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The Tech Deck

Atypical Science Fiction RPGs

Sci-fi looks to the future for solutions!  (Jon & Janelle Roster / Andrew Smith)
Sci-fi looks to the future for solutions! (Jon & Janelle Roster / Andrew Smith)

In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium there is only war. Warhammer 40,000 was created by Games-Workshop and is at its core a tabletop war game set to an amazingly rich story. There have been countless video games and board games based on it. However, today I am talking about WH40k role-playing. In brief, if you like the lore of Warhammer 40,000 you will likely get a kick out of the RPG. If you’re not familiar with Warhammer 40k, go check it out for yourself! I suggest starting here, here and here.


"Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be relearned. Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war. There is no peace amongst the stars, only an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laughter of thirsting gods."


Created by Fantasy Flight games, there have been multiple iterations and version of Warhammer 40,000 role-playing. Only War: you play as a squad a guardsmen fighting off the evils of the galaxy. Deathwatch: where you take on the role of a mighty Space Marine sent in to deal with the direst of situations. Black Crusade: Chaos is your master and survival on Dust, your motivation. Rogue Trader: As an autonomous merchant you ply the stars seeking out fortune and skirting the line between heresy and profit. Last, my favorite: Dark Heresy.

In Dark Heresy the players take on the role of Acolytes of an Inquisitor. They're tasked with any number of tasks from uncovering treachery and witchcraft to purging xenos filth from a hive city. Dark Heresy also has more opportunity to role-play than the other 40k RPGs. As an acolyte you generally need to investigate, go under cover, and discover mysteries while you have the authority to do so. While in the other games, missions are generally pretty straight forward with more of a “go here, kill that” mentality.

Combat can get very bloody very quickly. Part of taking damage involves looking at the critical hit tables. These tables can end up leaving players without limbs, noses, broken bones, set on fire or simply exploded due to the energy of the weapon that hit them. It is a very brutal game that gets two thumbs up!


A billow of snow shoots up, clouding your cockpit. Deftly you flip the release switch. The orbital drop frame breaks off with a series of micro-explosions. Through the neural helmet you feel the excess weight drop away. The whir of the reactor begins in earnest. The snow melts from the windscreen as the heat begins to build. Monitors flicker to life, nav marker Alpha blinks into existence <10 km - SW>. “Gold lance, insertion complete. Proceeding onto Alpha.” Powering through the 12 feet of snow and permafrost, the four Battlemechs march into the blizzard; weapons hot.

Having grown up playing Ultrabots, later the MechWarrior series and reading Dad’s BattleTech Technical Readouts, I’ve always been a huge fan of giant robots. The image of a giant weapon of war striding across the battlefield is inspiring to me. Fasa Studios first created BattleTech (then called BattleDroids) in 1984. From there more than 100 novels have been written, countless video games and many editions and expansions have been released. I suggest playing any of the MechWarrior video games as an introduction to the universe. They are the most straightforward way to play.

MechWarrior was not always a video game; in fact, it actually started as a roleplaying game. Character creation is actually very similar to that of burning wheel. After players pick their social class, they go through a series of random events and decisions which shape their character. There is a direct conversion of MechWarrior skills to BattleTech skills, which lets players jump between the systems when in or out of their ‘Mechs.

For more information on BattleTech, check out my blog post on it here or the BattleTechWiki The BattleTech/MechWarrior universe is rife with political intrigue, difficult decisions of loyalty vs. morality and is full of massive robots. What’s not to like?

A wall is just a door that hasn’t realized it yet.>
A wall is just a door that hasn’t realized it yet.

Transhumanism is currently theory, conjecture and an ethos. It’s an international community fighting for the continued pursuit of technological advancement in the fields of cybernetics, biotech and other futuristic endeavors. They hold the belief that preventing technological advancement is immoral to proceeding generations, citing the fact we are where we are because of the risks previous generations took to learn.

One of the concepts/goals of Transhumanism is immortality. One such method for reaching this goal would be the uploading of a personality into a hard drive or cybernetic brain. A perfect match of your personality, thoughts, experiences, etc. With this copy, you could download it into a new body should the old one die or disappear. You upload your personality every day, week, month, year letting you “continue” from that point in time, should something bad happen.

A game that really brought this concept to life for me is Eclipse Phase. Players create an ego -- the mind or personality. Then they create their morph, their “body” to be sleeved into (uploaded). Morphs come in a huge variety of styles from the fast and strong Olympian to a swarm of micro-bots.

Mind you, a lot can happen between save stations. you might just open a door and see your long lost body lying dead. Which brings me to the second advantage of Eclipse Phase: it is a horror game. It is a game of “existential” crisis. Questioning what it means to be human or alive. As far as humanity has come, it is still on the brink of death. Self propagating AI’s called Titans were infected with the dreaded “Exsurgent” virus and turned Earth into a charred, radioactive, barren wasteland. The solar system still bears the scars of the brief war.

There are many more surprises and oddities in Eclipse Phase. Similar in style to Dead space, this sci-fi horror fest has you trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic universe fending off your fellow transhumans and the indescribable monstrosities that haunt the stars. How does eternal life sound now? Eclipse Phase is highly recommended.



Shadowrun – All right chummers, the world is torn between the cold cyberpunk technology and the ever evolving awakened magical world. You are caught in the middle trying to make your way in the world. So what if you gotta run the shadows for some big wigs or ganger down the street. As long as the credits are good that is.


CthulhuTech - Do you like Cthulhu, anime and mecha? Well, do I have a game for you! CthulhuTech is rife with fast-paced combat as the ancient enemy the Migo has assaulted Earth. You and your team are the first and last line of defense against the unspeakable horrors that lay beyond the realm of man. Can you survive?


Human Occupied Landfill (HoL) - On the outer edges of space there is a dump of a planet known simply as HoL. HoL is owned by the Confederation of Worlds (CoW) and is used as a garbage dump for anything the galaxy doesn’t want including nuclear waste, medical waste, murderous aliens and people. If you find yourself on HoL, good luck and have fun. Note: This game is adult in theme and content. Furthermore it is suggested to have a “few” drinks while you play.


Paranoia - You’re a Troubleshooter living in the Alpha Complex. The Alpha Complex is controlled by the ever omniscient Computer. The Computer is never wrong, to believe otherwise is treason. Treason is punishable by death. Don’t worry; the Computer is here to help you. It will provide you with a clone should one prove treasonous, but remember you only have a few. Please report to your Happiness Enforcement Officer any thoughts of discontent, worry or communism. It’s your duty. Thank you for your cooperation.


If you liked my post and/or have suggestions of other Sci-Fi games please leave a comment below or on my Facebook page! See you for the next blog. In the meantime, have fun adventuring!

Amazing Sci-fi Wall textures created by Skyshi and they can be found here, here & here. Keep up the amazing work!

Thank you again Jon & Janelle Roster for helping me with the photography!


Scorch the flesh, save the steel.” 

Andrew Smith is one of The Spokesman-Review's IT gurus and resident dungeon master.