Review – The Chimera Mystery (Starfinder)

The Chimera Mystery (an adventure for levels 1-2) is an excellent launching point for the Threefold Conspiracy adventure path (for levels 1-12). Mystery and conspiracy are not the heart of Paizo’s Starfinder/Pathfinder systems, but the Chimera Mystery shows that they are more than capable of making a fantastic adventure in the genre. It really makes me want to see what happens over the rest of the AP as the characters dive deeper into a multifaceted conspiracy.

The spoiler-free version of the plot of the Chimera Mystery is straightforward. The PCs are passengers on a cargo ship (the Chimera) traveling to Absalom Station. A crewmember ends up missing while the ship is en route through the Drift. What happened? Whodunnit? Of course, there are nuances and twists in getting to that point and figuring it out. The adventure places the characters in a limited-access space that enables the PCs to interact with and get to know every possible suspect. They can become acquainted with the NPCs before the disappearance, and then have continued interaction afterwards, allowing the players to consider psychological hints along with physical ones and flat-out deduction.

The write-up is great from a GM’s perspective as well. There’s always a bit more advance comprehension (and therefore work) required from the GM for this sort of adventure. You really do have to review and hold in your head the entire adventure; you can’t get away with just grokking one combat encounter/room at a time. But The Chimera Mystery makes that as straightforward as possible, with an easily-understood presentation. It also makes actually running the mystery easier, with good tips about how to handle a variety of player choices and how/when to introduce various elements to maximize the player experience.

The advice section in the back echoes some of this. One of the best tips is about how to ensure that your players “get” the hints you’re dropping. One of concepts I tend to beat the drum for is that as the GM it is so, so easy to think that we’re being obvious about what’s going on, and wonder why those dumb players just don’t get it. The advice section provides helpful specific on how to layer clues about the same point to help ensure that the characters do “get” it.

Much of the mechanical content provided is somewhat detached from the rest of the book. The story and GM advice are about mystery. The story is a mystery. The GM advice is about mystery adventures. The primary character options are about intrigue and infiltration. This illustrates both a strength and a possible weakness of The Chimera Mystery, depending on your group – it doesn’t “feel” very Starfinder. That’s a plus, in that it gives a different sort of game out of the same Starfinder system. But it means that, if really what your group wants is to blast their way through combat, The Chimera Mystery is not going to scratch that itch. There is combat in the adventure, of course. But it isn’t about the combat – indeed, there’s a decent amount of the combat that feels like it was added into this mystery adventure just to make sure there was sufficient combat to feel “Starfinder” enough. (The same is true, to a lesser, extent, for hazards.) The core of the adventure experience is about deduction, combined with investigative skill use.

So, while there are a few pertinent spells and feats in the ‘mystery adventures’ portion of The Chimera Mystery, most of the player options are contained in “In From The Cold.” Options to get sneaky are spread through the classes – envoy improvisations to turn nearby enemies into shields, expertise talents to stay uncontested, mechanic tricks to conceal your devices (or your sabotage), soldier gear boosts to hide weapons and armor, and technomancer hacks for concealing spell use. The most extensive options are new soldier fighting styles, one for using dual pistols in melee and another for making some great use of Spring Attack to strike from the shadows. The mechanical content is capped off with seven new alien archive entries and a new world. The most memorable alien is the proog, which is a tiny ooze companion that can shapeshift into everyday objects. Or, if you want an alien designed to be shot at, there’s the aanung-an, a template for occult zombies formed from the corpses of those who died during cult rituals.

All told, The Chimera Mystery is a wonderful mystery adventure that stretches Starfinder in a new direction and makes me pretty excited for the rest of the Threefold Conspiracy adventure path.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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