Monthly Archives: August 2021

Designing the Inquisitor for Starfinder: Judgment

We wrap up this week’s work on creating a Starfinder version of the Inquisitor class from PF1 (during whichwe’ve decided what is core to the classwritten up a draft of the basicscreated a spell list, and written up the adversary codex and detect zealot class features) by defining the core 1st level ability, judgment.

The baseline for this ability is the combat tracking ability of the mechanic’s exocortex class feature. I don’t want it to work exactly the same way, but I am basing the accuracy bonus on the increase to attack rolls from combat tracking. While combat tracking eventually lets you track more and more targets, I’m keeping judgment single-target (which means as you drop foes you’ll always have to take a move to re-judge… and that’s fine. Between that and the class not giving you benefits to attacking multiple times per round (like the soldier, solarion, and operative all get), that action-economy cost means that our SF Inquisitor can hit the same foes frontline fighter characters can, but still isn’t quite as effective in combat (good thing too, given their spell access and skill points), but DOES have an advantage against certain kinds of foes.

Judgment (Su): You can focus your disapproval and wrath into a supernatural force that grants you additional might against a specific target. As a move action during combat, you can designate a target to direct your judgment against. Until that target is defeated or you designate a new target, you gain a +1 bonus to your attack and damage rolls against it. This bonus increases to +2 at 5th level, +3at 9th level, +4 at 13th level, and +5 at 17th level.

Additionally, at 1st level attacks you make against the target of your judgement are magical. At 5th level they are aligned to your alignment (for example, if you are chaotic good, your attacks against your judgment target is chaotic and good, bypassing any DR that is bypassed by chaotic or good attacks). At 9th level, they do full damage to incorporeal targets. At 13th level they ignore any DR or energy resistance the target has. At 17th level attacks you make against the target of your judgement do full damage even if the target is normally immune to the damage type the attacks deal.

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Designing the Inquisitor for Starfinder: Detect Zealotry

More work on creating a Starfinder version of the Inquisitor class from PF1. We’ve decided what is core to the classwritten up a draft of the basics, created a spell list, and written up the adversary codex class feature. It’s time to write-up “detect zealot.”

So, Starfinder doesn’t have the detect evil or know alignment spells, and for good reason. Those spell have looong traditions of being used as shortcuts to bypass critical thinking, empathy, roleplaying, or worldbuilding, and as excuses to kill anything that detects as evil (or whatever other alignment element the player of GM wants to make their nemesis). It doesn’t matter if the spells themselves note things like low-level creatures not having powerful enough auras to ping a spell, or alignment subtypes sticking with creatures even if they change their ethos–the tradition amongst some gaming groups to use those spells and similar abilities as carte blanche to kill npcs is rooted too deeply for subtle changes and context to change how those groups operate.

They can also just kill certain kinds of plotlines in ways that aren’t as much fun as figuring out who the bad guys are through investigation, discussion, and trust or lack thereof.

But, being able to detect alignment is a core power of the PF1 version of the inquisitor, and certainly science-fantasy inquisitors from various franchises often have an ability to detect (and then decry) heretics, daemons, the infected, and so on. Once again, we find ourselves with a legit design goal that is at odds with the game systems best practices.

Time to get creative. This still gives out inquisitor SOME ability to detect alignment forces, but rather than knowing if a creature is evil, you learn if it has the evil subtype or a weapon that deals evil damage. Hopefully that will let inquisitor players feel like they have an advantage in sniffing out the enemies of their ethos, without short-circuiting all interesting plots.

(Art by likozor)

Detect Zealot (Sp): As a move action, you can detect the presence of strong supernatural forces aligned to a specific alignment. This functions as the detect magic spell, except as noted in this ability. Rather than magic, you can detect the presence of the chaotic, evil, good, and lawful subtypes, and of any spell, weapon fusion, or effect that allows an attack to bypass alignment-related DR (such as the anarchic, axiomatic, holy, and unholy weapon fusions). You can only detect a single alignment subtype or damage type (chaotic, evil, good, lawful) at a time. If you detect an alignment subtype in a creature, it must succeed at a Will save (DC 11 + your key ability modifier), or you learn it’s creature type and any subtypes as well. Once a creature has succeeded at a save against this ability, it need not do so again until you gain a new class level.

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Designing the Inquisitor for Starfinder: The Fun Stuff Begins

We’re still working on creating a Starfinder version of the Inquisitor class from PF1. We’ve decided what is core to the classwritten up a draft of the basics, and created a spell list.

That is ALL crucial, difficult work, but all it does is create the framework for the class. The success of failure of a new class is mostly decided by how much players enjoy its class features. So, now the fun (and really hard) work begins.

