Tian Xia Days: Dreams of Youth

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

“To the left!”

“His stomach’s open!”

“Pin him down, pin him down!”

The basher arcade was filled with battle cries and frenzied advice from spectators as servers smoothly weaved between groups with cheap drinks for their patrons. Students from all over the city crowded every corner, cheering and booing each game’s combatants. Soo-jin took a long sip of tea, wincing at the strong aftertaste as onlookers shouted at the small figures projected in the middle of their table.

“Get him!” one of the boys from Sage Plum Academy cried as an alley basher kicked her opponent in the head. “To the right, to the right!”

The tiny figures clashed again, fists flying as their players maneuvered them to victory. Nga’s eyes were locked onto the projections as she rolled her fighter into a defensive position, raising his arms to shield his chest. Her opponent grinned, his hands deftly moving levers while his fighter pressed in with punches and kicks.

Soo-jin watched the brawl with gritted teeth, waggling her fingers nervously. One boy’s eyes met hers and he pointed a finger at the SPELLS ARE CHEATING sign; irritated, Soo-jin raised her hands and pointedly showed they were free of magic auras before setting them on the table.

The opposing fighter grabbed Nga’s by the waist. Soo-jin’s nails now clacked against the table in a nervous drum beneath the frenzied shouts for a finishing blow. With a smirk, Nga flipped a lever, and her fighter’s elbow smashed downward, his leg swooping up into a powerful kick. There was a shout—a blare of music—and Soo-jin jumped so fast her chair fell over.

Nga beamed triumphantly as the Sage Plum boy groaned, his friends laughing and sighing at his loss. Nga’s tiny fighter raised his fist, roaring silently in victory, and illusory fireworks exploded across the table to illuminate expressions of both dismay and glee around the table.

“Pay up, all!” Soo-jin laughed. Groans echoed above the victory music, followed by the clink of coins falling into her purse as she collected her friend’s winnings. Another round was suggested and a new challenger was already settling into the open seat, cracking their knuckles dramatically as the battle music started back up. Soo-jin cast a quick cantrip over the purse, checking the total, before nodding a quick farewell to the other students and following Nga toward the exit.

A group of students cheer over a magical projection showing two martial artists fighting

Art by Sandra Posada


The heavy scent of cheap tea and fried snacks gave way to the aroma of hot buns and saucy chicken. The sun was bright outside the basher arcade, the shouts of stall vendors replacing the cheers of students. Tired laborers grumbled about the lack of progress on the Surepath highway while young children ran past, yelling about spotting a sundaflora in the gardens. A girl from Soo-jin’s cram school waved politely from a shop known for its buns; Soo-jin awkwardly waved back, trying and failing to remember anything except that the girl had a duck as a familiar.

Nga and Soo-jin walked leisurely to their usual kopi-tiam, greeting Uncle Moon as the smell of coffee wafted toward them. Uncle Moon shouted a greeting back, merrily flipping hot taiyaki from a pan into a wax paper bag. Momo slept peacefully on the counter, purring with one small paw curled protectively over a copper piece.

“May I take your order?” a short tengu server asked as they sat down.

“Two taiyaki, one Xa Hoi coffee, and—” Soo-jin looked over the menu, and something newly added distracted her from her usual order “—one sparkle tea, please.” The server nodded and shuffled off, stopping to check on another customer. Soo-jin added the day’s total to a column in her notebook. “We’re so close, Nga. Just a few more silver pieces and we’re set!”

“I’m getting paid for tutoring on Moonday, so you can add that to our current amount.” Nga accepted the arriving tray from the server and took a leisurely sip of coffee. “You know, if you would take up tutoring—”

“I would rather let Mogaru eat me.” Soo-jin looked out the window. It hadn’t been that long since the giant monster’s attack, but she could scarcely see the water for all the bamboo scaffolding that had sprouted up in the aftermath. The city would be back, bigger than ever, in no time.

“Come on! Everyone wants a Willow Branch student to teach their kids, you’d make enough money for a concert ticket after a week.”

