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Sandbox Adventures

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 130
Traditionally structured adventures, such as Starfinder Adventure Paths, guide player characters through a story that’s already been written. In these adventures, most of the twists and turns are already determined—even though the PCs might make meaningful choices that divert them from the story, they eventually return to the main plot.
There’s an alternative kind of RPG experience, however, that gives more agency to the players, encouraging them to decide what the adventure will be. In these games, the GM creates a “sandbox”—a large creative framework in which the players can go wherever they want and do whatever they wish—with the GM responding and reacting to their choices. As the GM, you can use the tools in the Galaxy Exploration Manual to create and run sandbox adventures, and this chapter goes into detail about this unique and rewarding challenge.
A good sandbox adventure requires an engaging setting with multiple compelling locations, characters, and threats that the PCs can decide as a group to explore. They might choose an unexpectedly difficult path, finding themselves face to face with enemies far beyond their ability, or perhaps an antagonist that was not so dangerous after all and could have been left alone. They could learn the secrets behind some of the mysteries they investigate, but others might go forever unanswered. This helps create a sense of unpredictability and mystery in a sandbox adventure, as the players have agency in shaping the narrative.
This chapter will guide you through the creation of an original sandbox setting for your Starfinder game. It also provides guidance on running campaigns and adventures within the setting.

Setting Design

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 133
When creating a sandbox setting in Starfinder, it’s important to take into account the game’s vast, interstellar scale. Starfinder assumes your player characters have a starship, and most starships have a Drift engine or other means of faster-than-light travel, which means any planet in the universe is just one Drift jump away. How does the GM prepare for a game session when players can go literally anywhere? In a universe of infinite choices, it’s important to help players avoid feeling overwhelmed by countless options.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you begin to create your own setting for sandbox play.
Limit player scope at the start. Initially limiting your setting to a handful of compelling details, such as a few interesting worlds or systems, not only makes it quicker and easier for you to prepare, but will also guide players with an initial course of action that’s easy to follow. You can expand on these options over time as the players become more experienced and the setting gains complexity.
Don’t fixate on fine details. While it’s exciting to detail every last aspect of your new sandbox setting—from starship factories, settlements, cultures and customs, all the way down to the last NPC—it’s more productive to focus on only those elements which you must have ready for the next session.
Focus on world-building rather than story-telling. Traditionally structured RPG adventures focus on the story of the player characters—everything in the setting is designed around their rise to power and glory as they overcome obstacles and challenges, with important milestones and the conclusion already defined before the game even starts. However, In a sandbox adventure the setting contains many independently moving parts. The PCs shape the story by interacting with these parts, making decisions, and dealing with the consequences. Focus on creating interesting situations for the PCs, instead of planning in advance where their adventures will take them.
Use the tools in the Galaxy Exploration Manual! This book contains extensive guidance and tools for generating new worlds, settlements, and the NPCs who inhabit those settlements. The Deck of Many Worlds and other Starfinder products supplement these tools. With these, you can quickly generate basic information that you can then expand upon.

Create The Pcs’ Home Base

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 133
So where do you start when you’re ready to begin building your settings? Start where the player characters start! They’re going to need some kind of home base, which allows you to restrict the sandbox to a manageable size. The following are some broad examples of some types of home bases.
Enormous Starship: The PCs’ base is a battleship, generation ship, or exploration cruiser that’s capable of Drift travel. The PCs might have their own personal craft, such as a fighter, shuttle, or exploration vessel, but the craft is usually not capable of Drift travel. After the PCs explore a solar system, the main starship can move on to a new location. With this option, your setting can include multiple star systems while still being manageable.
Settlement: The PCs live on a world that is the central focus of their adventures, and their central hub is a settlement on the world. They probably have a starship, and it may have a Drift engine, but most of their journeys away from their home world involve bringing back resources or investigating mysteries that directly affect their home planet.
Space Station: The PCs’ are based on a space station orbiting a celestial body or in deep space. Exploration can take place around the star system where the PCs are stationed, while starships visit the space station for trade, diplomacy, or something more nefarious. The PCs might have access to a Drift-capable starship that allows them to travel to distant worlds when necessary.
A home base should provide everything the PCs need at low level, such as shops or suppliers to hawk weapons and armor, a medical bay or hospital for when the PCs are injured, and workshops for PCs who need to rebuild a drone or craft a computer. There should be some kind of rumor mill—a place where the PCs can learn about new adventure opportunities. A rumor mill could be a cantina, a mercenary job board, an infosphere chat channel, someone’s conspiracy wall, or something else, as long as the PCs can readily access it. Its also likely to contain places of worship. Be sure to include representation for a couple of factions, such as a corporate office, arcane library, or smugglers’ den. The Settlement Toolbox on page 150 and the Starship Toolbox on page 152 help in creating settlements or starships to use as the PCs’ home base.
You don’t need to figure out every aspect of the home base before you start playing—just hash out details that might be immediately relevant. Start with a couple of key NPCs who are certain to interact with the player characters; the NPC Toolbox on page 148 provides resources for creating such NPCs. Give each of these NPCs a couple of simple, clearly identifiable traits that PCs will notice after just a few minutes of conversation.
Finally, you’ll need a map of the home base. You can create your map however you’d like, from drawing it by hand to creating it with a computer program. You can also consider adding multiple locations on the map that the PCs can detail as they explore their home base.

Expand Your Setting

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 133
The PCs might start at their home base, but their adventures will take them into the unknown. Now it’s time to flesh out what lies beyond. Surround the PCs’ home base with a handful of discrete locations, such as regions, planets, or universes, depending on the scope of your setting. If the PCs have a method of long distance travel, such as a starship, these locations don’t need to be nearby, they just have to stand out as worthy of exploration. It’s important to make these locations distinct from one another, as clearly identifiable attributes help the PCs make informed choices about which locations they’d like to visit. Consider varying the biomes of these locations to make them distinct, adjusting other attributes when the locations have similar biomes. For example, if you have two volcanic regions, one might have high magic and the other low magic. Some of these locations should be obviously and especially dangerous, and a few of them might even be out of reach, at least for low-level characters. Players often identify these hard-to-reach areas as goals—sites to explore when their characters are higher level and have access to more powerful abilities and gear, like teleportation or resistance to high radiation.
Add specific adventure locales inside the regions you have created. Each of these adventure locations should be a miniature sandbox nested within the larger sandbox that is your setting. Your adventure sites should vary in size and be clearly distinguishable from each other. For example, one might be the lair of a single creature, while another might be an abandoned mining complex that stretches for miles underground. The PCs could easily explore the lair in one play session, but the mining complex could take many such sessions to investigate. You can find more details on how to create sandbox adventure locations on page 136.
Depending on the home base you design, you might want to add some additional safe spots in your setting, such as settlements or hideouts outside of your PC’s home base, where they can rest and prepare. These safe spots allow the PCs to explore locations far away from their home base. You can use the NPC Toolbox on page 148 and the Settlement Toolbox on page 150 to generate details for these safe spots and some of the NPCs who live there. These safe spots should contrast with the PCs’ home base; change their cultural attributes and spotlight new species, factions, and deities to make them feel distinct. Note that these safe spots aren’t necessary if the PCs have means to easily return to their home base whenever they want, such as a starship.

