Sunday, March 31, 2024

Starfinder vs. Pathfinder 1e

As much as I love Pathfinder 1e, having Starfinder out on my most-played shelves dragged the game down. I may end up selling my Starfinder books.

I had a fun game going through the Beginner Box, but I saw the writing on the wall by the end. The "credits are gear XP" system - where my party could own a starship and be completely broke - shattered my illusion of reality with the game. You can up your damage output directly with money, and that has to be tightly controlled so the game stays balanced.

Having players ask to do "normal sci-fi things," such as run cargo or passengers for money, and the books not answering them, stopped the game dead in its tracks for me.

What happened? The players became pack rats, stripping every room, encounter, dead monster, enemy weapon, loose bits of furniture, and anything not bolted down in adventures and starship wrecks I wanted to quit. I knew where they were coming from, "We need money!"

In Traveller or Cepheus, we can run cargo! Can we run cargo here? Can we take passengers? Mail? Do survey missions pay good money? How much would it cost to upgrade the ship? One looked at the weapon tables and told me not to let them run cargo, or they would buy the highest-level weapons they could get their hands on. If I give them a 200,000cr profit, that will be the end of my game and blow out the next five levels of challenge for them.

The game turns the referee into someone who hates how rich the players get. I don't want to let them get ahead. I need the game's challenge to be preserved! At least in Pathfinder 1e, a longsword is the same 1d8 weapon until maximum level. It still costs the same amount of money. magic items? If they are allowed for sale, then we are talking - but I like them better rare and special.

The modules give so little that my Starfinder players turned into Aftermath characters, searching houses, taking the silverware and plates, unscrewing every working light bulb, stripping the copper from the walls, and salvaging everything they could for barter. The game felt like some failed state where the people turned into ants that stripped the land dry of anything of value just to survive.

The game slowed down with every room and combat they had, asking if there was junk lying around they could sell. If they skipped rooms and just focused on the mission, they lost out on salvage and treasure. It was sort of the worst stereotype of old-school D&D games where the party has so little money they sold every rusty weapon and piece of armor they could drag out of a hole in the ground.

When they got done a dungeon in Starfinder, I would tally up what they missed, and know the next section was going to be that much harder because they missed valuable resources. I could have just given them the difference, but I do not play that way. The enemies' weapons leveled up faster than they did, and they realized this and started taking them and using them.

"Just make sure we can upgrade armor. We will take the next group of leveled-up space goblin weapons they use on us. We will never be able to afford the good stuff anyways."

Then someone would ask me, "Can we just run cargo missions?"

Then I gave up. This is not the sci-fi game my group wants to play. They want something more traditional, less dependent on leveled gear, and with a solid economic and trading model. Something with planetary generation, random space encounters, a strong exploration game, and a flatter progression curve. That game is Cepheus Engine.

And having Starfinder out pulled attention and love away from Pathfinder 1e, which does not have these problems. I swear, the Starfinder design team lost their way and did not want to design a sci-fi game. They never played the classics with solid random system generation, space encounters, world creation, and trading games. All they knew was how to write and sell adventure paths. And this is all Starfinder did.

Pathfinder 1e still has the classic 3.5E DNA, and it can do social, exploration, and combat equally well. It does not have "leveled gear" or require the referee to both balance encounters and limit monetary rewards. I could give a level 1 party in Pathfinder 1e a 10,000gp gem, and if there is nowhere to buy magic items, the balance is still intact.

It is sad because I like the visual design and appeal of Starfinder.

But the way this is looking, these are going in a sell box soon and going out the door.

I have better games to play, and ones my group likes better.

Visceral Action

So I was playtesting my Amazing Adventures-powered version of a Star Frontiers-like game last night, and I discovered a few things. I call it a "-like" game now since I am diverging away from many of the broken things in the Star Frontiers system. It is becoming more of my own science-fiction game that stands on its own.

Our Star Frontiers campaign was set in that universe back then, but it diverged widely from the old canon. Our game had elements from Space Opera and Traveller, with Space Opera being the most significant influence. In the OSR, there is this mythical, almost romanticized "the way we used to play it" thing with fantasy.

We had that thing going on, but for sci-fi. We played a 30-year campaign set in a generic sci-fi universe with only a loose tie to the Star Frontiers universe, with most of the universe being ours. Star Frontiers only existed as the glue; it could have been any universe. We had a lot of space races, fully fleshed out like Saurian races, Canines, Felines, and others in our universe with home worlds and politics that created conflict and intrigue. We had more enemies than just the Sathar.

I was working on my reinterpretation of early 80s sci-fi role-playing last night, using the SIEGE Engine and AA as my base system. Then I realized how horrible Star Frontiers' personal defenses and armor were. You had to pick an attack type and defend against that with a suit, and then stack a field with a powerpack on top of that to protect against the other type of attack. Then, it was a battle of attrition as you and your enemies wore down defenses to get at the meaty insides. And you could set lasers to burn an entire power clip, so you could just alpha attack with 20d10 with a laser pistol.

We never played it that way. We assumed defenses would be good against all types of attacks and used an armor system that protects against all kinds of damage. This was when I realized diverging from my source material would give me a game that was better than a straight conversion and better fit our "way we used to play it" feeling back in the day.

So, goodbye, Star Frontiers, and the d100 system. And hello to early 1980s sci-fi role-playing, like the OSFR or Old Sci-Fi Renaissance. This has to be d20 and based on a B/X scale since maximum compatibility is a design goal. It also answers, "What if TSR kept d20 as a house system?"

Amazing Adventures is a base since it covers modern games and gunplay. It gives me the SIEGE Engine as an all-in-one, best-in-the-OSR resolution system that stays out of the way and gives me all the rules I need without all the heavy rules scaffolding to drag around like a B/X or homebrew system, and without the rules weight of a system like GURPS.

So I was balancing armor versus weapon attacks last night and shifting more towards the system presented in Star Siege, where you get an AC bonus for armor plus a DR value that reduces damage. And I got rid of the "protects against X but not Y" plague of the guessing game in sci-fi roleplaying where designers get too pedantic and create defenses for one class of weapons but not another - and this is a plague on sci-fi games. Designers get stupid and think like 21st-century people, when if I were in the future, I would say, yeah, give me some laser protection in my ballistic bodysuit, please.

The people who live in a universe like this would create armor that protected against many attacks, probably not the best of each, but enough to be useful against energy and projectile weapons. This is like people in the Renaissance trying to design a modern combat system and making armor that protected against pistols but not rifles because, you know, they were different! And let's make the shotgun vest that only protects against that type of attack.

