Monday, February 6, 2017
Like a lot of people, I can't wait for Starfinder. And like a lot of Pathfinder fans, I took part in the recent Humble Bundle promotion to get a lot of great stuff for a very small amount of money. One of the exciting products was People of the Stars, a book in the Player Companion line that is all about . . . other planets! I've done a lot of SF role-playing in other systems, but I've never mixed it in with traditional fantasy. Nor have I read the Pathfinder Campaign Setting book Distant Worlds, which was a very successful predecessor to People of the Stars. Putting all of that aside, I really enjoyed this book and would be intrigued to incorporate some of its material into campaign someday.
After an awesome cover that definitely sends the message "you aren't on Golarion anymore", the inside front- and back- covers sport constellations of the northern and southern hemispheres, respectively. The 32 pages inside are arranged differently than most of the (older) Player's Companions I've read: instead of of just a few sections for the whole book, every two pages has a different entry on the table of contents. I'm still going to group the material together in larger chunks for ease of reviewing. I should note that about every other page of the book contains a sidebar on one of the planets in the solar system around Golarion, and that, for each planet, a new trait is introduced. Last, I'll note that the interior artwork is good, but not Paizo's best.
The first four pages, "For Your Character" and "The Stars Are Right", are essentially introductory material. They wisely emphasize that players need to talk to their GMs before trying to bring alien races or themes into a campaign, as the topic can be quite divisive. I did find that most of the "For Your Character" page amounted to essentially a second table of contents, and could have been safely omitted. The book's index of new options was useful, as was the few paragraphs on magic items, spells, and rules from other books that are pertinent in outer space adventures.
The next ten pages feature new races that hail from planets other than Golarion. Four races (Androids, Kasathas, Lashuntas, and Triaxians) each receive two-page write-ups that include racial ability modifiers and features, plus (varying from race to race) new feats, archetypes, equipment, or traits. Androids are rather self-explanatory, but they have some really cool, original abilities. Kasathas are four-armed nomads and seem far less tech-oriented than one might expect. Lashunta are harder to describe quickly, but they seem to value brainpower and receive bonus magical and mental abilities. Triaxians are an interesting race from a planet that changes seasons over a period of centuries, so very few Triaxians ever see a season different than the one they're born into; their abilities vary depending on whether they are "Summerborn" or "Winterborn" Triaxians. After the four races, there are two pages devoted to "Other People of the Stars": Formians (an insect race), Kalo (an aquatic race), Shobhads (a four-armed desert race), Vercites (humanoids with chameleon abilities), and Ysoki Rat-men (ratfolk). Quick ways to adjust known Pathfinder races to make equivalents for these alien races are provided. Overall, plenty of interesting options are presented and if anyone ever got bored of the races available on Golarion, something here should be of interest. I've never seen any of these races in an actual game, nor are they discussed much in the forums, so I can't offer any insight on how balanced they are mechanically for gameplay.
The middle of the book covers various topics. First, there's a two-page spread of the solar system. I only have the PDF, so I don't know if this was removable or not in the print book. It's serviceable, but frankly a bit bland. Next, there's two pages titled "Interstellar Adventures" which is a bit of a miscellany: different ways to reach other planets, the mechanical effects of different types of gravity, and spell-casting in a vacuum. If I were running an interplanetary campaign, I would want far more detail on these topics, and they should probably be in a campaign setting book with more space to develop them. There's also a handful of new pieces of equipment--they're not particularly exciting ones, but definitely important ones (compressed air, gravity boots, etc.). Last, there are two pages on other stars (beyond Golarion's solar system) and other cosmic features like black holes. Again, some intriguing tidbits are offered, but this material would have to be expanded elsewhere to make it really useful.
The last third of the book is also a grab-bag of material. Outer Gods and Great Old Ones are briefly covered over two pages for would-be worshippers of mysterious, distant powers, and there's two new clerical subdomains (Dark Tapestry and Stars) . "Star Touched Regions" (on Golarion) is the topic for two more pages, with a couple of paragraphs on Numeria, Osirion, Elves, and Outer Dragons each serving as the inspiration for a new trait. A two-page section on astronomy introduces two new pieces of equipment and two new feats for would-be stargazers. The idea of astronomer-adventurers is something I had never thought of before, and I have to say it's an original, intriguing idea. The last quartet of pages introduces five new spells (and reprints two important ones from Distant Worlds) as well as six new magic items. The spells presented here would be quite useful for an interstellar campaign, as would most of the magic items, such as a "Traveler's Translator" (basically, a universal translator from Star Trek) and a "Wayfinder of the Stars".
Six authors and eight interior artists are listed in the credits for this book, and sometimes it shows: two-page piecework assignments make it easy to use freelancers, but they don't always fit together into a cohesive whole. Still, I really like the "feel" of this book--the different colour palette, page borders, and simply subject matter set it apart from any other Player Companion. This book isn't the best it could be, but if I were travelling from Golarion into the stars, I wouldn't leave home without it.