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Archetypical Theme for Starfinder

So far this week, we’ve looked at using archetypes to access theme abilities and playing living fabric as player characters, both for Starfinder.

No shock, we’re sticking with that game system today, as we offer a way to access archetype abilities using a theme. For the reasons why you might want to “cross the memes” this way, check out the justification in Monday’s “InterThemed” article. I’ll also add that this can be a way to pick up some of two archetypes in one class, which otherwise can extremely difficult, despite how obviously things like a vaster priest or cyberborn law officer could easily exist within the game setting. While a theme can’t hand out a LOT of archetype abilities (and remain balanced, and not allow a theme to be better at being the archetype than the actual archetype), it can give enough to make a difference, and possibly act as a more customized variant of the “themeless” theme.

(Art by getmilitary photos)

Archetypical Theme

You have a connection to one archetype so strong it defines you as much as your class or background, and you gain a few of its key features without giving up any class abilities of your own.

Archetypical Knowledge: You gain a class skill of your choice when you create an archetypical character. Also, you gain an ability adjustment of +1 to any ability score you choose. Based on the archetype you wish to access, you may want to pick a related skill and/or ability score to benefit from this ability.

Archetypical Dedication: At 6th level, you select one archetype that you have not taken and which you meet all the prerequisites for, that has an archetype ability at 2nd, 4th, or 6th level. You gain it’s lowest-level ability you do not already have that is granted by the archetype by 6th level or earlier. Once you have selected an archetype with this theme, you cannot change it, and you cannot use the normal rules to take that archetype’s abilities in place of class abilities.

Archetypical Mastery: At 12th level, you gain the lowest-level ability of the archetype you selected at 6th level you do not already have, that is granted by the archetype by 12th level or earlier.

Archetypical Resolve: At 18th level, twice per day you can rest and focus yourself for 10 minutes to regain 1 Resolve Point.

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Owen Explains It All – Textile Characters for Starfinder

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!

(I guess I need to build that chair, now…)

If you haven’t already gone and watched the September, 2021 episode, we talk about the fifth episode of Marvel’s What If… series, titled “What If… Zombies?” Obviously there are spoilers for that episode both in the OEIA episode, and this tie-in blog, so go no further if you want to avoid those.

I mean, obviously, while it’s pretty clear from the title that this is the Marvel Zombies inspired episode of What If…, I’m going to be talking about some things that aren’t necessarily clear just because there are zombies involved. So, if you want to avoid spoilers for this (or, weirdly, the Disney Alladin movies), I’ve given you fair warning.

Ready?

So in the episode, we see Doctor Strange’s Cloak of Levitation act entirely of its own accord. It does this in the Strange movie, of course, but here the doctor is no longer around to even subconsciously direct it, and the cloak makes tactical decisions, puts itself at risk, and makes a friend. In other words, the cloak acts not like an object, or a power, but as a character. And I was immediately reminded of Carpet, in the Disney Alladin movies, which similarly shows bravery, or fear, or whimsey, and is clearly more a person than a thing.

And, I realized, that would NOT be hard to make an option in a ttRPG.

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

Playable Textile Characters

Okay so, look. This is for people who have decided sentient magic items that happen to look like capes or carpets or sashes or whatever are no sillier than, and need not be restricted any more than, robots with healing circuits, floating brains with atrophied limbs, or 6-armed overhelpful furballs. Either you like the idea, or you don’t. I’m here to provide rules for people who do, not try to convince people who don’t to change their minds. 🙂

Weft

The weft are living, self-aware fabric magic items, and no one is sure where they came from. Are the living cloaks and rugs an offshoot of cloakers? Are cloakers some kind of morlock offshoot of the weft? Are fabric magic items simply more prone to gaining self-awareness than other forms of eldritch items? Is there some artifact loom, somewhere in the galaxy, cranking out cloth-people?

Like androids, weft are constructs that have sufficient complexity to attract a soul. Also like androids, when a weft is old enough, it simply chooses to let its soul move on, it’s body briefly being an inert length of cloth that changes color in a process known as “dyeing,” before a new soul moves in, and a new weft person arises in the same body. No weft remembers its creation, and it is unclear if this is because all original weft dyed long ago, of because even a “newborn” weft doesn’t become self-aware until removed from its place of origin.

