Today, I’m going to talk about Starfinder – not because I have any more insight than anyone else, but because I want to talk about what I hope. It’s heroic fantasy space opera, of course I’m interested in it – not so much the setting, but the hope for a swashbuckling-capable sci-fi setting that isn’t burdened by the weight of things that choke a lot of other systems that have tried to do this.
There have been plenty of systems that have tried, to various effects and levels of crunch, to capture the over-the-top nature of space opera in a way that feels true to the genre. Most of them have had a fanbase, and some even survive in some form or another today. Most also labor under rule systems that try really hard to emulate specific properties – look at the various iterations of Star Wars games out there for an example of how this can go. Even I’ve made a shot at that one, modding the Cypher System to try for it.
What I’m hoping for from Starfinder is that the system won’t be trying to emulate anything in specific, other than ‘science fantasy/space opera’ as a whole. If that’s what it does, a few home-game hacks should be able to let it emulate most things well enough to be enjoyable. Want to play Mass Effect the Tabletop Game? Hack the magic system a little and define the Mass Effect races using the core book examples and you’ll hopefully be ready to roll. Tweak it another way, and you’ll hopefully be able to emulate Star Wars. Drop most of the player-side magic and run Star Trek.
Or do what I’d like to do and build a custom setting for the rules, one that isn’t the Pathfinder Kitchen Sink But In Space. Build new races, suitably alien in nature, and build out from there. No stellar empires, just star systems – or just planets, or planets with multiple nations. Make the galaxy deep and strange and interesting, bury layers upon layers of history and possible Precursors across it, and let the players go out to make their name among the stars.
Because honestly, I’ve gotten really tired of the sci-fi race tropes and culture tropes. I’m not interested in having yet another Proud Warrior Race who are Proud Warriors of Honor and Violence, or a Cute Furry Race that’s Small and Adorable and probably Psychic. I don’t need a Galactic Federation that’s the big hope for peace and prosperity up against a hostile alien culture of imperial conquest and/or a ravening alien swarm species and/or ancient nefarious/enlightened masterminds secretly manipulating destiny.
I want a galaxy full of civilizations that are multiracial and multicultural. If there’s an arid world, a pelagic world, and a gas giant with moonbases in a single system, I want them to at least be distinct nations, not all under the aegis of a single controlling government. The pelagic world probably has at least two distinct cultural groups – one on what land there is, and the other in aquatic cities. The arid world might have arcologies, each one independent but together loosely unified as a confederation to the rest of the galaxy. Each lunar base nominally pays homage to their founding world, but they’re culturally distinct and all became independent a long time ago. And there’s an icy world in the Kuiper Belt range that’s nearly solid metal underneath, a worldship that’s long dormant, which may or may not have been sent by some Precursor species ages ago and which is waiting for someone brave enough to wake it up and try to extract whatever secrets it holds.
I want vast and uncharted regions of space simply because the galaxy is so vast that no one’s bothered to explore those regions yet, outside of scientific research with telescopes and antennae. Great and vast frontiers for the players to go poke around in which might have undiscovered civilizations, strange species, and worlds both in the process of producing new sapient life and which hold the ruins of past civilizations.
In short, I want a galaxy that has nothing to do with manfiest destiny or grand dreams of colonizing the cosmos. I want a galaxy that celebrates diversity and individuality from the personal through to the cultural levels. I want to let players stumble across an ancient space station that still works, orbiting a red dwarf, and let them work out how to make it work so they can claim it as a home base to explore nearby stars. I want to help players devise their own unique and strange species to play, and tweak the classes to suit their personal gameplay preferences. I want a game that’s built on exploration, interaction, and curiosity more than combat, conquest, and loot.
That’s what I hope Starfinder can offer anyone who wants to try, without having to fight past the rule systems to make it work.