Greater Combat Maneuvers for Starfinder

Okay, let’s get back to doing some ttRPG rules you can bring to the table, shell we?

Combat maneuvers in Starfinder are specifically designed to be difficult to pull off against a significant foe without having a fair number of bonuses in place. You have to hit an opponent’s KAC +8, which is a difficult task, and if you fail you have no effect on them at all. This is an intentional design choice rather than some accident of not playtesting (indeed, it was originally KAC +10, and after playtesting we decided that was exactly 10% too hard to achoice, which is why the weird “+8” value is used).

(If you want to know WHY we made that intentional design choice, I recommend joining my Patreon for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee a month, and ask in the comments there!)

The biggest problem with having an appealing-looking effect available but unlikely to work, is that there is very little as frustrating for players than taking a round to accomplish absolutely nothing. In a game with soft limits designed to keep a character from ever being able to specialize in a tactic to the point it nearly never fails, this frustration is worse for players who are trying to create a certain kind of “build” focused on trying a difficult maneuver over and over. The end result may be effective (if you have to try to disarm someone three times before you succeed, but disarming them makes them nearly useless and you couldn’t knock them out that fast, it’s an effective tactic), but still not be any fun.

(And yes, there are things like “save: negates” spells that have the same issue. But that’s a different article.)

However, just making it easier to perform the difficult-but-extremely-effective maneuver can break the balance of different options in the game, especially if other soft limits are kept in place.

But you can alleviate some of the unfun “wasted by whole turn” feeling by having a midpoint between spectacular success and total failure.

You COULD just add this as an alternate rule that applies to all combat maneuvers performed by everyone, or make it a built-in part of the Improved Combat Maneuver feat. However, you’ll have the least impact on game balance if this becomes a new feat option, allowing additional specialization for characters who want a better chance to impact combat with their preferred maneuvers, without making the maneuvers universally more effective.

Greater Combat Maneuver (Combat)

With one specific combat maneuver, even when you fail you often inconvenience your target.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: Choose one combat maneuver (bull rush, dirty trick, disarm, grapple, reposition, sunder, or trip). If your attack roll for this combat maneuver fails to hit your target’s KAC +8, but does hit their KAC +4, you manage a :near miss,” and impose a minor, temporary condition on the target. This is not considered succeeding at the combat maneuver for purposes of any other effects of yours that are triggered by succeeding at a combat maneuver.
The effect you have on a near-miss depends on the combat maneuver you have selected, as noted below.
Bull Rush: Although you didn’t move the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Dirty Trick: The target had to twist away from you, or shield its eyes, to avoid the impact of your dirty trick. The subject is dazzled for 1 round.
Disarm: You didn’t knock the item out of the target’s hand, but you did give it a good whack, impacting their aim. They are Off-Target for 1 round, or until they take a move action to negate this condition.
Grapple: While you haven’t managed to get a solid grip on your target, your attempt to get a grip and subsequently being in-their-face makes it a bit more difficult for them to pay attention to anything else. They are dazzled for 1 round.
Reposition: Although you didn’t move the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Sunder: You didn’t damage the item, but you did give it a good whack, impacting the target’s aim. They are Off-Target for 1 round, or until they take a move action to negate this condition.
Trip: Although you didn’t trip the target, you did shove them off-balance for a moment, forcing them to regain their footing. They are dazed until the beginning of their turn. (The target can act normally on their next turn, but can’t take reactions prior to that.)
Special: You can take Greater Combat Maneuver multiple times. The effects don’t stack. Each time you take the feat, it applies to a new combat maneuver.

While this feat doesn’t require Improved Combat Maneuver (in keeping with Starfinder’s tendency to keep feat chains to a minimum), it has obvious synergy with that feat. A character with Improved Combat maneuver (disarm) gains a +4 bonus to their disarm attempts. That means if their attack roll would normally hit the target’s AC, with the +4 from the Improved feat it’ll hit KAC +4, which is enough to trigger Greater Combat Maneuver. So on any roll that would have been good enough to damage the target that character could get some impact from attempting a combat maneuver, even if it doesn’t get the full maneuver effect.

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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 July 6, 2021, in Game Design, Starfinder Development and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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