I like a classic sword-and-sorcery game, a la Dungeons & Dragons, as much as the next person. After all, I grew up on fantasy books; I adore the genre and will take any excuse to play around in those worlds. But it’s hard to deny that a lot of fantasy relies on tropes that date back at least to Tolkien, if not earlier.
So, while I dig good ol’ fantasy games, what I really love is a tabletop RPG that’s not afraid to get weird.
Part of this is because I’m blessed with a group of wildly inventive players. Across various systems, my players have created characters such as: a seemingly-normal young girl who can transform into a massive dragon at will; a powerful lizard wizard adopted into a noble family; and a motorcycle-driving warrior whose sword is possessed by the ghost of his wife. Heck, one time in Mutants & Masterminds, a player of mine built a character named Space Captain Tiberius Rexington, whose superpower was the ability to shapeshift into a T. Rex. He was also proficient in ‘space swords’ and ‘space guns,’ which the player explained were “completely indistinguishable from regular swords and guns.”
“Oh, so your proficiency is just meant to apply to basic swords and guns, then?” I asked, assuming the ‘space’ naming was just a joke but that the skills were meant to be legitimately useful.
“No,” they replied. “Only space swords and space guns. I don’t want the bonus to regular swords and guns.”
“But… you said they were the same as–“
“Tiberius Rexington would be able to tell the difference.”
So, yeah. I like weird systems because my friends are weird and wonderful. That’s why I was thrilled to discover, upon finally cracking into the Starfinder Core Rulebook, that Paizo’s science fantasy game is delightfully bizarre. (For those unfamiliar, Starfinder is similar to Pathfinder, but set far in that game’s future, featuring space travel, laser guns, etc.)
I mean, where to even begin with this game? Alright, how about this: one of the major planets is called Eox. Long ago, the people of Eox tried to blow up some of the other planets in the system, but the weapon they used to do this had a terrible backlash; most of the people of Eox were killed as a result. To save their people, the elders of Eox got waaay into necromancy, and now the planet is populated almost entirely by the undead. They don’t let you forget it, either–their spaceships are covered in bones, a portion of their military went rogue and now calls themselves the Corpse Fleet; it’s death imagery from Hell to breakfast with these guys.
Is that not weird enough for you? Okay, how about this: one of the other planets isn’t even a planet at all. It’s a giant flesh-egg that will someday birth a Great Old One straight from the Cthulhu Mythos. And the egg is pregnant, somehow! And the guy who rules the pregnant-flesh-egg-planet might secretly be Nyarlathotep! And everyone thinks he’s a sexy, cool, misunderstood anti-hero!
As a horror fan, those two planets alone really trip my trigger. But wait, there’s more! How would you like to play as a proud lizard warrior from a race of interstellar conquerors? Because you can. No? What about a friendly psychic bug? No problem! And that’s just in the Core Rulebook. Pick up the first Alien Archive and you can live every Mass Effect fan’s dream: playing as a BIG, STUPID JELLYFISH! Or grab Alien Archive 2 to play as what is hands-down the best playable race in any game system ever: the Uplifted Bear.
Yes, that’s right. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Just a bear, gifted with human intelligence through cybernetic implants. How could anyone turn down the chance to play a laser-gun-totin’ super-bear in space?!
The Starfinder universe takes every wild idea in fantasy and science fiction, adds a bunch of crazy stuff you’d never even considered, and combines it into something truly unique. I haven’t even talked about the system (in large part because I haven’t gotten to sit down and play yet, but it looks solid–somewhere between Pathfinder and Pathfinder 2E, which makes sense considering when it was developed), but I’ll be honest–the setting is enough to reel me in.
I genuinely can’t wait to see what kind of crazy party my players come up with. Personally? I’m expecting a starship full of bears. Just like I’ve always wanted.