While the majority of weft appear to be carpets or cloaks and capes, some instead take the appearance of coats, sashes, shawls, curtains, and other fabric objects.

(Art by vivali)

Ability Modifiers +2 Dex, +2 Cha, -2 Wis
Hit Points 2

Size and Type
Weft are Small, Medium, or Large constructs with the magical subtype, though unlike other constructs, they have Constitution scores. This decision is made at character creation and can’t be changed.

Blindsense
Weft’s sensitive fibers grant them blindsense (vibration)—the ability to sense vibrations in the air—with a range of 30 feet.

Living Threads
In addition to being constructs and thus able to benefit from spells like make whole, weft count as living creatures for the purposes of magic healing effects that work on living creatures, though the number of Hit Points restored in such cases is halved. A character must use the Engineering skill (or a fabric creation/repair Profession skill) to perform the tasks of the Medicine skill on weft. Weft also heal naturally over time as living creatures do, and can benefit from magic or technology that can bring constructs back from the dead, as well as effects that normally can’t (such as raise dead).

Silent, Sign, and Limited Telepathy
Weft do not speak, but can hear normally and communicate through signed versions of the languages they know. Also, they can communicate telepathically with any creatures within 30 feet with whom they share a language. Conversing telepathically with multiple creatures simultaneously is just as difficult as listening to multiple people speak.

Drape
A weft can share the space of an ally without penalty to either the weft or ally. A weft can also drape itself on a creature willing to let it do so. At the beginning of its turn, the weft must decide if it is riding (in which case it can take no movement that turn, and only moves when the creature it is draped on does), or carrying (in which case it can carry the creature as it moves, but that creature cannot take any other movement until the beginning of the next turn). An ally can decide to stop allowing a weft to drape at any time as part of any action, but if the character was carried by the weft, it still can’t move on its own until after the weft’s next turn begins.

Additionally, whether is it draping or not, as a full-round action a weft can lay and move in such a way as appear to be a typical cape, or carpet (or whatever one mundane cloth object it matches the appearance of, as selected at character creation) to gains a +20 bonus to Disguise checks to appear to be that thing.

Woven
Weft are immune to bleed, disease, death effects, poison, nonlethal damage, and sleep effects unless those effects specify they affect constructs. Weft can be affected by effects or spells that normally target only humanoids, but receive a +4 racial bonus to saving throws against such effects. Weft can drink (absorbing liquids into their fabric), though they don’t need to, and they must rest by entering an passive torpor that is similar to sleep for 8 hours every day. Weft do not breathe or suffer the normal environmental effects of being in a vacuum.

Wrap Up

So, have different ideas for a weft character? Got other magic items you think could be turned into playable species? 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 weft as drones for mechanics and technomancers, exclusively on my Patreon for my supporting Patrons.)

InterThemed Archetype for Starfinder

One of the customization options available to a Starfinder character is a theme. This can range from being an ace pilot to an athlete, cultist, icon, priest, street rat, and more. While theme benefits are generally modest, and are only granted four times over the course of a character’s career, they can be an important part of what defines a character’s background, goals, and methodology. Even when most other large-scale choices between two characters are the same, themes can help set them apart. There is a big difference between a human soldier priest, and a human soldier bounty hunter.

Sometimes, even though you you have a theme that’s perfect for your character, it turns out there are some abilities from other themes that are also great matches for your character. There’s no way in the core Starfinder rules to pick up abilities from multiple themes. That’s a weird limitation, actually, given that there’s nothing to stop a character from taking multiple character classes, and in some cases it’s easy to take two or even three different archetypes.

But, at the same time, you’d never want to have someone dipping a tow in a second theme to be better at it, at any level, than a character who selects it as a primary theme. Luckily, with the archetype rules available as a way to add new abilities to a character (at the cost of giving up some normal class features, to keep things balanced), and the highly-regimented nature of themes, it’s easy enough to create a balanced option for characters who really want to access some of the things locked behind a second, or perhaps even a third, theme. Unlike ThemeTypes, a set of options I created that combine theme and archetype into a single additional powerful concept you can add to a character, the InterThemed archetype is a way to use the archetype rules to access parts of multiple themes.

