Hey everyone! Sorry for disappearing last Monday; I was still at Gen Con 50 at the time. (James and I drove home last Monday, and I didn’t have time to get an article up.) By now I’m sure you’ve heard that this little game came out at Gen Con. Nothing spectacular, you probably never heard of it. It’s called Starfinder.
Oh, who am I kidding! It’s all anyone can talk about, am I right?
Well, it just so happens that I have a LOT of thoughts on Starfinder. I was invited into the closed playtest for the game, so I’ve had the chassis of the rules for a while and have worked quite a bit with them. (You might have heard that I co-authored a product for Starfinder called the Starfarer’s Companion. If you’re looking for a classic fantasy taste in space or just want some neat feats, spells, and gear for your sci-fi characters, give it a try!) Anyway, as someone with a bit of experience, people keeping asking me, “What do you like about Starfinder?” and “What don’t you like about Starfinder?” I’ll go on the record as saying, “It’s a great game. Not a Pathfinder clone, not a Pathfinder upgrade, but a great game.”
Yes, that’s right. There’s some things I REALLY like about Starfinder and some things I’m not crazy about. I’ll call them my “booms” and my “busts,” and today I’m going to share five things I really liked about the system, and one thing I don’t like. You don’t have to agree with me; it’s very much an opinion piece after all, but I wanted to make sure I talked about the things I liked first.
At any rate, let’s get started!
Boom 1 — The Operative Class
HOLY crap, I love the operative. I could go on FOREVER about what I like about it. I love the skill-based interface for trick attack. I love the unparalleled skill access. I love the “I move 30 feet before I stab you,” mechanic. I love how things like Shot on the Run and Spring Attack have special interface with the operative. I love the flavors of operative specializations. I love tricks. I love exploits. I love EVERYTHING.
In my opinion, the operative is the best rogue class ever designed. It is fun, evocative, is great with skills, is awesome at using those skills at combat, and is just all-around fun to play. Love it SO much!
Boon 2 — Feat Simplification
I love how streamlined feats became. The Starfinder Core Rulebook isn’t padded with a billion of “paint by the numbers” feats the way that the Pathfinder CRB is. For instance, there’s one feat (Skill Synergy) that covers about half a dozen feats in PF (Athletics, Persuasive, and so on). I like Combat Expertise as a feat and miss seeing it here, but at the same time I LOVE that it’s not a gate feat for have the cool options in the game. And Deadly Aim and Power Attack being merged? Sign. Me. Up. I think that the feat tree balancing in SF is WAY better than both Pathfinder and 5e, personally. Like, holy crap! I don’t feel bad about taking Mobility now. And Toughness looks SO good! Super happy with how the system ended up.
Boon 3 — Fusion Seals
YES. ALL MY YES. We needed a system for moving weapon abilities (now called weapon fusions) from one item to another, and this system delivers. I absolutely LOVE this system. It is the greatest thing to happen to 3.5 OGL, even if it means that the weapon abilities themselves need to be weaker to compensate. I am A-OK with that, personally.
Boon 4 — Critical Hit Confirmation
So, I played a game of SF at Gen Con and got to see this first hand for the first time, and I thought it was really smart and great. It spend up gameplay and was fun. But holy crap, let me tell you that I didn’t REALLY notice how great this rule is until I compared it to running Tier 7-8 Pathfinder in Solstice Scar. Like, dude, I never realized how much time crit-fishing builds waste confirming critical hits. Granted, this isn’t a rule you could just port over with the whole “x3 and x4 crit damage mods” thing in Pathfinder, but I hope we see this system in future iterations of the game; it really speeds up play. So much.
Boon 5 — Item Level and Crafting
I get that some people think it feels very video-gamey, but I think item level is INCREDIBLY cool. It simplifies the crafting rules SO much. It allows them to apply to things without needing five extra pages of rules for it. It provides an inherent progression system to help GMs out. It is AWESOME and I love it so much. I’m not entirely sure if it would work in Pathfinder, as Pathfinder is more focused on magicing up weapons rather than actually buying new ones, but I would be interested to seeing an item level system in Pathfinder of some kind. It would need to be different, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it.
A Bust — Skill Focus and Stacking
This is the ONLY feat I don’t like in the whole book, and it’s mostly because of the whole, “Every class gives insight bonuses” thing. At low levels, classes like the operative and the envoy use Skill Focus as a way to “jump ahead” on their insight bonus. Any class can, in fact. (Exocortex mechanics get a similar gimmick.) Later in their class progression, when the class’s insight bonus gets high enough to equal the +3 from Skill Focus, operative and envoy and mechanic all have ways to make the feat more useful. (Operative uses Skill Focus as a way to determine which skills they can take 10 on regardless of distractions, and envoys get a one/day roll twice with expertise and take the higher benefit from the feat. Exocortex mechanics can just reprogram what skill benefits from their Skill Focus.) So like, I get it. These classes all totally have ways to make Skill Focus not a “dead feat” for them, but I don’t think that the system was handled well. Like, a new player looking at the system might say, “Hey! My solarian gets a bonuses from her class on Athletics checks. I’ll take Skill Focus with Athletics to be the very best!” And obviously, they don’t realize that Skill Focus as a feat for a skill your class already benefits has a very clear shelf-life before its usefulness runs out.
I think Skill Focus would be better if it just had a contingency built directly into the feat that said, “If your class grants you a +3 or higher insight bonus, the feat does X instead.” In other words, put those rules into the feat, not the class. Even if it means having to reduce the “class specific-ness” of the benefit the character gains, I think it would be easier for new players to understand and make it higher for them to make terrible choices they’re going to regret. Because no one wants to waste a mnemonic editor on Skill Focus.
That’s it for now! Currently school (both graduate studies and work) is starting up again, so I’m just going to keep doing more of these “boom and a bust” series until everything’s under control. So until next time, I’m Alex Augunas and I’m always here for YOU when you need a little bit of Guidance. Take care!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.