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Dead Suns 006: In Da Club

The Downside Kings strike back against our fearless adventurers through the power of overpriced bar drinks; Tuttle tries to stage an evacuation of the Fusion Queen, but succeeds only in starting a new dance craze; and bringing clubs to a gunfight proves to be a surprisingly effective strategy as combat breaks out.

Last week GM Stephen shared his favorite 1st level RPG adventures. This week Stephen discusses his least favorite 1st level RPG adventures (which will probably prove to be quite controversial). We also treat the listeners to “Roll For Combat Unplugged” as the gang discusses the finer points of combat in Starfinder.

Also, make sure to check out the “Big Podcast Launch Giveaway” with over $1000 in prizes and we announce another weekly winner! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Dungeons & Dragons – Stranger Things Style

Dungeons & Dragons Blackrazor

If you enjoyed this post make sure to check out our weekly podcast, Roll For Combat, where a group of old-school gamers play Paizo’s new Starfinder RPG.

Also, make sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

After watching Stranger Things, I decided to dig into the attic to see if I could find some of my old books and Dungeons & Dragons characters when I was a kid playing back in the early 80s. Somehow, beyond all hope and logic, many of my original characters and play-aids were intact and in near mint condition. I share these with you for a look back to what D&D was like for a 11-year-old kid … way back in 1981!

AD&D Folder
Look at that custom-made folder of AD&D power! The sword is what makes it impressive!


AD&D Folder Spine
And the spine graphics don’t disappoint either!


D&D rules and The Rogues Gallery
My original 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules! These rules still have the best subheading of all time, “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Role Playing Adventure Game Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Minature Figures.” Not sure why The Rogue Galley was in there as well but that book is a treat.


Trapper Keeper
How do you know that this is from the 80s? I have two words for you … TRAPPER KEEPER!


1st Edition AD&D character sheets and NPC character sheet
The original AD&D Player Character Records and a bonus NPC character sheet. As a kid, I had access to a Xerox at my dad’s office (which was fairly rare for the time) and I remember trying to copy these suckers with that colored paper was a total nightmare.


D&D Index
Look at that folder index! Characters! Graph Paper! Modules! Monster Cards! Books! What more could you want in your D&D binder?


Index card of Dungeons & Dragons
Why I decided to do this, I’m not exactly sure, but I congratulate you my 10-year-old self! Look at that penmanship! What a great start to anyone’s D&D collection back then. I even listed my dice collection as you can see (dice were rare back then, you kids nowadays don’t know how lucky you are!).


Old campaign notes
Adventure notes, a map of an adventure I was playing (my DM made some crazy dungeons), and an envelope my DM gave with … something inside. I’m not exactly sure what was in there, but I’m sure it wasn’t good.


Samson, the Cleric-Fighter
I actually remember this character. Back then it was nearly impossible to identify magic items, and I only discovered that ring was a Ring of Feather Falling after I fell off a cliff and lived. What a mess of a character sheet!


Little Pseudo-Dragon
My Little Pseudo-Dragon (red) pet! My DM gave him to him (hence the different handwriting). Nothing is more awesome than having a small Dragon as a pet!


AD&D Conan
Come on, who didn’t make a character sheet for Conan back then? Fun note, the barbarian class didn’t exist at the time (and was later introduced in Dragon Magazine), so I had to make my version of Conan a monk. For some reason, there was also an Eastern boarding pass next to the character sheet as well … not exactly sure why, but I thought that was a fun touch.


Wizardry the Wizard!
Look at that artwork! And my character name was … not exactly original. I believe I made this guy to run him through the Tomb of Horrors … of course, we didn’t make it. But we did make it all the way to the room of fire (and then promptly died). I still say to this day that my DM gypped us with that TPK and we totally could have made it out in time.


Other size of Wizardry
The other size of Wizardry the Wizard (the name that’s so bad it’s good).


Level 6 AD&D fighter
Another one of my characters. Look at that crazy block of numbers! And this is a fighter!