I know each SF Inquisitor gets on inquisition, which will work like the mystic’s connection or operative’s specialization, and that they’ll have tactics and (less often) disciplines to select from. And there’s a strong temptation to leap in to those and start coming up with cool stuff.

But, in my experience, that would be a mistake.

Because we ALSO know that each inquisitor is going to get some static abilities at low level, specifically judgement, detect zealotry, and adversary codex. Since those impact every SF Inquisitor, nailing down the (draft) details of how those work before we start trying to pin down the power level and breadth of the flexible, PC-selected powers makes it much more likely we’ll get those options zeroed in correctly.

So as much fun as inquisitions, tactics, and dedications should be, we aren’t there yet. Instead, we need to define the class features every inquisitor gets. (While keeping an eye on what we’ll ask SF inquisitor’s to give up at 2nd, 4th, 6th, 9th, and 12th level for archetypes).

So, let’s start with the highest level of those, and work our way backwards. Adversary codex needs to be something you are looking forward to getting, but since we’ll also be handing out weapon specialization and the first discipline at that level, it can’t do too much for direct power level or the effect will be overpowering.

Luckily while knowledge is power, it’s a different KIND of combat benefit that more attack or damage bonuses. We want our inquisitors to be read-up on likely foes even fi the player doesn’t invest in a broad range of skills to do so. Starfinder has some specific language about skill tasks, especially identifying creatures and recalling knowledge, so we want to make sure we’re using it correctly if we want to build off of it. (Rather than trust my memory, I pulled up the relevant rules and had them open as I wrote this ability.)

Class Features

The following are class features of the inquisitor.

Adversary Codex (Ex): You are constantly studying information about possible foes you might face or need to track down. You may have a codex provided by an order you belong to, or may be skilled as searching through the dregs of dark infospheres, sorting fact from wild speculation.

You can make a special check whenever you want to identify a creature and it’s strengths and weaknesses. This acts as am identify creature task of the appropriate skill to identify the creature (Engineering, Life Science, or Mysticism), using the normal DC for that task, but your check is 1d20 + your Wisdom bonus + (inquisitor level x 1.5). You cannot gain any insight bonuses to this check.

You can also use this check to learn more about a group’s or culture’s leaders and prominent inhabitants, and deities and religious figures, as if using the Culture skill for the recall knowledge task to do so. However, the DC for such checks is 5 higher than it is when suing the actual Culture skill.

(We’ll look at detect zealotry tomorrow.)

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Designing the Inquisitor for Starfinder: Class Spell List

In our quest to create the framework for a Starfinder version of the Inquisitor class from PF1, we’ve decided what is core to the class, and written up a draft of the basics.

Now, it’s time to create a class spell list. That gives us some things to consider.

We know we want our SF inquisitor to be bale to do useful things with magic, but we also know we’ve carefully given them better combat options that the standard Starfinder spellcasters. We’ve already reduced the SF Inquisitor’s total spellpower by delaying their access to spells beyond 0-level by one whole spell level (by the time the SF Inquisitor gets 1st-level spells, a mystic, technomancer, or witchwarper of the same level has access to 2nd level spells), and giving them relatively fewer spells known and spells per day even when they do get a new level of spells.

But that’s only part of the equation. Now, we need a spell list for the class… and there are a number of factors that go into keeping that balanced.

As an extreme example, if we let the SF Inquisitor select their spells known from any spell list, they could potentially be more powerful in spellcasting situations that mystics and technomancers, even with fewer and low-level spells, because they could cherry-pick the best spells from all spell lists. Since many spells available to just one class are designed to be balanced for that class, and to give the class some specific areas of expertise. When you begin blending the class spell lists, you create the opportunity to have whatever the best spell in the game if for a wider range of situations.

We need to make sure the SF Inquisitor class spell list doesn’t diminish the value of other classes’ spell lists. There are spells that help flavor specific spellcasting classes because they are the only class that gets them, and we don;t want to impinge on that.

But there’s another issues as well, common to third-party OGL products–expansions of the spell list. If we give the SF Inquisitor a unique spell list curated just for that class, when some other new spell comes along from another source (including, but not limited to, official content), it won’t be clear if inquisitors should have that spell on their own spell list or not. That’s not a big issue initially, but it can cause problems over time as official classes options keep growing, and the inquisitor’s doesn’t. This is sometimes the reason GMs don’t like allowing third-party spellcasters into their campaigns–they inevitably lead to players asking if some new spell can be added to the class’s spell list.

