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d20 Design Diary: Feat Prerequisites

One of the things I have mentioned several times in my ongoing series of articles converting Pathfinder Core Rulebook feats to Starfinder, is that Starfinder tends to have much less restrictive, less extensive feat prerequisites. What I haven’t done is go into any particular details about WHY that is the case, or how it impacts gameplay, or why Starfinder has any feat prerequisites at all.

To understand the answers to those questions, you need to understand why any feat has prerequisites, and what the different game function of various categories of prerequisites are. Since the core concepts here tend to apply to a broad range of d20 games, they seemed deserving of their own Design Diary (which, if popular, may be the first in a series of such posts looking at the unwritten logic behind various elements of d20 game design).

There are basically three kinds of feat prerequisites.

The first are balancing prerequisites, designed to limit which characters can take a feat based on character build. These include things like ability score minimum (so feats that make a character seem strong are limited to characters who have some minimum level of Strength), level minimums (so you can’t get the benefit until a certain level of options have entered the game in the form of class features, spells, and items tied to that level), and base attack bonus minimums (which ensure lower-level characters can’t get the feat immediately, and that full attack-bonus classes have access to them earlier and therefore can also get more of them). These tend not to be things players have to plan for–eventually a character hits these values, or doesn’t.

(A quick aside — Ability scores are slightly different, in that they can be a case where you can plan to gain the needed score to pick up a feat eventually. This is one of the reasons Starfinder and Pathfinder 2e grant you boosts to more than just one ability score when you hit the appropriate level–to allow characters to pick up feats they didn’t original qualify for due to a secondary or tertiary ability score without requiring the character give up boosting their primary ability score. It’s also why ability score prerequisites are always an odd numerical value–since ability bonuses are tied to even scores, having feats have odd scores as prerequisites can be the only gem mechanical difference between a 12 and 13 Intelligence, for example. In turn, this is why themes grant a +1 ability bonus in Starfinder. The design is intended to ensure any character build can work with any theme, since the theme does not change what your ability score modifiers are. But since they do cause one of your ability scores to have an odd value, taking the mercenary theme can be the difference between qualifying for Heavy Armor Proficiency, or not.)

The second type of prerequisites are those where just by the nature of the rules for someone to be able to do what a feat grants, they much have some previous ability. This is a like our Starfinder version of the Extra Rage feat, which gives you a benefit with a specific soldier fighting style–obviously if you don’t have that style, the feat is useless, so the style becomes a prerequisite. Often these are things a character is going to have as part of their core concept, or not. It’s less common for a character to evolve to gain these things, except as level locks (a feat that requires 7 ranks in a skill is level locked in that you can’t get it before 7th level, but most characters won’t pick up those ranks just to access the feat).

A subtype of this are prerequisites that are just a good idea for a character to have to make things effective–for example combat maneuvers in Starfinder are difficult to succeed at, so we are adding Improved Combat Maneuver with the appropriate maneuver as a prerequisite for each of our Greater combat maneuver feats. You don’t have to be good at disarming things game mechanically to theoretically benefit at the additional benefits for Greater Disarm, but it makes sense to avoid having frustrated players who end up with extra options for a combat maneuver they rarely succeed with by requiring them to be fairly good at the basic option before taking an advanced option.

The third type of feat prerequisites are conceptual ones, where it makes sense within the setting for you to have to be able to do something before you can gain a feat’s benefit, but they aren’t directly tied together. This includes things like not being able to use a skill for some advanced task unless you have ranks in it as a prerequisite, or needing a simple improvement before you get a complex improvement. This is where Pathfinder feats often have long chains of prerequisites which may have nothing to do with the game mechanics of a feat, they exist purely because it was considered logical by the designer. For example, you can’t get Greater Disarm in Pathfinder without Combat Expertise, since obviously disarming someone is an expert combat maneuver. But that also means you can’t get it without a 13 Intelligence, and that you must pick up the purely-defensive Combat Expertise feat before you can get the unrelated offensive combat maneuver-boosting Greater feat.

One effect of this is that it tends to create niche protection for what characters can gain what abilities. In Pathfinder if you have a fighter and a rogue in the group, and only the rogue has a 13 Intelligence, the rogue is more likely to be the only character with Greater Disarm because the fighter likely won’t be motivated to get the 13 Int AND Combat Expertise just to pick it up. However, this niche protection is haphazard–the Pathfinder fighter may have a much higher Combat maneuver Bonus and thus still be better at disarm than the rogue even with no resources dedicated to the idea–and it can create frustrations where a player finds some feat that feels thematically appropriate, but the feat has a chain of 7 prior feats they must have to take it, requiring the character be dedicated to that one concept for many levels of game play.

