Spellguns and Runethrowers for Starfinder

As soon as you say a setting has spellcasters and blasters, there’s a group of players who want to have spellguns. And that’s fair. After all there are numerous examples of spell-generating hybrid technology in science-fantasy fiction (my specific inspirations come from The Irregular at Magic High School and Outlaw Star, but there are many more examples).

But Starfinder doesn’t really have anything like that. There are spell ampules and spell gems… but those are 1-shot consumables, not the spellguns we want.  So I was going to post a few examples of spell guns last Friday… and realized I hadn’t written how how I figured the item level and cost of such things. So I delayed the article to today, and you get a enarly-double-length Monday article that both shows the design process I used, AND presents two sets of finished spellcasting weapons.

So how do we figure out the effective item level of a device that can cast detect magic using a battery, and how do we scale that against a baleful polymorph rifle?

Well, let’s start with something we CAN easily scale — damage. If we can find a relationship between damaging spells at each level and weapons that are roughly as effective, and spells of each level have roughly the same impact on the game as one another, that should allow us to set item levels for devices that create other spells effects of each level.

It’s best if we pick a few spells that come as close as possible to JUST doing damage at each level. We can then figure out a rough benchmark for the typical weaponlike damage each of these things does, looking back at our benchmarks for weapon damage. There’s some subjectivity there of course, but in general we can compare these to damage from weapons (treating a save and attack rolls to be about even in terms of damage-per-round options, and treating area or ongoing attacks as being 10-20% more damage for benchmark purposes) to tell us roughly what item level weapon does comparable damage.

We want two effective item levels (EIL) for each spell — one taken from the closest equivalent longarm or advanced melee weapon (representing an item used by people skilled in combat), and one taken from the closest 1-handed basic melee weapon or small arm (representing an item use by those unspecialized in combat). Those are listed with a slash as skilled/unspecialized. We’ll go into why we want those separate numbers in a moment.

Technomancer spells have the following exemplar damage spells at each spell level:

Energy Ray (1d3, single target EAC ranged)  EIL – 0/1

Jolting Surge (4d6, single target EAC melee) EIL – 12/15
Overheat (2d8 energy in a cone, save for half) EIL – 11/15

Caustic Conversion (4d6 energy, single target EAC ranged, ongoing damage) EIL – 13/18

Arcing Surge (10d6 energy, line, save for half) EIL – 19/24
Explosive Blast (9d6 energy, radius, save for half) EIL –  19/24

Since we already hitting item level 19+ by 3rd level spells, it’s pretty clear 4th-level and higher spells would be beyond the scope of even 20th level equipment.

So, erring on the side of items that duplicate spells skewing up at lower item levels (as we not the benchmark damage for low-level weapons is a bit off, a weirdness the designers accepted so no one would actually have a weapon that did 1 point of damage), and standardizing the curve between skilled and unspecialized, we come up with the following typical item level for something that can reliable reproduce magic effects:

EIL by Spell Level
0-Level Spells: 3/8
1st-Level Spells: 11/16
2nd-Level Spells: 13/18
3rd-Level Spells: 19/24

We know from the price difference in spell gems vs spell ampules that giving a spellcaster access to more spells from their spell list is cheaper than allowing anyone to use that magic effect, so let’s use the same logic here. The lower “skilled” EIL is what we use for “Spell Guns,” which we define as only being able to be used by a character who can cast spells of the same spell level and class list as the one reproduced by the spell gun. So a microbot assault spell gun can only be used by a technomancer who can cast 2nd level spells.

The higher-level EIL we’ll use for Runethrowers. They function just like Spell Guns, except they can be used by anyone.

Also, we’ll use Small Arms proficiency for Spell Guns (so any spellcasting PC can use them), and Longarms for Runethrowers. Of course attack rolls won’t matter for all spell effects, but we’ll rule that any nonproficiency penalty you take with with a Runethrower impacts both any related save DCs, and reduces the Runethrower’s caster level.

We’re also going to ban any spells that require Resolve Points, have a casting time greater than 1 action, or require an experience material mentioned in the spell description. Otherwise each item casts a spell and works like a spell-like ability with a caster level equal to the item level, and all decisions made by whoever pulls the trigger.

So, borrowing some typical costs and battery usages from appropriate items:

Small Arms

SPELL GUNS                    Item     Credit      Spell
Name                              Level    Cost         Level   Battery  Usage
Spell Gun, Apprentice        3         1,500       0           20            2
Spell Gun, Mage               11       26,000       1           40            4
Spell Gun, Arcanist           13        52,000       2           80            8
Spell Gun, Archmage        19      600,000       3         100          10Spell Gun by info at nextmars dot com
(art by info@nextmars.com)


RUNETHROWERS                 Item     Credit      Spell
Name                                    Level    Cost         Level   Battery  Usage
Runethrower, Neophyte       8          10,000       0           40            4
Runethrower, Warlock         16       180,000      1           80            8
Runethrower, Theurge         18       400,000      2         100            10Spell Rifle by info at nextmars dot com
(art by info@nextmars.com)

Runethrower (neophyte, Warlock, Theurge)
A runethrower is a hybrid weapon that contains a single spell of the listed level. It can convert energy from a battery into the energy needed for that spells, using a rune embedded within the weapon to provide all the eldritch control needed to create magic effects.
Only spells that can be cast in a single action or reaction can be placed in a runethrower (and always use a standard action to activate), and it must not have any Resolve Point cost or require any material with a cost (as noted in the spell description). A runethrower’s caster level is equal to its item level, and any decisions that need to be made when it creates a spell effect are decided by the user.
A runethrower can normally only have a single spell added into it. That spell can be changed to another spell of the same level by anyone with the ranks needed to craft the runethrower, at half the cost of creating a new runethrower. A runethrower can also have a additional spells of the same or lower level placed within it as Weapon Fusions (at the normal fusion cost, though it cannot be transferred from another weapon). Each weapon fusion of this type is treated as a weapon fusion with a level equal to 5 + the level of spell it contains. If a runethrower has multiple spells, the user decides which one to use each time it is activated.
Any penalty to attack rolls a character takes applies to a runethrower’s save DC, and if a character is nonproficient, that penalty also applies to the ruenthrower’s caster level when they use it.

Spell Guns (Apprentice, mage, Arcanist, Archmage)
A spell gun is a hybrid weapon that contains a single spell of the listed level. It can convert energy from a battery into the energy needed for that spells similar to a runethrower, but rather than have an internal rune that provides the directions to create a spell effect, requires an eldritch spark from the user to initiatie this conversion. Thus a character can only use a spell gun if they are of a class and level able to cast the spell contained within the spell gun (though it need not actually be a spell known).
Spell guns otherwise follow the rules for runethrowers.

Want more in-depth design articles like this? More Starfinder gear? Would you rather see more material for 5e, or industry insider articles? Join my Patreon for a few bucks a month, and let me know!

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 July 20, 2020, in Game Design, Starfinder Development and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: