To The Stars & Back (Starfinder, Starjammer, & SciFi Gaming Ramble + Review)

Hello All,

While I don't consider myself truly "qualified" the way Endzeitgeist seems to be in his discussion of On Horror Part 1 & Part 2 -- the first part of this discussion is 'inspired by' him. I am more a fan of science fiction, in all its forms, than "trained" though I have had some formal training in analysis of science fiction literature in college, but I try to make up for it with enthusiasm for the genre (especially as it applies, here, to gaming). The following are my opinions, not even those of Fat Goblin Games, but I share them as they're likely to influence what Fat Goblin Games releases in support of science fiction tabletop RPGs going forward. 

The second bit is a minor review of what we've already done, trying to show off some of our bona fidas, and giving you early access to some great sci-fantasy (at least) options.

Finally, I share a few "suggested sources of inspiration" in the form of mostly YouTube channels you should be following :D

Science Fiction & Tabletop Roleplaying Games

Since this past weekend, when PaizoCon happened, the Starfinder Roleplaying Game was on everyone's mind. We already had the Starjammer Roleplaying Game from John Reyst's Publishing, which is essentially "The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game -- in SPACE!" but Starfinder is going to be an official, full Paizo Publishing release of a new, standalone but still-mostly-compatible-with-Pathfinder, tabletop roleplaying game in the "science fantasy" vein of science fiction (which I like the more modern designation as a type of "speculative fiction," on a personal note). While the core Starfinder Roleplaying Game drops this August at GenCon, its certainly not the "first" tabletop RPG set in space (I'm thinking "classic" Traveller from GDW in 1977 takes that honor) -- its just that this one has the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game community all a buzz. And there are plenty of reasons why!

Most relevant to my own interests, especially as an official spokesperson for Fat Goblin Games, is that Starfinder is also going to be released under an OGL + Compatibility License like the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game was. Now, Starjammer was as well (released under an OGL + Compatibility license -- which is how we have a number of sci-fi products already out and discussed below in support of that system), but Starfinder is going to be fairly BIG DEAL.

Not that its even the first or only science fiction tabletop roleplaying game released under an open license. Any third party publisher can be releasing products for game systems like Traveller from Mongoose Publishing or Eclipse Phase from Posthuman Studios since it was released under a special Creative Commons License, and some even do. Also, any OGL game -- like vs. M Engine or FATE can have science fiction releases made specifically for that system and released. Many successful third-party publishing companies exist that just serve these other groups.

But then, why does the Starfinder Roleplaying Game matter so much?

Well, its not tied to an existing property (well, it is set 1,000 years into Golarion's future, but the actual planet of Golarion is "missing" so its not REALLY the same) like say the various iterations of the Star Wars roleplaying games have been (personal favorite was the d6 era from West End Games, Second Edition in particular). 

But I don't think that's what matters either. I think it's a combination of things, but a key aspect i that its coming from Paizo Publshing -- which for a time (between 2011-2014) was the #1 publisher of tabletop roleplaying games (and could be again, especially as they've remained #2 throughout their time), but also because they are very, very friendly with third-party publishing. 

Fantasy vs. Science Fiction

Why do I think this matters? Well, science fiction -- even more than fantasy -- is a tricky genre to design in. I say this because "its magic" (a classic trope to handwave things) isn't something people are as willing to accept.

In, especially a High Fantasy setting, you can have literally anything. Anything is possible, anything can be done. You don't have to explain anything, and you don't have to account for how anything is possible. You, as a creator, can do anything and you just hand wave it away as "magic."

Now, science fiction has plenty of hand waves too; especially for science fantasy -- which is what I think Starfinder Roleplaying Game is going to be, particularly using this definition here:

Distinguishing between science fiction and fantasy, Rod Serling claimed that the former was "the improbable made possible" while the latter was "the impossible made probable". As a combination of the two, science fantasy gives a scientific veneer of realism to things that simply could not happen in the real world under any circumstances. Where science fiction does not permit the existence of fantasy or supernatural elements, science fantasy explicitly relies upon them.

The fact that Starfinder is going to very much have a <technology -- hybrid -- magic> spectrum to everything in the game is clearly "baked in" to the design (look at the mechanic -- technomancer -- mystic dynamic for classes, for example) -- and that means a lot of things will be possible with the base game, but not everything. And THAT is where the Third-Party Publishers come in.

