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A Great Second Entry

*****

Temple of the Twelve starts delivering big on the promises of Star Finder; namely by bringing a great mix of technology, magic, planet hopping, and history together for a unique story that could only be told in a world where starships and spell-slingers are side by side.

My review of Incident At Absalom Station commented that it was a bit of a bland space opera. Temple of the Twelve wraps up the Incident well and helps push players to start exploring the Golarion System. Much of the adventure is dedicated to interaction and investigation. There is also an overland expedition (which seems surprising in a world with space-ships but is well explained). This could have easily been a rehash of Pathfinder expeditions but John Compton makes it feel like a proper sci-fi expedition, replete with strange creatures, ancient ruins, and opposing parties. The book has a feel of Indiana Jones and Avatar, and I have to admit I got some flashes to the mighty Masks of Nylarahotep as well.

Overall, character and combat encounters are designed to handle a wide variety of characters and play styles. Mysteries are robust and can be solved, ignored, or avoided in many clever ways. Opponents are interesting and slotted well. This is an adventure that will serve any group very well.


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Space Opera Mixed With Fantasy To Make a Unique Product.

*****

Many people have already commented on the various changes in the rules, what is different from Pathfinder, what holds the same, and what goes big. The tome is so chock-full of rules that it'd be impossible to go over them all in this review format. So here are the highlights:

- The theme goes big, and succeeds. This is more than just a space opera - it takes all of the homages that Pathfinder used to classic sci-fi (Burroughs, et al.) - and builds functioning space empires off of them. This is not just a retread of tired science-fiction tropes (declining empire, upstart corporations, etc.) - it's a re-imagining of what makes Space Opera work.

- It's a rule-set based on, and almost identical to, Pathfinder. As such, it's easy for anyone who is familiar with Pathfinder to pick up and play. But it is not a re-skin of Pathfinder. They have changed rules, making additions and creating a rule-set better suited to science fiction than fantasy. This is not simply a new source-book for Pathfinder; it's a new rule set that feels like a natural evolution from Pathfinder.

- The merger of magic and technology feels right. Rather than fighting each other, or stepping on the toes to achieve the same thing, they occupy unique and interesting spheres.

All in all, if a Space Opera RPG, tech-fantasy RPG, or Pathfinder-plus RPG appeals to you, this is worth your money.


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A Robust But Lacking Start To Starfinder

***( )( )

Incident at Absalom Station is a robust introduction to Starfinder, highlighting what makes the stellar new system unique and showing off the fun elements of the game. Further, the story is playable and usable, providing a great template for any sort of party or any types of players. Unfortunately, from a story perspective, the story fails to "go large." While it serves as a systematic sampler and introduction, it doesn't do anything new or exciting in the idea of Space Operas.

What Makes It Pop

The opening scene has a pretty standard hook, but opens with a strong action scene. The party is thrust into conflict and that conflict shapes the later adventures. From there it launches into an open-ended diplomacy and investigation scene, with the party given sides to choose or ignore while cracking a mystery.

The adventure uses to good effect the unique elements of Starfinder. It merges technology and magic in seamless fashion, having Android administrators bump elbows with Undead diplomats, spellcasters and hackers work together, and spirits and aliens haunting the same dark corners.

In so doing, it also incorporates many of Starfinder's rule sets, including skills, multiple types of combat, and myriad creatures and items.

Finally, it has an element of mystery that will hopefully propel party to greater exploits (And the rest of the AP). While much of the adventure relies on the party choosing their better angels, there's enough to justify a party of any make-up getting involved.

Spoilers follow:

Spoiler:

The party is called on to investigate who started a gang conflict out of territory. The mystery is robust, with multiple paths to get to an answer. The adventure assumes lightly the players will pick a particular side, but does not require it, and provides for options if the players choose another side or none at all.

Spoiler:

The adventure is loaded with a showcase of the new rule set. Multiple options to use all type of skills; ground combat, space combat, and zero-g combat; undead enemies haunting ancient parts of weapons while alien creatures from the Drift serve as counterpart; and all manner of new races bumping elbows with elves and dwarves.

