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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.