Review: Starfinder Core Rulebook

Starfinder is a stand-alone roleplaying game, being advertised as “Pathfinder in Space”.  Starfinder is created and publisher by Paizo Inc, which made its name after licensing the classical magazines, Dragon and Dungeon before switching to 3rd Party adventures and then adapting the 3rd Edition of D&D into the Pathfinder roleplaying game.

Starfinder is a science fantasy roleplaying game. Equal parts science fiction and pulp fantasy, it’s far more like Dragonstar than Spelljammer. The pulpy origins of Starfinder are pretty visible, as the old sword & planet influenced Pathfinder as much as sword & sorcery. There are spaceships, robots, artificial intelligence, and FTL travel. But there is also spellcasting, enchanted weapons, undead, and the like. So, in theory, you can fight alien invaders and escape spacial anomalies as easily as you face cyborg dragons and goblin space pirates.

Originally teased as being backwards-compatible with Pathfinder (when announced at PaizoCon 2016), Starfinder diverges slightly from the source game but retains the vast majority of the mechanics – and mathematics – and the core mechanic of rolling a d20 and adding modifiers is untouched, as are the six key ability scores. There are some significant differences between Pathfinder and Starfinder, such as the twin defences of EAC and KAD and how health is tracked, but there are far, far fewer than the differences between 3rd Edition D&D and 4th Edition D&D. I’ve seen other variants of 3e that diverged more from the base rules than Starfinder. (Heck, a homebrew game of Pathfinder I ran diverged more than Starfinder, using armour as DR and wound points.) Things are close enough that a remotely experienced Gamemaster could probably include a monster or NPC from Pathfinder, updating the statistics on the fly.

What It Is

The Starfinder Core Rulebook is a 524-page hardcover book containing all the rules necessary to play in Paizo’s science fantasy roleplaying game. Also included is a section for Gamemasters on running the game, as well as setting information. Not included are monsters, which will be featured in the forthcoming Alien Archive

Included in the book are seven races: humans, along with androids, kasathas (four armed people, likely inspired by the green Martians of John Carter), lashuntas (humans with antenna from the Venus analog), shirrens (insect people), vesk (Gorn/ Klingons), and Ysoki (ratfolk). There are also seven character classes, the envoy, mechanic, mystic, operative, solarian, soldier, and technomancer.  

A new addition to the ruleset are character themes. At first glance these might be mistaken for Pathfinder’s traits or 5th Edition D&D’s backgrounds, but are probably closer to being a combination of 5e’s backgrounds and subclasses. They provide a small boost of proficiencies to help you fulfil a role, but also give additional benefits at higher level. 9 themes are included as well as a generic “themeless” option that lets players design their own character. The included themes are the ace pilot, bounty hunter, icon, mercenary, outlaw, priest, scholar, spacefarer, and xenoseeker. I anticipate themes being one of the more commonly added bits of crunch in future expansions, being a neat way to customize your character, but also compact (fitting on a single page) with some restrained design.

As one might expect, the book includes a number of weapons (both ranged weaponry but also advanced melee weapons) and armour. There are also vehicles (with accompanying rules) and starships. Space combat is given its own sizable section of the book. Starships have their own scale, mirroring the PC scale of Tiny to Colossal. Tiny starships range in size from that of a car to a bus. Huge starships are equal to the U.S.S. Enterprise (Kirk’s at the small end of the scale and Picard’s at the high end) while Colossal is anything over 4500 meters, which is 1 1/2 Borg cubes.

The hard copy of the Starfinder Core Rulebook is available right now, and PDFs are available on Paizo.com. Like Pathfinder, the core book is just $10 (less with a subscription), being surprisingly cheap and probably below the market average for PDFs.

The Good

Starfinder is very Pathfindery. If Pathfinder-type games are your jam or it’s your system of choice, you’ll probably quite like Starfinder. If you got tired or 3.X or dislike games with high amounts of crunch, then you’ll dislike Starfinder.

