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Dash Cantrip, in Four Game Systems

Cantrips are interesting, in all 4 of the d20 game systems I work in regularly (PF1, PF2, StF, and 5e). You get unlimited uses of them, so they need to be useful enough to be worth tracking (even at mid- to high-levels), but can’t be so good that casting them endlessly can ruin a game.

And almost none of them impact movement.

Which lead me to wonder, CAN I design a cantrip that impacts movement? Something to give you a little edge when what you need to do is reposition yourself and just a double move (or dash, or triple move, or whatever the game’s equivalent is) won’t do.

Can I do in in four game systems?

Behold, the dash cantrip.

Pathfinder, 1e

Dash
School transmutation; Level Bard 0, Cleric 0, Druid 0, Inquisitor 0, Magus 0, Mesmerist 0, Psychic 0, Shaman 0, Witch 0, Sorcerer/Wizard 0]
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range personal
Target you
Duration 1 round

Your movement rate increases by an enhancement bonus equal to your current movement rate, +20 feet.

Pathfinder, 2e

Dash [Cantrip 1]
Traditions Arcane, Divine, Primal
Cast [three actions] Verbal
Duration until the start of your next turn

You move a distance equal to triple your speed +30 feet.

Starfinder

Dash  [Mystic 0, Witchwarper 0]
School transmutation
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range personal
Duration 1 round

You gain a +10 foot increase to your land speed until the beginning of your next turn. As part of casting this spell, you can move up to your land speed.

5e

Dash
Transmutation cantrip
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V
Duration: 1 round

You can move a number of feet this round equal to double your move, +20 feet.

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Gamifying Friday the 13th in 4 Game Systems

It’s Friday the 13th, a day long associated with misfortune and evil spirits… and urban legends.

So, what would such a day look like in an RPG? Let’s examine 4 different ideas, in 4 different game systems–Pathfinder 1st and 2nd edition, Starfinder, and 5e.

PF1

Blood Night

On blood night, the moon takes on a dull reddish hue that lasts through the night. Blood night is always in autumn, but exactly what night it occurs is based on a complex set of rules only heirophants really seem to understand. What is known is that when a blood night occurs on the night of a full moon, the bad luck is far worse.

From sundown to sunup, any attack that normally only threatens a critical hit on a natural 20, or 19-20, instead threatens one on an 18-20. Additionally, attack rolls made to confirm critical hits gain a +8 circumstance bonus

PF2

Minotaur’s Moon

When the ancient Cyclops Calendar begins the month of Maze on the week of a new moon, that is the day of the Minotaur’s Moon, when the Bull Man works to kill the small and weak. Goblins, in particular, greatly fear this.

On the Minotaur’s Moon, everyone has Doomed 2.

Starfinder

Which Weird

The kasatha and shobad calendars do not normally line up, being from different worlds with different year durations. But both have a “wyrd” day that is observed in grim reserve, and every few years those days happen to overlap by a period of 11 to 17.5 hours.

During that “which weird,” all Reflex saving throws take a -4 penalty.

5e

Lichgate

When the Imperial Calendar gets a full day off from the Seasonal Calendar, a day must be added to adjust the beginning of Spring. This day is seen as a gate through which evil dead spirits can speak into the world to so discord for one say, and weaken the resolve of heroes, and is known as Lichgate.

On Lichgate, when making a Wisdom saving throw, you roll twice and use the lower result as if you had disadvantage. However, if your unused result is enough to resist the effect, you only suffer the consequences of the failed saving throw for 1 round. After that you shake off the evil spirits that weakened you, and are no longer effected. But if both die rolls are failures, the effect’s duration upon you is doubled.

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One Feat: Four Systems (Allied Spellcaster)

So, obviously, I’ve been working in a lot of different game systems recently. With the 52-in-52 program, I’m developing the same game content for Pathfinder 1st ed, Pathfinder 2nd ed, Starfinder, and 5e.

It’s been a fascinating view of how the different game systems look at game elements that have the same name, but different functions.

For example, feats.

In Pathfinder 1e and Starfinder, feats are cross-character goodies that are generally designed to be optional, and sometimes tie into class design (such as for the fighter and soldier), but not always.

For Pathfinder 2e, feats are the quintessential character ability, and different kinds of feats are crucial to your ancestry, class, and any archetype you take.

For 5e, feats are entirely optional, and if taken come in place of ability score advancements. Each feat is more potent in many ways, but you can make a character with a single feat, or no feats, and no class depends on feats for any part of its core functions.

