Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:
First, this blog has spoilers for an animated series, so if you want to avoid those, don’t read this.
Second, 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 an episode every two weeks, picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.
We have a logo and everything!
If you haven’t already gone and watched the September 27, 2021 episode, we talk about the Star Wars Visions animated shorts, and how one of them features a band that has to overcome challenge with their music, but NOT in a battle of the bands.
Which leads me to Musical Challenges, as OGL content
I already created a set of Battle of the Bands rules, designed to resolve a conflict between two or more musical groups, using a modification of the Starfinder chase rules. That’s great, as far as it goes, but what if you want a musical challenge that isn’t a direct competition among multiple groups? For example, what if a band of scifi musicians need to win over a crowd, and become so clearly popular a local gangster decides it’s more profitable to sponsor them than kill one of their members for a pervious misunderstanding?
Luckily, all you need to turn Battle of the Bands into any musical challenge is a way to create a set of statistics for a “Challenge Stat Block,” (CSB) that is decide that a given task requires the PCs to overcome a stat block with a Musical AC and Musical Item level, and an appropriate skill check. Once you do that, you can run each stage of the encounter as a 1-on-1 “battle of the bands” between the PC band and the challenge’s stat block.
Since those values are based on ranks, just decide the CSB has a number of ranks equal to the CR you want that stage of the challenge to be. So for 3rd level heroes, build the CSB off 3 ranks for a typcial challenge, or 5 ranks for a severe encounter. Then write up each stage of the Musical Challenge as a CSB, and run it like an opposing band.
If you need to have the Musical Challenge work with a specific existing NPC, use their CR for ranks if they have an appropriate master skill, or their CR -2 if they don’t. Similarly, for their own skill checks, use the total master skill bonus of an expert array creature of the same CR if they have appropriate master skills, and the god skills bonus of the array otherwise.
Here’s an example.
Our 3rd level scifi band of adventures, Heavy Sabre, is performing at a festival run by the gangster Massio, who plans to kill their drummer when they are done to enforce an old debt. The band needs to win the crowd over (Challenge Step 1), then convince Massio he’ll make more money promoting them than killing them (Challenge Step 2), which happens while his thugs are trying to get them off the stage.
Since Heavy Sabre is 3rd level, the Challenge Step 1 CSB is built using the 3 ranks as the assumed baseline. That gives “Winning Over the Crowd” a Musical Armor Class (MAC) of 13, and a Musical Item Level (MIL) of 13. When the “Winning Over the Crowd” CSB takes an action for relative positioning, it uses the master skill bonus of a 3rd level expert array (+10). Now run a battle of the bands between Heavy Sabre and the CSB, which gets one action a turn.
Once Heavy Sabre wins that, they must win over Massio. Massio is a 5th level gangster, so this will be much tougher. He has a MAC and MIL of 15. However, since he’s not an expert on music and is likely to be swayed by the crowd’s reaction, you can just use his good skill bonus of +11. Also, since there are thugs trying to get the band off the stage, the PCs will have to both fight a Battle of the Bands with this CSB, and fight off 2 thugs during the combat phase.
And that’s it! Any challenge that the GM decides can be overcome by musical expertise — winning over patrons, lulling savage monsters to sleep, putting ghosts of slain battle-drumming to rest–can now be handled by deciding how many steps it takes, and treating each as a Challenge Stat Block.
This is an Expanded Post, with some notes on how to adjust these rules to allow for ANY skill based challenge to be run available to my Patrons, who provide me with the support that makes these posts possible.
One of the great things about the Starfinder Core Rulebook is that is has built-in vehicle chase rules. That framework is great for opposed efforts that just wouldn’t work well using normal battle-grid and movement rules. But once we HAVE that framework, we can adapt it to other conflicts that don’t depend on attack rolls and Stamina points as much as they do relative success.
Like a Battle of the Bands, Starfinder-style!
“Can no one defeat the Digital DeckGod? Wait… a new challenger appears. Please welcome to the stage… Cherry Cyborg Candy!”
Okay, to run a Battle of the Bands, where two or more acts compete to win the hearts of a judge or audience (be that live in person, or while suspended on platforms above molten lava with a mad undead host calling the shots),we need to take the existing Vehicle Chase rules, and make some tweaks.
If you are setting up a battle of the bands where actual attacks are allowed, you may describe the set-up as having each band of a floating, mobile stage hovering over the crowd. then, engaging maneuvers allow members to make melee attacks, as normal.
This could be a one-time event PCs have to take part in to save a kidnapped famous singer, the only way to earn the trust of a powerful witchwarper drummer with a secret the PCs need, or even just a common part of the mystery-solving adventures of a space band.
Relative Positioning: Battles of the Bands uses the same Relative Positioning rules as vehicle chases, but rather than represent a physical distance apart, it represents relative popularity with the viewers or judges. Once you are 2 or more relative positions behind the leader, you are out of the battle. If there are just 2 bands competing this ends the battle, but in a free-for-all bands could be slowly dropping out until only 2 remain. If a single band is ahead of everyone else, they get the normal Being Ahead bonus to skill checks and attack rolls.
Musical Armor Class: Each band has a Musical Armor Class (MAC), equal to 10 plus (average ranks of appropriate Profession skill among band members). Each band member contributes only their highest ranks in appropriate Profession skills to this total. This does mean a bigger band with a few less-skilled members may have a lower MAC, but those extra members get actions each round so it may be worth it. Use this in place of vehicle KAC for actions.
Musical Item Level: Each band has a Musical Item Level (MIL), equal to 10 plus the highest number of ranks of an appropriate Profession possessed by any band members). You use this in place of vehicle item level for all Band Action DCs members of the band attempt. This does mean the better your best band member is, the harder it is for anyone to make Band Actions, but it turns out if you can’t keep up with your headliner, it sounds bad.
Phases of a Battle of the Bands: Use the normal phases of a vehicle chase for the battle of the bands, but with one crucial difference. Rather than Pilot actions, the first phase is Perform actions, representing musical actions or part of the band’s stage show.
There are the same choices of perform actions as pilot actions in a vehicle chase, but perform actions are taken with appropriate Profession skills (normally dancer, musician, orator, poet, video personality, electrician, vidgamer, and manager, though specific bands might have others) in place of Pilot.
Each member of a band can attempt their own perform action (go in order of initiative), but a band can only benefit from one successful action each phase (ie if a band member tries to break free and fails another member can try the same action, but once any band member succeeds, no further benefit can be gained from that action in that phase. All the pilot actions from vehicle combat are allowed, with the GM and players describing them in terms of band actions (“I’ll use the trick pilot maneuver to represent playing a riff that is disharmonic with all the other band’s music, making them sound worse, while reinforcing our disintegrator-rock sound.”)
If a band member attempts the same action another band member has already attempted, or uses the same Profession skill, they take a -2 penalty to their check. This applies to checks attempting in the same phase, or that were attempted in the previous round — it turns out audiences like some variety. Band members can also ready an action to aid another on an ally’s perform action skill check — harmony is a thing.
The chase progress phase and combat phase proceed normally. Even if a battle of the bands doesn’t allow actual combat, this is the phase when characters an use other class abilities, cast spells, try to demoralize foes, and so on, if they have actions left.
That’s It! You are now ready to run varied, nuanced Battle of the Band contests in Starfinder!
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