“You’re just as good as any twig,” Soo-jin scoffed, biting into her taiyaki and regretting it immediately as piping hot red bean paste scalded her mouth. She gasped, huffing desperately to try and cool down. Momo opened a judgmental eye from the counter. “You should try to test into another school.”

“As much as my parents would love for me to become a ‘twig,’ I’d rather be the best where I am than become average at a fancy academy.” Nga took a smug sip. “Unlike you, I’m in the top ten in my class.”

“Well, Miss Top Ten, keep up the good work and we’ll get our concert tickets in no time.”

Soo-jin’s eyes swept past Nga’s head to the wall of advertisements behind her, lingering on a poster announcing the upcoming Shining Crystal Muses concert in celebration of Harmonious Spring. Vivid ink paintings of the four Muses reached out to a prism floating above them, enchanted pigments creating tiny flecks of rainbow light that danced across the poster. Even in an ink portrait, Haru’s handsome face stood out, smiling coyly.

Goka had everything—peoples and food and buildings and magic from everywhere on the continent—but the one thing it had that Soo-jin cared about more than all of that was the Shining Crystal Muses. In only two weeks, she was going to meet Haru in person. It was a shame the concert hall wasn’t in its full splendor, as the authorities had foolishly deemed it lower priority for reconstruction.

What if that kaiju comes back? Soo-jin’s mother had fretted, but if Mogaru inconvenienced the city at the most important moment of her life, Soo-jin would personally put the kaiju down and no one could stop her. She smiled back at the poster, sipping her sparkle tea as worries of exams slipped out of her mind, and she focused on what really mattered: supporting her favorite band.

About the Author

Michelle Y. Kim (she/her) is a TTRPG writer and developer with a love for folklore and horror. You can find her at https://twitter.com/_missmyk_ or https://bsky.app/profile/missmyk.bsky.social.




Pathfinder Second Edition: Lost Omens Tian Xia World Guide Pathfinder Second Edition: Tian Xia Character Guide

To bring this and other Tian Xia stories to life in your Pathfinder game, check out the Pathfinder Lost Omens Tian Xia World Guide (releasing in April) and the Pathfinder Lost Omens Tian Xia Character Guide (releasing in August), both available for preorder now. Customers who Customers who subscribe to the Lost Omens product line will receive both books and a complimentary PDF of each upon their respective release!

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keftiu wrote:
Kittyburger wrote:
keftiu wrote:
Bluemagetim wrote:
My thought is more along the lines of something like calling an airship an airplane. Airplane takes me out of the fantasy where as airship keeps the fantasy vibes for me.
Why is a technology that was invented in the late 1800s more 'fantasy' than one invented in 1903? What does the distinction matter when this setting has irradiated cyborgs in one corner of it, too?

For me it's because airships, now, are "a more elegant [aircraft] for a more civilized age" while airplanes are the mildly inconvenient people-cans we stuff ourselves into for several hours to get to a business meeting.

Romanticism vs. familiarity and vaguely uncomfortable memories.

I'm forced to reckon with the fact that not everyone has flown on a blimp before. My childhood was weird!

May the age of (green) dirigibles and zeppelins return...such stately and beautiful craft.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
keftiu wrote:
CorvusMask wrote:

Eeeh, its fun story, but I still I do kinda question having arcade and equivalent of pop music bands in fantasy setting?

I mean, its one of those things that make setting feel like "modern setting with everything technological having magical equivalent instead" and not in the way like Final Fantasy where they have guns and wannabe super soldiers with buster swords co exist :'D

I do know there is audience for starbucks coffee jokes in D&D, but at same time its one of those things that kinda conflicts with high fantasy? Sure pathfinder is more of pulp fantasy, but still yeah.

(I do hate I'm being the grouch here this time x'D Story is fun and well written, but I'm conditioned by players to be cautious of humorous things breaking immersion)

The Inner Sea has nanomachine-filled androids living right next door to a bunch of illiterate Gothic villagers, but this is a bridge too far?

