Simplifying the Hardness of Hard Science Fiction RPGs

I'm binging my way through The Expanse right now. I've not read the books the series is based on but I've added them to my reading list.

The very short version is settlement of the solar system has begun, with Mars colonized and a rival to the UN of Earth and the Moon while the asteroid belt is a place that gets exploited for its resources. And the political situation of the solar system is getting rather explosive.

One of the things I like about The Expanse is it is hard science fiction but it doesn't bore the viewer. Ships have gravity based on their acceleration - if they're not accelerating the crew is in freefall. On a spinning colony, poured water does not drop straight down but is affected by the Coriolis effects of the spinning. Characters don't spend time discussing the complexities of orbital mechanics.

I'd love to see a science fiction RPG that pulls this off without making players and GMs cry. Games like XXVc, GURPS Space, and Traveller have included rules for fuel consumption and interplanetary travel but the complexity can be rather discouraging. I could see an RPG being released with apps for platforms like Windows 10, macOS, Android, and iOS that handles such things so that the hardness of reality doesn't cause wailing and gnashing of teeth. You could, for example, enter in a given date and see how long it would take to get from Mars to Ceres at various accelerations and see whether your ship could make that trip. It could automatically update fuel consumed, life support impact, etc. and PC skill rolls could modify these outcomes.

This isn't the sort of thing you need in all science fiction RPGs but rather for cases where you are interested in such a setting. I'd imagine you'd not need this in a Firefly sort of game and you'd laugh hysterically at the thought of using it for Star Wars, but The Expanse is the perfect example where such a tool might be handy.

Mars Image by ESO/M. Kornmesser - Artist’s impression of Mars four billion years ago, CC BY 4.0,

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