This first collection of NPCs clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons
So, the first thing you’ll notice when opening this collection of NPCs would be that we do not get just NPC/Alien Archive-ish entries – this book depicts fully fleshed out characters. The second thing you’ll note would be that the presentation of said characters deviates somewhat from what we’re accustomed to see in Starfinder.
Take Jad Vanta, the first example NPC: We have a small box that lists her as a level 1 CG themeless android envoy; below that, we have listings for KAC and EAC, speed, HP and SP, Resolve, BAB, initiative, ability scores (including ability score modifiers) and saves all in one box. Below this box, the melee and ranged sections are noted before we get a summary of special abilities, feats and then, a skill-table, which denotes class skills with a check mark, as well as the relevant bonuses in those skills. (Nut not ranks invested or the like); finally, below that, we have the equipment section, which differentiates between combat and non-combat gear. While this may, at first, look a bit uncommon – I won’t lie, it elicited the ole’ “That’s not how it’s formatted usually”-response, I quickly began to see the value in this. As this page also contains the full-color artwork of the respective character, we have a pretty simple and handy one-page pregen-sheet here.
Yep, that’d be the first important thing – the characters presented within this book do work as pregens. But beyond that, they also are presented as either villainous or heroic NPCs, i.e. as potential adversaries or allies for the PCs. Now, we all know how Starfinder treats PCs and NPCs differently, and this is represented in the statblocks to follow as well – each of the NPC-iterations presented within comes in 5 different iterations: One for CR 5, CR 8, CR 10, CR 14 and CR 20. These statblocks generally adhere to the presentation conventions of Starfinder, though they do go a tad bit further – they list, for example, the armor worn with all upgrades in the defense-section, which is generally something I welcome. They are, in a way, slightly more transparent than most Starfinder statblocks when it comes to how they were made. Indeed, this “go one step further” mentality is mirrored in the presentation of the NPCs and made me recall one of my favorite series from the PF1-days, namely “Faces of the Tarnished Souk.” How? Well, the NPCs doe come with a tactics section that notes how the NPCs will fight, when they’ll spend Resolve, and there even is an investigate behavior pattern noted.
Beyond that, each of the NPCs has something that made me smile, namely the conceit that these characters may have a bounty on their head – each of them comes with a one-page “Wanted”-style bounty poster, and notes appropriate credits for the bounties for the respective iterations. These “posters” are in so far immersive, as they note physical descriptions of potential crimes and even a “tap to accept”-button. It’s a small touch, but one that really put a smile on my face. This mentality also shows in the details. Let’s take Jad Vanta to exemplify one thing here, namely how consistent this booklet is regarding its details. You see, each NPC comes with a detailed background story, and Jad Vanta awoke to these words:
“Your name is Jad Vanta,” the message on the data pad read. “And I am sorry for what I leave behind.” (Italicized for the purpose of the review and to set apart the text.) Jad came to consciousness brutally damaged, and the previous personality of the body, Gaff Vanta, was indeed wanted for a whole array of terrible crimes. While the background story notes how Jad was cleared of the charges by her previous personality’s partner, Adele. However, the bounty hunter poster mentioned, this handout, is looking for GAFF, not Jad, noting the crimes of personality cloning and erasure of one Jad Vanta! Did a Jad Vanta previously exist? Is this a Jekyll & Hyde-ish story? It depends on how you read it! The guidance for NPC-use indeed mentions several such angles, though certainly not all of them! There are so many way to use this android, it’s pretty impressive – and all courtesy of the interaction between a handout and a clever, well-written story.
Speaking of which: “Carvad Station” as a hub of sorts features in the stories, which allows you potentially to contextualize the respective NPC – or, well, to integrate the material within into a similar station-like hub like Absalom.
This also provides means to potentially connect the characters to a shared baseline of experiences – and potentially, ideologies. Take the second character, Kass Florentine (NEVER “Kassandra” – always Kass!). The spacefarer mechanic – somewhat traumatized by the Carvad Station Massacre, a rather traumatic incident in the station’s history, she is per se a good-natured and kind person. On the other hand, in her villainous iteration, she may have a connection to aforementioned Adele Gunn, which paints a rather…interesting picture. In her antagonist iteration, one could call her an excellent saboteur and terrorist.
