Save to Negate Fun? (Starfinder)

(A prelude — I moved cross-country last week. I had expected to be up and running my blog by Monday… and was not. further while we have arranged for connectivity at the new house, there seem to be some issues. Long story short, this is a Week’s Worth of blog posts — a 750+ word article for Monday on the basic concept and design concerns, then 4 days worth of looking at specific spells in short snippets.

My hope is that by June 15th, i can go back to giving you these things daily. 🙂 )

You are a spellcaster in the Starfinder RPG — a master of esoteric energies that can rewrite the universe’s laws. Having read about the cool abilities of a spell you select it and, when the time is right, stars in your eyes, you unleash eldritch powers beyond mortal comprehension on a foe…

“It succeeds at its saving throw. The spell is negated.”

Well… THAT’s not fun. At least if you have tried a damaging spell, it would have had SOME effect on creatures that made their save against it. And… HOW many spells saving-throw-negates spells did you put on your spell list? You only get so many spells known, after all… Oh, and hey, you can’t swap those out all that often. Lower-level spells are much more likely to be successfully saved against. And even if you use them against lower-level foes… those often don’t last long enough for the penalties you assess against them to be worth a spell slot either.

It’s not just that you had an action not be effective. Attacks miss sometimes. But you have SO few resources, you had to select which spells to trust in, and if you have spell after spell get negated with a saving throw…

Sometimes, it’s the fun that gets negated.

So, what if we rewrote those spells? What if we added minor effects that apply, briefly, even against foes that negate the primary effect? It would have to be carefully balanced — spells that target multiple foes or an area are already pretty powerful because *all* targets are unlikely to negate it. Lower-level spells need to not be able to stack so many minor status effects you can overwhelm a high-level foe. That’s all tricky, but doable.

But, let’s be clear — this is a pure power-up of these spells. If you are finding the use of the spells listed below is already skewing things in the favor of the PCs on a regular basis, then these optional rules aren’t for your group. Also, this is designed only for Starfinder. The core math of similar d20-based systems is just too different for anything designed to rebalance the utility of Starfinder save-to-negate spells to apply well in other game systems.

While they’ll need some playtesting, I’ll likely use these rules as “core” in the Really Wild West setting. (With the lower tech level technomancers, at least, may need the help 🙂 )

RWW Technomancer

(art by Дмитрий)

Lingering Penalties: There’s only so much failed magic can do to hamper a creature that has successfully negated a spell. Many of the additional effects added below list “lingering” penalties. If a creature is suffering multiple lingering penalties to the same roll or value, only the highest of those penalties applies. Such penalties overlap–if you are taking a -3 lingering penalty to AC for 1 round and a -1 lingering penalty for 1 minute, you take the higher -3 penalty for the first round, then the remaining -1 penalty for the next 9 rounds.
This is also designed to prevent spellcasters from being able to cast low-level spells against the same foe over and over to stack up minor penalties until they are insurmountable. Much as casting a 1st-level damaging spell against a CR 9 foe may do a little damage and be of some use–but isn’t likely to be the major factor in a combat–casting a low-level save-negates spell against a high CR foe should, at best, have a modest effect on the combat.
The idea is for the player not to feel like their precious, limited resource was totally wasted, or that they might as well have fired their small arm (which might still miss, but ammunition is in much readier supply than spell slot–and that doesn’t feel very spellcaster-y).

Sample Lingering Effects
These are the spells from the Core Rulebook I consider most in need of modifications to increase their fun value without making spellcasters overpowered. If there’s demand for it, I might take a look at Armory and COM spells.

Baleful Polymorph: On a successful save the target suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls and damage for 1 minute. This increases to a -2 lingering penalty for spell level 4 and up.
Baleful Polymorph, mass: If only a single creature is targeted by the mass baleful polymorph, on a successful save the target suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls and damage for 1 minute.
Bestow Curse: On a successful save the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to saving throws for 1d4 rounds as the curse energy continues to try to bring it misfortune.
Charm Person: On a successful save for 1 round/level the target suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attacks and damage against you, and the save DC of any effect it forces you to save against is reduced by 2, as it struggles with feelings for trust and friendship it knows to be false.
Command:
On a successful save the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1 round as it fights the foreign urge of the spell. 
Command Undead:
On a successful save the creature suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls against you for 1 minute as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Confusion: On a successful save a creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1 round as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Confusion, lesser: On a successful save a creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1 round as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Control Machines: On a successful save targets suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls against you for the spell’s duration, as they fight the foreign urges of the spell.
Control Undead: On a successful save targets suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls against you for the spell’s duration, as they fight the foreign urges of the spell.
Deep Slumber: On successful saves, targets take a -2 lingering penalty to Perception rolls and initiative checks for 1d4 rounds.
Detect Thoughts: If the target succeeds at its saving throw against this spell, you gain a +2 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it for the spell’s duration.
Directed Denial of Strength Attack: On a successful save, the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to all Strength- and -Dexterity based skill checks, and to its AC against combat maneuvers, for 1d4 rounds.
Discern Lies: If a target succeeds at its saving throw against this spell, you gain a +2 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it for the spell’s duration.
Discharge: On a successful save the target suffers a -1 lingering penalty to any attacks or damage for 1d4 rounds.
Dismissal: On a successful save the creature suffers a lingering penalty to attacks and damage rolls for 1d4 rounds as it fights the effort to force it off this plane. The penalty is equal to 1 + any bonus to the caster level check of spell you gain with the use of special materials.
Dominate Person: If the target saves against this spell, it is at a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls and damage against you, and you gain a +2 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it, for the duration of the spell.
Fatigue: On a successful save, the target is affected for 1 round.
Feeblemind: On a successful save, the target takes a -4 lingering penalty to all Int- and Cha- based skills for 1 minute. If Int- or Cha- are its key ability scores, it’s spell and class feature save DCs take a -1 lingering penalty for the same time period.
Flesh to Stone: On a successful save the target’s move rate is halved as a lingering penalty, and it takes a -1 lingering penalty to AC, for 1d4 rounds.
Hold Person: On a successful saving throw, the target takes a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls, initiative checks, and Dexterity-based skill checks for 1 round.
Mind Probe: If the target succeeds at its saving throw against this spell, you gain a +3 bonus to Perception and Sense Motive checks against it for the spell’s duration.
Overload Systems: On a successful save, the target is staggered for 1d4 rounds.
Rewire Flesh: On a successful saving throw, the target still takes 1d6 slashing damage per round (Fortitude half, as normal).
Rewire Flesh, mass: On a successful saving throw, a target still takes 1d6 slashing damage per round (Fortitude half, as normal).
Slow
: If only a single creature is targeted by the slow, on a successful save it’s move rate is halved as a lingering penalty for 1d4 rounds.
Synaptic Pulse: On a successful save, a target is instead sickened for 1 round.
Suggestion: On a successful save the creature suffers a -1 lingering penalty to attack rolls and skill checks for 1d4 rounds as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Suggestion, mass: If only a single creature is targeted by the slow, on a successful save the creature suffers a -2 lingering penalty to attack rolls and skill checks for 1 minute as it fights the foreign urge of the spell.
Unwilling Guardian: On a successful saving throw, the target takes a -2 lingering penalty on attacks against you for 1d4 rounds.

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About okcstephens

Owen K.C. Stephens Owen Kirker Clifford Stephens is the Starfinder Design Lead for Paizo Publishing, the Freeport and Pathfinder RPG developer for Green Ronin, a developer for Rite Publishing, and the publisher and lead genius of Rogue 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.

Posted on June 10, 2020, in Game Design, Microsetting, Starfinder Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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