This category is where Starfinder has cut out a lot of prerequisites, so characters are less likely to be required to access unrelated feats to qualify for the things that interest them. As much as possible, the game is designed to allow any character of an appropriate level, who has the basic concepts to support a new feat option, to be able to select that feat option.

Long feat chains can also be designed in an effort to enforce game balance, in two different ways. First, if a feat is under-powered on its own, having it serve as the prerequisite for a more-powerful-than-average feat can, theoretically, lead to characters being more balanced overall. However, this means a player must choose the under-powered feat first, and live with its underwhelming performance until the more advanced feat can be gained. Second, if a feat has a huge list of prerequisites it obviously won’t be taken by low-level characters who don’t have that many feat slots. However if the feat is powerful enough, players will constantly seek ways to gain the prerequisites through other means, and may end up picking it up earlier than its designer intended. If a feat shouldn’t enter the game until 7th level, it’s simpler to just make being 7th level a prerequisite.

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Developing to Spec: Part 14 – The Overrun Objective

This is the fourth section of Part Fourteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

Our journey of adaptation has brought us to Greater Overrun. Which is a problem, because the PF overrun combat maneuver doesn’t exist in Starfinder. And we can’t just create a new ability and call it Greater Overrun, because we’re going to have to convert Improved Overrun later when we get to all the PF “Improved” feats.

It’s not hard to see why overrun doesn’t exist in Starfinder — it’s a hybrid charge/trip that has special rules that allow a foe to move out of the way when it’s not their turn. Given one of the design objectives of Starfinder was to be simpler than PF, it makes sense to cut a combat maneuver that’s rarely used and has to bear the weight of special rules used only for that one maneuver.

But it’s inconvenient for us now.

The “obvious” solution is to create a new combat maneuver-like option you access through the Improved Overrun feat, and make a better version of it for Greater Overrun, while keeping true to the original concept of overrun but not making things as complicated as that option was. Which is a lot to try to manage, but we’re professionals, right? 🙂

GREATER OVERRUN (Combat)
Your foes fall before you.
Prerequisites: Improved Overrun, Improved Unarmed Strike.
Benefit: When using Improved Overrun, you can make any melee attack as part of the charge rather than only unarmed strikes. If your attack roll exceed’s the target’s KAC +8, it is knocked prone and your movement does not provoke an attack of opportunity from that foe.

IMPROVED OVERRRUN (Combat)
You are skilled at running down your foes.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strike.
Benefit: When you charge a foe that is no more than one size larger than you (or one size larger than your mount or vehicle, if you are mounted or piloting a vehicle), and you make an unarmed melee attack (or your mount makes one if mounted, or you impact the target with your vehicle, if in one), you gain a +2 bonus to the attack roll. If the attack hits and damages the target, you may continue your movement through their space (though doing so provokes an attack of opportunity for doing so as normal if you leave their threatened space), and your movement after the attack need not be in a straight line.
Normal: A charge stops when you attack your target.

We can get away with the attack bonus on the charge because in Starfinder charge normally has a penalty to your attack, so we aren’t breaking the game’s combat math, just making that option less restrictive. This may actually mean some soldiers and solarians who take class features based on charge can end up with a bonus, but they’ll have spent significant character choices to do so, and will still be limited to unarmed attacks.

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Developing to Spec: Part 14a – Stay Up to Date

This is the first section of Part Fourteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

One of the difficult parts of writing for a constantly-evolving game system is that you need to keep current. Every new book released that is considered “official” (such as those published by the game’s original publisher, rather than depending on some 3pp license) can bring new rules, clarifications, options, and styles of play that change how your project should be handled. This can even happen in the middle of a project, which may require you to go back and look at work you have done but not yet turned over.

For example, while there is no “rage” mechanic in the Starfinder Core Rulebook for our Extra Rage PF feat to be converted to work with, the Starfinder Character Operations Manual adds a wrathful warrior fighting style, which is clearly inspired by barbarians. Since Extra Rage was only usable by a small fraction of total characters in PF, it seems reasonable to make our Starfinder version similarly focused only on fighting classes with anger powers.

EXTRA RAGE (Combat)
You are filled with a fast reservoir of fury you can call upon in combat.
Prerequisites: Wrathful warrior fighting style.
Benefits: Once per day as part of any other action you can activate your frenzied fighting ability. You may do this even if you have already used the ability and have not yet rested for 10 minutes to regain Stamina Points since doing so.