My new OSFR system has become much cleaner, and the combat is faster. Equipping characters became as easy as a B/X game. Why wear light armor? Well, my undercover space cops need to look like they are dressing normally so they take the best civilian protection they can get without looking suspicious. If they need heavier, they can break out the tactical vests in the trunk of their hovercar. Otherwise, you fight with what you got and hope your DEX modifier to AC makes a difference - and take cover when you can!

Since I am also binge-watching Miami Vice, the idea of star cops fighting evil alien infiltrators and their plans to overthrow society from within appeals to me, especially with that 1980s influence. My star cops will mostly have civilian protection and smaller handguns and go undercover to bust the subversive alien bad guys and their nefarious plots.

But what I came away with during my gunfight testing was a sense of visceral action in an OSR game that I did not know it had or I assumed it didn't. AA has a critical hit and recoil system that reminds me of the original Top Secret game. For every shot (with specific weapons), you accumulate a recoil penalty that adds to your target's AC. I had a thug with a handgun (like your typical 9mm, ROF 3, recoil 3) fighting a space cop with a laser pistol (ROF 2, no recoil). Now, that recoil penalty rolls over to the next turn unless you spend a turn pausing fire and resetting your aim. The rules say cumulative penalty, but I rule it rolls over like the original Top Secret game.

Critical hits in AA explode, which means you get an extra exploding d6 die of damage to every critical hit, and every critical hit automatically hits—regardless of armor. So I had the thug blasting away at my star cop, and both sides to cover, which meant their ACs were up in the 16 to 18 range, and the thug's recoil meant he was spraying shots and hoping for crits. Sometimes, he would reset his recoil or take his chances and aim - firing at the end of the turn at a +2. He did get hits in, and both of them were wearing light protective civilian armor, so his d10 damage would put some hurt in on my agent. Considering my agent had 10 hp, and the thug was 6, the agent won most of the time.

But there was a moment there. One turn, my agent rolled a crit, blowing the thug away with a 15-damage shot. I rolled a hit location on one of my hit location dice and got a right arm. B/X and OSR rules typically don't have hit locations or critical effect charts (Rolemaster being the best known). So I was sitting there with an overwhelming result of overkill damage. What do I do with that?

This is where the OSR shines.

The referee decides what happens - not a chart, hit location result, or detailed set of rules for overkill. You don't need any of it. Your mind is much more imaginative than any "overly detailed set of rules" could ever provide you.

Just trust it.

Make up what happens.

Even a hit that takes away a few hit points could force a save to drop a weapon or knock someone from cover. A lot can happen in combat, and a game master's ability to "make -ish up" when damage occurs is the art of being a great game master. Hit point damage is not just hit point damage. A near miss can spray bits of concrete in your face, forcing you to deal with a turn of blindness. A non-lethal hit to the leg could knock you off balance. Hit point damage "opens the door" to many referee-inspired rulings.

This is the art of game mastering.

If you refuse to embrace it and just be like a DVD player for your group, you suck as a game master, you are not playing the game, and the players don't need you - they could handle all this themselves. They frankly don't need you. This is sort of the feeling that 5E pushes the "DM as a DVD player," and it sucks the life out of the game.

5E denies the role of the game master and forces him "not" to play. A 5E DM is the referee in a Magic The Gathering tournament, making rulings on cards and situations with the official rulebook. They do not get to play. And it sucks. The most significant difference between the OSR and 5E is the role of the referee during play, and this situation with my test combats perfectly highlights it.

The thug's arm was vaporized, flew apart into many chunks of flaming meat and bone, and was set on fire. He ran screaming into the street behind the planter he was behind and collapsed. A game like GURPS or Rolemaster does not have that result for an overkill damage roll, but I made it up.

And the ruling stands.

That is what happened.

I am the referee, and this is how I get to play, too.

He took 15 points of damage and only had 6 hit points. And I know in AA, death immediately happens at -10, and he was technically at -9 - so he could be alive for one turn until the fire damage gets him. It is a minor point that a quick-thinking player could take advantage of. They could save him if they put him out and stabilize him. If he recovers, he will have a cyber arm and scars all over his body, but that is the breaks of fighting star cops armed with laser pistols.

Like in Miami Vice, he may show up in a later season looking for revenge, with those cool scars, cyber arm, and a dozen levels under his belt as he worked hard to become the campaign's next major villain hiding in the shadows.

As a referee, I get to do that too.

That doesn't happen in 5E, GURPS, Rolemaster, or many other games. You are either constrained by the referee's role or by the overly detailed rules that limit your imagination.

And this certainly doesn't happen in Star Frontiers, Traveller, or Space Opera unless the referee has this old-school mindset. Today's players are too limited by the rules, and they can "see" what I am describing. They play classic games like they would play 5E and wonder what the big deal is. The referee, being trained in 5E, shrugs and says at least 5E has more rules to adjudicate. The entire point of the game is missed because the training and art of playing the game are entirely wrong.

These moments only happen in an OSR game.

With an OSR mindset.

And it happens because the referee is allowed to play.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Amazing Adventures (TSR Box Games)

First, there is an Indiegogo for a new edition of Amazing Adventures. There are no new rules, but it has been cleaned up and reorganized in a much more usable format. There have been a few delays, but they said the print layout was done, and they are getting it to the printers soon. I have been waiting for this one for a while, and they are stripping out OGL references, so this will be a better game.

The Companion is a must-have book for the modern era. Grenades? You need to look for these in the C&C Castle Keeper's Guide. They are an odd omission but easily added in.

If you are buying in the current version, get this bundle:

And if you do sci-fi, this book for Star Siege is helpful, too:

I am amazed at how well the AA system works for modern-day and sci-fi games. It is an OSR throwback; what if TSR made Top Secret, Gamma World, Gangbusters, and Star Frontiers (the classic box games) with a straight B/X system. This uses the Castles & Crusades SIEGE Engine, so messy things like saving throws and class skills are gone, though they do have the concept of backgrounds, traits, and knowledge skills. All of the classes are hackable, and their abilities swappable, so you can have an explorer medic or a soldier medic if you want, and just swap out one of the class abilities for the generic "Medical" class ability.

The game is 100% set in the Gangbusters era, so converting to this is no effort. You could stick to a straight cops-and-robbers theme, play a private detective, or play a gangster. AA also has rules for magic, gadgets, and psionics, so you could go to more "radio shows" like The Shadow, Chandu the Magician, or Radar Men from the Moon.

