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Developing to Spec: Part 21c (One pro-spell feat, one anti-spell feat)

This is the third 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.

We’re up to Spell Mastery, which once again references a rules element in PF (preparing spells) that does not exist in Starfinder (where all spellcasters are spontaneous). But it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with something spells related that matches the feel of the feat’s name and is useful for spellcasters.

SPELL MASTERY
Some spells you have learned to use in place of your normal repertoire.
Prerequisites: Spells class feature.
Benefit: For each spell level you can cast as a result of the spells class feature, select one spell from your class spell list that you do not have as a spell known. When you regain your spells per day, you may swap out one of your spells known at each level for a Spell Mastery spell of the same spell level. This lasts until you next regain your spells per day.
Special: You may select this feat more than once. Each time it is selected, you choose another spell for each level of spells you can cast which you can temporarily gain in place of a spell known when you regain your spells per day.

On to Spellbreaker… which is designed to work with the PF rule that if you cast a spell it provokes an attack of opportunity unless you cast it defensively, which is not a thing in Starfinder. But the core idea that your melee attacks make it harder for a creature to cast spells is something we can work with.

SPELLBREAKER (Combat)
You know how to hit spellcasters where it hurts.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +5.
Benefit: When you make a melee attack against a creature you may choose to take a -4 penalty to the attack roll to make it a spellbreaker attack. If you attack hits and damages the target, it must succeed at a Fortitude save (DC 10 + your key ability modifier +1/2 your base attack bonus) or be unable to cast spells or use spell-like abilities for 1 round.

That attack penalty is enough to ensure characters are unlike to combine this with other difficult attack options (such as a full attack action), and in fact will likely want to use this as part of a team effort to give them enough bonuses to be able to hit (with flanking, Get ‘Em, and similar options taken by other characters in an effort to help), but since no extra resource is used the players are free to try that any time.

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!

Developing to Spec: Part 21b (Troublesome, Archaic Feats)

This is the second 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’s something I have been dreading. Of all the feats I do not have an obvious starting point in my head on how to make a Starfinder version, this is the top of the list. And it’s because it is SO simple, and basic, and unneeded in Starfinder.

Simple Weapon Proficiency.

Not only does Starfiner not have simple weapons, the things that might be considered simple weapons (such as basic melee weapons) all classes already have proficiency with. Unlike PF, no class has a list of individual weapons it is proficient with. Every class gets at LEAST basic melee and small arms.

We had similar issues with Exotic Weapon Proficiency and Martial Weapon Proficiency, but at least the names of those feats gave us a sliver of conceptual design space we could latch onto. Simple weapons? Not so much. Any PC is going to have all “simple” weapons anyway. So, maybe this isn’t a feat to make Player Characters better?

You want laser wolves with buzzblades? Because this is how you get laser wolves with buzzblades.

SIMPLE WEAPON PROFICIENCY (COMBAT)
You have trained your companion to use the most basic of weapons.
Prerequisites: You have a creature companion
Benefit: Your creature companion is proficiency with one-handed basic and advanced melee weapons, and small arms–but only those 2 or more item levels below your character level. Being proficient with weapons does not automatically allow a companion to physically use the weapon. Unless a GM decides otherwise, a companion must have a special control interface made to use such a weapon, at a cost of 20% of the weapons base cost.

That brings us to Snatch Arrows which, again, is pretty niche. But in PF Snatch Arrows plays off Deflect Arrows, and we built tat feat, so…

SNATCH ARROWS (COMBAT)
You can pluck slow-moving projectiles out of the air and fling them back at their source.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, Deflect Arrows.
Benefit: When you choose to have an archaic ranged weapon miss you with Deflect Arrows, you may as a reaction choose to snatch it from the air and hurl it back at the attacker who launched it. It has a range increment for you of 20 feet or its own range increment, whichever is less. You use your thrown attack bonus and Weapon Specialization (if any) to determine the effect of this attack.

Additionally, if a grenade is targeted on an intersection of your space, you may catch that and throw it anywhere you wish as a reaction. You use normal grenade throwing rules for this attack.

It’s still pretty niche, but at least is could lead to an awesome moment or two under exactly the right circumstances. Heck, if you had a friendly grenade-using character, he could launch grenades at you, and you could redirect them, allowing the grenade to make a turn in its attack.

