Review – Pact Worlds (Starfinder)

The Starfinder roleplaying game has seen several hardcover supplements since its launch (Alien Archive, Armory, Alien Archive 2), but the only ‘campaign setting’ hardcover so far is Pact Worlds (not that Starfinder has that formal distinction). Coincidentally, that’s also the only Starfinder hardcover I hadn’t yet penned a review of. That’s been unfortunate, since some of my favorite Pathfinder books are the ‘campaign setting’ books. It’s time to rectify that oversight, because Pact Worlds is a must-have supplement.

The Pact Worlds consist of the planets of the Golarion system (and some non-planetary bodies). It isn’t the home system of all that many of the core species in Starfinder, but due to various major transplants, it is the default home system for player characters from of almost all of those core species (it does not include the Vesk). Some of these bodies are formal members of the Pact Worlds government, some are protectorates of members, and others are bad news (a few, of course, are both members and bad news).

Pact Worlds devotes about 140 pages to these bodies – 14 entries at about 10 pages each. Each entry discusses geography, residents, society, conflicts/threats, and some notable locations. There is typically one page devoted to a map that lays out most of the notable locations. In reading these entries, the GM’s eye will be repeatedly drawn to the clear plot hooks left throughout (you can’t really miss it every time the book says something like “local leaders are considering bringing in outside adventurers to deal with the problem”). Each entry also has one of its pages devoted to a theme that has some tie to that world, but never requires a character to be from that world. The 14 entries are:

  • The Sun: I always get a kick out of the fact that “the sun” is a place where characters can visit/live in the Golarion system. And it’s exceptionally flavorful for worshipers of Sarenrae, one of the classic Pathfinder deities and one of my favorites. Although the sun is, of course, physically the largest ‘world,’ the area covered in the entry is on the smaller end, consisting of the Burning Archipelago, the area habitable to being who aren’t completely immune to fire and radiation.
  • Aballon: Run entirely by artificial intelligences and primarily inhabited by mechanical beings, adventures on Aballon are likely to concern its distinctive inhabitants or their efforts to explore the First Ones’ ancient cities.
  • Castrovel: This wild, jungle world is most notable as the home planet of lashuntas and the adopted home of the elves. Notable locations focus on megafauna and places left behind after the recent cessation of the longstanding hostilities between the planet’s sentient species (who are not limited to lashunta and elves).
  • Absalom Station: The heart of the Pact Worlds sees more development of formal institutions (government, temples, military), but also expanded information on the dark underbelly of the city-station. Absalom Station is one of the more useful maps, because its layout is probably more relevant than an attempt to map, say, an entire waterless planet in one rectangle.
  • Akiton: Akiton reads like nothing so much as a forelon future Mars, dusty and red. Content on Akiton focuses on faded mining towns, unique geographical features, and inhabitants with a more tribal lifestyle.
  • Verces: The tidally locked Verces always presents the same side of itself to the sun, dividing the planet into the frigid Darkside, the roasting Fullbright, and the more readily inhabitable Ring between the two. While the Ring really defined Verces in the core book, and is still the focus of the residents and society portion of Verces, Pact Worlds goes more into the world beyond, adding more inhabitants beyond the readily viable portions of the planet.
  • Idari: Another artificial ‘pact world,’ the Idari is the colony ship that brought the kasatha to the Golarion system. This makes the entry in no small part a primer on modern Kasatha society. A primary tension points here is how much the kasatha and the Idari are open to other cultures and species.
  • The Diaspora: As one might expect from a section on an asteroid belt, there is a diverse set of topics covered here, including the Free Captains (pirates), the sarcesian remnants, and a variety of mining installations (from the active to the cursed and abandoned).
  • Eox: The menacing, undead-ruled member of the Pact Worlds, Eox doesn’t really get any less ominous here. There are limited portions of the planet that are habitable for those who need to breath, but it definitely remains a place you wouldn’t want to visit, much less live.
  • Triaxus: Triaxus in somewhat reminiscent of Castrovel in that it has more than one major sentient species claiming chunks of land. Triaxus, however, is not as distinctive beyond that, which makes the world more defined by its inhabitants. Reminiscent of Verces, the more blended part of the planet has had the most influence on the rest of the system, while Pact Worlds provides more detail on the separate societies of the ryphorians and the dragons.
  • Liavara and Bretheda: The two gas giants of the Golarion system – the Saturn-like Liavara and blue-Jupiter Bretheda – each get their own entry, but I’m going to combine them here. Bretheda and the combined-mind Confluence (which also rules Liavara) wield a lot of influence in the Pact Worlds, but tend to play a lesser role for player characters because none of the core species hail from there and because of the difficulty of having ‘normal’ adventures on a gas giant. Pact Worlds provides more information on various floating stations that characters might visit, but also provides notable locations on these planets’ moons, where one might have a little bit of dry land beneath one’s feet.
  • Apostae: While Apostae is controlled by the drow, the section discussing the planet does not feel like it provides as much new insight into the culture as the entry on the Idari does – possibly because one doesn’t really expect to see players interacting socially with the drow all that much. The notable locations on Apostae are generally limited to the surface, so there are lots of military or trading camps, and not adventure sites within the planet.
  • Aucturn: Like Eox, the Mythos-world of Aucturn doesn’t get any more pleasant. Indeed, one wonders how the planet’s inhabitants survive at all. Pact Worlds further develops the rivalry between the Dominion of the Black and other worshipers of the Outer Gods.

