Last Saturday, Paizo Publishing unveiled their new science-fantasy RPG—an alternate future version of Pathfinder called Starfinder. Scheduled for an August 2017 release, Starfinder promises to bring spaceships and lasers to Pathfinder’s world of knights and dragons. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding this shiny new RPG, but I sat down at PaizoCon last weekend to speak with James L. Sutter, executive editor at Paizo Publishing and lead designer on Starfinder. Here are excerpts from that interview—with some quotes paraphrased a bit for readability.
G&S: We’re all excited to hear all the juicy details about Starfinder, let’s start with the lore. Tell us a little about the setting for this game.
James Sutter: Starfinder is set in the Pathfinder setting, specifically the solar system around Golarion, which we developed in a book called Distant Worlds, which I wrote a couple years ago. In that book, we talked about what was beyond Golarion, the planet that Pathfinder takes place on. What else was in that [star] system? I’ve continued to be in love with those other planets, so when we decided to do a far-future, science-fantasy version of Pathfinder, it seemed natural to just use that system. Let’s take that, but advance that thousands of years in the future.
We get to see how all of the societies from Golarion advanced when pushed into the far-distant future. What if Hellknights’ citadels, instead of being castles, were these big warships floating through space? Does the Church of Iomedae have giant cathedral ships throughout the system? And yet, at the same time, we wanted to remove Golarion from that picture for a couple of reasons. One of which is, we don’t want to invalidate peoples’ current Pathfinder games. Did our party defeat Karzoug? Well, let’s check space-Wikipedia.
One of the things we did to avoid that is that the planet Golarion has disappeared and the gods say it’s safe but won’t say where it is, and no one can contact it. Golarion is gone, but the rest of the star system is still there. The races of Golarion now exist on a space platform called Absalom Station [a reference to the city of Absalom in Pathfinder, home of the titular Pathfinder Society]. It’s sort of like the UN meets Babylon 5. The other thing is called the Gap.
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The Gap is one of the most important parts of the Starfinder setting. The past several millennia have been completely wiped from all memories and all records in the known universe. Everyone is rightfully anxious about this gap, but long-lived races like the elves, many of whom remember life on Golarion before the Gap, are particularly perturbed. Thus, the Starfinder Society has emerged to track down the Gap’s cause.
James Sutter: The most interesting thing about the Gap is that it’s true across the Multiverse…the Planes, the Material Plane, everything. But the edges aren’t always in the same place. So you go to one system, maybe the edge is three hundred years before present day in Starfinder, but you go to another system somewhere else and maybe it’s three hundred and five years before present day. Where the cutoff is wavers, and all the Starfinders really want to find out as much information as they can from planets where the Gap is in a different place so they can rebuild that history that’s been lost.
One other interesting thing about the Starfinder setting is that, very recently, an artificial intelligence has ascended to godhood. One of the things that it’s done is given access to faster-than-light (FTL) travel to all the races in the Golarion system. So suddenly, via this hyperspace dimension…[the people of Golarion] can reach planets among thousands or millions of other stars. It’s a land rush kind of colonization phase. Everything’s kind of the Wild West. If you want your own planet, go get one and hope that you don’t poke some sort of giant star empire that’s going to try and crush you.
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A lot of what you’ll see in the Starfinder setting isn’t definitive, encyclopedic histories of millions of star systems. Instead, it seems like you’ll find hooks and scraps of lore to inspire you as a Game Master or as a player to create your own universe.
G&S: We’ve been talking about the setting… people are going and exploring new worlds. What sort of new worlds, creatures, and player races will we see among the stars?
James Sutter: There are going to be a lot more playable alien races. Not just in the core rules, but when we introduce new monsters—new “monsters”—or allies, there will be a much heavier emphasis in Starfinder than in Pathfinder in having those be playable races.
G&S: And [having playable monster races] is something Pathfinder shied away from compared to 3rd edition [Dungeons & Dragons].
James Sutter: Yes, somewhat. I think that especially in a science fiction game, interacting with other cultures, other races, is sort of part of the charm. So I think there’ll be a push to make them playable more often then we normally would. So that said, the races that’ll be in the core game…First off, all of the Pathfinder races you’re familiar with. Elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, those will all be in the core rulebook. But the focus is more on races that you couldn’t play in Pathfinder, stuff that’s more alien and science fictional, both familiar and new. One of the ones we showed at the [announcement] last night are the ysoki ratfolk from Akaton. We’ve had ratfolk in the game for a long time, but this is a society of ratfolk that is very civilized, very high-tech, they’ve got a little bit of the Jawas in them.
They’re one of the familiar ones. We’re also going to have races like the lashunta. They’re the main race for Castrovel, They’re humanoid, psychic… got a bit of a Vulcan thing going for them in terms of their mindset. We’re going to have androids as a core race. But there are also going to be brand-new races; we’ve got…I probably shouldn’t spoil everything, but we’ve got two races that people have never seen before that are from other star systems to give the core races a more alien feel.
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When discussing plans for branching out, Sutter said that he “wanted to make Starfinder feel like more than just Pathfinder in space.”