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!

Developing to Spec: Part 21a (Shield Feats)

This is section one of Part 21 of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints. The point of these is to offer practical examples of how I approach developing and writing supplemental rules for tabletop RPGs. Rather than just blather on about things as I think of them, I go over issues as I encounter them in a real-world example.

This also represents the Beginning of the End. We should have just two more weeks to go before we’ll have gone through and converted every PF Core Rulebook feat that doesn’t already have a Starfinder version. At which point I’ll have to start doing something else for my Tu-Fri posts. So if you have ideas of what you’d like to see, let me know!

We’ve hit two more shield-related feats — Shield Mastery and Shield Slam. These are more entries in a long line of PF feats designed to make attacks with your shield easier and more effective. In Starfinder, since shield attacks in melee use your unarmed attack rules, they are already as effective as any unarmed attack you have (potentially more so, since they are not archaic and may have fusions added to them).

So we need to make the Starfinder versions of both to appeal to characters who want to have more useful shield options in combat, but we can’t increase the actual effectiveness of shield attacks in terms of accuracy or damage (or we risk breaking the game’s combat math). Luckily, there is more to combat than just how well or hard you hit. We can break these up so you take take either on its own, depending on what aspect of shields you wish to improve. We probably *could* get away with not having Shield Focus as a prerequisite to Shield Mastery, but it just feels weird to me for a character to mastery something without having focused on it, and beyond proficiency with shields its the only prerequisite we;re suing, so I’m fine with adding it.

SHIELD MASTERY (Combat)
You and your shield are as one.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields, Shield Focus.
Benefit: You reduce the armor check penalty of a shield by 2 (though this can never turn into a bonus). You reduce the bulk of one shield you are carrying or wielding by 2, to a minimum of light bulk.

SHIELD SLAM (Combat)
You are skilled at hitting things with your shield when the opportunity arises.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with shields.
Benefit: When wielding a shield that allows you to make unarmed attacks with it, you can take one attack of opportunity each round to attack with your shield, without expending your reaction. You cannot do this if for any reason you could not have made an attack of opportunity even if you had had a reaction available to do so.

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!

Design Diary: Creating d20 Classes (Part 4)

Last month we began a line of Design Diary entries discussing how to create a character class from scratch for a d20 class/level based game. We’ve gone over concept, and discussed the class progression tools various games give you to fill out the mechanical roles your class might fill, and begun discussing the etiquette of the presentation of special abilities (the heart of any d20 class).

So, we need to dig into Class Features… and that’s a big topic. So this week we get a big post, that tackles some of the context and frameworks you can use when designing how a class and a character interface with class feature choices.

When looking at what special abilities to give a class, you should consider the category of each ability. Some abilities are access abilities, such as a spellcaster’s access to a spell list (and we’ll talk more about spells and spell lists in a later post) or access to a list of feats. Some are unique powers available only to that class. Some classes (and some game systems) blur that line — Pathfinder 1st edition has fighter-only feat, which some later classes can can access as their own class features. Pathfinder 2nd edition has feats for every class that are unique to that class, except that any other character can pick many of them up by taking a mutliclass dedication feat.

In addition to the access-unique spectrum, class abilities can be divided into static abilities, group abilities, and selectable abilities. Static abilities are things the class gets with no variation or choice (and least without accessing optional or advanced rules). In Starfinder, every operative gets trick attack. Group abilities are things where a player makes a choice between one group of abilities and another, but once that choice is made the abilities it grants are set. Looking at the Starfinder operative again, each operative select one specialization. That specialization has a few abilities it grants over the course of the operative’s career, but once the choice of which specialization to take is made the abilities within that choice are set. Selectable abilities are individual things that can be chosen from a list (though they might have prerequisites). The operatives exploits are a good example of this.

Some of the access choices are things every character class can take some portion of, so when designing a class you need to consider not just what access options help their role within the game and a party, but how that interacts with other classes in the game. Skills are a perfect example of this. Most classes have access to more skills than they can take (whether through a skill-point system, scaling proficiencies, or just what ability score they focus on, depending on how the game system handles classes). If you give a class access to all a game’s skill options, the chances they’ll overlap with some other class that needs a skill more for its core function increases. Even if no one character can take all the skills, adding some limits to what subset they have to choose from can help give a class focus and clarity of purpose.