2nd page of level 6 AD&D fighter
I think Rhialle the Wanderer was initially named Elric after looking at this side of his character sheet. I like how “apparent age” was a category on the character sheet back then.


AD&D 7th level druid
This character wasn’t actually mine but it somehow ended up in my binder. I don’t remember whose character this was … but if you are reading this and played D&D with me back in 1981, come forward and claim this character!


The trifecta of AD&D goodness!
The trifecta of AD&D goodness! Of course, like everyone back then, I had a set of these classic books as well. They really made these things tough as nails, after 30+ years of wear and tear, they still look amazing.


AD&D Monster Cards Set 1 and Set 2
And what is this? I found this in the back of my folder! Mint condition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Cards! These were awesome as you could show your PCs a picture of a monster … in full-color!


AD&D Monster Cards Set 1
Look at that artwork! I still think the Red Dragon looks a bit wonky, but that Neo-Otyugh is sweet!


AD&D Monster Cards Set 2
Set 2 was even better. My all-time favorite Gelatinous Cube! That Roper looks nasty! And what the hell is a Land Urchin?!? I need to add that to my current campaign.


Druid vs Mind Flayer
Color artwork was very rare back then, so everything was illustrated in black and white. This picture is from The Rogue Galley and looks fantastic.


Bad AD&D art
Of course, not all of them were winners…


The Rogues Galley
What I really miss were the endless tables and their descriptions of everything under the sun. Sanity charts! General Tenacity charts! Everything had a chart back then, and awesome bonus artwork as well.

So there you go … a snapshot of D&D from 1981. Things haven’t really changed that much. Today we will make D&D characters of our favorite characters of literature and film (Conan and Elric in my case), we still spend too much time organizing our collections (I really need to get a Trapper Keeper for my Pathfinder Society characters), and we never stop playing.

I guess we’re all just big kids at heart when it comes to D&D.

If you enjoyed this post make sure to check out our weekly podcast, Roll For Combat, where a group of old-school gamers play Paizo’s new Starfinder RPG.

Also, make sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

Talking Combat 005: Dinner and Dancing

Dead Sun's Level 21 Crew Jabaxa

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 005: And A Side Order of Rat.

I’ll start this week once again tackling something Steve mentioned in his pre-game remarks. What style of low-level opening do I tend to prefer?

I think if I’m given a choice, I actually like the “choose among mini-tasks” model. I think the thing that’s appealing is the player has a choice (sometimes it might be an illusion of choice, but it works). If you’re given three gigs, you can make a decision about which level of immersion you want to pursue – jump right into something that sounds like it’s going to lead directly to combat, pick the path that might require soft skills, etc.? Also, depending on how the tasks are structured, there may be opportunities to turn aside and try a different task if you get stuck; whereas with the mystery model, in particular, there tends to be one critical path, and if you get stuck, it can get really frustrating.

I will say the one thing I look for regardless of the model is to get at least one combat session out of the way early. I suppose part of it is good old-fashioned impatience (FIIIIIIINE, I’ll admit it, I want to hit stuff), but there’s also a tactical benefit as well. At the end of the day, combat is still the core game mechanism that ties a lot of the other stuff together, so I like to get a feel for that as soon as possible. This is both for my character as an individual (did I choose the right skills, weapons, etc.) and to see how the group fits together as a whole. You can draw it up on paper however you want, but seeing the pieces fit together in practice is another matter entirely. I suppose that goes double for a situation like this where Starfinder is so new to us and has its own little quirks Pathfinder didn’t have.

Anyhow… let’s get back to the action. We begin our session at Mama Fats’ and her extensive menu of potential copyright infringements. I recognized most of the references on that menu (particular shout-out to the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster) but I’ll confess there were a few I had to Google later. Slusho, in particular, went over my head. My apologies to J.J. Abrams. On the other hand, it’s good to know Lt. Worf has a place to eat gagh and drink prune juice if he ever slips into our corner of the multiverse.