James Sutter: Rules-wise, it’s fairly close to Pathfinder. There will be changes to the core engine, but it’ll be close enough that if you have a Pathfinder Bestiary, you can take an ogre out of that, give him a laser gun and use him in Starfinder with minimal conversation. And we’ll tell you in the book how to do that conversation. But at the same time, the appeal of this is to do something new and different. We’ve been doing Pathfinder for a long time and we love Pathfinder, but we want to make sure we give people something that’s a uniquely different flavor.
G&S: That’s an ambitious goal, keeping backwards compatibility while still going for bold new horizons!
James Sutter: Haha, you’re telling me! It’s like “Let’s make everything brand new, but totally familiar… and it should be new and interesting but totally compatible.” It’s the classic Catch-22, but I’m really pleased with how we’re walking that line. If you know how to play Pathfinder or even 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, it’s a very short leap to playing Starfinder. And that’s the whole goal; to get as quickly as possible to the fun stuff. There are places where we want to simplify the Pathfinder rules and streamline them. We can’t go full Beginner Box, but are there ways we can present information differently now than we did when we did the [Pathfinder] Core Rulebook however many years ago that was? What have we learned since then?
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We discussed the different flavors of science fiction, from John Carter and Barsoom on one end, Star Wars in the middle, and Star Trek on the other end. Starfinder falls right in the middle, maybe a little more towards John Carter. Magic items are still very much a thing, but one of the biggest changes in the familiar Pathfinder engine was changing the ubiquitous role of magic items in order to make room for technology. This new space allows the new Technomancer class, which James lovingly compared to Warhammer 40,000 librarians, to blend the science in science fiction and the magic of fantasy.
At the same time, it won’t be Spelljammer. It’s going to be more science fiction than [wooden ships in space with crystal spheres]. You’ll have your power armor-wearing soldier with a plasma cannon but there might be magic runes carved on the side of that magazine. There’ll be spellcasting classes that act like Babylon 5 psi cops, or xenodruids. We’ve got ten thousand character tropes we want to do in just seven classes!
G&S: I hadn’t even thought of what druids would do when faced with extraterrestrial creatures!
James Sutter: Exactly! Well, so one thing…and this is all very early, so stuff will undoubtedly change…but something I’ve been advocating for is, like, what does it mean to be a druid in a world where suddenly there are all these new planets with unique biomes opening up? So a faction that I’ve been spitballing with some of the core developers, Rob McCreary and Owen K.C. Stephens is this druid organization that is devoted to making sure these new environments get preserved and treated properly. I mean, you’re coming to this planet that’s never been contacted by outsiders before. What are the interactions between the colonists and that local environment?
G&S: So with magic making way for technology, making magic feel more special, will your character be keeping a +1 longsword and also a +1 blaster pistol?
James Sutter: One thing that will not be in there is the conventional Pathfinder magic item creation system. We’re tweaking the rules around gear and economics and magic. We want to make it a little less bookkeeping and a little more “sense of wonder.”
G&S: Regarding that sense of wonder… Pathfinder has been around for almost a decade now. The family tree of books is enormous, and this is a huge new branch!
James Sutter: It’s a chance for people to get in on the ground floor. I still think that with Pathfinder, even if you’re coming to it a decade in, you can still just pick up the Core Rulebook and go play. You don’t need to worry about all the books we’ve published since then if you don’t want to. But I still think there’s a certain joy to getting in on the ground floor with a new roleplaying game. Another thing I think may be a blessing for some players is that our release schedule is going to be a lot slower with Starfinder.
With Pathfinder, we’ve got the monthly Adventure Path and the monthly Player Companions and Campaign Settings and all these different lines. Starfinder is going to be much smaller. We’re gonna have the Core Rulebook coming out at GenCon 2017 and we’ll probably do a hardcover or slightly more each year. The main thing we’re going to be doing is the Starfinder Adventure Path, a monthly AP product which will have not just the adventures, but new setting information, new rules information, new monsters. That’s going to be one of the primary vectors through which we give people new information about the world and the rules.
With Starfinder we’re looking to do away with the distinction of “This is a rules book, this is a campaign setting book versus an adventure. If you like Starfinder, subscribe to the Starfinder line, get the adventure path, and that’ll also give you your rules for things related to it. The hope is that every month people will be getting another cool bite of that universe, whether it’s lore or crunch. You know, Paizo came from Dungeon and Dragon [magazines] and I used to be the editor/developer on Dungeon Magazine and that had the same vibe. Even early Pathfinder was just a monthly Adventure Path, and that was how we told you about the world.
G&S: It’s cool, it’s a very lean model.
James Sutter: And that’s good! We’re still doing all our Pathfinder stuff. This isn’t replacing Pathfinder. And so it’s a lot more work! We’re trying to figure out how to shuffle people around to pull it off at the level of quality we demand. There are a lot of senior Paizo people on this. With all these familiar faces, both writers and artists whose styles we recognize… it’ll still have that Paizo feel.
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Starfinder has just entered development and we can’t wait to hear more. Keep an ear open throughout the development process for more information on Starfinder and the future of Golarion.
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Featured Image Credit: Paizo Publishing