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.

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