Pact Worlds Review

Welcome to the Pact Worlds

settings rpg starfinder scifi

A few years ago, I purchased the Pact Worlds source book for the Starfinder RPG, and read a good portion of it on flight DL508 from Atlanta to San Diego. I know this because my boarding pass for that flight was used as a bookmark. I'd read enough of the book to give me a general idea on the setting, and I filed away the spaceship and player character options for use later with whatever gaming group I would eventually form to play the game.

It's 2022 at the time of this writing, and the Covid-19 pandemic has forestalled me finding a gaming group for regular Starfinder sessions, but I'm as interested in Starfinder as ever, so I decided to read through the Pact Worlds book from cover to cover.

It's a small book, but it fits a lot of information into it, so I'm going to post about sections as I finish them.

Welcome to the Pact Worlds

The introduction to the book provides you with an overview of the setting. It's largely the same information you get from chapter 12 of the Starfind Core Rulebook: the history of the Pact itself, the major players in the major interstellar conflicts (the Veskarium, the Swarm, the Eoxians, and...everybody else.)

It delves pretty deeply into the political and economical structure of the Pact, with a good number of paragraphs on governance. For instance, did you know that each pact world has a representative in the Protectorate, each with one vote, and that tied votes are decided by the five members of the Directorate? Did you know that the term limit of a Directorate is 2 years? And did you know that there was a sixth non-voting member of the Directorate?

It goes on like that for a little while, and on one hand you might think that these are trivialities that will likely never figure into your game, until you start to imagine all the potential for political intrigue. Thanks to the goverance section of this book, you have plenty of material to draw from.

The economy, of course, is based on credits because it's science fantasy, and as everyone knows, that's the currency SF uses. There's good detail about how this currency works, although as a computer geek the lack of any mention of the actual cryptography involved to secure the currency both pains and inspires me. Already I'm dreaming up an in-game hack to place counterfeit credits on credsticks around the galaxy.

Do it for the economy

The book is notably morally ambivalent to how the Pact functions. It describes the government, the prominence of corporations, and it identifies capitalism as the driving force of the Pact Worlds. To me, as an anarcho-syndicalist, and as a player who enjoys the cyberpunk genre, this sounds like a dystopia. The book is careful to note that the Pact World government is especially ardent in ensuring that everyone has a job and a home and so on, but that's exactly what an oppressive overmind would say, isn't it?

What this actually provides is plausible deniability for the GM. Is the Pact Worlds of your game a dystopic cyberpunk nightmare poorly concealed by a propagandist's façade of a happy society? Or is it the one capitalist system that figured out the correct balance between economic greed and social health? You decide.

What about that gap

There's a gap separating Starfinder from Pathfinder, and I mean that in game. At some point in the history of the universe, there's a chunk of history missing, and when history starts up again, Golarian is missing. It's called the Gap, and the years in Starfinder start with 0 AG (After Gap) and progress from there. The game world is set in 317 AG, so the Gap is relatively recent.

There's obviously a whole lot of story potential in the Gap. It's the old amnesia trope done at mass scale. Then again, it's the old amnesia trope done at mass scale. I don't know why, but even in a universe multiverse with Drift travel, gods who build palaces around the Sun, and magical powers, the idea of a Gap in the collective knowledge of everyone(?) feels almost too big to believe. Or maybe it's not about belief but comprehension. There's [fictional] precedence for magic and faster-than-light travel, but mass amnesia is less common.

Then again, maybe the reason I can't comprehend it is because it's not well defined. Even though the Gap is discussed in both the Core Rulebook and Pact Worlds, I don't feel like I really understand its scope. Did the Gap effect literally everyone in the multiverse? Or did it just affect Golarian's solar system? Or did it just affect the people with ties to Golarian? And if the Gap happened, how do people know that Golarian existed at all? Did people on Absalom station just wake up one morning to find themselves on Absalom station? Did they not think to ask how they got there? Which organisations already existed and which ones developed only after the Gap? Were people already travelling the stars? or did that only begin after the Gap? Or was it just the Drift that got discovered post Gap?

There are lots of questions, and for many we have implicit answers, but it's still sometimes hard to internalise exactly what it would have been like.

Given that the game is set 3 centuries after whatever event caused the Gap, I think there's a lot of flexibility for a GM to explain the Gap to players. Here are some thoughts that raced through my mind as I read up on it:

  • There is no Gap. There's a "gap" in history because all surviving records of some cataclysmic events 3 centuries ago have been made intentionally unreliable.
  • Absalom Station had just finished construction. Ships were launched to bring all personel to the station, and upon arrival it was discovered that since leaving the planet surface, the origin planet had disappeared.
  • The city of Absalom, on Golarian, had developed into a space port. Designed for emergencies, the whole city was capable of launching itself into space to become a satellite of the planet. One day, without explanation, it did just that, except that instead of becoming a satellite of the planet it had become a satellite of the Sun, because the planet was missing.
  • There are accounts of what happened on Golarian during the Gap, but they've been locked and classified by an unknown entity. Some say the entity is the god calling itself Triune, others say it's the Protectorate, others say it's a Void Dragon (see Tome of Beasts by Kobold Press), and so on. Nobody can unlock these records, and so the official accounts are essentially lost. Oral history has borne countless rumours of what happened, but there seems to be no single thread of consistent truth.

Or you can just play it according to what Paizo has provided: there's a Gap, nobody knows how space age technology all of a sudden became the norm, and nobody cares because everybody knows that they only exist in a fictional game universe.

Good start

The introduction is just four pages, but obviously it's got plenty of food for thought. Next up, chapter 1 starts a tour of the worlds of the Golarian system, starting with the Sun (which is a lot more metropolitan than you might think.)

Header photo by Seth Kenlon, Creative Commons cc0.

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