Thursday, November 9, 2017

Hyperlanes vs. Starfinder

I've been reading Hyperlanes lately, and also reading Starfinder, and I admit...I'm kind of torn.

Hyperlanes has the following pros:

  • Fantastic alien design system for players that gets unique results fast
  • Six core classes that appear diverse and interesting
  • Hardcore space opera SF thematics; you add magic if you want from D&D 5E, but it assumes nothing
  • The gambits are a interesting and effective way of having "spells" without having spells
  • A simple but effective chart/template mechanic for designing NPCs and foes quickly with a default balance mechanism

Hyperlanes cons so far:

  • As near as I can tell, there's very little escalating damage baked in to the game, but hit points keep accruing. This suggests higher level games will be long slogs of "get shot twenty times" events which has me nervous; 5E usually balances high HP at upper levels with high damage output.
  • Absence of any sort of psionic class without reskinning seems like an oversight
  • The weapons tables are pathetically small for a SF game, which relies on equipment and tech as a key feature (imo)
  • It doesn't appear to have any pending support forthcoming in the future

Contrast with Starfinder....

The Starfinder Pros:

  • A robust range of classes, pregenerated alien races, and some interesting mix-ups on the D20 mechanic with themes and archetypes baked in
  • A really extensive set of mechanics for equipment, ships and gear
  • A very nice monster manual (Alien Archive) that oozes with plot ideas
  • Plenty of support for your favorite sci-fi themed space fantasy game that aims for the veneer of "high tech" fantasy
  • One could conceivably use Spelljammer universe design principles with Starfinder and get away with it

The Starfinder Cons:

  • It's running on the Pathfinder 3.75 D20 system so YMMV
  • Why do starships have levels? Why does gear have levels? Why is this all mapped out in a manner which feels suspiciously like the gamey D&D 4E approach?
  • Thematically tied to the Pact Worlds setting in a manner which feels hard to easily separate the setting from
  • Aimed at high-tech space fantasy only; hard SF need not apply (in it's defense hard SF wouldn't be able to apply at Hyperlanes, either....but it could pretend more easily)

Decisions, decisions.

My group is largely leary of Pathfinder. I have two "hell yeahs" and a mess of "oh nos" to contend with. But if I run it, I think they will give Starfinder a shot. Hyperlanes has so much coolness going for it, though......but I predict a game lasting to level 5-6 before we start noticing that the only dude with escalating damage of note is the muscle. For me, I'm really tired of "high hit point" style games and even D&D 5E gets a bit annoying for it at times. Pathfinder handled it fine until about 10th level when everything started to get too big, too gonzo. 5E remains balanced consistently throughout, and it plays very well as a result....but I am concerned that maybe Hyperlanes' classes weren't thought through so carefully, and their escalating structure is missing as a result.* I'll need to play around with it a bit more, see if I can identify if there's something there I'm just missing.

But Starfinder...wooo! That Alien Archive alone makes me want to run this baby. Hmmmm.

(It doesn't help that I've been thinking seriously about returning to Pathfinder for a campaign again. Sigh)

*Example: most core 5E classes do one of the following: gain extra attacks on their attack action (fighter), gain damage increases for their special (rogue) gain level up bonuses (all casters with at-wills) or similar effects that have a net result of the class insuring that as you level up and foes get tougher, your ability to dish it out gets better. It makes lower CR foes easier to kill, and higher level foes aren't as devastating if you are able to concentrate fire. I'm just not seeing that in the Hyperlanes class structure for most of the options, even though HPs will go up, and creature templated damage goes up. 


  1. I'm surprised you dont design a game around the BX D&D books. Thief is a given for character with physical and training based skill slots that progress with experience. Charisma based Clerics are psionic fronts for more powerful psionic minds that rule the universe-turning undead is basically an aura of fear that targets increasing HD ranks.

    1. Well, one the one hand I agree...but the problem is that work has already been done, and very well: White Star and Stars Without Number are excellent go-to books for OSR SF gaming. Right now I happen to be in a weird mood for more crunch, though.

  2. I was excited about Starfinder, but after having the rules for a bit, I find it to be a bit too crunchy for my current gaming preferences/needs. I'd love to hear more about Hyperlanes. Your mention of fun alien generation rules is quite interesting to me!

    1. Yeah Hyperlanes is basically a toolkit for adding SF gaming to D&D 5E. The alien creation mechanic is to take two features and combine them to create a quick and functional alien is a cultural trait, the other is a species trait, resulting in things like "Aloof Cephalopod," or "Spiritual Arachnoid." A third option provides for a unique thing. The game offers 11 cultures and 11 physiologies to pick from, and 20 extra random traits, so you can get a lot of mileage out of this. It's great for the Star Wars/Guardians of the Galaxy style thematics Hyperlanes tries to emulate.