(This of course leads to the question: “Could you use themes to access some archetype abilities?” Come back Wednesday to see the answer!)

InterThemed Archetype

The narrative of your life is too complex (or, some might claim, muddled)

Dual Theme: At 2nd level, you select a theme other than your own. You gain the benefits granted by that theme at 1st level, except you do not gain any ability score increase, and if the theme grants you an untyped bonus to a skill you have already received an untyped bonus to, you do not gain the additional bonus from the selected theme. You are considered to have the selected theme for purposes of prerequisites.

Complex Theme: At 4th level, you may select an additional theme and receive benefits from it’s 1st level, as with the dual theme archetype ability. This is an optional ability, and you can choose to receive the normal class feature your class gains at this level, rather than take this archetype benefit.

Deep Theme: At 9th level, you gain the benefit granted at 6th level by the theme you selected with this archetype at 2nd level.

Emergent Theme: At 12th level, if you selected a second theme at 4th level, you can receive the ability granted at 6th level by that theme. If you did not select a second theme at 4th level, you may do so now, as outlined in the complex theme ability. This is an optional ability, and you can choose to receive the normal class feature your class gains at this level, rather than take this archetype benefit.

Developed Theme: At 18th level, you gain the benefit granted at 12th level by the theme you selected with this archetype at 2nd level.

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Writing things like this is work, and it takes time from my other paying projects. If you got any use out of this article, or have enjoyed any of my content, please consider supporting my Patreon to cover the cost of my doing it. You can join for the cost of a cup of coffee a month.

DungeonFinder/ShadowFinder Soldier Fighting Style

So, yesterday I pitched on way to handle weapons in DungeonFinder or ShadowFinder, both concepts for 100% Starfinder-compatible campaign settings (one classic fantasy, the other modern urban fantasy). I mentioned that while equipment was a big part of what would be needed to make such settings work, there would also have to be some work done on classes. Some classes would need to be tossed out and replaced. But others, like operative and soldier, just need new genre-appropriate choices.

So, what might those look like? Let’s look at the soldier.

Obviously the soldier class is going to stand in for the fighter, and likely a lot of fighter-adjacent base and hybrid classes. Now, some of that work can be done with archetypes and existing material (the assassin and battle leader archetypes work for any class and are pretty good as-is, and would take at most just a little tweaking, while the wrathful warrior fighting style does a pretty good job of turning a soldier into a rage-themed berserker). But there are some classic fantasy/modern combat tropes that no existing Starfinder material does a good job of covering. for example, the very first fighter archetype in PF1 is the archer, and nothing in Starfinder really fills that conceptual space.

So, we’d almost certainly want an archer fighting style. (As an aside – we might ALSO want an archer archetype, so other classes can do some archery-stuff, in which case we’d certainly want the two to be compatible. We might even want to have them draw from the same pool of abilities. But those are concerns we can tackle later — a proof-of-concept effort shouldn’t try to tackle every possible nuance. We can adjust the idea as needed when we’re further along – none of the work we do here is wasted, even if we move around who gets it and how.)

(As a second aside – we’d ALSO need to do something about how bows work, too, but given we tackled the core idea of fantasy weapons in Starfinder yesterday, for now I feel comfortable saying “I could manage that.”)

So, what would an archer fighting style look like?

(Art by grandfalure)

Archer

You are a master of early ranged weapons and, despite this fighting style’s name, are expert with bows, crossbows, and slings. Whenever this fighting style says “bows,” the rules apply to any analog ranged weapon that is not thrown.

Hawkeye (Ex): At 1st level, Perception becomes a class skill for you. If it is already a class skill, you instead gain a +1 bonus to Perception checks. Additionally, you increase the range increment of bows by 10 feet of any You add an additional 10 feet to such range increments at 5th level, and every 4 levels thereafter.

