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SF 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!
 
Ben Reece

Comments

Derren

Adventurer
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.
 

Birmy

Explorer
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.
Can you expand on what you mean?
 


Derren

Adventurer
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

Adventurer
@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

Adventurer
@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.
 

Starfinder is space fantasy, and I agree encounters aren't designed when some faction can fight with vehicles.

How to explain it better? Let's imagine an official Starfinder videogame. The first enemy is only an unnarmed goblin. Later the same character but riding a motorcycle, or a stepway, faster and more dangerous. The next encounter is to survive a sniper from the top of a roof, too far for a hand-to-hand combat. It is practically like to survive a trap, and the XPs reward should be like this. In the next aventure the enemies are space goblins with exosuits (do you remember Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare?), and the boss is wearing a powered armour. In the end the final boss is also a space, with the same stats, but this time within a mecha (like the ones from Titanfall or the B.R.U.T.E from Fortnite). With a military vehicle the PCs could kill a kaiju monster with only one-shot weapon, and maybe using a remote-control drone.
 

imagineGod

Adventurer
Thanks for this review. I thoroughly enjoy Warhammer 40,000, which has over ten thousand years of lore, so this review of the Veskarium fits right in as one of the Xenos species like the Eldar, but in this case the Vesk are more like a cross between the Eldar structured hierarchies and the lust for battle of the Orks.

Pity, that the Player options for playing vesk are not so extensive, but then again, neither did the other races in the Pack Worlds sourcebook.

With regards to starship combat, yes, that is too finicky a system and with smart Players, they just stay out of weapons range, then attack NPCs ships with longer ranged Player weaponry, which they get with the many upgrades they can afford at higher levels.
 


imagineGod

Adventurer
I embraced Starfinder when I realized it was conceptually much closer to Spelljammer and a spiritual successor to Dragonstar; when I stopped trying to make Starfinder "Traveller, but D20" and instead treated it as "Pathfinder, but with laser guns in spaaaaaace" it started working really well for my group.
Yes! Starfinder fills the gap left by TSR when Wizards of the Coast let Spelljammer atrophy into obsolescence.

I even saw Dragonstar for sale, but looked inside and saw it was mostly grayscale artwork, not that good either, so Starfinder is the defacto d20 space fantasy for me now.
 

Blazestudios23

Explorer
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.
Yeah, there are many flaws with Starfinder and it's really just space fantasy.

But I do enjoy playing it, there is a whole book coming out this summer about space combat so hopefully that improves, and I suspect there will be a whole book about vehicles in the future.

My party is obsessed with spending all our credits on the spaceship and not getting new equipment, even though the space battles have been super easy, but the actual battles have been pretty tough, since I'm a solar weapon Solarion, I am of course opposed because I need new armor every two levels (which is actually annoying given the massive cost increase).

At one point our DM let us use the guns on a space ship to kill one of the bosses since he was mopping the floor with us, but a ship was just sitting there 100 feel away, some of our party ran in it and used the guns on the big bad guy.
 

Derren

Adventurer
Yeah, there are many flaws with Starfinder and it's really just space fantasy.

But I do enjoy playing it, there is a whole book coming out this summer about space combat so hopefully that improves, and I suspect there will be a whole book about vehicles in the future.

My party is obsessed with spending all our credits on the spaceship and not getting new equipment, even though the space battles have been super easy, but the actual battles have been pretty tough, since I'm a solar weapon Solarion, I am of course opposed because I need new armor every two levels (which is actually annoying given the massive cost increase).

At one point our DM let us use the guns on a space ship to kill one of the bosses since he was mopping the floor with us, but a ship was just sitting there 100 feel away, some of our party ran in it and used the guns on the big bad guy.
Spending credits on the ship is a houserule.
The ship improves automatically when you level up and there is no way in the rules to actually spend any additional ressources on the ship. You have X build points dependent on the group level and thats it.

Likewise, using the ships weapon an the boss is also a house rule. The core book specifically advises you not to mix starships and characters.

Those are the things why I feel the ship is so disconnected from the rest of the system and part of why I feel that Paizo has no real idea to add high technology into the SF setting and adventures.
 

Today the current sci-fi TTRPGs allow 4D-printers, machines what can make pieces and even assembles to create new machines. And war machines aren't only created to be hard to be broken, but also easy to be fixed when this happens. A space ship with its own mechanic-repairer robot should be as normal as an antivirus software in your personal computer.

How should be the XP technology when you can fix a broken combat drone you found and use it to kill a kaiju predator what was attacking the survivor camp?
 

imagineGod

Adventurer
Today the current sci-fi TTRPGs allow 4D-printers, machines what can make pieces and even assembles to create new machines. And war machines aren't only created to be hard to be broken, but also easy to be fixed when this happens. A space ship with its own mechanic-repairer robot should be as normal as an antivirus software in your personal computer.

How should be the XP technology when you can fix a broken combat drone you found and use it to kill a kaiju predator what was attacking the survivor camp?
Which is why you need the Warhammer 40,000 universe where new technology is heresy, thus, sustaining the suspension of disbelief in the anachronisms that are so cool to read about in novels and also role play too.

warhammer_40,000_glorious_battle.jpeg
 

W40K is too darkgrimm for me, or al least I don't like any tropes. I hate that mind "we are the empire and you have to obey us, if it is different (and I can't understand it) then it has to be destroyed/purged". In my own mash-up a space marine, a squat, an eldar and tau can enter a tavern and drink a beer together.

My suspension of disbelief has got some limits. One of them is even the most powerful armies need supplies, and this means lot of farmers and industry, and this needs good economic managedment. Do you remember when you couldn't build more in the real-time-strategy because you spent all the gold or materials?

I liked the old Warhammer Fantasy when its look was too close to my loved Hero-Quest dungeon-crawling board game, but not too much when it become too dark heavy metal. I would rather epic stories where there are showed signs of hope, and where the main characters try to respect the human dignity.

And since I bought my Eclipse Phase with its morphs I miss the digital inmmortality and mind uploading.
 

imagineGod

Adventurer
LuisCarlos, have you tried out the original immortality in "Altered Carbon" the quickstart is free and the Kickstarter just finished last month. The game engine was a bit clunky, so I pledged only at the lower tier. Pity, I really liked the concept.

 

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