Well, I finally got my hands on a copy of the core book. I settled into my chair, opened it up, and went cover to cover. I am, by no means, an expert on the system. However, after giving it a read, I can describe my opinion thusly.
|Pretty much this. For days.|
What I Was Told, Versus What I Got
When I first heard the spiel for Starfinder, I was stoked for everything I was hearing. Paizo was going to stride boldly into the sci-fi genre (or maybe just finish the sidestep it had been taking, given that we already had androids, crashed starships, and Old Ones), and it was going to do so with the same flair we'd come to expect.
Furthermore, we were going to get a continuation of the core world! Golarion, and its solar system were still the setting, and there would be a timeline from where we were, to where we are now. So anything your group did in adventure paths like Curse of The Crimson Throne, Rise of The Runelords, Mummy's Mask, etc. would all still be universe canon at your table. It would even be possible to play descendants of those old PCs, especially if they came from long-lived races that kept careful track of their bloodlines. This filled my head with images of deep space sorcerers, alien druids, phase rifle wielding void troopers, and tech-head ghosts that infiltrated the worst places in the cosmos, and vanished without a trace.
|That is, of course, not what I got.|
Now, if you have not read the core book for Starfinder, let me tell you that what I saw is not what I had hoped for.
Before we go forward, I will say that I felt many of the rule alterations and additions were quite sensible. For example, of course a sci-fi setting uses credits as currency. I like that classes get more skill points, because if there's more knowledge and education, folks are going to have more skills. And there needed to be some new skills added, like Computers to account for the setting's futuristic nature. Reducing armor to only light and heavy makes sense, since we're dealing with futuristic and tactical armors, not the more traditional fantasy armor. I like that it was made clear that you don't need a partner to strap you into a suit of heavy armor anymore. The gravity and environmental rules were, of course, going to come up for things like zero g combat, and going to alien planets.
Here's what I don't agree with, though. I don't agree with making two dozen subtle changes to the core mechanics of the game so that it reduces player options for customization. I don't agree with going from a rich world of options where we had dozens of races, and hundreds of classes, archetypes, and prestige classes (not to mention feats, spells, and unique traits), to only a half dozen races and classes, as well as a few pages of feats and spells, to play with. I disagree that in a world with space-age alloys and super-advanced technology that there aren't shields, whether they be adamantine or entirely energy-based. I also disagree on decisions that made the game feel more like an attempt to ape Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition style and flow. Lastly, and most strongly, I disagree with the dismissive tone, and token attitude, that infuses the "legacy conversion" section in the rear of the book. A section that I feel was one of the game's major selling points, but was littered with comments like, "at DM discretion," and, "isn't really meant to work in Starfinder," or, "is going to be difficult."
Why Angry, Though?
I mentioned that I was not just disappointed by this game, but that I was genuinely angered by it. Allow me to explain that statement.
If Paizo had set out to just make a sci-fi RPG, then I would say that Starfinder is definitely a success in terms of that goal. It's perfectly functional, do not misunderstand me on that score, and if I was in the mood for a sci-fi game I wouldn't kick it out of bed. In fact, I'd play Starfinder over most other sci-fi games (particularly the Star Wars RPG) hands-down if we're just talking about the mechanics.
|So why you mad, bro?|
What makes me mad about the game is that it's claiming continuity with one hand, and slamming the door in Pathfinder's face with the other. It's going to continue the story of the same world, but it doesn't want you to use any of the other books you already bought to open up the horizons, and populate the world. It wants you to ignore archetypes like the Tech Slinger, or the Cyber Solder, who would have been perfectly at home in a setting where their power sets matched the tone of the game. It wants to slap your knuckles, and chastise you for trying to use your old bestiaries, even though they're jam-packed with monsters from outer space and other planes who would be right at home in ghost ships, or on hellish, alien worlds.
Aside from making world continuity a selling point, there's another reason this setup displeases me so much. Because there was no reason for most of these changes to be made in the first place.
If you dig through the Pathfinder books, there are already rules for running a futuristic game peppered through the material. The game's rules for modern firearms are to simply take the guns we're used to, and make them simple weapons instead of exotic ones. Cost adjustments were also listed for worlds where firearms were common, rather than rare. There were already feats for technological weapon proficiencies, so everything from monofilament whips to chainswords could already be wielded by any class who took the right feats, or had the right proficiencies. There were already rules for creating, and using, high-tech items in the Technology Guide, and we already had rules for piloting and building ships both normal and magical.
With all the rules that had already been established, there was no need to re-invent the wheel. The Starfinder core book could have collected all these rules, put them in one place, and then added a few, simple tweaks to embrace the futuristic setting fully. Things like giving armor or shields the ballistic quality, meaning they count against firearm attacks, though not against rays, lasers, or other force effects, for instance.
The only reason to make all of the re-designs that I can see was to make it so players would have to either sweat bullets to put square pegs into round holes trying to convert the dozens of Pathfinder books they already have, or just buy the new material for Starfinder as it comes out. And honestly, with so many technological rules already in the books, and available online, you could just take the minor changes from Starfinder, and play the game with all your favorite classes from the barbarian to the kineticist fully intact.
Because sure, I think the Vesk are cool. I like some of the fun stuff the Soldier and the Operative offer. But when a game purports to be set in the same world, but limits my options for play from thousands of unique combinations to a paltry handful of puzzle pieces, that is not a game I'm down with. I expected better, and was severely disappointed both by the content itself, and by the tone of a game which boasted a rich history, but then locked it behind glass where we're not allowed to touch it.
Edit: Also, I'm Bored
After some time to think about it, and answering comments on this piece, I realized something else about Starfinder that I have a complaint about; it's boring.
I don't mean it's boring in that the writing is bad, the setting is uninteresting, or that you can't play fun games in it. I mean that it's sci-fi by the numbers. When you heard there was a class-based sci-fi RPG, this is exactly what you'd expect. There's the tech guy, the stealth operative, the soldier, the techno wizard, the weird spiritualist, etc. Even the races are just paint-by-numbers.
I didn't get my version of the game, but just as Pathfinder blended sci-fi into fantasy to create a unique combination you couldn't get in other games, so too I was hoping Starfinder would blend some fantasy into sci-fi to make something equally unique. So you could have a cyborg druid, or a wizard with a ray gun, or a medium that would channel the alien spirits of long-lost battlefields. Stuff that would upend genre expectations, and be unexpected.
Instead of giving us exactly what the genre ordered.
That's all for this Moon Pope Monday update. I'm sorry it wasn't more positive, but it's something I really needed to get off my chest. If you're looking for more content than I have on here, check out my Gamers archive. It's still growing, and I'm not stopping anytime soon. If you want to stay on top of all my releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support my work here, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today. All I ask is $1 a month, and in exchange I'll keep doing what I do in addition to giving you some sweet swag as a thank you!