I've been reading through the Starfinder source book, Pact Worlds. It's a small book, but fits a lot of information into it, so I'm going to post about sections as I finish them.
Chapter 4, the final chapter of the Pact Worlds book, contains player options. This includes character archetypes, weapons, armour, and some new playable races. It's 32 pages long with a lot of diverse categories of content, I started my review in a previous article.
A good source book is essentially out-of-game exploration. You get the same sense of discovery and surprise from reading a source book that you do when you're in the game, exploring a forgotten dungeon or forbidden temple.
Similarly, the player options section of Pact Worlds is like out-of-game looting. But there's the added dimension when you're looting that the objects you find also betray the cultures that created them. And that's what you get in this chapter's sections of weapons, armour, tech items, magic items, and hybrid items.
Weapons in D&D and Pathfinder tend to be pretty predictable and purely functional. You have swords, axes and hammers, spears and lances, bows and crossbows. Sometimes the illustrations are fun to look at and contain some surprises, but quite often all you really need or expect is a table listing damage and important attributes.
The weapons in Starfinder are, however, as exciting as magic items are in D&D and Pathfinder. A Starfinder weapon is likely to be high tech, with a unique chassis sometimes designed for a completely different physiology than your own, foreign ammunition, and surprising effects. The Pact Worlds weapons listing spans 4 pages, and features melee weapons, small arms, longarms, heavy weapons, and sniper weapons. Special effects include a lockdown feature, which immobilizes constructs, the ability to ignore underwater penalties, a blinding effect, and electrocution. There's a page of weapon fusions, too, which can add yet further special features to your weapon of choice.
This is a strong 4 pages. It obviously pales in comparison to the Armory source book in terms of volume, but the quality is exactly what you'd hope for.
The armor section is equally as fun to read, because once again the descriptions of the armor are also stories about the Pact Worlds. There's Formian Hide armor, made to emulate the chitinous skins of formians, a hardened resin armor created by the insectile haan of Bretheda, and Hellknight plate armor. There are also some nice upgrades, including a few magical and hybrid upgrades.
Lists of mundane items can be a little dull in D&D and Pathfinder. Sometimes it's fun to read fanciful descriptions of anachronistic items that didn't exist in our real life history but that have been retrofitted into a fantasy world (a ballpoint pen described as a quill with an inbuilt inkwell, for instance), but generally we all know what kinds of items to expect in our fantastic "ancient history" world. In a future fantasy world, it's usually safe to assume that everything we have in real life is available, but then there ought to also be futuristic stuff. This is especially urgent now that we've managed to invent much of the sci fi technology we grew up aspiring to.
The 6 pages of futuristic items provide a good mix of super-secret spy devices, military-grade tactical gear, and pragmatic engineering tools. In many cases, I can't keep track of which is technological and which is magic. A ysoki belt that allows you to squeeze through impossibly small spaces is probably magical, but then again this is the future so maybe it's technology. A compass that points to the nearest settlement of 1000 people or more is probably magical, as it depends on alignment, but actually you can imagine how you could achieve that with even modern day tech.
In the end, whether it's magic or whether it's tech, or a little bit of both, this is a nice list of usable items for your futuristic game world.
I've said it before, but you just can't have too many spells, and this section adds to the, frankly, paltry list of spells provided in the Core Rulebook. Included in this one is a spell to control the atmosphere, "shadow walk" through machines, impose a "direct denial of srength" (DDOS), necromantic revitalization, and more.
There's a trio of spells that are beautifully connected in the same way that, say, Magic: The Gathering cards enable cool combos. Confusingly, though, the terminology gets muddled and you "fabricate scrap" to produce raw materials for creating "junk armor" and "junk weapons". I'm not sure whether "junk" and "scrap" are two different states of the same thing, or whether they are the same thing, or whether there's actually less connection between these spells than I think, but it seems that the unawareness of keywords in RPG persists. I don't know what kind of industry shift it's going to take to convince publishers to treat the English language as code, but I can't wait until it happens. (To be fair, though, the software development community could also use help in how it differentiates variables and constants and keywords in code, too, so I guess my moral highground isn't quite as elevated as I like to think it is.)
Lots of great spells here.
That's it. That's the book.
Pact Worlds is a fun book. It's an easy read, and an easy escape to a fun and exciting sci fi universe. I don't know how vital it is for anyone. After all, Starfinder is a whole universe and you have drift engines, so there's every expectation that your first adventure will be nowhere near the Golarion system.
Then again, the first official adventure path does touch down on Castrovel and Eox at least, so if you play it as written then you'll benefit from this.
Whether you play in the Golarion system or not, the Pact Worlds are still the closest thing to a homebase as there can be in a game world where the entire universe is your playground, so there's value to developing a sense of familiarity in and around Absalom Station. This book works hard to make that possible, and even though it does sometimes feel a little bit like the off-cuts from the Core Rulebook, I personally think it's worth reading.
Header photo by Seth Kenlon, Creative Commons cc0.