So we need a class list for the SF Inquisitor that is flexible, and easily expanded from new official spell options as they come out, but doesn’t impinge on any other classes’ unique flavor spells

So, here the first blush effort to square that circle: “The inquisitor’s class spell list includes every 0-6th level spell that is available to any two of the following classes: mystics, technomancers, and witchwarpers. If the spell is listed at different spell levels for any of those classes, use the highest of the listed spell as the spell level when adding it to the inquisitor spell list. For convenience, that list of spells as of time of publication is listed here.”

This gives us a large, flexible, class list that doesn’t require any GM consideration on what gets added when new spells come out, and never impinges on a spell exclusive to one class. Now, there are still potential issues–inquisitors that take save negates spells may get frustrated because their save DCs are so low, since their spell level is generally one behind other spellcasters. Maybe we want to exclude any spell that saves save negates? Also, this is a BIG list, which isn’t a power balance issue (the limited spells known and spells per day keep any given SF Inquisitor quite reasonable, and there’s no wand equivalent in Starfinder), but it might create option paralysis in new players.

But it’s a great start, and plenty good enough for us to use it for now, and start looking as the details of specific class features (tomorrow).

(Art by grand failure)

Inquisitor Spells

0-Level

Dancing lights

Daze

Detect affliction

Detect magic

Ghost sound

Grave words

Mending

Psychokinetic hand

Starwalk

Telepathic message

Token spell

Void whispers

1st-Level

Acidic mist

Akashic download

Akashic tutor

Aqueous form

Baleful polymorph

Build trust

Charm person

Comprehend languages

Confusion, lesser

Control winds

Detect radiation

Detect thoughts

Disguise self

Ectoplasmic barrage

Erase

Extra sense

Fatigue

Fear

Flight

Gloom mote

Grease

Gyre

Hide weapon

Hold portal

Identify

Jolting surge

Junk shards

Keen senses

Know coordinates

Life bubble

Mental silence

Necromantic revitalization

Phase blade

Polymorph

Pressurize

Quick change

Remove condition, lesser

Scan environment

Shared evolution

Shrink object

Summon creature

Swim

Tectonic shift

Verdant code

Wisp ally

2nd-Level

Akashic tutor

Alter corpse

Amorphous form

Aqueous form

Atavistic howl

Augury

Baleful polymorph

Benevolent synesthesia

Bioluminescent lure

Body double

Cairn form

Caustic conversion

Cavitation sphere

Command undead

Control winds

Dampening field

Darkvision

Daze monster

Ectoplasmic barrage

Ectoplasmic snare

Ego whip

Emberstep

Extra sense

Fear

Flight

Flux density

Fog cloud

Force blast

Hold person

Inflame

Invisibility

Knock

Last gasp

Make mischief

Make whole

Mirror image

Necromantic revitalization

Overheat

Paranoia

Personal gravity

Polymorph

Remove condition

School spirit

See invisibility

Shrink object

Song of the cosmos

Spider climb

Status

Summon creature

Swim

Tectonic shift

Venomous weapon

3rd-Level

Accelerated adaptation

Akashic tutor

Aqueous form

Arcane sight

Archive

Baleful polymorph

Burning ash cloud

Charm monster

Clairaudience/Clairvoyance

Control winds

Death affinity

Dispel magic

Displacement

Ectoplasmic barrage

Entropic grasp

Etheric shards

Explosive blast

Extra sense

Fear

Flight

Glimpse of truth

Haste

Id insinuation

Intellect fortress

Irradiate

Mental block

Meticulous match

Mind of three

Necromantic revitalization

Nightmare

Nondetection

Pinpoint navigation

Polar vortex

Polymorph

Preserve specimen

Probability prediction

Ray of exhaustion

Remove affliction

Resistant armor, lesser

Selective invisibility

Shifting shadows

Shrink object

Sinking ship

Slow

Speak with dead

Suggestion

Summon creature

Swim

Tectonic shift

Tongues

Wall of air

Warpwave

4th-Level

Akashic tutor

Animate dead

Aqueous form

Baleful polymorph

Baleful polymorph, mass

Borrow corruption

Confusion

Control atmosphere

Control winds

Cosmic eddy

Creation

Data dump

Dimension door

Dimensional anchor

Dismissal

Ectoplasmic barrage

Ectoplasmic eruption

Fear

Flight

Gravity well

Hold monster

Invisibility, greater

Miasma

Necromantic revitalization

Planar binding

Polymorph

Polymorph, mass

Reincarnate

Remove radioactivity

Resilient sphere

Resistant armor

Shadow jump

Shrink object

Song of the cosmos, greater

Summon creature

Swim

Wall of fire

Wander warp

5th-Level

Akashic tutor

Aqueous form

Baleful polymorph

Baleful polymorph, mass

Break enchantment

Contact other plane

Creation

Crush skull

Dismissal

Dispel magic, greater

Ectoplasmic barrage

Flight

Hailstorm

Mislead

Modify memory

Necromantic revitalization

Passwall

Planar binding

Polymorph

Polymorph, mass

Private sanctum

Raise dead

Rapid repair

Reanimate construct