As an example, we’re going to take a PF1 teamwork feat, and present it (as a non-teamwork feat) in different versions, one for each of the four game systems.

Here’s the original, a PF1 Teamwork feat

Allied Spellcaster (Teamwork)
With the aid of an ally, you are skilled at piercing the protections of other creatures with your spells.
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st.
Benefit: Whenever you are adjacent to an ally who also has this feat, you receive a +2 competence bonus on level checks made to overcome spell resistance. If your ally has the same spell prepared (or known with a slot available if they are spontaneous spellcasters), this bonus increases to +4 and you receive a +1 bonus to the caster level for all level-dependent variables, such as duration, range, and effect.

Here’s a new PF1 version, that isn’t a teamwork feat

ALLIED SPELLCASTER
You can aid an allied spellcaster, adding your magic power to their own.
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st.
Benefit: Whenever you are adjacent to an ally who can cast spells, as a standard action you can expend a spell slot or prepared spell of 1st level or higher to attempt to boost their spellcasting ability. This requires a Spellcraft check, DC 10 + double the level of the spell slot expended. On a successful check, you increase their caster level for the next spell they cast before the beginning of your next round by an amount equal to the level of the spell or spell slot expended.

You can also take eldritch power from a willing adjacent spellcaster to boost the power of your own spells. The allied spellcaster must ready to grant you a spell slot or prepared spell of 1st level of 1st level or higher on your turn. If they do so, you make the same Spellcraft check as a swift action and, if successful, for the next spell you cast this round your caster level is increased by an amount equal to the spell level your ally expended.

*So, that plays with both action economy and resource management, but it lets you play the spellcaster who can work in a group without anyone else having to also have the feat in question.

Here’s the same spell for Starfinder.

ALLIED SPELLCASTER
You can aid an allied spellcaster, adding your magic power to their own.
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st.
Benefit: Whenever you are adjacent to an ally who can cast spells, as a standard action you can expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher to attempt to boost their spellcasting ability. This requires a Mysticism check, DC 10 + triple the level of the spell slot expended. On a successful check, you increase their caster level for the next spell they cast before the beginning of your next round by an amount equal to the level of the spell or spell slot expended. If the spell does damage and does not have a duration, area, or damage calculation based on level, you can instead grant +3 damage per level of spell you expended.

You can also take eldritch power from a willing adjacent spellcaster to boost the power of your own spells. The allied spellcaster takes a standard action to imbue you with energy by expending  a spell slot of 1st level or higher on your turn. If they do so, on your turn you can make the same Mysticism check as part of the action to cast your next spell and, if successful, gain the benefits listed above. If you do not cast a spell within 1 round of being imbued, the additional spell energy is lost.

*That’s very similar, though it makes an adjustment for the fact that Starfinder doesn’t generally have damage affected by caster level and readied actions work differently caused us to make some adjustments.

Here’s a version for 5e.

ALLIED SPELLCASTER
Prerequisite: Caster level 1st or higher
You are skilled at magic manipulatipons. Increase your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma score by 1.
You can cast a spell to boost the effectiveness of an allied spellcaster within 60 feet, rather than its normal effect. If allied spellcaster casts a spell of their own that is no more than one spell level higher on their next turn, they have advantage on any attack roll the spell requires, or one target of their choice has disadvantage on any saving throw the spell requires.
An ally can cast a spell to boost your effectiveness rather than the spell’s normal effect, giving you the same benefit on your next turn.

*Things in 5e are simpler. Like, way simpler. Advantage or disadvantage is 75% of how the game handles things. And they are pretty big bonuses (work out to about a +4 bonus on a d20), so it’s okay that this only applies to spells of a level close to the level you expend.

That said, weaker feats in 5e also give you a +1 to one ability score (since you gave up a +2 to get the feat), which applies here given how circumstantial this is.

Here’s the same feat for PF2

ALLIED SPELLCASTER     FEAT 2
General Skill
Prerequisites: Expert in Arcana, Nature, Occultism or Religion
You can use the aid reaction to assist an adjacent ally when they cast a spell. This requires a successful Arcana, Nature, Occultism or Religion check (you must be expert in the selected skill) with a DC of 20 + double the level of spell the ally is casting. You must expend a spell slot of 1st level or higher, and you gain a bonus to your skill check equal to the level of the spell expended. You grant the ally a +2 circumstance bonus to their attack roll, or a +1 bonus to the save DC of their spell.
An adjacent allied spellcaster can attempt to use the aid reaction when you cast a spell. This works the same way, except you must make the Arcana, Nature, Occultism or Religion check.