Trick Shot (Ex): At 5th level, select one of the following combat maneuvers: dirty trick, disarm, sunder, trip. You can perform this maneuver at range using a bow. You can pick a second combat maneuver from the list to perform with such weapons at 11th level, and a third at 17th level.

Safe Shot (Ex): At 9th level, when making attacks with a bow, you do not provoke attacks of opportunity.

Sharpshooter (Ex): At 13th level, when making attacks with a bow, you add half your Dexterity bonus to the damage done.

Volley (Ex): At 17th level, as a full-round action, you can make a single bow attack at your highest base attack bonus against each creature in a 15-foot- radius burst, making separate attack and damage rolls for each creature. You use ammunition for each creature attacked.

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This is an Expanded Post, with more exclusive content (looking at different abilities that might be part of an archer archetype, or abilities a soldier archer could choose from) available exclusively to my Patrons!

Designing Weapons for DungeonFinder, a theoretical all-fantasy Starfinder Hack

Starfinder is not just “Pathfinder in space,” it’s its own ttRPG with specific changes (designed to be improvements and/or simplifications of PF1 rules, or to cover issues common in science-fantasy but not traditional fantasy settings). Some people genuinely prefer its core game system to that of PF1, PF2, or 5e, totally aside from the genre and setting (I’m not claiming that’s a MAJORITY of people mind you, or even a big minority, just that such a group exists.)

One of the things that means is, it would be possible to design a pure-fantasy version of Starfinder, specifically for doing the kind of dragon-slaying and dungeon-delving of a typical d20 fantasy RPG. For the moment, let’s call that theoretical game, DungeonFinder.

Ideally, DungeonFinder would be 100% compatible with Starfinder, so if you *wanted* to have androids and lasers show up in DungeonFinder (like they do in official PF1 material and in some fantasy ttRPGs right back to the beginning), you can just grab the appropriate Starfinder material and use it, no changes needed.

To make a pure-fantasy with the normal swords-and-feudal-themes of a typcial fantasy ttRPG work in a 100% Starfinder-compatible setting, you need some way to make tiered fantasy weapons work, using the same higher-level-gear-does-more-damage framework as Starfinder’s SF weaponry.

That’s perfectly possible — higher-level melee weapons simply become masterwork or magic weapons, and deal more damage. Of course everyone will expect to have +1 longswords and so on, just because that’s the terminology the fantasy predecessors to Starfinder have, which isn’t how Starfinder normally works… but as long as we restrict the bonus to damage (rather than attack rolls), we can make it work.

Here’s a sketch of what a set of tiered Longswords might look like, from 1st to about 17th item level.

(Art by serikbaib)

Advanced Melee Weapons, One-Handed (Longsword)

NameLevelPriceDamageCriticalBulkSpecial
 Longsword13751d8 S1analog
Longsword, masterwork53,2001d10 S1d6 Bleed1analog
Longsword, +178,7502d6+1 S1d6 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +1 flaming912,7502d10+1 F & S1d8 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +2912,7502d10+2 S1d8 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +1 holy1127,0004d8+12d6 Bleed1analog, magic, holy fusion
Longsword, +2 flaming1127,0004d8+2 F & S2d6 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +31127,0004d8+3 S2d6 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +2 holy1480,0007d8+2 S2d8 Bleed1analog, magic, holy fusion
Longsword, +3 flaming1480,0007d8+3 F & S2d8 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +41480,0007d8+32d8 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +3 holy17250,00010d8 +3 S3d6 Bleed1analog, magic, holy fusion
Longsword, +4 flaming17250,00010d8+4 F & S3d6 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +517250,00010d8+5 S3d6 Bleed1analog, magic

I could carry this concept on through 20th level equipment, but since this is just a thought experiment, there’s no real need to do so.

Of course it would be nice if we could avoid having to do a table for every weapon we put in the game. But it might well be possible to break weapons down into a few categories, and have some standard rules (like “masterwork weapons are item level 5, cost 3,000 gp more, do one die step more damage, and gain a minor critical hit effect”), once we have a few exemplar weapons to work from.

