Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Starfinder Society Scenario # 1-12: "Ashes of Discovery"


Although I've run every Starfinder Society scenario up to this point, Ashes of Discovery is the first time I've been a player in one!  This review is based off that experience and reading the scenario after the game.  I recognise the criticism some people have online that it's far too easy but, although it may have just been the rum, I had a great time playing it.  I don't mind an occasional softball scenario when, like this one, it's designed as an introductory, repeatable scenario with randomized elements.  I think it gives players a good taste of everything Starfinder has to offer.


The premise of Ashes of Discovery is that the Starfinder Society has been contracted by an external organization to explore and secure a staging outpost abandoned centuries ago on a planet in Near Space.  After battling what's (essentially) a giant space shark in starship combat, the PCs land on the planet near a village of native inhabitants who can, with good role-playing and the right skill checks, be persuaded to take the PCs to the abandoned outpost.  On the way to the outpost, the Starfinders have to survive treacherous weather and rescue a native lost in the storm.  The outpost itself has been fortified by an exiled member of the natives and has to be overcome through force.

You probably noticed from the summary above that it's very vague.  Which organization contracted the SFS?  Which planet is the outpost on?  What are the natives like?  What kind of storm are they facing?  What kind of threats are in the outpost?  I had no idea while playing it, but *all* of these elements are randomly determined (or chosen) by the GM prior to the session.  The hiring organization, for example, could be AbadarCorp, the Church of Desna, the Hellknights, the Knights of Golarion, the Skyfire Legion, Ulrikka Clanholdings, Veylen Enterprises, or the Xenowardens.  The choice has cascade effects on the planet's biome, the outpost's security, the type of storm the PCs must brave, etc.  In addition, the GM is given an unusual amount of discretion to customise almost everything about the scenario (including the native inhabitants) to "fit" the randomly determined elements and provide a unique experience for the players.  I've played repeatable scenarios with some randomized encounters (like The Commencement and The Confirmation), and I can safely say they have nowhere near the amount of randomly determined elements as this one does.  Although the core through-line of the plot is the same, almost everything else is mutable--which is exactly what a repeatable scenario needs!

The scenario starts with a mission briefing by Guidance that concisely explains the goal of exploring the abandoned outpost.  It's not particularly memorable, but it does get things moving quickly.

On the way to the planet, the Starfinder's vessel is attacked by a "Besmaran whelp", a living creature the size of a starship that has massive teeth, claws, and a spiked tail.  The creature also has some randomly determined special powers.  Starship combat has never been a challenge in any of the SFS scenarios I've played (though I've heard that may be changing soon), so after a couple of rounds of combat I had my drug-addicted PC abandon his post for a quick fix and a nap.  We still won handily, which is a good indication that the Besmaran whelp was way underpowered.  It's a cool *looking* challenge, even though (in practice) it's a cakewalk.

The next part of the scenario is a classic first contact encounter.  The starting attitude and interests of the native inhabitants depends heavily on their randomly-determined physical and cultural traits. This is essentially a role-playing and skills challenge, as a certain number of successful checks are required to persuade the natives to help point the way to the outpost.  Again, which checks are useful depends on their particular cultural traits, and different classes or races might get bonuses when interacting with them.  In the session I played in, the natives were led by solarian elders, so my solarian PC was viewed favorably.

Travelling to the outpost requires surviving randomly-determined weather hazard--it could be anything from rock storms to blasts of hellfire and more.  Survival isn't hard, but the idea is to slowly wear down the PCs before they rescue a trapped native and then press on to the outpost.

The outpost features the most dangerous thing in the session: a laser security trap.  Traps are appropriately lethal in Starfinder, one of the things I really like about the system.  The Exile's special abilities (and motivation) are randomly determined, as are the nature of his minions.  The minions only have 6 hp each and are dispatched with laughable ease, and the Exile himself is also a walkover (though he did hit me with a nasty crit--the jerk!).  Computers in the outpost contain data that explains why the outpost was abandoned, and the more creative the GM, the more interesting the conclusion will be for the players.

Ashes of Discovery isn't going to impress anyone with it's encounter design or difficulty level, but I thought it was a really clever scenario that (unlike most) encourages GM creativity.  I would happily run it or play it again, just to see how different rolls on the tables can change the gameplay.

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