Wednesday, June 1, 2016


The big announcement over the weekend was Paizo's new game: Starfinder There's more information here. It's more than a year away (August 2017) but I have some early thoughts.

As a player/GM I am interested but not bowled over. A new game from Paizo is a big deal as they are one of the major players in the hobby and with the built-in player base this game will instantly be one of the bigger games in the hobby, but I am not sure I am looking for "D&D in space". Paizo isn't calling it that, but since it's still at least lightly tied to their Pathfinder setting and is supposed to be backwards compatible as far as monsters, I think they will have a hard time escaping that label at least.

As a long time gamer I have also seen this before. Mixing tech and D&D goes back to Gamma World and Boot Hill and the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide in the 70's. We played around with some of that way back when. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is a well-known example too and was usually a pretty good time even after playing through it more than once. Starfinder seems to be a pretty close in concept to Dragonstar which was a d20 boom RPG from FFG that took all the elements of 3rd edition D&D and expanded them into space, including an empire ruled by dragons. We played a little bit of that and having wizards and elves running around with spaceships and robots using 3E mechanics was a little weird - but fun - even for a veteran of Shadowrun and Rifts.

People seem to be getting worked up over the mechanics assuming that it will either be straight-up Pathfinder as we know it or that it's a sneaky way to create a Pathfinder 2E without alienating the current player base. This aspect of the new game does interest me as so much of PF was constrained by legacy concerns. While I assume the base mechanic will still be "roll a d20 + mods, higher is better" the skills, feats, and class designs could be radically different. Seeing how they approach an alternate version of their core game will be interesting.

From a business perspective it does make a lot of sense. They are heavily dependent on Pathfinder as a universe or IP even with an RPG line, a miniatures line, and a card game line spreading things out a bit. Creating what is effectively a separate universe for a new game line potentially doubles their prospects even beyond the announced RPG. There's no reason we couldn't see a Starfinder card game or a miniatures line down the road too. Having a fantasy line and a sci-fi line that share some concepts and mechanics makes them look a little bit like Games Workshop in the late 80's and that worked out pretty well for them.

The potential downside is that there really hasn't been a dominant science fiction (and by that I mean spaceships, planets, robots, and lasers) rpg in a long time - really ever. Traveller was the big one for a time in the late 70's and early 80's because it was the only game out there. Star Frontiers, Star Trek, Space Opera, and Star Wars all popped up in the 80's to fragment things. Dragonstar was well supported for a year or two but was never one of the "big" games. Rifts does some of the same things but is a post-apocalyptic game largely focused on one damaged planet and even it is not as popular as it was years ago. I see two mitigating factors: 1) Having it tied in some way both mechanically and in setting to a game as popular as Pathfinder is a plus as D&D even at the height of its popularity never tried a direct connection like this and 2) The field is pretty open right now with FFG's Star Wars games the most popular from what I've seen. Star Wars is a very specific campaign compared to science fiction/science fantasy in general and there is an audience who has little to no interest in playing that game. Paizo is excellent at supporting material so in short order there will be a nice universe of adventures and supplements to focus on a campaign on different styles of play. I would bet that there will be cyberpunk, transhuman, and psionic supplements out fairly early in the game's life.

Best case scenario: it takes everything Shadowrun did well and adds the best of Traveller and Star Wars on top of that. That's probably aiming too high but it would be a great thing to see.

Worst case scenario: it takes enough resources to create and manage that it damages the main PF game, splits the player base, but is not successful enough to stand on it's own and fails a year or two out of the gate crippling Paizo and PF. I can't see the team at Paizo failing at this level but it is the worst case.

Personally I am interested but it's not an instant "awesome!" in the way that say Savage Rifts was.  I'm sure I'll pick up the initial core book when it arrives but I'm not planning any campaigns just yet. I'm not sure my players and I are looking for this game. The Iron Gods Adventure Path we plan to play at some point is probably enough to cover that for us, and if we want a more "pure" SF game I think Star Wars or Star Trek or Traveller will be on the list.

This is the kind of thing I worry about when the kitchen sink DM gets carried away ...

I am sure this game will spend the next two years shaking up the hobby during the build-up and the initial release and will definitely be worth following during that time.


Greg Johnston said...

as D&D even at the height of its popularity never tried a direct connection like this

What about Spelljammer?

Blacksteel said...

Spelljammer as a science fiction game? It was a D&D expansion, not a new game. It was another place your existing characters could go, not a competitor to Traveller. This is supposed to have its own rulebook, classes, races, and is supposed to include future tech type stuff too, like starships. Leaving the magic in is definitely going to weird it up, but it does look like a shot at a full game and not just a new setting or expansion.

Adam Dickstein said...

My thinking exactly Greg.

But is it Spelljammer? I can't really tell at this point.

The general consensus among the gamers I've spoken to thus far seems to be, 'Eh?', 'Huh?', and 'Er...OK. I guess'. No one is super-psyched, but then again no one I spoke to is a major Pathfinder fan.

The gaming industry needs someone to finally do what they should have done many, many year ago - produce a top quality, generic (or at least flexible) Science Fiction/Space Adventure RPG.

I'll now hear a thousand and one excuses of why they haven't, can't, or whathaveyou. All are bs. Just make one already.

WQRobb said...

I'm kind of surprised you didn't mention Alternity, but not really since nobody really remembers TSR's ambitious attempt to branch out into sci-fi with a game that had pretty different game mechanics from AD&D 2E. It had strong support initially from the company, including a whole contemporary horror line, but never seemed to take off.

My big question is how this is supposed to be different from Modern d20 and the sci-fi offshoots from that.

Blacksteel said...

Adam - I agree with you and this is probably the closest thing we're going to see to a big time generic space adventure game.

WQR - I liked Alternity a bunch but it was a new generic system had great support for about a year, then got Zamboni'd by 3rd edition. I thought it had a lot of potential but it was deliberately separate from AD&D and that didn't help it tap into the existing player base. "Ahead of it's time" is my favorite description for it.

This time Paizo is tying it directly to Pathfinder on a mechanical and even (if lightly) at the setting level so it's not an entirely new system.

Compared to d20 Modern it will have far more support as that's what Paizo does and it's being treated as the next game line, not a side project. Heck, once the first AP is complete it will have more support on the shelf than d20M did.

I do think the d20 modern comparison is a good one as that game never seemed super-popular but it was presented as generic rules + supplements for campaigns that were still pretty generic. This one will be more tied to a specific setting and maybe that will be the difference. I also think that game was released too early as D&D 3E was only 2 years old and the majority of players and 3rd party material were still exploring it, not looking for another set of completely different options. It will be an interesting development to watch.

Adam Dickstein said...

I am curious to see how it goes. No doubt some (probably fairly large) portion of the gaming community will enjoy it.

For me personally, I've never felt the D20 system model was a good fit for modern, and Sci-Fi settings. That's really just personal preference of course.