Add Secrets To The Setting

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 134
As you add details to your setting, give each important NPC, location, or object a secret, such as a hidden motivation or history. These secrets serve as adventure hooks that help you add detail to your setting at a manageable pace. To make sure that the PCs can discover these secrets, place clues pointing to them throughout your setting. One clue in every important location is a good place to start. As your players adventure in the setting you’ve created, they can stumble across these clues. Some of those clues, and hopefully they will capture their attention. By following the breadcrumbs, the PCs can build their own story out of the setting you’ve created for them.

Modify Existing Material

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 134
Rather than creating all of your settings’ inhabitants, worlds, and settlements from scratch, you can save time by modifying existing creatures and locations from Starfinder products, modifying names and elements to fit your setting. If your setting calls for a large space station, for example, you could use Absalom Station or Conqueror’s Forge (Starfinder Near Space 62) as a base. Akiton makes an excellent Mars-like desert planet, and Bretheda could be a gas giant. Between Starfinder Pact Worlds, Near Space, and the Codex of Worlds entries found in each Starfinder Adventure Path volume, you have over a hundred worlds that you can modify to fit your setting. Similarly, you can use creatures from Alien Archive volumes and the Alien Archives entries found in each Starfinder Adventure Path volume, changing any details you think appropriate. For example, you could change drow to instead be humans who have been genetically modified to flourish in low-light environments.

Example: The Alqet Setting

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 134
To illustrate the process described in this chapter, here’s an example of a GM, Joan, creating a sandbox setting, which she names Alqet.
First, Joan needs a home base. Looking over the list of common choices, Joan decides the PCs live on an enormous starship with an important mission in the Alqet star system. The PCs’ personal starship isn’t capable of Drift travel, but they might be able to persuade the authorities in charge of the home starship to give them a lift to another star system they wish to visit. This also allows Joan to occasionally strand the PCs on a planet in the Alqet system while their home-base starship is away on another mission. She creates two NPCs for the home base. She decides the base is staffed primarily by spacefaring ecologists similar to the Xenowardens. Commander Laurel O’Brien is the stoic and veteran captain of the vessel, known for always wearing her regulation uniform, complete with cravat. Evan McConnacht is an engineer on the ship who hosts weekly poker games below decks and who seems to know everyone. The poker game is Joan’s first rumor mill—a place where PCs can learn about interesting adventures. Important NPCs should always have a secret, so Joan decides Commander O’Brien is hosting an increasingly aggressive symbiote; she’s kept this fact from everyone but has begun to lose control to the alien creature inside her. Evan’s father was a wanted criminal who disappeared in the Alqet system 20 years ago, and now Evan is desperately (but secretly) seeking any trace of him.
Joan creates 10 planets for the Alqet system and uses the Building Worlds section in this book (starting on page 46) and corresponding tables to create half of them. She generates a ringed gas giant she names Alqet II, a space station called Morpheus Station that orbits Alqet II, and three terrestrial worlds with differing biomes. She decides that Alqet IV has a toxic atmosphere. Alqet V is wet with aquatic, arboreal, and marsh biomes. Alqet VI is dry with desert, mountain, and plains biomes. She also determines that each has a secret. Alqet IV was once home to a civilization that severely polluted the planet, resulting in the toxic atmosphere and the species’ own extinction. Alqet V has naturally occurring magical seaweed that can extend life, regenerate wounds, and boost magical power. Alqet VI is a holy site for the Dominion of the Black, who believe one of their ancient and terrible gods is buried here. The rest of the planets appear to be uninteresting balls of rock, ice, or gas; Joan can fill in details for these planets when the PCs have explored for a while and need fresh places to adventure.
Joan is off to a good start, but there’s much more to do!

Science And Fantasy In Your Setting

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 135
Starfinder is a science fantasy game, and that genre immediately points you in two different genres to draw inspiration from. Science programs, websites, books, and podcasts will not only inspire ideas for creating your own setting but provide examples of worldbuilding useful to helping you understand what you want your setting to be. Real-world science is a great resource that you can dip into in when you want, but you don’t have to completely understand the science you wish to use as inspiration for your setting. A little real-world science introduced into your game goes a long way toward making your setting feel believable and creating a sense of wonder in your players.
Most Starfinder games have fantastic elements, including magic; the setting blends both technology and magic, though most routine goods and services might be provided by technology. Magic isn’t always as prominent as technology in Starfinder—you and the other players can decide together whether the PCs sail between worlds on a magic space galleon, and whether they use personal comm units to communicate, or spells, crystal balls, or well-trained ravens. See High Science Fantasy on page 141 for tips about running that kind of setting. Feel free to vary the amount of fantasy in your setting as you see fit. However, be wary of cutting it completely—many classes and items—such as weapon fusions—are magical, and if you eliminate all magic from your setting, you’ll need to either remove those options or find new explanations for them. As you flesh out your campaign, you can incorporate fantasy elements into your setting to give locations strange, mysterious, and unusual features to entice players.
The most extreme example of using science or fantasy is the inclusion of big, obvious, and perhaps inexplicable phenomena that entice your PCs to investigate them. In Starfinder’s setting, the Gap is a example of such a phenomenon—players are frequently curious about the Gap and pursue any hint of an adventure that illuminates either what caused it or what might have transpired during it. Consider adding similar big mysteries to your setting. These mysteries can be based in science or fantasy— whatever you and your players find interesting. For example, the galaxy might be peppered with gates that allow instantaneous teleportation from one world to another, no matter how far apart; no one knows who built these gates, but the interstellar economy is now totally reliant on them. There might be a region of space from which starships never return, and no one knows why this is. Stars across the galaxy might slowly be going out for reasons unknown; now, every settlement is storing resources and exploring desperate schemes to survive in the event that their own star burns out. You might know the secret to the mystery already, but it’s perfectly all right if you don’t yet—a good idea will come to you eventually, and much of the fun of exploring mysteries in campaigns is that you and your players can explore it together.