Remove condition, greater

Resistant aegis

Shadow body

Shrink object

Summon creature

Unwilling guardian

Wall of force

6th-Level

Akashic revival

Akashic tutor

Baleful polymorph

Baleful polymorph, mass

Bilocation

Control gravity

Control undead

Disintegrate

Ectoplasmic barrage

Enshrining refuge

Ethereal jaunt

Flesh to stone

Flight

Interplanetary teleport

Invisibility, mass

Necromantic revitalization

Planar barrier

Planar binding

Plane shift

Polymorph

Polymorph, mass

Reanimate

Resistant armor, greater

Shadow walk

Shrink object

Star storm

Subjective reality

Summon creature

Summon drift beacons

Terraform

True seeing

Veil

Wall of steel

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Designing the Inquisitor for Starfinder: Class Basics

Having taken a look at what the key concepts for the inquisitor class are in PF1, it’s time to make a stab at some of its basic features. Things like Hit Points and Stamina Points per level, class skills, proficiencies, and spells per level may not seem as exciting as fancy class features, they are nevertheless the backbone of what a class can do and how it plays in game. They are also firm starting points when trying to determine what class features should be capable of–the more effective a class is in its basic bonuses and proficiencies, the less room there is for a lot of additional class feature abilities.

For the Starfinder Inquisitor, we’re shooting for something that has less spellpower than the core spellcasting classes of mystic and technomancer, and more room for class feature options. At the same time, we need to keep an eye on combat effectivness. There are only three HP and SP progressions in core Starfinder–5 per level (for the technomancer and later wirtchwarper), 7 per level (for the solarion, soldier, and later vanguard), and 6 per level (everyone else). So that midline seems a clear choice. Similarly, every class gets 4, 6, or 8 skill points per level, with both mystic and vanguard good example of 6-skill-point classes, so we’ll go with the midline for that as well. for class skills, we’ll try to hit all the areas of ability the PF1 inquisitor’s skills cover.

On armor, the closest equivalent to what we are doing with the Starfinder Inquisitor is the exocortex mechanic, which gets light and heavy armor (but not powered armor), and basic melee, grenades, small arms, and longarms. We don’t want to be significantly more effective than that, but a lot of iconic inquisitor concepts are going to want to be melee combatants, and basic melee weapons won’t cover that role well. But instead of just adding advanced melee weapons, let’s make the inquisitor choose between advanced melee and longarms as a starting character. That means they can be effective with their better-weapons of choice, but not as good or flexible with a backup as soldiers.

Good Fortitude and Will saves round out the base numbers, and that lets us take an initial stab at a class feature table. Looking at the spells known table I drew up when we did our first thoughts article, I want to match that theory and give the SF Inquisitor fewer spells known as well as being a full spell level behind in spells acquisition. This is a crucial balancing factor, since we’re giving the SF Inquisitor better combat proficiencies than any other spellcasting Starfinder class. At low levels, the SF Inquisitor just has 0-level spells, but can use their good armor, skills, and weapon options to be an effective character. Since pure spellcasters all gain access to a “wish”-like spell at 20th level, I’ve decided to allow the inquisitor a single 6th level spell known and spell per day when they hit 20th. It’s not nearly as good as wish/miracle/warp reality, but it’s a nice capstone for the class. Of course their spell list will be crucial too, but I’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

With everything else in place, this is also the time to take a first stab at what their class features will be called and when they’ll get them. For the moment I am assuming each inquisitor will gain one Inquisition, which will be a subclass-like option similar to the mystic’s connection, operatives specialization, or soldier’s fighting style. Judgement becomes a bonus to attack rolls with an action cost, similar to the mechanic’s exocortex target tracking. They get an inquisitor tactic at every even level, which is where a lot of secondary PF1 inquisitor class features will be found, along with things similar to teamwork feats. Disciplines are rarer, more impactful choices, a lot like how soldiers get gear boosts on top of tactics and bonus feats. I want to do something to detect outsiders with elemental subtypes, so I call it detect zealotry and stick it at 2nd level, and give an identifying-foes ability (adversary codex) similar to monster lore that comes in at 3rd. I can define all those things later, and adjust the class feature progression if needed once I am deeper into that.