Alien spaceship crashing is different and much less familiar to real life experience, so don't misrepresent what I say, it hurts :(

Its not fun when people dismiss your opinions like they are ridiculous or don't matter


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CorvusMask wrote:

Alien spaceship crashing is different and much less familiar to real life experience, so don't misrepresent what I say, it hurts :(

Its not fun when people dismiss your opinions like they are ridiculous or don't matter

My intent was never to belittle, I'm just pointing to the anachronisms that have always been all over Golarion as a setting.

Getting away from Numeria as an example, there's the Land of the Mammoth Lords playing at Ice Age Neolithic living next door to the Sarkoris Scar, a place full of 1100s-style Crusader knights, or pastoral Zenj herdsmen just over the mountains from the rootin'-shootin' Weird West of Alkenstar. It's a planet full of theme park countries... so Goka's being "we're a more modern-style metropolis" isn't that jarring to me.

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Yeah, they are ridiculous, but they also don't really break the genre immersion. Its weird that stone age and knights co-exist, but neither of those is familiar to me. For lot of people fantasy is escape from familiarity.

Like its hard to tell where line is(to me its somewhere after tophats and early industrial factories, so trains and steamboats wouldn't necessarily be out of place to me as new inventions), but at some point Pathfinder might as well make their own version of d20 modern instead.

Silver Crusade

CorvusMask wrote:


(I do hate I'm being the grouch here this time x'D Story is fun and well written, but I'm conditioned by players to be cautious of humorous things breaking immersion)

You're not the only one.

This post has moved the Tian Xia books from my "will buy" list to my "may buy, have to look at it closely" list.

It is completely and totally what I do NOT want to see in my fantasy.

And yes, I completely realize that Golarion already has lots of anachronistic stuff. I tend to not like that very much either. I play in Golarion DESPITE a lot of non fantasy tropes, not because of them

Liberty's Edge

pauljathome wrote:
CorvusMask wrote:


(I do hate I'm being the grouch here this time x'D Story is fun and well written, but I'm conditioned by players to be cautious of humorous things breaking immersion)

You're not the only one.

This post has moved the Tian Xia books from my "will buy" list to my "may buy, have to look at it closely" list.

It is completely and totally what I do NOT want to see in my fantasy.

And yes, I completely realize that Golarion already has lots of anachronistic stuff. I tend to not like that very much either. I play in Golarion DESPITE a lot of non fantasy tropes, not because of them

I think the disconnect might come from this kind of modern-like take on Tian-Xia not appearing in the old books like Dragon Empires AFAICT.

But then Goka was not described with much detail there either.

I totally expect this take to be localized in places where it makes sense rather than be pervasive throughout the continent. I think most countries will have the same atmosphere they had previously except where it felt better to have some in-setting evolution / in-depth look that made them more interesting (say Bachuan and Amanandar for example).

Dark Archive

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To hop in on addressing the anachronistic cultural content, I just want everyone to be aware of a thing...

I'm the one who started it by mentioning there's an equivalent of K-pop boy bands and the entertainment management companies back during the Ruby Phoenix AP.

*Starts slap-fighting Shao* I will not let anyone else take this credit and responsibility from me!

Liberty's Edge

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Sen H.H.S. wrote:

To hop in on addressing the anachronistic cultural content, I just want everyone to be aware of a thing...

I'm the one who started it by mentioning there's an equivalent of K-pop boy bands and the entertainment management companies back during the Ruby Phoenix AP.

*Starts slap-fighting Shao* I will not let anyone else take this credit and responsibility from me!

Just to be clear, I was not counting the Ruby Phoenix AP as one of the old books I was mentioning above. I have not read it actually, because maybe I will play it one day.

Thanks to all Paizo writers for the great and varied things you give us.


7 people marked this as a favorite.
Sen H.H.S. wrote:

To hop in on addressing the anachronistic cultural content, I just want everyone to be aware of a thing...

I'm the one who started it by mentioning there's an equivalent of K-pop boy bands and the entertainment management companies back during the Ruby Phoenix AP.

