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.
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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.
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. 🙂
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