Hierarch Massat, the icon vesk mystic with the overlord connection, would be a good chance to note a peculiarity of the statblock formatting that I did not like in an otherwise rather impressively tight book: Italicizations for spells etc. are not really implemented in the concise manner that they should be. On the other hand, ability names that shouldn’t necessarily be italicized sometimes are; I don’t object to the choice of the latter, particularly when this enhances first-glance readability/text-scanning for viable information, but yeah – it’s something to bear in mind.
Claiming to be a chosen of the Visual God, he has a bit of an inquisitor to him – claiming to divulge secrets and unearthing hidden agendas, he actually delivers and thus, he could be considered to be a divinely inspired detective/snoop of sorts, crossed with the rare exception of being, well, a televangelist with integrity and honest belief. I know, a radical concept that pushed my sense of disbelief, but in the infinity of space, why not? Kidding aside, I like this concept very much, and I genuinely believe that running him as the evil celebrity preacher dude, while certainly efficient, is the more obvious and less interesting route here. The hierarach and the mechanic covered so far also exemplify one thing that I haven’t talked about before. Those tactics-break-downs I mentioned? For characters like them that become significantly more efficient and versatile over the levels, the respective statblocks all have their own tactics etc. sections. Kudos for, once more, going the extra mile!
Kiron Maas would be a xenoseeker operative of the ysoki race with the spy specialization, comes with a vocal modulator, and actually has connections to Kass, as well as to the previously mentioned Adele Gunn – the slowly unfolding tapestry of connections between these folks and their surprisingly well-crafted background sections makes the book a fun experience to read indeed. Now, I haven’t commented on that, but the integrity of the statblocks, at least in the instances where I checked them, is actually commendable, managing to squeeze character and interesting combinations out of SFRPG’s rather tightly-wound math, so yeah – kudos! Special abilities have been employed in a sensible unobtrusive way, and while I personally would have liked to see a couple of custom abilities for the higher level builds, considering the focus on pretty straight NPCs, the book does a pretty nice job of helping them stand apart from their brethren.
Not all components of the statblocks are perfect, but as a whole, this book does a pretty good job. One example of a minor snafu would be found with the final character herein, who would be Voque, a kasatha mercenary soldier with the blitz style: Initiative for the pregen is off by +1 – it should be +5 (+4 blitz, +1 Dex-mod), not +4. These are not dealbreakers, but yeah… That being said, the character, designated as a nihilist, is actually pretty interesting: Plagued by survivor’s guilt, she is a great example for a character who, for once, is a nihilist without being depicted as a straight up psychopath. Since this is a philosophical leaning very close to my heart, I considered this to be a rather refreshing authorial choice. The trauma and how compassionate it has been rendered here certainly makes Voque a character that I’d certainly contemplate playing.
So yeah, there you have it – a compelling roster of characters, with surprisingly deep stories – and a teaser that hints at future products, where more the station and the mysterious Adele Gunn will be revealed.
Editing can be considered to be very good on a formal level and a rules language level; for a small operation, it is quite impressive to see a book this refined, particularly one as crunch-intense as this. Formatting is a bit of a tricky question: If you can live with e.g. spells not being properly italicized and minor deviations, as well as the unique presentation style for the pregen-builds, then you could judge this as impressive; if you consider the latter, for example, to be a downside, then this aspect might put you off. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and we get high-quality full-color artworks for every NPC featured within; the inclusion of the “wanted”-poster-style bounty alerts are a big plus and really helped lighten up the crunchy book.
Author Jim Milligan and editor Paul Fields have delivered a rather impressive compilation of NPCs that deserve being called “characters” here; the builds themselves are well-executed as a whole (I certainly have seen plenty less interesting/refined ones), but for me, it was the little touches that made this stand apart. From the tactics to the bounty alerts, this pdf has all those neat flourishes that show that the team CARED. There is passion in these builds, and the stories and how they interact with the characters, the webs they weave, make them ultimately more than just a collection of numbers. This is all the more impressive, considering how they do not resort to easy differentiation methods. Now, this may not be a perfect supplement, but it is one that is worth getting if you’re looking for a cadre of unique and flavorful characters to add to your Starfinder game. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.
You can get these captivating, well-written characters here on OBS!