*Pf2 uses a universal proficiency system for everything, so a +2 bonus matters as much at 15th level as it does at 5th level. There’s already an aid action which might be usable if a spell required an attack roll, but it’s not clear how it would apply and it certainly won’t boost save DCs. This cut through that, and is a skill feat spellcasters might really appreciate.

PATREON
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d20 Design Diary (Part 6)

This is the sixth in my series of class-focused d20 Design Diaries. I suspect I only have a couple more posts to go on this topic, but we’ll see how the topics actually shake out (and what kind of feedback I get).

If you followed class design steps in the order I have written about them, we’ve settled on an appropriate and interesting class concept, set up the right class progression tools, made sure we are following (or at least only breaking by intent rather than by accident) the game’s style and etiquette, looked at how many options you want for each level of your class and how that impacts complexity, and discussed spell access and progression.

But we still need to talk about spell lists. Specifically, do you give your new class access to one (or more) existing spell lists, or make a brand-new spell list? And, it turns out, that.s a pretty complex question that depends very much on the game system you are using.

So, you know, let’s start by saying studying what that system does and how it handles those questions.

Also, it’s very important to know if you are building expansions classes that are in addition to a *core* set of pre-existing classes or are building a whole set of classes from scratch. Most of the advice here is directed at the former case. If you are in the latter situation, there may not even be pre-existing spell lists for you to borrow from. In that case you’ll need to make decisions about how many class lists to build from scratch, and the following advice may still be applicable to that decision.

Certainly the more you want a spell list to have a very strong theme tied to the class’s concept, the more you should consider a unique class spell list. The more you want the spell list to interact and grow well with other publisher’s content, the more you should consider using an existing class list.

In Pathfinder 1st edition, classes have access to a hodgepodge of class-specific lists, sharing class lists, and mixing class lists. The bard has its own spell list for example (though the skald later gains access to it as well), while the warpriest just has access to the cleric list (though it gets most spell levels later in its own level progression, when they are less powerful compared to the challenges being faced). Both sorcerers and wizards use the sorcerer/wizard spell list, though it has specific spells only one of the classes can take. Hunters get both druid and ranger spells (and gain access to ranger spells much earlier than rangers do, potentially making them more powerful compared to the challenges faced when you first access them), but inquisitors have a unique spell list.

Counting only official classes, no alternate classes, and only actual spell lists (as opposed to formula lists for alchemists and investigators), by the end of its run Pathfinder 1st d had 16 separate spell classes. On top of that, all of the class spell lists are defined as being arcane, divine, or occult.

In that environment, it seems insane to create a brand new unique class list. First, there are tons of lists with different themes already. Second, each of those lists has been expanded by so many supplements (official and otherwise) that any new lists is either going to fill a small book on its own, or have many fewer options than the 16 existing lists. Further, if someone is adding content from other publishers, those 3pp spells won’t even know to suggest what new spells should be on your unique class spell list.

By the same token, by the time a game has 16 unique spell lists, it’s hard to claim a 17th will be the bridge too far for design weight.

Pathfinder 2nd edition, as a counterexample, has only 4 spell lists. Absolutely every class has access to the arcane, divine, occult, or primal spell list. Some classes can pick what spell list they access based on other class features (such as the sorcerer), and many classes have access to a very small number of “focus spells” unique to their class. This includes both classes with access to a traditional spell list (such as the bards and their occult spells), and classes with no other spell access (such as champions). While it would be possible to build a whole 5th spell list (akashic magic, perhaps, or runic magic), this would likely only make sense if designing multiple classes that accessed it, or perhaps writing class variants of existing classes that accessed your new magic type. However, adding a small number of focus spells to any new spellcasting class, but otherwise tying them to one or more of the 4 existing lists, seems an excellent way to both benefit from that class having unique and flavorful spells of its own (new focus spells) and benefiting from ties to a growing standard spell list that other books and companies can expand. Pathfinfer 2nd ed also has things such as spell rarity which could be used to create “new” spell list options (such as creating a magister class that has access to common spells for multiple lists, but can never gain uncommon or rare spells).

By contrast Starfinder goes the opposite route, and give every spellcaster their own unique spell list.