While there are some subtle rule changes, the majority of the game seems pretty identical. To me, my personal switch from Pathfinder to 5th Edition is recent enough that the changes seem minor in comparison. If all you’ve ever played is Pathfinder, then some of the smaller rules changes might trip you up (there’s some subtle changes and tweaks), but nothing that will break the game: you can dive right in and discover the changes as you go.

Character classes in Starfinder follow the model set by Pathfinder, being 20 levels and possessing good/bad saving throws and variable attack bonuses. Most classes have some form of talent that provides decision points during advancement, allowing you to build and further customize your character every level of two. Some of these decision points are open at each level (so long as you meet prerequisites) while other decisions are more static, such as the soldier choosing their fighting style or the mystic choosing their form of magic. However, even in these less flexible classes, the soldier also gets to pick from numerous feats at regular intervals while the mystic gets to choose spells, allowing additional decision points.

The above means there’s some nice variety to the classes, and lots of choices and options for people who enjoy the lonely fun character optimization. In addition to the classes, there are feats (which are close to Pathfinder feats in terms of power and complexity) and the rank-based skill system, which allows you to pick-and-choose where you focus your skills each level.

There are two spellcasting classes (the mystic and the technomancer), both being 2/3rds spellcasters, reaching a maximum of 6th-level spells. Magic is less present, even at high levels. Which makes sense, as technology replaces magic to some extent: why study more months to learn scorching ray when you can just pick up a laser pistol? This also allows for more class features to fill the void let by high level spells, making for more interesting classes that do something other than just hurl magic.

As mentioned above, you can use monsters from Pathfinder with very minimal conversion, which is included in the book. This allows you to play right now, without having to wait for the Alien Archive. It would also be easy to run a game with NPC humanoid opponents, using just this book, possibly supplemented with some additional space goblins, who are described the free First Contact PDF. From that perspective, the game is pretty complete.

Ability scores seem to be more restrained. You can’t start with a score above 18, and ability score boosts are less common (and you’re encouraged to put them into secondary stats). And there’s no magical headbands that boost your Intelligence or cloaks that jack your charisma, meaning characters are less likely to have ability scores pushing 25.

(Edit: Nope. Totally wrong about the above. Tucked away in the last third of the Equipment section are Personal Upgrades. Not to be confused with Armour Upgrades. These allow you to use either magic or technology to boost your stats (ranging from +2 to +6) . 26 Intelligence characters remain. Wheee…. But at least accuracy should work a little better that I thought.
The fluff of these upgrades is open allowing 
you to choose the flavour, but it gives you some suggestions. So it can be an elixir that boosts your strength or cybernetics that augment your muscles. But… if every character is assumed to have these three boosts to stats why not just fold that into the class or level system? Why not increase the rate of ability score boosts or the number of stats improved by said boosts?)

Ship combat looks fun, albeit different from a lot of other Pathfinder combat. It’s complex, but it’d be doable to port over into 5e or classic Pathfinder. I can imagine this section being very useful for a twist on Expedition to Barrier Peaks. The rules are also designed with multiple roles in mind, so three to five people can cooperate to command a ship, with one person managing the engineering while another controls the guns, and a third pilots the ship. And it should work equally well for small scale fighter combat or lumbering Star Trek naval combat. Heck, with some GM approval, half the party could remain in a large Galactica carrier while the other half launches in intercept fighters, mixing the two styles together.

Miniatures or tokens are pretty much required for ship combat, as the rules assume a hex battlemap. Thankfully, minis are coming from a 3rd Party and Pathfinder is doing a pawn set for Starfinder. And they have flip-maps planned (the first of which is currently already being reprinted).

Ship size and tiers are dissociated. So you can have a massive Colossal dreadnought ship that is bare bones and might only Tier 5 or 6, and thus challenged by a plucky but band well-equipped band of adventurers in a Medium sized ship.

