One shameful acknowledgement to begin with – I have never played Pathfinder, much less Starfinder. It came out in the lull of my gaming and I never was swept up as part of a group that enjoyed the game. While I had some extensive experience with it’s progenitor, D&D 3 & 3.5, this is going to be my first deep dive into a Core Rule Book for the Paizo developed system. Honestly, I’ve been really impressed with Starfinder. I’ll talk about more in the system and setting notes, but the chance to grab the CRB now has me jonesing to play a rolicking space advenure. It didn’t help that I played a few hours of Starfinder welcome adventures at Origins 2018.
Starfinder is the latest iteration and refinement of the Pathfinder D20 system, and like both Babylon 5 and Mutants & Masterminds has the Open Gaming License from 2000 incorporated into its work. Pathfinder began as a supplement series for Dungeons & Dragons 3e and 2.5, but it took off as it’s own creature or game when Wizards of the Coast (inheriting TSR’s legacy) moved to Dungeons & Dragons 4e. Many players felt that D&D 4e was not enough like D&D and had a backlash against the company for making changes to the underlying mechanics and “feel” of the game. In this roilling period, Paizo launched Pathfinder as the continuation of the mechanics of 3.5 but with constant refinements. Now, a decade in, Paizo has taken the leap to the stars by releasing Starfinder, a Space Opera, Science Fiction, and Science Fantasy version of Pathfinder set in the far future of the Pathfinder world. Since the release in 2017, Paizo has produced several adventures as well as the Alien Archive and System Worlds books but for this set we will focus solely on the CRB.
The system in Starfinder, like Pathfinder, is built on the skeleton of D&D 3.5 like we discussed in the Babylon 5 intro. This means that you have 6 Ability Scores, a list of Skills, and class abilities to draw from. You have Hit Points, Armor Class, Saving Throws, and Attacks that are all derived from your Ability Score Bonuses and Class Descriptions. Finally, you have Feats that, along with your special class abilities, provide you with your unique character’s abilities. This is a system that is fairly well known in the gaming sphere, so I want to focus on some of the innovations and pieces that struck me compared to the early d20 system works. Starfinder represents Paizo’s big leap forward, though, with innovations and changes that set Starfinder apart from other d20 derived systems while retaining the core mechanics and appearance.
First, I really like the three part character generation. Instead of just a species and class, Starfinder adds a Theme so that you massively increase the number of concepts that have mechanical support in the game. A Human Soldier is one thing, but a Starfarer Themed Human Soldier is very different from a Priest Themed Human Soldier. Each theme provides bonus skills to be in class as well as an attribute bump and other abilities at higher levels.
Second, attribute enhancements are handled well and really do provide a science fantasy or pulp feel to the improvements. While you are not allowed to start with an Ability Score over 18 at character creation, there is ample opportunity to exceed that limit as you advance. Every 4 levels, you can increase four of your six Ability Scores by 2 if they are at 16 or below or by 1 if they are at 17 or above. In addition to that, the game provides that each character may get Attribute Enhancements – one at +2, one at +4, and one at +6. The exact nature are left up to the player and GM, but nanocarbonfiber muscle replacements could be a STR enhancement, or a magical tattoo to channel the powers of a god could be a WIS enhancement. Additionally, Starfinder makes it clear that when you increase your ability score, you also get retroactive bonus. If you increase your CON score at Level 10 from 12 (+1 bonus) to 14(+2 bonus), you get the retroactive +10 Hit Points. Combining these with the quick start Attribute rules and you can make a character who fits that space opera, science fantasy, pulp like larger than life heroism quite well over the course of their career.
Third, Blending magic and technology without batting an eye. If you are going to include both in a game, there are significant design choices that go into the relationship between magic and technology. For Starfinder, the world shrugs and has both equally viable and equally available. The characters are limited to how many magical items they can have on them or how many augmentations they can have on a body part, but that is simple bookkeeping. This simplifies things for players and GMs but they have a nod to it all in the fluff and setting story which makes it integrated into the world well.