This is very much early days yet, but equipment is absolutely the #1 thing that needs to be worked out to make DungeonFinder work. Some Starfinder classes could be ported over with little more than some new class features)soldiers are fine, just create new gear boosts and fighting styles, similarly envoys, mystics, and operatives envoys take little work), while other classes should be more extensively rewritten, or replaced entirely.

I could also carry this same concept into a theoretical ShadowFinder game…

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Writing things like this is work, and it takes time from my other paying projects. If you got any use out of this article, or have enjoyed any of my content, please consider supporting my Patreon to cover the cost of my doing it. You can join for the cost of a cup of coffee a month.

D20 Design Diary: Why Do Inquisitors Get Teamwork Feats?

After I posted my draft of a Starfinder version of the PF1 inquisitor class, game designer and industry veteran Ryan Costello asked me a key question (and gave me permission to quote him on my blog about it):

“I noticed you mentioned in the conclusion that you are carrying over the PF1 Inquisitor teamwork feat focus. I always saw it as a strange fit for the theme. Any insight into why the class went that direction and why you are keeping it?”

So, this blog post is essentially my response.

I can only guess at the original design intent behind granting inquisitors bonus teamwork feats and solo tactics (which lets an inquisitor treat their teammates as having the same teamwork feats, making them much more useful) as a class feature in PF 1. While I worked on the book that was was introduced in, it was as a freelancer and all my work was to fill out support sections (archetypes, feats, spells, and so on), rather than do any design work on the base classes themselves. It’s worth noting that book was the APG, which is also where teamwork feats themselves were introduced, so it might be a simply and pragmatic decision to have one of the new classes tie into the new category of feats (as the cavalier class also did), and help differentiate them from clerics.

Of course one of the biggest fictional settings to heavily feature inquisitors is Warhammer 40k, and in that setting most inquisitors have a team of specialized agents that work for them. That doesn’t immediately equal teamwork, but the connection isn’t so tenuous I would discount it.

And you have to give inquisitors some kind of thematic hooks, and real-world examples of things like torture and bigotry don’t lend themselves well to the kind of heroic character Pathfinder mostly assumes players take the roles of. Also, with solo tactics, it’s less that an inquisitor is good at teamwork (working with people), and more that they are good at predicting how both allies and enemies will react in a way so precise they can use teamwork feats even when no one else is trained in those techniques, or even trying to use them. The inquisitor can work off people, taking advantage of their mere presence, almost like a kind of Super Combat Sense Motive.

Ultimately, I included the same thematic ideas because I set myself the task of creating a Starfinder version of the Pathfinder class, and I think this is a key element of that class, regardless of what the original thinking behind it was. But the fact it’s a different ecological niche remains true in Starfinder, which helps differentiate my inquisitor in a game system where there have been only 2 attack bonus progressions and 2 spell progressions to date, so something brand new always helps a class stand apart.

And, of course, since I designed my own teamwork feats, and plan to introduce them in the same book I introduce the final version of the Starfinder Inquisitor, the pragmatic consideration also applies. By putting a class with teamwork feats as a part of their legacy into a book that adds such feats (or, rather, my improved Starfinder versions of those feats) to the game, I am also driving greater engagement with different parts of the book.

(Crowdfunding campaign coming this fall!)

Patreon

Writing things like this is work, and it takes time from my other paying projects. If you got any use out of this article, or have enjoyed any of my content, please consider supporting my Patreon to cover the cost of my doing it. You can join for the cost of a cup of coffee a month.

Revised Icon Theme, for Battles of the Bands in Starfinder

So, yesterday I presented a reskinned version of the starship vehicle chase rules in Starfinder for use in Battle of the Bands contests. It works great. There’s just one issue.

Icons don’t have any real edge winning Battles of the bands with these rules.

Now, sure, the Icon theme might not be for musical/stage performers specifically, And they DO get a +1 bonus to their selected Profession skill, so that’s a small edge.

But if a campaign is REALLY going to use Battles of the Bands as often as, say, starship combat, there really ought to be a theme that makes you better at it.

