Roll for Initiative: An Interview with Owen Stephens

Paizo Inc. is one of the most popular game publishers in the industry to date with their line of Pathfinder campaigns and merchandise consistently topping the charts in the world of tabletop role-playing. After the phenomenal success of Pathfinder, Paizo is now releasing their second major roleplaying game Starfinder.

Released in September 2017, the Starfinder Roleplaying Game (9781601259561, $59.99) features a massive 560-page hardcover rulebook with essential rules for character creation, magic, gear, and more for both Game Masters and Players. Playing the role of a bold science-fantasy explorer, investigating the mysteries of a weird and magical universe as part of a starship crew, this new sci-fi campaign will demand all your wits, combat skill, and magic to make it through.

In this interview, BookShelf Editor Ashley Kronsberg discusses the unique features of the roleplaying game with Starfinder Developer Owen K.C. Stephens.

Ashley Kronsberg: Can you tell us in your own words the story and general gameplay to be expected in Starfinder? Aside from genre, what are the major differences between Starfinder and other tabletop roleplaying games?

Owen K.C. Stephens: Starfinder is a game of adventure and exploration with few limits. Any plot or idea that works in a science fiction, high fantasy, cyberpunk, swords and sorcery, space opera, or heroic quest setting can easily be used in Starfinder. While it is the same universe as Pathfinder, and even set with the same solar system as a starting point, Starfinder mixes elements of fantastic technology and impressive magic together to allow everything from cybernetic dragons to powered armor-clad knights invading planets.

So, while Starfinder focuses on a small group of adventurers and explorers much as Pathfinder does, we have done our best to give GMs and players the tools to tell as many stories as possible, while still grounding it in a setting that can serve as a launching pad for their imagination. Games can involve starship combat, or not, psychic and knights, or not, as the play group prefers, all using the same core systems.

Starfinder is set in a science-fantasy world with players having the ability to choose between several new game-specific character species as well as the classic fantasy races of Pathfinder. What is the process for creating the different races and classes seen?

We took a two-prong design path to end up with the classes and races we present in the Starfinder Core Rulebook. Since the game is set in the same universe as Pathfinder, there were some obvious choices for fan favorite races and character roles, that ensured we would have soldiers and mystics and dwarves and elves. But once the obvious roles were filled, we wanted to flesh out that design skeleton with new options that hopefully include both flexible tropes common to science fiction and fantasy stories, and new possibilities unique to Starfinder. For example, the Solarian class is a supernaturally-augmented warrior who can call on the powers of the stars themselves, from black holes to supernovas, to manipulate both creative and destructive energies.

The gameplay includes the use of a starship for combat, including building and customizing rules. How did you and the creative team come to the decision to include this unique feature in player’s gameplay? What were the main challenges in incorporating this feature, and how will it enhance player experience?

Starships are one of the things that define a lot of great science-fiction, and the ability of players to fly to new worlds was an important part of the stories we wanted to be able to tell. Plus, some players get really excited about the possibility to starship combat, and that’s a part of the experience we wanted to be sure to include. The trick is that starships operate on an entirely different scale, and combat rules that work well for small groups of individuals fighting don't always handle capital ships attacking armed freighters in the void of space. So, we had to develop a separate set of starship combat rules, then make sure that characters and players could interface with them without forcing characters to specialize in ship combat roles to be effective, or allowing a game session to focus on just a starship pilot while everyone else gets bored. So, in the end we designed a system where most characters have multiple good, useful choices during starship combat taking various starship roles, like engineer, gunner, or science officer using the same skills and abilities their characters want for other kinds of adventures anyway.

On top of adding a new dimension of play, I think a lot of players will enjoy getting to customize their starships as a campaign progresses. A starship really is a mobile base of operation, and being able not just to decide what a character keeps under his bunk, but also if the group is going to add a life boat, medical bay, or passenger seating to their starship is going to help players get invested in a Starfinder campaign.

The Starfinder Core Rulebook also takes a new approach to the tabletop roleplaying experience by having both the Game Master and Player rules included in a single hardcover edition. What was the motivation behind combining the two?

The GM is one of the most important players in a Starfinder game, and it can be intimidating to pick up a book and be told you need to learn everything in yet another book in order to run a game. We tried to make Starfinder as friendly to new players as possible, and that had to include giving GMs the tools and advice they need to begin designing adventures for PCs to run through.

What race and class would you choose for your Starfinder campaign?

Dwarf Solarian. His name is Wrothor Ironstar. I already used him in a few of the playtest games :)

About the Creator • Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens was born in 1970 in Norman, Oklahoma. He was introduced to gaming by his uncle in 1979 (though his uncle now claims no memory of the event) and was instantly hooked. For the past 30 years he's never gone long without running or playing in an ongoing RPG campaign. He has written freelance for numerous companies, including WotC, Paizo, Green Ronin, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck, on projects such as Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition, Thieves' World RPG, EverQuest RPG, numerous D20 Modern and Dungeons & Dragons books, The Guide to Absalom and other Pathfinder RPG books. He is now the Pathfinder Developer for Green Ronin and the Publisher for Rogue Genius Games, amongst other game industry jobs.



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