The default setting is funky and unique. The assumed world is the Golarion solar-system, the same effective setting as Pathfinder albeit an unknown number of years in the future. Likely hundreds or thousands of years. The planet Golarion is missing, along with all memories and records for an uncertain number of years prior to the disappearance. Because reasons. Why? That’s the big mystery of the setting that will never be solved because it’s not a story based mystery, but a necessity based mystery. Having Golarion missing means nothing that happens in a Pathfinder game can affect a Starfinder game, and they’re not restricted in what they can do to the world in future Pathfinder adventures… Regardless, because the world is a future version of a fantasy world there are all the standard tropes of fantasy but in a world of space opera: ancient star empires, evil merciless insectoid aliens, lost artifices, space pirates, and more. There’s all manner of alien races and something is happening on every planet in the solar system. There’s a lot going on, leaving a lot of room for very different campaigns. It sidesteps the problem of Star Wars where there’s the one big story and everything else is tacked on, while also avoids the Star Trek utopia problem, where there’s this giant nation of good with no problems at the heart of everything.

Because the world and setting is so gonzo – being a funky mix of technology and magic – it’s a little easier for players to understand. One of the problems that science fiction roleplaying games often struggle to convey is technology. When I ran some Eclipse Phase I came across this problem; the players were uncertain if they scan ships with sensors, didn’t know if there was artificial gravity or not, and generally fumbled with how technology worked. Hard science makes for a hard roleplaying game. You don’t need to worry about powering artificial gravity or the power requirements of FTL when you can literally just say “because magic.”

There’s a fair amount of Starfinder released or coming soon, but it’s limited in terms of player options. They have the first Adventure Path, with new volumes every other month. They have pawns sets for the Core Rulebook (aka PCs and ships) and then the Alien Archive. An initiative tracker, some battlemaps (the space ones I’m rather excited for… when they’re back in stock). Apart from that, the schedule seems surprisingly light. Probably because they wanted to test the water, but also I think Paizo released they overdid it with Pathfinder: too much too fast. Three books a year seemed “slow” in comparison to WotC, but after three or four years that content add up. However, for people who really want more, Paizo has opened Starfinder up to the community through the Open Game Licenceeeeeee. While they’re not sharing the setting (like Wizards of the Coast is over on the DMsGuild), the rules are all open content. And there’s already some content released: http://drivethrurpg.com/product/219461/Starfarers-Companion

The Bad

Races and classes each receive their own chapter but character themes (which you’re told to pick after your race) are folded into the the character creation chapter that comes before races. It feels like they didn’t want to give them their own chapter but couldn’t think of a better place. And so it awkwardly rounds out a chapter…

The inclusion of the solarian is kinda weird. The other classes are very iconic and broad concept,  working equally well with the default Starfinder setting or any combination of fantasy and sci-fi. But the solarian is non-generic and very setting specific. It’s a little like having a fantasy game with a hunter, warrior, priest, mage, rogue, druid, and dragon shaman. (One of these things is not like the others…) The hook of the solarian is that they get their power from the life of stars, and use that to form energy armour or weapons, while also generating various magical effects. Which seems odd until you realize their energy weapon is basically a lightsaber, making the solarian the counterpart to the Jedi. Still… since laser swords exist in the equipment chapter, a more generic warrior/monk with psionic powers would have worked equally.

I don’t think all of the mechanical changes to the Pathfinder system work.

One of the bigger additions is Resolve. This is a pool of points that increases with your level and your primary ability score. This is probably around 4-5 at level 1, and increases at higher levels (levels 4, 6, 8, etc or whenever you boost an Ability score). It’s a small pool but it’s used for a lot of things: some class features, feats, and even a few ship combat actions require you to spend Resolve. Regaining Stamina without resting comes from Resolve. However, Resolve is also what keeps you alive when you fall unconscious, and you lose points each round you choose to remain unconscious. On paper, this has the neat effect where you tire yourself out by spending abilities making you more vulnerable, while also meaning the more time you spend unconscious the closer you are to dying even multiple encounters later. And it adds this tension between using a cool power or saving it in case you get hurt. But, in play it also means if you take a few bad hits and get knocked down, you lose the chance to do something cool later. It encourages you to rest frequently rather than having prolonged adventuring days: the more time you’ve spent adventuring before a boss fight, the higher the chance being knocked unconscious will kill you. Enemy NPCs don’t have this same limit, and are able to nova with resolve or repeatedly stabilize after dying.

