Paizo’s new role-playing franchise, the sci-fi fantasy setting Starfinder that mixes high-tech with swords and sorcery, takes a big step into the future this summer. A new event called Drift Crisis will drastically change the landscape of his entire universe. The product line includes a new sourcebook and a pair of elaborate Adventure Path campaigns, all complemented by a side storyline advancing the Starfinder Society’s curated play agenda. Polygon has an exclusive look at the year-long event, straight from the designers who helped bring it to life.
Science fiction is replete with many different interpretations of faster-than-light travel. In the Starfinder universe, true faster-than-light technology – Star Trek warp drives and Star Wars hyperdrives – exist, but they are extremely rare and expensive to maintain. Instead, the universe relies on an inexpensive form of interdimensional travel.
The ships first glide through an alternate dimension known as the Drift before translating back into the Material Plane. The Drift allows them to cover enormous distances without having to reach high speeds. It’s a bit like how space travel works in Warhammer 40,000, but there’s a catch. The drift was discovered by a powerful AI known as Triune. It is Triune who shared the secret of drift-based travel with the other sentient races of the Starfinder universe, and it is Triune who controls space and protects the drift so that travelers can find their way into safely through the stars.
The Drift Crisis begins when, without warning, Triune falls silent. The same goes for drift-based communication systems used to send messages across galaxies. At this instant, each spaceship traveling through the drift is violently ejected into the Material Plane. Entire fleets are lost among the stars, stranded with no possible hope of rescue or return. Some ships disappear entirely, their crews and passengers never heard from again. Worse still, those who attempt to enter the Drift again find that it is no longer a quiet, esoteric void, but a deadly maw from which escape is never guaranteed.
“I would say that on a scale of functionality where we are absolutely not [functional] and 10 if it works perfectly as expected, Drift Crisis brings it up to around four,” lead developer John Compton said. “Of course we have planes flying, but during the drift crisis the weather is really turbulent. Also, one of your four motors has stopped working. So you can probably get where you need to go, but there’s a much bigger question mark and a lot more people doubt whether or not to even try.
The uncertainty of the Drift journey causes incredible disruption throughout the Starfinder universe. A source book, called Starfinder Drift Crisis, will include 20 different detailed story seeds for Game Masters (GMs) to choose from to use in their homebrew campaigns. For example, at Absalom Station, a pan-galactic crucible and the largest city in the Starfinder galaxy, millions of refugees begin to pour in. GMs might choose to have their players clean up their old ghost levels, making them safe havens for the homeless. masses. Meanwhile, the reptilians Vesk are working on an alternate means of transportation, and players might be asked to brave the dangers of Drift to bring its best scientists back to the table to complete the project.
They are not finalized arcs with a beginning, middle and end. Instead, they’re detailed storylines, starting points for open-ended, player-driven adventures. It’s up to those around the table to make their own decisions about where the story goes, and Paizo won’t make it easy.
“A lot of Drift Crisis storylines really thrive on at least a hint of that moral ambiguity, because a lot of it doesn’t have a good answer at the time,” Compton said. “One of the benefits of not scripting every element of these adventures is that it leaves that point in the continuum up to the GM and the players to decide how [they] want to delve into some of the philosophical puzzles […] and how much [they] I just want to kick down the door and shoot some aliens. Either is fine.
In addition to Starfinder Drift Crisis, which will be available as a hardcover book or PDF, Paizo will also release two Adventure Paths – fully formed campaign arcs that will be released episodically. The first, titled Drift Crashers, kicks off in June and will take characters from level one to level seven. Across three 64-page modules, players will explore the Drift Crisis from within, traveling not only through the chaotic and dangerous dimension, but also time itself.
“It’s a part lost in spacea part quantum leapa part Cursorssaid Jason Keeley, Head of Development at Paizo.
Later, in October, the Drift Pirates Adventure Path will provide the canonical conclusion to Drift Crisis, taking characters from level seven through level 13. At the same time, the Starfinder Society curated play program will also stage its own side adventures that address similar events and themes.
Most interesting of all is the fact that Paizo makes the Drift Crisis narratively backward compatible. Starfinder Drift Crisis will include ways to include its dramatic events for every set of adventures previously released in the Starfinder catalog.
“It gives us the opportunity to show that our framework is not static, that it evolves, and that we can do so in a way that introduces meaningful changes without substantially invalidating any of the things we’ve written before,” said Compton. “People playing through this can have this comic book event-style situation where they can all be part of a big thing and feel like they’re part of the plot.”
The Drift Crisis is big enough, says Paizo, to leave enough room for everyone in the Starfinder community to feel like their characters made an impact.
“It’s a big thing for me,” Compton said. “Being able to make big things happen and have that reflected in our current surroundings, instead of saying ‘Somebody saved the world in this corner!’ No one ever talks about it again. I don’t like that kind of stuff, and Drift Crisis is a really different take on that. I’m excited about this.
The event will begin on May 25 with the release of Starfinder Drift Crisis. Expect the first path of adventure, Drift Crashersto start rolling out in June.