I’ll want some kind of captstone for 20th level, above just another tactic and the one 6th level spell, but I can design that at the end of this process.

So, here’s what things look like at the moment.

(Art by Digital Storm)

SF INQUISITOR

Hit Points: 6
Stamina Points: 6

Key Ability Score – Wis
Your Wisdom determines your spellcasting ability, the saving throw DCs of your spells, and the number of bonus spells you can cast per day, so Wisdom is your key ability score. A high Strength or Dexterity score can also help you in combat situations.

Class Skills
Athletics (Str), Bluff (Cha), Diplomacy (Cha), Disguise (Cha), Intimidate (Cha), Medicine (Wis), Mysticism (Wis), Perception (Wis), Profession (varies), Sense Motive (Wis), Stealth (Dex), Survival (Wis)

Skill Points at each Level: 6 + Int modifier.
Proficiencies
Armor
Light armor, Heavy Armor
Weapons
Basic melee weapons, grenades, and small arms. Also select either advanced melee weapons or longarms.

SF Inquisitor Class Features

LevelBase Attack
Bonus
FortRefWillSpecial1st2nd3rd4th5th6th
1+0+2+0+2Inquisition, judgement +1
2+1+3+0+3Detect zealotry, inquisitor tactic
3+2+3+1+3Adversary codex, discipline, weapon specialization
4+3+4+1+4Inquisitor tactic2
5+3+4+1+4Judgement +2 2
6+4+5+2+5Inquisitor tactic3
7+5+5+2+5Discipline 32
8+6+6+2+6Inquisitor tactic32
9+6+6+3+6Judgement +3 33
10+7+7+3+7Inquisitor tactic 432
11+8+7+3+7Discipline 432
12+9+8+4+8Inquisitor tactic 433
13+9+8+4+8Judgement +4443
14+10+9+4+9Inquisitor tactic 4432
15+11+9+5+9Discipline 4432
16+12+10+5+10Inquisitor tactic 4443
17+12+10+5+10Judgement +544432
18+13+11+6+11Inquisitor tactic 44432
19+14+11+6+11Discipline 44433
20+15+12+6+12Inquisitor tactic, Capstone444431

SF Inquisitor Spells Known

Level01st2nd3rd4th5th6th
1st1
2nd2
3rd3
4th31
5th32
6th43
7th431
8th432
9th433
10th5431
11th5432
12th5433
13th54431
14th55432
15th55433
16th554431
17th555432
18th555433
19th555443
20th5554441

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Designing the Inquisitor for Starfinder: First Thoughts

It’s been four years since Rogue Genius Games put out the Starfarer’s Compaion, and while I have since that time published codex books for Starfinder versions of the cavalier, dragonrider, godling, gunslinger, and witch, (not to mention the totally-new aeoncarnate and zoomer), I haven’t done any new conversions of classes for a while.

And the itch for a Starfarer’s Companion II is growing stronger, so…

I’m thinking about doing a Starfinder version of the inquisitor. The inquisitor is one of my favorite PF1 classes, and I feel like it has a niche and concept that have not been fully explored yet in Starfinder. So, I’ve been thinking about what a Sf version would look like. Starfinder game design and math are different enough from PF1 that I can’t just juggle the class skills and proficiencies–I need to take the core concepts of the inquisitor, and redesign them to be Starfinder-compatible.

Which immediately means I need to decide what the core concepts of the inquisitor are, so I can create a Starfinder version.

(Art by grandeduc)

It’s a Secondary Fighting Class

Despite having a 2/3 base attack bonus progression, only being proficient with some martial weapons, getting a d8 hp, and not having heavy armor proficiency, the inquisitor is still largely a fighting class. Clerics are already good secondary fighters, and inquisitors are better at the role than clerics. But they aren’t primary weapon combatants, the way barbarians, fighters, paladins, and rangers are. The closest equivalents to this role in Starfinder are the exocortex mechanic and some builds of operative, so I’ll be looking at those for ways to build a secondary fighting class.

It’s a Secondary Casting Class

The inquisitor has the second-best progression for spontaneous spellcasters in PF1, on par with the bard. Now that tops out at 6 level spells, which is the same place Starfinder core spellcasters top out, but since those are the primary spellcasters of Starfinder, the inquisitor needs to be less good than that.

One answer, since PF inquisitors have a max spell level that is 2/3 of the highest spell level in the game (6th level spells vs 9th level spells), would be to give them a max spell level (4th) that is 2/3 of the max level spell in Starfinder (6th). But spells in Starfinder already have another major limiting factor–their core effectivness doesn’t go up with caster level the way most spells do in PF1. For example, a PF1 magic missile spell becomes five times more damaging as the caster gains caster levels, while the Starfinder version of magic missile‘s damage never increases with caster level.