Having both energy AC and kinetic AC seems needless. I imagine this was done because it should be easier to hit someone with a laser (where just contact is needed) opposed to a sword, where you need to penetrate armour, EAC replacing “touch” AC. (Which was done because wizards wouldn’t have the high Dexterity or attack bonus required to hit in combat.) But EAC is typically only a couple points lower than KAC, so the difference is negligible. If there was some worry about spellcasters being unable to hit the lower AC, then why not use their spellcasting ability for attacks with spells? Or give all classes the same attack progression? (Mechanical innovations that actually predates Pathfinder.) After all, why would a highly skilled assassin operative be less accurate than the soldier? EAC and KAC feels needlessly complicated for very little gain.

Similarly, when reaching 3rd level of a class, the character gains the Weapon Specialization feat for every weapon they know through that class. Which feels awkward. I wonder why not just let characters add their level to their damage? Why make it a feat? I imagine out of concerns of multiclassing for proficiencies, but it feels like more could have been done to find a simpler (more elegant) solution.

I’m not a fan of the change to combat maneuvers. Combat Maneuver Bonuses/ Defence was a fun rule in Pathfinder. Used for actions other than attacks, such as tripping and grappling, the rule was useful because whenever a player wanted to attempt something outside of the rules, it was easy to rule that as a Combat Maneuver. This could be balanced by having the attempt provoke an opportunity attack, so you had to balance the need for the maneuver versus granting the enemy a bonus hit. Here, the AC for opposing Combat Maneuvers is 8 higher than your regular AC in place of the attack of opportunity. So instead of “anyone can bull rush, but you get attacked if you try” it’s “anyone can bull rush, but you have a -8 penalty.” And instead of the feats cancelling the extra attack, they give a +4 bonus… so you’re still suffering a net -4 penalty on the attack. This feels annoying, because if you’re sacrificing an attack in an attempt to bull rush or disarm someone without building your character around the action, you likely really need that action to succeed. A -8 penalty to hit means for many classes you likely need something close to a 20 to succeed, so it’s not really worth doing. The rules might as well have said you can’t even attempt it without the feat. It’s a trap for the inexperienced.

Through the book there’s a distinct lack of focus on aspects of gameplay other than combat, such as roleplaying and exploration. It’s worth noting that none of the character creation steps encourage you to define the personality of your character. Even the “character concept” section is very focused on mechanical implementation of concept. Heck, while there is a place for “gender” on the character sheet and gender is mentioned in vital statistics (in relation to how it might impact height or weight) you’re never actually told to choose a gender for a character. Or even pick a name for that matter…

There are no roleplaying rewards or plot manipulation mechanics, no character aspects or personality traits. Most modern RPGs have some way of rewarding roleplaying or include character compels, such as Fate and its aspects, but also 5th Edition D&D (personality traits & flaws with Inspiration), Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG (with Motivations, but also Duty and Obligations), and even Modiphius’ Star Trek Adventures (Values and Determination). This feels like an unfortunate omission.

Similarly, the vast majority of the character features are focused on combat. (It’s rather telling that the one section of roleplaying on page 9 mentions skills and skill checks as much as acting in character.) There’s precious few exploration based powers and precious real flavourful/ fluff abilities (what Wizards of the Coast’s designers refer to as “ribbons”). I’m curiously reminded of 4th Edition D&D in this regard; as I’ve said about that edition, when a game system gives you a toolbox of hammers, every problem seems like a nail. Yes, you don’t need rules for roleplaying, but if you’re not incentivized to play your character and incentivized to choose combat (because you want to use the cool new power you got) then you’re going to default to attacking.

The Starfinder Core Rulebook is organised like a generic rulebook, not a single-volume RPG that combines setting and rules. All the setting lore is tucked away at the end. You’re seemingly expected to read through 425 pages of unfamiliar nouns and references before getting to the barest explanation of what anything means. There’s going to be a lot of unfamiliar nouns. The book begins with the standard introduction to RPGs, but it really also needs an introduction to Starfinder and not just the d20 system.