Example: Back to Alqet

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 135
It’s time to add adventure locations to the worlds in the Alqet system. When Joan used the Building Worlds section of this book (page 46) to generate the worlds in the Alqet system, she got Aeon Guards and bone troopers as antagonists. She expands on this, deciding that two evil interstellar powers are warring over the Alqet system. The Necrotocracy of Brin is an evil society of high-tech necromancers (known as “techromancers”) who rely on undead foot soldiers, while the Interstellarium is a fascist state that combines magic and high technology. Joan can use Corpse Fleet NPCs and starships for the Necrotocracy and Azlanti Star Empire soldiers and starships for the Interstellarium, changing any details necessary to fit her setting as it evolves and to keep the players guessing. Each of these groups have multiple bases in Alqet, some as small as a listening post with only a couple of personnel, while other bases are large, easily detectable, and well-entrenched. She adds additional adventure locales, such as a ruined starship floating in the gas giant’s icy rings and a high-magic zone on Alqet II smothered in abnormally high radiation—something the PCs will easily be able to detect from space but unable to investigate until they reach higher level.
The space station around Alqet II is a likely candidate for an additional safe spot where the PCs might go to rest, shop, and conduct downtime activities. Prompted by setting material she read, Joan makes Morpheus Station a research facility where the floating jellyfish-like barathus study Dreamers who dwell in the swirling atmosphere of the gas giant below; the biotech available at the station won’t be available anywhere else. She adds some clues that point the PCs to the secrets she’s created: an abandoned campsite on Alqet V where Evan’s father briefly lived, and a barathu scientist trying a radical, experimental treatment for the commander’s symbiote.
Joan then decides to add another magical and fantastical element to the Alqet setting, perhaps some resource that has lured the Necrotocracy and Interstellarium to Alqet in the first place. Most star systems in the real world are surrounded by Oort clouds, vast swarms of icy particles where comets originate. Joan uses Oort clouds as an inspiration for Alqet. The icy proto-comets in its cloud are composed of an unusual element that, when exposed to the magical heat of Alqet’s unique sun, turn into materials usable in hybrid batteries that an advanced civilization can use to fuel anything from artifacts to starships. Interstellar powers war over Alqet as they try to catch the comets spiraling around the sun.

Campaign Design

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 136
Often a GM creates their setting with a specific campaign in mind; perhaps the GM has decided the PCs are members of an interstellar organization devoted to science and peacekeeping that travels the galaxy discovering new planets, and so the GM tailors the setting to fit that premise. But the mark of a good setting is the ability to support more than one campaign, and many GMs find it rewarding to set all their campaigns in a single setting that expands as each campaign ends and the next begins.
Many Starfinder adventures can be labeled as space opera: they place the heroes at the center of a grandiose story with galactic stakes. Such campaigns require the GM to plan much of the campaign in advance— there are prophecies for the PCs to fulfill, dark lord antagonists to always escape the PCs until a final conclusion, and heroic sacrifices to make. They are stories for the PCs to participate in, not settings for the PCs to explore.
That said, some campaigns are more suited to the sandbox play style than others. Fortunately, many staple subgenres of science fiction and fantasy make excellent sandbox campaigns. (Many subgenres especially well-suited to sandbox play are detailed starting on page 140.) A starship of soldier scientists who take an expedition to a new planet every week makes a fine sandbox game, and they can make informed choices at each destination. In fact, any campaign that features a group of people traveling together can make excellent use of your sandbox setting. The PCs might be any of the following.
  • Bounty hunters tracking down fugitives on the run.
  • Mercenaries seeking contracts on the edge of known space.
  • Journalists in search of the next big story.
  • Archaeologists exploring the ruins of long-dead cultures.
  • Merchants and traders looking to buy low and sell high.
  • Freedom fighters on the run from a tyrannical star empire.
  • Band members trying to book gigs and make the big time.

Regardless of the type of sandbox, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the numerous possibilities available to players in a science fantasy setting. If the PCs are sent to explore a region with dozens of worlds, you don’t need to prepare all of those worlds before the campaign starts. Instead, you can nest some adventure locales and other parts of the setting into other parts, or gate them behind knowledge the PCs don’t have yet. In a sense, you are creating multiple sandboxes, each of manageable size. As the PCs move through one sandbox, they find clues necessary to open the next. See the example setting, Alqet, throughout this chapter for one illustration of what such a series of nested play areas might look like.
Having players participate in sandbox development can be a tremendous boon. If your players suddenly decide to travel to a planet you have yet to expand upon, enlist their help! You and your players can use the tools presented in this book to quickly generate that unexplored planet, learning some of its residents and threats, its cultural attributes, and more. This is true of everything in your setting, not just worlds: most groups have players who will gladly help you create settlements, NPCs, aliens, and treasure (especially treasure) if you ask.
Finally, don’t hesitate to simply ask the players at the end of a gaming session where they intend to go next; they’re usually more than happy to tell you where they intend to go and what they intend to do so you can prepare accordingly. This gives you opportunity to prepare their next adventure location between gaming sessions.
One of the hallmarks of a sandbox game is travel. Your PCs will often be moving from one world or region to another, and while you can often gloss over travel time, the relative frequency of this travel can nevertheless pose some unique challenges. You can make that travel time feel more meaningful by encouraging the players to use the downtime rules from Starfinder Character Operations Manual to pursue long term projects and track their day-to-day experiences while traveling aboard ship. The Drift Encounters Toolbox on page 146 includes a list of encounters for starships in the Drift, which helps to make journeys more memorable while also potentially reinforcing the idea that traveling though the Drift gets exponentially more hazardous as the journey goes on. You can also look for ways to bring the adventure to the PCs; perhaps the PCs brought something dangerous aboard, they have a stowaway, or a passenger has a secret agenda.