My first-blush thought is that the right answer for a Starfinder inquisitor is to have them gain spells one level lower that a mystic/technimancer of the same character level, and to have fewer spells known and spells/day. That means that straight damaging spells will rarely be the best choice for the inquisitor (and, indeed, we might just not put any on their spell list), but they have access to lower-level utility spells to augment their effectiveness, which sounds right (but will definitely need playtesting).

Here’s my first crack at what I think Starfinder inquisitor spells known per level might look like.

SF Inquisitor Spells Known

Level01st2nd3rd4th5th
1st1
2nd2
3rd3
4th31
5th32
6th43
7th431
8th432
9th433
10th5431
11th5432
12th5433
13th54431
14th55432
15th55433
16th554431
17th555432
18th555433
19th555443
20th555444

Judgement

The judgement class feature is a core part of how inquisitors are effective, so I’ll need some version of that. But rather than limit it to uses per day and giving it a huge boost to effectiveness, I’m more likely to have it take a move action and bring an inquisitor up to the same attack numbers as soldiers and solarions, like how the mechanic’s exocortes does.

Domain/Inquisition

The main customizable class feature (outside weapons and spells) of the PF1 inquisitor is their domain or inquisition. I think inquisitions work much better than domains in PF1, and would be a great name for a selectable class power similar to operative exploits or solider gear boosts. And if two of the early choices are to gain Divine Blessing and Sacred Strike as bonus feats, this can even inject a good deal of divine flavor into the class.

Solo Tactics/Teamwork Feats

It’s no accident that the inquisitor is introduced in PF1 in the same book as teamwork feats, as those feats essentially serve as class features for the cavalier and inquisitor classes (and are only rarely used by PCs outside those class features). It would be possible to introduce teamwork feats to Starfinder (in fact, I’ve done it before), or do something like the “tactics” class feature we added in the cavalier SF class, or maybe a new solution would suggest itself. But one way or another, some form of tactical class feature is going to have be to added.

Cunning Initiative/Detect Alignment/Monster Lore/Stern Gaze

I don’t consider these “core” to the concept of the inquisitor, but they shouldn’t be forgotten either. Some, such as monster lore, would be super-easy to implement as minor class features. Others, such as detect alignment, are things that Starfinder intentionally doesn’t do. All of them should be things a SF inquisitor should be able to feel they can gain something similar one way or another, perhaps as inquisition choices and often modified (such as being able to detect outsiders and alignment subtypes rather than everything’s alignment).

Next Steps

Once I reach this point in a class concept, I like to see how I can space things out on a class advancement table. I like for classes to get something noteworthy at every level, and have what feels like a logical progression pattern, and knowing how often abilities will show up, and at what levels, helps determine how powerful they need to be.

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Ned Kelley vs Dracula. A Timeline

A timeline.

1431. Vlad Tepes III, Prince of Wallachia, is born in Sighişoara, Transylvania.

1441. Vlad is knighted into the Order of the Dragon, the youngest noble to ever receive this honor. The order’s primary goal is to destroy the Ottoman Empire. Vlad receives the right to be named “of the Dragon,” or “Drăculea.”

1442. Vlad and his older brother are imprisoned in Tokat Castle, in northern Turkey, and held as hostages to ensure that his father, who is waging war against the Ottomans, does so honorably. The Tepes brothers are treated well, and educated and taught science, philosophy, the arts, and even allowed to continue their martial training.

1444. Chaffing under his imprisonment, Vlad III seeks additional, darker educations. He managed to communicate with a secret agent of the Scholomance, a school of sorcery that is ruled by the Devil and demands the soul of 1 in 10 students as payment. Vlad excels in these dread powers, as he has excelled at everything he has attempted.

1446. Vlad’s older brother is allowed to join his father. Vlad redoubles his efforts to master sorcery.

1447. Vlad completes a complex ritual to force fate to arrange for his release. Vlad’s father and brother are killed by Vladislav II with the support of the Ottoman Empire, and Vladislav takes control of Wallachia. Considered no threat as a deposed younger son, and having hidden his fouler education from the jailkeepers he has largely charmed, Vlad is allowed to leave as long as he vows never to take up arms against the Ottomans.

1448. Backed by King Ladislaus V of Hungary, Vlad takes up arms against the Ottomans, and Vladislav. He fuels his victories with a combination of personal combat prowess, tactics, strong leadership, and blood magic using the fresh vitae of fallen soldiers and civilian victims on both sides.