The book includes two archetypes, which feel rather vestigial. Arguably, these are included to present the rules for archetypes for potential later use in splatbooks and accessories, with the two included archetypes being token examples. But it feels unnecessary. Themes do the same job and should probably have just replaced archetypes. These feels like prestige classes in Pathfinder, which were included because they were big in the previous version of the ruleset, and not because they were truly necessary.

There’s very limited art through the first chunk of the book. The majority of the art is the standard body shots of people in a semi-heroic pose. There’s precious few shots of the world or setting, and no little bits of technology or elements of the world. This is especially noticeable in class section where there is the one picture of the iconic class member at the start and four adventurers posing with the sample builds but no other art leaving walls of pure text.

As I just mentioned, each class has an iconic member, like the classes of Pathfinder. However, there are no details on these iconics. Like Pathfinder, their backstory (and even names) remain a web exclusive. This is unfortunate as their stories would give some necessary flavour to the world and the class. The start of each chapter is also missing the token bit of flash fiction, so there’s not even that big of flavour and personality.

Having just come from reading Modiphius’ Star Trek Adveventures (and just starting to browse through a copy of Tales from the Loop) I wonder what the book could have looked like with small narrative sidebars. Little bits of lore or flavour breaking up the rules. In-character notes on weapons, races, places, organisations. The iconic operative musing on lasers vs plasma weapons or the vesk opinion on androids.

The book uses pronouns curiously, randomly alternating between pronouns. Both “he” and “she” are used interchangeably and inconsistently, alternating even within a single chapter. (I believe I even noticed a transition on a single page.) I know Pathfinder tried to use the gender of the iconic in the class sections, but this book doesn’t following that style. I don’t mind she/her, but some consistency would be nice. Or a nice singular “they” to also includes the intersex and gender fluid crowd.

Starfinder retains some D&D-isms, sacred cows like ability scores ranging from 1-18(+), where the odd numbers do nothing. D&D can’t get away from that, as that numeration is iconic. However, Starfinder could have dropped ability scores entirely. (After all, they did so for the monsters.) The difference between “Ability Score” and “Ability Modifier” is a big hurdle to most new players I’ve introduced to the game, and it’s entirely needless.

Other small things didn’t change. Swift actions are very present in Starfinder, but haven’t spread beyond class features (they’re used to drop prone or change grips, which were both free actions in Pathfinder). Swift actions were added late in 3e and were never a big part of the core rules, and also thus never really did anything in Pathfinder’s combat rules, and were only featured in a third of the classes. Actions like drawing or holstering a weapon, reloading some weapons, opening doors, and the like could have easily become swift actions.

The Ugly

There are lots of abilities that recharge “once per day”. What that means is not explicitly defined. After all, a “day” on Idari is 27 hours while on Aballon it’s 12. To say nothing of being in deep space or the Drift where day and night are meaningless. It’s a grey enough area that some people will argue the point.

I dislike the use of the term “race” to refer to the different types of aliens. “Race” has uncomfortable real world implications and there’s been a move away from it in gaming. “Species” tends to work as a solid replacement in science fiction/ fantasy gaming, but there’s no shortage of alternatives, such as “origin” or “heritage”.

Because Starfinder keeps the foundation of 3.X, the remnants of the magic item Christmas tree remain in the game. Characters are as much a hero because of their gear as their class, if not more so. Damage and AC is heavily dependent on having better (and more expensive) gear, which is explicitly given a level. As a result, there are a LOT of weapons. Pages of weapons and armour that exist solely to be +1 level higher than the previous model. (This has more in common with Borderlands than Star Wars.) This repeats the loot cycle of Pathfinder where you adventure to find treasure to spend entirely on gear to adventure in more dangerous places to find treasure… Overlooking how you could take the money that would be spent buying level 8 armour and just live off that for a couple years.