There are some pseudo-choices a character can offer as well, where every member of the class has the same ability, but characters may be differentiated by which choice they make. For example, all fighters in most d20 game systems have access to all martial weapons, armors, and shields. However, most fighters select a small set of weapons to use most often. Even though two different fighters can both use a greatsword or a longsword and shield, most characters go with one or the other. While that’s a minor difference at first, as the character evolves the other choices they make are likely to reinforce one equipment selection over another.

One of the less-obvious consequences of how you allow ca class to access its abilities is complexity. A character that has access to a wide range of spell choices, for example, is less likely to have lots of selectable abilities. The need to read through and pick spells is already a lot of footwork to ask of a player. (Even if a character ends up with only a small number of spells, the need to pick them from a large list slows and complicates character creation). If you are designing a class to add to an existing game you likely can afford to make the design more complex overall–players who don’t like more work to make their character can stick to existing class options. But if you are designing all the classes designed to be used in a campaign (such as if you are creating new classes that are all that is expected to be available for a campaign setting), you should consider having at least one class that is simpler and has fewer choices, to allow players who prefer simple design an easy entry point.

That’s not universal, of course. Many players prefer highly customizable characters with lots of options. Many just enjoy being able to build a character closer to their pre-existing concept, while others want to have enough flexibility that if another player chooses the same class their two characters act and play differently from one another.

However that plays off another important fact, which we need to discuss before we move on to ability balance–the more selectable options a character class has at a given level, the more potential for min/maxing exists. Even if the options are tied to a set of options that are (theoretically) all at the same power level, the wider the set of options you give access to the more powerful a character can become. For example, if you give a class access to a single specific feat at 5th level, that’s a typical and easily balanced level of power. If you give the character their choice of one of 6 feats, that is slightly more powerful, even if all those feats are perfectly balanced against one another. If you allow a character to take any feat they meet the prerequisites for that is much more powerful, even if you assume every feat in the game is perfectly balanced.

This is because players who achieve a high-degree of system mastery can use synergy between options to make a character that can do more than an off-the-rack build. Especially in games with growing rules additions (which are most games that are seen as “well-supported”), every adjustable class feature is a chance to find some combination that works better than a typical combo. Even if none of the new options are built into you class’s features (a character who has a set of 7 specific feats they can choose from doesn’t have that list automatically expand just because new feats are added to the game, unlike a character with access to all of a type of feat–or one with access to all of one set of spells), a synergy could develop between an old choice and new options any character can access.

There’s no right or wrong choices with these elements, to be clear. They are just things to consider when looking at the ways you can organize and hand out class features.

With all that in mind, we can look at power level of class features and appropriate choices by character level… next time! (Maybe in a week… maybe in 2-3… )

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These Design Diaries are among the most popular of the things I wrote, but they are also the biggest, hardest, and most time-consuming to create. I was thrilled to be able to really take some time to write and develop this particular entry over a few weeks, thanks to your kind support! If you want to help me keep producing these Design Diaries, I encourage you to join my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month can make the difference between me having the time to tackle these larger, in-depth design articles, and sticking to shorter, simpler topics.

Developing to Spec: Part 20d – Lots of Healing Feats

This is the fourth section of Part Twenty 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) here.

We’re well into the S feats, with Selective Channel, which requires us to examine one of the consistent differences between PF and Starfinder.

So in PF, when a cleric channels energy, they affect all creatures within range. This can set you up to heal your enemies, which is both both bad tactics and awkward to explain later at Thanksgiving dinner. The Selective Channel feat allows you to choose who you affect, so you can channel to heal allies and skip affecting foes, which is extremely useful.

However our closest analogue to channel energy in Starfinder is the healing channel ability of the mystic’s healer connection… and it already just affects your allies. Man, sometimes it’s like the designers of Starfinder decided to specifically simplify the game and make some of the most popular and common options baked-in to class design. ([MorganFreeman]”They did.”[/MorganFreeman]).

So that use of Selective Channel is out.

Luckily “selective” is a pretty broad term, so all we need is to create a new option for healing channel that involves someone making a choice of some kind.