*Starts slap-fighting Shao* I will not let anyone else take this credit and responsibility from me!

Yes, sorry, ow, Sen 姐, that is all yours, paiseh paiseh


5 people marked this as a favorite.

I understand that the world needs some places that are just plug-ordinary fantasy settings, and I even love those places in their own way (especially with Paizo twists like elves frkm another planet), but one of my favorite things is when a setting asks, "if magic is real and this common, why don't people use it?" - and create a setting where magic has logically fostered the development of things that we used technology to make. These things don't have to be an anarchronistic replica of modern technology, but with each day that goes by where I learn another historical thing that would feel 'anachronistic' to a modern audience, the more I learn to leave behind my assumptions and expect that people are people. There is room in the setting to contain a multitude of expression of humanity, so if Goka being a megacity doesn't appeal, surely there will be something to love in Shenmen or Minkai.


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That's what I've been trying to get at, really - if you want something more "traditional/classic/old-school" than Goka, it borders Lingshen and Quain, to say nothing of the rest of the continent. Tian Xia has room for lots of flavors of fantasy fun.

Grand Archive

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Pathfinder Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I think it's also fair to note that often, what we *think* is anachronistic for us is not for other people, depending on what your experiences are.
Like, for me this does not feel anachronistic at all, as I know the origins of the Japanese Idol culture mentality, and it come from old religious traditions... xD
And I wouldn't be surprised if I could find k-pop to have similar cultural roots if I looked into it. (China, Korea, and Japan have a long history of affecting each others, sometime in good ways, often in bad ways...)
So yeah. In my head, it all fit and make sense.


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I found the story a delightful, eye-opening example of the variety of stories that can be told on Golarion.

I'm not sure why there's a norm that Pathfinder stories have some timeline limit, and can't include anything later than the 19th century.  Stuff that was common more than a quarter of a century ago seems to me to be reasonable fodder for "fantasy" stories. Being able to include late 20th century events and artifacts seems less "anacronistic" and more "expansive" to me.

More than 40% of the world's population is under 25 years old. Being able to tell stories about things that were common before their birth seems reasonable in a fantasy setting.

Edited for coherence.


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Dancing Wind wrote:


More than 40% of the world's population is under 25 years old.

I couldn't help but read this as "You're going to need a waaaaay bigger lawn, and a multitude of shotguns." Too funny.

Personally, while my issue is that I definitely don't need "modern equivalencies" in fantasy I get that others don't mind it. And yes, from the fact that the illustration looks like a toonified photograph of models on a set to the fact that the piece really feels as if it was written originally "modern" and then "fantasied" makes the whole thing both....very well realised AND jarring at the same time.

But eventually I calmed down, appreciated the heartfelt notes from the author and decided that it just isn't my cup of kopi. Given the prevalence or...explosion really... of many sorts of RPGs covering everything from playing sentient teacups to killer gods and their godkillers, who am I to get up in arms about Goka-pop bands and arcade games. And again, this scene doesn't have to represent or even foreshadow characters people might play, but just a slice of life in a place characters might live, visit or be from.

Or, then again, you could run an entire campaign about a band of misfit ne-erdowells dodging their parents, pulling scams on games vendors over chump change and making meetcute plans all while secretly training to finally defeat Mogaru at the concert. Alongside their idols.


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Hello,

Just to remind everyone, I'm not the author of the flash fiction. That credit belongs to Michelle (the author credited at the end of the story), and my relevant work here is limited to the Goka section that is in the Tian Xia World Guide, which built on and expanded the existing work on Goka by Sen in Ruby Phoenix AP, and also on 1e legacy materials.

Setting it clear here because I feel it is disrespectful in my opinion to not get the author of this story right. I made the setting materials of "Alley Bashers" and introduced kopi-tiams, which were incorporated into the story, and Sen established there were popular male musicians in Goka in the Ruby Phoenix AP, but the work for this story, the vision, the labour, the dreams, all were done by Michelle.

