So, I tend to focus a bit more on the fantasy side of things (heck, it’s in my dang tagline), but one of the best examples I’ve seen for an rpg putting heavy focus on a unique ecology is actually one based in Scifi: Blue Planet.
Sit back and buckle your seatbelts, kids, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
I’ll start off by admitting up front that I’ve honestly never had the chance to play a game of it. Even so, the setting they create makes me really want to!
Sometime in the future, humanity has explored the solar system, and found a wormhole just beyond Pluto. Neat.
The wormhole, it turns out, leads to another solar system which has, among its planets, one covered in water. And when I say “covered” in water, I mean that where Earth is 75% water, this planet they choose to call Poseidon is over 90%. And what’s more, it has life.
Naturally, humans start planning to send a colony there. Being a bit more forward-thinking than we usually are, they use the latest genetic engineering technology to adapt a large group of volunteers to life on a mostly aquatic planet, giving some gills while giving others the ability to hold their breath for extended periods of time. On top of that, they also uplift various cetaceans to human-like intelligence for the voyage as well.
Yeah, they went a little trigger-happy with the new technology.
So, they send the colony ship to the new planet, with plans to send supplies every few years. See, even though it’s the future, space travel still takes a long time. No FTL drives here. The new colony arrives, everything is going as planned, when a new disease (likely brought about by the same trigger-happy use of genetic engineering) ravages the Earth. We’re talking apocalypse on a scale that dwarfs even the Black Plague and Spanish Flu.
They abandon the colonists, unable to help them while the humans on Earth are struggling to survive themselves.
As far as the colonists can tell, they just stopped sending new shipments, and cut off all communication.
75 years pass.
Eventually, the Earthlings have rebuilt enough to be able to look once more to the stars, and they remember that one planet they found so long ago. Sending a new expeditionary voyage out, they are surprised to see that the old colonists not only managed to survive, but they adapted quite well to life on Poseidon.
Their old technology has almost completely worn down, without parts or tools to repair it save what they could make themselves. They now consider themselves relatively independent of the Earth that abandoned them to die.
Things move along about as uneasily as you’d expect them to, until a unique mineral is discovered on the ocean floor of Poseidon. A rare mineral that incredibly enhances the human’s technology for genetic engineering to nearly godlike levels.
A mineral that, when used with genetic engineering technology, can extend the human lifespan indefinitely.
Can you say “gold rush”?
Tons of humans, either poor ones with nothing to lose or big companies with everything to gain, take to the stars and a new world of opportunity! Boom towns start popping up on the few specks of land amid the tempest seas, trying to find the largest vein of this rare and elusive mineral, while angering the old colonists who see this as an intrusion on their new home world.
Amid all of this, you have people trying to document and protect the undiscovered forms of life on the planet, some doing so more violently than others, while rumors of aborigines spread; an intelligent species native to the planet.
Oh, and also: They call the mineral that can be used for long life “Long John”. It’s so corny but it still works.
And yes, they DO have entirely new forms of life, including a whole book devoted to describing and laying out the ecology of the planet. It’s pretty cool, with floating temporary islands and strange new forms of sea life, etc.
My favorite part is how you’re not even put into one specific role in the system (which uses percentage dice). You can just as easily be an ecoterrorist native human as an intelligent dolphin bounty hunter who brings down the ecoterrorists in exchange for money. You could play a scifi urban whodunit or an exploratory team of biologists mapping out the ocean floor for new forms of life and possible veins of Long John.
So, if you like a new take on scifi, a scientifically developed ecology, having angry Killer Whale mob bosses, or you just plain liked the movie Water World, I recommend giving Blue Planet a try.