SELECTIVE CHANNEL
Your allies can help fuel your healing powers.
Prerequisites: Healing channel class feature.
Benefit: When you use your healing channel ability, every ally you heal can choose to donate a Resolve Point to the effort. This decision is made in secret by each ally, then all revealed at once. For every ally that expends a Resolve Point, each healed all may choose to gain an additional 3 Hit Points per mystic level you possess, or 2 Stamina Points per healer level you possess.

That brings us to Self-Sufficient and, yeah, it’s another +2 to two skills feat we need to totally redesign. We can still apply the benefits to Medicine and Survival, but we need to take some liberties to make it a feat a player would consider taking.

SELF-SUFFICIENT
You are an expert at looking out for yourself.
Benefit: When you make a Medicine check with yourself as the only target, you gain a +2 circumstance bonus to your result. Additionally, anytime you spent Resolve Points to stay in the fight, you may make a Medicine check on yourself for first aid, treat deadly wounds, treat disease, or treat poison without taking an additional action to do so. Additionally, if you make a Survival check with yourself as the only target to endure severe weather or live off the land, you gain a +2 circumstance bonus to your result.

PATREON
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 20c – Ride and Run

This is the third section of Part Twenty 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) here.

We are now at Ride-By Attack and Run. Ride-by Attack as written mostly isn’t needed in Starfinder (assuming you are using the creature companion rules in AA3), because when you ride a mount you gain its movement, which means Spring Attack works with your mounted speed. However, since there are companion riding rules, we can work with them to give some kind of mounted combat bonus.

This begins to push past the number of prerequisites I prefer to have on Starfiner feats given how rarer long prerequisite chains are, but since this is designed to directly work with Spring Attack, we have to list that feat and all its prerequisites.

RIDE-BY ATTACK (Combat)
You and your mount have mastered hit-and-run tactics.
Prerequisites: Dex 15, creature companion, Mobility, Spring Attack, base attack bonus +4.
Benefit: Any round you are riding your companion and make a melee attack, if your companion has only taken one action, it may additionally make a move action.

Run doesn’t do much by Starfinder standards, but we can read the Starfinder rules on running to see if we can punch it up a bit.

RUN
You are able to run quickly and under adverse conditions.
Benefit: When you run as a full action, you can move up to five times your speed in a straight line. You do not gain the flat-footed condition as a result of running, and you can run even if you must cross difficult terrain or can’t see where you’re going. You can run for a number of rounds equal to double your Constitution score.

PATREON
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 20b – Forms of Rapid

This is the second section of Part Twenty 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) here.

We hit our first “r” feat, Rapid Reload.

Which is easy to adapt to Starfinder mechanically… but has major power power implications that may not be obvious.

Having to take an action to reload weapons is used to reign in some combat options. Automatic mode attacks, for example, are designed to not be able to be used every round because they use all your remaining ammunition. So if you could reload without taking an action, you could make automatic attacks every round.

But we can boost reload utility without going that far.

RAPID RELOAD (Combat)
You can quickly reload a while while doing other things.
Benefit: When you take an action that does not include making an attack or reloading a weapon, you may additionally reload any one weapon you could reload as a move action. Alternatively, if you take a move action to reload a weapon, you may reload one weapon for every 2 arms you have.

That brings us to Rapid Shot, which has similar issues–it’d be easy enough to allow additional ranged attacks at -2, but it would be extremely unbalancing. PF primarily scales damage output at increasing level by giving characters more and more attacks. Starfinder primarily scales damage output by giving characters more damaging attacks. That means that giving yet another attack on top of whatever else Starfinder gives a character, especially at a mere -2 to attack rolls, would boost a character’s potential damage output well out of scale with any other feat.

Nearly anything that impacts the action economy of making one or more attacks is going to be nearly impossible to balance, especially since some Starfinder official material has already given very minor boosts and we can’t predict how future minor boosts might interact with some very constrained option we create here.

But we can create something that let’s you shoot rapidly without shooting more often.

RAPID SHOT (Combat)
You can get off the first shot with surprising rapidity.
Prerequisites: Improved Initiative
Benefit: When you roll initiative, you can choose to gain a +4 bonus to your check. If you do so, your first round of combat is restricted to drawing weapons and making a single ranged attack roll.