1453. Constantinople falls. Vlad III takes control of Wallachia, and continues to wage war against the Ottomans. Insisting on continuing the war does not sit well with the boyars under his command. He has them impaled, and gathers and preserves the blood for more sorcery.

1462. Vlad is deposed as Prince of Wallachia by Mehmet II. Vlad flees into the mountains, and returns to the Scholomance for further training, doubling the chances his soul will be demanded as payment by doing so.

1476. While leading a scouting party to set an ambush to destroy Mehmet II, Vlad and a small guard are themselves ambushed and his men are all slain. Vlad appears to be dead, but has been performing blood magics in preparation for this day for decades. Though his own flesh dies, its living functions are supported by the vitality of the blood he has hoarded.

Vlad flees into the mountains, and begins building a hidden network of agents and apprentices he has trained in scraps of the Scholomance lore he knows, plotting Mehmet II’s death. He sustains himself with magic performed with small, voluntary donations of blood from loyal followers.

1481. Vlad unleashes a curse on Mehmet, slaying him. However, Mehmet had powerful supernatural protections of his own, woven by Gileadian talismancers and astrologers, who were tolerated by the Ottomans. Vlad suffers massive eldritch backlash, and his need for blood intensifies. He also suffers a need to draw strength from the earth, preferably in a stone vault, and a vulnerability to many holy words and objects.

For the next 400 years, Vlad Tepes, the Drăculea, and the Gileadian champions of peace and life known as the Hieremias (or ‘Weeping Prophets,’ as they can invoke a sight to pierce illusion which turns one eye blue briefly and causes it to weep tears of blood) wage a secret occult war against one another in eastern Europe. Drăculea is impregnable in his hidden mountain fortress Nefartatul, but lacks the resources to strike far from there. He trains Sfinții Dracului (‘Saints of the Dragon’) to act as his agents and form secret cells of those loyal to him, but they cannot overcome his enemies without being revealed and then destroyed. The Hieremias seek to find a way to cut Drăculea off from the safety of the earth and stone, but must be close to Nefartatul to do so, and suffer great losses in the efforts. Over time, both groups grow weak and are vastly reduced in numbers.

1536. King Henry VIII deposes the FitzGerald dynasty as Lords Deputies of Ireland. A group of Hieremias rush to Ireland to recover and protect ancient Ottoman relics that were in the FitzGerald’s hands. A small group of these remain in Ireland, using the chaos between Catholic and Protestant forces to remain largely unnoticed. They marry in to local families, and pass on much of their mystic lore. Those families become known as “Cuidightheach,” or “The Helpful Folk,” and “Mac Óda” or “son of Óda’ (Óda being a nickname given to one of the original Hieremias to arrive in Ireland).

1691. The Irish Catholic Jacobites surrendered at Limerick. Among them are several families descended from the “Cuidightheach” and “Mac Óda,” though these names have become the family name “Cody.”  

1800. Mary Cody, a strong scion of the Cody linneage, is born in the Irish townsland of Clonbrogan.

1820. Mary Kelly ne Cody gives birth to John Kelly.

1840. John Kelly is transported to Australia as punishment for the crime of Pig Stealing.

1845. The Irish Great Famine of 1845 – 1847 begins.

1854. Ned Keely is born in Victoria, Austalia, the third of eight children of John Kelly and Ellen Quinn. He grows up to be a bushranger, a criminal who operates out of the wilderness in Victoria, Australia.

1877. Dracula travels to London by ship, consuming all aboard.

1878. Dracula is nearly destroyed by Professor Van Helsing and his allies. The Dread Lord successfully fakes his destruction, but must flee from eyes that will watch for him in England and Transylvania. Needing a place civilized enough to provide sustenance, and considered dangerous enough for his kills to not immediately raise suspicions, Dracula takes passage to Australia.

1879. Dracula uses his experiences in England to successfully introduce himself into British nobility in Victori, and begins to take control of it

1880. Ned Kelly, bushranger, famously dons heavy armor to survive various shootouts with Victoria police and army forces. Kelly’s crucifix, passed down from the Cody line, reveals one of the sheriff deputies he shoots to be a Sfinții Dracului, and realizes Vlad Tepes, the Drăculea, is present in Australia.

He begins gathering forces to support him in a crusade against the undead prince.

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Owen Explains It All! – 0-Level Starfinder Characters

Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:

So, why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a new show from the BAMF podcast, titled “Owen Explains It All!“.

We have a logo and everything!

No description available.
(Why no, that’s NOT Doctor Dungeon… Obviously!)