So, here’s a revised Icon, tied into yesterday’s rules. Or, if you prefer, you can use this as a Jukebox Hero, Rock God, Pop Star, or Stage Diva theme, and leave Icon alone.

(Insert your character here)

Revised Icon

You’re going to be a Superstar, if you aren’t one already.

Theme Knowledge

Choose one of the following Profession skills – dancer, musician, orator, poet, video personality, electrician, vidgamer, or manager. You are hooked deeply into the culture of your iconic profession. You gain a +1 bonus to checks with your chosen Profession skill. Culture also becomes a class skill for you, though if it is a class skill from the class you take at 1st level, you instead gain a +1 bonus to Culture checks.

When you are in a Battle of the Bands contest, your band’s Musical Armor Class increases by +1, and you and all other members of the band receive a +2 enhancement bonus to all Perform Phase skill checks.

In addition, you gain an ability adjustment of +1 to Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma at character creation (whichever is tied to the Profession skill you selected).

Under Pressure (6th)

Performing is in your blood, and the harder things get, the better you perform. When you are not at full Stamina Points, or are down to 3 or fewer Resolve points, you gain a +2 circumstance bonus to skill checks with skill checks for your Profession associated with this theme. When performing (taking at least a standard action each round to make an appropriate Profession check, or participating in a Battle of the Bands), you gain a +2 circumstance bonus to saving throws against any effect that would prevent you from continuing your performance.

The Show Must Go On (12th)

You can keep on performing even while aiding you allies, keeping the equipment working, or even shooting at music-killing raith phantoms. During a Battle of the Bands, you can take a single action in the Perform Phase or Combat phase as a swift action (as long as it is normally a standard action or less), as long as you take no other action during that phase.

Holding Out for a Hero (18th)

The thrill of a great performance energizes you, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. The first two times each day you are present when someone rolls a natural 20 on a Profession check for some kind of performance check (for a Battle of the bands, or anything else), you recover 1 Resolve Point. If you take 20 on an appropriate Profession check, this counts as a natural 20 that day for purposes of this theme ability.

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Battle of the Bands: Reskinning Chases as Musical Contests for Starfinder

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!”

(Art by Corona Borealis)

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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Owen Explains It All – Super-Shrinking for Starfinder

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 August 29th, 2021 episode, we talk about the third episode of Marvel’s What If… series, titled “What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” Obviously there are spoilers for that episode both in the OEIA episode, and this tie-in blog, so go no further if you want to avoid those.

Seriously, much more than either of the first two What If… stories, “What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” has twists and reveals you may not want to know until you’ve seen it. It’s a murder mystery, and we’re going to spoil who done it, and how. Ready?

I mentioned in the blog “Owen Explains It All! – Forlorn Hope and Gadgeteer Armor,” superhero movies and TV are particularly good places to pick up ideas for Starfinder, because they are generally modern-or-later settings that include aliens, technology, magic, and small-unit action –and sometimes even starships– much as Starfinder does. In this What If…, Hope Van Dyne (the Wasp in main MCU continuity) dies before the episode begins and Hank Pym, clearly grief-stricken but also possibly driven mad by using Pym particles without a properly protective helmet (as noted as a potential drawback to the Yellowjacket armor hank’s wearing in this in the first Ant-Man movie) kills everyone tagged in the Avengers Initiative as revenge on Shield.

He does this by being small. So small, people can’t see him, and he remains free to employ both his massive genius and full-size strength at miniscule size. And that got me to thinking about how to make miniscule-but-mighty threats in Starfinder!

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

Tiered Super-Shrinking

This is now added to the long list of tiered powers we have available for sci-fi Starfinder games, but also FreedomFinder and/or GammaFinder campaigns using the same rules. That link will show you how you can gain tiered powers through feats, themes, archetypes, and so on.

Super-shrinking is about more than just getting small. It is a specific form of shrinking that leaves you the full power of your personal abilities, muscles, and gear while becoming harder and harder to spot. Even movement is unaffected — your reduced weight means you can pump your legs faster or even just jump as needed to maintain the same move rate as you do at full size. The only changes that occur to your character’s game stats at each tier of shrinking are those listed with the power.