The themes available in Pact Worlds are the Solar Disciple (Wis/Perception), Roboticist (Int/Computers), Wild Warden (Wis/Survival), Corporate Agent (Cha/Diplomacy), Gladiator (Con/Intimidate), Cyberborn (Int/Computers), Tempered Pilgrim (Cha/Culture), Space Pirate (Dex/Bluff), Death-Touched (Con/Perception), Dragonblood (Cha/Culture), Dream Prophet (Wis/Mysticism), Biotechnician (Int/Medicine), Xenoarchaeologist (Int/Engineering), and Cultist (Con/Disguise). Personally, my space-(and Sarenrae)-loving self is fond of the Solar Disciple, and I think that the Corporate Agent is a very flexible background for a lot of adventurers in the Starfinder setting. However, I suspect that the Space Pirate theme will be quite popular with many groups.

In addition to the themes, Pact Worlds provides a variety of other player options, starting with six new archetypes – the Arcanamirium sage (magical researcher), divine champion, Skyfire Centurion (good buddies), star knight (almost a collection of different archetypes, but much of it for Hellknights), starfinder data jockey, and steward officer (the diplomat/warrior peacekeepers who enforce the Pact). While that’s a lot of new archetype options, I feel like they generally remain touch choices, because of how valuable the mechanical options are that are given up to take them.

Although there isn’t the quantity of new PC species in Pact Worlds that there is in the Alien Archive texts, Pact World still adds six new ones. All of the species presented are native to the Golarion system

  • Astrazoan: Originating on Apostae, the Astrazoans are shapeshifting aberrations, somewhat resembling a cross between a squid and a starfish when in their native form.
  • Bantrid: Recently awakened on one of Liavara’s moons, the Bantrids have a unique locomotion system based on a spherical base that can’t help but provoke comparisons to BB-8. They are quite fast, but (for better or worse) have no sense of smell.
  • Borais: Technically undead, the borais gain none of the usual undead immunities and still retain some portion of their soul. A particular borais is based on an original species, and gains some benefit from that (e.g., a borais who was originally a living kasathan has four-armed).
  • Khizar: Another species native to Castrovel, the Khizar are plantlike humanoids whose heads are seedpods surrounded by a transparent membrane. Beyond being plants, they are most notable for relying on alternate senses – they have no visual senses, but do have blindsense (vibration) and blindsight (life). So the next time you can’t remember what the difference between blindsense and blindsight is, find the nearest player with a khizar character.
  • SROs: Very similar conceptually to androids, SROs (‘sentient robot organisms’) are also constructed beings with souls. Unlike androids, they do not have the same clearly humanoid appearance. In addition to their robotic nature, SROs can still benefit from healing spells and have an automatically-upgrading cybernetic component of some sort.
  • Strix: Another refugee from lost Golarion, the winged strix now reside on Verces. The main mechanical draw is, unsurprisingly, being able to fly.

Other options include seven feats, six pages of weapons and armor, six pages of other items, and four pages of spells. The gear includes a few items that can make tougher environments more livable, such as an antigravity belt for high-g worlds and magnetic boots for EVA situations.

Further content includes starships and NPCs. Each starship collection spans two pages and provides three ships (one bitty thing, something more menacing, and then some potent beast adventurers had best avoid). The collections include Aballonian, Hellknight, Iomedaean, Vercite, and Xenowarden ships. NPCs include cultists, pirates, Hellknights, mercenaries, security, and gangs.

As described above, Pact Worlds has a lot of player options, and some other mechanical content. But when I finished reading the Starfinder core book, my first desire wasn’t for a list of even more guns, it was for further exploration of the world of Starfinder. And Pact Worlds delivers on that. A DM will get more mileage out of Pact Worlds than a player, simply because they’ll get more mileage out of the notable locations – I don’t think you know as much about the Golarion System after reading Pact Worlds as you know about Golarion after reading the Inner Sea World Guide. But as a player there’s a lot to like and learn here. I think it’s the right place to start when expanding a Starfinder library beyond the core book.

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