And yes, I know about B/X Gangbusters, which is excellent too.

The classes in AA have pulp names, but they are all generic archetypes you can reskin and rename as you please. The Gumshoe can be a Vice Cop in the modern era, a Star Cop in sci-fi, or even a Town sheriff in a Gamma World setting.

Also, you can multiclass anything with anything and even pull in Castles & Crusades classes, so your variety of character types is impressive. You can simply reskin the C&C barbarian as a primitive warrior in Gamma World and even use them as a class for characters.

I could remake all the TSR boxed games with this system, port in a few equipment items here and there, and have a classic, OSR-style experience for each one. If I did a Gamma World, I would use hit points like Gamma World (1d6 per point of CON) and keep the damages the same if I kept the original system's monsters and weapons. Gamma World will be the most difficult since the AC system was out of whack in the early editions, and classes won't work that well.

If I did a total conversion, I would rebuild everything for an average level progression and eliminate the 1d6 per CON hit point starting range. Monsters would get rebuilt and hit dice, like normal B/X monsters. Weapons would be reduced in damage to Star Siege levels and kept on the B/X scale. This is how you do it right and stay in class-level progression so your C&C classes port in seamlessly.

Gamma World would be the most work.

I am working on Star Frontiers, and the conversion is fantastic. Having a level one Star Law officer may seem strange, but it works well. My rookie will level up, go on cases to find Sathar agents and gain abilities as they level. Monsters can port in from any OSR source or even the Castles & Crusades monster book. This sort of d20 sci-fi works well in a game like White Star, so it will work well here, too; only the engine powering the system here is the SIEGE Engine. All of White Star's monsters, gear, and adventures port in easily since they are OSR.

Of all the conversions, I am most looking forward to this one. Having space heroes level up and go on dangerous space dungeon crawls seems fantastic.

This is a medium level of work, but well worth it as I convert things in.

Ship combat will be handled by Knight Hawks, with skill and attack rolls being based on a character's attack bonus a d20 roll, and maybe a -1 to-hit per hex penalty for attacks. Damage, the ship hits, critical damage, and everything else will be handled by Knight Hawks.

The AA gadgeteer will be very useful in a Top Secret-style d20 OSR game, and I will probably want to build custom classes for the investigator, confiscator, and assassin. I will base them off the closest class (gumshoe for investigator), but align their class abilities better to the original game. The AA socialite class may also be a great "face" style character with a few tweaks adding a disguise ability, so adding this and gadgeteer increases the character types in Top Secret by quite a few useful ones. I would also keep this game for fun in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

AA can easily do all the TSR box games and rebuild them in a familiar d20 format, with the B/X rules providing the base. The conversions, if necessary, are decent. The above is from my notes for the iconic SF laser pistol. I limited the maximum SEU to three to keep the balance in check (the rifle is six). Some of the melee weapons have been toned down, and their damages have been aligned with more of the Star Siege ones.

Gunplay at low levels will be lethal, but we have gear like the albedo suit that halves laser damage in the game, so survivability should go up. The damage conversion is 1d6 AA to 1d10 SF, so the suit will absorb up to 60 hp of laser damage (instead of 100 in SF) reflected before becoming useless. We allowed our skiensuit-wearing characters to wear an albedo vest, halved damage but absorbed half the maximum hits (30 hp).

I will eventually make better versions of everything as I complete the conversions. My laser pistol is far enough from SF to be my own creation once I eliminate SEU as a term. We had gear from Space Opera in our game, like armored vests and other gear, so that may be ported in too, depending on how successful my game in.

The conversions are dirt simple, and the chance of having the classic TSR boxed games back with a classic B/X system is too good of a feeling for me.

Good Video: Why OSR is FAR easier to run than 5e/Pathfinder

This is the second great video today; watch until the end—he will make you want to get out a book and play—anything and any version! Such positivity is infectious.

Good Video: Why not 5e?

This is a good video by a newer creator. It is very honest and reflects my feelings on 5e. Check him out and subscribe.

I had an article on this over on my GURPS blog, but I see many games with a clear difference between a West Coast game and a Midwest one. I use those terms loosely, but they highlight the major design trends and the areas of the country they are centered around.

A company anywhere in the world can write a "West Coast" game, so these are more named after the style's origin rather than saying, "These places only make these games."

West Coast games will never admit they are games. They don't want to be games. They want to be lifestyles and social platforms. This is the tech companies' influence on these games, and there is an expectation they are written to take over your life and identity. They will get you on "content streams" of books; they expand and fill shelves with filler until they die of obesity-related diseases (shelf rot and collapse). They tend to be so complex and in-depth that you have no mental room to play anything else. They also need computers to create characters, tying you into additional subscription services. You see this in every game Wizards put out (3E to 5E), Magic the Gathering, and every published Paizo game.

West Coast games sell themselves as a concept, utilize heavy mental and social manipulation, and ask you to "See yourself in the game."

Midwest games are more like the original D&D. They are happy to admit they are games, like Monopoly or Squad Leader, something you can put in the closet or on a shelf and take out when you want to play. These games have no desire to take over your life, no need to serve as an identity for your fantasies, and never want to build social media platforms around them. They are just games. They are simple, come in a few books (or just one), and you can create characters by hand on paper. These games also do not ask you to subsume your identity to them, and they pander to cute trends and current online fads far less than a West Coast game.

Midwest games have this humble and grounded feeling: "I am what I am; come tell stories with me."

Friday, March 29, 2024

Shadowrun: Street Level Play

Shadowrun forces you to make hard choices before you even begin play. Are you a citizen? Do you have a fake ID card? A real ID card? Can you be tracked? Who do you know? What is your lifestyle? Who are your contacts? Do you have insurance or licenses? How much debt do you want to be in for that flashy lifestyle?

Money is important.

The hustle is what you do to survive.

Do you stay off the radar? How do you deal with sudden notoriety?

How does your life change?

It perfectly encapsulates surviving in today's gig and influencer economy in a world that hates who you are, wants you homeless, and crushes you under the boot of authoritarianism and mee-too-ism any time you begin to find a winning schtick and angle for keeping your head above water. The suits will crush you with the state's authority from above, and your peers will eat you from below by copying your thing and trying to muscle in on you.

And those you wronged, or their friends, will still be after you.

Again, I know SR 6 has SEVERE problems with the rules, but I like the character creation and the trade-offs. Whatever system I play this with, the setting will be classic. The more I think about it, the more Year Zero engine could fix most of the problems here.