Growth-Punch: Whenever you are shrunk, you can end your shrinking as part of a melee attack against a target bigger than you. The target is treated as flanked by you for this one attack, and add your tier to the damage done by a successful attack. The stress of a growth-punch on you means you cannot shrink again (from any source) until after the end of your next turn.

Tier 1: You can become Small. If you are already Small, you shrink down to the minimize size for a Small creature. You have a 5-foot space and 5-foot reach (10-feet for any attack with the reach weapon special property), and weigh between 8 and 60 lbs. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +2 size bonus to Acrobatics checks.
Tier 2: You can become Tiny. If you are already Tiny, you shrink down to the minimize size for a Tiny creature. You have a 1-1/2-foot space and 0 reach (5-foot reach for any attack with the reach weapon special property), and weigh between 1 and 8 lbs. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +3 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +1 size bonus to Stealth checks.
Tier 3: You can become Diminutive. If you are already Diminutive, you shrink down to the minimize size for a Diminutive creature. You have a 1-foot space and 0 reach (5-foot reach for any attack with the reach weapon special property), and weigh between 2 oz. and 1 lb. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +4 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +2 size bonus to Stealth checks.
Tier 4: You can become Fine. If you are already Fine, you shrink down to an even smaller size within Fine. You have a 1/2-foot space and 0 reach, and weigh between 0.2 oz. and 2 oz. (as decided by you when you use the power). You gain a +5 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +3 size bonus to Stealth checks.
Tier 5: You can become Fine, but even smaller than even typical Fine creatures. You have a 0-foot space and reach, and can share a space with a creature of any size without either of you taking any penalties. You are between 0.1 and 1 inch in height, and weigh less than 0.1 oz. You gain a +5 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +4 size bonus to Stealth checks. Unless an area is described as totally barren and clean, there is always something in your space you can use to take cover as a move action, retaining cover until you move again.
Tier 6: You can become Fine, but much smaller than even smaller Fine creatures. You have a 0-foot space and reach, and can share a space with a creature of any size without either of you taking any penalties. You are between 0.01 and 0.1 inch in height, and have no effective weight. You gain a +5 size bonus to Acrobatics checks, and a +5 size bonus to Stealth checks. You always have cover against any creature of Diminutive or larger size (allowing you to always attempt Stealth checks against such creatures). Unless an area is described as totally barren and clean, there is always something in your space you can use to take cover against Fine creatures as a move action, retaining cover until you move again.
Tier 7: As tier 6, but you are also treated as invisible by any creature of Diminutive or larger size that is unaware of your presence (see the Four States of Awareness). This applies to all senses except those based on thought and emption, and abilities that normally reveal or sense invisibility do not apply you.
Tier 8: As tier 7, but you are also treated as invisible by any creature of Diminutive or larger size that is aware of your presence, but unaware of your location. (see the Four States of Awareness). This applies to all senses except those based on thought and emption, and abilities that normally reveal or sense invisibility do not apply you.
Tier 9: You can shrink done to microscopic scale. As tier 8, but you are also treated as invisible by any creature of Tiny or larger size that is not using at least tier 8 super-shrinking. (see the Four States of Awareness). This applies to all senses except those based on thought and emption, and abilities that normally reveal or sense invisibility do not apply you.
Tier 10: You can shrink down to atomic scale. As tier 9, but you are also treated as being incorporeal by any creature of Tiny or larger size that is not using at least tier 8 super-shrinking, though you can attack and affect such creatures normally. Unlike most incorporeal things, you can move completely through solid objects (though not those that can stop incorporeal creatures, or that block teleportation).

Wrap Up

So, have different ideas for a Forlorn Hope campaign? Got other supers you think could be turned into archetypes? Interested in having me Explain It All for some other media-inspired content? Leave a comment and let me know! The best way to do that is to Join my Patreon, and leave me a note through that!

d20 Design Diary: How Many Class Options is Enough (Starfinder Inquisitor example)

In the long run, this all comes back to the Starfinder Inquisitor I designed a draft version of. And, as a reminder, if you are a supporter of my Patreon in the timespan from today through tomorrow, you’ll get a slight-revised-and-expanded version of the class as a free pdf!

