Wow, ok it was June last time I did a game review. And like I told you in the last post this is one that I have not played yet.
So how can I review a game I have not played yet? Well people on other sites do it all the time, but this time I have, I feel, enough experience with most of the material to make a few jumps in logic without an actual game session under my belt.
You see Starfinder is the latest game from Paizo, the company that created Pathfinder and kinda took over for the massive crowd of gamers that loved D&D 3.0 / 3.5 when Wizards of the Coast stopped supporting that product line. Since shortly after the initial release of Pathfinder there have been elements in the game community that have been begging Paizo to do a Pathfinder Modern like WOTC did with d20 Modern to put the d20 system that ran D&D 3.0 / 3.5 into modern and futuristic settings (look at the supplements list on the d20 Modern wiki and you can see d20 Future for sci-fi and other settings – you can also take a look at the d20 version of Star Wars [Not my favorite version of Star Wars RPG], in many ways these licensed products are why there was so little support for d20 Modern). Several fans have cooked up their own materials and published them online. I wont give links to those because half of them seem to have predatory adds and its a pain to keep up on who has what. Feel free to go looking but keep your security monitors up at full speed when you do.
So finally now Paizo took their Pathfinder rules and made a sci-fi game setting. Starfinder is it.
Here is where things get a little hairy. It is not a straight translation. There are a number of rules and mechanics changes that will make game play different. However they do have a section on how to play Starfinder with Pathfinder, and I could see from the get go that while there are changes the basic structure is so closely similar that it would be easy to just skip the difference in some of the mechanics and roll with it one way or another. In some respects I look at the engine and changes as being a possible Pathfinder 2.0 game engine. There are only two game engine changes that I do not really agree with, but it is easy enough to put those aside.
Paizo already has a few products planned to support the new setting. But it remains to be seen if this is going to be a long term, and well supported game. Looking at everything Paizo has done over the years to support Pathfinder, I have to say that I am kinda hoping that they will put just as much time and effort behind Starfinder. And I also hope they avoid the long term decline that we have seen in the quality of Pathfinder products… that is a rant for another time though, and considering how many people have already ranted about that online I would feel like I am in the middle of a ‘been there done that’ moment.
So what has Paizo changed in Starfinder? Well lets start with character generation. The primary format they suggest using (see its not the only way to do it but they call it out for game balance reasons) is that you use a point based stat generation system and that no stat should start above 18 after all the race and background modifications are in place. It is not a bad system overall, but when you compare it to the way you could roll an 18 and add race mods and so on to a Pathfinder character and start with a stat of 20 or more it seems a little out of place. Thankfully the roll option is still there for those who cant live without it. Next change is that players have three selections they need to make for their characters to get things started. Pathfinder has race and class. Starfinder adds Theme to that. Theme is an interesting new aspect that basically flavors your class in a number of ways. It provides level dependent benefits that can also shape your character. While you can multi-class still you cannot multi-theme. And for those who worry that adding a theme element might make you more restricted in how you can design or play your character, don’t worry they actually have a ‘theme-less’ theme so that you can free form it a bit. Next big changes come in the areas of combat. I want to start with something that comes up in character generation but is not really worked with much until you talk about combat. Characters in Starfinder have Stamina Points, and Hit Points. Stamina Points (SP) get burned quickly and recover quickly. Once your SP are gone you burn Hit Points (HP) and they are harder to recover. This mechanic reminds me of the Palladium Books SDC (Structural Damage Capacity) and HP set up. However I think the Starfinder version is better defined. The big challenge here is that by adding SP you make it harder to kill things. The sad part is that this mechanic is needed because the weapons in this setting do more damage than you may be used to if you have been playing Pathfinder. Next change is that you have two versions of Armor Class in Starfinder. Energy and Kinetic. I know that Kinetic is a type of energy, but… well… yeah ok just roll with it. Both are calculated from the same base, but one protects you better against some of the energy weapons and spells (yeah there is still magic here) and the other against ones that just use brute force. You will notice that there is nothing in my statement about ranged or melee attacks and that is on purpose. Next up is a modification to the Combat Maneuver system. One of the best innovations that Pathfinder did to improve on d20 was to simplify combat maneuvers. Things like tripping or tackling an opponent. Starfinder changes the way you calculate the values but nothing else really. It does not change much, but it does change the overall values a bit.
None of the changes are bad, they are just different.
Some of the cool adds that they have in the game include several new races, new classes (one of which reminds me more than a little of a leveled version of a Green Lantern or a Nova Corps member) and a ship design system that I wish I would have had ages ago playing d20 games. Yeah, its pretty cool even if it relies heavily on an initial template, after that you can smeggin go to town and make some really cool ships.
The setting for the game is tied in tightly with the Pathfinder solar system. They give a lot of tasty tidbits and history in the main book. For a core rule-book it is fleshed out pretty well, so it is really interesting to think where they will take it from there.
Now then my initial testing of the game (I do this with just about everything that I get that has related rules in another game… hence why I know so well the Palladium power creep) I made up a couple of Starfinder characters and pitted them against Pathfinder characters of the same level. First level characters in Pathfinder got mopped. Not because of higher skills or abilities, but due to gear and Stamina Points. Fifth level was actually a closer match but only when the Pathfinder characters thought ahead and used their skills. Tenth level if you have a Pathfinder mage you come out on top, monks also do some significant wiping up. Fighters and rouges have serious issues unless they have feats that allow them to get a-hold of Starfinder gear and weapons to turn them against the Starfinder characters. To my mind the rules changes do not make this a case of power creep though. Starfinder characters are in a world with more fire power, and slightly different mechanics. But take it as you will.
Ok to get down to the numbers so this does not turn into a really huge post.
Overall Fluff 5/5 – The art, the background, the flavor text. Yeah this is a quality publication when it comes to the fluff. Most of the book is very easy to read and can give you a ton of ideas. Not just for a Starfinder game, but there are some interesting things in there about relations between some of the races and cultures that just sort of sings.
Overall Crunch 2/5 – The rules in this game are mostly well placed. However I found myself diving into the index a lot to get more information about topics. In the exact opposite to the fluff the initial rules material is usually enough to tease you about something but not explain it well. So to really understand some of the rules you need to go to a couple of places to make sure you know what the changes from the Pathfinder system means. I have been told that if you are completely new to the game it is easier to follow than if you are experienced.
Overall Mod 4/5 – So yeah, it is a Pathfinder/D&D 3.5 product. If you know anything at all about the engine you can mod the hell out of it.
Overall Fun 2/5 – This one is just an estimate as I have not played any more than my power creep tests. I think it will be fun, but finding a crew to play a sci-fi pathfinder that has both tech and magic will not be fun. Yeah I know I did not really go into that but yeah there is magic and tech.
Total Score 13/20 – I do see a lot of potential here. And to be honest some of my scoring may be biased by the fact that I am currently looking at rules engines for my own sci-fi setting and want the perfect one. Also that I may be impacted by the slow decline in quality that I have been seeing in Pathfinder products for the last few years. So I will accept that I may be biased, but I am honestly looking forward to seeing what can come out of this game.
Allright so that covers the review… Usual disclaimer that this is all my personal thoughts and you will need to think for yourself to really figure out if this game is for you or not.
Now gimme the dice… I need to roll for dodging kitten claws while typing.