On Aug. 17 at America's premiere game convention, Gen Con, Paizo Publishing released the science-fiction roleplaying game sequel to the popular Pathfinder fantasy game. It sold out in six hours. This review tackles the 520-page core rulebook. Strap in.
It's important to note that there is an official soundtrack for the Starfinder RPG created by Syrinscape. Epic games need epic sounds, and there is a free, exclusive Starfinder soundset available. Read the interview below with creator Benjamin Loomes.
This article assumes the reader has played a roleplaying game and lived to tell about it. If not, just imagine being able to control and play the main characters inside an epic adventure movie and you'll get the idea.
If you've played the Pathfinder fantasy RPG, then you are light years ahead on getting things started for a Starfinder RPG game session. There are many structural similarities for both players and game masters. But don't be fooled. This is a brand new RPG with tons of new and exciting differences. Read on to find out more.
Weighing in with more than 520 pages, the Starfinder core rulebook just might be the single biggest RPG book Paizo has published. It is full of information pertaining to the new Starfinder roleplaying game and can't possibly be exhaustively covered in a single review, but here are the highlights.
The book is heavy. The inside cover has a cool map of the "pacts world system" showing several planets and their relationship to each other. A blank character sheet and book index are also provided at the back of the book.
Starting in chapter one, there is the familiar overview of the book that lets gamers know exactly what they're getting into and also a two-page example of play that gets the creative juices flowing for science-fiction RPG fans. I always love reading these.
Chapter two of the book dives right into character creation and breaks down the process in nine simple steps. There are seven starting races, 10 character themes and seven character classes. Rules are given for starting at level one or starting a more advanced character with higher levels.
Ability scores range from one to 26, and are you ready for it? There are three point systems for tracking a character: hit points, stamina points and resolve points. Stamina points are removed before hit points. They are similar to the ability to shake off a punch without taking true damage. Hit points are how much life is available to a character.
Resolve points are something special and require a full eight hours of rest to recover. They allow players to improve skills, trigger abilities, recover stamina and avoid death. If a character has zero hit points and no resolve points left, cue the funeral dirge.
Chapters three and four break down races and classes with tons of beautiful artwork, stat blocks and level progressions. If you thought spells were restricted to Pathfinder, think again. The Mystic class has spell power and cool powers that can explode a being's head at 18th level.
At each level, players will gain skills according to their intelligence scores, and chapter five lists a bunch of cool options. Chapter six gives details on feats, many of which require a certain ability score prerequisite. The shot on the run feat, for example, requires a 15 dexterity but allows shooting during movement.
An RPG sourcebook worth its salt is bound to have an equipment section replete with excellent artwork. This book is no slouch. A full 75 pages are dedicated to details about items and equipment. How many charges does a red star plasma pistol have (page 173)? What does an Aphelion artillery laser look like (page 175)? And what about a written description of a Nyfiber Net (page 189)?
And don't get me started about weapon fusions. The rules in chapter seven indicate items can be infused with magic to allow for customization and upgrades. So no two skyfire swords will be the same.
Chapter eight tackles tactics and goes into comprehensive detail on combat, surprise, damage, saving throws, actions and movement. There is also coverage of rules for skill use, range combat, bonuses and penalties, conditions and vehicle combat.
The topic of starships rounds out chapter nine with information on space travel, ship design, weapons and systems. A number of ship models complete with illustrations are covered on pages 306-315. The Ringworks wanderer looks awesome with its black and yellow paint job.
Yes, chapter 10 covers magic and spells. Yes, even in a science-fiction setting. As a matter of fact, Paizo calls the Starfinder RPG science-fantasy, so get that through your head. To understand spells, think of a latent magical energy that permeates the universe. Some characters can tap into that magic. Those that can are able to cast spells. Chapter 10 gives gamers spell lists, effects, descriptions and fun. Ever heard of the spell "battle junkbot?" Create a temporary robot from random junk, turning it into a deadly combatant.
Chapter 11 is all about game mastering and includes a wide variety of information such as building adventures, determining challenge ratings, gaining wealth, creating science-fantasy environments and even building traps. The description of the disintegration chamber trap will make you fall to pieces.
The Starfinder setting is new, but a lot of thought has gone into its development. Artwork depicting the planets, people, factions, gods, empires and environments is crucial to set the mood. All of these things are present in chapter 12 of the core rulebook. This is my favorite section. Players can sit down and read details on the Golarion system and its planets. Yes, it is called the Golarion system. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?
Which brings us to the final chapter of the book titled Pathfinder legacy. Here gamers will find all the rules necessary to bring their Pathfinder fantasy characters into the brave new world of Starfinder. There is no need to toss out the Pathfinder books. All of those can be used in Starfinder with some minor tweaks. Chapter 13 gives gamers all the details.
Needless to say, throughout the book there is page after page of gorgeous art for drooling over. The amount of new art needed to create this book blows my mind. Buying this book simply for the incredible science-fiction artwork is worth the price.
Speaking of price, the retail price of the Starfinder RPG core rulebook is $59.99. Many people will think this is steep, but everything that is needed to play is contained in this one volume. Other popular roleplaying games require gamers to purchase three different core rulebooks at $50 apiece. Starfinder is a bargain, all things considered.
