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A Guide to Introducing Starfinder to Young Players

I love Starfinder, the science fantasy roleplaying game from Paizo. Starfinder uses the familiar d20 system, plus has an incredible setting, fantastic product support, and a lot of flexibility, including really fun stuff like 100 playable species.

I was running my daughter and nephews through a D&D 5e and after we wrapped, I casually listed “D&D in space” amidst a string of possible options for our followup campaign. Once they heard “D&D in space,” none of the other options registered with them, as “D&D in space” was all they wanted.

Thus began a series of tweaks to Starfinder in order to make it more accessible to younger players, particularly important because my youngest nephew (7) will be joining the game. Luckily, it’s not hard at all!

A Guide to Introducing Starfinder to Young Players

Keep most of it just the way it is! Starfinder uses the d20 system that is familiar to anyone who has even dabbled in D&D. Folks act like the d20 system is some dark, unknowable art, like runes forged in UR at the dawn of time.

But the d20 system is quite simple. You roll a die, then simply add or subtract a modifier. For my youngest nephew to make an attack or skill check, all I say is, “Roll the funniest looking dice, then add the number I point to.” He’s learning simple arithmetic at his age, so the d20 system is actually a wonderful learning tool for him.

Other elements of the d20 system are easy as well. Attributes like Strength, Dexterity, etc. are familiar concepts, even for younger players who may have gleaned the concept from a simple iOS game or something. Starfinder adds a second armor class (EAC and KAC), but an explanation of “one for lasers and one for swords” goes down as smooth as a healing potion.

Eliminate spells and spell casting. Even as the basics of the d20 system are familiar and easy to teach, I do recommend jettisoning some pretty significant elements of Starfinder in order to make it accessible to younger players. Yeah, I’m talking about spells.

Choice can be paralyzing and overwhelming for any D&D player, particularly younger ones. The majority of the times when the game slowed to a crawl were in relation to spells. I frequently would need to pause to help my nephew either understand what a spell did or to help them zero in on a decision about which spell to cast.

Spell cards help. But even with cards, spells add layers of complexity to the game. Think about it: If you eliminate spells, you trim 100+ pages of text out of the rulebook.

So, that means I recommend not using some classes for younger Starfinder players. Ditch the Mystic and Technomancer, even though it pains me to do so. Here is what you are left with:

  • Soldier – “fighter, versatile styles”
  • Operative – “spy”
  • Mechanic – “engineer, grease monkey”
  • Envoy – “support, bard, smooth talker”
  • Biohacker (from the Character Operation Manual) – “mad scientist”

Sure, that feels restrictive but they appreciated the simplicity of it and each of these classes were easier for them to grasp quickly and conceptually. Besides, the flexibility of many of them allow for wide variety (like a melee versus a ranged soldier, for example).

Curate the playable races. While eliminating spellcasting classes limits complexity, a ton of fun options are added back in the form of playable species, given that Strafinder has 100+, both from the Core Rulebook and the 3 Alien Archive books Paizo has released for the game.

Still, curate the species that they can play. Remember, you have brand new role-players here and some of the playable species – like the telepathy only Grey – add a layer of roleplaying complexity that causes even adults to struggle with how to play them.

As a result, I curated only the ‘meat and potatoes” species, focusing on ones that could be summed up in a short phrase. Vesk, for example, would be “big lizard people.” That’s something kids can wrap their minds around quickly and easily.

Here are the playable species I suggest (Alien Archive #):

  • Damai (2)
  • Ghoran (2)
  • Pahtras (2)
  • Ikeshti (1)
  • Maraquoi (1)
  • Naur (1)
  • Osharu (2)
  • Phentomite (2)
  • Uplifted Bear (2)
  • Vlaka (2)
  • Brenneri (3)
  • Dirindi (3)
  • Dromada (3)
  • Espraksa (3)
  • Hortus (3)
  • Raxilite (3)
  • Shimreen (3)
  • Telia (3)
  • Ryphorian (1)
  • Core, all but Shirren.

You’ll notice that Shirren aren’t on that list, even though they are in the Core Rulebook. That species paralyzation with choice is difficult for young role-players. Remember, we’re easing into this: Young players can growl like a wolf-man or whatever, but it takes practice to baby step beyond.

I streamlined other places as well. They all love The Mandalorian, so of course they wanted to be a team of bounty hunters. So I simply said they all had the Bounty Hunter theme, much to the chagrin of Abram, who has written Nerds on Earth’s popular guide to Starfinder backgrounds.

Otherwise, we’re going for it, learning rules as we go. Limiting options and taking spells entirely off the table created a leaner framework that is proving to be really accessible to my young group of players, while also providing tons of creative options, largely due to Starfinder’s wide array of playable species that make each character have a distinct flavor.

Starfinder Core Rulebook cover

Miscellany:

  • Starfinder has a ton of conditions. Put a book mark in your Core Rulebook and consider purchasing the condition cards.
  • A natural 20 always equals a crit!
  • I went wild and tweaked the Starfinder system to implement the 3 action economy from Pathfinder 2nd Edition. It’s surprisingly easy to do and it makes things super simple to tell young players that “they can do 3 things on their turns.”

I own every Starfinder book, so I screen capped certain pages like the species pages from the 3 Alien Archives in oder to form them into a single PDF that my young players could flip through. This allowed them to get excited about the options without being overwhelmed by where to find stuff.

Another PDF collected the core info on their classes, plus the Bounty Hunter theme. I’d share those PDFs with you but home use only. You know how it is with PDF sharing; want to do the right thing here.

I stepped them through character creation personally and we’re learning any crunchy rules as they come up. Again, that’s pretty easy since the basics of the d20 system are familiar to any D&D player. We’re playing starship combat fast and loose and thematically. They are loving it.

For those curious, here’s what my motley band of young bounty hunters chose to play:

  • Naur Mechanic (Holden)
  • Uplifted Bear Soldier (Cory)
  • Raxilite Soldier (Rollie)
  • Vlaka Envoy (Augie)
  • Damai Operative (Campbell)