
    But I do have to question the differences in ‘story’ between Hard and Soft SF… whether it takes 1 day to travel from the Earth to the Moon (Hard SF), or 1 day to travel from the Earth to Proximi Centauri (Soft SF) is there really a story/game difference there?

    1. In settings which are “Soft SF” you can often have more varied and exotic locations and also include elements like aliens, psionics, etc. You can tell similar stories, but the tone is often different. It’s basically a matter of style and what you prefer.

      1. Can I propose that you can also have ‘exotic’ elements in Soft SF – whether the finale to an adventure is on an exotic planet, or in an exotic bar, is a story construct?
        I agree that different styles attract different writers; and also that different writers will create best for different styles. So perhaps the Hard/Soft distinction is a better reflection of the writers personality, than of their writing style (accepting that they often overlap.)

  2. …interstellar travel constant acceleration (Sun-Deneb: 1000g )… Earth…the 2 ships that will go formation flying for mutual assisting if there are problems…indestructible structures made of Hexapentas material, awaiting in airport the arrival of passengers… Day 1: zero-speed… THE SHIPS TAKEOFF►… navigation computer places on screen the spacecraft in the center of sphere…spherical\tridimensional\spatial Heading: Deneb… Antimatter rocket engines…ON… Here we go…goooooo!…1g…10g…100g…constant acceleration cruise: 1000g (9.8 kms/sec²)… Inside the living areas (the same as going submerged in water: constant acceleration downwards…less…constant thrust, constant acceleration, from water upwards)…the gravitational transformers, perfectly synchronized with the acceleration, running: 1000g constant acceleration toward the floor ↓↓(motors)↓↓…less…999g constant acceleration toward the ceiling ↑↑(gravitational transformers)↑ = 1g constant acceleration toward the floor↓… 8.5 hours: light-speed = 1c…the fusion reactor as an artificial sun illuminating the immense Vital Support Gardens to lowering, from their comfortable apartments, cheerful passage to the pool…the electromagnetic shield anti-radiation…antigravity fields generator run forward, working: light objects away from the path of the ship…and trajectory ship away from the heavy objects…superluminal-speed > 1c… 42.5 hours: reaches hyperluminal.speed = 5c… Day 508: Half Journey…1000 light years…high hyperluminal-speed = 1435.39c… OFF engines…a few minutes of weightlessness during maneuver…the ship rotates 180º around its axis…motors ON again and… ◄STARTS TO BRAKE… Day 1017 (2.79 years): End Path party…2000 light years…zero-speed… The forever young passage of the 1st Immortal Generation (3D Bioprinting…Telomerase…modified Biological Timers…) disembarks at destination: an extra-stellar planet which came errant to orbit of Deneb giant.

  3. …interstellar travel constant acceleration (no coronavirus)… virus installs into smell sense cells of the nose high part… Perhaps… in gout-counts flask pour: 1 thin jet “Povidona iodada” (iodine) “Betdine Solución Dérmica” + very weak mineralization Water from the ºBottle till fill the flask, final color such as red wine (have prepared apart water ºBottle 2 liters pour it 3 spoonful of Salt and 1 spoonful of Soda Bicarbonate). 1 TIME DAY POUR-SELF 4 GOUT-COUNTS INTO EACH NASAL FOSSE. Experience 20 years ago without secondary effects.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.