In contrast, Starfinder inherits that "D&D social immunity clause" that  PCs seem to have. The game fears to "come at" the PCs this way since that may trigger somebody. Even the starships in Starfinder are "free," and their upgrades are subsidized by the state or the faction you work for in an adventure path. Money only exists in Starfinder to buy personal armor and weapon upgrades. If there are starship running costs, upgrade costs, and cargo tables - I can't find them. The game's starship, trading, economy, and money system have always been my biggest disappointments.

The game gives you boxes of "stuff," but after a while it begins to feel like an overpacked closet. There is tons of junk I never use, and little of it inspires me. Most of it—hundreds of weapons on leveled lists, dozens of aliens, lists of powers—feels like "option filler."

Money feels both scarce and worthless in Starfinder. You only find it to level up personal weapons and gear. I had a group of PCs who owned a starship with only 1,000cr in their pockets. They looked at me and asked, " Can't we run some cargo, passengers, or something?"

I'm like, "Nothing in the rules. Sorry. The Socialist government of Pact Worlds disallows private enterprise. Ship upgrades are given by the state. You need to kill space goblins to find money."

The middle fingers around the table went up, and we all laughed.

Starfinder excludes a lot of the sci-fi genre tropes. I get why they did it, to push "space dungeon crawling" more than any other genre aspect. There is no need to go dungeon crawling if you can haul cargo, score a lucky load, and upgrade all your weapons to level 20 in one great run. Even if you level-limit guns and armor, you will be sitting on 30 million credits in the bank, waiting to buy gear, buying it all, and storing it in your weapons locker.

Starfinder is a fun game but far closer to a video game than many know.

If you want to do "space truckers" games, get yourself Cepheus Deluxe Enhanced Edition (get the B&W version of Deluxe EE), and ignore every other sci-fi game. This game has a chapter - plus examples - of cargo trading, encounters, ship design, and everything to make your space trucker lifestyle go perfectly without fudging anything.

Can I do crazy aliens in Cepheus? Yes, nothing stops me. Can I do lots of weapons? I can, but who needs them? More options to the point of page after page of lists are meaningless chaff and cause choice paralysis.

Magic? A book covers that in a 2d6 framework with Swords of Cepheus. I have options here, in a game that is simpler and has campaign support in the areas I need it. There are dungeons and adventures here too.

With Starfinder, cargo runs are like, "You are on a cargo run when suddenly a dungeon happens!"

"Okay, we got done the dungeon. Do we get paid?"

"No, the faction you are working for says thank you, and they upgrade your ship for free."

"! Cash in hand! I need a laser rifle upgrade!"

"Oh? Money? You are in the starport when space goblins attack!"

With Cepheus Deluxe, you break out the calculator and do percentage math, then worry if your 700 tons of computer parts will make it through pirate-infested space or if you will blow more money on repairs than your load was worth. Yes, it is a math game, but your characters stand to lose big if those go into your cargo bay and fry computers like Bitcoin miners powered by lasers.

Then again, business is a math game. Figure this as "life training."

I like sci-fi games with a solid cash-money game, and Shadowrun's setting has one. In fact, the GM knows each character's monthly burn, so judging rewards is easy. While weapons don't "level up"—the good stuff is often expensive—buying influence and keeping the heat off can drain a wallet fast.

Shadowrun and Cepheus - money matters. You spend it to buy, sell, hustle, pay people off, make improvements, reward contacts, grease palms, buy specialty gear for special missions, and blow on lifestyle costs. If you are not spending money constantly in sci-fi, you are not playing sci-fi.

In Starfinder, I feel money is "gear upgrade XP." I spend it immediately to increase weapon damage dice or armor, and then I care not to even pay attention to it. It is both strangely too important and completely forgettable at the same time. I don't need it for a ship or place to stay; no ship upgrades or fuel costs - just gear. We played through the Starfinder Beginner Box, had a starship at the end, and needed more money. The characters felt they should "go back and loot everything to sell" or "they missed their chance to take everything not bolted down."

It felt like they needed to be pack-rat Skyrim characters, taking every bit of armor and weapons from enemies and selling it wholesale by the cart load back in town. And then making multiple trips.

I can have a million credits in Cepheus, but I still need more for my ship. I will need even more to make great cargo runs, and that money goes back into more giant starships and escorts, along with paying crew.

I can have a million newyen in Shadowrun and cause a lot of trouble, or live the high life for a few weekends, or spend it on one car.

In Starfinder, a million credits can be spent maxing out weapons and armor and then feel strangely useless. Could I spend it on the above things? I could rule it, but the game's focus is different. Starfinder doesn't even encourage you to gain wealth and status. It is like 5E, where the designers made a conscious decision to deemphasize wealth and focus the game purely on personal power as the metric of success.

Socialist game design theory has replaced a few roleplaying games, including New School and OSR. Games where money does not matter, and the focus is almost entirely on "my personal power" - that can strangely never be taken away once accumulated, give people this false sense of empowerment. Worse, it acts as an opiate for not improving their real-world situation. Some games stick to the capitalist ideal, and in Shadowrun's case, it is more used as an enemy and simulates a capitalist nightmare - but the capital system is still needed to create the dystopia.

And this gets repeated in the media: my power, having power, getting power, getting power, power, power. Power. That childish notion of "muh powahs" is almost a joke at this point, and I get the feeling any game or movie telling you "this is about power" is lying to you and telling you that you have none, and why try?

When they tell you one thing, believe the opposite.

And all of today's superhero movies and role-playing games are about gaining power that cannot be removed or lost. It gets silly, childish, and stupid at a point. In life, there is an end - no more power. There are no immortals here. And beware of "opiate fantasy" removing you from the real world.

Fantasy is good, but too much is a bad thing.

You cannot remove capitalism from Shadowrun and make it a "5E game" where "my powers are all that's important to me" since that would lose the entire point of the setting. Taking capitalism out of Shadowrun would be like taking Cthulhu out of Call of Cthulhu.

Ask yourself this? Can I lose it all in a game? Not just death, but most all of my power? I expect skills, ability scores, and knowledge of magic to stick around. If you have money, do you always need more? If I lose all my wealth and influence, the crash and burn, will my personal power eliminate the pain?

In 5E, if my 10th-level thief is locked away for 10 years, on his second day of freedom, he will instantly return to where he was regarding money, gear, and power. This is true in some OSR games, too, like DCC.

In Shadowrun or Cepheus - I can't say that.

You can lose it all.

