Saturday, September 4, 2021


I am glad I gave Starfinder a second chance. This game sat in our library for a while, the first printing, and it never really saw use except for a Star Frontiers to Starfinder crossover game we ran. It never really seemed to click for my brother and I, and we ended up ignoring the book and not really paying much attention to it past that point.

Beginner Box?

These days, I game alone, and I restarted our hybrid Star Frontiers meets Starfinder game in a 300 years after the Frontier setting. I started with the Starfinder Beginner Box, a move I ended up regretting just a little due to the incompatibilities between some of the BB material and the full game (item levels and a few other things), and I eventually finishes the BB adventure using the main rules once I was comfortable with the flow. There are not that many incompatibilities, just a cut down skill list and issues with damages and gear levels, and I would rather play a BB where I would not have to recreate my characters using the full rules once I finished the content in the box.

The BB is still excellent though as a primer of what the game expects from both players and referees, highly recommended with that small word of advice to create characters in Starbuilder or Hero Lab if you want to take them to the full game after you play here for minimal disruption, and just do a couple conversions along the way.

This is a quirky game with plenty to like, and it has this distinctly video-game feel with leveled ships, items, gear, and everything else in the universe having a "suggested level" tacked onto it. If you can let go of your "hard sci fi" feelings you will have a good time, and the tropes and gameplay are mostly standard d20-isms so you can pick it up quickly.

Everything is Here

This also needs some suspension of sci-fi biases, as this is a futuretech fantasy world with elves, dragon people, dwarves, monsters, space goblins, space demons, and fantasy tropes with bubble helmets and ray guns that do a d4 damage and you are cursing them out as doing as much damage as a hair dryer. If you want to do big damage it is magic or melee at the start and I see a caster-centric power curve here but not surprisingly.  Embracing magic seems to be the path to success.

It was hard for me to give up those built-in Traveller and Space Opera biases, and Star Frontiers with space-fantasy races feels like a good setting for me. Things have changed in the old Frontier, and new neighbors have moved in and everything is upside down. Volturnus is now my hub-world, and a permanent Stargate to Absalom Station links the two universe forever in orbit. This is a good setup because Starfinder's "warp to any planet" style of exploration where distance and maps do not matter is over there, and on the Frontier side it is a set, known area of space with more traditional map-based exploration and travel.

Everything is mixed in and mixed up from there, and I am having fun with the pairing.

The Strange Economy

One thing I find strange is Starfinder's "free ship upgrades" system where they do not put prices or costs on ship upgrades and equipment. The society is very socialist (or movie-like), and once you get connected with a space organization they take care of the upgrades and parts for your ship for free. And it is very odd to have characters scrounging for every credit on a mission like it was water on a desert planet and then go back to their multi-million credit ship that they got for free and sit inside poor and lacking money for personal gear.

Coming from Star Frontiers, Space Opera, or Traveller this is a huge shock. Those games are way more "space capitalist" than Starfinder, but then again, Starfinder has this "movie mentality" where you are not worried about paying repair bills or affording a new space torpedo launcher.

Again, you play by the d20 "this is how much money you get per adventure based on level" loot guidelines and that required a huge suspension of disbelief and hand wave from me in my mind. You know, a Traveller character would smile, say, "you need money for upgrades?" and start hitting the cargo manifests at different planets and start hauling cargo and taking passengers from A to B. There's enough money for a level 3 laser pistol that isn't used to 1d4 caramelize sugar on top of a creme brulee.

Yes, the money and reward system is flat-out strange and weird, especially when you consider free-ish starship upgrades that are handwaved off as your ship "levels up." Yes, ships level up with your party. And a party of four is recommended and again, pretty standard for d20-ish systems.

Is it fun?

If you keep your party size down to four, yes.

If you can toss out your bias against fantasy races and monsters in sci-fi, yes.

If you can get used to the odd economy of being poor and getting a free ship and upgrades, yes.

If you can accept "leveled gear, weapons, and equipment," yes.

If you dive into ship combat and not ignore the mechanics, yes.

If your party embraces magic and magical gear upgrades, yes.

If you like dungeons in space filled with traps, hazards, monsters, and loot, yes.


There are surprises in here, some fun synergies and class abilities, lots to discover as you level up, and this is fantasy with a fresh coat of reflective paint on it and a huge universe you are free to craft and expand in whichever way you want. Would I run solo campaigns for more than one 4-person group? Not at the same time, since like any d20 game the bookkeeping is pretty hefty and the rules references start to pile up the higher you go up in levels.

But as mentioned, you have to get rid of a lot of sci-fi biases you may have in your head to get into this game, and that took me a while to get the hang of. It helped for me thinking of it like a video game and just playing for fun.

Oh, and if you have the first or second printing, I advise getting the third printing or the PDF, since the changes (especially in ships) are significant enough to make this feel like a new game experience for all the bug fixes they had to make.

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