Monthly Archives: April 2018

The Power (And Risks) of Options over Set Abilities in Starfinder

This is something I have thought about for more than a decade, and which I want to write about in greater length someday. But a power I recently wrote up for my Starfaring Gunslinger (for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game) really drove the point home, so I thought I’d share the core idea.

Options of a set power level are more potent in making effective/overpowered PCs (depending where you are on the potency curve) than set abilities of the same power level, as long as the most effective use of those abilities is obvious.

So, what do I mean by that?

Well first, I mean that if you are building the class features of a new class (for example), and you give it +3 to a specific skill (let’s say +3 to Acrobatics), that is less potent than giving it +3 to any class skill. These have exactly the same game mechanical advantage (+3 to a bonus added to a d20 roll), but +3 to Acrobatics can only be used a single way. If a specific character build already has all the bonus to Acrobatics it needs (perhaps because a player is making a character that doesn’t rely on Acrobatics), the +3 is wasted. But the flexible +3 can be put anywhere it’s useful, making it easier to have different character builds make use of it, making it more useful to more characters.

But.

Not all skills are equally useful to all character builds. If, for example, a player thought that Acrobatics and Profession (dancer) were equally useful in a typical game, that player might place the +3 in the profession skill and assume they had made an equally-potent choice. There MAY be cases where that’s true, but not understanding the most effective use of skills makes that flexibility more likely to lead to frustration for that player.

(The skill rules, in general, do a pretty good job of telling you what each skill is used for, making the relative effectiveness of each fairly clear. But maybe it would be worth the extra complexity to either balance them better, or show why they aren’t equally weighted, despite using equal resources to access.)

In the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, this idea influences most class abilities. Rather than get a lot of flat assigned abilities, most classes have at least one variable power set you pick, and many have lists of abilities made available ever few levels. Gear boosts, envoy improvisations, magic hacks, and so on, give a range of options PCs can pick from to make a character that is effective the way they play it.

At the same time, if you don’t know when an ability is most likely to be useful, you may pick something you think will come up a lot, only to find it requires careful set-up or a play style your group does not support.

Which brings me to the ability that set all this off:

Spotter’s Observation (Ex): [1st level][Language-dependent, sense-dependent] As a standard action you can gauge the distance to a specific target you have line of sight to, and give advice to your allies on what factors may affect ranged attacks against that foe. Any ally you can communicate with (either directly or through comm units) halves any penalty from cover or range increments they take to ranged attacks against that target until the beginning of your next turn.
If you have the get ‘em or improved get ‘em envoy improvisations, you can use spotter as part of the same action you use for those abilities rather than as its own standard action.

Hopefully both the name and the way the ability is written makes it clear that this is an ability for someone who wants to play a support role, and who has allies likely to make powerful ranged attacks against foes that are far away, in cover, or both. It gives special options to the envoy, because envoys already work well in this role and have a great deal of synergy with something like this. If your group includes a technomancy who prefers status effect spells and a melee solarian and a melee soldier, this ability is a bad choice in terms of potency. If the group is playing a sniper squad who want to handle most issues from 1,000 feet away at mini8mum, it’s a great one.

Speaking of Great Choices

I have a Patreon! It’d be a great choice to increase my ability to write things like this with a small pledge of support.

Starfinder Species in Really Wild West (Part 2)

We went over why it’s worthwhile to consider where the species from the Starfinder Roleplaying Game have major population centers in the world of Really Wild West (and why we won’t be using them as stand-ins to replace the humans of any real-world culture) in the first post in this series, where we also looked at the RWW take on androids. We continue our look at this idea with the kasatha and lashunta. It’s worth repeating that these touchstones are designed as one set of options, not absolute rules. Just as humans from differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds can be found on every continent, so too can our new sentient, sapient species be found in every culture of the Really Wild West.

RealWildWest-Races-lines-02.png

Kasatha

Since one of the big defining traits of kasatha is that they have 4 arms, there’s an obvious temptation to have kasatha be linked to Hinduism, because of the prevalence of multiarmed deities in Hindu. However, Hinduism is a massive, modern religion with tens of millions of worshipers, in which things like what a deity carries in each arm can be important, and about which I am not an expert.

Looking to tie the multiarmed aspect to something less crucial than gods, Greek mythology has numerous multiarmed humanoids such as the Gegenees, and Hecatonchires. Though these are presented as giants, that just also gives me a place for Shobads. And there’s lots of ancient and closer-to-18901 history involving Greeks that is fascinating and interesting, which can help serve as context for kasatha players.

So if the Greek empires were all mix of human and kasatha, by the modern era of Really Wild West that can be expected to have large populations throughout Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. Greek ships were visiting the Americas by the early 1600s, and a significant Greek community developed in New Orleans during the 1850s. By the 1890 there were tens of thousands of Greeks in North America alone, many of them from the Ottoman Empire.

Lashunta

One of the defining traits of lashunta is their telepathy, which makes placing them in the world a bit tricky, because what westerns think of as telepathy doesn’t really have any notable real-world equivalents, even in theory or fiction, prior to the 1800s, which is too late to form a culture from that is well established by 1891. However, the Japanese idea of ishin-denshin (literally “”what the mind thinks, the heart transmits”) certainly seems similar to telepathy. That idea seems to have developed in China where it has links to traditions of Zen Buddhism.

So, having lashunta have developed in Asia, with strong populations in places where Zen Buddhism is prevalent (China, Japan, Korean, Vietnam) gives cultural texture to how the actual power of telepathy in Really Wild West might have been viewed in varying real-world cultures. It’s important to note that lashunta don’t replace any of those real-world cultures or the religious and philosophical advancements they created. But it does give context for how to view a fictional species in a historic framework. And all those nations have rich histories that include massive exploration, trade, and diplomacy as well as immigration which can place an Asian-origin lashunta anywhere in the world a player wants to be from (even before allowing for lashunta families who may have migrated from those nations centuries ago).

Sponsored Post

This post was sponsored by the fine folks at http://www.starjammersrd.com/, an online rules repository for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, who support me through my Patreon! Check out their site, and mine!