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Cindy Crushes Programming: Hosting a Starfinder RPG, an interview with Nicholas Vidmar

We’re kicking off the new year with a fresh installment of Cindy Crushes Programming. Today YA librarian Cindy Shutts interviews adult librarian Nicholas Vidmar. Together, the two of them host a successful Starfinder program at White Oak Library. Starfinder is a role playing game (rpg) similar to Dungeons and Dragons, but with a more science fiction setting.

Background: At the White Oak Library in Romeoville we have been running an RPG (Role-Playing Game) called Starfinder. I help run this program with Nicholas Vidmar who is an adult services librarian. He takes the role of GM (Game Master) and runs the game. I help out by making the connections with our teens and bringing them to the table and I also play during the game to help make sure we can finish a scenario. Nicolas plays a variety of RPG games. He paints his own figures. We are lucky to have him because he brings a lot of his own materials to make the game run smoothly. Starfinder is a great RPG game, if you have played Dungeons and Dragons and are looking for something new.  Nicholas calls it Guardians of the Galaxy D and D.  I interviewed Nicholas about Starfinder and how librarians can add it to their programming. 

Starfinder Interview:

How long have you been playing role playing games and what are some of your favorites?

Nicholas: I was introduced to TTRPGS (Tabletop Role Playing Game Systems) about 5 years ago. There was a struggle getting into it as I played my first game in (Dungeons &  Dragon v3.5) for two very rough sessions then did not touch the genre for 6 months before I got invited to a 5th edition game that died after 3 sessions. Then I started GMing to keep games alive and have been running weekly games since. I have the most time put into 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, but since Starfinder’s release two years ago it has rapidly become my favorite. Aside from these two I also play/run Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Dark Heresy, Zweihander, and the occasional game of Kobolds Ate My Baby.

What supplies do you need for a Starfinder program at your library? About how much does the program cost?

Nicholas: This can vary greatly. If you run absolute basics, you can have everything for up to 10 players for about $20 plus some printing costs. The basics consist of a set of 7 dice per player (d20, d12,d10,d10,d8,d6,d4), a character sheet (free online), writing implement, and the rule book. Pathfinder and Starfinder stand apart from many TTRPGS because the whole ruleset, not just basic rules, is available free online because of an open game license. If you were to buy the books, still something I would recommend, they each run between $40-$60. Though a one-time investment, this cost does make TTRPGS more cost prohibitive. To move up from basics, the next recommended items are a GM screen and a battle mat. The screen gives the GM quick reference and hides his/her notes and rolls from the players. A battle mat is a one inch grid set on the table to help players visualize combat. Starfinder is unusual in that it requires both a square and hex grid. The cheapest mat is a roll of wrapping paper, many have a grid printed on the back. Once you have a mat, then you can get into minis, the most expensive and superfluous part of the game. Most of these resources are good for many games, so there are no ongoing costs except new character sheets.

How long is set up and what does it entail?

Nicholas: So TTRPGS have two layers of set up: pre game, and at the table. Before the game: characters need to be made, the rules learned, and an adventure planned. How long these take depend on the division of labor and type of GM. Players can make their own characters, or leave it to the GM if they find the rules confusing. It takes about an hour to make a fully fleshed out and kitted supplied character. Pregenerated characters are also available for certain levels. For Starfinder there are about 50 pages of tactical rules and supplements on other aspects of the game. Having a general knowledge of this content is important to keep the game running, but you can also reference the rules midgame. Lastly there is the process of planning the adventure. This can be extremely meticulous if you need to know every possible outcome of potential player actions, or a non-existent step if the GM is comfortable winging it. Generally it is agreed that a middle ground of an adventure framework with flexibility to accommodate crazy player choices is the best option. At the table the GM needs to set up the battle mat and the resources they need to run the planned game. Printed out stat blocks, minis, dice, GM screen, etc. Players just show up and get out their character sheet, dice, and a mini if they have one. Usually this takes 15-20 minutes.

What types of storylines are in Starfinder?

Nicholas: Starfinder is a Science Fantasy setting so you have aliens, spaceships and laser weapons alongside Elves and magic. This allows for a huge variety of adventures. You can go from starship combat to raiding an ancient temple on a forgotten world, to navigating the servers of a corrupt corporation to bring them to light. I personally fancy the derelict space drift where something went wrong; a little mystery, and little horror, sometimes an ethical dilemma, and often some really abominable creatures. It can also be as light hearted as playing a bunch of friendly furballs trying to make sure their boss is safe, if that sounds fun go play Skittershot, a fantastic introductory adventure published by Paizo.

What is the difference between Starfinder and Dungeons and Dragons?

Nicholas: The setting is different. It is a different world in a different time. D&D is high/epic fantasy while Starfinder is science fantasy. Overlap does exist, 5th edition has aliens, looking at you Froghemoth, and Starfinder has fantasy races. Still the focus on technology is a significant difference. Classes and mechanics are even further apart. There are minor parallels like Envoy to Bard and Solider to Fighter, but otherwise classes are entirely apart. It is a preference of flavor here. Starfinder is more mechanically complex than 5th edition, more actions have rules supporting them. They are both still d20 systems and so have inescapable parallels, but how the numbers get modified varies. 5th edition uses rerolls while Starfinder uses numeric modifiers, yes that means more math.

How did they teens like Starfinder?

Nicholas: Many loved the setting and possible character concepts, like a psionic psychedelic space walrus named Phoomph Debloomp. There was a great deal of excitement over getting to fly a starship. The teens were split on the increased complexity. Some thought it was awesome to see so many factors making them powerful, but others felt limited because they could not roll to win. Not every system is for every player, but there is an RPG for everyone.

What is your favorite part of Starfinder?

Nicholas: The setting has me hooked, and starship combat is a treat.

What would you like librarians who are trying new RPG systems to know?

Nicholas: It is a front loaded endeavor; the prep work to start is heavy. This means that one off programs are a poor choice if you are running in house. If the program is recurring it is fantastic because the cost and effort drop to very minimal levels. Eventually, players can take up the reigns and the program can become self-sustaining. It can also buff circs as the rule books are easy recommendations coming off the game. I will also caution others of the Chaotic Stupid archetype that is rampant among new players. TTRPGS are cooperative, but often new players want to be evil for the sake of evil. This is very bad for the health of the table and can quickly kill the interest of other good players and then kill the program.

What are your final thoughts on Starfinder as a whole?

Nicholas: Starfinder is great for its fun guardians of the galaxy style, colorful setting, and mid-range mechanical depth. It may not be the best system to introduce players to TTRPGS due to this depth, but the crunch will appeal to some players. There are plenty of unique aspects to get hooked on while playing.

TTRPGS have an immense breadth and while Starfinder is my personal favorite, I will always say to look beyond and see what else is out there. There are so many iterations that it may take a bit to find one that resonates with you and your patrons.

See Also: So You Want to Play Dungeons and Dragons in Your Library

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