It all starts here! The first official Starfinder Society scenario, “Claim to Salvation” is different than most in that it takes the form of a so-called “Special.” It’s not one of the big multi-table “interactive specials” that some players might be familiar with from Pathfinder Society, but it is unusual for two reasons: first, everyone runs a 4th-level pre-generated Iconic character; and second, those characters aren’t members of the Starfinder Society but are actually mercenaries hired by the Society to undertake a mission that can’t be officially linked back to it. It’s perhaps a tad strange to launch an organized play program with a scenario that requires players to run 4th-level characters, but in practice it seemed to work out fine as the Iconic character sheets explain the abilities really well. I ran this for a table of four experienced Pathfinder players (using the four player alterations) and everyone had a good time. The only complaints I heard about the scenario specifically (as opposed to the system itself) was that it didn’t give a chance for some classes to shine and that there wasn’t anything in particular to do during starship travel. From my GM’s perspective, I thought it had a nice mix of role-playing and combat encounters and a solid plot that lends itself to some very intriguing possibilities in the season to come. It also contained a really well-done sort of “sub-story” adjacent to the main plot. There are some places where I would have appreciated some more originality in opponents or more detail (as described below), but on the whole I think Starfinder Society is off to a good start.
The premise of “Claim to Salvation” is that, in the wake of the Scoured Stars incident (which trapped 80% of the Society behind an impenetrable barrier), the new First Seeker has to find a major discovery to attract investors and keep the Society focussed. One such possibility is a strange moon called Salvation’s End that displays some signs of being artificially constructed. The Society has obtained exclusive rights to investigate Salvation’s End, but they’re not sure whether it’s worth a full-scale expedition. While they were trying to decide, a rogue group of claim-jumping treasure-seekers approached Salvation’s End only to find their ship destroyed—the lone known survivor was picked up in an escape pod and imprisoned. Now, the Society is ready to make a first approach to Salvation’s End, but they don’t want to make the same mistake the claim-jumpers did. But the prison where the lone survivor is held has refused access to the Society (it’s not perfectly clear why), so outsiders must be used: and this is where the PCs come in. As mercenaries hired by the Society and provided with a cover story, they’re charged with travelling to the prison, questioning the surviving claim-jumper, and then continuing on to Salvation’s End to report back whether it’s worthy of devoted exploration. All in all, it’s a good SF set-up to a story.
The scenario begins, like most scenarios do, with a mission briefing. The briefer is the head of the Society itself, First Seeker Luwazi Elsebo. The scenario includes a nice picture and some solid dialogue for Luwazi, as well as additional pieces of information to answer likely PC questions. It’s fairly unremarkable but does lead to the cool moment where Luwazi leads the PCs to a hangar and reveals the brand-new ship that is their’s for the mission. Since the scenario includes the possibility of a tour of the ship, it’s a natural moment for a GM to explain to players how starship combat roles work, give them the (much appreciated!) handout summaries of the roles, and get them to decide for themselves who will be filling what role.
The next section of the scenario is a role-playing encounter. The PCs land on Varos, a volcanic moon of the gas giant Bretheda, to visit the Sauna, a prison colony. In order to gain access to the imprisoned claim-jumper inside, they first have to negotiate access with the prison’s warden. The warden and the guards here are floating, telepathic, jellyfish-like aliens called barathu. There’s just enough background on the barathu and the strange, organic prison, for the GM, and it’s good for the players to see almost right from the bat that they need to bring in entirely different expectations from Pathfinder! My favourite part of running this encounter, and perhaps of the scenario altogether, was role-playing the warden. He’s described as “fawning” so I played this to the hilt, having him shamelessly flatter the PCs. The warden essentially needs to be bribed with some or all of the credits given to the characters by Luwazi for expenses, and once that’s done, they’re allowed to enter the prison yard to speak with Livewire, the survivor of the last approach to Salvation’s End.
Livewire is a good-hearted ysoki who regrets falling into a life skirting the law with the crew of the Archer (the ship that crashed). Before the last mission, she fell in love with a fellow crew member named Bago, and the two of them planned to leave the ship (and its domineering captain, Bago’s brother Borgor) behind to start an honest living once the Salvation’s End mission was done. The writing here is done quite well, because the GM knows, but the players almost certainly won’t yet gather, that Bago and Borgor are two different heads of the same ettin! This story thread comes back soon. In the meantime, in order to persuade Livewire to talk about what happened, they have to bribe her with 1,000 credits of “hygiene products.” This plot-thread is a bit odd and undeveloped, and I had to improvise a lot (from prison TV-shows) about how she needed something valuable to trade other prisoners in order to stay safe.
