In what’s becoming a bit of trend for this blog, but I have another new game! This time it’s Paizo’s latest RPG (if you don’t count Pathfinder v2 which is currently in playtest) Starfinder.
Starfinder is a sci-fi (well, really more space-fantasy) RPG from the makers of Pathfinder, one of the most popular RPGs ever. It’s adapted from the Pathfinder rules (which was based on D&D 3.5, so it either has pedigree or is just old and crap depending on your view), so is a d20 system that should fairly familiar to anyone who’s played that or D&D before.
As might be clear from some of other posts, I quite like sci-fi and have been looking at adapting futuristic ideas into d&d for a while now. So I was of course interested in the system and had to give it a go! But before I give you my opinion, here’s a quick primer on the game.
Starfinder is not a ‘hard’ sci-fi system, instead it’s essentially d&d in space, with all the elves, goblins and wizards you know and love, but brought into a future of laser pistols, robots and spaceships. Sometimes this is in danger of undermining the cool parts of sci-fi – transporters, cloaking devices and so on aren’t very exciting when wizards have been able to do all that for ages. But it does give you the possibility of getting in your spaceship to fight a missile-launcher-wielding dragon in space, so I’m ok with it.
As it’s based on Pathfinder, it’s very similar to that system: roll a d20, add some numbers for your skills/attack bonuses, try to get the highest number possible to succeed. But there’s a few changes to the old system, which (in my opinion) fix a few of the problems I had with Pathfinder:
- Rather than just hitpoints, character now also have stamina points (sp) which are lost before hp. A short rest restores all your sp (but no hp), similar to short rests in 5e. This also means having a party without a dedicated healer is viable, which frees everyone to play exactly what they want and not be told “we need a cleric”.
- Spellcasters have been toned down quite a lot, so the balance between them and the fighty-types is restored. This was a big issue in Pathfinder, where “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” ##link## was fairly common ##link##, especially at higher levels. I also thinks it fits a space setting more too, where technology is ubiquitous and magic is less of a big deal.
- The action system has been rejigged, and probably simplified. It’s better than Pathfinder, but doesn’t quite have the slickness of 5e for me.
Generally, I’d say the rules of Starfinder sits between the complexity and granularity of Pathfinder and the simplicity of 5e. Running a game as a GM has definitely felt like more work than it did when I ran 5e, and I’m not sure I’ve quite mastered it yet, despite trying REALLY hard.
I want to love Starfinder. It smashes together fantasy and sci-fi, it’s based on a system I understand quite well, and the rulebooks and adventures are pretty and have a lot of polish. The default setting does a good job of giving you every type of sci-fi you could want, from the cyberpunk feel of robot planets and giant space stations, a dessert planet of scum and villainy, to gas giants full of strange creatures to make first contact with. There’s even a city inside the sun!
The published adventures are pretty cool too. I’ve subscribed to ‘Starfinder Society’, which are a collection of loosely-linked adventures, and they’re (generally) great! They tick off all the tropes, but also have some really great ideas, such as one that climaxes with the players forcing a computer virus into a hologram projector so they can kick its head in. While on stage at a pop concert.
But (you knew there was a But coming) I just can’t get on with rules system, especially as the GM. Just like Pathfinder the game relies on lots of incremental gains as the players gain levels (e.g. your attack rolls go up by 1, you can spend skill points to get a +1 in that skill, etc), and the expectation is for big piles of loot that gets spent on incrementally better gear. The laser pistol you bought for 350 credits at level 1 did 1d4 damage, but now you’re level 6 you can spend 4270 credits on one that does… 2d4. Or maybe you want to spend your money on upgrading your body? Well for 4295 credits you can replace your crappy flesh legs with some some cool spider-like X-legs! Which give you the ability to… get +4 against being tripped, or +2 against being knocked over (the fact that they’re different bonuses for very similar effects almost makes my point for me).
It’s exhausting! A typical combat turn goes something like this:
“I’m going to shoot the alien”
“Ok, are you full-attacking? You get to attack twice, but each one is at a -4 penalty”
“Yeah, let’s go for it. I rolled a 12 and a 7, did I hit?”
“Well the Envoy did his clever feint this turn, so the alien is flat-footed, giving it -2 to its AC. But you’re still under the affects of that space-poison, which means you’re sickened and fatigued, so you have… [checks rules] -2 to some rolls, and then… [checks again] -1 to… a slightly different list of stuff. So with your base attack bonus and the penalty from the full-attack, you hit… AC 22 and 17! One hit one miss!”
“Ace. It takes [rolls dice, adds several more numbers seemingly at random] 18 damage. And thanks to my Blazing Strike, it has the dazzled condition for 1 round.”
“Wait, did you attack with your Plasma Flare? Because that has the unwieldy property, you can’t full-attack with it.”
[A few players groan. Most are now looking at their phones. The GM remembers how nice running 5e was.]
And so, as much as I want to love the system, after playing it for 6 months we’ve all decided to go back to D&D. Maybe we’ll go back to Starfinder, but maybe not.