The prerequisite is designed to restrict this feat to characters that can get the most use out of it. Since Improved Initiative gives you a +4 initiative bonus with no restrictions on your first round actions it’s clearly something you should take before getting a second +4 with drawbacks.

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!

Developing to Spec: Part 20a – Powerful and Precise

This is the first section of Part Twenty 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) here.

I got back from orcaCon at about 3am, thanks to snow and ice delays and a 2-hour drive from the airport to my apartment. Since I hadn’t managed to get ahead on these, that left me writing them after I collapsed into a dreamless slumber, a black hole of unconscious from which nothing, not even snoring, could escape.

I only mention this because there really is an impact from real-world events on writing projects, especially longer ones. I’ve been doing these posts since early October–three months now, normally 4 times a week. In that time I have had to accommodate delays from illness, travel (three out-of-state trips longer than a weekend), major holidays, and more than one bout of depression so serious I needed professional help. I’ve tried writing all my posts early, writing them each morning with my coffee, even combining them all into a single post with a week’s content.

So far, it looks like a combination of doing batches early, and doing it day-of, as energy and timing dictate, is my best plan.

But these kinds of interruptions are absolutely the sorts of things that can derail a project. We are well past the halfway point for this task, and I’m doing it much more slowly than i would if I’d actually been hired to do this as freelance. But as a personal project, it’s exactly the kind of thing that can get dropped “just for a bit,” and never picked up. Sometimes, the difference between success and failure (and, separately, between being a professional and just being a hobbyist) is making sure you get all the way to the end.

So, as tempting as it was today to do something faster, easier, or smaller, i instead forced myself to tackle the next set of feats, AND writing the lengthier-than-necessary explanation of how real life interference can be the death of a project just as much as bad design.

So, let’s get to it. Power Attack.

In PF, Power Attack is the melee equivalent of Deadly Aim. Sf converted Deadly Aim, but has it apply to both melee and ranged attacks. That removes the obvious design space for the feat, and once again puts us in a position to have to create an apples-to-oranges adaptation.

However, we can likely still make this a combat feat that plays with the combat rules for a damage bonus. We just move away from penalties, and instead look at options for adjusting the action economy in a way that allows a character to spend more time on an attack to get more damage, much in the way the boost weapons special quality does.

POWER ATTACK (Combat)
You can focus all your power into a single mighty attack.
Benefit: When you take the full attack action with weapons (including a solarian’s solar manifestation, but not spells or other special abilities of any kind), you can choose to make only a single attack. If you do, that attack deals additional damage equal to half your base attack bonus (minimum 1).

Next is Precise Shot, which in PF allows you to negate a penalty when making ranged attacks into melee that doesn’t exist in Starfinder. But we can likely adjust the mechanism to do something similar.

PRECISE SHOT (Combat)
You are adept at firing ranged attacks into melee.
Benefit: Your allies do not give targets cover from your ranged attacks unless they give total cover.

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Developing to Spec: Part 19–Martial Weapons to Pinpoint Targeting

This is the all of Part Nineteen 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) here.

I have a lot going on this week (I hop on a plane at 6am Thursday to fly to OrcaCon… and the airport is 2 hours away, so I’m getting up at 3am or so…), so rather than do two feats a day for four days, I just did eight feats all today! Same content for the week, you just don’t have to wait for it.

We start with maetial Weapon Proficiency, and… dang it, Starfinder doesn’t HAVE “martial weapons” to be proficient in! So we just need to find something warlike a character might like to be better at, without exceeding the highest possible bonus *some* character could have. We don’t want someone investing in this unless it’s going to be an important part of the game they play in, so let’s delay access until they’ve played through the lower levels.

MARTIAL WEAPON PROFICIENCY (Combat)
You have learned to master the most martial of weapons–starship weapons.
Prerequisites: Character level 6+.
Benefit: You have special training not only in how starship weapons work, but how to use your class experience to attack with them more accurately. When you fire a starship weapon, you attack bonus is equal to your level +your key ability score modifier. You are also considered proficient with any vehicular-mounted weapon, and gain Weapon Specialization with it if appropriate.

All of Starfinder’s crafting rules fit in one column in the core rulebook. reading through them, we can find some ways we can let someone spending a feat on it be a little better.