Npcs In Sandbox Campaigns

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 136
Because the PCs are frequently on the move in sandbox adventures, it can be difficult to build a strong supporting cast. Every planet, region, or adventure locale has its own NPCs whom the PCs might only barely get to know before they’ve once again moved on. You have multiple ways to help build your setting’s supporting cast.
First, remember your home base. PCs in Starfinder regularly need to return to some kind of settlement where they can sell loot, upgrade their weapons and armor, and learn of new adventure sites to explore. You can create NPCs who initially simply offer these services and then gain additional connections to the PCs as the campaign proceeds. The shopkeeper who sells the soldier a new plasma rifle might be a veteran from past wars who needs a favor, or the sapient robot bartender who serves the PCs drinks might be on the run from a megacorporation that considers them to be property. Most home bases have an authority figure who quickly connects with the PCs and becomes one of the most important NPCs in your setting.
Recurring NPC factions and organizations can provide continuity across locations, even as their member NPCs come and go. A rival captain from another planet’s military might appear only once, but they’re just the temporary face of an evil empire represented by different enemies over the course of the campaign. Corporations, religious institutions, and schools all make excellent factions that can be represented by many different individuals on different worlds.
It’s important to remain flexible with your NPCs. Start by giving each NPC a distinguishing trait (see the NPC Toolbox on page 148); roleplay them the best you can on the PCs’ initial interaction with that NPC; pay attention to which NPCs the players engage with most, and then develop those NPCs in more detail.

Deeper Secrets

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 137
In designing your setting, you’ve thought about the secrets of every important NPC, location, and object (page 134). Secrets are key to making your campaign come to life and feel like more than just a string of unrelated adventure locations. As the PCs travel from one region to the next, build relationships with NPCs at their home base and elsewhere, and investigate the world, they’ll uncover clues to these mysteries. As with NPCs, you really can’t predict ahead of time which clues the PCs will find compelling, but eventually your PCs will smell a mystery and begin a concentrated effort to unravel it—when they do, that’s when you really have a campaign. Each secret leads to more clues which leads to more secrets. Inevitably, the PCs will overlook clues, forget about them or lose interest in them. Other clues will reveal secrets simply too dangerous for the PCs at their current level. But as the PCs gain in power and ability, they will return to those secrets and pursue them again, slowly creating a story for themselves out of the sandbox you made for them.

Example: Alqet Campaigns

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 137
When Joan made the PCs’ home base an enormous starship with a mission in Alqet, she had initially assumed the PCs would be “assigned” to Alqet by commanding officers. But on reflection, Joan realizes this premise doesn’t necessarily give the PCs much latitude when it comes to deciding where they go and what they do. After all, their superior officers are right there on the starship, and would presumably be giving orders. She retools the campaign, making the PCs an archaeological research team. Now, as their own bosses, they can more easily explore any planet they want. They’re still brought to the system by an enormous starship, and they have quarters there if they want to use them, but Commander O’Brien doesn’t actually have any authority over them.
Of course, archaeological teams will want ruins to explore. Probably every world in the system should have at least one; this is an opportunity to create nested sandboxes that save Joan some initial preparation work. One way to plan out such a series of linked sites is with a simple map or diagram. Such a diagram is shown above, with arrows indicated how one adventure site leads to others.
She begins with a big archaeological site on Alqet V that the PCs can approach in multiple ways, preserving that sandbox feel. Clues in these ruins will reveal additional sites on Alqet IV, Alqet VI, and the moons of Alqet II, while clues there will direct the PCs to some of the other planets in the system that initially appeared uninteresting. When the PCs discover these clues, they can decide which of these sites they want to explore, and then Joan can prepare them.

Adventure And Encounter Design

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 138
Sandbox adventures differ from traditionally structured adventures, such as Adventure Paths, in that the settings are open rather than structured, they reward improvisation and creativity in different ways, and the emphasis is on verisimilitude instead of narrative.
Ultimately, the sandbox is a site, not a story. It should have multiple means of entry and progression so the PCs can decide for themselves how they want to enter and work their way through it. To make these decisions, the PCs need information, so they should be able to acquire it within your setting—perhaps by observing a site, researching it on the infosphere, or simply asking their contacts. If the PCs discover three doors within a set of alien ruins, the choice between them is significant only if there’s some way to differentiate the doors from one another. If they know one door has an evocation aura, one door is filled with a nanite mist, and the last shows signs of a large carnivore sleeping beyond, your PCs can now make a meaningful choice based on their own preferences and strengths. Similarly, the interior of the site should have multiple paths, and it should be possible for the PCs to withdraw from the site completely and come back later. One of the hallmarks of a sandbox is that the PCs can explore it over multiple sessions, so they can explore, retreat to their home base, and return to explore some time—perhaps even a long time—later.
As a GM, you have a unique opportunity in sandbox adventures: you get to create problems and let the players find workable solutions! In other words, don’t decide ahead of time that there’s only one way to bypass a given obstacle. Instead, give the players enough details about the obstacle for them to come up with creative solutions. Then, allow those solutions to have at least a chance of success (if they are reasonable and move the story forward). For this type of encounter to be successful, you need to be open-minded. Sure, that defrex guarding a siccatite mine is probably violent and hostile, and the PCs will likely fight it, but perhaps they can find a way to sneak around it, lure it off, or even befriend it—after all, it’s an animal and that means the xenodruid mystic can talk to it. Your preparation will include some thought into the various approaches the PCs might take, but you don’t need to overthink it. Let the PCs surprise you. While this is true even in prewritten adventures, it becomes much more common and relevant in open-ended adventures.
The Core Rulebook describes how to create encounters that are an appropriate challenge for your PCs, but in a sandbox adventure, the PCs might encounter threats far above or below their ability. This realism makes the adventure feel more alive and adds a sense of unpredictability to the campaign. It’s important to signpost especially deadly encounters so the PCs can choose whether to go forward or withdraw. After all, if 3rd-level PCs don’t know they’re walking into the lair of a CR 14 deh-nolo, or even just that something especially dangerous is down a particular tunnel, they’re not to blame when all the whole party is killed. But if the PCs have heard rumors of corpses found in this area with their brains missing, they have a lead they can pursue to gain an idea of what they’re in for.
Random encounter tables can be useful in sandbox games. A good random encounter table reinforces the themes of the adventure site, contributes to in-world verisimilitude, and can even reveal clues the PCs would otherwise miss. Most of the encounters on such a table will be hostile, but others might be neutral observers or even potential allies. This book includes many tools to help you create these tables, particularly the inhabitant and adventure hook tables in Chapter 2’s biome and cultural attribute sections. See Example: Alqet Encounters below for an example of an encounter table.
Above all, your adventure should challenge both the players and their characters. The PCs should have to use all their best abilities both in and out of combat to be successful, and the players should be rewarded for clever tactics, preparation, creativity, and excellent roleplaying. Let the players call the shots while you throw obstacles their way. As with any adventure, when your players solve or simply avoid one of your encounters through means you didn’t anticipate, such as the use of an ability, don’t be tempted penalize them or block the use of their ability. Instead, congratulate them on their ingenuity and let them enjoy the victory! After all, there’s a lot more to explore, and you have many more difficult challenges in store for them.