Now in PoD: Dwellers of the Forbidden City (I1)

Original edition module I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City, is now back in print as a PoD. I have been waiting for this one for a while; pick it up before it possibly goes out of print again.

The one thing I will always praise Wizards for is game preservation and print programs like this. We may have disagreements elsewhere, but this is money well spent to remember the classics.

Do this, and I support your company and will speak out as a fan.

100% thank you.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024


A mix of fantasy and modern-day, street-level missions, magic and technology, monsters and artifacts, and vehicle combat. Starfinder uses starships, and Shadowrun uses vehicles. Your team of mixed magic-and-tech characters gets a mission to go to a place and use transport to reach there. It is structurally the same game.

This was the better Starfinder - at least in the setting.

I know the 6th Edition has MAJOR issues. If I got this, I would likely use Cypher System, Savage Worlds, Year Zero (already very close and has an SRD), or GURPS as my ruleset and ignore the broken system.

The setting is still great. Iconic. An all-time great.

The rules need help.

My version of Shadowrun is much more post-apoc than the official setting. The mega-cities are the only place humanity can live. The awakening has overrun everywhere; small towns and sparsely inhabited places do not exist. Monsters and wild magic are everywhere, along with raiders and other inhuman monster groups. The most significant areas outside cities are heavily defended corporate megafarms, often under constant assault.

But nobody lives outside the cities. The native nations may claim the land, but they can't even control the devastation of wild magic and creatures that devastated the world. You go outside the cities and are in for a constant fight with monsters and raiders - like something out of Mad Max or Aliens.

It is like a Rifts setting mixed with Car Wars.

There is also a heavier fantasy element as "forces from beyond and the past" appear to change the world, and even the forces of Hell get involved in a limited way, threatening the world with a Doom-like apocalypse.

This is how our game has always been since SR4 and how it ended a few years ago. My players loved it. The default setting assumes small towns and rural life exist, and my players understood our game-setting was more extreme and had that sharp divide between cities and rural adventures. We also had a few more fantasy races in the mix; mysterious fairies were flitting about, demons lurking in the shadows, dark elves were rumored, and I planned on having goblins show up with their machines and constructs. They used the same designs, just with a few changes:

  • Fae - use elf, limit STR/BODY to 3, flight
  • Goblin - use dwarf
  • Demon - use orc, troll, or elf (depending on type), custom qualities as needed
  • Gnoll - use orc, berserker trait
  • Dark Elf - use elf, they get limited "Predator movie" stealth

So, the five new races sort of piggyback on the existing ones and are more "flavor options" for the game. A few may have custom positive and negative qualities (like a succubus getting flight wings and charm as positive qualities). So they don't unbalance the game and open the door to more strangeness and mysteries. I can also use online tools (Hero Lab) to create characters and have the race selections work without custom options.

The fae are the (not the illusion, but real here) ones from the cover of the Shadowrun 1 Grimoire, and we called them chroma-fairies since they had different magics based on their colors. They were rare in general life, but in high magic areas, they could be seen out and about, flitting around, sitting on shelves in arcane libraries, appearing in bars to cause a little trouble for fun, and the people accepted them as a side effect of high magic areas drawing in all sorts of strange phenomena.

They did not have traditional IDs and never really went on runs, but they were great NPCs, sources of information, and side characters that immensely added to the magic side of the game for color and feeling. Mages liked visiting arcane universities and libraries and seeing these unique fae flitting about.

The rest of the new races followed that "magic pulls them in" model, where goblins could appear in high-machinery areas, demons in regions of dark magic, dark elves in areas of high shadow magic, gnolls in places of high violence, and so on. The actions of the world started drawing in "the others." They became character options if a player really wanted them and they fit the story. Otherwise, they made terrific NPCs and increased the WTF factor of the entire setting.

The undead were coming one day, but that would be more like an invasion of the dead in areas and a huge turning point for the world.

What makes Starfinder hard for me is the stories are not straightforward. You can buy an adventure path, but I like games where the stories write themselves. In fantasy, it is easy; the stories write themselves. There are times I feel Starfinder was written for a collector's market. They tend to throw everything and the kitchen sink at you, and then you need to figure out how the mess of disassociated parts fits together.

Shadowrun challenges you. It is a very low-level street game with a flat progression system. This is survival: social, environmental, magical, urban, wilderness, and staying one step ahead of trouble. The stories come from action and mob movies. There is an element of 1984 and Big Brother out of the Paranoia game. In Starfinder, there are moments where they write conflict out of the game for some idealistic worldview - and they are afraid of making factions fight (or even creating opposing ones). The 9-axis alignment system is in the game, but I have never seen it used.

Shadowrun is the opposite; everyone has a reason to stab each other in the back.

At least, in the setting - whatever version is your favorite.

The stories are simple here.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Starfinder: Is it Too Much?

Most Starfinder books don't bat an eye at throwing a half-page weapon chart at you. Want some more weapons? Sure, here is a massive list of them! Here are a few dozen races. Here are a half-dozen more character options. I have a shelf of Starfinder books, and none feel compelling.

It is funny. I don't feel the same way because I have two shelves of Pathfinder 1e books. Fantasy is a genre you can instantly narrow down to a simple, core story and theme. The village is under attack. The heroes pick up a sword and cast a spell. The adventure that lasts a lifetime begins there.

99% of the time, I could play with the core rulebook and pull in a few things from one other.

With Starfinder, they give me a ton of stuff, but finding something to do with it takes time and effort. The game expects you to know and use the conflicts of Pathfinder 1e in this new world, so you need knowledge the game doesn't provide. The book describes gods and races and expects you to make that 1:1 jump yourself. Orcs hate elves in fantasy, so orcs...? Dark elves worship demons, so...?

Thousands of years have gone by.

I wanted a new world with new conflicts.

One of Starfinder's huge problems is it requires you to be a Pathfinder fan. Only some things translate, and the stuff you think would - doesn't.

Shadowrun does Starfinder a lot better. What? That makes no sense. Different games! Let me explain.

Both games are about a team of characters in a futuristic setting who are motivated to solve problems and follow their motivations. The structure of the parties' relationships and goals are the same. The environments they operate in (dungeons, cities, wilderness, and vehicles) are the same. While one setting has starships, the other setting has hover vans. You get in a thing and go to a place.

Where Shadowrun beats Starfinder is in story motivation. The world is a fantastic sandbox filled with conflicts, factions, societal forces, and stories waiting to be told. Everything you learn unlocks a new secret and a new chapter. Deep conflicts are built into the setting. The tradeoffs, like magic, are built into the rules. Even cultures and races are in conflict.

