A few weeks ago, Paizo announced it was making a new game: STARFINDER. With an exciting science fantasy setting, an OGL license, crunch building on the Pathfinder system, and a great team spearheading the effort, Starfinder looks likely to please plenty of Pathfinder veterans and new converts alike.
However, we won’t be able to get our grubby hands on it until August 2017! As we gnomes are famously short on patience, I decided to acquire the next best thing: James L. Sutter’s precious time and energy.
The wonderful James L. Sutter, Starfinder’s Creative Director, gave a great interview delving into many of the details of this new game – from fluff to crunch to game support. Gnome Stew fans suggested lots of questions over social media, and for that I thank you all! Some questions were answered in Christopher Helton’s EN World interview, so I’ve left those off as an exercise for the reader.
Without further ado, enjoy James’ peek into this star-studded universe of adventure and discovery.
Feel and Flavor
Darcy Ross (DR): How would you describe the tone/flavor of Starfinder’s setting?
James Sutter (JS): It’s science fantasy, so if you’ve got a spectrum with Spelljammer on one end and Star Trek on the other, we’re right in the middle. Tonally, I think that Star Wars is a pretty decent comparison—while we’ve got significantly more magic than just Jedi, and I like more moral ambiguity than Star Wars usually presents, I think that feeling you get the first time you watch the Mos Eisley cantina scene is key to bringing you into the mystery of a huge, diverse universe. There are a ton of different styles of science fiction and science fantasy being blended together in Starfinder—everything from space horror like Alien or Event Horizon to Firefly-esque comedic escapades to the political drama of The Expanse—but at its heart, this game is really about exploration, seeing worlds no one’s ever seen before.
If we could do for space opera what Shadowrun did for cyberpunk, I’d be thrilled.
DR: What will the interplay between technology and magic be in this setting? Is there a gradient there, or are technology and magic fairly distinct?
JS: Technology and magic are still distinct practices, but there’s plenty of fun blending there—you can slap a magazine emblazoned with magic runes into your laser rifle to change what it does, or cast a spell that shorts out someone’s power armor. Magic’s become less common due to the rise of technology—it’s still around, it’s just not everyone’s first choice for everything anymore.
DR: Pathfinder has taken some great steps toward LGBTQ+ inclusion in its diverse representations of characters, and showcases characters that draw visual inspiration from non-Western regions. Can we expect to see more of this in Starfinder? Presumably the thousands of years of separation between “modern-day” Golarion and Starfinder will present interesting options to really play with how culture has changed and how totally new alien cultures have materialized.
JS: Absolutely! The issue of representation is hugely important to me, and to a lot of people here at Paizo—we want to reflect a game world that’s as diverse as our audience. (Or more so, really—I’m assuming there aren’t a ton of alien bug-people or floating brains out there buying our books, but you know, no judgment.) So you’ll continue to see us doing our damnedest to present characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, ages, body types, and so on.
I think it’s actually even easier to do so in a futuristic setting like Starfinder, because human cultures are no longer constrained or defined by geography, and suddenly you’ve got all these aliens around. In my experience, people tend to define “us vs. them” based on whatever the largest visible difference is. So while prejudice doesn’t cease to exist in the setting, if your next-door neighbor is a reptoid or a giant talking rhino-thing, are you even going to notice the skin color of another human? Are you going to care about your brother marrying a man when your sister’s marrying a sentient jellyfish?
People sometimes ask if we’re pushing an agenda at Paizo, and my answer is always: Oh my, yes. Our agenda is that RPGs are for everyone, and we’re gonna try our best to make everyone feel welcome. Period.
DR: How do you intend to deal with the tricky balance you need to strike between careening across different planets and providing local plot hooks? Is there a general philosophy of where you will leave room for players and GMs to world-build vs. important established locations?
JS: While Pathfinder is in many ways about exploration, Starfinder puts an even greater focus on it. In Starfinder, you’re going to have Golarion’s solar system as the well-defined core of the setting—your home base, which defines what’s “normal.” Beyond that, we’re going to give you a smattering of known worlds to get your creative engine pumping, and of course we’ll be detailing new locations as they get explored in Starfinder Adventure Path. But one of the core principles of Starfinder is that it’s outward-facing—your society has only recently gotten access to faster-than-light travel, and there are a hundred billion potential worlds out there for you to explore. So while some people may opt to play games that stay within the solar system, and we’re going to pack that setting section with ripe adventure hooks, our assumption is that most folks are going to want to blast off for points unknown at least occasionally. Which is great, because as a GM, creating new worlds and adventure locations is one of the best parts of the game!
DR: A key feature of Starfinder’s setting is that Pathfinder’s homeworld, Golarion, has vanished (perhaps in a puff of logic), and the giant Absalom Station sits in its place. This makes integrating Pathfinder proper a bit interesting – will Starfinder have advice on integrating with existing Pathfinder campaigns, or blending the two settings in interesting ways?