One common format of d20 game class design is to have selectable options as class features. These may be specializations — things you pick once that then give you fixed abilities as you gain levels (cleric domains, and sorcerer bloodlines are good fantasy examples of this, while mystic connections and operative specializations are the same idea in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game) — or may be a long set of talents that are abilities (some with prerequisites) you get to pick from every few levels (with the ur example being rogue talents, and everything from operative exploits, to mechanic tricks, and soldier gear boosts being iconic Starfinder examples).

These are things like will get endlessly expanded in expansions, campaign settings, houserules, and the blog posts of former-design-leads, so in the long run “enough” is “when the game stops being played.” But when the class is first introduced, you need to decide how many of these choices are presented to begin with. How much is “enough” to feel like there are a range of options with different focuses, themes, and effects. Obviously space constraints are always a downward pressure on these questions, but from a design point of view, you want there to be enough options at launch for players and GMs to have a feel for what kind of things you plan for those options to include, and for characters of the same class to feel different.

So, how much is enough? Well… it depends.

First, if you include bonus feats as choices (or the class feature is nothing but bonus feats, as with the fighter/soldier), you can count that as much more than one entry (depending on how many feats can be selected with the class feature). After that, it’s a question of how many different concepts you want to highlight, and how many such options a single character can take.

In this context, a character can only get a single specialization, so you don’t need as many of them. Talents, otoh, you usually get 5-to-10 of over the course of a single character’s career, so you need more to make sure that no member of the class is forced to pick the same talent as a different character with a different concept.

So, let’s look at the number of such class features that appeared in the Starfinder Core Rulebook, when the classes were first introduced. (I counted these by hand, so I might be off by 1 or 2 on one of these entries — which is fine, since I am looking for an idea of the range of options rather than an exacting tally.)

Envoy

Improvisations – 28

Expertise talents – 19

Mechanic

Artificial Intelligence – 2 (One being the drone, which has ANOTHER set of selectable options)

Mechanic tricks – 30

Mystic

Connections – 7

(The mystic also has spells, but that’s a bit different from selectable class features)

Operative

Specializations – 7

Exploits – 38

Solarion

Stellar Mode – 2

Stellar Revelation – 31

Soldier

Gear Boost – 12

Fighting style – 7

(These are in addition to gaining bonus combat feats at regular intervals, making the soldier highly customizable even with reduced number of gear boosts and fighting styles.)

Technomancer

magic hacks – 31

(The technomaner also has spells, but that’s a bit different from selectable class features)

It’s remarkable how similar some of those numbers are. It’s clear if you have an option that runs most of a class’s 20-level career, such as mystic connections, operative specializations, or soldier fighting styles, you want 7 of them to start. If you are doing talent-like choices, you want 20-40 of them (depending on how much the class depends on them, and how many other custom class features it gets).

So, what do we do with this knowledge?

Let’s apply it to our Starfinder Inquisitor., which is schedule to appear in a “full” version in the book Starfarer’s Companion II.

(Crowdfunding campaign coming this Fall!)

That class has inquisitions, which are very much in the “specialization” category for the kinds of class features we are discussing here. I only have one of those written up for the draft –the Battle Inquisition. I’m not going to have more than at-most one more for the free pdf version going to Patreon supporters, but when I release a “final” version of the class I’ll want 7 of those total. Offhand, I’d likely choose Battle, Madness, Occult, Solar, Technology, Tyrant, and Void for these first 7 slots, to give a wide range of options tied to both common Starfinder tropes, and inquisitor tropes from other science-fantasy fiction.

The class also has inquisitor tactics, which fill our “talent” design space. One of those — Team Tactics — is going to grant option to a range of teamwork feats designed for the class, so we can likely skew toward the lower end of the 20-40 talent number, especially since the class also picks either advanced melee weapon or longarm weapon proficiency at 1st, AND has spells. There are only 10 in the draft, so that number will need to be roughly double in the final version.

Want to see what I add in the slightly-expanded-and-revised pdf for my Patrons?! Back my Patreon now to find out!