Starfinder books are content to give you more and more until the game becomes an unintelligible, muddled pile of confused lists. They will list the original Pathfinder gods, but I need to see conflicts built into the setting or rules. There are hundreds of races in Starfinder, and in Shadowrun - there are five. If I play one of those, I feel special. If I add a few - each one of those is special.

Add too many, and nothing means anything.

What is the point of a dozen cute races? Marketing?

Quality over quantity is one thing that escapes Starfinder. It is different in Pathfinder 1e, despite having twice the books. In fantasy, I have a world model in my head. That takes precedent. With Starfinder, I have no frame of reference, and every time I try to settle on one, a book contradicts me. I override 90% of my reading, and my mind goes, "Why bother?"

I could play Starfinder with one book and focus on a core conflict, but I am doing a lot of the heavy lifting myself to create deeper conflicts and stories. Evil and good get along together. Space goblins exist to season dungeons and abandoned starships with cheap combat encounters. The gods are meaningless since magic comes from anywhere. Why even have them? Fantasy races are tossed in the back of the book like an embarrassment.

They wanted a sci-fi game but needed to learn how to build a universe. They had to do a 'great reset' and wipe memories. What Hollywood wishes they could do with the last few years of superhero entertainment. It is a universe built upon a deus ex machina.

For all its "D&D with guns" feel, Shadowrun feels plausible. It has a history. You can have a dragon as the head of a megacorporation, an orc street gang, or an elven Yakuza. It oozes style and panache, and those tiny examples create a thousand stories in my mind.

They are the same game, but instead of throwing more and more at you to justify hoarding and collecting, Shadowrun focuses on story and conflict first. Nothing works in Shadowrun unless the core story conflicts are solid. In Starfinder, there is always another book of stuff I always need help with.

And three or four more tables of weapons.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

B&W Starfinder

Starfinder creates a lot of its own problems by not taking a stand on anything. I get the entire "neutral approach" to presenting a setting, but many of the setting's assumptions feel at odds with great storytelling. They want every player's choices to be equal and to minimize intra-player conflicts at the table. Of course, you can play an undead! Look, we have no space paladins in the setting!

Please! No fights at the table! All choices are equal!

Your adventurers are these semi-generic space rogues who never really take a side. This extends to most of the factions presented as good guys; the Pact Worlds is an "all-inclusive" setting where good and evil get along and go on random space adventures together.

The first adventure path sets the tone by forcing you to work for an undead ambassador and return an undead space terrorist to their hands. I had players from a fantasy game wanting to kill the ambassador for being evil undead, and they would not work for him.

Full stop, end of adventure.

I can't criticize them; this is their choice. To them, the undead are the things that crawl out of the graveyard, and clerics can use turn dead on. To them, it is like me saying, "The demi-lich Acererak walks up to your party and says, I have a mission for you..."

Someone is saying, "Well, good role players would..."

Free choice and determination before assuming anything about anyone. They have a right to refuse. And nobody should ever say someone's roleplaying is "good or bad."

This is why railroad adventures killed AD&D 2nd Edition for us in the 1990s. They turned us off to both the books and the game. You give us no choices? Okay, we choose another game.

Eox is a planet of undead where cannibalism is practiced, yet it is a member of the Pact Worlds? How can you eliminate slavery from a setting but ignore cannibalism? Being used for food is slavery! Do they ship live people in as food? Their being in the Pact Worlds makes the entire alliance "sus" to me as if they ignore an apparent evil. I need help seeing the Pact Worlds as the good guys or worth supporting; they are just a wishy-washy appeasement faction stuck in the middle and on some of the most important real estate in the galaxy.

I swear, some of the writers of these games.

Sure, nobody gets upset, but nothing makes any sense.

I can't run a game like this. To me, the Pact Worlds are a hopeless, doomed appeasement crowd that will end up making concessions to evil to the point where it blows up in their face. Starfinder was written pre-Ukraine. We know what evil is these days and how it brutalizes and invades the innocent. We can't ignore it like the Pact Worlds do in this setting. The best I can do is create a good guy faction and make the Pact Worlds a hopeless between-sides space faction that supplies the enemy with recognition and resources and sadly buys time for evil to prepare.

In my game, the Confederation of Light is my LG faction, and they have worlds, planets, and fleets that will likely come into conflict with the Pact Worlds. The setting needs a lawful good faction. They can be occasional pains in the butt, but the alignments need representation in the game setting, and there should be a clear good-guy side. Some players work better being the noble, sword-of-light, good-guy space paladins swooping in and dispensing justice like He-Man.

Give them a place to play. This faction doesn't need to be huge, and it works better as a more minor faction where players can make a difference, so keep them the noble underdogs and away from being annoying righteous jerks.

Forget the "exiled corpse fleet" - my undead faction will be a space empire called the Death Fleet, controlled by the Axis of Undead - undead space Nazis. Vampires and liches will dress up like Rommel and cackle evilly.

Eox? Weaklings will be crushed when the Death Fleet shows up and takes over the world. These jerks swoop in, kill a planet, and then raise dead to add a few billion more to their armies and fleets. Plus, you can do space Indiana Jones with evil undead space Nazis. It is good stuff, and they make perfect bad guys who show up to steal artifacts for themselves.

The Infernal Empire will be the forces of Hell, conquering worlds and turning them into Doom video game levels. Since the setting's dark elves (the classic 1e ones) worshipped demon lords, they will work with them as commanders and Hell priests.

Doom is my inspiration here. Demons want to condemn a planet's souls to Hell and make them work in infernal factories, making weapons and ships for the fleet. The drow will be the fleet's commanders and sorcerers, backstabbing each other like in the V miniseries or even Ardalla in Buck Rogers. They are likely their worst enemies, but they are fantastic fun to fight when you grab a BFG, shotgun, and chainsaw and save a colony world.

Gods, demons, alien spirits, and devils are the only source of magic! Period. Full stop. Arcane magic died in the galactic reset. You get your powers ala DCC from the setting's gods, alien intelligence things, otherworldly patrons, or other forces. They ask you for favors, their beliefs shape your actions, and making them angry shuts your magic off.

You can't act counter to their wishes or risk disfavor, having higher level (or all) spells turned off until you atone. Magic must be like this; the setting has no "free" magic. Otherwise, you get into a situation where a magic user of good powers is healing the undead. Or working for them. And using good magic to advance the plots of the dead.