Fourth, the subclasses available in each class. Increasing the number of types of characters available even more, every single class has significant “subclasses” where there are multiple ways it can be developed. Each class has a plethora of special abilities beyond feats making them each be desirable, but then the further specialization available is like icing on top of the cake. Take the Mechanic which has an AI of some kind – either an exocortex that the Mechanic wears or in a Drone. This means that your mechanic could take on aspects of a “pet” class with the drone that increases in abilities with you or double down on using direct enhancement with the exocortex. Each provides a different flavor on top of the Theme, Species, and Class decisions already made. There are four different example builds with each character class in the book that showcase the diversity, and I will try not to use any of them in the builds here.
Fifth, the revision of the skills system streamlines things greatly. The Original D20 systems provided that you could have skills at a rank up to your level +3, but you had to pay double for skills that were not in class, and your first level used a x4 multiplier for the number of ranks to start. Starfinder provides a set number of skills per level. If you have a skill as a class skill, you receive a +3 bonus effectively mimicking the old start with 4 ranks in your class skills methods, but in a simpler mechanic.
Sixth, the addition of Stamina Points makes the game feel more modern. The dual health track systems that represent the different between the “aw shucks just a flesh wound” and the more serious wounds makes the game feel more epic and also extends the heroism. We’ll go into how they are calculated in the character design posts.
Seventh, the use of Resolve Points also creates a more narrative and modern feel to the game without sacrificing the underlying crunch of the d20 system being spent to activate high level and more impressive powers and being used to heal between encounters.
Eighth, while the game is built around the new races and classes in the setting, the traditional Pathfinder and fantasy races and classes are easily convertible. Moreover, the back of the book has a great chapter on how to convert the two as well as putting the traditional races in the spacefaring setting. The last character was going to be one of the other new and shiny races and classes, but the picture from the book made me want to make the Dwarf who is now in the mix.
Ninth, there is a strong hand dealt to the GM and expectations. GMs are expressly told that the party is expected to have access to a spaceship in someway so that the adventures can go on either as a perk from their employer or having it outright. Additionally, GMs are advised to allow wealth by means of a regular paycheck or reward system rather than by looting the bodies of fallen foes. Making setting expectations clear for the GM, and by extension the players serves as a Session Zero.1 for the entire setting and not just a campaign.
Starfinder plunges the players into the space fantasy setting of the Pact Worlds in the far flung future from the Pathfinder RPG! In fact, the planet that Pathfinder explores, Golarion, has gone missing and is one of the great mysteries of the settings. The Pact World System had over a dozen planets, but Golarion is missing, replaced with Absalom Station, and two were destroyed forming the Diaspora asteroid belt. The Pact World System is in a precarious balance of peace as it looks to the future.
Nobody knows what happened in The Gap, just that system wide everyone came to 300 years ago to know they were missing some amount of time. Scrubbed from memories, history, and even the deities own words nobody knew how long had passed or what had transpired. Absalom Station was quickly swollen with the people who no longer had a planet to call their own, and 3 years later a new Deity, Triune, showed the system Drift travel. Absalom Station’s Starstone was a beacon in the drift and it became a hub for the expanding planetary and corporate interests in the system. For 40 years, things were slowly returning to normal until the Vesk began a conquest and the remaining planets formed the Pact World alliance … even the Bone Sages of Eox came to the table and the Elves still grieving their own lost memories. The Veskarium were the Pact World’s closest neighbors and these neighbors were not friendly.
For two hundred and fifty years, this was the state of things, until the Swarm forced even the mighty Veskarium to the Pact World table and they joined in a shaky agreement even as some of the Swarm rejected its collectivism to become the Shirren who now are part of the Pact Worlds’ population. The Pact World System is full of adventure and intrigue, with monsters in the deep of space and mysteries still underneath the planets’ surface.
It’s taken a while, but the crew of the Troublemaker Beta are making a distinct name for themselves especially now that they have a good ship to their name. Coming together on Absalom Station, as many crews are want to do, the crew of the Troublemaker Beta started off by foiling pirates. Besu and Chitter had already become fast friends, or at least Chitter was already hiding behind Besu’s strong arms when Valaeyo spoke up to have them hired by the Ulrikka Clanholding company.
