While traveling, I picked up the first installment of the first official Starfinder adventure path: Incident at Absalom Station. I wanted to read through it in anticipation of running it with some friends because I have, so far, only run a homebrew Starfinder adventure (and a homebrew Interface Zero adventure, which itself is an acknowledged influence upon Starfinder). I had certain ideas about the Starfinder universe just from reading the Core Rulebook and Alien Archive 2, but I was curious about how Paizo saw Starfinder taking form as a game.
I've always seen the actual game part of D&D as being the modules; after all, the player handbooks and core rulebooks are just the rules. Dead Suns being the very first module, I felt, bears the burden of setting tone and expectation for the rest of Starfinder, at least until an alternate setting came along.
It seems that the last few Paizo adventure paths I've played have started in a small fête in a small town. In Everflame, it was the ceremonial dungeon crawl, and in Giant Slayer it was the hope knife ceremony. In Incident at Absalom Station, however, the PC entrance falls back on the other Paizo trope: joining the Pathfinder, er, Starfinder Society. This is one of the things I most love about the Paizo setting. You almost don't need a hook when you have a great big neutral Society to which the players can proudly belong, providing them an easy excuse for being wherever the module requires them to be. It's so simple and seamless, and with Pathfinder and Starfinder Society organized play, it's also cleverly meta.
Of course their triumphant entrance into Absalom Station doesn't go as smoothly as expected, providing a quick and relatively gentle introduction to a few of the different kinds of encounters a typical Starfinder game involves. Frankly, the two or three pages it takes for the players to come aboard the station and meet their Starfinder contact is a prefect mini-adventure in itself. I can easily imagine playing it as a two hour evening game to introduce a new RPG player to Starfinder and D&D in general.
After a really solid entry, there's an slightly odd lull in the story, with the PCs left to their own devices to aimlessly explore the station. On one hand, this seems like a great way for them to find new story hooks, but then again this is an adventure path with exactly one story being told, so inviting characters to meander around a station for which relatively little detail has been provided seems like a strange choice. There is a gazeteer of Absalom Incident included in the module, but I'm not convinced it's enough for a sandbox diversion. In a convenient coincidence, I happened to have picked up Pact Worlds, which features an overview of Absalom Station, so I'd probably allow for the lull in a leisurely game, and maybe plant seeds for future adventures (not that I have many to choose from yet). However, I'd probably accelerate the quest assignment in a quick game or if I didn't have information on the station.
After this lull, though, the plot kicks in with full force. There's some investigation, there's some social intrigue, and finally there's a journey out into space. For fear of spoilers, I won't go into detail about why the players venture out of the station or what they ultimately find, but I think it's fair to say that it's everything you could possibly want from a sci fi RPG game. In fact, I'd say it's far more than what you might expect from a sci fi RPG game.
Everybody knows that tabletop RPGs are fantasy games, right? It's a universal truth. Sure, there are those wierd players who choose Traveller, Blue Planet, and Star Wars, but real RPGs are fantasy. So it feels like a tall order for Starfinder to pop up out of nowhere and try to convince people to play in outer space instead of in the ancient halls of the dwarves. And yet Starfinder somehow manages to feel satisfying.
The obvious cheat is that Starfinder isn't really a sci fi game, by its own admission. Starfinder is perfectly happy to be categorized as science fantasy, being equal parts Eberron or Dune and 2001. This allows for science fiction tropes plus fantasy tropes, existing side by side peacefully (mechanically speaking). It's had a generation or two as buffer from the days of Asimov and other hard science fiction authors and blissfully basks in the whimsy of Bradbury, Verne, Burroughs, Herbert, and other influences of latter day sci fi.
But it cheats in another way, too. This adventure path, at least from the overview provided in this, its first module, is more concerned about past civilizations and technology (magically enhanced or otherwise) than it is about the future. The future, in Starfinder, is now, so there's no need to obsess over technology or corporate conspiracies or fleets of aggressors, the way hard sci fi often does. The Starfinder world is the player's reality, and the problems they face spring organically from the world around them. They have to deal with past threats coming to fruition, disagreements between their peers, and things that you can imagine a hero from the fantasy future would have to deal with.
In other words, this module feels perfectly at home in its own universe. And your players will too, because once they build their characters they'll see how easily those characters fit into the world.
This module is good. If you've already bought the Starfinder Core Rulebook and are looking for a module to play, you'll do yourself a favour by starting here. If you haven't bought into Starfinder yet, then reading through this module may well convince you to do so.
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