Owen Explains It All: Plot-Driven, City-Destroying Fireworks for Starfinder

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

You may be wondering 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 show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do episodes picking new or classic things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. This article ties in to the “Owen Explains It All: Independence Day” episode.

The show has a logo and everything!

The main game-rule idea we discuss in the show is that sometimes, for plot purposes, you want to be able to catch PCs in an area of mass destruction (be that a hurricane, carpet bombing, or alien citykiller beam), which places them as risk but can’t kill them. This is splitting the difference between an entirely game-driven event (where standing around as a city is destroyed can definitely do enough in-game damage to kill someone) and an entirely-narrative even in a game (where the GM just tells the players what happens to set up an important situation necessary for the game).

This allows a GM to ensure the PCs end up in the situation needed for the game to move on, and places them at some risk (which their actions and abilities can mitigate), with no chance they’ll be killed.

Plot-Driven, City-Destroying Fireworks

The skies darken as the K’ruel City Killer materializes high above the city center. There’s a moment of silence as the population takes in the sight of the massive starship, it’s hull covered in runic circuitry glowing a sickly yellow. Then, as its dematerializer pylon begins to power up with a thundercrack, the sounds of screaming and panic begin…

So, the PCs have been caught in a massive, plot-driven even that’s going to destroy everything around them. That’s bad, but as the GM you have assured them that they’ll survive… but their actions, characters’ resilience, and the luck of the dice are going to determine in what condition they survive. They’ll be at 0 Stamina regardless (it’s a massive city-destroying effect after all — of their starship exploded, building collapsed on them, interdimensional oozes swept away all corporeal matter into a interdimensional vortex — whatever massive event your plot needs). But their Hit Points and Resolve Points are still up for grabs, and they may be able to do something about those.

The Warning

This even isn’t supposed to be a gotcha moment — the GM should tell the players what is happening, and how it’ll work. That lets them set their expectations appropriately, and make informed decisions as part of the event, which is an important part of a fun game.

Once you tell the players how this will work, each character gets two rounds of actions before The Event hits them. They can try to get defenses ready, aid one another, take cover–whatever makes sense to them to help their characters come out of this in the best possible condition.

The Threat

Since there aren’t any game statistics for “Plot-Driven, City-Destroying Fireworks,” you’ll need to have a baseline to make sure your Event is an appropriate challenge for the PCs. So, go to the creature creation rules in Starfinder Alien Archive, and look at a combatant with a CR equal to the character’s average character level. When we discuss the Event having an attack bonus, or skill bonus, we’ll be talking about the values from that line of the combatant character creation table.

After the PCs have all has 2 rounds of actions, the Event hits. It comes in 3 waves, but there’s no time to take actions (other than reactions) between the first two. The PCs are going to be subject to an attack roll in part 1, a saving throw in part 2, and then a skill check in part 3. Here’s how it breaks down.

Part 1: Initial Damage

Make a single attack roll using the Event’s highest attack bonus against every PC’s EAC. If the attack hits, the PC takes 4 HP per level of the Event. If the attack missed by 5 or less, the PC takes 2 HP per level of the Event. If the attack misses by 6 or more, the PC takes no HP damage.

Part 2: Saving Throw

Each PC must attempt a Reflex saving throw against the Event’s ability DC. On a failed save, the character loses half their Resolve Points. If the save is failed by 5 or more, the Resolve Points only return at the rate of 1 per full day of rest.

Part 3: Skill Test

Having survived the first two initial waves of damage, the players then get to take a single action to try to avoid the aftershock of flying debris, collapsing buildings, secondary fireballs, and so on. Each player must describe how they use a skill to protect themselves. Appropriate choices include an Acrobatics check to dive into a narrow crevice for cover, an Athletics check to jump into a trench of other safer location, a Computers check to use a datapad to calculate a gap in the oncoming wave of destruction, a Culture check to know where an entrance to a bomb shelter is, an Engineering check to know what walls or vehicles are going to survive the damage and be a good option to get behind, a Mysticism check to use a spell to mitigate the effect, or a Survival check to take steps to mitigate the damage as if it was a natural disaster and damaging weather. The GM has the final say on whether a suggested skill use is appropriate, but the rule of cool should definitely be considered in these cases.

The skill DC is equal to the Event’s Good skill bonus +10. If the PC succeeds by 10 or more, they not only take no damage, they can aid a number of other targets equal to their level + Charisma modifier. This allows them to save an NPC (who will be at 0 SP, 0 HP, and 0 RP), or grant a +5 bonus to an allies’ skill test check. If the PC succeeds by 9 or less, they simply survive with no further effects. If they fail by 5 or less, they lose 1/2 their Resolve Points. If they fail by 6 or more, they lose 1/2 their resolve Points, and those points only return at a rate of 1 per day of rest.

The Aftermath

Unless the PCs are *very* good, and very lucky, after the Event they will be at a serious disadvantage in any combat or resource-intensive encounters (possibly for several days). As the GM you should be ready for this, and may want to focus on things like rescuing other survivors, gathering information, sneaking around, and finding a secure new base or operations before throwing a lot of fights at the characters.

Supporting This Blog
I’m absolutely not immune to the money crunch in the game industry, so if you want to help ensure blog posts like this keep getting produced, please consider supporting my efforts through my Patreon campaign, or dropping a cup of coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi (which is also filled with pics of my roommate’s cat).

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 5, 2022, in Adventure Design, Game Design, Starfinder Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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