Why Third-Party Publishing Will Matter to Starfinder Roleplaying Game

Paizo Publishing can only release so many products a year. And they are now going to be trying to support two different-but-related game systems, each with their own stream of content. This means that they just can't "do everything," at least not at first.
Looking back now over the ~8 years of publications for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, they've finally managed to get a lot (but not every) aspect of the game covered. Since 2009, they've added rules for mythic play (an alternative to "epic" but also a way to do a different kind of game and storytelling involving god-like power), kingdom building and other downtime rules (there's a reason why Kingmaker is one of the most popular APs they ever released) for what your characters are doing between adventures, to incorporating psychic magic and occult and even horror elements into your Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, and those are just with a few books in the "main line." For their world-specific books, they've fleshed out whole societies and nation-states, mapped cities to minute details, and populated their lands with NPCs aplenty.

But that all took time -- a fairly long time. And along the way, there are choices they didn't make. They chose "psychic magic" over psionics. They chose to keep Vancian spellcasting as the core assumptions of the game over spell points or other systems. They used archtypes and hybrids to address a lot of "holes" in class design rather than releasing tons of classes or using their idea for alternate classes like the ninja and samurai, etc. They kept some core assumptions in the game from its roots in 3rd Edition Fantasy and 3.5 era, even as they released books like Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Pathfinder Unchained, which served to offer some serious departures from core assumptions in design about things like skills, specific classes, multiclassing, and so much more.

And instead, Third-Party Publishers offered alternatives. From an alternate world to play on, like Midgard from Kobold Press, to fully explored psionics rules (and so much more now) from Dreamscarred Press, to Spheres of Power alternative magic system from Drop Dead Studios, to a million different alternate rules explored by Owen K.C. Stephen's Rogue Genius Games, to of course our own full Pathfinder line of compatible products.

Science Fiction Will Need This x1000

The thing is, science fiction needs this so much more, because in each genre and type of science fiction you have different sets of assumptions. Often those assumptions can even be exclusive to one another.

Consider a few genre defining "stars" of Science Fiction:

  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Stargate

For me, these three are great points of comparison. Star Wars has "the Force" figured into its world in a meaningful way that just isn't there for the others. Star Trek has its psychics and technobabble that tries to use theoretical physics as if its true and builds from there. Stargate was set in our real-world with a key change -- wormhole technology existed and had been exploited by ancient aliens to seed the galaxy with worshipers to live off of, etc. 

Even compare how each dealt with Faster Than Light Travel (FTLT). Star Wars used hyperspace and astrogation so you didn't fly through a sun. Star Trek relied on Warp technology, traveling faster than the speed of light through space. Stargate relied on instantaneous (i.e. way faster than light) wormhole tech. Now, sometimes the various franchises explored the others methods (Star Trek had wormholes in some episodes, often through time and space; while Stargate in later seasons got spaceships for humans, etc.) but key assumptions about reality have to adjust between these franchises.

Do tachyones exist? Gravitons? Or are we using an alternate theory of gravity? What really is dark matter? And those are real-world elements. Is my ability to influence your thoughts because I can manipulate the Force, or is it that I can directly influence your brainwaves, or is it a chemical controlling agent? Is my high energy beam weapon firing plasma? or is it "charged particles" that have so mass to them? or is something else? Can it affect your crazy alien metal alloys and force fields? Do you even have force fields? How do those work?

While the classic Arthur C. Clarke Third Law quote of "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." does begin to apply and allows a kind of hand wave, that is only if your world has "sufficiently advanced technology." What if you want to play a game more akin to Blade Runner, which was really a very grounded science fiction film (how many truly fantastical aspects does the show have?). The entire premise of Dune is only possible if you have Spice and have it be exceedingly limited in availability. 

Anyways, my point is that while Starfinder is going to be something, it cant be everything, and I expect at least part of the excitement is that more things will be possible in different ways from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game -- and I think exploring those other avenues of rules will be something that Third Party Publishers are apt to do.

Fat Goblin Games Science Fiction Supplements

Fat Goblin Games has a number of science fiction/science fantasy offerings for a range of tastes. We're already trying to explore some of these other avenues...

My personal favorites include what Garrett Guillotte designed for us in Call to Arms: Fantastic Technology & the CLASSified: Technopath new base class.

