Starfinder is about the closest thing to Dungeons & Dragons ‘in space’ we’re ever going to get. I can hear the echo of a thousand angry keyboards, refuting me in unison for daring to utter such heresy, followed by "SPELLJAMMER!" Hear me out.
Back when Wizards of the Coast released the 4th edition of D&D in 2008, a lot of people were concerned that 3rd edition’s open game license, a system by which people could modify the rules of D&D and release their creations to the world, would die. In response to this, Paizo released an RPG called Pathfinder, which was essentially a streamlined version of D&D 3.5. In fact, it was so similar to D&D that some of us simply called it D&D 3.75.
4th edition went on to do very well for Wizards of the Coast, but many people felt that it was too much of a departure from D&D’s roots. At the time, MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and Everquest were bringing a whole load of new interest to the fantasy genre and there were murmerings that 4th edition was ‘dumbed down’ to appeal to a newer generation of kids, who were looking to transition from PC games into pen & paper RPGs. Regardless of where you or I stand on this issue, the resulting sentiment became that Pathfinder was the spiritual continuation of 3rd edition (and therefore traditional) D&D.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the guys at Paizo release Starfinder. Taking a queue from Starcraft and simply replacing the first syllable of their product’s title with the word ‘star’, Starfinder is, quite literally, a continuation of Pathfinder’s world, set in its distant future, after its various races have taken to the stars. The planet on which Pathfinder games take place, Golarion, has mysteriously disappeared, and its inhabitants have been forced to colonise and interact with the rest of the solar system.
But here’s the thing, Golarion was created to be a replacement for the myriad of high fantasy settings in which D&D takes place. It has most of the races, spells, conventions and tropes of classic D&D settings like the Forgotten Realms and Eberron. Consequently, with Starfinder being a continuation of a continuation of D&D, we now have a miserable little dark planet, populated and controlled by the drow, in a not-so-subtle analogue to their subterranean cities of the underdark. We have a dying planet full of undead creatures living in a kind of sci-fi necropolis. We have a dangerous asteroid belt full of lost civilizations containing such fantasy tropes as mysterious cathedrals, forgotten tombs and motherflipping space pirates!
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned a single element of this game’s mechanical design. That’s because I don’t need to. You already know it. It’s D&D. You roll a D20 and add some stuff to it, then you maybe roll some other die/dice, if you need to. The classes themselves are basically space fighter, galactic wizard and sci-fi paladin. It’s so analogous to the classic D&D/Pathfinder fantasy systems that the core rulebook even contains a section on transferring classes and monsters from Pathfinder into Starfinder. If you’ve played D&D, you’ll almost certainly be able to slip right into playing, without really having to do much more than skim over the rules. In fact, I’d highly recommend starting with the section at the back which details the setting. It’s got some really cool world-building elements and they alone make it worth the time investment.
Finally, Starfinder is a great way to get your fantasy-obsessed players to try something a little bit different. It’s probably the least sci-fi game of its ilk, with most of its trappings and atmosphere being very much rooted in its fantasy origins. However, it is still a science fiction world, with androids, laser guns and space travel.
Starfinder - give it a go.