MASTER CRAFTSMAN
Your crafting expertise exceeds mere training.
Benefit: You can craft items with an item level equal to your ranks in the appropriate skill +1. You craft items in half the time it would normally take you. When determining the hardness, Hit Points, and saves of an item you have crafted, you treat its item level as 5 higher than its true level.

Rather than find some weird other combat benefit, Medusa’s Wrath is a place we can just limit the circumstances where you can use the feat, and just hand out an actual numeric bonus.

MEDUSA’S WRATH (Combat)
Those who are unable to react in combat are vulnerable to your fists.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strike, base attack bonus +11
Benefit: If you take a full attack action against a foe that is dazed, helpless, staggered, or stunned, and all your attacks are melee attacks, you get a +1 bonus to the attack roll of any unarmed attacks you make against that target.

Mounted archery is SUPER-specific as a science-fantasy concept, but that makes it pretty easy to find extra options we can give a character that would want this feat, without them being unbalancingly powerful.

MOUNTED ARCHERY (Combat)
You have trained in the ancient art of mounted bow use.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with a weapon that uses arrows as ammunition.
Benefit: When you are riding a mount, making ranged attacks with a weapon that fires arrows does not provoke attacks of opportunity. If using the creature companion rules, any round you are riding your companion and make a ranged attack with a weapon that fires arrows, if your companion has only taken one action, it may additionally make a move action.

Natural Spell is another case where the rules in question from PF just don’t apply to Starfinder (which doesn’t require verbal or somatic components anyway). So, time for another apples-to-oranges conversion that just tries to make an interesting option that would appeal to a player who likes the sound of a “Natural Spell” feat.

NATURAL SPELL
You have received xenowarden-like training in using magic to deal with
Benefit: Any spell you cast that could affect a humanoid, can also affect a creature of the animal, plant, or vermin type.

Starfinder DOES have a “Nimble Moves,” but not a “Nimble Steps,” so we need to adapt a feat that’s already been adapted (just renamed in the process). But the difference in the names gives us a potential direction, as well. We can make the prerequisites less strenuous, limit the benefit to just land speed, and even create a synergy

NIMBLE STEPS
Benefit: When using your land speed, you can move through up to 30 feet of difficult terrain each round as if it were normal terrain. This feat allows you to take a guarded step into difficult terrain.
Special: If you have this and Nimble Moves, you ignore difficult terrain when using your land speed.

Persuasive is just like all our other +2-to-2-skills feats, we need to find some other benefit since we can’t use just bonuses.

PERSUASIVE
Somehow, you can convince others that your actions aren’t as threatening as they seem.
Benefit: The first time you attack a helpful, friendly, or indifferent creature, it’s attitude does not automatically worsen by one step. The first time you use Intimidate to bully a creature, its attitude does not automatically worsen when the bully ends. These abilities doesn’t reset with a given creature until you gain a new level.

Pinpoint Targeting is, by Starfinder standards, broken at any level. So, we need a different benefit… and we had a similar problem with Penetrating Strike. maybe a similar solution will work?

PINPOINT TARGETING (Combat)
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +6, Weapon Focus (any ranged weapon).
Benefit: As long as you have at least 1 Resolve Point remaining, when you make a single ranged attack as a standard action (with an attack to which you can apply Weapon Focus, and targets only a single creature) against a target in your first range increment, your target does not gain any AC bonus from cover (including shields) against that attack, and it ignores any HP and other effects from force fields and energy shields, and any other defensive effect of a shield.

PATREON
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!

 

Design Diary: Creating d20 Classes (Part 3)

Last month we began a line of Design Diary entries discussing how to create a character class from scratch for a d20 class/level based game. We’ve gone over concept, and discussed the class progression tools various games give you to fill out the mechanical roles your class might fill. Now, it’s time to begin discussing the heart of what makes a class fun and unique–special abilities.

Of course there are lots of elements to good special abilities. Balanced numerical considerations. Well-worded rules. But also, matching (or intentionally breaking from) the game system’s class organization etiquette.

Yep. Etiquette.

