Calling Starfinder “Pathfinder in space” is a massive disservice to both Pathfinder and Starfinder; I believe that James Sutter, creative director of Starfinder, had it right when he said “It’s a game filled with space wizards and laser ninjas.” Pathfinder is an amazing fantasy-based franchise that has been around for years and Starfinder, though set in the same universe, is a perfect evolution of the Pathfinder system. Far from being a reskinning of the beloved franchise, Starfinder makes some much needed changes to the source material to such a degree that it could easily be seen as its own identity, and it should be, as Starfinder is far superior to its inspiration.
There is not a way to say this with any more finality, but Starfinder is amazing. Simply put, I have not been this excited or energized about a tabletop roleplaying game since Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition was released in 2003 (my personal favorite of the venerated franchise). That said this review will be slightly different due to the fact that Starfinder’s Core Rolebook is just over 510 pages long. There is a LOT to cover in here and to cram it into a 1000 word article is near impossible, so this review will cover the overarching concept of Starfinder and whether it scratches all of the itches for a deep, intriguing, and rich tabletop experience. In coming weeks and months I will cover aspects such as the new combat system, various classes, new attributes and feats, themes, races, and more. Look forward to it.
I know I am.
As I mentioned earlier, Starfinder is so much more than a reskinned Pathfinder; new features, simplified combat, and a new setting. Familiarity with the Pathfinder gameplay can help give a good foundation to Starfinder’s systems, though I think that new players to Paizo’s Starfinder will have a slightly easier time learning the system, even with how complicated it can seem, since they do not need to un-learn what they know of from Pathfinder. The shared familiarity, at times, seemed to be a hindrance, especially if you are a long-running Pathfinder player and you have more than passing familiarity with that system’s rules.
I am not entirely sure I have ever played a tabletop RPG that sets up the universe half as well as Paizo has done with Starfinder. Sure there are those Licensed franchises like Firefly, Star Wars, Warcraft, or the Macross tabletop RPG but they simply flesh out an existing universe, not create a new one from relative scratch. Many ‘original’ tabletop games rely more on the game/dungeon master to create the world as it works specifically for your game. Maybe I am simply taking my knowledge of D&D for granted, but I do not believe that the first rulebook of D&D that I was exposed to was nearly as deep and well-written as Starfinder’s Core Rulebook. To put it into perspective, of the 515-ish pages of content, just over 70 pages are dedicated to the Starfinder setting. That is longer than some science fiction short stories or novellas I read in school. It is incredible the amount of thought that Paizo put into this rulebook.
Focusing more on exploration and discovery than atypical dungeon runs in other games that are about slaying a dragon that has been terrorizing the countryside or rescuing the town hottie’s younger sibling from a roving band of misfits. Most fantasy-based games set players up for these task-like situations, largely because they can be far more exciting and more localized, but they also tend to be more shallow, even if they are incredibly fun. Sure, the game master is the one that controls the overall story, but the core books for other franchises do not set up the game master for success with a game centered more on discovery than killing your next goblin king. There are certainly cases where plowing through a small flotilla of pirate ships to raid an asteroid-based pirate lair to regain some lost loot, but the setup and pacing of Starfinder is more focused on new worlds.
Races here in Starfinder are pretty darn fun. Androids are constructs, humans are, well, humans, Kasathas are four-armed traditionalists, the antennae-filled Lashuntas are gifted psychics, Shirrens are these nasty hive-mind insectoid things that remind me of the Collectors from Mass Effect 2, the Vesk are war-hungry conquistadors that look like angry bipedal bearded-dragons (and thus, are awesome), and the Ysoki, a race full of rodents that seem to be the future version of Master Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, except he is also a technological genius. They are pretty great. The seven races can choose from seven classes, each with their own subsets (called themes). The Envoys are a support class and an excellent leader due to their excellence at negotiation and politics. Mechanics are capable of using a drone companion to help out in times of needs. The Mystic magically channels the energy that connects all things, where Technomancers exploit the connection between technology and magic. Soldiers are your front-line force that brings the pain, where the Operative is the one sneaking up behind a confused or occupied enemy and dealing massive damage. The Solarian, a personal favorite of mine, uses stellar energies to create weapons and armor.
Each of the classes then have their sub-themes; take for instance the Envoy, you can those a theme like Negotiator which gives skills, feats, and bonuses. Focused more on negotiation and business it is perfect for handling those encounters that are less combat-focused, and more based on the rule of law or slyness of tongue. In the same Envoy class though you can also pick the Military Officer who excels at commanding troops in combat and providing buffs to its party members. Operatives are downright lethal with their scout-like Trailblazer or their Investigator, which excels at sniffing out details others might have missed. My personal favorites are the Paladin-like Solarian Champion who can manifest a solar weapon and is focused on the protection of the people that they serve. Though the Champion is excellent, the other contender for go-to class mix is the Solarian Luminous Seeker; focused on exploration and learning. They are the quintessential Pathfinder and seeker in the Stars. With their ability to manifest some awesome solar armor, they are dexterous marvels seeking new finds in the inky black void of space.
Starfinder is nearly perfect; other than the long read and some binding issues caused by frequent checks back into the rulebook to determine how to build your starship or how to recalculate your Eanergy and Kinetic armor classes, I would dare say it is the perfect mixture of fantasy and hard science fiction. With 70+ pages of “world setting” and two entire pages dedicated to the inspirations that helped form Starfinder (pages 516 and 517; save them until the end though since it will likely allay some suspicions you might get as you read through the book), is one of the most complete tabletop roleplaying games right out of the gate. With the added Starfinder books that are slowly becoming more and more available, Paizo has done everything it can to ensure game masters and players have every tool at their disposal for jumping into a highly engaging and exciting universe.