(Edit: It should be noted that Starfinder doesn’t have the same Magic Item Christmas Tree, as characters are limited to two worn items. This is nice on paper, and somewhat similar to attunement in 5e D&D. Of course, there’s really not many magical items to choose from and this limit only applies to worn items and not – as the rules state – “armor upgrades, held items, weapon fusions, augmentations, magic armor consumables, or other forms of magic.” So you could still have five or six permanent magic items, which is pretty comparable to what you might have in Pathfinder. And, of course, you can just buy multiple magic items but only wear two at a time, swapping one in whenever you need. )

This gear treadmill means you can’t really play a Firefly style game where the heroes are always broke and willing to take foolish jobs just to keep the ship flying, because each mission has to give a small fortune in rewards to keep the gear the appropriate level. (Not that I can see any price for starship fuel.) And because gear equates with power level, you can’t award extra money because it breaks wealth-by-level and makes the characters too powerful. Similarly, you can’t give your players a sweet asteroid base, because it’s tempting to just sell it and buy a better laser pistol that does an extra couple d6 damage. (Which is why starships components have a cost in “build points” rather than credits, so you can’t capture enemy ships to sell them, or sell off your ship for better armour.) It also means you can’t have a situation where the party dons stormtrooper armour and blaster rifles, because then the players are either ineffective (as their equipment is scaled for lower level NPCs) or proceed to loot every stormtrooper (to sell of the valuable super gear). And heaven help your party if they ever get captured and lose their equipment…

The math of the game seems poorly thought out. Starfinder retains the math porn aspects of Pathfinder, where the numbers for everything increase every level or two. So you continually get better. However, as the numbers in the world tend to increase at the same rate, you’re not actually any better or more successful, creating the illusion of progress. This is likely because they retained the monster math from Pathfinder, the numbers in the free preview monster document seem identical to the “simple monster creation” numbers from Pathfinder Unchained. But the Pathfinder RPG character math assumes characters have tens of thousands of gold pieces worth of magical items increasing their ability scores, save DCs, saving throws, and attack rolls. While higher level items in Starfinder can increase your damage and AC, accuracy doesn’t really increase, nor do saving throws, save DCs, or ability scores. The soldier should do okay in terms of attacks, keeping pace with foes as their defences steadily increase, but other classes might fall behind.

This especially hurts the solarion who suffers heavily from mutual attribute dependence. They rely on Strength to hit with their signature weapons but Charisma for determining their saving throws and Resolve. They also need Constitution to boost their Stamina and Dexterity for their Armour Class – both very useful for a melee oriented class. Solarions either have to choose between missing in combat a lot, or not using many other their class features while also having precious little Resolve.

Starship math is also a little funky. Many checks made while crewing a starship require a base DC 15 skill check further increased by 2x the starship’s tier, ranging from 1/4 to 20. The rules assume a party has a starship with a tier equal to the average party level, so the DC increases by 2 every level, but the character will only increase 1 skill rank each level. It also means if your party finds a starship Tiered significantly above their level, they’ll be unable to effectively fly. Useful in preventing low level PCs from stealing an enemy dreadnought, but hard if you want a Blake’s 7 style campaign.

It’s also somewhat funky that your ship just improves at the exact same rate as the characters as they somehow find upgrades at regular intervals. The book doesn’t even pretend that starship Build Points are a form of treasure or currency, and there’s no option to award that as treasure. Instead the improvements just appear when the party gains a level.  It’s a power boost for the sake of boosting power rather than because it makes sense for the ship to be improved.

The Awesome

The end of the book gives conversion advice for Pathfinder classes and full stats for the Pathfinder Core Rulebook races. So you can play an elf or have elf NPCs as easy as a vesk.

I love space goblins in their fishglobe helmets, ala Flash Gordon. It’s cheesy and fun. Being able to mix-and-match Pathfinder favourites with pulpy sci-fi is one of my favourite parts of Starfinder.

Repeating something I said earlier, character themes are just cool. They’re a neat third way of customizing characters. I like how they give you a small bonuses at higher levels, so they’re not just something you take at level one and forget. They’re also a nice way of differentiating between PCs who might have the same class and providing a simple story hook or bit of backstory with associated mechanics. And I like how, unlike D&D backgrounds, they have a feature that comes up at later levels so they don’t just fade into the background.

