It seems that content inspiration and card-based accessories for RPGs are all the rage these days, and Starfinder is continuing both trends with the Deck of Many Worlds. This deck of 100 cards (plus instructional cards) packs a lot of information onto both sides of the cards to allow fairly detailed planet generation for the next time you’re stuck on where the party should go next.
The front side of each card has a planet type. Almost half of the deck is terrestrial, but there are also gas giants, jungle worlds, lava worlds, lava worlds, ice worlds, desert worlds, and so on (it’s like you’re in an episode of Star Trek). And there’s a picture of the world, so you get a nice visual reference. A planet isn’t the same as an NPC, I know, but having some sort of image really helps keep track of people, places, and items. In addition, each card has a gravity level (low/standard/high), atmosphere (thin, normal, thick, corrosive, toxic, etc.), biomes, and a three-line description (floating rock islands bbob to the surface of this gas giant, or two continents make up the bulk of the landmass of this earthlike world). So we take a random card off the deck, and it turns out our world is very earthlike, but with almost all of the landmass consisting of tropical archipelagos.
The bottom of the front of each card is six boxes, which are then used with the similar six boxes running through the middle of the back of a second card. The front side lists six traits (accord, religion, tech, magic, law/chaos, and good/evil), while the back side give up/middle/down ratings for each of those six. Pull a second card, flip it over, and slide it partway under your face-up card, and you can see, for example, that this planet has a planetary scale government (high accord), little or perhaps outlawed magic (low magic), and a well-intentioned but unpredictable society (chaotic good).
That card with the attribute modifiers is also used for the first ‘hook’ (physically right below the modifier bar) – a feature of that planet that, depending on your fancy, might be the present state of things, the past, or the future. In this case, our world may be light on magic, but it’s the site of the start and finish line for some sort of interplanetary (or perhaps interstellar) starship race. But one hook is not enough, so we’ll pull a third card and slide it under the second, so that just the hook is visible. Now we can see that our world is subject to periodic disruptions in the flow of time.
But a planet must have inhabitants, of course. Sapient species with whom the PCs can interact, and threat species they may have conflicts with. On the top half of the back side of each card, there’s a picture and name of sapient species on one side and a threat species on the other side. So we’d start by pulling one card and sliding it under our world so that the sapient species is visible and pulling another and sliding it under the opposite side so that the threat species is visible. It turns out that the primary sapient species on this world is the maraquoi and the primary threat species are veolisks. The card also tells me that I can find the rules for these species in the Starfinder Alien Archive and in Starfinder Adventure Path #3, respectively (these rules can also be found for free in the online Starfinder Reference Document).
Most worlds will have more than one of each – 1-6, in fact. The final part of the information dense cards (well, other than the card number) is a star field on the left and right of each card that looks suspiciously like the face of a six-sided die. These numbers say how many sapient and threat species should be used. In this case, it seems that, although maraquoi are the most common sapient species on this planet, one can also find androids, pahtra, and hobgoblins. And assembly oozes may join the veolisks in causing problems.
So now we’ve got a world to visit, a basic visual, a reason to go there (participate in the race, meet a contact who’s a race fan, what have you), some trouble to run into (time speeding up, slowing down, or even moving backwards), and the most common sorts of creatures and people we might run into. If we want, we can even use the cards to generate some limited information on the settlements we might go to or the NPCs we might meet. A few flips of the cards suggest that our first contact is a chaotic neutral person who is highly affected by the first story hook and is very religious, but has some problems with technology.
The Deck of Many Worlds has a narrow focus – creating planets (or solar systems) during pre-session planning. But within that focus it provides a lot of help for the GM, going beyond just the starting inspiration by adding in a few more details to work with.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.