This is in many ways simpler than the PF version, and it includes an action economy buff when using this once/day version, but those are intentional choices to try to keep it appealing to players who are, after all, playing soldiers with tons of other options (especially if they have COM options to play with).

That brings us to Gorgon’s Fist, but since it has Scorpion Style as a prerequisite, it makes more sense to do that PF feat first.

Weirdly, Scorpion Style… works FINE in Starfinder. It doesn’t reference rules that don’t exist, it doesn’t impact the game’s combat math, and it doesn’t interfere with any game setting themes or logic. Given how easy it is to make a Starfinder version, I spend a fair bit of time checking things other than feats (such as class features and archetypes) to see if it had been co-opted for those, and the only thing I found I didn’t know about was hampering inhibitor for the biohacker (again, in COM), so we want this to operate a bit differently.

But otherwise my one and only concern is that it doesn’t use key ability score language and seems underwhelming in a game that has jump jets available by 3rd level. Those, however, are easily fixed.

SCORPION STYLE (Combat)
You can perform an unarmed strike that greatly hampers your target’s movement.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strike.
Benefit: To use this feat, you must make a single unarmed attack as a standard action. If this unarmed attack hits, you deal damage normally, and the target’s burrow, climb, fly, land, and swim speed (if any) are reduced to 5 feet for a number of rounds equal to your key ability modifier unless it makes a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your key ability modifier). Multiple uses of this ability can reduce a target’s speed multiple times, to a minimum of 0.

With that done we can hop back to Gorgon Style… tomorrow. 🙂

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Developing to Spec: Part 13d – Know When to Break the Design Rules

One of the general principles of good game development is not to add things to a game’s rules that was explicitly avoided by the core rulebook. For example, even though Weapon Focus gives a +1 or +2 bonus to attacks with one class of weapons in Starfinder, the book specifically didn’t give a better, stacking version of that to soldiers for an even bigger bonus. So, when we adapted Greater Weapon Focus, we avoided adding what the core rulebook was specifically designed to not have.

This is different, in very important ways, than just not adding anything new.

But it’s also a general principle, not a hard-and-fast law. Sometimes, you know better than the people who created the core rulebook. Sometimes real-world play experience shows people want unbalanced options because they’re fun. And sometimes, you are creating something everyone knows is unofficial, so you are in an environment with different needs and responsibilities.

Starfinder clearly doesn’t want to allow people to transfer Resolve Points, or duck the drawbacks of their class features. But maybe we DO want to allow those things, at least in the context of this product, which is most likely to appeal to players who want things the PF core rulebook allows for, and Starfinder doesn’t.

And that leads to today’s feat conversions.

Like Extra Lay On Hands from yesterday, Extra Mercy functions in PF by giving extra uses of an ability that doesn’t exist in Starfinder. So how can we make this feat’s name, which suggests you are already being merciful, feel like the user is *extra* merciful?

EXTRA MERCY
Your healing touch can restore the inner resolve of your patient, at a heavy cost to you.
Prerequisites: Healing touch class feature.
Benefit: When you use the healing touch class feature, you can also expend 1 Resolve Point to grant one target of your healing touch 1 Resolve Point. Under no circumstances can the target exceed its normally maximum number of Resolve Points.

Extra Performance gives us exactly the same problem—there’s nothing you can run out of called a “performance” in Starfinder. So, what CAN we add some benefit to that makes linguistic and thematic sense? Well, envoys have abilities that could be considered performance-related, and they have a kind of ability that takes away one of their normal benefits, the expertise die. There’s nothing in Starfinder that let’s you double-dip (getting both the expertise die and a talent benefit that normally requires you to forgo it), but as a limited, flexible resource you can gain with a feat, that should be balanced (if adding a bit more complexity than Starfinder normally engages in).

EXTRA PERFORMANCE
You can call upon a deep well of performative and diplomatic skill to pull off complex tasks requiring great expertise.
Prerequisites: Expertise talent class feature.
Benefit: Twice per day you can use an expertise talent that normally requires you to forgo adding the benefit of your expertise die to a skill check, and still add the expertise die as normal for that skill.

Both of these re-conceptualize the function of the original feats into a different, though thematically-related, benefit. They also do things Starfinder’s existing rule options don’t allow for, but in a controlled way that makes sense, and shouldn’t break any aspect of the game.

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Developing to Spec: Part 13c – Feats that are SO EXTRA

This is the third section of Part Thirteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

In our ongoing alphabetical march we have run into another set of feats-of-a-set-type, though in this case they’re all still just general feats. These are the feats that grant “Extra” uses of various PF class features with limited charges per day. Since almost none of those powers even exist in Starfinder, somehow creating a set of feats with the same names as those designed to just boost uses/day is going to take some creativity. (These are another great examples of feat it would be worth checking if you producer REALLY wanted to create Starfinder versions of, but this project considers that question settled, so on we go).