You can praise or slam me for my decisions, but please don't ignore the work of my fellow writers. I know it might have been a mistake or oversight but I would like to course-correct here before it gets worse.

Thank you all for reading.

- 绍涵 / Shao Han


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Some folks are way too hung up on the word "arcade".

You can play as genuine robots that can transform like Autobots or Bastion from Overwatch, and yet, a table with dials and stick controls being called a step too far feels off to me.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
moondreamlake wrote:

Hello,

Just to remind everyone, I'm not the author of the flash fiction. That credit belongs to Michelle (the author credited at the end of the story), and my relevant work here is limited to the Goka section that is in the Tian Xia World Guide, which built on and expanded the existing work on Goka by Sen in Ruby Phoenix AP, and also on 1e legacy materials.

Setting it clear here because I feel it is disrespectful in my opinion to not get the author of this story right. I made the setting materials of "Alley Bashers" and introduced kopi-tiams, which were incorporated into the story, and Sen established there were popular male musicians in Goka in the Ruby Phoenix AP, but the work for this story, the vision, the labour, the dreams, all were done by Michelle.

You can praise or slam me for my decisions, but please don't ignore the work of my fellow writers. I know it might have been a mistake or oversight but I would like to course-correct here before it gets worse.

Thank you all for reading.

- 绍涵 / Shao Han

Apologies to Michelle. I liked the story as a story. It felt as I said, very well realised. And I definitely liked Shao's explanatory notes.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Thank you, I think somewhere along the line in the long posts, it became a bit mixed up about who wrote what. I appreciate your kind words and perspective, and hope you enjoy your kopi when you read the rest of Goka (and Tian Xia) soon!

Paizo Employee Senior Designer

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James here. This thread is getting away again and I’m asking that people refrain from further discussion of anachronism in fantasy, which are no longer really yielding productive conversation. If, and only if, some of the authors who’ve already posted here want to drop any last thoughts, they can, but I ask that you let them close the conversation on that aspect of the discussion.

As we’ve stated a few times, Tian Xia is an entire continent with at least 26 distinct regions, from which we have intentionally pulled both ancient and modern influences to represent the range of perspectives, tropes, and stories in Asian fiction and folklore. Given how diverse the Inner Sea Region is (sometimes anachronistically so—boy bands are older than some of the tropes in the Inner Sea, like Zon Kuthon), it’s only fair.

A word on the general tone of discussion here, though: It’s totally okay to just not vibe with a work of fiction for whatever reason (I just saw Dune 2! I thought it was beautiful and I’ve always liked the story, but the pacing of the movie threw me off!). It’s also totally okay to critique works in a public setting—we’re all professional creatives who make public work—as long as you do so respectfully and fairly. However, implying that the work must have been written or converted with AI when there’s no evidence to that point—indeed when some of the authors have been gracious enough to come in and detail their inspirations on their work—isn’t just across the line, it’s accusing them of being in violation of our policies.

The reason we have these comment threads is so people can interact with each other and share inspirations, stories from their games, tips for content, and the like, not be hitting refresh in back and forths, so I’d appreciate it if further discussion could go forward in this spirit. We have several more Tian Xia Days fictions, each very different in location and tone, to show off the breadth of fantasy coming in the book, so we hope there will be a bit of something for everyone! Personally, I love the sense of vibrant reconstruction everyone’s brought to this glimpse into Goka… and now I want taiyaki.

Mahalo,
James


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Apologies for the misattribution there <3


6 people marked this as a favorite.
keftiu wrote:
Apologies for the misattribution there <3

Apology accepted! Thank you!

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

This story feels like it could fully fit into Avatar: TLA without an issue. What else would youths use bending/magic for besides battle games like Beyblade?

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I hope nobody thought I was trying to criticize author (I didn't think I'd need to note it, but when I criticize stuff like genre immersion or etc, I'm addressing criticism to entire company because its never single author who makes executive decisions on how to present parts of settings.), but I do find it warming my heart that other writers popped up to note which parts they had come up with

I want to also restate that I liked the story as a story as well.


