Game Spotlights

April 20, 2022

Devin

Classic RPG Adventures – Part 2: Sci-Fi

Part 2 of our ‘Classic Adventures’ series covering excellent RPG adventures from the past and present!

[ Read: Classic RPG Adventures – Part 1: Fantasy ]


Classic sci-fi RPG adventures

Here are some of the best-known and best-loved sci-fi adventures. They’re mainly from the hobby’s early years, but just like any technology, being old doesn’t mean we can’t use, enjoy and learn from them.


traveller scifi rpg artwork a man in a wide-brimmed hat holding a pistol with the night sky as a backdrop

1   The Sky Raiders Trilogy

Overview

Raiders of the Lost Ark – in space! The Sky Raiders trilogy sees the PCs uncovering a lost civilization’s secrets and treasures. In Legend, they join an archaeological expedition searching for a lost base; in Trail, they learn the truth about the Sky Raiders; and in Fate, they discover and explore the Sky Raiders’ home.

Why it’s a classic

all three books of the sky raiders trilogy of the traveller sci-fi rpg
The Sky Raiders RPG trilogy, from FASA

In Traveller’s early years, GDW allowed various companies to create new parts of the setting. These included Judges’ Guild, Paranoia Press and FASA. FASA’s early adventures – including the Sky Raiders trilogy – helped set the game’s tone.

The trilogy is a mini-masterpiece that still holds up today despite what we’d now recognize as ‘railroading’ in a few places. It’s a mystery and detective story, an action-adventure tale, an adventure sandbox and a structured narrative.

Modern GMs can learn a lot from how it combines these disparate elements. And while most would make some changes to reflect modern sensibilities, it remains highly playable and, above all else, a ripping sci-fi yarn.


traveller adventure rpg artwork of a man firing a pistol on an alien planet

2   The Traveller Adventure

Overview

The next extry on our list of sci-fi RPG adventures starts with what looks like a throwaway encounter: The PCs intervene in a scuffle and help a Vargr (Traveller’s wolf-like alien race) recover an alien artifact. Little do they know they’ve stepped into a conspiracy backed by shadowy forces and corporate interests. From a down-at-heel star town to asteroid mining colonies, frontier stations and a planet ruled by its church, The Traveller Adventure takes players on an epic adventure of corporate skullduggery with plenty of action, intrigue and mystery.

Why it’s a classic

traveller sci-fi rpg book from game designers' workshop
The Traveller Adventure, from GDW

The Traveller Adventure is another excellent example of how to mix ‘on rails’ narrative with wide-open sandbox play. Published in the early eighties, the Adventure showcases almost everything Traveller offers—for good and ill.

There’s trade and bureaucracy to deal with (gotta make those ship payments), brawls and gunfights, burglary and sleuthing and a nefarious plot to stop. It also takes players on a tour of some great sci-fi locations. It highlights some of the setting’s less well-known aspects, such as psionics, Vargr politics and the shadowy hand of the Zhodani intelligence services.

Modern GMs will enjoy the deep setting and the detailed information on what’s happening behind the scenes. As with much RPG material published in the hobby’s early years, parts will need to be re-worked to align with present-day expectations and sensibilities. But that’s no reason not to dive right into one of the hobby’s classic sci-fi campaigns.


scifi rpg artwork of three humanoids dressed in futuristic armor and holding large guns

3   Beyond the Frontier

Overview

The crew of the survey ship Eleanor Moraes has mutinied. Can the players overcome their treacherous crew-mates, or will they be stranded on the planet of Mahg Mor forever? Events on Mahg Mor soon lead the players on a wilderness trek and put them on a collision course with the alien Sathar. Can the PCs be the first to capture a Sathar ship—or discover their hidden base—in this most nail-biting of sci-fi RPG adventures?

Why it’s a classic

all three books of a star frontiers sci-fi rpg series mutiny on the eleanor moraes, face of the enemy, and the war machine
Beyond the Frontier trilogy, from TSR

Star Frontiers doesn’t always get the love and respect it deserves. Then-industry-leader TSR was best known for its fantasy games, yet Star Frontiers and its adventures were well-loved by the game’s players.

