Sunday 8 March 2015

Recommended - Good Free Wargames Rules - Edition #1 - Sci Fi

There are 1000s of free rules on the net, many of dubious quality.

Need help to separate the wheat from the chaff?  These rules are recommended by blog readers and are all "worth a look."

(If you want to help by recommending some free rules, please visit this page and leave your recommendation in the comments section.  No sign-in is required).

This week we're looking at rules with a sci-fi angle.  Click on the title for the link.

 ....really keen and it was the first instance I saw of the "casualties or suppression" mechanic. -Ivan Sorenson
A great way to re-use your old 40K models. Want to be an Inquisitor with his retinue?  Read the Eisenhorn/Ravenor novels and I bet you'll be reaching for the download button. This was created by Craig Cartmell and the Forge of War development group, who also did FUBAR.  It comes with warband lists, weapon lists and a campaign (mission) supplement with scenario/opfor generators. 
As a small warband-level game using 40K models, this helps to scratch the Necromunda itch. article would be longer than the game but it deserves a nod  - Ivan Sorenson
This is a very short (one page) set of rules, which has been re-used in a wide range of genres.  The original is modern/near future sci fi but there are a myriad of variants ranging from Star Wars to Stargate, Aliens to medieval, fantasy, horror and VSF. Would work from skirmish to platoon+ level. There are some quite polished unit cards, resources and expansions made by an inventive community.   The author Craig Cartmell has gone on to make the commercial VSF rules In her Majesty's Name.

 ....criminally overlooked and a fairly short read - Ivan Sorenson
A section/platoon level game. Amongst other stats, units have "motivation" (fanatic/warriors/reluctant/unwilling) that influences their behaviour and would allow a degree of solitaire play. Has an alternating (dice based) activation, with opportunity (reactive) fire.  Includes rules for vehicles and dropships.  I haven't come across this before, but I'm giving it a +1.  Thanks, Ivan!

I'll save Ivan's blushes here and nominate this myself.   Alongside FUBAR this is probably the first rule set I'd recommend to someone "getting into" sci fi gaming.  One of the most complete free rules sets. 
Aimed at the 40K level (platoon+ support/vehicles) this is relatively "hard" near future sci fi/modern with suppression and casualties emphasized (although there are rules for simple psychic powers).  Quite polished, it's better laid out than most "paid" PDFs.  I remember liking the recon stage (which is sort of a mini-game allowing you to place units before the battle).  There are plenty of bells and whistles (army /vehicle builder etc) as well as campaign generators which add flavour - and reveal the author's RPG ancestry.     I'd label this the next logical "step up"from FUBAR or similar one-page style rules. 
elegant simple rules and quick - similar to FUBAR in that the units have a quality value but its based on an alternate actions.   Its also more specificly 40k.  -James Toney 

Another simple rule set, in a similar style to FUBAR.  Like it says on the box - a one page set of rules, with a 40K focus.

Full Thrust is the best fleet starship game I've ever played. It uses plotted movement, but the rules are light enough to survive a lot of tinkering, and the game plays fast enough that you can have a dozen guys around the table without anyone waiting too long to do something. It also uses a clever damage tracking system that leaves your half dead ships clinging to enough life to affect the battle, with the rare catastrophic BOOM! that lights up the skies. - Warren Abrox
 It's a testament to the game (and perhaps a lack of innovation in starship rules) that this continues to be the benchmark, 20 years on.  It combines "build you own" rules, and simplicity with easy "mod-ability" and has been adapted for genres from attack helos, to tanks, to VSF.

This game pretty much pioneered the near-future "hard" sci fi genre - many more recent games owe much to its influence.  
GZG set the benchmark for not only 15mm, but near future sci fi rules - and is perhaps a reason for the Vietnam-in-space focus of the genre.  Stargrunt is their platoon-level rules.  Like Dirtside, it isn't easy on the eyes.  The rules themselves need a good tidy up.  It's based on troop quality & confidence, and you can see the influence it has had on other rules designed since (Tomorrow's War comes to mind.).  There are no superheroes - this is about suppression, maneuver and good use of cover.