Example: Alqet Adventures

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 138
Joan’s players will make a team of archaeologists for their characters, but that leaves a lot of latitude for individual concepts. They might be technical support, security guards, field agents, or mystics looking for traces of ancient alien gods. There’s a large ruin on Alqet V, which the PCs know about before the campaign begins. With a little investigation—and a poker game with Evan—the PCs can learn of traces of life on the toxic Alqet IV and a ruined starship in the rings of Alqet II. Each of these is a smaller sandbox adventure site nested inside the larger sandbox that is the Alqet system. The PCs are unlikely to investigate some of the other adventure sites in the system initially, either because they don’t know about them yet (the other planets in the system) or because the sites are too dangerous (the high-magic zone on Alqet II).
Joan begins with the big site on Alqet V, which she decides is in a swamp and includes nine crumbling pyramidlike structures. These buildings correspond to the nine planets in the system, and each building will have clues pointing to ruins on each corresponding world. Because the pyramids are in the open, half sunk into the marsh, the PCs can investigate them in any order and withdraw when they want to. But Joan knows some of the pyramids are more dangerous than others. She puts a shadowy cloud of necromantic energy around one of them to indicate it’s been taken over by a Necrotocracy team, buries a few pyramids deep into the marsh, and surrounds another pyramid with Interstellarium gun emplacements. PCs are more likely to explore easy sites before hard ones, and if some of the pyramids are difficult to get to, the PCs will most likely put off exploring them till later, at which time Joan can prepare them fully.
This still gives the PCs several pyramids to choose from, however, so Joan prepares a basic map she can show the players and gives the remaining pyramids distinguishing features. She’s decided one of the PCs will win this map in one of Evan’s poker games; with it, the PCs can decide which of the pyramids they intend to explore in their next session, and Joan can focus her efforts on developing the site they choose.

Example: Alqet Encounters

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 139
Joan is making a random encounter table for the pyramids on Alqet V; she expects the PCs to first come here when they are 1st or 2nd level. She wants to include encounters that point the PCs toward threats elsewhere in the system, encounters the PCs can avoid, and some they would wisely flee.
1 2 squoxes, hunting for food to bring home to their young. They avoid the PCs unless somehow communicated with. (Indifferent) 1/2 Alien Archive 2 118
2 1d3 anacite wingbots, conducting maintenance on the facility. They ignore the PCs unless interacted with. (Unfriendly) 1 Alien Archive 11
3 1 assembly ooze that went rogue. (Hostile) 1 Alien Archive 16
4 2 barathu scientists, who came here exploring but are now lost and terrified. They are noncombatants and flee or cower in fear. If the PCs get them out of the facility, they have a shuttle nearby and invite the PCs to Morpheus Station. (Indifferent) 1 None
5 1d6 mutated worms, products of strange magical energy in the ruins. (Unfriendly) 2 Use asteroid louse, Alien Archive 2 132
6 1 medium earth elemental, left behind as a guardian by whoever built these ruins. (Hostile) 3 Alien Archive 46
7 1 Interstellarium soldier, the last survivor of her squad, now just trying to get out alive. Though lawful evil, she will work with the PCs if they agree to help her get back to the Interstellarium pyramid. (Indifferent) 3 Use Aeon Guard, Alien Archive 6
8 1 Necrotocracy techromancer looking for lost technology. Flees the PCs and attempts to reunite with his ghoul minions, below, before hunting down the PCs. (Unfriendly) CR 3 Use bone trooper technomancer, Alien Archive 2 22
9 1d3 ghouls, servants of the techromancer, scouting for objects of interest and corpses to eat. (Hostile) CR 3 Alien Archive 2 60
10 1d6 cocooned akatas. If moved, a cocoon has a 25% chance to break open and an akata emerges. (Hostile) CR 4 Alien Archive 2 8


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 140
Science fiction comes in many variations and categories; the subgenres discussed here all make great use of the sandbox nature of this book. They change the default cultural attributes (page 47) of a Starfinder campaign and often involve travel to many locations in varied environments. Many feature protagonists with agency, who decide for themselves where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do, while others send their protagonists on a wild ride through time, space, or the multiverse.


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 140
Related Media: Mirrorshades (anthology), The Matrix (film), Person of Interest (TV series), Robocop (film)
This genre involves urban decay and hacker protagonists battling soulless corporations in gritty, post-futuristic urban settings. Information is all-powerful, assassins lurk around every corner, and characters escape their decaying reality by entering a digital universe which, despite being virtual, is still deadly. But underneath the surface, cyberpunk is more than just dark and gritty science fiction—it’s a counterpoint to classic science fiction dreams of a post-scarcity technotopia. Cyberpunk settings recognize that, if the future is supposed to be an improvement on the world we’re in now, some people (namely, the privileged, rich, and famous) are going to get to enjoy that future more often, faster, and easier than others.
Urban biomes are common settings in cyberpunk, though that doesn’t mean the heroes won’t find themselves adventuring in some eccentric billionaire’s mountaintop villa or orbital mansion. In a traditional cyberpunk setting, technology can be high, though often inaccessible to ordinary people. Magic can be low or nonexistent, but the genre often crosses over with urban fantasy, which includes spellcasters and fantasy creatures on city streets. Competing corporations, not governments, run everything and accord is low. The PCs probably approach the game world as chaotic antiheroes, surrounded by lawful evil tech billionaires and megacorporations. Mechanics—and technomancers, if your setting has medium or high magic—hold the keys to the digital realm and are in high demand. Biohackers install cybernetic and biotech augmentations and push the edges of medical science. Megacorps and failing nation-states hire mercenary soldiers and assassin operatives. Religion is likely low, though some settings link virtual reality to religion in interesting ways.
One of the most identifiable themes of the cyberpunk genre is the relationship between the human body and machines. Augmentations remain prevalent in these stories, and many other pieces of equipment—melee weapons and armor, for example—might be replaced or enhanced by augmentations in these stories. You might even consider allowing characters to have more than the usual limit of augmentations installed in their bodies. Augmentations are likely much more common in cyberpunk settings, both in terms of availability and prevalence among both PCs and NPCs.