I have to admit I got a bit of a thrill actually correcting Bob about something. Bob tends to be our group’s unofficial note-taker while I – both in-game and in real life – tend to rely on memory to bail me out on stuff. So he’s usually the one reminding me of things I forgot. [For the record, we never took a vote or formally appointed him; I suspect we just outlasted him over the years and he probably just got exasperated with the rest of us NOT taking notes.] So when Bob got his gang leaders wrong, I was pleased to swoop in for the recovery. Or maybe it’s just because my kids have reached the age where they’re merciless when I forget something, so I have to pay that forward. Who knows?

Mama Fats’ goes mostly as expected. OK, maybe not Bob and Steve flirting with each other in character, but OTHER than that…. I thought maybe there would be a fight, or maybe there would be a different intermediary (the delivery guy as courier, a customer?), but the “membership card” we found in Kreel’s underwear drawer buys us a meeting with Jabaxa; that in turn earns us a Big Trouble In Little China reference (never a bad thing) and a pointer back to the Fusion Queen nightclub. I guess we have a date with Ferani. If you can call participating in gangland murder a “date”.

Remember that “illusion of choice” I talked about earlier? I felt like there was a little bit of that at play here. When we first hacked the datapad, it felt like there were four different paths to pursue. There was the corporate angle: maybe pose as miners or investors and try to gather some information from Astral Extractions. There was the option to investigate the ship in quarantine – and I feel like we may yet end up there. Then there were the two gangs, which seemed like a more logical way to get started since we’d already sort of established ourselves as on the same general side as the Level 21 Crew. But it feels like whichever path we took was going to ultimately point back to a reckoning with the Downside Kings.

And that’s not a criticism. It’s an adventure path, so of course, it’s going to have an underlying structure and sometimes you’ll hit a point where all roads lead to Rome. The price you pay for a coherent plot that hangs together over six individual adventures is that sometimes you’re playing on rails a little. I think the important thing is “currents, not strings” – you want to feel like the plot is a current carrying you along, but still have freedom of movement within, rather than something that’s overtly pulling you and controlling your actions. And I felt like the story, and Steve’s implementation of it stayed on the right side of things.

So we show up at the club and we have a bit of a two-fold dilemma.

First, we don’t even know for sure that Ferani is there, and that doesn’t seem like the sort of information you just go ask the bartender. “Hey, we’re TOTAL STRANGERS HERE TO SEE THE LEADER OF A MURDEROUS GANG!” (Cue music stopping, sound of safeties being removed from a dozen pistols aimed at our heads). But I figure between Hirogi’s stealth and Rusty’s people skills, we have some tools for dealing with that. Or heck, maybe Tuttle can hack the bar computers and see if Ferani’s been ordering bottle service. Besides, if this club is their central base of operations, the Plan of Last Resort is probably just to rush it and pray she’s there (or that attacking her club might bring her there – we do live in a world of communicators and telepathy, for better and worse).

Second, and slightly more problematic, we’ve got a weapons check at the door – the Old West “walking around fully strapped” vibe does have its limits, especially given Jabaxa’s instructions to keep the breakage to a minimum. The beauty of dungeon crawls is that you don’t have to worry about collateral damage and separating bad guys from good guys. And you rarely get asked to give up your weapons unless something went really wrong. If it’s orcs and skeletons manning the doors, you can pretty much just start swinging and let the bodies fall where they will. Here, we probably don’t want to become fugitives and besmirch the name of the Starfinder Society (killing civilians is bad, mkaaaaaaay?), so I guess we’ll need to use a bit more of a deft touch. But that’ll be a question for next time…

So what do you guys think? Frontal assault? Have Rusty schmooze the bouncers? Maybe Tuttle can build some sort of Trojan horse out of loose scrap. Feel free to drop us a line and offer your suggestions, or your thoughts on anything else that’s been going on. As always, thanks for listening!