Call to Arms is a book line for players and gamemasters alike. Each book focuses on a different type of item, expanding rules for those items and adding everything from new mundane and magical examples of the item to new character options related to the item. Call to Arms: Fantastic Technology brings new eras of scientific advancement into your setting, including rules, setting, and plot options for researching and developing new technologies and applications. New kingdom-building rules let rulers build their fantasy nations into technological juggernauts, and new crafting rules help engineers bolt and tape technology onto their favorite mundane and magical weapons and armor. New setting concepts ease the gradual introduction of tech into fantasy worlds, gremlin-tainted crafting materials offer new ways to “curse” technological gear, and new artificially intelligent item options help get digital life out of its shell and into your sword. Capped with a new artifact, new legendary item abilities, and new feats, Call to Arms: Fantastic Technology makes it easier than ever to add super-science tech to classic swords and sorcery.
  • New ways to integrate technology
  • Researching advanced technology
  • Technological tiers
  • New buildings/terrain
  • New technological applications
  • Augmented items
  • New melee weapons
  • New Ranged Weapons
  • New technological armor
  • New cause of glitches
  • A.I. items
  • Legendary tech
  • And Much More!!!

 Artificial intelligences—strange consciousnesses made of code—can lurk in the circuits and processors of robots and other fantastic technologies. When combined with the soul and arcane powers of a technopath, however, an AI can gain new ways to influence the material world around them, transforming into a new sort of entity: a technogeist. Capable of possessing robots, unlocking new powers in technology, and even manipulating reality from a virtual demiplane, this summoner alternate class is well suited to fantastic settings where iron robots and technological gods run rampant. 

New rules options, including new feats and a new robot, are compatible with the official Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules for technology and compliment (but doesn't require) Fat Goblin Games' hit Call to Arms: Fantastic Technology

CLASSifieds product line is devoted to bringing you new and exciting classes for your Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Each product includes complete rules for a single class, feats, archetypes, equipment, and an assortment of other rules to bring your characters to life.

But we have also started exploring "alien lifeforms" in various forms...

Alien Evolution: Alien Mutations from The Fattest Goblin

Alien Evolution takes the concepts of Traits and creates a system for you to quickly add strange and unusual features to any race and create diverse species. Antennae on humans, blue-skinned elves, and tentacle dwarves are just a few ways this system can add diversity on the fly as your players travel a multitude of strange worlds.
This system is also perfect for players to create new racial variations without having to create entirely new races or finding one that fits their ideas, and allows them to do it quickly! Players may choose up to two of these Evolution traits (or mix and match with standard traits)or choose a drawback to receive a third Evolution trait.All races are free to choose Evolution Traits.
Compatible with the Pathfinder RoleplayingGame and Starjammer: Core Rules

Alien Evolution: Rhynans from Kim Frandsen

The Rhynans are a race of horned, humanoid pachyderms. They possess great strength and an almost tribal attitude to modern life. Power among the Rhynans is based on physical might among the males, with ritual combat determining leadership of the Rhynan tribes.
Rhynans still inhabit their home world Orbos, with tribes leading nomadic lives on the surface. Agriculture has been moved off-world to stations in low orbit, while mining operations are conducted on nearby planets and asteroid belts.
Play the charging, powerful Rhynan and explore these lawful warriors and all of the things that they have to offer a group:
Incredibly strong and smart with natural armor as tough as any!
Resistant to cold and able to attack with their powerful horn!
Explore the Tribal Warrior racial archetype and learn about their flexible defense feature
Wield the mighty Barachas two-headed combat staff in battle to the terror of your foes or to pacify your enemies!
Compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Starjammer: Core Rules

And finally Alien Evolutions: Vinyari from Jason Owen Black

                          The most vegetative professors emeritus you’ll ever meet!
The vinyari are a race of sentient plants who favor knowledge over just about everything else. They ply the stars learning and teaching and taking on the odd adventure or pirate gig in order to pay for their studies. While many still live on their homeworld of Vin, the vinyari are no strangers to the stars and can be found investigating all manner of mysteries.
Compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Starjammer: Core Rules

But that's not all from Jason Owen Black that is "science fiction," we also have the alternate history vs. Moon Men for the vs. M Engine!

                             They Didn’t Come in Peace! Send Them Back in Pieces!
Using the vs M Engine created by Phillip Reed!
vs. Moon Men is a roleplaying game in which players take up arms against alien invaders from another (but very nearby) world! Steal a ray gun and take the fight to them, or fight from the shadows while avoiding spies and collaborators. Fight for freedom, stay out of the way, or help the invaders (but only if you’re a jerk). From the streets of Moscow to the backwoods of Tennessee, the Moon Men are here, and somebody needs to stop them!
To play vs. Moon Men you need at least two players (but more players means more fun) and somebody to be the Moon Master. You also need some paper, some pencils (or pens if you really like to live on the edge), and a deck of playing cards (but take out the damn Jokers). vs. Moon Men uses the vs. M Engine, a rules-light system that is easy to learn and fast to play.

So I think you can see we've done at least a few things in the genre.