Hard Science Fiction

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 140
Related Media: 2001: A Space Odyssey (film and novel), Arrival (novel and film), The Expanse (novels and TV series)
Hard science fiction is devoted to realism and accurate science; everything in the setting should be plausible according to physics as we understand it—though, sometimes you can make exceptions to the rules of science, such as permitting starships to travel vast distances in days instead of years. There’s no faster-than-light travel, and fuel or some other reaction mass is critical to operating spacecraft. Because of this, hard science fiction is usually centered on Earth and nearby planets.
Another exciting opportunity in a hard science fiction game is the chance to learn and use actual science in building your settings. As you create your campaign, you might research various scientific topics, from the soil composition of Mars to theoretical models of methane-based life on Titan. But this also brings uncertainty, as humanity’s knowledge of science is ever changing! Creating and GMing a hard science fiction campaign can provide you opportunities to speculate on where the real-world science of today might expand our understanding in the future.
Adventures in a hard science fiction campaign are more realistic and grounded in real-world science than in a traditional Starfinder campaign. Environmental threats like a vacuum or radiation are more serious. The PCs explore biomes dangerous to many species when they visit planets in our own solar system: the deserts of Mars, the frigid ice fields of Europa, the volcanic surface of Io, or the swirling storms of the gas giant Jupiter.
Technology is high or medium and extrapolated from current real-world science, so drones, projectile weapons, artificial intelligence, pharmaceuticals, and genetic engineering are especially prevalent. There is almost never magic in such settings. Other attributes, such as accord and religion, are highly variable and depend on the types of conflict you want to emphasize—hard science fiction is often based on modern trends, and you can use these trends to determine how you change those measurements.
Envoys lead these expeditions as representatives of planetary governments and corporations, hiring veteran soldiers from the ranks of the armed forces. Operatives fly independent spacecraft around the solar system with the help of trusty mechanic copilots. Creatures found in the Alien Archives must often be modified to fit within the thematic constraints of a hard science fiction game. For example, species such as pahtras, vlakas, and ysoki might instead become genetically engineered humans.

High Science Fantasy

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 141
Related Media: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (comics), She-Ra (TV series)
A high science fantasy campaign emphasizes the magic in the setting and the fantasy roots of roleplaying games as a whole. In a high science fantasy game, PCs are more likely to wield magic swords than laser rifles, and when they travel to new worlds, they might do so in enchanted longships rather than by starship. Elves, dwarves, and other species found in the Pathfinder Legacy chapter of the Starfinder Core Rulebook are more common.
The PCs probably pursue a quest that leads them from one world to another, each of which is home to one or two unique cultures dwelling in their preferred biome; accord is high within those societies, but there’s usually a threat from outside the city walls that the PCs must face. There’s no interplanetary government, and the inhabitants of each world are suspicious of other worlds and the people who live there, so the PCs are outsiders wherever they go.
High science fantasy settings are defined by their high magic and high religion; mystics, solarians, witchwarpers, and vanguards might be more commonplace than operatives and soldiers. Technology, though less common in everyday life, is still high—a soldier can wield a plasma doshko, though such a weapon is rare enough to be distinctive. This technology is sometimes based on arcane or disproved scientific theories from real-world history; for example, magical galleons might sail the luminiferous aether, and flame weapons could be fueled by phlogiston. You might modify armor and other equipment from the Starfinder Armory to better fit the genre; for example, instead of donning high-tech armor, most soldiers don enchanted or hybrid plate mail (with the same stats and other benefits as standard Starfinder heavy armor). Alternatively, technology could be so advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic; a mystic might incorporate a disintegrator pistol into their staff, for example. In such settings, mechanics and technomancers are among the few who understand and operate computers, so they occupy a special role as guardians or keepers of technology, perhaps sought out by magic-wielding heroes ignorant of such topics.
High science fantasy embraces extremes of alignment and archetypal fantasy tropes; the heroes are chaotic good freedom fighters waging war against a tyrannical lawful evil necromancer who lives on a planet shaped like an enormous skull, for example. The PCs delve into vast subterranean chambers, where they face devils, dragons, undead, and other creatures drawn from fantasy literature and mythology. Some so-called monsters are actually sapient creatures who have been mistaken for mythical beasts; nuars, for example, may have given rise to the myth of minotaurs, while vesk are called “lizardfolk” by outsiders. On some worlds, accord can be high, as each planet is dominated by a single kingdom, wizard’s guild, church, or empire. But there is always at least one planet, perhaps even the central planet from which most of the PCs originate, that is fractured into many different realms and where accord is low. Space replaces the wilderness of a traditional fantasy setting and is a place for bandits, reclusive wizards, and wandering monsters.


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 142
Related Media: Battlestar Galactica (TV series), David Weber’s Honorverse (novels), Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War (novels), Metal Gear Solid (video game)
In a military campaign, the player characters are members of a military unit sent on missions around the galaxy. They might be mercenaries participating in the petty wars of border planets, on one side of a galactic civil war, or serving in the interplanetary defense forces of a unified civilization and defending their homes against a relentless invader.
Accord is high, except on the planets where the PCs see the most combat, where accord has broken down and is very low. Military structures tend to be lawful, but the army in which the PCs serve could be good, neutral, or evil—in any case, there should be clear opposition and obvious stakes. Every Starfinder class has a role in a military unit, especially if your setting is one that has medium or high magic. PCs serving together could also share a common background; they may be related, from the same hometown, or all enlisted at the same time.
Military campaigns give the PCs and your adventure a lot of structure. Rather than being in command, the PCs likely receive orders from superiors and carry out those orders with only the equipment and intelligence deemed necessary to complete the mission. But as the PCs rise in level (perhaps through promotion or as their superiors die in combat) some among the PCs might take on officer roles where they have more authority. The leadership system (page 100) is an excellent tool for modeling military forces for the PCs to command, and you can use the NPC and Settlement Toolboxes (pages 148–151) to generate the various subordinates that report to the heroes and the strategically important sites the PCs must protect from the enemy—or, if it’s too late for that, initiate a campaign to reclaim.
The nature of the antagonist is key to any military campaign, and you will want to devote time and effort to creating or adapting the enemy forces for the PCs to oppose. You will need various enemy creatures to ensure the PCs face a wide range of foes, as well as some recognizable and colorful enemy commanders whom PCs can love to hate.
Many military campaigns are based on an invasion timeline: First, the enemy appears unexpectedly and has a tremendous early victory. Then, as the PCs are forced to retreat, the enemy scores additional successes, and new enemies are introduced. In the third stage, the PCs rally, recruiting new allies or depriving the enemy of its primary strength to turn the tables on the enemy. Finally, the enemy wagers everything on a desperate plan to win the war, and only the PCs stand in the way. Through each of these stages, the PCs are moving from world to world, fighting in a variety of biomes and facing a diverse cast of foes. The war itself may seem unending, but the constant variety of unusual environments and strange creatures keeps the campaign feeling fresh.