Dead Suns 005: And A Side Order of Rat

The trip to Mama Fat’s proves to be worthwhile. The sci-fi snacks are decent enough, but the membership card found at Kreel’s apartment lets the team order off the special menu – a meeting with Jabaxa, the leader of the Level 21 Crew. Jabaxa points the team toward the Fusion Queen nightclub, where the leader of the Downside Kings waits.

Also this week, GM Stephen also explains why level 1 adventures are so tricky for GMs and PCs alike and discusses his top three favorite level 1 modules of all time.

Also, make sure to check out the “Big Podcast Launch Giveaway” with over $1000 in prizes and we announce another weekly winner! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 004: Botching the Detectives


Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 004: CSI: Absalom Station.

I’ll get into the meat of the episode in a few minutes, but I wanted to start with the appetizer first.

I’m actually NOT going to spend any (additional) time on the Alien Archive; I wrote a whole review about it. I would like to kind of turn Steve’s pre-show comments around and talk a little bit about what I think makes for a good GM. I don’t pretend to speak for the other guys here; this is just my two cents.

Let’s start with the idea that a roleplaying game is both a game and an interactive story. And I do think you need both aspects to succeed. If there’s no story, we might as well just go to the casino and shoot craps and make some money; if there’s no game, there’s no underlying infrastructure to tie it all together – it’s just aimless bullshitting with a sci-fi or fantasy theme.

When I look at what makes for a good GM, I tend to not worry about the game stuff because I think it mostly takes care of itself; it’s mostly a matter of being organized, knowing the rules, and making the trains run on time. Even if there are the occasional mistakes, I figure they wash out in the long haul – OK, you chose a different skill check than I wanted this time; somewhere down the road, you’ll call one in my favor and it’ll all come out in the wash. Short of a ruling that leads directly to a character death, you just roll with the punches.

I think where GMs really earn their stripes – and what I’ve appreciated about Steve’s style over the years – is finding a good balance between keeping the story moving while not simply giving large chunks of it away. As a player, I don’t want to be spoon-fed or to be given something I didn’t earn – that feels cheap and makes you feel like a passive participant in the story. At some point, you lose any sense of ownership and start to feel like another glorified NPC being carried along by the GM’s vision of the story.

On the other hand, my time is valuable enough that I do want the story to move along and feel like SOMETHING was accomplished each session. There’s little that feels less satisfying than finishing up a 2 or 3-hour play session and being unable to articulate what you actually did. Spending two or three game sessions screwing around with the same problem? To borrow from Lethal Weapon’s Roger Murtaugh, I am both literally and figuratively getting too old for this shit.

So, I think the real difference is to know when the stakes are low and you just hand a player a solution and move on; when you still want the players to do the work, but maybe have to open up a different avenue to view the problem from; and which story points are important enough to say “you need to solve this yourselves or it cheapens the story”, even if that means “wasting” time on it.

I bring this all up as prelude to the observation that we are pretty terrible detectives and made some rookie mistakes this time around.

Some of this is probably (comparative) inexperience with the genre. Coming from a fantasy background, there’s not usually a lot of “police procedural” going on – certain adventure paths have occasionally included elements of mystery and investigation (Carrion Crown started off with a murder mystery, for example), but it’s more the exception than the rule. Usually, fantasy is about big bold quests where the objectives are carved into the side of Mount Rushmore. Big beastie kidnapped someone, killed someone, or is guarding some cool treasure – GIT ‘ER DONE!

At any rate… rookie mistakes.

The first rookie mistake was that I forgot to take the time to attach C.H.D.R.R.’s gun while we were taking downtime at the hotel. I hope we don’t get into combat again on this next sortie or I’ll be kicking myself pretty hard.

