I was playing my Starfinder solo campaign last night and got into this big firefight between space pirates and my group of ragtag heroes. We had a vehicle chase that ended up with the heroes stopping in a forest for cover, and the pirates stopped by the side of the road and fired at the characters.
There was a fun moment when a vesk bodyguard charged the pirates and rolled a crit on his melee attack, and that changed the entire nature of the encounter and broke the situation wide open for the win.
But I found myself wanting a more detailed combat system. Some of the turns felt painful, with lots of missing and whiffing, attacks that did one or two points of damage, and an overall feeling of disappointment and hopelessness on most turns punctuated by the rare hit or major change in the flow. I can see why the action economy in Pathfinder 2 is so cool, you actually have a choice on a turn of actions and options. Here, this is your standard set of 3.75 actions and one of them is attack.
Yes, these are low-level characters and they are supposed to feel that way, I get it.
But I was going through 6-8 disappointing turns for each character before they ever felt like they did anything to help. None of the weapons felt powerful or cool, they were these 1d4 laser and auto pistols, most of which could not get through a character's stamina and actually wound anyone on a hit. And in like my last playthrough, a giant melee weapon with a high STR is one of your best bets at a low level - either that or magic.
GURPS & DF Advanced Combat
I know a lot of people do not like this system, but the advanced combat system in GURPS and Dungeon Fantasy is really, really good. This is Gladiator movie-level cool, where you feel like a bad-ass as you feint, parry, dodge, roll out of the way, thrust, kick, push, shield block, bludgeon, and stab the hell out of your opponent with detailed hit locations, armor penetration damage multipliers, and armor values.
GURPS & DF is up there with some of the all-time best melee combat systems if you like detail and tactics, and it blows games like D&D 4E and even Aftermath out of the water just in a visceral feeling. Even the gunplay and missile combat are deadly and cool, and if you get hit you are likely to hurt pretty badly. One arrow can kill.
So when I was playing Starfinder last night, one of the worst things that can happen to you when playing a game happened to me. While I was playing one game, I was thinking about another.
I hate that. With each turn of frustration and disappointment, my mind was thinking, "GURPS would handle this much better, and my actions during a turn would mean something." Ugh. I know Starfinder is that sort of 3.75 level of abstraction and simplicity, and at higher level play, things will be complicated enough you will be happy you have it.
This is that low-level whiff and helpless feeling all D&D style games share, and you need these moments to have something to compare yourself against when you are higher level and actually competent. But as an experience for new and low-level players, it just feels horrible.
Start as a Hero
D&D 4 and Pathfinder 2 start you off a little more capable. This is also why some referees in 3.5 and B/X games start players at level 3-5, to get rid of that low-level grind and miss-fest. Dungeon Fantasy starts you off as a 250-point character, which is like a strong level 5 character in D&D, and you feel way more than capable.
But still, even with level 3-5 characters in any of the D&D-derived games, you still have that helpless and "wasted turn" feeling on a turn where you whiff. Again, the Pathfinder 2 action economy feels like a better solution for the D&D disappointment syndrome, where maybe you missed your attack, but at least you were able to do something else that helped someone on your team.
I had a post coming up where I decided to stick with Pathfinder 1e with my Aquilae campaign, but since last night, I deleted it. To me, Pathfinder 1e at this point is my supplemental Starfinder material. I would rather learn and play Pathfinder 2e for a new Pathfinder game at this point. For my Aquilae game, I will probably convert that to Dungeon Fantasy/GURPS as I had planned.
If I am going to do that 3.75 whiff-play, I will limit that to Starfinder just because the universe is so interesting and cool that I can live with that negative experience. I do love 3.75, but I really only want to play in one 3.75 style game at one time, so Starfinder wins.
If I am continuing with Pathfinder, I will probably start learning Pathfinder 2e and having D&D 4e style fun. This is on the back burner but something I am learning and reading as I play my other games.
For Aquilae, this world is now in salvage mode and I am feeling my original plans for converting this world to Dungeon Fantasy was the right decision from the start.