Starfinder only has 3 official spellcasting classes so far of course, and each also has the same level of spell access and spells/day. That certainly sets an expectation for players that a class focused on spellcasting would likely follow the same path. There are many potential reasons to not go that route (if creating a mechanic/technomancer hybrid class, the Dronemancer, that only had access up to 3rd level spells, it might well make sense for it to have the technomancer spell list), but again the key point is to know what tools are at your disposal, and study how the core game (or similar games, if you are starting from scratch) use them.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th ed also gives each class its own spell list (at least in the Player’s handbook), including the sorcerer and wizard, who shared a spell list when the sorcerer was first introduced in 3rd edition. There is greater variety in both spell access (paladins and rangers only get up to 5th level spells), and how the class uses spells (warlocks and wizards have very different game mechanics dictation how they interact with and use their spells). The larger number of lists makes it more likely that you can match a specific class’s theme with an existing class list or combination of lists, but it also drives home player expectation in much the same way Starfinder does.

As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that whether a game has dozens of class spell lists or just three, d20 games almost always have some basic spells that appear on multiple (or even all) spell lists. the most flavorless and utilitarian spells are often there, from detect magic to light. By the same token, most such games have at least a few types of spells that are kept off specific spell lists, in the tradition of “clerics don’t cast magic missile, wizards don’t heal.”

But honestly, that’s another whole blog post worth of commentary.

PATREON

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Developing to Spec: Part 22d (The Last PF Core Feats)

This is the fourth section of Part 22 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can go back and read previous entries where we converted every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  I shared my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats here.

This is it. The very last feats from the PF Core Rulebook that did not exist in Starfinder. This has been my longest ongoing blog series ever. I’m almost sad.

Almost.

But, let’s get to them, shall we? We begin with Unseat.

A confession. Having played hundreds (in all honesty, maybe thousands) of sessions of Pf and the games that came before it, I have never seen Unseat be used, or even taken by a character, even once.

It’s a super-specific jousting feat. Yo have to be mounted to use it. And attacking with a lance (and only with a lance). And your target has to be mounted. AND you have to charge to use it. And if you hit, you can TRY a bull rush to unseat the target.

That’s so many rules I’d be inclined to just add them to what a lance can do without needing a feat for it. Plus, does this mean that without this feat, I can’t use trip or bull rush to take a mounted foe out of their saddle? Or only that I can’t do it as part of a charge attack with a lance?

But we HAVE to make a Starfinder version, so:

UNSEAT (Combat)
You can rip foes from the mounts and vehicles.
Benefit: When a foe that is mounted or in a vehicle provokes an attack of opportunity from you, you can make a bull rush or trip combat maneuver instead of a melee attack. If you succeed, you pull the target off their mount or out of their vehicle, and leave them prone in an adjacent space.

I’m still not sure how often that’ll come up, but at least knocking folks off their motorcycle has genre-emulation value.

Next up is Weapon Finesse. Which, like so many PF feats, requires things (like a definition of “light weapons”) that Starfinder doesn’t have to allow something (switching some melee weapons from Strength to Dexterity) Starfinder isn’t designed to allow. In fact Starfinder already essentially decided that light weapons are “operative weapons,” and anyone can use their Dexterity to attack with them, and no other weapons should be allowed to do that under any circumstances.

But there is one thing that Starfinder’s system could allow for — some way for operatives to make trick attacks with different weapons than normal. Not to be more effective (operatives are FINE on the power scale), but to support different character concepts and variable tactical styles.

WEAPON FINESSE (Combat)
You can use bulkier, slower weapons to place attacks with additional effects.
Prerequisites: Trick attack class feature.
Benefit: You can use any weapon to deliver a trick attack. When you do so with a non-operative melee weapon, you may choose to use your Dexterity modifier, rather than Strength modifier to add to your attack bonus. You can only apply the trick attack to a single creature, regardless of how many the attack affects, and must make the appropriate skill check. For that one trick attack, you deal either just your trick attack damage +1 per operative level (with its damage type determined by the weapon), or you do the weapon’s damage without any bonus from your trick attack. In either case, you can apply any other effect your trick attack imposes onto the target you trick attack.

There are things this does, and things it does not do. It won’t increase any character’s single-target damage-per round output, and that’s intentional. It also won’t allow a solarian (for example) to ignore all Strength in favor of Dexterity, and that’s intentional. It is of most use to operatives who want increased flexibility. You may not do any more damage to one target when you deliver a trick attack with a grenade, but you still get the rest of the effect of a grenade. making unarmed attacks as trick attacks won’t bust your damage curve, but it’s a lot better than normal trick attacks if you’ve been disarmed.

Okay, last one.