If you haven’t already gone and watched that whole inaugural episode, we talk about The Tomorrow War and how to implement elements of it in a Starfinder Roleplaying Game campaign. We’ll do an episode every two weeks, picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material.

As we covered in the episode, there’s a lot of good pacing and scene-setting material in The Tomorrow War that can inspire cool setups for a Starfinder game. But the most interesting idea from my perspective was having some of the characters be largely untrained… “0-Level” versions of themselves, not yet even at the base level expected for the things they had to do.

So that’s what we’re looking at in this article. If you want game material inspired from other elements of The Tomorrow War, or want to suggest other things for us to feature on Owen Explains It All, let me know!

Now with that explanation out of the way, let’s get to the OGL game content!

0-Level Characters for Starfinder

There are two common approaches you can use when starting PCs are below-1st-level of power, which I refer to as the Weak Firsters, and the True 0-Level. The Weak Firsters is much easier for the GM to implement, but less flexible for the players. True 0-Level takes more effort on everyone’s part, but it a good deal more flexible. We’ll look at both these using Starfinder Roelplaying Game rules, though the ideas can be easily adapted to any ttRPG system.

Weak Firsters

Using the Weak Firsters rules, each player still picks a character class for their character before play, and then makes a weaker-than-1st-level version of them. Species are picked and their abilities and bonuses applied as normal, but characters start with only 8 points in their ability scores. Each character can spend a single skill point and select a single class skill (which need not be a class skill for their character class — they deserve some reward for beginning at less-than-1st-level), and pick a single armor or weapon proficiency (which DOES need to be something their class starts with).

And that’s it. No other class features, no other skills or proficiencies. Everyone is suffering proficiency penalties to either armor or weapon choices, and depending on what they begin with (normally the GM will have a standard kit of starting equipment everyone begins with in a game like this, though players could be given half their normally starting wealth to pick their own gear) may suffer penalties to everything at first.

Note that this makes EVERYTHING much harder for the characters than for 1st level characters. If you want to frighten your players with CR 1/2 or 1/3 minor threats, now is the time to do it! Even climbing over a wall or driving a vehicle is challenging at this point, and it should be clear that these characters are essentially untrained civilians trying to survive in a situation they have never been prepared for. But they have a key ability score, and thus Resolve points, so at least they can stabilize when at 0 HP…

However, after each encounter, not only to the characters receive normal experience points, they get to add one element from their starting character. At first, each pick must be a class skill and skill point, an armor or weapon proficiency, one of their two missing ability score points (still limited to a max of 18), or gaining a 0-level spell known and castable (spells again being restricted to their class’s normal options), but once those are filled in, characters can start to gain their class’s actual class features, base attack bonus, base saving throw bonuses, and pick their 1st-level feat. This is trial-by-fire, and surviving a single fight with CR 1/2 wounded Mandible Beasts has the immediate reward of getting better at some thing you just had to do while terrible at it.

Once characters select all their 1st level class features, leveling occurs normally from there. This does mean many PCs will have different class skills than their core class, but if they are restricted to the same number of total class skills and skill points, that’s not a huge power boost, and it is a fair reward for beginning play so weak.

True 0-Level

True 0-Level characters have a similar set up with species abilities and 8 ability score points, but don’t have to select a class in advance. Instead each gets proficiency with light armor and small arms (since all classes start with that in Starfinder), but have only 5 base SP and HP, no key ability score, no base attack or base saves, no class skills, and just 2 skill points spend on skills.

Then they gain advances as in the Weak Firsters rules, but make their choices without a class to guide them. Each time they add something other than a class skill or skill point spent, they limit their choices in the future to only classes that have that. For example, if a player decides to gain proficiency with advanced melee weapons, they are then limited to choices matching the solarion, soldier, and vanguard (the only classes that get +1 base attack at 1st level). Once a character has assigned skill points equal to 4 plus their Int bonus, they can only assign more if there is a class available with additional skill points/level.

This is a move flexible system, where players may make careful choices to keep their options open as long as possible, but eventually get locked into a class based on what they want to advance next. Checking that each choice has at least one class that allows it is a good deal more work, and the GM may need to be forgiving of the occasional out-off-class mistake (or even allow one to each player as a bonus–it’s not the worst thing in the world if a soldier happens to have one 0-level spell known, or an envoy has a +1 base attack bonus at 1st level).

Wrap Up

So, see uses for 0-level characters in a game you want to run? Want to pitch it to your GM? Interested in having me Explain It All for some other media-inspired content? Leave a comment and let me know!

(This is an Extended Post, with additional material discussing the Deadly Character Pyramid option to go with 0-level characters, exclusively on my Patreon, for my supporting Patrons.)