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Saturday, 5 August 2017

Free RPG Day 2017: Starfinder: First Contact

Now in its tenth year, Saturday, June 17th is Free RPG Day and with it comes an array of new and interesting little releases. Invariably they are tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera. The scenarios are of course for existing games, but whilst the quickstarts may likewise also be for existing games, many are for forthcoming games, giving gamers a chance to experience a new game or setting before they are released. One such title is neither a scenario nor a quickstart, but a teaser, introducing elements of a forthcoming roleplaying game. That title is Starfinder: First Contact.

Since 2009, Paizo Publishing has been releasing and supporting material for its Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, a Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying game and in fact, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game remains one of the best supported games currently available, with innumerable supplements, scenarios, and campaigns. In previous years, Paizo Publishing has supported Free RPG Day with scenarios like We Be Goblins. For 2017, Paizo Publishing released Starfinder: First Contact. This is a teaser for Starfinder, Paizo Publishing’s Science Fantasy roleplaying game which takes the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game forward thousands and thousands of years and to the stars. To some extent, the genre of ‘Dungeons & Dragons in Space!’ has been explored before, most notably with TSR, Inc.’s Spelljammer in 1989 and then with the Dragonstar Starfarer's Handbook from Fantasy Flight Games in 2001.

As a first glance, Starfinder: First Contact does three things. First and second, it introduces us to what is different in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game in comparison to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and it tells us what is new in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. Third, it introduces us to eleven monsters and creatures that are home not just to Golarion—the campaign setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game—but the Golarion solar system. Much of what is different as presented in Starfinder: First Contact relates to how monsters and creatures are presented in Starfinder. So, taking its cue from Pathfinder Unchained, the monster stat block in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game is slimmed down, for example, only listing ability modifiers and not ability scores; only listing feats that let a monster do something, whilst subsuming feats that grant bonuses into the relevant statistic; and the unification of the various types of sense beyond the basics into blindsight and blindsense. The new comes in the form of Class Abilities like the Cloaking Field, a kinetically rechargeable device that grants a bonus to the Stealth skill, and Grenade Expert, being able to throw a grenade further and jury-rig a small grenade within a few minutes; Universal Monster rules such as Limited Telepathy and Unliving; and weapon abilities, like Arc, Burn, and Explode, representing how much deadlier weapons—especially guns and energy weapons—are in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

Perhaps though, the most interesting suggestion in Starfinder: First Contact and thus Starfinder Roleplaying Game is that the new roleplaying game is going to allow the players to roleplay a great many of the races as aliens. Now they are weaker versions of the standard interpretations of the races, but enable a player to take the role of a Space Goblin junker, a Ratfolk mechanic, spellhacking Lashunta technomancer, and so on. Eleven races are given in Starfinder: First Contact—Bloodbrother, Contemplative, Ellicoth, Haan, Ksarik, Necrovite, Orocoran, Sarcesian, Security Robot, Space Goblin, and Space Pirate. Ranging from 1/3 to 13 in terms of C/R, the Contemplative, Haan, Sarcesian, and Space Goblin are given Racial Traits to allow them to be played as Alien player characters.

Unfortunately, there is nothing of the background of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game to be found in the pages of Starfinder: First Contact. That said, a very little of the background can be gleaned from the monster and creature descriptions. For example, the importance of Absalom Station, infested as it is with Space Goblins who use it as a staging point from where they can hijack ships and travel to the stars and how security on the station is handled by Security Robots, whilst some gangs have hacked some Security Robots and used them to protect their own interests. Unfortunately, all a little too slight to give much of the flavour and the feel of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

Being a release from Paizo Publishing, it should be no surprise that Starfinder: First Contact is a slickly produced and well-presented booklet. In comparison to other releases for Free RPG Day 2017, Starfinder: First Contact is very technical in nature and has little to offer the casual gamer beyond perhaps being a little intriguing. For the devotee of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game there is much in the pages of Starfinder: First Contact to entice their interest, especially if they are looking to expand their genre from fantasy to science fantasy and to see the future of Golarion pushed thousands of years into the future.