Set an early benchmark for 6mm sci fi at the company+ level. 
I don't really game at this scale, but it has a points system and vehicle design system.  I found the rules download a bit inaccessible and "heavy going"but it's better designed than it appears.  Alternate movement and opportunity fire.  Better than Future War Commander commercial rules.

 Fincas Khalmoril has done a pretty thorough write-up - I don't really need to add to it:

Very quick, very dirty and even for today it can boast with a number of highly original features:

- Units are either gangs (punx, rebels, scavengers) or squads (troopers, cops, also rebels) and both units have slighty different rules for morale and suppression.
- No unit coherence necessary if your unit is equipped with headsets, otherwise to change orders you need to be in "calling distance, something I remember like 12".
- Units can only act according to their orders which give huge boni on certain actions and disallow others. (Run, Snipe, Assault, Take Cover etc.)
- Some (easy to remember) tables to check for suppression, order acceptance, shooting.
- Shooting is tricky. Base number to hit is 6 on D6 (!) that means a lot of cinematic dakka dakka. (Unless one side is using snipe orders or brings in heavy rocket launchers). Once hit however, it's deadly. 2-5d6 added together (2d6 light handgun; 5d6 rocket launcher) and if > or = model's toughness (usually 7) its dead, if its at least equal to toughness-5, model is suppressed.

Only problem I remember is that the core rules are gritty cyperpunk and lack anything from vehicles to monsters to psi/magick.


Thanks again to all the contributors for this article - James Toney, Warren Abrox, Fincas Khalmoril, and Ivan Sorenson - as we bring you the best of what's free on the web!

Remember, if you know of any free rules you can recommend, please add a comment here (no sign in required).  Help us to help you!


  1. Thanks for this list, I didn't know Slammer and Killzone. More games to try :)

  2. Really useful post, thanks Mike

  3. Thank Ivan - he's the one who requested the branching into free rules.

    I just listen to the customers!

  4. How have you not linked Infinity??? As a free rules set it deserves mentioning!

    1. I bang on about it enough I thought....

      (but I am saving it for a "free commercial rules" post - i.e Infinity, Bushido, that post apoc one with the fugly models...)

  5. I think I'd be interested to see what you would say about Warstrike, nee the M42 Project. I think it's free?

    1. Actually the "chat aloud as you design rules" is something I like - I've actually got a similar post on making a Necromunda/Mordhiem game in my drafts folder, and "Delta Vector the Game" is a reason I started this blog:

      (Martin collected the links here: )

      I like the point he makes:

      " We believe that when a single company controls both the rules and the models for a game system, it inevitably leads to a conflict of interest between what’s best for the players, and what’s best for the company’s own bottom line. "

      ...which is something I personally feel strongly about.

    2. I never bothered to delve into it, as it seems to be a "Make 40K but better" by 40K-centric players (I'd be interested to know what other games they've played besides 40K) - which is something most of us have done at some stage.

      It's something most players go through.

      1. Start playing 40K
      2. Get competitive/join club/get big army
      3. Start to get disillusioned with balance/price/insert reason
      4. Create 40K homebrew rules <--_Warstrike is here
      5. Realise no one wants to play them/others need it to be " official" so they might as well play other, cheaper games
      6. Switch to other games (Warmachine if competitive, other indie games if not)
      7. Return to 40K cos of the player base/universe, but on a more restrained scale
      8. Eventually get sick of GW business practices
      9. Vow never to ever buy one of their products again

    3. Hmm. I seem to be on #7, but my 40k spending has gone radically up. I really like 7th edition.

      The notion that there's a conflict of interest in a company producing miniatures and rules doesn't really make sense to me. Could you explain this in more detail?

    4. ....the conflict is between what’s best for the players (i.e. good, fun, balanced, tactical game), and what’s best for the company’s own bottom line.

      Basically, it soon becomes that the main purpose/design goal of the rules is only to sell (and facilitate the sale of) miniatures (which are always the more profitable), rather than be a good, balanced, game in itself.

      Witness 40K turning from a characterful semi-RPG skirmish game, to a platoon-company level game to which its mechanics are not particularly suited.

      The M42 guys talk a lot about it (with their typical 40K-centric worldview) in I'd tend to agree with a lot of their points
      (see WHY DON'T WE SELL MINIATURES halfway down)