I think in the case of Tuttle getting zapped by the door, I think I simply got caught up in the exuberance of getting to use my skills again. I’m not going to be a front-line fighter, so I see the tech stuff as one of my places to shine. After the fact, I remembered quite clearly that the datapad could possibly open the apartment door, but in the moment, it was just “COMPUTERS… LET ME DO IT”. It probably didn’t help that failing the first time and setting off the alarm made me extra stubborn about things. Neither Tuttle nor I respond well to failure. I guess that just makes us doubly lucky there was nothing bad waiting on the other side of the door. This time.

I also feel like we (as a group, not just me this time) whiffed a little bit on the discovery of Mama Fat’s – should Steve have made us work a little harder for that one? It feels with 20/20 hindsight like we should have seen the takeout containers and thought to ask what restaurant they were from.

So did Steve let us off easy? I think this gets back to the style question: I feel like we were moving in the right general direction and made most of the right choices – we got the data off the datapad, Rusty dug up some useful info using Diplomacy, we found the “calling card” for the Level 21 crew – but just missed that one detail. So I guess he could have had us bumble around Level 21 for a while or whipped up a chance encounter with an NPC (“you see a guy with a Level 21 jacket go into a restaurant”) or have someone leave an anonymous note at the hotel for us, but I feel like that’s quibbling on the “how” – overall, this feels like a fairly low-stakes place to just move the story along. As a player, even if Steve gave us a mulligan on that one, I don’t feel like he robbed us of anything substantial.

Big picture, we seem to be headed the right direction. I think going after the street gangs first seems to be the right path for now, but I assume we’re eventually going to have to investigate the quarantined ship. I don’t want to meta-game too much, but with Starfinder being so new, my brain tends to “go there” to try and find a frame of reference, and the ship with the mysterious rock sounds like the equivalent of a dungeon crawl – go on board and find out what happened to the crew and/or retrieve the rock. So… make friends with the Level 21 Crew/Hardscrabble guys, at which point they trust us enough to let us on their ship? Sounds like a plan!

As the gaming portion of this episode was a little shorter, I’m going to wrap it up here, but feel free to drop us a line if you’re interested, whether it’s about the story so far, philosophizing about GM-player interactions, the Alien Archive, or anything else that interests you. We’d love to hear from you.

Dead Suns 004: CSI: Absalom Station

A trip to Kreel’s apartment and further investigation reveal an intricate web involving Absalom’s street gangs as muscle for a miners’ labor dispute. Armed with new information, the crew sets off to find the lesser of two evils, the Level 21 Crew on … you guessed it … Level 21! Mo makes a new friend, and Tuttle learns a shocking lesson about using the key instead of hot-wiring things for fun.

Also this week, Stephen, Jason, and John review the Starfinder Alien Archive in detail.

Also, make sure to check out the “Big Podcast Launch Giveaway” with over $1000 in prizes and we announce another weekly winner! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!

Talking Combat 003: Chex Mix and Conversational Chicken

Chex Mix?

Jason recaps the events from Roll For Combat, Episode 003: Cops, Cut-Throats, and Career Opportunities.

This week’s episode is a bit heavier on plot development – no combat, more focused on fleshing out the story. And that presented a few new challenges.

The first – not that I want to babble about Serious Acting; it’s not like I’m Meryl Freakin’ Streep – is starting to lock in the “voice” for Tuttle. I know what I want him to be like on paper, but it’s another thing to translate that to the game. You want to find a balance where you’re providing some interesting moments for the other players to interact with, but not so far overboard that you’re just peeing in the punch bowl. It’ll be a work in progress for a few sessions.

The other thing is more logistical – I’ve never really had to play with an audience in mind, so I spent this session hyper-aware of times where we were talking over each other. Combat tends to have a flow – if it’s your turn in initiative, you’ve pretty much got the floor. In a more story-driven session like this one, you have to police yourselves, and it’s a bit more of a challenge (and keep in mind we don’t have the body-language cues you get sitting at an actual table). Pre-podcast, if two people talk at the same time, it’s more like a game of conversational “chicken” – you keep talking until someone voluntarily gives up the conch or the GM decides who he’s listening to. If we were to do that in this setting, I suspect you guys would be ready to strangle us after a few episodes, so it’s something I found myself extra mindful of.

