Starfinder Starfinder: Near Space Review

Hello my lovelies, it’s once again time for your very own PAIZO NEWS ROUNDUP! We have a special edition here today – we’re reviewing Starfinder: Near Space! Stuffed to bursting with new worlds to explore and foes to defeat, with a particular focus on the Veskarium, this is the major setting expansion we’ve all been waiting for. Let’s get into it!
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First off, I want to get my personal quibbles with the Veskarium out of the way so I can gush about everything else that’s rad about this book. All of my hangups really boil down to the fact that such a monolithic and long-lasting empire strains my suspension of disbelief. Maybe I’ve just seen too many “evil empires” and “race of warriors” by this point, but now I just have a hard time believing that EVERY vesk is so intensely focused on war and fighting and the furthering of the empire.

Why aren’t there more dissenting opinions? There’s mention of not just one but THREE vesk secret police, but no mention of their propaganda machine keeping everyone’s mindset in line actively versus reactively. The further one gets from Vesk Prime, the less control the Empire seems to have – but even on Vesk Prime I’d expect to see more than just a throwaway line about dissidents.

What really drives the Veskarium to expand? – and no, a universal tendency towards warmongering is too thin to stand on its own any more. Resources? Living space? A line of ambitious leaders? There’s a lot of space dedicated to saying this military dictatorship takes care of its citizens and provides a high standard of living, but there’s no explicit link between the resources needed to maintain that and the push to expand.

Was there no change after the Gap? No moment of opportunistic rebellion or bloody chaos? The book does say that the empire did have to re-unify its major planets, but it also seems to imply that action was largely perfunctory and didn’t leave any lasting cultural scars. I can think of at least one real-life nation still dealing with the fallout of civil conflict from at least as long ago for us as the Gap was for the Vesk.

All that was really meant to say that it’s clear that the designers of Starfinder: Near Space did an excellent job of creating rich, evocative worlds with a lot of potential – that still needs a little work to fully bring it to life. Ask the questions I’ve asked and more to add all sorts of nooks and crannies to your Veskarium and bring it to life.

Now, on to the good stuff! And, oh my goodness, is there so much good stuff. For starters, the art for this, like all Starfinder products, is gorgeous. Character design tells you so much that the text simply doesn’t have the space to, and maps are sprinkled with minor elements that are left unexplained for you to explore. I have no doubt that some of these points of interest will be explored in future Adventure Paths or setting books, but for now there’s plenty of wild space for adventure.

Maps, you say? Oh yes – each of the nine major worlds of the Veskarium gets its own detailed world map! A FULL PAGE MAP. I couldn’t be happier. And yes, this includes Vesk-5, a gas giant. Each world gets its own little folio diving into the geography, natural phenomena and hazards, native residents, and the Vesk occupation. You would be forgiven for thinking that the presentation of the Veskarium and Near Space worlds is similar to that of the Deck of Many Worlds; not only is that likely on purpose for consistency’s sake, the Deck is also given a half-page dedication to encourage you to make your own Near Space worlds!

This wouldn’t be a Starfinder book without spaceships, and Near Space does not disappoint. All of the spaceships have truly breathtaking art that is also exceptional at capturing their intended use in their design. If your heroes have had run-ins with a BMC Mauler or two in the past, just wait till they’re staring down the barrels of its new-and-improved big sister: the BMC Predator. You will also be able to tell where on the GM-player spectrum you fall by how you react to the massive vesk capital ship and their mobile space station: if it’s finally something too big to steal, you’re a GM. If it’s the score of a lifetime, you’re a player.

Finally, player options. There’s a solid handful of options each for a solid handful of the prominent species both in Near Space and in Starfinder in general, but like the Veskarium it feels like there’s something missing. Each species only gets a page for its variants – even the vesk! This is practically the vesk’s book and they only get a page of options. That said, if you like playing vesk and you want to make the veskiest vesk that ever vesked and flexed, then the Doshko Specialist is for you. Nothing will quite capture the moment when you whip out your doshko and show that you’ve got twice as many teeth as the next vesk.

That about does it for Starfinder: Near Space! So much to dig into here, so much delightful evil empire fun to be had. Go forth and cause chaos, my lovelies!
 

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Ben Reece

Ben Reece

Derren

Hero
As much as I want to like Starfinder Paizo has imo a big problem with world building in SF, especially when it comes to incorporate modern and futuristics technologies and concepts into their worlds and adventures.
 



Derren

Hero
Can you expand on what you mean?