From this point, the PCs presumably get back on their borrowed ship and jump into the Drift towards Salvation’s End. The scenario tells us that 5d6 days pass, but the number of days doesn’t really matter at all since there’s not really much that can happen on the ship. Anyway, the instant the ship returns to normal space, it is set upon goblin junkers (primitive one-man space fighters made out of scrap). This is the first taste most players will have of starship combat, and it was probably wise to make sure the enemies were very little threat. The four-person party I was GMing for had to decide which role to leave empty, and that was the Science Officer. Because they couldn’t really scan to find out weapon arcs or shield weaknesses, the combat was a pretty straightforward affair, but I did appreciate the inclusion of a goblin-operated tractor beam that could immobilize the PCs’ vessel.
Assuming the PCs survive the battle (and they better!), they detect a strong, strange signal coming from a huge spire of scrapped ships. Landing nearby, they make their way into the hangar of a large transport ship to see several space goblins attempting to cut their way into the interior of the Archer, the crashed vessel operated by the claim-jumpers. The PCs are slightly outnumbered by the space goblins, but even with the presence of two “space goblin bullies” that are tougher than normal, I can’t see them posing any sort of threat: their laser pistols only do 1d4 or 1d6 damage and, remember, we’re talking about 4th level PCs here. The encounter map is well-done though, with fun terrain features like catwalks above and starship scrap all over.
After the battle, there’s a lot for the PCs to do. They can figure out how to gain entry themselves to the Archer, and discover inside audio logs that provide some further backstory on how it crashed and what was going on with the crew. They can repair a mainframe computer and hack into nearby terminals to gain access to things like lights, doors, and (potentially the most fun) gravity. It’s a good chance for any PC skilled in Computers or Engineering to shine (though there’s a very nasty trap here that will likely zap the PCs for far more damage than the goblins could inflict!). Last, there is a sealed door leading to what turns out to be an elevator that the PCs will need to take in order to get closer to the source of the mysterious signal they detected from orbit. If they paid really close attention to an earlier clue, they’ll figure out how to operate the elevator—otherwise, they’ll suffer a minor trap and may have to resort to trial-and-error in the form of Wisdom checks.
The elevator whisks the PCs to the final encounter of the scenario: a battle against BorgorBago. Borgor, the mean, malevolent head, has used charm monster on Bago, the gentle, kind head, but there’s some clever ways provided in the scenario to allow Bago to make another Will save to try to break free, in which case he’ll fight with Borgor for control of their shared body. BorgorBago is a much more dangerous threat than the goblins, as he can both cast a spell and make an attack every round (being an ettin), and some of his spells are “save-or-suck” like hold person. (The PCs in my group managed to take him down without any casualties, but the solarion almost dropped.) This was a clever encounter, as the PCs could have made use of their control over the computers to harass and disorient BorgorBago, and the role-playing opportunities between the two heads was great. He wasn’t just a standard, forgettable monster.
Finally, in an adjacent room, the PCs discover a mysterious hatch leading to a deep, artificial substructure of Salvation’s End. The scenario ends once they get the hatch open, which I understand from a season-long perspective but it plays out a bit abruptly within the scenario as most PCs are natural adventurers and want to see what the hatch leads to. But, in any event, it sets up things nicely for the future. In addition, if the PCs capture BorgorBago alive, they can commit to returning him to Absalom Station to face justice, in which case Bago will achieve his dream of having his consciousness downloaded into an android body (!), Borgor (now in full control of the ettin body) will be incarcerated, and Livewire will be released so she and Bago can be reunited. If you have a hardcore “just give us the XP and loot!” group of players, they might not care, but I thought it was well-done and very sweet. Perhaps we’ll encounter those crazy kids in love again in a future scenario?
I can report a few quibbles. Literally seconds after Luwazi tells the PCs how they can’t let *anyone* know they’re working with the Starfinder Society, she presents them with a new ship that contains “a stylized symbol of the Starfinder Society along its hull.” Much is made of how the Warden warns the PCs they can’t bring any weapons or contraband into the prison (and, indeed, the plot partially depends on them not having anything to give to Livewire), but there isn’t any information, not even Perception modifiers, for what sorts of searches or scans the guards do if the PCs (being cautious types and worried about getting shanked) decide to smuggle something in (Ysoki check pouches are natural temptations here). The “space goblin bullies” have “souped-up junklasers” that, on a natural 1, create a warp in the fabric of reality that summons another space goblin to their side—a whimsical, if not downright silly, effect that undermines the tone I hope these scenarios develop. Last, the DCs for a couple of checks don’t match up with what’s provided to do the same thing in the Core Rulebook. Really though, these are fairly minor points (more in the nature of nitpicks), that don’t substantially take away from the quality of the scenario.
In closing, I thought this was a strong, solid scenario. I don’t think it hits the height of storytelling that Starfinder can reach, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to provide an enjoyable first session for new players as it gives them a little taste of everything: role-playing with strange aliens, battles against goblins armed with laser guns, starship battles, mysterious planets, computer hacking, etc. With some of these conventions established, I’m looking forward to seeing how they can be sculpted into even more exciting directions in the future.