Galactic Magic for Starfinder

Galactic Magic for Starfinder

Since its inception, Paizo’s Starfinder RPG has been a science fantasy game. The deep melding of magic, science, and technology is built into the setting from the foundation, and classes like Technomancer and Witchwarper really exploit a mystical connection with scientific and technological knowledge. One of the major deities, Triune, is deeply tied artificial intelligence and computer technology. Many of the rulebooks released for the series have included magical devices and new spells.

Despite all of the emphasis on magic, though, Starfinder has not previously had a supplement fully devoted to magic. They’ve had a variety of technology-focused supplements like Armory, Starship Operations Manual, and Tech Revolution.  (Tech Revolution, it is worth reminding people, introduces mechs into the game. Seriously, look into it.)

The drought of magical supplements finally ends with the recent release of Starfinder: Galactic Magic (Paizo, Amazon), which sets the stage to add mystical flavor to the game.

In my recent review of Pathfinder Second Edition’s Secrets of Magic, I praised Paizo for starting out with a chapter of in-game magical background material. Honestly, I would have sort of liked to have seen Galactic Magic follow suit, but it doesn’t … they dive straight into the mechanics, by starting off with a chapter on Class abilities. This is pretty standard for how Starfinder handles character-related supplements, though, so this isn’t unexpected. They definitely included the setting information related to magic, but they kept that for the last chapter.

So the book starts off with the new class, the Precog. This is a spellcasting class, though the spell progression is pretty slow. The main benefit of the class is that you gain a number of “paradoxes” each day when you prepare your spells, rolling a d20 for each and recording the result. These paradoxes can be “spent” in various ways throughout the day, as outlined in the various class abilities. Usually, this results in using the d20 result you already know at a strategic time.

When creating a Precog character, you pick an “Anchor,” representing the thing that gives the character their temporal-related powers. The options provided at this point are wielding Chronomancy magic, being infused with energy from the Dimension of Time, having a curse of a Doomed Future, having a Fragmented Past where fate went askew (or so you believe), a connection to the lost period of time known as The Gap, or having been involved in a failed time travel experiment that’s made you Timewarped. Each type of Anchor gives you paradox benefits on different types of rolls, and then you gain certain improved abilities as you level up based on the Anchor.

In addition to the anchor, characters gain Temporal Anomalies, which are special abilities that are tied to their paradox power. For example, the “Advanced Preparation” ability lets a Precog spend one of their paradoxes (once per day) to produce one consumable item. They have to pay the credits for it, because narratively the idea is that the Precog knew they’d need it and prepared in advance, but so long as they aren’t running short on credits it’s a pretty cool ability.

It’s a clever design for a class, and the variability of the paradoxes adds an element of randomness that is interesting. As often as not, these paradox rolls are going to be lackluster values, and so having abilities that will make them as useful as the good rolls is going to be one strategy that I can see being important in these character builds. For example, the “Advanced Preparation” ability is a perfectly good way to spend a paradox roll of 1 or 2, since the value on the roll has no bearing on the outcome.

At the time of this writing, the class isn’t up on the Starfinder Archives of Nethys site, but I’m sure it’ll show up there soon if you want to look into the class rules for yourself.

Each other class also gets a variety of new magic-related options, with some particularly interesting one for generally non-magical classes, such as the Biohacker’s ability to make magical spell injections, the Mechanic’s ability to incorporate magical items into an “experimental apparatus,” the Operative’s spell thief ability, or the Soldier’s new spellbrawler fighting style. (The book also has an archer fighting style for Soldier which, frankly, feels like about the only time in the whole book they introduce anything non-magical. I have to assume they’ve had this idea sitting around for a while and just couldn’t wait for another book to put it in.)

The Class chapter ends with an archetype, School Specialist, that can be applied to any spellcasting class, starting at second level. This archetype has the player identify a specialty school, and then get an additional spell slot and, eventually, more spells from that specialty school. At levels 4 and 12, the archetype grants new abilities that are different for each specialty school. Interestingly, the level 4 ability for the Necromancy school is Rebuke Undead rather than an ability to in some way control or create undead, which I assume would be a more common goal of the necromancer.

The book goes on to lengthy and thorough chapters on magical gear and spells, including spell lists for the new Precog class. These are all great, but you largely know what you’re getting here. The one really nice thing added in the chapter on spells are some rule variants, such as scaling the damage on 0-level cantrips, switching from spell slots to prepared casting from a spellbook, and a full, formal system for ritual magic.

The chapter on Faiths, however, really has some great new material. Specifically, they have edicts and anathemas for each of the core Starfinder deities, as well as Blessings and Curses that they may bestow in appropriate (or inappropriate) circumstances. Each entry on the main deities has some information on worshippers, sacred sites, and resources at the disposal of the religious organization. In addition to the worship of deities, there are also sections in this chapter that focus on some less orthodox religious and metaphysical philosophies, such as The Green Faith and Singularitism.

Where you can go with some of these as a GM have a lot of potential. For example, The Parallel Truth is a religious philosophy built around the idea of multiple universes which, with adherents believing that they’re actually living in the wrong reality. Sometimes there is a fine line between a religious philosophy and a conspiracy theory that the universe is literally conspiring to ruin your life. But there’s definitely no end of narrative potential for a GM or player to use The Parallel Truth to drive a story or character arc.

The final chapter in the book doesn’t have mechanics, so much as setting information that is helpful in adding more magic into the game world, outside of religious organizations. There are various magical institutions described, including magical academies, which are particularly helpful in providing training to magic-based characters. Or, if not a formal institution, then maybe reaching out to one of the many magical factions. My favorite of these is the Eldritch Games League, which focuses on finding, recruiting, and marketing contestants in magical sports. I imagine that this faction will somehow find its way into every single Starfinder game that I run in the future, even if it’s just described as showing up on a screen in the background.

This magical infusion is something that I think is very welcome to Starfinder. The new class mechanics, ritual magic system, and spellcasting variants all seem intriguing and solid, and add to the game without throwing things out of balance. For GMs, having more guidance on how to incorporate different religions is always helpful, and Paizo’s creative teams have really hit a good stride on how to lay out these religious elements in clear ways with their edicts and anathemas. If you’re going to run a game, or play one, and want to make good use of magic, both in terms of mechanics and setting, I would definitely add this to the list of books you’ll need to have on hand.

The next big upcoming rulebook from Starfinder is the May release, Drift Crisis. This represents a broad, galaxy-shattering disaster, a mix of rulebook, campaign manual, and setting guide, as access to the Drift becomes disrupted, making the primary mode of timely starship travel obsolete. Alliances are strained, trade routes are disrupted, and empires are fearful … so there’s no shortage of trouble for daring explorers to get into. Watch for a review of that book when it comes out later this year.

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