While Drift will get you there, you have to spend some time out of the Drift and piracy was eating into profits for the Ulrikka Clanholdings. Their Diaspora mining operation was being harried before the ore could be refined, and taken from the profit side of the ledger in th Star Citadel. They were hired to get to the bottom of it and make sure that the profits still flowed. In the course of this, they found Stoli, but also uncovered a deeper conspiracy.
It took another year to defeat, but not quite expose, the plans between errant Elves on Castrovel and a Bone Sage intent on expanding his unliving touch. It took a year, and many derring deeds were undertaken, but the System still does not know the full extent of what the Troublemaker Beta averted. Now, they are looking for their next job and looking to the system for the next mystery in their retrofitted Shirren transport ship.
Xenoseeking Lashunta Mystic
August 7, 2018
The Lashunta have been transformed over generations and Valaeyo feels the next great step is to stretch beyond the Pact Worlds. Valaeyo channels the power of the universe through his Mystic being and seeks to manipulate the worlds around him. It was not long after Besu and Chitter were leaving for Absalom Station that Valaeyo’s own path crossed theirs. As the putative Captain of the SHIP, he is looked to as a leader which suits him just fine as his Mystic powers are built around Leading, or as some call it Overlording.
Grik “Chitter” Krowlestic
Bounty Hunting Ysoki Operative
August 14, 2018
Akiton is still a mess. It’s no surprise that people go there to hide and people go there to get lost. Chitter, as she is known to her friends, specialized in finding those people and running them to ground. For a fee, of course. When Besu stepped off the Idari and visited Akiton, she ran into Chitter …. Or more accurately, Chitter saw her take apart a gang of thugs. Tall, strong, and violent friends are helpful in her line of work. Primarily the pilot of the Troublemaker, Chitter is also more than capable Engineer who works with C-7 though the biological components of the Shirren tech can be a little offputting for her.
Spacefaring Kasathas Soldier
August 21, 2018
Tradition is the watchword of the Kasathas. Besu knows this and has attempted to embrace it. Restless and wishing to see the rest of the universe, Besu is taking a walkabout from Idari to see more of the universe and to find her own traditions to follow. Her intense desire to see the universe around her led her to start at Akiton where this chatty and somewhat obnoxious Ysoki “adopted” her as family. Kasathas are known to take care of their family, so Chitter’s plea was soon followed by Valaeyo forging them into a crew with the rest. She is beginning to feel comfortable now, and perhaps it is time to return to the Idari and share her traditions.
Scholar Android Mechanic
August 28, 2018
C-7 is fascinated by the mechanical interacting with the biological. The nature of an Android’s soul is something lost on him, but he is still intent on studying how to put a human together, a questioner of how everyone came to be. In the course of this new obsession, C-7 has sought out knowledge of biologics and Androids to learn how each of them can be pieced together. Recently, C-7 has come to see the hole is its knowledge – and Valaeyo is being peppered with questions about souls in every down moment there is.
Icon Human Technomancer
September 4, 2018
Some people just think deep thoughts. Hiroko Benandetti is one of those deep thinkers and philosophers. In fact, you may well have heard of her before as she is a rather well known Philosopher exploring the interplay between technology and spirituality. A Philosopher who uses her Technomancer trainings to summon, create, and cajole technological beings, Hiriko is at the forefront of what it means to truly be alive in the Pact Worlds and what the Drift may yet bring. She is often found in deep conversations with C-7 about what it means to be alive, and many of these conversations have just added to her fame when recorded and shared across the Pact Worlds.
Mercenary Dwarf Soldier
September 11, 2018
A big mug of food, a rowdy and bawdy song, and an automatic grenade launcher attached to a suit of powered armor. It is almost the stuff of stereotypes, but it is also how Stoli appears. Stoli joined up with the crew of the Troublemaker as they were finishing up the adventures of the pirates who had been eating into the mining profits of the Ulrikka Clanholdings. It was just in time, too, because a strapping dwarf with power armor and a grenade launch was exactly what they needed when the sneaky elves tried to undermine a new Vast exploration? It didn’t take long for Stoli to fall into a routine, getting in Chitter’s way and poking at C-7’s biologic conclusions all while asking where the next port is when the Troublemaker itself came into their possession.