Pact Worlds Review

Aballon revisited

settings rpg starfinder scifi

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.

In my initial read of the Aballon section, I expressed some dismay with the lack of explicit descriptions of the races, cities, and culture of Aballon. I stand by that. I think not just a few of the sections in Pact Worlds could have clearer details. Chapter 12 of the Core Rulebook provides an overview of each planet in the Golarian system, so it's fair to expect the Pact Worlds book to give a few solid facts about what you can expect to find on each one.

The reason I want hard facts isn't because I need somebody else to dictate to me what the Starfinder universe is like, it's because I want consistency in the world. I want to make sure that when players go back to a location, it still has the same obvious features it had the first time they visited the place.

In an RPG, places need things. Otherwise, there's no point to ever go to a place. If there aren't things to look at on Aballon or Aballon, then players may as well just stay home and explore their own kitchen pantry on Absalom Station.

This is the general flow of exploration in an RPG:

  1. Players go to a place.
  2. Players look around.
  3. The GM flips through the source book for something of interest so that the players have something to look at and explore. The thing might be the catalyst for a big adventure, or it might be a plot seed for later, or it might just be a fun distraction.

Absalom Station has Fardock, Swordlight Cathedral, Lorespire, the Starstone, and a bunch of other things to look at. Castrovel has ancient temples with lore about the 12 suns, and ruins, and old-world munition dumps and really big dinosaurs. The Burning Archipelago has temples and factions and secret artefacts.

It's important, and for me it's a big part of the value of a source book.

Magic-style plane

Then again, a source book is also about themes and story ideas. Magic: The Gathering has one major theme per plane: Innistrad is gothic horror world, Zendikar is Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones world, Amonkhet is ancient Egypt world, and so on.

Looking at Starfinder planets as Magic planes, I realised that Aballon was wild west world.

Given what the source book provides on Aballon, I'm extrapolating that it's a Factorio or OpenTTD. Highly automated, highly mechanised. But it's not devoid of personality, so there's a hint of Portal there, too.

Should you venture into the cities of the First Ones, though, you step into Machinarium world (with varying levels of clutter, depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing.)

Machines are boring

I think the dangerous thing about playing on Aballon is the threat of its inhabitants being just a part of the big machine. As much as I love them in real life, fictional machines are pretty boring. You can't directly interact with them, and even if you do hack them, the process of hacking in a game isn't as fun as hacking in real life.

As a GM, I'd introduce some downright quirky anacites and androids on Aballon. There would be one obsessed with whatever trinkets the player characters happen to have, and it would constanty try to bargain with them to acquire their most prized possessions. Another one would invite the player characters over for dinner, only to confess, once they arrive, that it has no idea how to cook. Another one would challenge the player characters to a dance-off. Whatever. Anything to make a robotic NPC unique and interesting.

I'd also introduce a physical puzzle. There are several general-purpose puzzles in the back of Tasha's Cauldron, so I'd adapt any one of them to fit a machine theme and have my players try to solve it as a way of gaining entrance into a location they need, or to interface with the central processing unit of a factory, or whatever.

Now that I've revisited the Aballon section, I do believe Aballon can be fun. It just takes a little creativity, and maybe a little writing in the margins to preserve consistency. Heck, I'm just glad for the opportunity to finish Paizo's work on the book (zing!)

Next up is Verces.

Header photo by Seth Kenlon, Creative Commons cc0.

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