Developing to Spec: Part 7-Critical Thoughts

This is Part Seven of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. The point of these is to offer practical examples of how I approach developing and writing supplemental rules for tabletop RPGs. Rather than just blather on about things as I think of them, I go over issues as I encounter them in a real-world example.

The goal of this project is to create the “Missing Starfinder Legacy Feats,” a Starfinder-compatible version of every feat in the PF core rulebook that doesn’t have an SF match. (We discussed the impact of having to do that, whether that’s a good idea or not, in Part One.)

You can find previous entries here — Part One , Part TwoPart ThreePart FourPart Five, Part Six — or just the finished feats (as they are written) here.

Running through the “missing” PF feats from the PF core ruelbook in order, we’ve run into our first critical feat, Bleeding Critical. And that means understanding how critical hits work in PF, and in Starfinder, and forming a plan for converting critical-focused player options from the one system to another.

Starfinder handles critical hits a bit differently than most previous d20 games. First, only a natural 20 on the attack roll is a critical hit–there’s no “threat range” where a roll of 19, or even 18 may count as a crit. Second, there is no “confirmation roll” (many d20 games require a second attack roll that also hits the foe’s AC to make an attack a crit).  Thirdly, all damage is doubled — you never do x3 or x4 damage, and there is no category of damage that isn’t multiplied. And, finally, many weapons have critical hit effects — special effects (such as bleed damage, or setting a foe on fire) that only occur on a critical hit. In the vast majority of cases if a rule option gives a character access to multiple critical hit effects on a single attack, it also requires them to pick just one to apply. (There are exceptions to this, but they are rare.)

This series of changes means critical hits in Starfinder are less common, simpler to adjudicate, and often include more impact on combat that just doing more damage. Those impacts are all intentional, but it does mean that the design space for modifying how critical hits work has been significantly shrunk down.

So, when looking at critical feats from PF to convert over to Starfinder, we need to make sure we don’t violate any of the core ways Starfinder handles feats. We can play with the formula some, but we need to not change the value a feat gives to combat effectiveness, and not create rules with too much weight to be justified just on some feats.

So the first two critical feats we run into are Bleeding Critical and Blinding Critical. But since we know it can be useful to apply development consistently, it’s worth looking at all the critical feats to see if they can all be converted using the same design philosophy. So, they are: Bleeding Critical, Blinding Critical, Deafening critical, Sickening Critical, Staggering Critical, Stunning Critical, Tiring Critical, Exhausting Critical, and two related feats: Critical Focus and Critical Mastery.

Since we want to work with the critical rules within Starfinder we also go over critical rules in the core rulebook, and find that Improved Critical has been converted over, and gives a bonus to critical save DCs rather than expanding critical threat range. That saves us some work from converting the feat from PF, but it also takes one potential design choice for “missing legacy” critical feats off the table. We also note what critical hit effects already exist (in all the official Starfinder books, since we don’t want to duplicate or invalidate any official supplemental rule material).

Since Critical Focus is a prerequisite for all the critical feats in PF, it makes sense to try to convert that first, and use it as a prerequisite in the Starfinder conversions.

(As a brief aside, I don’t think there’s any need to create a sub-category of “critical feats” as a new descriptor of feats in Starfinder. They’ll all be combat feats, but none of the core rules are ever going to reference them since this is 3pp material, and they aren’t in the Starfinder Core Rulebook. As a result, we’ll need to include any special interactions we want in the feats anyway, removing the one benefit of having a new category of feats that all follow some universal rules).

Now in PF, Critical Focus gives you a bonus to your confirmation roll when you have a critical threat. That mechanic doesn’t work in Starfinder, but the *concept* of criticals happening more often is still a valid design space. Of course we know we can;t have a feat double the number of critical hits a player gets — that would quickly become the no-brainer go-to feat of number crunchers.

But Starfinder does have ONE example of making a critical hit effect more common–the plasma immolation soldier gear boost.

“You are expert at setting things on fire with plasma. If your attack roll with a weapon in the plasma category is a 19 (the d20 shows a 19), and the attack hits your target, the target gains the burning condition. The condition deals 1d4 fire damage if the weapon has an item level of 1st-6th, 1d8 if its item level is 7th-14th, and 2d8 if its item level is 15th or higher.”

AND that sit outside the normal restriction of one critical hit effect per attack. So, can we use that for Critical Focus?

You are trained in the art of causing pain.
Prerequisites: base attack bonus +9.
Benefit: If your attack has a critical hit effect, when your attack roll is a 19 (the d20 shows a 19) and the attack hits your target, you may apply one critical hit effect from the weapon to the target. You do not also deal double damage, and any effect that would prevent a critical hit from effecting the target also works against this critical hit effect.
Special: If you have the plasma immolation gear boost, when using this feat you can activate that gear boost if your attack roll is an 18 and the attack hits your target.

That works pretty well. It can have the same flavor text as the PF version, and gives a character more critical hit effects, without doubling how often the character gets to do double damage. And we built in a benefit for soldiers with plasma immolation, so this feat doesn’t weaken the benefit of that class-specific gear boost.

Then looking at Critical Mastery, we see in PF it allows you to apply multiple critical feats to one attack. That doesn’t make a lot of sense for Starfinder, but since Starfinder does normally limit you one critical hit effect per attack, there is a similar design space available.

Your critical hits can cause multiple critical hit effects.
Prerequisites: Critical Focus, gear boost class feature, base attack bonus +14.
Benefit: If your attack has more critical effects available to it than you are allowed to apply on a critical hit, you may increase the number of critical hit effects you apply on a critical hit by 1. For example, if you attack a foe with a weapon that has bleed, knockdown, and stagger critical hit effects, but you are normally required to select one when you score a critical hit, you may instead select two.

We aren’t being as restrictive on the prerequisites with Critical mastery as PF, since we are limiting it to people with a specific soldier class feature and a +14 attack bonus, rather than to 14th level fighters as PF does, but that’s in keeping with Starfinder’s less prerequisite-intensive feat system.

Okay, so since we’ve covered the broader critical hit feats, we can NOW go back and look at Bleeding Critical.

Tomorrow. 🙂

This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

About Owen K.C. Stephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is a full-time ttRPG Writer, designer, developer, publisher, and consultant. He's the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, and has served as the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the Editor-in-Chief for Evil Genius Games. Owen has written game material for numerous other companies, including Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, White Wolf, Steve Jackson Games and Upper Deck. He also consults, freelances, and in the off season, sleeps. He has a Pateon which supports his online work. You can find it at

Posted on October 22, 2019, in Game Design, Pathfinder Development, Starfinder Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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