Each d20-based game system has an etiquette on how classes are presented, which you need to understand on order to build a set of class features players will find satisfying and relatable. Yes, you can challenge it, but you need to know why it’s there and understand how GMs and players may react to a class that doesn’t follow the system’s rules of class presentation etiquette.

Since we haven’t talked much about special abilities yet, let me use a progression bonus example to explain what i mean/

If you were making a Chaos Adept class for Starfinder, you could perfectly well decide it has a +2 base Will bonus at 1st level, +0 at 2nd level, +3 at 3rd and 4th, +1 at 5th, and +4 at 6th. Done properly, that can be balanced, and match the class’s theme. None of those numbers are out of whack for balance purposes at the levels they are presented, so the class is not in that regard unbalanced.

But it breaks etiquette in a big way. A lot of GMs will flip out. It LOOKS wrong, since every other class in Starfinder uses one of just two progressions, which all march slowly upward at a regular pace. It also makes it really hard to a player to know if the class is one that in general is “good” at Will saves. If they want to be more mentally resilient than ususal should they invest in Iron Will or similar save-boosting options? Most players won;t have a clue.

Further, the class if going to give different end result feels at different levels. Sometimes it’ll feel very mentally resilient, while on other occasions it will seem weak for entire levels of gameplay at a time. That can be chaotic, of course, but it puts a lot of mystery into how the class is going to act, forcing the player to guess or do a fair amount of analysis before discovering what to expect from the class.

Is that worth the chaos-themed-feel? You can’t answer that questions until and unless you understand why the etiquette existed to begin with.

Different games handle how the class gains bonuses to basic tasks and game functions differently. Proficiency values are fixed in 5e, it’s what you apply them to that varies. Proficiency tiers are given as specific levels in PF2 and have set values. No one ever gets a d11 hit die in any of these games, even though d11s are easily available.

Using a specific set of tools and presentation makes it much clearer to players and GMs what a class is good at and should be able to do. Breaking those norms has consequences, and you need to grasp what those are before you can decide if your off-the-wall design is worth it.

There’s also some Picasso at work here.

If your choices appear entirely random and disconnected from how the game you are designing for builds a class, players and GMs have little reason to trust you know what you are doing as a designer. Suspicion and confusion can very quickly lead to gamers spending more time picking about the game design than playing the game, and that is unlikely to lead them to feel they got good value out of what your spend so much time and hard work creating.

On the other hand, if your class design is familiar in how most of it is presented, the places you do deviate from the norm are more likely to be accepted as mindful, intentional efforts to make something new and innovative. Like a work of Picasso, at least some people are going to evaluate something that breaks the normal conventions in the context of knowing the creator has proven to have mastered the normal rules of that art form first. Picasso mastered the conventional styles of art in his field, and was then able to change the rules from a place of understanding what they were and how to use them.

So, analyze how the existing classes in the game present everything from bonuses to proficiencies to class features. In Starfinder, every class has beginning armor and weapon proficiencies, class skilsl and skill points/level (and in general twice as many class skills as the number of skill points it gets per level), Weapon Specialization at exactly third level, and most have a few set core abilities every few levels and one or two different sets of tiered ability choices with level prerequisites.

By contract, 5e classes all have a proficiency bonus that increases by level (at exactly the same rate for every class), fixed abilities at most levels (generally with one kind of choice at 1st or 2nd), and one or two points where the player picks a specialization. Classes don’t have special class abilities that are picked every few levels in 5e, though things like feats and spell selection still have an element of that.

So if you want to introduce a whole new mechanic of player (say, a system of runes that don’t work like any existing class feature as I have in the runecaster class now available through the 52-in-52 program), you want for everything else in the class presentation to follow the normal class etiquette. Not only does that show you knew what you were doing, it lets gamers who look at your design focus on learning the new rules you are presenting, without having to also grasp a totally different presentation of information.

You CAN change anything you want as a designer. Just make sure you only do so when the result is worth the cognitive load on your customers.

Next week, for sure, we’ll talk about fixed abilities versus customizable abilities. 🙂

PATREON

These Design Diaries are among the most popular of the things I wrote, but they are also the biggest, hardest, and most time-consuming to create. If you want to keep seeing them, I encourage you to join my Patreon. Just a few dollars a month can make the difference between me having the time to tackle these larger, in-depth design articles, and sticking to shorter, simpler topics.