Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.
Paizo, Inc., a publisher whose titles for both the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have proved popular and often in demand long after the event. For Free RPG Day 2021, the publisher again provides a title for each of the two roleplaying games, one of them being Threshold of Knowledge for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, whereas the one for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game is a change of tone and pace.In past years, the releases for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have been adventures involving four of the cheerfully manic, gleefully helpful, vibrantly coloured, six-armed and furry creatures known as Skittermanders—Dakoyo, Gazigaz, Nako, and Quonx. However, they do not appear in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game release for Free RPG Day in 2021, which instead features a new, and altogether more diverse cast, as well as kicking off a brand-new series of adventures. The adventure can be run as is, using nothing more than the Starfinder Roleplaying Game core rules, although the Game Master and players alike may find access to the supplements, Alien Archive 2 and Alien Archive 3, to be useful.
Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin is designed to be played by four Player Characters of Fourth Level and to that end comes with four pre-generated Player Characters. They include Chox, a Bolida Gladiator Soldier; Err0r, an Android Outlaw Technomancer; Gliko, a Raxilite Icon Operative; and Ritta Aufenren, a Vlaka Solar Disciple Solarian. This is a good mix of species and identities, and come with some fun abilities, such as Gliko’s biotech augmentation which gives them a cluster of prehensile vines or Chox’s ability to roll into a defensive ball and then make a rolling charge! Each of the four comes with a little background and a full illustration. All four are recent graduates of the Starfinder Society.
As the scenario opens, the Starfinder Four are on their way to HACTexpo, an event put on by HACTech, a small publisher of VR technology and games. Unfortunately, as they fly their into the destination to take a little time off, they receive a distress call which appears to rattle throughout the ship’s hull. Everything is going haywire down on the moon where HACTech has its headquarters, and of course, the members of the Starfinder Four are the nearest members of the Starfinder Society who can respond. If the players and their characters decide to demur and look for help else there is advice for the Game Master to keep everything on track, and very quickly the Player Characters will find themselves hurtling down towards the moon as all-too perfect asteroids seem to be flung at them! This sets the tone for the adventure as once they land, the Player Characters find them facing computer game demo after computer game demo come alive and challenge or attack them. The Player Characters will find themselves attacked by digitised Carrion Bats, digital Jack-in-the-Boxes made real and weaponised with giant scissors, soldiers taken from a first-person shooter, and more. Much of this takes place in a giant convention hall where there stands and demonstrations for all of the VR games they appear in.
Each of these encounters is self-contained, so that there is time for the four Player Characters to rest and perhaps recuperate between each of them. However, it may seem like the Player Characters are wasting their time in investigating each of the various displays and booths rather than proceeding deeper into the complex and investigating the cause of the emergency, but this is not necessarily the case. In many case, there are survivors—both event staff and attendees—to rescue from these booths and displays, and the Player Characters may also gain extra items which will help them in later encounters in the adventure.
Once the Player Characters have dealt with the displays—or most of the displays—dangerously in disarray, they will want to proceed behind the public areas of HACTexpo. This begins the climax to the adventure as the Player Characters explore the limits of a giant server room, a maze-like complex of server towers and computer consoles, strewn with thick bundles of cables and clouds of low-lying computer coolant. Again, the temptation for the Player Characters may be to rush through here to get the final confrontation, but a little patience, which gives time for exploration and examination, will pay off and gain them a slight advantage by the time they get to face the true villain of the adventure. What is essentially an ‘end of level fight is challenging and calls for more than a stand-up fight. In this the pre-generated Player Character, Err0r, with his advanced computer skills—along with his Technomancer spells—will play a major role in this final confrontation as he does throughout the adventure.
Physically, Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin is as decently presented as you would expect for a title from Paizo, Inc. The artwork is excellent, the writing decent, and the cartography a blaze of bright colours. There is a lot going on in the scenario, though mostly in quite self-contained scenes despite the fact that they take place in the same enormous convention hall, so the Game Master will need to take a little care in preparing it for play.
Running throughout Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin are references to Champion Squad, a superhero comic book series in the future of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game which has been adapted to other media and which certain aspects of the threats faced by the Player Characters comes to see them as members of the superhero team. It would have been fun if this had been played up a little further, but there are hooks included for each of the Player Characters to motivate them to attend the HACTexpo. There is plenty of fun though to be had with the computer games included at the HACTexpo, all of course, inspired by the games of today, so in more than a few places it feels not a little tongue-in-cheek, and if everyone joins in with that, Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin should be fun to play.
Overall, Starfinder Four Vs. The Hardlight Harlequin should provide one, perhaps two good sessions’ worth of play and an exciting, action-packed adventure.