Whirlwind Attack

Whirlwind Attack is a PF feat that normally comes in at mid- to high-level play that has 7 prerequisites (though a fighter could theoretically meet them all by 4th level), that allows you to make one melee attack against every target within reach. Again, a chunk of that is balanced by the fact that in PF, a good chunk of your Damage Per Round (DPR) is based on making more attacks each round. In Starfinder, your DPR increase is much more strongly tied to each attack doing more damage, so getting to make a single attack against a large number of foes is much more powerful.

We could probably do something with forcing you to take the full attack -4 to your attack rolls, and then maybe another -2 or so… so it’s only useful against lower-level foes, and even then you won’t hit all of them, so if you connect with one or two your DPR is reasonable…

But wow that doesn’t sound like fun or satisfying as a player. Let’s try something else.

WHIRLWIND ATTACK (Combat)
You can surround yourself with lighting-fast, shallow strikes.
Benefit: When you use the full-attack action, you can give up all your other attacks and instead make one melee attack against each opponent within reach. Make a single attack roll, and apply it to the AC of every target in reach. Roll damage once, and apply half the value to every target you hit.

That’s easy to access, it lets you do a little damage to a lot of foes (which is closer to how Whirlwind Attack generally works in Pf anyway), has a much better change of doing SOME damage to multiple targets. If you want to lay about and put a hurt on a lot of people up close this works, even if you won’t be able to pile nearly as much on any one target.

AND THAT’S IT!

What comes next? Who knows! Let me know your thoughts, over at my Patreon, or as a comment here, or at my email, Twitter, or Facebook!

PATREON
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Developing to Spec: Part 22c (Two-Weapon Feats)

This is the third section of Part 22 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 have come to the last couple of two-weapon related feats; Two-Weapon Defense and Two-Weapon Rend. It would have made sense to write these back when we were writing the base Two-Weapon Fighting feat and it’s follow-up feats, but since we were only checking all the prerequisites for Greater Two-Weapon Fighting, and didn’t check to see if there were any more thematically-linked feats (such as Double Slice, or today’s examples), it didn’t come up.

So, Two-Weapon Defense is a combat feat that grants bonuses to AC. We’ve made major changes to every one of those we’ve run into on this project and for Two-Weapon Fighting we need to adjust:

Not a darn thing.

Seriously. With the advent of shield bonuses being defined in COM, Two-Weapon Defense works perfectly as-written. Even the prerequisites are reasonable. We can just add it to the game as-is. (If it makes sense and ain’t broke, don’t adjust it). We could require the two weapons to be melee weapons (although PF didn’t–apparently twin hand crossbows is fine), but the visual of the two-pistol character blazing away to give themselves cover fire is too cool to restrict even if it makes slightly less logical sense.

TWO-WEAPON DEFENSE (Combat)
You are skilled at defending yourself while dual-wielding.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Two-Weapon Fighting.
Benefit: When wielding a double weapon or two weapons (not including natural weapons or unarmed strikes), you gain a +1 shield bonus to your AC.
When you are fighting defensively or using the total defense action, this shield bonus increases to +2.

And that bring us to Two-Weapon Rend which… does need change. I’ve never been convinced the PF version of Two-Weapon Rend was balanced. At first glance it looks like just a little bonus damage, but later FAQs made it clear that it also benefits from damage bonuses that apply to both attacks that trigger it (such as Power attack and potentially sneak attack) but not things that specifically are weapon damage bonuses (such as weapon enhancement bonuses and spells such as divine favor. Which means it is far, far more powerful for cavaliers, paladins, and rogues than for most other classes.

Any damage bonus is always problematic with Starfinder feats, especially those that won’t really have a drawback for a large portion of characters. While it’s nice for being multi-armed being useful, we don’t want a feat to radically change that usefulness if that calculation wasn’t considered in creating the core rulebook.

Luckily the feat’s name says you “rend,” not “do extra damage” so there are other options.

TWO-WEAPON REND (Combat)
You can make the intersection of damage from different weapons hurt.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Two-Weapon Fighting.
Benefit: When you hit and damage the same target with attacks from two or more weapons in the same round, it must attempt a Fortitude save (DC 10 +1/2 your base attack bonus +your key ability score modifier). If it fails, it is sickened for 1 round for ever 5 item levels of the lower-level of the weapons (minimum 1 round). This is a pain effect.

Now, why did we say it was a pain effect?

Pain IS one of the descriptors Starfinder lists in the core rulebook. Pain effects note “Creatures that are immune to effects that require a Fortitude save are immune to pain effects.” It doesn’t come up that often, but it also helps explain why rending someone causes a sickened effect, so it’s worth the extra wordage.

