At GenCon this year I picked up Starfinder – hot off of the press. I had no idea why at the time. It was a pure impulse purchase, driven by something I hadn’t felt for a while in gaming – a sense of excitement. It took me a while to figure out why I was excited, hence this entry in my blog.
I have been soaking in its pages and have been impressed with most of what I have seen so far. A true space opera RPG with a fairly robust set of rules. Outstanding artwork and some ingenious thinking about how to handle the timeline between Pathfinder and Starfinder. I could critique some of the rules, I won’t. Starfinder is far too important in the industry right now. I accept it for what it is. A return to pure open-ended sci-fi gaming. A return to the era of the space opera.
Oh, sure we’ve had sci fi gaming all long (Shadowrun, Eclipse Phase, etc.) but we what the industry has lacked for years is a good generic sci fi RPG in the tradition of old school gaming.
I am a graduate of that old school, white box D&D and black box Traveller and all. Pathfinder harkens back to those days and that was why I was excited about it.
Looking back, Traveller broke new ground when it came out in a lot of respects. One, your character could die during creation – and two, it was a rules set for a big damn universe of mystery and combat. Gamemasters had a clean slate in the early years to craft our own universes.
There were other games that came along – Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, for example – but they were targeted sub genres of the sci fi. They had limits. Of course, we had Space Opera and Iron Crown’s Spacemaster, which were great at the time, though Spacemaster was hard to run as I recall, but there was a lot of stuff packed into the rules. FTL 2448 and even Fringeworthy opened up new uncharted gaming universes for us to craft into our own. Empires were to be forged and fortunes were out there waiting for us to take them.
WEG’s Star Wars and FASA’s original Star Trek RPG’s were great, but those were established universes that had boundaries. We were limited by the IP (intellectual property.) Space opera role playing let the gamemaster define the universe, and often times there were few limits beyond the rules themselves.
Then TSR released Star Frontiers – and that provided us all with another big open-ended RPG in space. That was the peak of the space opera era. We still had Traveller out there, but by then, the Traveller universe was beginning to take form on its own, slowly boxing us in. The rise of the IP-driven sci fi RPG’s pinched us even further. It was easier to pick up Star Wars then to create a universe from scratch.
Then came the dark times. Star Frontiers disappeared in 1986 or so, though game product continued on in the back rooms of local game stores. Traveller became Traveller 2300 which failed to capture our attention. Space Opera and Spacemaster went out of mainstream print as well. Those games like Eclipse Phase that emerged were defined.
Then this year, Starfinder came out. Paizo really took a big and successful gamble. Pathfinder has become, well, a library system on its own. There isn’t a lot of room for growth. Jumpstarting a new space opera game seemed ridiculous on paper…except for us old school gamers. We knew that the market would support it. Hell, there had been a hole in that market that was waiting to be filled with a product of the quality and caliber of Starfinder.
I have read pudits whine about its compatibility with Pathfinder. I have heard the moans about starship combat (some of which I agree with.) Forget all of that. Starfinder has joined the pantheon of open-ended space RPG’s and has earned already a place of distinction. Paizo seems to be supporting it heavily which will ensure its long-term success. Once more, we RPG gamemasters can take our players to the stars for big-ass adventures of our own creation. Starfinder is important because it fills a gap that has been out there for some time in the industry. The universe is a big place…filled with magic, tech, and sudden death. Saddle up!