At any rate… on to the action.

So… full disclosure… the potato-head that thought Kreel was still alive for the first few minutes? Yeah, that was me. In the excitement of doing our first fight, I forgot that we had done a heal check and figured out Kreel had a big hole in his neck. Mea culpa, I suppose.

As I mentioned in last week’s commentary, getting a second gun for Tuttle was a high priority, so getting a laser pistol as a drop from the first battle… that’s Christmas morning in the Blacktail house. C.H.D.R.R. already has a weapon mount for a ranged weapon, so once I attach it (only an hour of downtime) he and I will both be able to fight at range. I wasn’t ready to move into a cave and start calling it “The Precious”, but I was pretty pleased.

I have to admit I was worried the encounter with the cops was going to be more problematic than it turned out to be. The two main points of tension for me were: 1) were we actually going to be under any sort of investigation for murder, and 2) whether we they were going to try and take the datapad. And OK, selfishly, given the gun situation, I was a little worried they’d confiscate the loot.  But those concerns unraveled fairly quickly – as I think we discussed with Thursty back in Episode 1, there’s almost an Old West vibe about the place. If “bad guys” are dead, as long as they can write it up clean, the law doesn’t care much. I don’t know if Hirogi’s decision to hide the datapad explicitly factored in, but if it did… good call on his part.

So the cops ended up being a non-issue – next up, Tuttle gets to flex his L33T HAXOR muscles on Kreel’s datapad. Exciting for Tuttle to show his value to the group, and exciting for me as a player, as I haven’t played a skill monkey in a while. For whatever reason, the last few Pathfinder campaigns, I’ve been playing fairly low-skill characters – a flat-out dumb warpriest, a rogue in a mostly trap-free dungeon, and a cleric who had OK skills, but seemed to always have the wrong ones for the tone of the campaign. So it’ll be nice to actually get in on the soft-skill action this time around. I’M A HACKER NOT A FIGHTER.

There doesn’t seem to be anything conclusive on the datapad – hints that Kreel has ties to some kind of miners’ dispute, something about a cousin, financial statements – but taken with the thing the cops said about the gangs not coming out that far… the winds feel like they’re blowing back toward murder. Dude’s connected to… something. Either as Chris mentioned… some sort of labor dispute with the gangs acting as hired muscle? Or maybe those financial statements mean it’s going to be more of a money thing – maybe he found proof of embezzlement or something like that. Big picture, we’ve been dropped into a police procedural.

So we head off for Starfinder Central and… OK, what’s up with Rusty… sorry… “Tiffany”… and the DNA samples? This is the second or third hint that maybe Rusty isn’t entirely what he seems. Bob doesn’t do this in every campaign (I’ve also seen him play a straight-up Lawful Tedious paladin), but he’s got a knack for creating his own little mysterious backstory known only to himself and teasing it out just enough to make you wonder if there’s a knife waiting to be inserted into your back at some future date. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes with it as the main story progresses.

And for the record, I owe the Pathfinder-Starfinder Swear Jar a quarter, because I typed “Pathfinder” when I first typed that previous paragraph. (We may also broaden the boundaries of the Swear Jar to include “five-foot steps” as well.)

The encounter with Chex Mix (or whatever their name was)… it is what it is. A little bit of useful info, but more about getting the formalities into place – initial membership in the Starfinder Society, getting our official first mission, setting up a place to stay, etc.). Presumably, we’ll get into the meat of the investigation starting next session. I do apologize for being far too amused by the Starfinder Cubicle Farm – you’ve got this organization of bon vivant adventurers and then there’s Doug from the motor pool. Something just cracks me up about that juxtaposition.

(Regarding Chex Mix, I’d also like to point out that I had just recently finished a Netflix binge of Enterprise, and there’s an episode at the tail end of Season 2 that involves a third-gender/genderless species. The coincidence amused me.)

