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Ways to Boost a Foe’s CR in Starfinder

Yesterday we discussed why Starfinder doesn’t really follow the CR and CR equivalent charts in the core rulebook in all situations. I also linked to my “CR 6 +1” manticore as a way I had created a CR 7 monster appropriate for 5th level characters. A lot of people wanted to know if there were fast and easy ways to boost the CR of a Starfinder creature by +1 without making them too dangerous for lower-level players.

So, here are three! (Note that these don’t work as well if the players are already higher-level than the monster’s CR.)

Art By Herschel Hoffmeyer

*Boost All It’s Lower Values: Look at the creature’s saving throws, and make them all as good as its best save. Look at its attacks, and make all its attack bonuses as good as it’s best attack bonus. Look at its skills, and give them all the bonus for its highest skill. Increase its initiative modifier to be 4 higher than its highest ability score modifier. If it’s EAC is more than 2 lower than its KAC, bring it to be within 2. Remove any vulnerabilities.
This doesn’t raise the opponent’s numbers to be higher than the PCs can deal with at its level, but it does make it as strong as is reasonable in every area of combat. Without a weakness the PCs can exploit, the foe is more effective in whatever area happens to be important in the chaos of a fight.

*Double Its Hit Points: A foe that lasts longer can do more damage, but obviously it’s as dangerous as two of the same foe, since it can still make only one set of attacks per round, can only be in one place, and any penalties the PCs inflict only have to target one enemy. This one is fast and easy, but it has the downside that combats can drag on a bit, so only use this sparingly, and when you want an opponent to come off as super-tough.

*Give It Area/Ranged Attacks: You don’t want to make it do more damage or have a better attack bonus, but you can give it ranged, area attacks that do appropriate damage for its level. A breath weapon is a good example of this, as are any grenades with an item level equal to its CR or less. The idea here is to let it damage multiple PCs in a single attack action, and be able to switch up its attack options based on what’s happening in the combat.

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Cephalephants for Starfinder

So, the amazing Jacob Blackmon (support his Patreon!) illustrated a cephalopod – elephant creature, and I was so taken with it I knew I had to write it up for Starfinder. The flavor text below is geared around the really Wild West setting, but you could equally well use it as a mutation in a GammeFinder game, or just a weird creature for a typical Starfinder science-fantasy campaign.

RWW Cephlephant

Cephalephants are native to the shores of the Kingdom of Orungu, on the western equatorial coast of Africa. They are amphibious, able to breath both air and water, and powerful swimmers. They mate for life, and give birth in the water, with young cephalephants not bale to move onto land until they are 7-8 weeks old.

The Myènè speaking people of Orungu accept cephalephants as sapient equals, and local law has always given them right-of-way through Orungu lands and waters, as long as they do not do significant damage to an area. However, as the tentacled pachyderms are not tool-users and depend on telepathy and memory-ivory to communicate and pass down their culture, many other nations see them as no more intelligent than a typical dog or camel. There are only two places they are commonly found outside of Orungu — Germany (where a expedition herd migrated to petition for inclusion in the Paderborn Edicts, but arrived decades too late and are now waiting for the 1896 council), and Montana, U.S. (where a small herd has maintained itself while searching for some mammoth-related item they consider to be of great importance.

While cephalephants are as sapient as typical humanoids, they are also insular and slow to trust. When they are threatened or attacked, or those they think of as allies of the herd are, they are quick to respond with overwhelming force (especially bulls). The long-term safety and security of the herd–often as defined by its matrons and young–are considered much more important than the life of a single member.

Cephalephants eschew tool use not out of stupidity, but because their own tool-making is limited by a nomadic lifestyle that includes spending a great deal of time in water, and a focus on training as mystics. Most cephalephants prefer to learn magic that augments their daily needs, rather than become proficient with objects.

