Developing to Spec: Part 11b – Matching Mechanics to Flavor

This is the second section of  Part Eleven of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written) here.

We’re chewing through feats at a good pace now, and running into many fewer that refer to rules that just don’t exist in Starfinder. but we also need to make sure that even if a feat can be adapted directly, we are doing good thematic conversions as well. And that brings us to Combat Expertise and Command Undead.

So, once again, Combat Expertise works as written in Starfinder… which leads to ask why it isn’t IN Starfinder? When so much of Starfinder is clearly based on PF, and so many feats are adapted over, why was this one left behind?

A careful analysis shows the answer is: math.

Starfinder combat math is different from PF, despite so much of the system being built on the same base mechanics. Part of this is because Starfinder replaced iterative attacks with increases in damage as you gain levels. But part of it is because what bonuses are given out are more tightly controlled. We CAN introduce new bonuses on top of those–they game mechanics will still produce results that make sense to players–but doing so begins warping the system in a way that is going to make play results unpredictable.

If we can avoid that, we want to.

But since we know Starfinder has rules for making multiple attacks a -4 to both, and has rules for giving up attacks to gain a +4 bonus to AC, maybe we can create a new option that allows a player to take the same penalties as a full defense and multiple attacks in a round, but still gives them one attack and some movement. It’ll only be useful for corner-case tactics, but it’s also optional. If players can’t figure out a way to make this useful (mostly likely with a high-Dex energy-weapon optimized soldier when facing a horde of lower-CR foes), they just don’t take this feat.

And it’s clearly superior to JUST taking a full defense action, so it has its uses. It’s the kind of thing someone with expertise in combat might take as a 7th or 9th feat. In fact, since not a lot of Int builds are combat focused, let’s just slap a +9 attack bonus onto the prerequisites, to make it clear this isn’t designed for 1st level characters.

You can increase your defense at the expense of your accuracy and mobility.
Prerequisite: Base attack bonus +9.
Benefit: As a full action you can choose to take a –8 penalty on attack rolls to gain a +4 bonus to your Armor Class and make a single attack. You may choose to take a guarded step as part of this action. You cannot take attacks of opportunity. You cannot combine this with any other action that increases AC. The effects of this feat last until your next turn.

Okay, that brings us to Command Undead. We could just make this a new option off the healing channel connection power, but that means we’re saying healers make the best undead controllers and that feels… wrong. The devastator and shadow mystic connections feel more appropriate, so…

Using foul powers of necromancy, you can command undead creatures, making them into your servants.
Prerequisites: Mystic (devastator or shadow connection) level 5.
Benefit: As a standard action, you can expend one Resolve Point to enslave undead within 30 feet. Undead receive a Will save to negate the effect at your normal connection power DC.  Undead that fail their saves fall under your control, obeying your commands to the best of their ability, as if under the effects of control undead. Intelligent undead receive a new saving throw each day to resist your command. As long as you are controlling any of these undead, you cannot recover the Resolve Point used activate this feat. You can control any number of undead, so long as their total levels do not exceed your mystic level. If an undead creature is under the control of another creature, you must make an opposed Charisma check whenever your orders conflict.

Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! I’m happy to do this kind of Practical TTRPG Designer masterclass free to the public… but it’s only possible for me to take the time to do so if people join my Patreon and help me have the free time to write these things!

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 November 13, 2019, in Business of Games, Game Design, Starfinder Development and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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