For example, Extra Ki has all sorts of problems. First, there is are no ki points or ki powers in Starfinder. Second, those things that are similar to ki powers have been replaced by a universal Resolve Point mechanic, which already has Extra Resolve that gives you more Resolve Points, and cannot be taken more than once.

And, in that second fact we perhaps find a crack of design space. It’s likely not something the designers of Starfinder intended (aside—nope, it sure isn’t), but it should work well enough.

EXTRA KI
You have a focused pool of resolve to draw of when accessing your trained abilities.
Prerequisites: Extra Resolve, character level 5th.
Benefit: You gain a special pool of 2 bonus Resolve Points, These can only be used to fuel class features you possess that require Resolve Point expenditure.

That solution doesn’t work with Extra Lay on Hands, of course, because there’s no similar broad category of abilities we could reference. But there IS the mystic healing touch class feature, which is close descriptively, so:

EXTRA LAY ON HANDS
You can sooth with a touch more often than most mystics.
Prerequisites: Healing touch class feature.
Benefit: You gain three additional uses of healing touch per day. In a single ten minute period, you can heal multiple adjacent creatures (expending one use of the ability for each target), though you cannot use this to apply multiple uses to a single target.

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Developing to Spec: Part 13b – Re-conceptualizing

This is the second section of Part Thirteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

As the developer for this project, it’s getting clearer and clearer that a lot of feats didn’t get translated from PF to Starfinder because they are connected to game mechanics that have been abandoned or radically changed. (I already knew this, as it happens, and I wrote the first draft of the Starfinder Core Rulebook feats chapter, and remember how many things just weren’t relevant. But for purposes of this series of articles, let’s assume we’re discovering this for the first time.) That means we need to lean on re-conceptualizing those feats to use new mechanics, and possibly to have them create entirely new effects which just match the name of the original feats (and, hopefully, will appeal to the same kind of player).

The same issue comes up with Eschew Materials, since Starfinder doesn’t require material components for spellcasting unless they have a cost. We found a way to use Still Spell and Silent Spell despite Starfinder spellcasting not requiring words or gestures by re-conceptualizing what those feats meant. We didn’t tackle Eschew Materials at the same time, because it’s not officially a metamagic feat, but can we do the same thing to come up with a solution here? And, since it’s NOT a metamagic feat, can we step away from spells entirely to give it a broader utility?

ESCHEW MATERIALS
You have learned to call forth the magic essence of various substances, passing their benefits homeopathically through your form, rather than needing to apply them in traditional ways.
Benefit: As a standard action, you can apply any serum or medicinal in your possession (that you could normally draw as a move action or less) to yourself or an adjacent creature with a touch. The serum or medicinal is expended normally, you just don’t have to have it in hand to use it.

That brings us to Extra Channel, which isn’t too bad – we have a class that has a healing channel, and two extra uses seems reasonable, though since Starfinder only has one “extra” feat (Extra Resolve), and it can’t be taken more than once, we should probably not allow this to be taken more than once either.

EXTRA CHANNEL
You can channel healing energy more easily than most healer mystics.
Prerequisites: Healing channel class feature.
Benefits: Twice per day you can use the healing channel ability without expending Resolve Points to do so.

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Developing to Spec: Part 13 – Keeping It Simple

This is the first section of Part Thirteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

The deeper we get into this project, the greater the temptation is going to become to create complex, weighty new rules to help us have enough design space to make a slew of new feats covering common conceptual tropes. But as much as possible, we need to keep things simple.

For example, while channeling feats are going to keep being something we have to adapt, Elemental Channel can be extra easy and simple, since we can just emulate the existing Starfinder feat Harm Undead.

ELEMENTAL CHANNEL
You can use your healing channel to harm elementals.
Prerequisites: Healing channel connection power, mystic level 1st.
Benefit: When you use your healing channel, you can expend a mystic spell slot of the highest level you can cast to also deal damage equal to the amount you heal to all elemental foes (including all creatures of the elemental type) in the area. The elementals can attempt a Will save for half damage, at your usual connection power DC.

Sometimes the problem is deeper, but that doesn’t mean the solution has to be complex. The reason Endurance doesn’t exist in Starfinder is that all of the benefits the PF version grant have been rolled into Toughness (which also does pretty much what the PF toughness feat does). That means if we want to have something that feels like Endurance, we need to come up with brand-new mechanics. There are lots of places we could go with this, but since I know that afflictions in Starfinder turn out to be pretty severe, that’s the first place I go looking for options. And, luckily, there’s a really easy way to adjust a character’s level of enduring such things.