Rules wise starships and vehicles are tacked on and do not interact with the rest of the game well. Vehicles are basically monsters and die very quickly so that most PCs will never use them besides for flavor. Starships are completely separate from the rest of the game and you are specifically told not to mix game modes to the point of silliness. So you should not be able to use the starship weapons to clean out monsters even when that is the most logical thing to do.
Not to mention that the starship rules do not really work. The only thing a starship is good for is a mobil crafting center and for space combat, but the combat is boring as its very easy to create a ship thats impossible to defeat by ships from the books. And when you want to make a enemy ship thats actually a challenge all starships end up looking the same as there is one design to rule them all

The societies in Starfinder also look very medieval, despite their technology level. Cities are small, things are mostly wilderness and modern institutions like the police never play any role and do not bother the PCs.
The entire economy is made to support a dungeon crawling playstyle with items having minimum levels for when you can buy them (not only combat items, all of them) and exponential costs which doesn't make a shred of sense in a modern/futuristic society with mass production capability.

That extends to the adventures itself. In one the PCs have to stop a plot in one of the few, large and high tech cities in the game. In this adventure they dungeon crawl through an office building which has deadly traps on the front door (because no one ever needs to enter a office building in the middle of the city) and are ambushed on the street and that statblock of the enemy makes it clear that the adventure expects the PCs to walk around fully armed. And as this is a high level adventure that includes heavy explosive weapons etc. at this point. The police never stops or questions them and the adventure tells you to keep the police uninterested in what the PCs do so to not steal their thunder.

In another adventure the enemy boss the PCs have to kill in order to save the planet and galaxy is had fortified himself in a building in the middle of nowhere and the PCs have an army at their back. So the most logical thing would be to blow the building up with heavy artillery or orbital bombardment (they have starships with a lot of nuclear and anti matter missiles). Yet those options are never considered by the adventure and the "proper" way to end it is for the 4-6 PCs fighting through this building alone (the rest of the army won't help because reasons) and kill the boss in close combat.

The designers treat starfinder no different that generic medieval(ish) fantasy and are unable or unwilling to take modern technology and advancements into account.
The same think seems to have happened with the Veskarium from what I gather from this review and instead of a militaristic modern society you get a cliché semi-evil warrior empire straight out of Pathfinder of Forgotten Realms.
 

Porridge

Explorer
What really drives the Veskarium to expand? – and no, a universal tendency towards warmongering is too thin to stand on its own any more. Resources? Living space? A line of ambitious leaders? There’s a lot of space dedicated to saying this military dictatorship takes care of its citizens and provides a high standard of living, but there’s no explicit link between the resources needed to maintain that and the push to expand.

FWIW, I think the answers you're looking for are in this paragraph:

"Vesk reproductive biology has resulted in a high population, a fact that early vesk society struggled to cope with. Vesk Prime simply did not have enough land, resources, or jobs for an ever-growing population. Rather than devolve into civil war, the vesk organized themselves along military lines and turned their aggression toward their neighbors, first on Vesk Prime, then on other planets. Even with the expansion of the Veskarium to multiple worlds, population pressure remains a concern, so vesk society is strictly regimented, and the military remains at the top of the vesk social hierarchy. As a result, military service remains the best career option for many vesk. Young vesk soldiers feed the Veskarium’s war machine with their lives, conquering territory and plundering resources for the might of the empire, and the military repays that service with the opportunity for honorable combat and a glorious death." (Starfinder Near Space, p9)
 


Derren

Hero
@Derren, thanks. So Starfinder is basically Pathfinder in space?

Anyhoo - we really should discuss that in a thread of its own, though.
Its no 1:1 adaption with more technobabble, the prevelance of ranged weapons does lead to a bit different combat. Although they recently reintroduced shields (the fantasy, hand held ones with some technobabble) and melee was always an common option, so its far less different from fantasy combat than you would expect at first.
And as far as I know even Pathfinder does not have this dungeon crawl itemization where you are expected to change your weapon every few levels to a slightly better one with 6x the cost.

But I do not get much of a SciFi feel from it and the design feels a lot like Pathfinder or other fantasy games.
 
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DWChancellor

Kobold Enthusiast
@Derren

Would it be fair to say Starfinder is more pulp sci-fi than hard? I'm thinking more Barsoom and Buck Rodgers.

Honestly Pathfinder's Golarion has a lot of, uh, interesting sociological and practical questions too as they shoe-horned in societies ranging from hunter-gatherer to post-Imperial nationstate (and let's not forget permanent French Revolution).

Honestly I wouldn't distinguish it as any worse or better than say, a certain War in the Stars.
 

Derren

Hero
@Derren

Would it be fair to say Starfinder is more pulp sci-fi than hard? I'm thinking more Barsoom and Buck Rodgers.

Honestly Pathfinder's Golarion has a lot of, uh, interesting sociological and practical questions too as they shoe-horned in societies ranging from hunter-gatherer to post-Imperial nationstate (and let's not forget permanent French Revolution).

Honestly I wouldn't distinguish it as any worse or better than say, a certain War in the Stars.

I wouldn't even call it pulp scifi. Star Wars might be a comparison if the galaxy only consisted out of Tatooines with different environments.
 

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