Starfinder is here, and it is everything that you would expect from a science fantasy hack of Paizo's popular Pathfinder rules. Paizo dropped the embargo on reviews of the game early, so we're going to talk some about the Starfinder game and share some early thoughts on it. The game is an evolution of everything that you've seen to date in the Pathfinder line, cleaned up and consolidated with a cool science fantasy paint job.
From a rules perspective, if you already like or dislike Pathfinder, there probably isn't going to be much about Starfinder to change your mind. There is no dramatic change to the rules that makes Starfinder into a dramatically different game from the original rules. They didn't make Starfinder into a rules light game, or into something inspired by the OSR. What they did was pull the threads together from a variety source like the Advanced Class Guide, the Advanced Player's Guide and Pathfinder Unchained, among others, to weave all the important rules into one place.
You've been following all of the Starfinder reviews here at E.N. World and across the internet, so you already have an idea of what to expect from Starfinder. Because of that I am going to try to talk about some of the things that you might not have seen. I've had an advance copy of the Starfinder rules to look at for about a month now.
The book itself is gorgeous. I mean, it is incredibly pretty. The graphic design of the book emphasizes the science fiction elements, making the PDF look like some sort of futuristic data link on my tablet. When you have a science fiction setting in a role-playing game the art becomes more important because you don't have the crutch of familiarity that you get with fantasy games. In this regard, Starfinder really comes through. The art is incredible, and right from the cover of the book the world jumps out at you and grabs your attention.
The setting for Starfinder isn't just the worlds of Pathfinder with a layer of chrome and neon added to it for extra science fiction glitz. Other than humans, the races familiar to fans of Pathfinder, and fantasy gaming in general, are pushed to the sidelines in favor of newer races with more of a science fiction motif to them. The non-human races of Starfinder revel in their non-humanness. There is the four-armed warrior race of the Kasathas, an ancient race that come from outside of the boundaries of the setting and bring mystery and history to the setting. The Lashuntas are a caste-like psychic race that explores either war or scholarship, depending on the path that they follow. The Shirrens are an insect race that broke away from an invading Swarm of invaders that plagued the game's setting, representing the enemy that can be redeemed (even if others don't entirely trust them).
All in all, there are seven basic races available for characters in the core rules, giving players a variety of options. Don't worry if you want to see elves, dwarves, goblins and all the familiar races of fantasy gaming. These are all available as options in an appendix of the book.
There are also seven classes available, covering the options of magic, warriors, thieves and smooth operators. Each class has a number of options and special abilities that will allow for customization of the classes. Each class has four themed sample starting builds that show different ways that each class can be built. Archetypes are now part of the core of the rules, giving you more methods for building and customizing your characters. There aren't a lot of options for archetypes in the core rules, but I think this will be an area that we'll see a lot of development in future products from Paizo and third party publishers.
Just like Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons brings together a lot of streams of different types of fantasy fiction to create settings that are unique to those games, so does Starfinder do these things with the streams of science fiction. You can see where cyberpunk fiction has had an influence, where movies like Star Wars and Blade Runner and even The Guardians of the Galaxy have contributed to the overall feel of the game. You can even see some Warhammer 40K in some of the aesthetics. These influences are well-integrated with each other, and don't feel like a hodge podge of discordant elements that grate against each other.
Starfinder is a game of exploration and discovery, and at the core of that is the central mystery of the setting: The Gap. The Gap is a hole in the history of the Starfinder universe, and with it the world of Golarion (the default setting of the Pathfinder game) was gone. Where did it go? What happened? These questions are fundamental to the spirit of discovery of the game. While abrupt, it is also a good way to split off the settings of the two games. The big stories and adventures from the Pathfinder cannot cause a headache for the world of Starfinder if no one knows they happened.
It is known that Golarion was there, but even the most powerful gods and the most nefarious demons refuse to say what happened to it except to say that it exists and it (and its populace) is safe in its seclusion. The setting of the Pact Worlds is the same solar system as that of the Pathfinder game, and the Absalom Station is in the place where Golarion resided, but no one is sure of what happened. There are no longer any accurate historical, or other, records of the period encapsulated by The Gap, and even things like carbon dating are inconclusive about that period of time.
Regardless, this mystery helps to drive the themes of exploration and discovery. Will characters find lost Golarion? Will their travels to some faraway planet unlock clues to the mystery of The Gap and what happened? Entire campaigns can deal with this for years, and only scratch the surface of the mystery. I know that some haven't liked the idea of The Gap, but I think that it is an interesting idea to drive the story of campaigns. Missing eras from historical records is a staple of science fiction, so there is precedence for the idea. Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in how Paizo teases this out over time, and how they deal with the mystery. How soon is too soon to reveal too much about the mystery? This is a question that has killed a number of franchises over the years.
Starfinder is a quality game that is likely going to be the point of the spear of a new wave of interest in science fiction/science fantasy gaming. With the success of Starfinder we will see a lot of other publishers dipping toes into both support of the Starfinder game, as well as their own new games. I was at the Gen Con when Pathfinder debuted, and I remember the craziness of the game selling out at the convention. Everyone wanted the game, it was unlike anything since the premier of D&D third edition. I suspect that we'll see something similar happen with Starfinder at this year's Gen Con. It will be the ultimate "must have" game at Gen Con.
While the game debuts at this year's 50th Gen Con, the release date for stores is August 17th, for those who can't attend the convention. Pre-orders direct from Paizo are already trickling out into the world.
The last question is, of course, what will all of this mean for Pathfinder? Is Starfinder a test bed for a new edition of Pathfinder that similarly brings together popular rules and approaches into one place in the rules? I guess that time will tell.