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Starfinder Galaxy Exploration Manual Review

Hello my hearties and welcome back to another installment of the PAIZO PRODUCT REVIEWS! We’re jumping a bit ahead on our backlog this edition and tackling the relatively-recent Starfinder Galaxy Exploration Manual (GEM), Paizo’s latest little gift to fans of their swashbuckling space fantasy game. Have I been consuming exclusively pirate media recently? Yes. Will it be affecting the descriptions I use? Also yes. Does it have anything to do with the GEM? Absolutely not. Now, on with the review!
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The GEM starts off strong for me by providing a plethora of random tables to help add some depth and variety to their characters beyond just “where did you come from”. While this may not sound like a particularly exciting addition, I know from experience that finding a character’s personality and quirks can be some of the hardest things to nail about making a character. On top of “where are you from” and “what’s your baggage”, this section earns even more of my affection with its Influential Associate and Party relationship tables. Encouraging players to contribute to the worldbuilding and story, and helping players create meaningful connections between their characters? Chef’s kiss, A+, sign me up.

Additional class options for the next part of the player-focused chapter. Each of the main classes gets a solid array of new alternative abilities all themed around exploring new planets and making first contact with undiscovered species. Your mileage will vary with these as with new options, as with all new class abilities, so I just wanted to call out the illustration this book uses for a soldier is a fierce but diminutive ysoki – complete with eyepatch, aharr!

The system exploration comes next, and is a perfectly functional if a bit lackluster method of charting out new planets. I’m…sure there’s adventure to be had with sitting around waiting for your computers to compile the results of the long-range scans, but to my mind Starfinder adventures actually start when something goes bad for the survey teams. You might get more use out of it if you’re hunting for a fugitive or a lost cache of buried treasure, say.
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The meat and potatoes of the GEM comes in the Infinite Worlds chapter. Here lies an abundance of random tables to make sure each planet you visit has at least something novel and irritating to deal with as an adventurer. What I like most about this section is that it expands on the attributes I first saw in the Deck of Many Worlds, letting GMs describe a world’s dominant Accord (how cohesive and collaborative the local sentients are), Alignment, and levels of Religion, Technology, and Magic. Even better than that for prospective GMs is that each of the twelve biomes listed as well as each of the three options for Accord, Alignment, Religion, Magic, and Technology each come with twenty adventure hooks to kickstart a new adventure. While anything you make from there on is entirely in your hands, sometimes just finding inspiration can be the hardest part. For this alone I think the GEM is worth the price of admission.

The last two chapters are meant to provide general campaign and adventure design direction once your GM has the groundwork laid with the Infinite Worlds chapter. Without getting too bogged down in details, these chapters provide advice and tips for running consistent and coherent games that is useful for Starfinder GMs and even generally for people running TTRPGs. The authors lose a few points with me for not mentioning Star Wars or Treasure Planet in the Related Media sections describing the themes one can use in a Starfinder campaign, but I suppose there’s probably a limit to the amount of reference to the Mouse that smaller media entities can get away with.

The Galaxy Exploration Manual is equally useful to both players and GMs of Starfinder as a means of rounding out or adding detail to their Starfinder creations, be it characters, NPCs, worlds, or even whole campaigns. A running theme of this book may well be “random tables”, with enough combinations, possibilities, and inspiration packed into this slim volume to last you a lifetime of Starfinder. Don’t miss out.
 

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Ben Reece

Ben Reece

Larrin

Entropic Good
[/needless art criticism]That person on the front cover with the gun, they are apparently shooting the outermost edge of the Rock-thing's arm. In an otherwise epic art piece [and it's a perfectly great piece of art] this seems like a poor strategy for both taking down a giant rock thing and looking cool as the featured character on the face of a book.
Did they:
A) miss hitting the cannister the rat-dude threw and the director was like "we'll fix it in post" and then didn't
B) absolutely nail an even more threatening-looking spider on the rock-thing's arm
C) after missing all combat long, the player rolled a total of 15 to hit and the DM said, "That's what you needed". The player then celebrated wildly before rolling a 1 on damage, and everyone laughed and decided that was the play of the night.

It's a petty thing to nitpick, and I'm not sure what this says about my current mental state, but I see that image and my brain just starts screaming "Center of Mass! It's the size of a barn, Why are you hitting it's edge! You're never going to kill it if you keep using your death ray to brush lint off its shoulder!!"

.....Which is exactly how I feel with playing with certain players and how they prioritize targets in combat. Nevermind, this artist is a genius. They perfectly captured what that battle will look like in a home-game situation.
 

Fritterfae

Villager
[/needless art criticism]That person on the front cover with the gun, they are apparently shooting the outermost edge of the Rock-thing's arm. In an otherwise epic art piece [and it's a perfectly great piece of art] this seems like a poor strategy for both taking down a giant rock thing and looking cool as the featured character on the face of a book.
Did they:
A) miss hitting the cannister the rat-dude threw and the director was like "we'll fix it in post" and then didn't
B) absolutely nail an even more threatening-looking spider on the rock-thing's arm
C) after missing all combat long, the player rolled a total of 15 to hit and the DM said, "That's what you needed". The player then celebrated wildly before rolling a 1 on damage, and everyone laughed and decided that was the play of the night.
At first I thought she was using a feint maneuver before throwing her grenade, and then I thought that maybe she was providing harrying fire for the ysoki throwing their grenade, but neither of those options really help with AOE from grenades as that makes the creature flat-footed which does nothing to affect their reflex save. GAH. This does feel like a level 1 tactical error. LOL
 


Larrin

Entropic Good
Maybe she just, like, missed?
I mean, sure, she might have just missed. But if I was trying to set the iconic feel of my Galaxy book would I have the central action be "Lead Character just misses something bigger than a double-decker bus for no reason"? This is the hero of the story, they appear again on the deck of many worlds (maybe). Why would you make your cover art a scene of the hero "just missing"?

No, there's definitely something more going on here.

:p
 

Davies

Hero
The authors lose a few points with me for not mentioning Star Wars or Treasure Planet in the Related Media sections describing the themes one can use in a Starfinder campaign, but I suppose there’s probably a limit to the amount of reference to the Mouse that smaller media entities can get away with.
It's worth noting that Star Wars is in the list of Inspirational Media in the corebook;
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Did they:
A) miss hitting the cannister the rat-dude threw and the director was like "we'll fix it in post" and then didn't
I am more of the feeling it is a called shot, look to the beams from off the page, doing some damage but her weapon not so much. She is clearly going for a less armored area. :) Personal, I would have aimed at the yellow circle but hey, they have grenades, which so promise.

Or this is how the GM describes a low damage roll to his players; GM: roll damage, Player: 2 points, GM your laser burns along the left arm.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
If you want to criticise art you can ask why the cover art of an exploration manual features combat.

As for the book itself, I am not sure about it as this review does not go much into the content. Starfinder is very bad at merging the option given to players with the setting and seems to be stuck in a fantasy D&D way of thinking when it comes to the setting which looks very out of place when used with modern technology and societies. That leads to a lot of "Yes, it does not make sense, don't think about it" moments.

And I haven't seen any indication that Starfinder has any intention to improve that, so most setting information in it would be unusable for me.
 
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