No "generic source" magic that is "free to use for anything."

All magic is faith-based and granted by otherworldly forces.

Even the space nature spirit cloud thing has an alignment and sphere of influence. Don't pollute or hurt a planet's atmosphere. The spirit may be angry if you help colonize and "ruin" a pristine world.

Your character must abide by the will of your source of power.

There is no machine god. God is the machine. The prophecies say machines will eventually replace all gods. This will be the end of the universe, as the god-device consumes all.

There are no magic powers, no mysticism. There is just steel and electricity, plastic and coal, carbon fiber and oil.

Mining. Refinement. Factories. Production. Profits.

This sets up a conflict between magic and technology, which is perfect. This setting's mages? Mechanics. Techs. People who build and fix machines. The machine is the arcane power. Robots. Mechs. Starships. Guns. Yes, you can have magic-enchanted things like that, but technology constantly threatens to replace magic and do away with faith.

Those who use magic should keep a wary eye on those who answer every problem with technology.

This mirrors today's central conflict between faith and machine, the soul versus AI.

The setting's conflicts are good versus evil and technology versus faith.

This is MY Starfinder.

One with explicit conflicts that use the 9-axis alignment chart and play to the central battles of our time. The Pact Worlds are still there but doomed to be a footnote in the history of a much larger conflict between greater forces. Unlike the setting's source material, the lines and civilizational conflicts are clearly drawn.

Black&White Starfinder.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Baldurs Gate 3: One & Done

No Baldur's Gate 4 or future D&D games from Larian Studios. I am not surprised. Given how long they take to develop a game, it will be years before the next big thing comes from them.

Given that mod support for BG3 will kill any VTT by Wizards. Why play a static VTT when people can build adventures, NPCs, and voice acting in new adventures for that game? There will always be VTT players, but most mainstream players will go the easy route and have all this done for them.

This is why Wizards will try to do an AI-DM. But it will be so censored and tweaked for safe spaces and children it will be all but worthless.

Therapy Games

D&D is not a "therapy game," nor should it be used as therapy. It is a dumb idea and just as dangerous as "self-medicating" yourself for an illness or asking the Internet for medical advice. You will get hurt and regret the stupid idea. Even if you "feel" it is helping, it likely is causing other problems (or masking them and hiding them deeper).

See a professional, licensed doctor or therapist!

Ask your primary care provider to refer you to a mental health professional.

This is the ONLY way.

Random people who charge for therapy sessions while gaming, those who call these games a replacement for professional help, articles on gaming sites that recommend this, and even people who casually recommend this are giving horrible advice. People also "charging for therapy" in places where a license is required are likely in some trouble, and sites advertising, selling, or promoting it could also be responsible.

Is a random dungeon master charging hundreds of dollars an hour for "D&D therapy" going to be able to recognize a problem that needs medication and prescribe you that?

I read this crap, shake my head, and ask myself, what are people thinking?

B&W Starfinder: All Divine Magic, No Arcane

In my black-and-white Starfinder setting, all magic comes from divine sources.


This is a massive clean-up of the mess of "it may be divine, it may be arcane, it may be spiritualism, it may be some other something" soft, undefined, messy mess of magic origins in the game. I can't make any sense of what magic is in this setting or what technology is, and it all blends together like some neon food-coloring, chemical-laced millennial drink.

In B&W Starfinder, all magic comes from divine sources.

Technology replaces arcane magic.

This makes technical-minded characters "the mages" of the setting and clears up the split between technology and magic very cleanly, as well as a lot of ambiguity.

This simplifies the setting considerably and focuses the magic system along the Dungeon Crawl Classics sort "patron" system, where your magic comes from an alien intelligence, divine source, or something out there that can both ask for favors and take away magic due to disfavor. This also heightens the importance of the gods in the setting; before, they were dongles, which did not matter at all.


You need a god for magic. You will be asked for favors, and your magic powers may be removed if you displease your patron. This is not a "neutral, zero cost, no responsibility" magic source in the setting like arcane is in fantasy.

No patron? No magic.

No favors? No magic.

Anger your patron? No magic.

And the gods won't be these "modern" versions presented in the book, where they wear business suits, spacesuits, or dressed up as aliens. They are amorphous, strange, powerful, and mystical entities that aren't made cute, given iPhone app icon designs, or made socially acceptable if evil. They are more like DCC patrons: strange, never understandable, with vague motives, but desiring clear outcomes. I will also use the original Golarian deities book for these choices since it strips off all the marketing and plastic coating from the identities of the gods.

They aren't cute or TikTok celebrities—they are ancient, powerful, almost alien intelligence entities. They are concerned that technology will replace them and cause them to cease to exist.

If you serve a good patron of a life domain, and the undead are present - that will not be good. For the undead, or you should ignore the call to destroy them.

I can hear people now, "But I want to play undead! I want to play demon-touched! They are valid character options I can choose!" Okay, but like in a fantasy game, you will live with the consequences of your choices.

Starfinder's most significant problem is this soft moral relativism that makes every choice acceptable. I should probably say the Pact Worlds since my setting will have more vital good-aligned and evil factions battling for control. The Pact Worlds will be the neutral party crushed between them, trying to say, "All sides have a point," and "Can we just get along?"

Again, I only need to point to the present day to see where that gets you. Starfinder was written before what we know today, and the events in Europe really changed everything and made this game show its age. The Pact Worlds appease evil, deny there is a war, and will suffer the consequences, just like every other group that thought appeasing the bad guys ended up in this world.

B&W Starfinder has no such problems and aligns the game with what we know today. The battles between good and evil mirror the battle between faiths and technology. This way of looking at the game setting creates explicit conflicts and makes telling stories here simple.

The war has already begun.

Pick a side.

Sunday, March 17, 2024


If I play 3.75 Pathfinder, I could play OG Starfinder. Am I getting the 2E version? Likely not, I have a shelf full of books I barely explored, and the original Starfinder is still a good game. I have struggled with it, but this game lasted longer than many other sci-fi games in my library.

The jump between Starfinder 1e and Pathfinder 1e is close; if you play one, your mind is set up to play the other. So, alongside my 1e campaign, I will kick-start my Starfinder game.

Starfinder needs a GM Guide. Why it never got one, I will never know. The closest book we have is the Galaxy Exploration Manual, which covers the essential genres and gives lots of charts - but I wanted a book that went a little more in-depth into some of the topics the Pathfinder Gamemaster Guide went over (I know, I can use that book too).