But we're not keeping our scope today limited to just Fat Goblin Games, as our Imprint -- Golden Glyph Publishing -- has reached out to Starjammer support with two books (that I was fortunate enough to work on as well):

The Crystal Planet - Player's Guide

                                                The World of Living Gems!

In the vast darkness of space, a glimmering jewel exists with equally stunning folk populating it.

Welcome to Scintilla -- The Crystal Planet -- home to a race of sentient gemstones called the mineralites. The Crystal Planet: Player’s Guide offers not only the full write up to play a race of intelligent gemstones with bodies composed of light and gravity, but an entire planet of adventure! Beam through space in streams of light, project holographic copies of yourself, or wield weapons grown from crystals that cut enemies to the quick. Unique mineralite spells grant an edge that organic foes lack and if that isn’t enough, your ability to fuse with others of your kind will turn you into a being greater than the sum of your parts!

The book includes a fully realized history, culture, and some unique technology for beings composed of jewels. Detailed within is a caste system that can literally define every aspect of a member’s life, career, and purpose -- or you can play as a rogue gem trying to break from the mold. Players will find a wealth of roleplaying options in The Crystal Planet: Player’s Guide for a range of playstyles. Alien yet all too familiar, these walking and talking gemstones can be the focus of a campaign or just a quirky side character, all with just this one book!

Included in The Crystal Planet: Player’s Guide are:

  • * Write up on Scintilla, home planet of the Mineralites
  • * Full race write up with castes and alternate racial traits
  • * Four Class archetypes specific to mineralties
  • * A mineralite sorcerer bloodline for anyone to use
  • * Well over a dozen favored class options
  • * 28 new feats for use with Mineralites
  • * 23 new spells for spellcasting Mineralites
  • * Roleplaying suggestions for playing a living gemstone
  • * And much, much more!

Racial Repository - The Scyleen

An extremely friendly and empathic octopus-like species, the Scyleen were delighted to discover that they were not alone in the universe. With the scyleen, exploring the land, sea, and sky was never so easy! Though quite suited for aquatic campaigns, the scyleen are equally suited for land and space adventures. 
Included in Racial Repositories: The Scyleen:

* Full racial history and culture

* Alternate racial traits

* A new class archetype: Witch of the Depths

* Two new technological items

* And more! 

And then, as always, The Fattest Goblin has all you budding and big-time publishers of tabletop RPG supplements well set up with his Publisher's Choice - Science Fiction Stock Art Subscription:

So you can clearly see "we have an interest" in the genre and have already started making in-roads. We have a lot of plans, we'll see which ones pan out fully as the days and weeks up to Starfinder's release near!

Inspired By Real Science

So, a key "thing" that helps make SCIENCE fiction or fantasy "different" isn't just that "space" is the backdrop, its that some aspects of real science kind of underlie the premises we're seeing. As such, "real life" is a great inspiration for what to do -- and while you can pull from a vast array of sources, here are a few I suggest.

Crash Course - Astronomy

Crash Course is a partially-Patreon funded educational YouTube channel from the Vlogbrothers (and thus part of Nerdfighteria) that describes itself as:

Tons of awesome courses in one awesome channel! Nicole Sweeney teaches you sociology, Carrie Anne Philbin teaches you computer science, Craig Benzine teaches film history, and Mike Rugnetta is teaching mythology! Check out the playlists for past courses in physics, philosophy, games, economics, U.S. government and politics, astronomy, anatomy & physiology, world history, biology, literature, ecology, chemistry, psychology, and U.S. history.

And while Crash Courses for Biology, Ecology, Physics, as well as Literature and World History 1 & World History 2 or Mythologies could all be great inspirations for you, in relation to our topic of sci-fi, I'd suggest Crash Course: Astronomy and Crash Course: Big History!

Sci Show Space

Another Vlogbrothers/Nerdfighteria-related production, Sci Show is also a partially-Patreon funded educational YouTube channel set that covers general Science News, Psychology, Kids Science, and most important to our discussion here: Sci Show Space!

 SciShow is a family of YouTube channels (including SciShowSciShow Space, and SciShow Kids). We make videos about science. News, history, particle physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, you name it. Our goal is to capture the awesomeness of this bizarre universe and make it easy for everyone to understand and enjoy.

These are just a few of the great edu-tainment sources available FOR FREE and that either can give you great points of inspiration, or with say Sci Show Space, explain "current events" to you in a way that lets you understand them, at least well enough to write game materials for them!

Lucus Palosaari on DriveThruRPG, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn -- and now on Amazon!