The standard system for creation npc opponents in Starfinder is specifically designed to focus on making foes that can last through a fight and work well alone or in groups of 2 or so. It’s simple and easy–a typical encounter for a group of 5th level PCs is CR 5. If you want to combine lower-level challenges the rules cover that as well.
But what is doesn’t do well it let you throw 8-24 foes at the heroes, and have that be a typical encounter. Technical you can through 12 CR 1 creatures at an 8th level party, but truthfully they won’t actually pose any significant threat. And, of course, there are no CR -2 creatures to collect 12 of to challenge a group of 5th level heroes.
So, enter the Rowdy
(art by Warpaintcobra)
Designed specifically for the Really Wild West (and named to be appropriate for that pulp-fantasy-western 1891 setting, though just as usable in standard Starfinder, GammaFinder, or FreedomFinder campaign), Rowdies are creatures that are less dangerous, and much MUCH less durable, than the core creature they are based on. As a result while they have the game values to be an interesting challenge for PCs, you can use four times as many rowdies in an encounter as the core creature they are based on.
So if you need 4 members of a typical gang to attack the 4th PC’s train as a typical fight, you just add the Rowdy graft to a CR 4 foe and you are all set. If you want to let the 5th-level PCs fight their way past a hoard of 24 staggering undead, slap the Rowdy graft on a CR 0 monster (since 6 CR 0 monsters is a typical CR 5 encounter, 24 CR 0 Rowdies are also a typical encounter).
Rowdies are also useful for backup to a major foe, without overshadowing the foe. If you want a CR 6 encounter to challenge your 5th level heroes, a single CR 4 main foe, and 4 CR 4 rowdies neatly fits the bill.
The mechanical adjustments of the graft are fairly straightforward:
*Reduce initiative bonus by -5, -10, -15, and -20 for the 4 rowdies. (It’s best if they don’t all act at once, but if you need to simplify initiative, you can have them all go with a -12 penalty to their initiative modifier).
*Reduce all attack bonuses by 1.
*Reduce all save DCs by 3.
*Reduce average damage by 50%. (Or close to it. If it’s normally 1d8+7, taking it to 1d4+3 is close enough. Or, just roll normal damage and halve it for each attack).
*Reduce all ACs and saving throw bonuses by 3
*Reduce HP by 75% (round up).
*If the base creature has special attacks or spells with limited uses/day, only one of the four rowdies should use them. If that rowdy is dropped, any remaining uses can apply to a second rowdy (you can track resources in a single place for simplicity).
It’s also important to give PCs an opportunity to recognize a rowdy, since they may well use different tactics and resources when facing them. After all sine the game doesn’t promise players that encounters will be balanced, if you tell players there is a pack of 16 wolves surrounding their camp they may well think this is an encounter they are meant to flee or avoid at any cost.
By the same token, you want to be able to scare players now and then. 🙂
So, anytime PCs successfully make a skill check to identify a creature, and beat the DC by 5 or more, they automatically identify the creature is a Rowdy, in addition to the standard second piece of useful information.
(Editorial Design Note: I first ran into the concept with “Mooks,” from Feng Shui, and later examined some of oddities it could create in a d20 game with the “Minion” rules from 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. The concept is absolutely not original to me, though I feel I have done my own take on the concept with this Starfinder-compatible versions.
This editorial is not part of the OGL content of this blog.)
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In general, d20 games are more fun if the foes have abilities that require PCs to make interesting decisions.
Ideally these abilities can be easily figured out (perhaps after being experienced a time or two), follow an internal logic, and force the players to try new things without being frustrating or overpowered.
Phase venom. A creature with phase venom is out of phase with all standard planes of existence. It takes only 50% of the damage inflicted on it, and it only 50% likely to be effected by nondamaging effects.
All the creature’s attacks infect targets injured with phase venom, causing them to be more in-phase with it, and less with the normal universe. Such targets do full damage to the phase venom creature and have nondamaging effects affect it, normally, but receive 50% less healing from allies not at the same phase, and each round are 50% less likely in that round to be affected by non-damage based abilities (such as beneficial spells) cast by allies not at the same phase. They also take only 50% damage from creatures not out-of-phase, and are only 50% likely to be affected by such foe’s nondamaging effects.
A target of phase venom becomes fully in-phase with their normal reality after one minute.
Now, this makes a creature very resistant to PC attacks, but it also gives them a way to make it less resistant, at the cost of potentially being more cut off from ally support. OTOH, if the phase venom creature is used in a fight with creatures that don’t have that ability, a PC that becomes out-of-phase is actually harder for some foes to hurt… which may cause them to target in-phase foes.
None of this is overpowering, but it adds a new element to an encounter, forcing PCs to decide who is best to face off against each kind of foe.
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A template for 1st ed Pathfinder, to turn a foe into a Boss Monster.
Initiative: If a boss’s total initiative is less than 15, it changes to 15. If that would cause it to go last in the first full round of combat, it’s initiative improves until it goes next-to-last.
HP: Double total HP
Boss Action: At the end of each round, the Boss gains an additional full-round action. It cannot use this to run, charge, or double-move if it has already done any of those things this turn.
Boss Bash: As a full-round action, a Boss can move itself up to its move and damage all creatures adjacent to it at any point as if it had hit them with a melee attack. If the boss had some kind of limitations on its movement they do not affect this action, but are still in place after it takes this action. This movement does not provoke an attack of opportunity. Alternatively, it can expend a spell or spell-like ability to damage these creatures equal to 1d6 per spell level +1d6 per 2 caster levels.
This ability looks and is described differently based on what the boss is, and does damage of a type the boss can normally do.
Boss Options: Anything other than boss bash that the boss can do a limited number of times per day, or per minute, or per round, it can do twice as often.
Boss Resilience: If a failed saving throw would normally cause a boss to be helpless, unconscious, dead, or paralyzed, and the boss still has the boss action ability, the failed saving throw instead just strips the boss of its boss action for 1d4+6 rounds.
Treasure: Give double treasure.
There you go! All the boss’s numbers and abilities are in the range PCs can deal with, but it’s twice as tough and dangerous, and harder to pin down or isolate!
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