In the crowded world of fantasy-based tabletop role-playing games, science fiction settings can be a welcome addition to most collections. Starfinder emerged in 2017, offering a blend of science fiction and fantasy while utilizing the popular Pathfinder system. Paizo Publishing’s massive Starfinder core book gives players the opportunity to create new characters and embark on a stellar journey. Players can even bring their favorite Pathfinder heroes into space with an intuitive conversion system. How is it?
Storytelling & Worldbuilding
In Starfinder, players will find themselves in the Pact Worlds. The Pact Worlds are a union of autonomous governments and affiliations united to facilitate trade and ensure mutual protection. Starfinder blends elements of both science fiction and fantasy, leading to a unique hybrid that sets it apart from other RPGs. While the universe’s coexistence of technology and magic might occasionally make it seem unfocused, this unlikely marriage serves as a catalyst for unique narratives. Few settings integrate the two so well, and the clashing themes can be forgiven easily when the right GM comes up with an ambitious tale that doesn’t solely work in science fiction or fantasy exclusively.
In terms of storytelling tools, Starfinder excels in empowering GMs with an array of plot hooks and campaign ideas. It encourages both novice and experienced GMs to craft engaging narratives and invites players to immerse themselves in these universes. This diversity and depth in setting and storytelling are what make Starfinder an excellent choice for those seeking a rich and multifaceted RPG experience. The lore of Starfinder spans a multitude of planets, each with its own distinct history and culture, providing ample room for exploration and discovery. Starfinder rewards GMs who take the time to explore everything that Paizo has to offer.
The vastness of this universe can occasionally lead to a sense of unfocused storytelling if a skilled GM isn’t helming the experience. On one hand, it encourages creativity and exploration, but on the other, the absence of a cohesive framework might leave some players yearning for a more tightly integrated lore. Every planet and race feels tight, with cultures and politics surrounding them. This feels great in a vacuum, but it is up to the GM to find ways to connect everything in a meaningful way.
The backstories and cultures feel incredibly developed, even with just the core book without much supplemental content. An abundance of diverse races adds depth and variety to character creation and storytelling. Making compelling characters as a GM and player is a blast.
Rules & Mechanics
Starfinder carries the torch of the d20 system while introducing substantial changes, particularly in combat mechanics. It strikes a fine balance between being similar enough to Pathfinder to make the transition easy for experienced players while also offering distinct gameplay mechanics. One of the most notable shifts is its strong emphasis on ranged combat and space battles, creating a dynamic and mobile battlefield.
Stamina and resolve systems add strategic depth to encounters, elevating battles from mere dice-rolling to engaging tactical engagements. Character classes and abilities are well-tuned, contributing to a balanced experience and preventing character classes or abilities from overshadowing others. Space combat drags a little too long sometimes and doesn’t feel like the epic space battles that we often see in science fiction, mostly because the many turns needed to destroy a ship start to feel like a drag. Otherwise, combat feels excellent in Starfinder.
We should note that Starfinder‘s intricate mechanics might appear somewhat daunting to newcomers to the d20 system or tabletop RPGs in general. It caters more to those who have previous experience with such systems, especially Pathfinder. The transition to Starfinder will be seamless for Pathfinder players. This blend of familiarity and innovation ensures that Starfinder‘s rules and mechanics are both robust and engaging for new and returning players. There is just enough innovation here to make Paizo’s classic system feel fresh again.
Artwork & Presentation
Starfinder excels in its artistic presentation, capturing the essence of its gritty yet vibrant universe. The artwork is consistently immersive and feels relevant to the game’s themes. Character portraits exude power, and the diversity in representation within the artwork is commendable. The layout of the core rulebook is well-structured, minimizing the need for excessive page-flipping during gameplay, which is a testament to its thoughtful design.
If players get a hold of the physical copy of the book, they are treated to a hefty and well-binded product. The colors and typography look excellent, keeping the book thematic as it matches the aesthetic of the game itself. It’s a nice hardcover book that looks great on a shelf, so players willing to shell out the $40 or so will be nicely rewarded.
The GM Experience
For GMs, Starfinder is a rich and engaging experience. The core book offers a diverse range of planets, creatures, and races to incorporate into the campaign. The GM’s toolkit is well-equipped with various tools for creating immersive stories and adventures. The combination of technology and magic in the setting provides ample room for creativity, and GMs have the freedom to explore various themes and concepts.
The system provides clear rules and mechanics for GMs to manage encounters and challenges, making it accessible for both new and experienced GMs. The use of a d20-based system offers a level of familiarity, while also introducing innovative elements that keep the GM’s role engaging and dynamic.
The game’s focus on tactical combat and the well-structured rules for starship battles provide GMs with opportunities to create thrilling encounters. Additionally, the integration of the core rulebook with a bestiary and a range of resources helps GMs populate their campaigns with various adversaries and challenges. While the setting may appear vast and open-ended, GMs can focus on specific elements or areas to build a coherent and engaging narrative. The value of the book is significant, offering a plethora of tools and resources for GMs, which, combined with its replayability, ensures a rewarding and enjoyable experience for those behind the screen.
The Player Experience
Starfinder provides an excellent experience for players, especially the experienced ones. The setting and lore are immersive, offering a unique blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. The Pact Worlds serve as a compelling backdrop for adventures, filled with history, diverse planets, and intriguing races.
The system mechanics offer a balanced and accessible framework for character creation and gameplay. There is even a nice little section with each race during character creation that indicates what you likely are and how others may react to you. For example, if players choose Android, they are likely rational and have a natural understanding of machines, while others probably have trouble reading your emotions. Players can grasp the rules and mechanics with a little work thanks to the d20-based system, which many are already familiar with from games like Pathfinder. The game places a strong emphasis on balance, ensuring that different character classes, abilities, and elements harmonize well within the system. This balance fosters an inclusive and enjoyable experience for all players, regardless of their chosen character options.
The artwork and presentation are visually appealing and contribute to the game’s overall immersion. High-quality illustrations and a well-organized layout enhance the book’s readability and aesthetic appeal. Color and typography are used effectively to create an engaging and attractive design. The world-building and setting achieve impressive depth and consistency, allowing players to become fully absorbed in the game’s universe. The setting adheres to its own rules and logic, resulting in a cohesive and believable environment that players can easily connect with.
Starfinder Core Book
Starfinder's core book offers an immersive experience, combining a richly detailed game world with well-balanced mechanics, making it an excellent choice for players seeking a blend of science fiction and fantasy adventure.
Storytelling & Worldbuilding
Rules & Mechanics
The GM Experience
The Player Experience