ENDURANCE
Harsh afflictions do not bring you down quickly or easily.
Benefit: You treat the onset and frequency of afflictions that have them as being twice as long as normal.

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Heya folks–I am back to being a full-time freelancer. Which means, every word I write has to justify itself in time taken vs. benefit to my freelance career and/or money made.
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Just a couple of dollars a month from each of you will make a huge difference, and has already resulted in me upping my blogging rate to be five days a week!

 

Developing to Spec: Part 12d – Designing to Concept

This is the fourth section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

Sometimes when developing existing rules, you find you like a concept that an option of encounter is built around, but the core mechanics don’t work. When that happens you often “design to concept,” looking not at the mechanics you have been given, but the cool idea behind them that needs to work differently. Everything but that core, good idea gets thrown away. That same idea can apply to adapting from one game system to another–sometimes you have to throw out everything but the concept (and in this case, the name), and start over from there.

For example, Dodge is a lot like Dazzling Display in that it would work exactly as written in Starfinder, which makes us have to ask why it isn’t. The answer is clearly a case of combat math, so like Greater Weapon Focus we need to find some other solution to creating a feat that serves some defensive function, has a solid game use, and feels like dodging, but doesn’t break the game assumed range of numbers.

DODGE
Your training and reflexes allow you to avoid a wide range of threats when specifically avoiding opponents’ attacks.
Benefit: When you take the fight defensively or total defense action, you apply the bonus that action gives you to AC to your saving throws as well.

Like so many PF feats, Double Slice is designed to work with mechanics that just don’t exist in Starfinder. The name of it does lead to consider some interesting options, hwoever, and I know from my time talking to Starifner players that there is a strong desire for some kind of mechanical beneit for wielding multiple melee weapons. So, in a two-birds-with-one-stone way:

DOUBLE SLICE
You are adept at using multiple weapons to strike foes around you when they drop their guard.
Benefit: If you are wielding two or more melee weapons that are not archaic or unwieldy (including natural or unarmed attacks, if they meet those requirements), and at least is an operative weapon, you an take one additional attack of opportunity each round. Each attack of opportunity must be provoked by a different event, and must be made with a different melee weapon.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12c – Deft and Disruptive

This is the third section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

We’ve made it to Deft Hands, which has all the issues of Athletic and Acrobatic and similar feats. Luckily we can again use the same solution—look through the relevant feats and seek some design space open for new options.

DEFT HANDS
You have exceptional manual dexterity.
Benefit: You can perform the hide object, palm object, and pick pocket tasks of Sleight of Hand as move actions.

Disruptive is interesting, because it makes a spellcaster less likely to cast defensively… and defensive casting isn’t a thing in Starfinder. But if we just take the feat to be something that makes spellcasters near you less effective, we can build something interesting that does that without trying to replicate the exact game mechanics.

DISRUPTIVE (Combat)
Your training makes it difficult for enemy spellcasters to safely cast spells near you.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +6.
Benefit: Creatures within the area you can threaten with melee attacks take a -1 penalty to attack rolls with spells, and the save DCs of their spells are reduced by 1. If you hit such a creature with a melee attack these penalties are doubled as long as is it in your threatened area until the beginning of your next turn.

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This series of posts about my specific game writing and development process (along with concrete examples and Starfinder feats) is — like all my blog posts — is only possible if people join my Patreon, help me have the free time to write these things, and let me know what you want to see!

Developing to Spec: Part 12b – Adapting Concepts

This is the second section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

We’ve reached Defensive Combat Training, which has the same kind of problems with game math and combat options as Greater Weapon Focus and, like it, there’s a way to preserve the concept by having it apply to avoiding penalties rather than gaining bonuses.

DEFENSIVE COMBAT TRAINING (Combat)
You have trained to keep your defenses us against tricky maneuvers, even under the worst circumstances
Benefit: You do not apply the penalty from the entangled, exhausted, fatigued, flat-footed, frightened, grappled, off-kilter, panicked, or prone conditions to your AC against combat maneuvers.

Deflect Arrows clearly got superseded by Deflect Projectiles, but we can possibly use the fact that the Starfinder version has extremely broad utility, late-level prerequisites, and a Resolve Point cost to make a much narrower, but less costly version just for “arrows.”

DEFLECT ARROWS (Combat)
You have trained in an archaic art designed to avoid archaic missile weapons.
Benefit: Once per round when an archaic ranged weapon that does kinetic damage would hit you, you may choose to have it miss you.

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