7 people marked this as a favorite.

Hello CorvusMask,

For what it's worth, I personally didn't think you were criticising anything - some of my players didn't really feel too hot on the "arcade" too when they read the story, and wondered if it would have been cooler with animated fighting puppets (like the Taiwanese Pili productions, perhaps most famously known in its expression as the Japanese-Taiwanese project "Thunderbolt Fantasy") instead of illusionary fighters, but when they "got" what I was going for, to talk about the tensions of effervescent Asian youth culture amidst stuffy Asian political culture, it clicked for them. (Also, I swear, the illusionary fighters for Alley Bashers have a tiny bit of 1e precedence, I swear they do.)

My players also did say too, that if they didn't have the same cultural resonances as I did, given our similar cultural backgrounds... They might not get the arcade, etc, so much. So I totally understand why you might not be the biggest fan of these story elements, and I also appreciate that you are still commenting and posting your thoughts; for me personally, I took no offence and felt no criticism whatsoever at your post, and thought it was an entirely valid expression of your subjective position and feelings.

I'm also glad you liked Michelle's story, and hope when Tian Xia World Guide comes out, you'll be interested to take a look at the other aspects of Goka (and the rest of the Tian Xia region)!!

- 绍涵/ Shao Han


10 people marked this as a favorite.

A fun fact about arcade games and Singapore; while most media representations of Singapore present us either as glitzy megapolis of wealth and glamour (I'm not going to name specific movies or whatever, but you might know what I'm talking about), or a gateway to Asia, authenticity and culture poised with modernity and convenience yada yada.

Easily digested messages and memetic flows that are curated as much by tourist businesses and authorities, very top-down stories packaged to fly around the world to draw investors and visitors.

However, we have a bit of our own subcultural underdog story, and that's about, of all things, Street Fighter. We have, despite our small population, managed to make an impact on the global Street Fighter scene due to the efforts and passions of Xian, a fighter who picks technically difficult and challenging characters to play. Xian is not a friend, but as part of the arcade "jianghu" (the Sinosphere loves using jianghu/ wuxia metaphors for everything), many would know of and respect his work. He has a humble background, he said in interviews he got good at arcade games by necessity so he could make the most out of every coin he threw into the machines, lived in a tiny public apartment with his family, and initially chased his dream, eventually with the help of fighting game communities both locally and internationally, and managed to make a big mark on the world, doing well in many tournaments.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_Kun_Xian

https://liquipedia.net/fighters/Xian

So in a way, while the inclusion of Alley Bashers isn't about Xian or the local fighting game community, I feel it is also in a way, a reminder of some degree of cultural pride for a small nation, an inspiration, perhaps to other Singaporean readers or players, kind of like a little bit of Singaporean culture that isn't glitzy or overly packaged heh.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this elicits a bit of curiousity about Singapore, too :)

- 绍涵 /Shao Han


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
James Case wrote:
The reason we have these comment threads is so people can interact with each other and share inspirations, stories from their games, tips for content, and the like, not be hitting refresh in back and forths, so I’d appreciate it if further discussion could go forward in this spirit. We have several more Tian Xia Days fictions, each very different in location and tone, to show off the breadth of fantasy coming in the book, so we hope there will be a bit of something for everyone!

Sure thing, James. :)


Now I want to see one of those games near to the basher arcade game offer an early concept of what the Starfinder setting will look like. Bonus points if it has a mix of prescient vision and some envisioned features that are obviously and hilariously wrong.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
UnArcaneElection wrote:

Now I want to see one of those games near to the basher arcade game offer an early concept of what the Starfinder setting will look like. Bonus points if it has a mix of prescient vision and some envisioned features that are obviously and hilariously wrong.

If this is what we have in the Pathfinder era, I can't even imagine what such a venue might contain in the Starfinder era.

I'd probably get it all wrong.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

If I wasn't already interested in purchasing this as funds permit, this story and others so far have helped cement that desire.

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