There are many planet types and plot hooks, and the book ends with various toolboxes for NPCs, starships, treasure, and more. Stars Without Number does an excellent job of tables and random generators, but this will do in a pinch. SWN does a better job listing conflicts and factions on world types and plot hooks with locations.

What makes me raise an eyebrow is the section of the book listing science fiction subgenres that imply they can be played with Starfinder. Could I play The Matrix or Robocop with Starfinder? I guess. What about hard sci-fi, like 2001? It would be a stretch, but I am tossing out all the magic and crazy races. For a one-shot? What about The Martian? The Walking Dead is mentioned under post-apocalyptic. How about Back to the Future?

Starfinder is its own thing.

It isn't a roleplaying game that could do Back to the Future, but it could do an adventure inspired by that. Same with the other genres. Starfinder does its own thing and sucks in inspiration like a lint roller. To play Starfinder, you need to play all or most of it.

It is like the pop-modern version of Space Opera to me. Where Space Opera was Wheaties, Rice Krispies, and Corn Flakes poured in a bowl; Starfinder is Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, and Fruity Pebbles. It isn't bad, just brightly colored and random.

And sweet.

There are times when being just as random as the game when running works in your favor. In other sci-fi games, I tend to overthink things and grind to a halt. Here? If you start dragging or hitting a dead end, make a combat, chase, or other action happen. Who sent you?! A clue or confession sends the players to the next arc.

Don't think.


That is Starfinder.

Keep it moving.

T-bone the plot with a sudden WTF moment. Have a starship combat. Force yourself out of your box. Use a part of the rules you never did before.

Don't think.

Lean in, dive in, and go.

It isn't a generic system either; a definite leveled progression system powers you up like a JRPG. Many sci-fi games have a flat progression curve and simulate a 50% skill moving towards a 100% one. Starfinder is a progression on an upward-moving curve.

If you were to redo the Star Frontiers adventures, such as Volturnus, in Starfinder, there would be parts of the planet "too high level" for you. The bad guys who show up by the end of the series would all be level 12-15 enemies. It's d20 gaming, a video game in pen-and-paper format.

You could do Volturnus as a "not Volturnus." Do a hex-crawl on a desert world - and let the terrain go from there. To be a heretic, some of the modules in this series had problems; they were railroads, and a few points felt forced. I have done Starfinder as a sandbox and hex-crawl before, and it was fun. I could drop some of the signature module locations wherever I feel they should go, and that works.

Also, I could rip a copy of Volturnus out of the original SF universe and drop it straight into Starfinder as a system - with no other Frontier existing. It makes sense since this planet was 90% of our campaign and the only world we cared for. I would make the ship that crashed there a giant colony ship, and then the task isn't to escape but to gather all the shipwrecked survivors and build a home.

I will miss those space drow so much if I ever get into 2E. They are classic, Buck Rogers-style villains in my universe. If I play 1e, they are still here.

There is much to like in Starfinder, but also lots to pull apart and make sense of from a story perspective. Its scope, sheer amount of stuff, and too-much-mojo nature make it difficult for coherent storytelling - too much is happening. There are too many power systems. There are hundreds of alien types. The weapons and spell lists go on pages. There are far too many caster classes and different styles of magic.

In a game like Star Frontiers, you have your iconic laser pistol, 13 skills, a page of weapons, gear, and four races. There are no magic or psionic powers. Stories in this game are easy to tell.

Today, the far-superior Frontier Space is my replacement game, with a far better action economy, a similar d100 mechanic, and a more streamlined system. The stories here are easier, too, since the selections are tighter, the game has a narrow focus, and all the classic story motivations and frameworks work well.

Another game with easy stories is the Cepheus Engine, which now has so many versions and games that it can fill up a small solar system, but I still love non-Traveller 2d6 generic sci-fi.

Sometimes, I play Starfinder and need a college course to understand how to tell stories in the setting. I need to narrow down what the game gives me to get started. There is a solid d20 sci-fi game in Starfinder; it just takes sorting through a million options to find it. This is one of the reasons my Starfinder games have consistently failed; I would start off well, complete an adventure, and then when it came time for me to create something on my own - my game would die.

I got overwhelmed instantly.

There is too much going on here.

There are a billion conflicts, or no conflicts defined at all.

Is the galaxy at war with evil or not? Is being at peace with the undead "a thing?"

What is evil? What is good? There are gods and demons, but what do they do? Sit on the sidelines?

You can start seeing Paizo's slide into moral neutrality in this game, where nothing is truly evil, and nothing is truly good. Would an undead star empire killing billions of people on a planet and turning them into undead be considered evil in this game? This is the time to call the star paladins in and start smiting the bad guys. If the forces of Hell opened demon gates on a world, killed an entire planet's population, and turned the place into the Doom video game, would it be considered evil?

I spent a few hours reading the books last night, and I could not find an answer to those questions. There are listings for Asmodeus the archdevil, but he sounds more like a Wall Street CEO than the end boss of Doom. An entire planet of undead is in the Pact Worlds, and there is open cannibalism in the world (Pact Worlds, p90). There is this feeling in Starfinder that if something is presented as a valid character option, then anything that goes on to support the background is okay with everyone. After all, we have cool pictures of bone-guy characters!

The books say, "Not everyone is okay with it, but politics keeps it the way it is."

But taken to its logical extent, space truckers would be shipping living people to the world to be consumed. Is that evil or not?

Politics keeps it the way it is.

Okay, then the Pact Worlds are evil.

My version of Starfinder is much more black-and-white than this morally ambiguous mess of a default setting. I would leave the Pact Worlds as messy, confused, morally relativistic place and make a new good-aligned Confederation of Light that good-aligned worlds are joining in reaction to the rampant neutrality of the Pact that invites evil to consume planets. Starfinder was written before the Ukraine war, and you see the same "well, both sides have points" relativism in the setting as you hear today when people try to support evil.

Evil would also be drawing ranks in my version of the setting. Demons would turn planets into Doom levels, and undead would destroy worlds to get more legions of the dead. The space drow will naturally align with the demons of Hell, and they will create an Infernal Empire. The undead will align with an Axis of Death and be undead space Nazis.

Sorry Pact Worlds, I don't see you lasting another 5 years when these space empires start clashing. People will be forced to pick sides, and the default structure of the original setting will be in decline and discussed in the past tense. They will be seen in the same light as the pre-WW1 German liberal free-thinker parties, sort of that failed 'grand society' that broke apart because it ignored the rot from within that gave rise to greater evils.

B&W Starfinder is a game I can easily tell stories in.