GTM #208 - Tricks of the Game Trade - Tip #14
by Jon Leitheusser

~ Gaming in Spaaaaaaace! ~

Nothing is more rewarding for a gamer than finding a game system they like. A game that inspires great stories and characters that you and your friends create and enjoy together using rules you’re well-versed in and can quickly adjudicate. However, nothing is more exciting for a gamer than when the system they love is used in a new genre! That’s what’s happening this month with the release of Starfinder, the newest roleplaying game using the Pathfinder game system from Paizo Publishing.

~ A Little History ~

Some of you may be wondering how they can take a fantasy game and turn it into a science fiction game that uses the same game system. Actually, it’s more accurate to call Starfinder a science fantasy game, but to answer that question, we need to know a bit more about the Pathfinder game system. It began life almost two decades ago as Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition. That edition of D&D took the idea of Open Gaming Licensing (OGL) and applied it to the 3rd Edition rules. Wizards of the Coast, the publishers of D&D, created a document called the System Reference Document (SRD) and spelled out how other companies could use the SRD, which contained all the rules of D&D without any of the characters, names, or setting material that belonged to Wizards of the Coast, to make their own games using what’s universally called the d20 System.

Unsurprisingly, companies and creators jumped at the chance to publish games using the most popular roleplaying game system around, which also boasted the largest fan base, filled with players who were already familiar and fanatic about the system. Most of the games and supplements released by other companies were fantasy settings or adventures, but the system was also adapted to horror (Call of Cthulhu), super-heroes (Mutants & Masterminds), espionage (Spycraft), Weird West (Deadlands), and even science fiction (Star Wars). So, it’s only natural that Paizo Publishing, who’s kept the d20 System alive in the wake of two iterations of D&D with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, to run rampant with it.

~ Fast Forward to Now ~

Pathfinder was announced in 2008, had a huge, public playtest, and was released in August of 2009, which means it’s been around for nearly a decade. Any game system gets a bit long in the tooth after a while, so revitalizing the fan base and luring new players—who may be interested in science fiction because of movies such as the resurrected Star Wars and Star Trek franchises — to try Starfinder is a viable alternative to fantasy tropes.

The great thing about this new take on the Pathfinder rules system is that it was created by designers who, in some cases, have up to two decades of experience with the d20 System. That being the case, they were able to bring their considerable design chops to bear, which should make Starfinder not only mechanically solid, but also introduce some incredible new options to the table.

Behind the scenes, Starfinder has been in the works for a couple of years—and that’s not taking into account all of the “playtesting” that took place at gaming tables over the last decade. In that time, the Paizo team (coined the “Starchamber”) created seven new classes appropriate to science fantasy, rules for a passel of new races, a complete system for starship construction and combat, loads of magical and technological weapons and equipment, rules for inhospitable and dangerous environments found on strange, alien worlds, and, of course, lots of new setting material and spells. It promises to be a massive tome with some great follow-up support after the initial release.

~ My God, It’s Full of Stars! ~

So, why all the hubbub over a game that’s been around for a couple of decades expanding into science fantasy? Well, because the folks at Paizo have proven themselves capable of amazing things! They offer a solid game system, have shown they’re capable of long-term support for their games, and they create rich environments ripe for GMs to come up with adventures of their own.

A perfect sign of this is the fact that following the release of the Starfinder core rules, Paizo is introducing one of their fantastic Adventure Paths for the game — Dead Suns. Adventure Paths, for those that don’t know, are a series of linked adventures that take players through an entire campaign with a beginning, middle, and end, taking characters from 1st level to somewhere in the 10th or higher range. It’s basically a ‘campaign in a can’. The perfect solution for GMs who either don’t have time to come up with an adventure of their own, or for players and GMs who want a tour of the new setting. Keep a lookout for Dead Suns’ first chapter, Incident at Absalom Station, soon after Starfinder hits the shelves of your FLGS.

~ Anything Else? ~

Of course, there’s more to be excited about! Because Starfinder uses the Pathfinder system, most of the races, spells, classes, feats, and such can be incorporated into your fantasy campaigns. Plus, all those Bestiary books are filled with monsters you can unleash upon your new space-faring game! It’s always a nice bonus when the books you already have on your shelves (or on your hard drive) can be repurposed. Now, if you want, you can have the PCs visit a planet of dog people, simply by using the Pathfinder stats for gnolls — and, who knows, since this is a science fantasy setting, gnolls may already exist somewhere in it!

If all this sounds interesting to you, take a hard look at Starfinder… it promises to be a fun, interesting new setting with familiar rules, but tons of great, new stuff that could do a lot to bring new players to your table and get those who are already there fired up for new types of adventure.

~ Inconceivable! ~

I can’t let this month pass without calling attention to what’s in the works from ToyVault — The Princess Bride Roleplaying Game! Based, of course, on the classic movie from 1987, which was in turn based on William Goldmans’ excellent novel of the same name from 1972. The game uses the quick and easy-to-learn Fudge system created by Steffan O’Sullivan, who’s also the author of this game.

If you’ve ever wanted to explore the political conflict between Florin and Guilder, or face-off against brutes like Fezzik, skilled swordsmen such as Inigo Montoya, or match wits with rogues like Vizzini, this is the game for you!

~ Take It To the Tabletop ~

Another month and another couple of books tied directly or indirectly to pop culture staples like fantasy and science fantasy. And, once again, those ties to pop culture should make it easier for GMs to find new players for their games. Pitch the idea of playing in the world of The Princess Bride to the right people and you could have a new gaming group up and running in no time! Let your friends who are Star Wars fans know you’re interested in running a science fiction game steeped in magic and mysticism, with all sorts of alien races and monsters, and you can get rolling with a new campaign straightaway.

Everyone’s a fan of some aspect of popular culture, so it’s not surprising game companies use those settings and tropes to catch the attention of GMs and players. If you’re the GM for your group, you can (and should!) use the same tactic to hook new players into a new or ongoing game.

Jon Leitheusser is a writer, editor, and game developer. He published the Dork Tower comic book, was the HeroClix game designer for years, was a content designer for Champions Online and Neverwinter, was the Mutants & Masterminds game developer for Green Ronin from 2008 to 2016, and freelances for a number of different companies. He cut his gaming teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and still games twice a week with his friends online or in person.