CEPHALEPHANT
Cephalephant     CR 6
XP 2,400
N Huge magical beast (aquatic)
Init +2; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +13

DEFENSE              HP 90
EAC 18; KAC 20
Fort +10; Ref +10; Will +5
Defensive Abilities Camouflage

OFFENSE
Speed 50 ft., swim 20 ft.
Melee gore +13 (3d4+13 P, critical bleed 1d6)
tentacle +15 (1d8+13 B, grab)
Space 15 ft.; Reach 10 ft. (20 ft., tentacle)
Offensive Abilities Ink cloud (DC 14)

STATISTICS
Str +5; Dex +2; Con +3; Int +1; Wis +2; Cha +1
Skills Athletics +13 (+21 when swimming), Profession +13, Stealth +22, Survival +13
Other Abilities amphibious

SPECIAL ABILITIES
Camouflage (Ex) A cephalephant can change its exterior to match the coloration of its surroundings. This allows it to hide even when they do not have cover or concealment.
Ink Cloud (Ex) A cephalephant can create a 20-foot radius cloud of ink that works in air or underwater. this acts as a smoke grenade (DC 14). All cephalephants are immune to a cephalephant’s ink cloud.

ECOLOGY
Environment temperate coasts
Organization solitary, pair, family (3-5), or herd (6-30)

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Fire-Breathing Robodino for Starfinder

Okay, so we did a quick robodino kitbash, and compiled the rules for it in one place. But folks still want more robodinos! What’s a game design blogger to do?

Give ’em what they want!

The “Tyrannocyber Wrecks” is a slightly more complex animal-to-robot conversion. We followed the steps outlined yesterday, but we have gone a bit further. We added an integral ranged weapon appropriate for a CR 9 combatant array, and removed swallow whole and replaced it with a fire breath weapon using the guidelines for the universal creature rule. (I’m not sure who decided tyrannosaurus robots breath fire, but it’s a well-known science-fantasy trope. 🙂 ) Since we gave it ranged weapons, we updated the skills and the ability scores to be standard for a CR 9 combatant and adjusted the initiative and melee damage to match.

This is the work of maybe 10 minutes instead of 5, but it gives us a more complex example of a kitbashed foe!

Mecharex

(Art by vexworldwide)

ROBODINOSAUR, Tyrannocyber Wrecks

Tyrannocyber Wrecks             CR 9

XP 6,400
N Gargantuan construct (technological)
Init +4; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +17

DEFENSE             HP 145

EAC 22; KAC 24
Fort +10; Ref +7; Will +7
Immunities construct immunities; unliving

OFFENSE

Speed 40 ft.
Melee bite +22 (2d10+15 S; crit. bleed 2d6)
Ranged integrated salamander-class burner +19 2d10+9 F, line, crit burn 2d6)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.
Offensive Abilities breath weapon (60-ft. cone, 10d6 F, Reflex DC 16 half, usable every 1d4 rounds)

STATISTICS

Str +6; Dex +4; Con —; Int +0; Wis +0; Cha +3
Skills Athletics +17, Intimidate +22
Languages Common, Draconic

ECOLOGY

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or pack (3–6)

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More Robodinos for Starfinder

So… apparently robot dinosaurs for Starfinder are popular!

Who knew?

Okay, even through the whole point of Monday’s article was to make it easy for folks to create their own kitbashed creatures, I’ll offer a few more robodinos since so many people asked for them.

To put the dino-to-robodino “template” all in one place, here’s what you need to do to your stat block:

Change type from “Animal to “Construct (technological)”
Add darkvision (60 feet).
Set Constitution to —
Reduce Fortitude save by -4
Reduce Reflex save by -4
Reduce Will save by -2
Add “construct immunities” and “unliving”
Increase all attacks by +1

Let’s do my obvious favorite–the mechabrontosaurus.

Mechabronto

(Art by PatSM)

ROBODINOSAUR, Mechabrontosaurus

Mechabrontosaurus, CR 10

XP 9,600
N Gargantuan construct (technological)
Init +0; Senses darkvision (60 ft.), low-light vision; Perception +19

Defense          HP 165

EAC 23; KAC 25
Fort +12; Ref +7; Will +8
Immunities construct immunities; unliving

Offense

Speed 30 ft.
Melee tail +22 (2d10+18 B; critical knockdown)
Space 20 ft.; Reach 20 ft.
Offensive Abilities trample (2d10+18 B, DC 17)

Statistics

STR +8; DEX +0; CON +5; INT -4; WIS +1; CHA -2

Ecology

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or herd (3–12)

Patreon
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Quick Kitbashing Starfinder Monsters

Sometimes you want a new foe your players haven’t seen before, or that perfectly fits a need in your adventure. (I’ve been doing this fairly often as I prepare to run Really Wild West games, for example). But you don’t want to take the time to build a minor foe from scratch.

Luckily, in Starfinder, reskinning and kitbashing new foes can be quick, easy, and do a great job of creating new enemies.

