I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Why Starfinder didn't fix Pathfinder (first impressions)

A few random thoughts on Starfinder. Take this with a grain of salt; I'm am no expert in ANY of the two systems. Here is a good comparison, BTW.

Of course, if you like Pathfinder, maybe there is nothing to be "fixed" at all. This is not my case.

But I do LIKE some stuff about Pathfinder. There are too many numbers, but they are in the right ballpark for my tastes (i.e., I like a 7th level fighter with +12 "to-hit" and 50 HP, for example; high level characters feel more "epic" than 5e when compared to low level ones). And there are SO MANY OPTIONS! You can find thousands of feats, classes, races, spells, monsters, etc. in the internet.

Unfortunately, I find PF too complicated, and what is worse, needlessly so - some of the complexity serves no real purpose. I.e., you have many options to adjust your NUMBERS rather than give you a new ARCHETYPE. A few examples: feats that give you a +1 or +2 bonus (which shouldn't exist) in one specific thing; an extensive list of skills; different tables for BAB and saving throws for each single class.

But this stuff shouldn't be that hard to fix, right? Just get rid of all the meaningless feats, skills, etc., and keep the good stuff.

That is what I thought Starfinder would do. Admittedly, I do not play PF and made no effort on learning about SF until a few days ago, when I started talking about it in forums and reading the SRD (I haven't bough the book).

Well, the COVER is certainly cool!
What caught my attention is that I found out SF has lots of good ideas.

Iterative "+12/+7/+2" are gone; skills are reduced to a manageable number; feats are also fewer; and the action economy is a bit simpler, with a reduced numbers of attacks of opportunity, for example. The awful "confirming crits" rule is gone, as well as concepts such as "flat footed AC".

Themes, "subclasses" and simplified ability score generation make character creation a lot easier while still giving you plenty of options.

Overall, SF reads a bit like a mixture of 3.5e, Saga edition, 4e and 5e, which is good.

But I feel that while SF has made some important changes, it avoided going the "extra mile" - maybe for fear of alienating PF fans - and kept a lot of things for tradition's sake. We still get lots of weak "you get a +1 bonus" feats (TBH I don't even think +1 bonuses should exist), detailed modifiers, pointless prerequisites (believe me, the wizard with +4 BAB will NOT break the game by taking a combat feat), etc.

It also ADDED some new mechanics, stats, etc., to the game... So the overall level of complexity remains almost unchanged. For example, now we have Resolve and Stamina in addition to HP... They seem to work very well (Resolve seem like a worthy addition), allowing for quick recovery after a fight and fixing the "5 minutes workday" problem. On the other hand, Stamina is so similar to HP that a simpler fix might work without the need of one additional stat. And now the sum of HP and Stamina is so high that damage is boosted as well. The result of this arms race being that we are routinely dealing with things like 75 HP + 17 Sta - 23 damage = 69 HP... at level 7, in addition to having multiple features to improve your damage.

This is one of the many things Starfinder seems to ALMOST make right. Let us see...

* Saving throws are improved (the soldier class gets better saves, for example, which is good), but they could have taken the extra step and unified all, like Saga Edition (and why the heck is the soldier bad at "dodge returning fire", while the mechanic is good at it...).

* Magic is curtailed, not fixed; they just avoid spells beyond level 6.

* Skills are fewer, but the skill system is still convoluted: you have skill ranks per level, class skills, skill focus, skill synergy, skill expertise... Call me crazy, but a concept such as "you're good with these skills" could be created ONE single mechanic.

I cannot resist giving you one example: "In addition, when you roll your expertise die, you can add 2d8 rather than 1d8+4 to the result of your skill check." Did you really need a rule that adds HALF A POINT, on average, to your skill check?

A but simpler than PF but then again... - Source.
In short, "when in doubt, keep things as they are" is not a bad way of dealing with things if you want to keep your fanbase, but it might get in your way if you're looking for new customers.

This is focused on the MECHANICS, of course. I don't have much to say about the FLAVOR, other than seeing features like "Plasma Immolation", "Mindkiller" and "Explode Head" makes me want to play this game, maybe in a WH40k setting.

Overall, I LIKE what Starfinder does. It has plenty of good ideas, and is a bit simpler than PF while giving you innumerable options for customizing your character. For me, it feels like a lost opportunity to make PF a simpler game - which would necessarily include slaying some holy cows, and wasn't a top priority it seems (maybe they NEEDED to sell a book with 500+ pages to justify the effort) - but if you're a Pathfinder fan looking for a (somewhat) simpler game, I think you might enjoy checking it out.


  1. This is the general consensus I've heard on SF. It either does too much, or not enough. Its either too Pathfindery or not Pathfindery enough, and to be honest, I get that.

    Since PF already handles Planetary Romance, PF hardliners are wondering why they need Starfinder when they can cludge the tech in with the rules in PF.

    And the harder science fiction guys are wondering what SF gives them that GURPs, d20 Star Wars, Traveler or heck even Alternity doesn't.

    I'd also argue that SF will only remain simple so long as its unsuccessful, otherwise we'll get just as many splat boots, new classes and mother-may-I feats out of it.

    1. I agree with these impressions. However, SF is already too complicated for me (and I'm a GURPS fan!). On the other hand I might not be the target audience.

  2. The core book is definitely an odd egg, with full chapters on (non-SF) magic and imported fantasy races. Paizo must prefer making you buy separate monster and other "starter" material. I think the setting that places multiple alien worlds in one solar system is enjoyable, and reminds me of pulp SF as seen in the old TSR Buck Rogers game.

    1. My best guess is that they didn't want to alienate PF fans, so they create something more or less similar to PF. There seems to be good stuff there, but not my cup of tea.


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