Okay, that just leaves three feats, all of which we’ll tackle tomorrow.

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Developing to Spec: Part 22b (Trample Undead)

This is the second section of Part 22 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’re into the T feats now, near the end, with Trample.

In PF Trample applies to the overrun combat option which anyone can access. Starfinder doesn’t have a generic version of overrun, but we did create some overrun options for Improved Overrun and Greater Overrun. While the game mechanics need total revision, conceptually there’s nothing wrong with running down foes in Starfinder. There is a trample rule in the Universal Creature Rules of the Alien Archive books, but it’s a bit too powerful to put into player’s hands. However, it can serve as the basis for a powerful feat we put at the end of the a relatively rare Starfidner feat chain.

TRAMPLE (Combat)
When riding or driving into combat, you are skilled at knocking foes over.
Prerequisites: Greater Overrun, Improved Overrun, Pilot 8 ranks or Survival 8 ranks.
Benefit: When mounted (if you have at least one rank of Survival) or controlling a vehicle (if you have at least one rank of Pilot), as a full action you can move up to your mount/vehicle’s speed and through the space of any creatures that are at least one size smaller than your mount or vehicle. You not need to make an attack roll; each creature whose space it moves through takes half your mount’s unarmed or natural melee damage or half your vehicle’s ram damage. A target of a trample can attempt a Reflex save (DC 10 +1/2 your ranks in the relevant skill + your Dexterity score) to take no damage, or choose to fall prone to automatically take no damage. If it takes either actions, it can’t make an attack of opportunity against you that is provoked by your movement. A creature can deal trample damage to a given target only once per round.

That brings us to Turn Undead. Like all the other PF things based on clerical channel energy, we’ll base this on the mystic’s healing channel and the Turn Undead feat. Of course at this point, you could build a whole new mystic connection just on gaining healing channel feats…

I have seen more players be annoyed by making undead run away (so you have to hunt them down later, and they aren’t tight;y grouped for area attacks) than cheer that affect, so because I can I am going to make the “turn” part of turn undead more conceptual.

TURN UNDEAD
You can use your healing channel to force undead to turn their attention away from you and all their foes, spending much of their effort guarding their eyes from a light only they can see.
Prerequisites: Harm Undead, healing channel connection power, mystic level 1st.
Benefit: When you use your healing channel to Harm Undead, those undead that fail their saving throw are also flat-footed, off-target, and staggered for a number of rounds equal to the level of the spell you expended to use Harm Undead.

That’s still a huge tactical benefit–indeed, smart undead might CHOOSE to run when they are successfully turned–but given that it requires a use of healing channel, and the highest-level spell lost the character has available, and two feats to perform, I think it’s reasonable.

PATREON
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Developing to Spec: Part 22a (Beginning of the End)

This is the first section of Part 22 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’re in the last week of the feat-conversion part of this project. Next week I’ll likely talk about supplemental material I’d recommend putting in a book that includes these conversions (and which I DO plan on putting in the book I compile at the end of this), but the actual feats will all be done by Friday’s post.

But for now, let’s look at Stunning Fist.

Stunning Fist is a little surprising as a PF to Starfinder conversion subject because… it doesn’t need any changes. I mean, we need to remove language about monks (that’s class-specific stuff, and we shouldn’t port it automatically to any Starfinder class–if someone wants to give a Starfinder class special Stunning Fist powers, they can mention it as a class ability rather than have us preload that into the feat), but otherwise it works fine as-is.

Which is weird. I mean if it works perfectly well in Starfinder, why hasn’t anyone converted it before. (Why the heck didn’t *I* include it when I was doing the first draft of the Starfinder core rulebook feat chapter?) I can only assume it was considered too goofy for a science-fantasy game to include people using a bare fist to stun someone in powered armor. But the feat already requires you to actually damage your foe, and if you are getting damage through the powered armor (maybe using the edge of a shield, now that those exist and some can deliver unarmed strikes) there doesn’t seem to be any reason you couldn’t deliver a nerve-strike type ability to them.

While there’s nothing we *have* to change, there are a few things worth tweaking. First, having a high Dexterity and high Wisdom isn’t really directly tied to stunning things, so in keeping with the lower prerequisites common for Starfinder feats, we’ll cut those. Second, the PF Stunning Fist includes a lot of the rules in the feat (what being stunned means, when someone recovers from an ability with a duration of 1 round), and Starfinder doesn’t normally do that either.