Parallel Worlds

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 143
Related Media: The Man in the High Castle (novel and TV series), Sliders (TV series), Star Trek’s Mirror Universe stories (TV series)
In a parallel worlds settings, heroes traverse parallel universes. They may be castaways, adrift through countless dimensions in search of their home, or perhaps they’re fleeing a cross-dimensional threat. The worlds they visit are usually different versions of one planet, such as their home world, but might instead be alternate versions of one or more Pact Worlds or some other interstellar civilization. For example, imagine a parallel universe in which the Swarm never invaded, so the war between the Veskarium and the Pact Worlds hasn’t ended. In another (or even the same) alternate world, the kasatha aboard the Idari might have followed through with their plan to settle Akiton and attempted to conquer the planet.
Regardless of what the setting is an alternate form of, the PCs are most often characters from different parallel worlds. In these cases, have your players create their own versions of their world as part of their backstory, take note of the different versions, and take the story back there, one at a time, to explore the setting your players have made, pursuing the story hooks therein.
One common version of the parallel worlds subgenre is a story with just two parallel worlds that the PCs consistently move between. All the primary attributes are exactly opposite in these two worlds. For example, one has high magic and is home to spellcasters, solarians, and vanguards, and the other has low magic and is populated by biohackers, mechanics, operatives, and soldiers. In one, the most common alignment is lawful evil, while in the other, it’s chaotic good.
How do the PCs travel from world to world, and how much control over their travel do they have? The easier it is for the PCs to travel from world to world, the more challenging the game becomes for the GM to run: if the PCs can hop worlds more than once per session, you’ll be improvising a lot of new worlds! Fortunately, the tables and other tools in this book will help you create worlds on the fly, and if you’re comfortable yielding some of the creative space to the players, they can help you create these parallel worlds as necessary. Another option is to create an interesting liminal space in which the PCs must spend a certain amount of time between visits to alternate worlds.
A parallel-worlds campaign is all about adjusting the attributes that describe a world, changing them from one game to the next. The PCs might travel from a world that is notable for high religion and accord, for example, to a parallel version that has low religion and accord. To the PCs, one of these worlds might be the “right” one, and changing the “wrong” one to be more like home is impossible. Instead, the PCs must survive long enough to escape or even do some good while they’re there. As the PCs travel from one world to the next, they might encounter distorted reflections of recurring NPCs whose alignments have changed to their opposite, so the PCs might help reflections of their enemies and battle reflections of their friends—or even themselves!
Parallel world stories can also come about from time-travel stories that lead to characters changing history; see Time Travel on page 145 for more on these types of campaigns.

Planetary Survival

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 143
Related Media: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy (novels), Lost in Space (TV series), The Martian (film and novel), Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite (novel)
In planetary-survival stories, the protagonists are either stranded on a remote and dangerous planet or they wander from planet to planet in a quest to return home. The PCs often span a range of classes—with combat-oriented soldiers, solarians, and vanguards protecting the cerebral mechanics, biohackers, and spellcasters—but share a common origin that you can generate using the background rules starting on page 9. Likewise, the PCs can have differing alignments, but they work together because they are all related, have shared goals, or are old friends.
A planetary-survival game—especially one in which the PCs are stranded on a single planet without access to a starship, perhaps alongside a large number of NPCs—can potentially evolve into a campaign where the characters explore and settle the planet. The PCs’ initial camp might eventually grow into a bustling settlement. In these cases, the PCs’ actions (or inaction) likely determine the accord and dominant alignments. The PCs could use the leadership system (page 100) to foster alliances with other settlers. In games like this, be sure to place many different biomes near to the PC settlement so they have a wide variety of new environments and challenges to face. You might make the prevalence of magic on the planet the opposite of what the PCs are used to; for example, they may come from a low-magic society, but their new home has high magic, and so some of the PCs discover that they have magical or supernatural abilities. Alternatively, the PCs come from a high-magic setting but are stranded on a low-magic world and must learn to make do without the ability to cast spells.
For campaigns in which the PCs are constantly on the move, their starship becomes their home base, and every different world they land on has new attributes, environments, and people. The biome inhabitants and adventure hook tables in Chapter 2 will help you prepare these new elements every session. As the PCs use up their initial store of resources, they will need to discover and extract resources from the planet they find themselves stranded on. This can lead to technology levels changing over time; consult the optional tech categories on page 126 when the PCs, for example, have no way to repair their disintegrator weapons, but find crystals that allow them to develop new laser weaponry instead.
One of the best things about a planetary-survival story is that it has a clear conclusion. When the evolving story of PCs stranded on an alien world—or traveling the stars in search of home—starts to wear thin, you can end the campaign in a satisfying manner as the PCs finally find a way off the world, whether they used problem-solving, found some miraculous technology that brings them home, or managed to signal a passing rescue ship. You can even run planetary survival as one part of a longer campaign, in which the heroes begin in some other genre, are stranded on a dangerous planet for a few levels, and then escape to seek vengeance on whoever stranded them in the first place.