The Beyond the Frontier trilogy is no exception. It spans intrigue, wilderness adventure, alien contact, space combat and more. Created by industry legend Ken Rolston, it shows the game’s scope and puts the PCs at the heart of setting-shaking events.

It’s also beginner-friendly, a great example of building a big story from (seemingly) small beginnings, linking different scenarios and events together to create a memorable campaign. There’s lots of great advice, artwork and resources to help beginner and experienced GMs alike bring the story to life.


paranoia rpg artwork of two humans in combat

4   The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues

Overview

Every mutant and every secret society in Alpha Complex wants the mysterious Black Box. A brave and loyal team of Troubleshooters (who are definitely not mutants or members of secret societies) are sent on a series of missions to retrieve it – but will they ever solve the mystery of The Box?

Why it’s a classic

sci-fi rpg adventure book the yellow clearance black box blues adventure from west end games
The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues, from West End Games

Written by sci-fi author John Ford, The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues (TYCBBB) is perhaps Paranoia’s greatest – and certainly its most famous – mini-campaign. A series of four linked scenarios, TYCBBB is classic Paranoia as the troubleshooters are sent on a mission to obtain the mysterious black box from the evil Commies.

  • In Bop Till You Drop, the Troubleshooters must find and eliminate the Commie cell broadcasting music across Alpha Complex.
  • I Was a Mutant for the FBI sees the team issued with experimental devices that will give them mutant powers as they continue their hunt for the black box. What could possibly go wrong?
  • No One Gets Out of Here Alive sees the hunt continue through Alpha Complex’s tunnels and sewers.
  • Finally, Why Don’t We Do it in the Road takes the team to the Outside, where they discover that even the gangs living beyond Alpha Complex want the Black Box.

TYCBBB won the Origins award for Best Roleplaying Adventure in 1985. It’s classic Paranoia in more ways than one. The bureaucracy is potentially lethal. R&D’s gadgets are definitely lethal. It’s a good thing every character has six clones.

Nobody knows what The Box is, what’s in it, what it might do or why it matters. That might sound frustrating or opaque, or hard to understand. It is. And that’s what makes this one of the most mysterious sci-fi RPG adventures you’ll find! Welcome to Paranoia.


star wars ships in combat

5   Darkstryder

Overview

Moff Kentor Sarne is on the run, with the New Republic corvette FarStar in hot pursuit. The PCs play the ship’s rag-tag crew, a mix of military, civilians and ‘scum and villainy’. They’ll track the Moff across the Kathol sector, encountering mysterious technologies and strange locations along the way. But little do they know they’re heading for a deadly reckoning with Sarne and the DarkStryder itself.

Why it’s a classic

four rpg books and box sets from the star wars sci-fi rpg darkstryder series
The DarkStryder series, from West End Games

The DarkStryder series is one of the much-loved WEG Star Wars line’s highlights. Created in the content gap between the first and second movie trilogies, WEG’s crew kept the flame burning and its work was approved – and much respected – by LucasFilm. The DarkStryder boxed set includes a 14-page original story by Timothy Zahn, and the full campaign spans three more supplements: The Kathol Outback, The Kathol Rift and Endgame.

Players are encouraged to choose two of the supplied PCs in the boxed set and create one of their own. It’s a long campaign and can potentially be deadly; be prepared for some dramatic Star Wars-style death scenes.

DarkStryder introduces mysteries, technologies and at-least-seemingly mystical powers that aren’t part of the Star Wars canon to create one of the grittiest sci-fi RPG adventures. More Rogue One than A New Hope, if you’re a Star Wars gamer then, regardless of which rules you’re using, we highly recommend grabbing a copy of DarkStryder. We think you’ll love it.


michael butler

Written by Michael B.

Michael’s from Sydney, Australia. Over the years he’s organized game conventions, contributed to magazines, and written supplements for White Wolf and Dream Pod 9. His first games were D&D and Traveller (three little white books and three little black books) and he’s never been the same since.


[ Read: Classic RPG Adventures – Part 1: Fantasy ]

[ Read more Game Spotlights ]

[ Browse all RPGs ]