What Brings It Down

Much of the adventure is a dungeon crawl and - at that - a fairly bland one. It's hard not to compare this to Rise of the Runelords; fair or not, both are launching product lines. Rise of the Runelords took long-standing tropes and used them, but breathed fresh life into them, creating a vibrant coastal town with intrigue, ancient weapons, bitter revenge, family drama, and a touch of humor. Here, its' a standard opening to nearly every space opera game, but without many of those same touches of originality, vibrancy, or uniqueness. It also calls on some of the unique flair from earlier Pathfinder Adventure Paths, which seems duplication more than homage.

Spoiler examples:

Spoiler:

The party is sent to explore a mysterious returned derelict and asteroid. It turns out the crew was attacked by a series of strange aliens from the Drift. This has been the opening of many Space Opera adventures, so little about this section feels new.

Spoiler:

The asteroid exploration has no real villain acting against the party, and little dynamism. The party moves from room to room, killing monsters and looting the treasure therein. But the adventure makes it clear that they are being recorded the entire time and - with repeated references to a modern legal system and questions of ownership in earlier parts of the adventure - it seems really odd that the party could keep the loose change they found by rifling through the pockets of dead crew members.

Overall Thoughts

Incident at Absalom Station benefits from starting with a bang, building interesting connections for the party, and setting the new Starfinder Pact Worlds well. It sadly fails to tread any new ground for Space Operas, but if the base it lays here is used properly it could lead to a roiling adventure. All in all, I'd recommend buying it for anyone interested running a Starfinder game, especially for the information on Absalom Station and the additional bestiary.


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Neat Ideas To Improve Games

*****

It's really nice to get a book that delivers what it promises. Pathfinder Unchained delivers all manner of variant rules for nearly every part of the game. Some are to simplify things, some are significant changes to core rules, and some are welcome changes to rules that have become sacred cows.

Buy this book if you are interested in having a number of variants available, to pick, choose, and modify as you see fit. As noted in other reviews, this is a toolbox. It's something to take pieces out of, and use as you progress. It's great for trying out in one-shots, or in smaller groups, and then expanding as needed to full campaigns.

Not everything herein will be your cup of tea. I highly doubt I will use all of the rule changes presented in this book in various games. I still think they're valuable. It's interesting to see various rules cut apart and reworked; at the very least it gives you an idea how those rules fit into the overall scheme of the game.

I will add that I would like to see more classes and rules examined under this lens. I don't know that I'd use many of them, but it's a good way to think about the game and how rules interact with each other.


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A Solid Start - But A Bit Disjointed

****( )

The adventure is a combination of a well-written mystery and a dramatic battle sequence that kicks off the overall campaign. Both are strong sections and worth playing; however they do not link together as tightly as one would hope.

The first half of the adventure is a well-written mystery. There are ample leads and clues that the PCs can independently follow, and there's no linear progression required. The NPCs encountered are well-fleshed out, interesting, and engaging. Characters are rewarded for following clues, and not just combat or brute force.

The second half is a tense battlefield. This is a bit more linear than the mystery, but players can move through it, fight their skirmishes, and affect the outcome of the fight on their own terms. It is written as an ongoing battle, and presents more choices than the PCs simply getting orders from NPCs and rushing from fight to fight. There are even non-combat interactions available, if the PCs pursue them.

The real problem is that regardless of the outcome of the player's investigation, the battle will play out in much the same fashion. The switch between the two will likely feel a bit jarring. This section of the adventure may need to be reworked to be a bit more natural, which can be frustrating. This would be the main downside of the adventure.

One modest complaint is that information about the town is found in several other sources. Nothing critical is lacking from this book, and other information is available in the free player's guide, but it still is referenced in the adventure itself as useful information.

Overall, this is a strong start to a campaign that has a "classic" feel and will likely engage PCs in the area and the story.


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