In fact I considered if this feat was under-powered, since it’s a melee option in a game of jetpacks and ray guns. But there are way to do ranged unarmed strikes, and stunning someone is still a pretty good condition to apply. I also considered if this should require Resolve points to use, but since it felt like it might be underpowered, decided to leave it with its own uses per day to compensate.

Interestingly I suspect most PF players consider Stunning Fist to be a low-level ability because they only see it with monks, who get it at first. Minus monks, this becomes a mid-level power without needing to change any crucial elements of the text.

STUNNING FIST(Combat)
You know just where to strike to temporarily stun a foe.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strike, base attack bonus +8.
Benefit: You must declare that you are using this feat before you make your attack roll (thus, a failed attack roll ruins the attempt). Stunning Fist forces a foe damaged by your unarmed attack to make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your character level + your key ability score modifier), in addition to dealing damage normally. A defender who fails this saving throw is stunned for 1 round. You may attempt a stunning attack once per day for every four levels you have attained, and no more than once per round. Constructs, oozes, plants, undead, incorporeal creatures, and creatures immune to critical hits cannot be stunned.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Tower Shield Proficiency, which is another PF feat that does something that isn’t relevant in Starfinder, because Starfinder doesn’t have “Tower Shields.” But it does have riot shields, so maybe we can do something with that.

TOWER SHIELD PROFICIENCY (Combat)
You can get the most out of the biggest shields.
Prerequisites: Shield Proficiency.
Benefit: You reduce the armor check penalty of any shield you use by one (to a minimum of 0). You can make unarmed strikes with riot shields. These unarmed strikes are not considered archaic.

The biggest part of that is allowing the unarmed strikes with a class of shield that doesn’t normally, but since there are rules for shields that allow unarmed strikes in COM, that should work fine.

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d20 Design Diary (Part 5)

This is the fifth in my series of class-focused d20 Design Diaries. I suspect I only have a couple more posts to go on this topic, but we’ll see how the topics actually shake out (and what kind of feedback I get).

If you followed class design steps in the order I have written about them, there’s one big step left to actually creating your class, even after you settle on an appropriate and interesting concept, set up the right class progression tools, made sure you are following (or at least only breaking by intent rather than by accident) the game’s style and etiquette, and looked at how many options you want for each level of your class and how that impacts complexity.

You still need to design the actual class features, the special abilities you class gets that (at least mostly) others don’t.

I mean, technically you don’t HAVE to give a class features beyond it’s progressions. If you gave a Starfinder class 10 SP and HP/level, all good saving throws, 12 skill points + Int/level, any key ability score, all class skills and weapon and armor proficiencies (and Weapon Specialization as appropriate), and a full attack bonus, it would honestly probably be pretty balanced with no other class features at all.

It would also be boring and flavorless as heck. And I have no idea what concept you’d start with that would lead you to that design. but yes, it COULD be done.

And that does touch on an important element of designing interesting and balanced classes — the more useful things the class gets outside its class features, the less room you have to make its class features useful without making the class overpowered. A 5e barbarian has d12 hit dice, and 2 skill proficiencies (selecting from 6 options) and 5 weapon and armor proficiencies. A fighter has d10 hit dice, and 2 skill proficiencies (selecting from 8 options) and 6 weapon and armor proficiencies. A rogue has d8 hit dice, and 4 skill proficiencies (selecting from 11 options), one tool proficiency, and 2.5 weapon and armor proficiencies. It’s not hard to see that while their proficinecy starting points are different, when combined with their hit dice they all come out on a fairly even playing field, allowing their classes to have equally-useful class features.

One of the biggest and most impactful potential class features is spellcasting. Assuming you are building classes for a game that already has a full set of classes you can use as examples, it’s normally best to stick to the spell progression and acquisition schemes that already exist, unless you feel it’s a severely underdeveloped design space. (Classes with some number of spell-like abilities are a different matter than the spellcasting class feature we are discussing in this article.)

For example, first edition Pathfinder has both spontaneous and prepared spellcasting acquisition, as well as spell lists that go from 1st-4th level, 0-4th level, 0-6th level, and 0-9th level. However, every spontaneous class in Pathfinder with access to a 0-6th level spell list has the same base access to spells known and spell slots per day (though OTHER class features, such as domains or archetypes, can vary their total beyond the simple base). Starfinder, on the other hand, *only* has spontaneous spellcasters with access to 0-6th level spells. While adding a whole new spell progression or access to Pathfinder would likely muddle a crowded field, there’s easily room in Starfinder for class with reduced spell access (perhaps level 0-3 spells).