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 144
Related Media: Fallout series (video game), Mad Max series (film), N. K. Jemisen’s Broken Earth series (novels), Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (novel), Thundarr the Barbarian (TV series), The Walking Dead (comic and TV series)
The world is broken. Perhaps a meteor strike devastated the planet, or a relied-upon resource suddenly dried up. Regardless, society has collapsed, taking technology with it. Now, those who remain struggle to stay alive and eke out a living from the ashes of a desolated world.. This is life in the wasteland. What happens next, after the end has already come?
The postapocalyptic genre has a natural story arc. At first, the heroes are just trying to survive. Extreme biomes and environmental effects fill your world as the PCs scavenge for supplies, tools, and weapons. At this stage, every battery is precious. The heroes encounter animals and people that have been profoundly transformed by the apocalypse; creatures from the Alien Archive volumes may now be mutants, and you can use the herd animal and predator stat blocks from Starfinder Alien Archive 2 to create bigger, meaner versions of everyday beasts. Eventually, the PCs will start thinking about building a new home, perhaps even trying to re-create civilization. This is the thematic heart of the postapocalypse story, because it obliges us to look at the world we live in now and ask, “If we had to do it again, could we do it better? Or should we even try?” The answer should largely be up to your players.
One of the first things you want to decide is how the apocalypse happened. The answer should inform the details of your setting. For example, while most postapocalyptic worlds have low or no magic, you might decide civilization was destroyed by a poorly cast ritual that caused magic to violently erupt into the world, making it high magic but destroying civilization. Regardless, survivors of the apocalypse get by with low tech, if they have any tech at all. Some settlements— and the PCs—have limited access to medium-tech items like guns and vehicles. You could link high technology to the cause of your apocalypse; perhaps the people who ruined the planet left weapons behind that the PCs can find, or the apocalypse was so long ago that those who remain mistakenly think high‑tech items are magical. There are no working starships, but there might be a crash site with a wrecked starship that would make for an excellent high-level dungeon. What are the environmental ramifications of your apocalypse? If the world is now an irradiated wasteland, the PCs can use the options for desert adventurers on page 60, but if a nuclear winter has overtaken the planet, maybe the PCs should come from an arctic biome instead (page 56).
Accord is low, and chaotic is the dominant alignment, even within “organized” areas such as settlements. Everyone is dependent on their jury-rigged machines, so the mechanic and technomancer (if there’s magic in your setting) becomes the super star. Soldiers and operatives lead perilous missions into the wasteland or defend the settlement from dangerous mutants and monsters, while envoys and mystics use the leadership system (page 100) to attract bands of desperate, half-starved followers. Biohackers might serve their communities as trustworthy physicians, fighting off the plague and treating deadly wounds, but they might also be living in the wasteland, creating mutants and conducting cruel experiments.

Space Western

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 144
Related Media: Battle Beyond the Stars (film), Firefly (TV series), The Mandalorian (TV series), Outland (film), Mike Resnick’s Santiago (novel)
You can add robots, lasers, and spaceships to any genre, but the space western subgenre is a prime example with a long history. The fun comes from mixing the two genres, so the mysterious gunslinger who drifts into town is a robot, the two gangs tearing the town apart are drow and ysoki, and everyone dreams of getting rich in a horacalcum rush. But a space western game is still about the frontier. Small pockets of safety, security, and law are surrounded by expanses of chaotic wilderness, so accord is low, but faith is an important salvation and organizing principle to those on the fringe, so religion is high. The civilians who live in these settlements are threatened by greedy corporations buying up resources, cruel mine bosses, rowdy raiders, organized-crime gangs, and monstrous creatures that lurk in the wild. Everyday civilians look to heroes to keep them safe, but they can also fear and despise the life of violence that adventuring protagonists might seem to embody. So distrustful might they be that, as soon as the heroes have dealt with the current problem, the locals force them to move on to the next town—or, as often is the case of Starfinder, the next planet—tempted by bounty hunting (if neutral), a desire to leave the settlement in peace (if good), or just the next lucrative crime (if evil).
The space western game’s emphasis on the wilderness will give you many opportunities to use the various biomes described in this book, from the harsh heat of a desert planet to a mountain world’s snowy peaks. Any of these places could be home to mining camps, humble farms, or boom towns, all of which you can generate with tools in Settlement Toolbox on page 150. Soldiers are the most common character class and a common background, with veterans of some past war venturing into the wilderness where their skills are still useful, and envoys, operatives, and mechanics are also plentiful. Magic, however, is mysterious and dangerous, something even gunslingers avoid, so you will find the low-magic rules helpful. Technology might be a mix of archaic and modern, with black powder and rust mixing with lasers and androids.
As you run a space western game, bear in mind that the western genre has traditionally been home to many harmful tropes, none of which have a place in a game of Starfinder. Remember, while a space western game may have roots in the western, it also takes place in a fictional science fantasy setting. This offers a great opportunity to leave behind the harmful stereotypes of the past; just remain wary of these insidious tropes creeping their way back into your space western game.

Time Travel

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 145
Related Media: Back to the Future trilogy (films), Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book (novel), Doctor Who (TV series), Time Bandits (film)
The heroes of a time-travel story move through time, freely between the past and future. They might use a time machine of their own invention or naturally occurring temporal phenomena. The heroes could be confined to the timeline of a single world, but GMs and players ready for the creative challenge can install a time machine in a starship to travel through both time and space. Regardless, the PCs have adventures throughout history, fixing the timeline when it goes astray, pursuing and capturing temporal thieves or terrorists, and tracking down the occasional extinct creature for an eccentric collector. They might be dispatched into a given time through some kind of portal, through which they must return by a certain date; be equipped with personal time machines; or simply be castaways, leaping through time in a never-ending quest to get home. The PCs in such a story come from many different historical periods and can include everything from distant biological ancestors to androids from the far future.
In a time-travel campaign, a world’s attributes tend to change over centuries, so accord and technology typically begin low but increase over time, while religion and magic begin high but slowly diminish. In addition, there are flash points in history where attribute shifts occur, and these flash points can become the scene of adventure. For example, you might decide your setting began with chaos as the dominant alignment, but that something happened in the past that caused chaos to decline until lawful alignments became more common. Now, outside forces—perhaps rival time travelers or evil beings from another dimension—want to travel back to that critical moment and change it, so that chaos never wanes. The PCs discover this change when, suddenly, the world is transformed into a chaotic, lawless place. Now they must go back and fix history, or they’re sent back by an organization that monitors and protects the timestream. If your heroes are castaways adrift in time, they can land at these flash points by coincidence, though perhaps with a subtle, persistent hint that the PCs are just pawns of destiny and that time itself is using them to heal temporal wounds.
Use the biomes described in this book to represent how a place changes over time: forested environments slowly yield to urban ones, and prehistoric civilizations live in subterranean caves while those of the far future live in aerial biomes or in the void of space. The character options associated with each biome give you the tools to make the inhabitants of every time distinctive, including player characters who come from these far-flung time periods. The optional rules for tech categories (page 126) will help you represent technological progress over time in specific, concrete ways.
In another classic time-travel trope, PCs from the modern era (or the near future) are cast back in time with no way to return. Trapped in the past, they use their knowledge of history and science to change the world in ways both large and small. When the heroes in a time-travel game change history—or fail to prevent the changes enacted by their antagonists—they’ve created a parallel world; see the Parallel Worlds section (page 143) for more guidance on campaigns of this sort.