Similarly, the execution of archetypes is nicely done. As you can apply archetypes to any class, you don’t need multiple archetypes covering a single theme, and replacing set features prevents abuse through mixing and matching archetypes. You also can never replace all your class features by taking two different archetypes that swap out different features. All operatives or technomancers will retain some iconic class features, and have something in common with other members of that class.

I like the simplified encumbrance system. “Bulk” is an easier descriptor than pounds, and means the rules toe around being metric or imperial. It also involves less math and counting, as small items have no weight until you certain thresholds. It’s abstract but works. It’s worth stealing for any game system with lots of gear.

The distinction between stamina and hit points is nice. And stamina heals pretty quickly (provided you spend precious Resolve points), but also goes up to full overnight. This means a “healer” class like a cleric is less necessary in the party between adventures. (Although the absence of wands of cure light wounds is rather noticeable: magic being replaced by technology only works if there’s readily and cheaply available comparable technology).  

The range of different starships is fun: there are the standard sci-fi vessels and then some pretty darn funky alien ships, like the eoxian vessels. The coffin-like fighters are amazing, and really highlight how a more fantastic science fantasy setting should be distinctly different from something like Star Wars that is just sci-fi with terrible physics and telekinetic monks.

At the side of the pages is a tab that lists the chapters and highlights which chapter you’re on. I always like this in RPG books as it makes flipping through the book to find something easier. At a glance you can tell if you’re in the section you need.

Iconic of the hybrid nature of magic and technology are fusion seals. Fusions are basically enchantments that you slap onto a weapon to make it magic. And fusion seals are similar things that can be moved between weapons. Like materia in Final Fantasy VII or gems in the Diablo series. And they’re a nice way of handwaving moving enchantments between weapons, since you’re going to be buying newer and better guns every other level (rather than adding more and more enchantments to a favoured weapon).

Final Thoughts

In some hypothetical reality in the multiverse there is a world where Hasbro decided to just end D&D after 3rd Edition. In this world, Paizo – now having a monopoly on the RPG market – decides to release Starfinder right after Pathfinder, in early 2010. That reality’s Starfinder, would look very similar to our reality’s Starfinder. It’s a game right out of the early 2000s, and taking very little inspiration from the veritable renaissance of new RPGs produced in last ten years. If there was a term like “OSR” or “retroclone” applying to 3.X styles games rather than 1e, that term would apply firmly to Starfinder.

I wouldn’t say that Starfinder is a step backwards. But I don’t think it’s really a step forwards in gaming either. The system is playing this safe, retaining the monster math and keeping the relentless gear treadmill. They didn’t even include many of the rules tweaks fixes suggested by Pathfinder Unchained! The one innovation in the game system is Resolve, which ties limited use character abilities to the death mechanic in a way I don’t particularly like. And more often than not, the game defaults to complexity.

I recall a Paizo staff member (I believe it was Jason Bulmahn) discussing the design of Pathfinder with the Know Direction podcast. He mentions how there were a lot of things they could have changed in the rules, and possibly should have changed, but chose not to because when they were launching the product being backwards compatible with 3.5e D&D was a huge selling feature. Similarly, I look at Starfinder and wonder what else they could have changed, had they decided not to make the monster math functionally equivalent to the monster numbers generated waaay back in 2000 for the 3.0 Monster Manual. A middle ground between Pathfinder and 5e…

But snide crabbiness aside, how is Starfinder? I think the complex classes will appeal to fans of character building and optimization, and the crunchy ruleset will continue to entertain fans of that style of roleplaying game. For fans of Pathfinder who need a break from fantasy but not the rules, this is a fun alternative. And for fans of science fantasy or science fiction who can’t handle technobabble of questions about time dilation or foreign diseases, this is a way to have a little space opera without the physics. And the setting itself is fun. And there’s just something unique and different about fighting goblin space raiders in an asteroid belt.

And for fans of Pathfinder who just feel overwhelmed by the options, Starfinder is also a way to get back to a less heavy version of the rules, without having to ban content or place limits on books.

 

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