Lastly, I wanted to share my secret shame regarding a bit of trivia from earlier in the episode… “Docking Bay 94”. It was on the tip of my tongue that it sounded familiar (the level of the reactor where they parked the drop-ship in Aliens, maybe?), so I Googled it. And, yeah, I missed the obvious… it’s where Han and Chewie parked the Falcon at Mos Eisley. As someone who prides myself on trivia like that, I hang my head in shame. Aliens? STEP UP YOUR GAME, MAN.

Anyhow, I’ll be over here licking my pop-culture wounds. Feel free to drop a line or visit us on social media. We’d love to hear from you. Until next time…

Roll For Combat Wallpaper and Sound Effects


People have asked for Roll For Combat assets, and we have listened! Below you can find links to the desktop wallpapers and the Roll For Combat sound effect so that you too can put the fear of God into your players.

Click the image below to download desktop wallpapers sized 1920×1200, 1920×1080, 1680×1050, 1600×1200, 1440×900, 1280×1024, 1280×960, 1280×800, 1280×720, 1024×768, 800×600:

Click image below to download the wallpapers



Click image below to download the sound effect



Starfinder Alien Archive Review – We’re Not In Golarion Anymore…

Starfinder Alien Archive

If you enjoyed this review make sure to check out our weekly actual play podcast where Jason and the team are playing the Starfinder Dead Sun’s adventure path as well as the occasional Starfinder Society adventure as well.

In addition, check out the podcast episode for a full one hour review of the Alien Archive!

It’s the newest rules supplement for the Starfinder game system. So new we had to rupture a small hole in the space-time continuum to get a copy. It’s best if we don’t discuss that any further, other than to say if you meet a cybernetically-enhanced otter named “Alphonse”, DO WHAT HE SAYS and wait for his quantum reality to collapse back into nothingness. But now that we’ve gone to all the trouble of rupturing the multiverse, the least we can do is offer you a few first impressions of the book.

At its simplest level, the Starfinder Alien Archive is a bestiary of creatures for use in your Starfinder games, even if that description sells it a little short. Nuts and bolts, it’s a little shy of 160 pages, with somewhere between 60-80 creatures (depending on how you choose to count variants and subtypes), 22 of which are presented as options for character races. Each creature gets a full two-page spread, so there are no half-finished monsters tucked into whatever space they needed to fill. As with pretty much all Paizo products, the production values are top-notch – beautiful artwork, the data-heavy elements are presented clearly… these guys have been doing this for a while and know how to make these books look great.

But let’s give the Paizo guys credit – they didn’t just dump a bunch of random re-skinned orcs and zombies on us and call it a day. There’s a lot of other stuff going on under the hood.

Starfinder Alien Archive skittermanderFirst, there’s the sheer variety of the creatures. Yes, you do have some holdovers from the world of Pathfinder (elementals make an appearance, as do dragons), but most of the stuff in here is totally new. On one end of the spectrum, you have the Skittermanders, little technicolor furballs that could give the Porg from the new Star Wars a run for their money on the cuteness scale. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Novaspawn, which only has rules for starship combat because it’s so large (and yes… you’ll be happy to hear it has tentacles). The gelatinous cube of your youth gets a high-tech facelift as the Assembly Ooze, and now it can assemble and disassemble technology devices. One of the most intriguing might be the Hesper, a radioactive creature whose radiation attack can cause random mutations – because who doesn’t want to grow a few extra eyes in the middle of a battle?

Similarly the player races. The Drow, Dragonkin, and Space Goblins represent a shout-out to Pathfinder, but you’ve got plenty of new options. You have a couple different insect options; an aquatic race (the Kalo…. I actually kind of like them); the Reptoids, who have shape-shifting powers; the Nuar, who are kinda-sorta minotaur-ish. We also get an appearance everyone’s favorite little gray men from Area 51 (the Grays), and I can’t stress this enough… we now have a BRAIN-IN-A-JAR race, better known as the Contemplatives. So if you thought the races of the core rulebook were going to be a bit limiting… the Starfinder Alien Archive has got you covered.