Let’s say you want a new robot foe for your PCs to tangle with. A robot dinosaur, perhaps?

Let’s make a velocirobot.

Robodino

(Art by DM7)

Since the dinosaur, dromeaosaurid is pretty close to a velociraptor, let’s start with that. First, we take away anything it shouldn’t have. So, the dromeaosaurid is an animal. That means it got low-light vision, and a +2 bonus to Fort and Ref saves. Since our velociraobot is a construct rather than an animal, we strip those out.

Next we add what a construct gets. So darkvsion and low-light, set Con to –, -2 to all saves, and +1 to all attacks. That’s all we *have* to do to make this rules-correct. (If we’d done things with subtypes, we could go through those too… but the Robot Dragon entries suggest we can also just blur those lines if we want to).

And now, in less than 5 minutes, we have a custom robot!

ROBODINOSAUR, VELOCIROBOT

Velocirobot    CR 3
XP 800
N Medium construct (technological)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision; Perception +8

DEFENSE                HP 45

EAC 13; KAC 15
Fort +2; Ref +3; Will +0
Immunities construct immunities; unliving

OFFENSE

Speed 50 ft.
Melee talons +12 (1d6+5 S; critical bleed 1d6) or bite +12 (1d6+5 P)
Offensive Abilities pounce

STATISTICS

Str +2; Dex +3; Con –; Int –4; Wis +1; Cha +0
Skills Acrobatics +8, Stealth +13

SPECIAL ABILITIES

Pounce (Ex) When a velocirobot charges, it can also make a full attack.

ECOLOGY

Environment any
Organization solitary, pair, or pack (3–12)

Robodino2

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Rowdies, for Starfinder (Really Wild West, GammaFinder, FreedomFinder)

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

RWW 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:

Rowdy Graft
*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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Legacy Bestiary: Hill Giant

Rogue Genius Games is currently running a Game On Tabletop crowdfunding campaign to try to fund the Legacy Bestiary, a Starfinder-compatible book of monsters from the fantasy-laden past of the Starfinder universe, but that haven’t been updated to SF yet (in any book we are aware of, including popular 3pp expansions).

But, you ask, as fantasy monsters really interesting in a scifi-with-magic game? Well, they are if you update them conceptually, as well as in rules.

Written and illustrated by fan-favorite Jacob Blackmon, the Legacy bestiary doesn’t assume legacy monsters stood still while the rest of the universe for plasma guns. Here’s a teaser example of a updated SF monster, the Hill Giant.

Hill Giant

Hill Giants are brutish creatures that serve as the front line grunts in the armies of the Giants’ Expanse. These near-mindless thugs are cybernetically enhanced upon reaching adulthood, and have their minds and bodies genetically altered to bring out their more aggressive traits as well as increase their already physically powerful bodies. Just one hill giant is known to tear through a unit of a dozen normal humanoid troopers in a matter of seconds! So an entire squad of these things, barreling towards one’s position on the field, is enough to make any trooper second-guess their service to the Empire.

The militant frost giants and ruling fire giants of the Expanse throw hill giants at their enemies as if they have an endless supply … which they seem to have!

Hill Giant Brute        CR 7 (Combatant)
XP 3,200
CE Large humanoid (giant)
Init -1; Senses low-light vision; Perception +19
DEFENSE      HP 105
EAC 19; KAC 21
Fort +9; Ref +9; Will +6
OFFENSE
Speed 50 ft.
Melee slam +17 (2d6+14B)
Ranged hurl debris +14 (2d8+7B plus 5-ft.-radius area of difficult terrain around the spot where the debris hit)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 10 ft.
Offensive Abilities crush (2d6+14B), trample (2d6+14B, DC 15)
STATISTICS
Str +5; Dex -1; Con +4; Int -2; Wis +2; Cha -2
Skills Athletics +14, Intimidate +19, Survival +14
Languages Giant
ECOLOGY
Environment hills
Organization solitary, gang (2-5), band (6-8), or raiding party (9-12 plus 1d4 dire wolves)

The crowdfunding campaign runs through the end of the month and into early April, so please check it out!

Making d20 Creatures Interesting: Phase Venom

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.

For example:

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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Pathfinder Template: Boss Monster

A template for 1st ed Pathfinder, to turn a foe into a Boss Monster.

CR: +2
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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