One last thing to mention is the overall excellent design. Paizo Publishing is getting good at designing roleplaying books, and it shows. Design is more than terrific art. And the design of this product is second to none. For example, the right-hand margin of every page in the book contains a highlighted index to allow flipping to a certain section as easy as firing an NIL grenade launcher.
Paizo Publishing is fully supporting this product with a number of future adventure path releases and additional sourcebooks. There is a lot to get excited about for science-fiction/fantasy gamers. This book comes with a high purchase recommendation for those looking for a solid RPG game system. Find out more at Paizo Publishing's website.
What was the first science-fiction RPG you played?
Car Wars. Not really roleplaying as such, but it was a lot of fun with friends rolling dice. We were telling the stories in our heads. But really, red box Dungeons and Dragons was my big thing when I was 10. Those Larry Elmore illustrations fired up my imagination.
How did the project originate for getting Syrinscape Starfinder audio to launch with the release of the Starfinder RPG?
Well, Syrinscape has been partnering with Paizo for years to create the official sounds of the Pathfinder RPG. Fleshing out the sounds for their amazingly rich and varied locations, creatures and adventure paths is what we do.
Of course we jumped at the chance to create the official sounds of the Starfinder RPG. Starfinder is the first tabletop RPG to be released with a complete dynamic audio sound solution ready and working. Every Starship and every Starship weapon in the Core Rulebook is in the Syrinscape App, ready to punch you into a cinematic world of color and power. Yep, even the "nuclear mega-missle launcher," because everyone needs one of those!
What did you use for inspiration in figuring out what sounds to include in a science-fiction RPG set?
We had lots of fun workshopping the sounds of Starfinder with the wonderful Paizo creative team. Our first port-of-call was to work out that we were aiming more for Star Wars and Firefly rather than Star Trek. We made the sounds real, tactile and visceral. Then we discussed each of the cultures.
My favourite development moment was when Starfinder creative director James Sutter said, "Kasatha Starships? They're like the Apple Store of Starships. All clean and white and perfect." So we worked to make them all … "ping" and "zing" and "pretty" and "slick," whereas the Vesk Starships are all "flexing metal" and "heavy boots on steel deck plating." The "Starfinder RPG Core Rulebook" is full of so much richly descriptive language, it was actually quite straightforward translating that into sound, given a bit of imagination, and a digital can opener.
What are some of the contrasting elements you use in designing audio for science-fiction versus fantasy?
The biggest difference between fantasy and sci-fi is the presence of rotating machine type sounds. A starship is made up of lots of humming and buzzing and thunking and rattling, all meshing, unmeshing and interplaying with each other. Oh, and buttons to push are something we never saw in fantasy. Lots of things go click and snap. We've sampled torch switches, old computer blips and blops (like the Apple IIe startup sound), dot-matrix printers, cams, water pumps, air conditioners and even a malfunctioning washing machine for the goblin vessels.
Is it easier or harder to design sound for science-fiction? Why?
Each genre presents its own unique difficulties and challenges we are happy to take on. In fantasy, you are giving voice to "otherworldly" creatures that no one has ever seen and hopefully never will. We are always hunting for something new, fresh and different that sounds like it could be real, but definitely is not identifiable as anything actually familiar.
In sci-fi we are creating worlds and machines that are far closer to our actual everyday experience, so it seems to be easier to get them wrong. Transitions and blends are more critical here. Even the acoustics become really noticeable. Though we may not be familiar with a moss-coated rocky harpy den, many more of us regularly experience cockpits, marble foyers and airplane cabins, but then at least it is easier for me to sample these locations too, so that's an advantage.
Fortunately, Syrinscape has a very powerful reverb machine built in, which makes our job easier. We create the sounds and let the algorithms I built place these sounds in 3D space, in a metal room, a soft padded space or bright cathedral.
What highlights in the Starfinder sound set you would like to talk about?
One of the best features of the Starfinder game is that (just like on the bridge of a Star Trek starship) each player has an important role to play. Everyone gets a turn at doing something decisive that may well have an important effect on the flow of ship-to-ship contact, and Syrinscape is there with sounds to accompany every critical moment. When the engineer has her turn and decides to patch one of the glitching systems, the game master simply reaches over and touches the "engineer one shot button" on the app.
As the player resolves her die roll, everyone hears the sound of a panel being ripped off, spot welding, clipping and unclipping, a hammer blow or two and a frantic drill. It really adds to the atmosphere and realism. The science officer and pilot have equally dynamic action sounds and then, most excitingly, Syrinscape has produced every single starship weapon in the "Starfinder RPG Core Rulebook," so no matter how you have set up these delightful offensive tools on your vessel, Syrinscape has the sound for you. From gravity cannon to maser … what's a maser? Paizo told me, "it's like a Microwave-laser"… does that mean it tells you to "enjoy your meal" on completion of its firing sequence?
Anything else you would like to say?
If you're playing Starfinder or any other sci-fi game, don't do it in silence! If you'd turn on the sound while watching "Firefly," then turn on the sound-playing games at the table too. Grab the free Syrinscape sci-fi player, try out the two free SoundSets and then unlock everything with one of our 30-day free trial subscriptions.
For a free trial of the Syrinscape sci-fi sound set, go to: https://syrinscape.com/subscriptions/trial-sci-fi-sub/