JS: Starfinder will have advice on converting certain rules aspects—we expect people to be able to grab creatures from the Pathfinder RPG Bestiaries and use them in Starfinder with minimal effort—but we’re not assuming people will straight-up integrate their campaigns. Starfinder, while similar to Pathfinder in many ways, is a totally standalone game with key differences—if your Pathfinder barbarian runs around the space station with a sword and no shirt, he’s gonna get torn up by some first-level soldier with an assault rifle. As he should. Plus, this game is set thousands of years in Golarion’s future, so while there will be plenty of elements carried forward—some overtly, some with a wink and a nudge—the characters living in this world aren’t generally going to care about what happened on Golarion in 4716. Do I expect that people will want to do time-traveling games that jump back and forth between the two systems? Undoubtedly, and I think it’ll be a lot of fun. But first and foremost, we’re building Starfinder to be Starfinder.
DR: Changes are coming to the mechanics. Do you feel like there’s a trend that the new system details are moving toward, for instance toward heavy or lighter rules? Toward fewer or more rules?
JS: It’s really easy in game design to say “more options is always better,” especially when there’s a vocal crew of players willing to pay you for them. But what often gets overlooked is that the same complexity that enchants some gamers presents a huge wall to others who just want to sit down and play without wading through a million options. So while I wouldn’t say that the rules are necessarily heavier or lighter, I am really dedicated to taking a look at how many options the system actually needs. If you can make a game fun and robust with 150 feats, can you do it with 100? That’s also a very practical question for us, because we’re trying to squeeze a game system that’s in some ways *larger* than Pathfinder—because it includes starships, etc.—plus setting material into a single core rulebook. So I’d say that we’re looking to make the rules more streamlined where possible, but still making sure people have plenty of toys to play with.
DR: Are these changes accommodating the difference between fantasy and space-fantasy, or are some of the changes more general improvements on an engine that’s been out there a while?
JS: The Pathfinder RPG engine is really, really interconnected, which means we have to be careful which threads we pull, especially since we’ve still got backward compatibility as a major goal. For the most part, the rules changes are all about finding ways to better model a science fantasy world and create fun new features. But whenever we find something that could be improved relatively easily without breaking anything, we’re of course exploring that option.
DR: Will Starfinder use or draw on any of the experimentation in alternative rules from Pathfinder Unchained?
JS: Unchained definitely informed the way we’re thinking about things, but we’re not doing a lot of direct lifting.
DR: Will there be a Starfinder Reference Document, like the Pathfinder Reference Document?
JS: That’s the plan!
DR: It’s great to see that Starfinder will have an OGL license, allowing for 3rd party products. Will it also be establishing anything like the DriveThruRPG Community Content programs, like the Dungeon Master’s Guild, or offering other kinds of community support?
JS: It’s still pretty early days yet. We’re really committed to making it easy for third party publishers to work with the Starfinder rules, and we’re all about community support, but right now we’re honestly running around like muppets just getting the game together!
DR: Pathfinder’s Adventure Paths have been well-made and hugely popular, and it has been announced that Starfinder will have APs coming as well. Can you speak on the direction the team is taking for Starfinder APs? Will there be a subscription service?
JS: Starfinder APs will be very much like Pathfinder APs, and we hope that you’ll subscribe! They’ll come out every month, so you’ll be getting two complete adventure paths a year, just like with Pathfinder. The books themselves will be a bit smaller, but they’re going to be your primary vector for all things Starfinder—in addition to the adventures, they’ll also have setting information, new rules systems, new monsters, etc. Unlike with Pathfinder, where we have a bunch of different product lines, Starfinder’s going to have a much smaller number of releases—mostly just the adventure path. So instead of getting your rules from one line, your setting info from another, and so on, you can subscribe to just one line and get pretty much everything.
DR: Are there any plans (or hopes) for expanding into a line of fiction, like Pathfinder Tales, or Pawns?
JS: Of course there are hopes! As the guy who’s been in charge of the Pathfinder novels since their inception, I’d love to bring my two babies together. But as I have to keep reminding myself: Make the game first. If the game’s popular, well, then the sky’s the limit!
DR: What would you say to folks on the edge of buying in to the brave new galaxy of Starfinder?
JS: It’s space mages with laser guns fighting cybernetic ninjas with energy blades. It’s rat-people and androids exploring new worlds, digging up ancient supertech and making first contact with weird aliens. It’s spaceship dogfights and god-run megacorps. And if you know how to play Pathfinder, you already know most of how to play this game.
If that doesn’t hook you, well… we’ll just have to agree to disagree. If you change your mind, I’ll be over here in the corner, quietly making “pew! pew!” noises…
DR: Thank you so much James! Consider me strongly #TeamPewPew.
What do you think about Starfinder? Will you be a pew-pew-ing with me and James next summer?