One of the best things about the Pathfinder and Starfinder RPGs is that Paizo releases regular content updates for both games called Adventure Paths. Available as both digital PDFs and printed softcover books, these Adventure Paths contain new items, player options, rules, and worldbuilding that add to the established canon and move the entire game forward.
The newest AP for Starfinder is called Drift Crisis (and is followed up by Drift Hackers, a continuation to the storyline).
Starfinder Is More Than Pathfinder In Space
I decided to run the Drift Crisis adventure path for Starfinder while I was in the middle of DMing a Spelljammer D&D campaign, so it was a pretty easy shift to make tonally. After all, they're both space fantasy.
It was not as much of an easy shift mechanically. The Starfinder Roleplaying Game is much more crunchy (read: rules-centered) than D&D 5e is. I grew up on D&D 3.0, so I had a decent base knowledge of how the system worked going in. After reading the Core Rulebook, though, I saw how much the -finder RPGs have evolved beyond their D&D roots.
(And they're set to evolve beyond that even further at the end of 2023 with the not-quite-new-editions of both RPGs, titled Starfinder Enhanced and Pathfinder Remastered.)
Storytelling vs Mechanics in Starfinder
The group I've been playing Starfinder with is not new to TTRPGs in general. Some have experience with Pathfinder, some with earlier D&D versions, but most have only played Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. And pretty much no one had played in anything other than a traditional high-fantasy, sword-and-sorcery setting.
(Except for Spelljammer, which I mentioned earlier, and even Wildspace is a pretty standard fantasy setting in space and not true science-fantasy with warships, wizards, and warp drives.)
The Story's Got Hooks
That said, my players absolutely loved the narrative in the Drift Crisis Adventure Path:
In a catastrophic instant, travel through the faster-than-light Drift realm failed, with travelers vanishing in mid-flight, communications scrambling, and the Drift's progenitor god Triune falling mysteriously silent. In the aftermath, empires cling to far-flung holdings, opportunists exploit the chaos, and everyone demands to know what triggered this Drift Crisis and how they can solve it.
The party had zero time falling into the world of Starfinder. They got a grasp on the idea of the Drift and the basics of planetary politics pretty quickly. Drift Crisis is set up so that it's easy to start from scratch, and all you have to know is the very broad strokes of the setting that's provided in the Core Rulebook: what are the Drift and the Gap, who is Triune, and what are the fundamental factions/planets.
In other words, stuff that can easily be synopsized to players at the beginning of a session and then delved into later in more depth. That is exactly what I did, and it just whetted their appetite for knowing more about everything.
I also started with the PDF-only prequel adventure Before the Storm to set everything up, and it led directly into the first book in the Adventure Path just like it was designed to do. Plus, exploring a derelict spaceship that's been commandeered by what my group dubbed “Space Satan” is just a good time no matter how you approach it.
The downside to Drift Crisis is that because it's so setting-spanning and important to the overall narrative of Starfinder, the first part is incredibly jumpy and can be hard to follow. It sets you up to go from one place to another to another time to another plane with little to no rest in between.
It's honestly overwhelming and detracts from the personal stakes that an event like this can have on individuals and their cultures.
Plus, If your group is new to Starfinder like we were, if the party goes off the rails and wants to explore, say, the blown-up remains of the undead planet Eox early on (and will find a way to do it no matter what), the info in the Adventure Path isn't adequate.
The System's Got Claws
What they did have trouble with, unfortunately, was the more
complex specific rules of Starfinder versus D&D Fifth Edition. It wasn't a barrier to entry, but it slowed down games as we always looked up rules. Part of it was my fault as an overly lenient GM in letting them have access to almost anything in the Archives of Nethys, instead of limiting them to the Core Rulebook and the Drift Crisis hardcover to begin with.
When we go back to Starfinder later this year when the Enhanced version drops, I am going to be limiting the players' choices quite a bit to facilitate quicker games and better comprehension of particular mechanics.
That said, approaching the SF system with fresh eyes made me really appreciate the nuance you can have in combat and interaction with the world. My players adored the way skills worked and Drift Crisis gave them plenty of opportunities to experience their characters in ways that simple pew-pewing just can't.
The options available in Drift Crisis are more than enough for groups to tinker with and not feel limited. If your group is like mine, they will be combing the rulebooks and planning out their characters from the moment they see the sheets.
But, just like any other RPG system, the more you play it, the more it becomes intuitive. When we pick Drift Crisis/Hackers up again, the wrinkles we saw will already be ironed out.
So Is Drift Crisis Worth It?
I think so, yeah. As a person (GM) new to the Starfinder RPG system, it's a good way to get into the game. While there are some quibbles about the beginning being jumpy and alternate-setting details not being entirely fleshed out, the storyline is solid and epic enough to grab any group motivated by a good narrative. At the end of the day, that's what playing a TTRPG is about, and the Drift Crisis Adventure Path delivers.
Our Rating: 4 out of 5
Paizo provided Geek to Geek with physical copies of the Starfinder: Drift Crisis Adventure Path and the follow-up, Drift Hackers.