Starfinder Alien Archive DragonkinIn addition to the creatures themselves, you also get a small armory of treasure items that can be included as loot for the party. Sometimes it’s the loot carried by the creatures themselves – the Sarcesian are a race of mostly mercenaries that happen to carry really good sniper rifles. Sometimes it’s gear that can be harvested from the remains – you can take the remains of a scavenger slime and make sticky bombs out of it. Sometimes it’s more of a similarly themed item – the Bryrvath is a creature that manipulates light to fuel its powers; in studying it, scientists invented the “Aura Goggles” which protect against any effects that target vision.

And that’s the other thing — the bestiary sneaks a fair amount of lore about the Starfinder universe in through the back door. Yes, they give a GM the nuts and bolts they need to run it in combat – stats, what tactics it uses in combat – but they also give you a bit of lore about the creature and its place in the Starfinder universe. Add up all that content, and you get a nice piece of world-building.

Lastly – and in some ways most importantly – the appendices contain a lot of info about HOW Starfinder monsters are made. With the Starfinder system being so new, this may be one of the few times I’d advise reading the appendices before diving into the body of the book – it’s that useful. I almost wonder if they shouldn’t have put it up at the front.

I will say at first read it felt a little too “template-y”. You start with an array, which is a general role – fighter, caster, “expert” – and then you add different “grafts” to represent other aspects (race, class, etc.). Add special abilities, give them skills and spells, bake for 45 minutes at 350… I’ll confess it felt a little dry and by-the-numbers at first read, and I even started to get some 4th Edition cold-sweats.

Starfinder Alien Archive OmaBut I thought about it a little further and I think it works because it serves the premise well. I think fantasy tends to come back to familiar tropes while sci-fi is expansive. When you look at sci-fi, a lot of the fun is this idea that you have a whole galaxy/universe as your playground. Think Star Trek or Doctor Who where… yes, they have a few core races that reappear, but they also have a lot of fun with Alien of the Week. Some people are going to want the comfort of adventure paths, but some people are going to want that more expansive feel, and what the Starfinder system DOES offer out the wazoo is flexibility. If your players decide they want to take a detour to a moon you weren’t planning on visiting, you can have a new race for them to meet in a matter of minutes.

Besides, as the authors themselves admit, if you don’t like the rules, feel free to bend or break them as you like.

If there’s one thing I’m not completely sold on… maybe I’m being overly sensitive but I sometimes feel like the Pathfinder holdovers feel out of place. You’re coasting along looking at all this new and exciting stuff you’ve never seen before and then… “Space Goblins” (record scratch). I know they wanted to have a gateway to the familiar to help ease Pathfinder players into the new system, but sometimes it feels a little forced and I wish they would’ve just burned their ships when they reached the New World. But I think that’s a personal taste more than a fault with the material – there are GMs and players who will want that familiar element in their campaigns.

All in all, I think the Starfinder Alien Archive is an exciting addition to the Starfinder ruleset. If you’re going to be kicking the tires on Starfinder at all, the Starfinder Alien Archive is going to be a good addition to your real or virtual bookshelf.

Dead Suns 003: Cops, Cut-Throats, and Career Opportunities

Absalom’s Finest work a little “Good Cop, Emotionless Android Cop” against the boys, Tuttle engages in a little light invasion of a dead man’s privacy, and we learn about the biology of Starfinder – ysoki cheek pouches, lashunta antennae, and third-gender shirren. We also learn that time is money, and Mo is stingy with both.

Also, make sure to check out the “Big Podcast Launch Giveaway” with over $1000 in prizes and we announce another weekly winner! And don’t forget to become a supporter of the podcast at our Patreon page: where you can help us while unlocking fun exclusive rewards for yourself!