It’s been exactly a week since Paizo, Inc. announced its plans for the Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild (SFSRPG for short), an organized play program that takes place in the distant future of the Pathfinder Campaign setting. In the next few weeks, we’ll learn more and more about Paizo’s plans for Starfinder – both the game system and organized play – included an interview with Organized Play Coordinator Tonya Woldridge and Developers John Compton and Thurston Hillman on the Know Direction Podcast coming up on March 22nd.
With the eagerly awaited release of Starfinder, I thought it might be a good time to launch into a discussion on cosmic narratives and what that can mean for your players, your table, and your game.
Science fiction and science fantasy, as genres, have been around for a long time. The Star Wars Universe remains a wildly popular setting today even though it was first introduced forty years ago in 1977. The Original Star Trek series predates A New Hope by 11 years, sharing a decade with Frank Herbert’s Dune. Before that, there was Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and of course the writings of Isaac Asimov. They range from swashbuckling (in space!) adventures to high-minded commentary on the socio-political climate of their times. Their narratives are imaginative, exciting, and diverse. But most importantly, those stories are fun. As much fun and just as fantastic as any story of swords and sorcery. But I think a key difference, and perhaps one of the major hurdles, for players and GMs with an eye towards jumping into science fantasy is one of scope.
For many adventures, the size of the world directly correlates to the power level of the PCs. A low-level narrative might take place in a small town or perhaps a single neighborhood of a larger city. As the PCs level up, larger and large areas might become accessible. By the time the PCs are closing in on 20th level, they can travel the world at will. Adventure Paths typically take this tack. Rise of the Runelords began with a couple of delves in the ruins near a small town and progressed to a murder/mystery encompassing that town and a nearby metropolis. By the end of the Adventure, PCs are teleporting between cities and journeying across the continent.
But beyond that? What happens when the entire world that the PCs are on becomes small? What do you do when a dot on a map represents not a town or city, but an entire planet? Our own planet boasts over 7 billion sentient lifeforms. Humanity occupies ~10-20% of habitable land and has directly influence over ~80% of the Earth’s landmass. A person could travel the world and experience only a small fraction of all the sights, sounds, and smells to be had. And that’s all without touching upon the vast collections of lore, wisdom, and philosophies accumulated over the course of recorded history. Yet now we expand our Campaign Setting to a solar system? A galaxy? This is a setting vast beyond comprehension. How many planets worth of adventures are there? How many billions or trillions of lives? Starfinder is big. And I mean BIG. And that kind of scale takes a different approach to storytelling.
One might make a comparison to the planes of the Multiverse, which exist and are accessible to PCs. But most methods of interplanar travel takes mid-to-high level magic. And most PCs don’t access that kind of power until fairly late in their careers. From my understanding, in Starfinder, even low-level PCs might have access to a starship and be able to navigate the stars?
So where does that leave us? What kind of stories do you tell when your stage infinite and the potential is limitless? As with all forms of creativity, I’d suggest that GMs look to the predecessors for inspiration. Star Trek, a show about exploring the cosmos, managed their medium through following a core group of individuals through episodic adventures. Does that sound familiar? In Star Wars: the Clone Wars (the animated series), audiences get a feel for the war on a galactic scale through the adventures of the narrative’s primary movers – the protagonists.
In a campaign setting with a galaxy’s worth of material, it’s important to keep your game focused on what actually matters – the PCs and their experiences. What do they do? Where do they go? What challenges will they face? Sure, their ship might amount to a speck of cosmic dust blowing in the solar winds. But in this case, the universe really does revolve around them.
Are you as excited about Starfinder as I am? How do you plan to run your Starfinder adventures? Let me know in the comments section below!
You can also find out more information on the Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild program here!