Wizard with Green Disk Spell

The more spell power a class has, the less room it has for any other options. For example, in all the most popular d20 games classes with the greatest spell access never have the highest Hit Point/health value of classes, or beginning proficiency with all types of armor. This has two significant impacts on their design. First, it means that they generally need to use some of their spell power to bring their defenses up to their best level and, even at that level, it’s generally not as good as the best defenses of the most defense-focused class. Secondly, it means they aren’t as durable without depending on their spells (and even then some classes with major spell access have very little in the way of healing or damage mitigation spells — a 1st edition Pathfinder cleric can heal themselves much more easily than a wizard).

Again, using other classes as benchmarks can be extremely useful for making your first stab at granting spellcasting to a class. In 5th edition D&D, paladins and rangers gain up to 5th level spells, clerics and wizards gain up to 10th level spells, and specific specializations of fighters and rogues get up to 4th level spells. Those benchmarks make it pretty easy to see what kinds of class features, both in terms of scope and utility, a class with each of those options can gain. For example, a great deal of the class features of sorcerers and wizards are focused on their spells–allowing them to be more flexible, used more often, or even just boosted in power. Paladins and rangers however, have very few spell-focused class features, with their class features more likely to actually give them entirely new abilities.

Even once you know how your spellcasting class is going to acquire spells and to what degree, there still another crucial question–what spell list do they use?

We’ll tackle that one next week.

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Developing to Spec: Part 21d (Finding Design Space)

This is the fourth section of Part 21 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.

So here we are at the last post of the next-to-last week of this season-long project. There are still some real problem feats in front of us, but today won’t be too bad.

And it starts with Spirited Charge.

In PF, Spirited Charge helps charge-based characgers keep up with damage-per-round (DPR), since a major factor of  DPR is getting multiple attacks per round and you (generally) can’t do that with a charge. However, in Starfinder, the primary way DPR increases is through bigger weapon damage dice and Weapon Specialization. So a damage multiple would be, to put it simply, broken as heck.

However, charging has big drawbacks in Starfinder, in the form of penalties to attack and AC. That gives us some design space, if we are clever and careful. We can mitigate those… but we need to keep an eye on other abilities that do this. For example, the uplifted bear’s ferocious charge and the soldier’s blitz fighting style already negate the normal penalties to attack rolls and AC. Since people playing an uplifted bear blitz solider are likely among those most interested in a Spirited Charge feat. (And, by the way, I want to play an uplifted bear blitz soldier now… )

SPIRITED CHARGE (Combat)
Oh lawd, you be comin’.
Benefit: When you charge, you can attempt a trip combat maneuver in place of the normal melee attack. In addition, you can charge without taking the normal charge penalties to attack rolls or AC. If you have another ability that allows you to charge without taking these penalties (such as the charge attack ability from the soldier’s blitz fighting style or an uplifted bear’s ferocious charge), you gain the ability to charge through difficult terrain. If you already have the ability to charge through difficult terrain (such as from being an uplifted bear with the blitz fighting style), you can charge even if you do not have a clear path directly to your target (running around obstacles, for example), and if the space adjacent to the target that is nearest your starting space is blocked or occupied, you can charge to the closest available adjacent space.

That brings us to Stealthy. Like all our PF +2-to-2-skills feats, this needs a total conceptual rewrite. Luckily, reading through terms like “Hide” and “Stealth” in a pdf of the rulebook gives us lots of places we can grab some design space.

STEALTHY
You can always find a way to avoid detection.
Benefit: You can attempt to make a Stealth check without cover or concealment. Doing so applies a -20 penalty to your Stealth check. This is cumulative with the penalties for attempting Stealth while moving more than half your speed.
Additionally, if you are using Stealth and you would be detected by a sensor or spell (such as detect thoughts) from a creature that is not currently observing you with a primary sense. This acts as nondetection, but the DC for those attempting to detect you is 11 + ranks in Stealth + any insight bonus you have to Stealth.

This design took some careful consideration. Since it’s already a -10 to make a Stealth check after a successful Bluff check, it needs to be harder to make Stealth with no cover or concealment at all. This is mostly only useful for sneaking past low-level threats… but that often includes things like guard animals and patrols. And besides, the chance to duck other ways of being detected is a nice back-up for nonmagic sneaks who should have SOME change to have trained in ways to avoid cameras and crystal balls.

PATREON
Like all my blog posts, this is brought to you by the wonderful patrons of my Patreon! Want more of this content? Want to suggest specific game systems, topics, of kinds of articles? All of that 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!