Blog Archives

Drafting Alternate Grenade Rules (With An Example For Starfinder)

Grenades, and explosives in general, are tricky to write rules for in most d20-based ttRPGs. If a grenade isn’t effective enough, it feels more like a firecracker than a deadly weapon of war. If it’s too effective, it can end encounters so quickly it’s no fun for the players, or accidentally wipe out PCs in undramatic ways.

When grenades show up in action/adventure fiction, they tend to act less as damaging devices than plot devices that force people to seek cover. The threat of them is generally represented not by them killing main characters, but by forcing characters to take them seriously and possible shake off effects of shock and awe.

(Grenade art from the public domain)

Example: Starfinder Revised Grenades

So, let’s try to model that behavior, specifically for Starfinder. Within that game, grenades are pretty expensive consumables anyway, so a power-up shouldn’t break the game even if it makes grenades more affective and appealing. That said, if these seem too powerful, you can limit these rules to actual purchased consumables, rather than spells and class features that allow characters to create or emulate grenades without a credit or OPB cost.


Grenades are dangerous, deadly military explosives that everyone must take seriously as a threat, no matter how tough or resilient they are. While savvy and active combatants know to duck for cover and shake themselves free of the shock of battlefield explosions, doing so comes at a cost.

When you fail a saving throw against a grenade that has an item level no lower than your character level/CR -2 that deals damage (as opposed to, for example, smoke grenades), you must either expend a Resolve Point or be staggered on your next turn. This represents the need to duck, take cover, and shake yourself back to focus after narrowly avoiding more serious injury.

Helpless characters that fail a save against such a grenade treat the attack as a coup de grace against them. As a full round action a character can make an Engineering check (DC 15 + 1.5x grenade item level) to wedge a grenade into an adjacent stationary structure or unattended object, causing it to do max damage and have only half its normal explode radius. On a failed check, the grenade explodes in the character’s hands, and they take max damage.

I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Starfinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Weapons in ShadowFinder, a Starfinder Play Mode

In the upcoming ShadowFinder modern fantasy play mode for Starfinder, weapons don’t do a set damage based on their item level, and mundane, typical weapons aren’t bought with credits. Instead anything reasonably available to a typical person (bolt cutters, road flares, blue jeans, baseball bats, cars, firearms, bandages, and so on) use a wealth mechanic to see if you can find and afford what you want when you want it. Credits are used for more esoteric items, such as magic and hybrid equipment, fringe science, psychically imbued crystals, alien relics, and so on.

Similarly, rather than a set damage, weapons have their damage based on a damage tier, which is calculated using a set of rules that are being polished as we speak. If you are proficient with a weapon, it’s base damage tier is your character level. If you are not proficient, it’s base damage tier is your base attack bonus -2 (and you suffer the normal nonproficiency penalty to your attack roll). Weapons then have a damage tier modifier, often based on things like their critical hit effects and special properties.

Here’s a sample of what some melee weapons will look like, and how the damage tier chart works.

Baseball Bat (1-h/2-h Basic Melee Weapon)
Wealth Check: 10
Damage Tier -1 (B)
Properties: Analog, archaic,
Critical Hit Effect: Knockdown

Stiletto (Operative Melee Weapon)
Wealth Check: 12
Damage Tier +0 (P)
Properties: Analog, conceal, feint
Critical Hit Effect: Bleed (1d6, +1d6/5 damage tiers)

Single Target Melee KAC Weapons

Damage   1-h          2-h                       1-h           2-h
Tier     Adv.        Adv.      Oprtv      Basic       Basic

-3            1d2         1d4          1 pt.        1 pt.        1d2

-2            1d3         1d4          1 pt.        1 pt.        1d3

-1            1d3         1d4          1 pt.        1d3         1d3

0              1d4         1d6         1d3         1d4         1d4

1              1d4         1d6         1d3         1d4         1d6

2              1d6         1d6         1d4         1d6         1d6

3              1d6         1d8         1d4         1d6         1d6

4              1d8         1d8         1d4         1d6         1d8

5              1d8         1d10      1d6         1d8          1d8

6              2d4         2d6         1d6         1d8         1d10

7              2d6         2d8         1d8         1d10      1d12

8              2d8         3d6         2d4         1d10      2d8

9              3d6         4d6         2d6         2d8         3d6

10           4d6         5d6         3d4         2d8         3d8

11           5d6         4d8         2d8         2d10      4d6

12           4d8         6d6         3d6         3d8         5d6

13           6d6         7d6         3d8         3d10      4d8

14           6d8         9d6         4d6         4d8         5d8

15           9d6         10d6      5d6         5d8         8d6

16           10d6      11d6      6d6         6d8         9d6

17           12d6      13d6      7d6         7d8         10d6

18           14d6      15d6      8d6         8d8         12d6

19           16d6      17d6      9d6         9d8         13d6

20           18d6      20d6      10d6      11d8      15d6

21           20d6      22d6      11d6      12d8      17d6

22           22d6      25d6      12d6      13d8      19d6

I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more Starfinder or ShadowFinder content (or more rules for other game systems, fiction, game industry essays, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!), try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Owen Explains It All — Ghost-Busting Weapons for Starfinder

Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:

You may be wondering why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do episodes picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game. This article ties in to the “Owen Explains It All; Ghostbuster’s Afterlife” episode.

The show has a logo and everything!

Adding Weapons to Use Against Ghosts to Starfinder

Really, the two things you need to add the ability to bust ghosts to Starfinder are weapons that can affect and grab ghosts, and traps to hold them. So, here are two OGL options for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, designed to work together: the antiectoplasmic fusion, and the ghostbinder grenade modifications.

(Art by evilratalex)

New Fusion: Antiectoplasmic [Level 1]

Only weapons that deal electricity damage, and no other type of damage, can have the antiectorplasmic fusion.

An antiectoplasmic weapon does full damage to incorporeal creatures, and can score critical hits against incorporeal creatures. If an incorporeal creature is out of Stamina Points (or is at half or less of its HP, for creatures without a Stamina Point score), and has unrecovered damage from an antiectoplasmic weapons on it, then any ectoplasmic weapon can be used to grapple the target (even at range) by hitting its EAC +4 (rather than KAC +8). If an antiecotplasmic weapon has an incorporeal creature grappled, as a standard action you can both maintain the grapple and move the creature a number of squares equal to the weapon’s item level. This counts as an attack, including for purposes of expending charges or ammunition.

Grenade Modification: Ghostbinder

Ghostbinder is a modification that can be applied only to grenades that do electricity damage, and it increases their cost by 100%. A ghostbinder grenade does half damage, and has a trigger connected to it by a cord allowing it to be triggered within 30 feet. A grappled incorporeal creature in the area of a ghostbinder grenade must make a Fortitude save against the grenade’s DC, or be trapped within it. For every foe grappling the incorporeal creature, it takes a -2penalty to this save. An incorporeal creature within a ghostbinder grenade can take no action, cannot affect anything, and is immune to the affects of anything other than the grenade. If the grenade is shut off or destroyed, the incorporeal creature is released.

Unlike most grenades, a ghostbinder grenade is not destroyed when used. If there is no incorporeal creature bound within it, it can be recharged for the cost of a normal grenade of its type.

Expanded Content

In addition to these its, I briefly present rules for long-term ghost storage exclusively at my Patreon. You can join for a monthly cost of less than a cup of coffee!

Hold-Out Grenadier Feat, for Starfinder

Grenades in Starfinder are specifically designed to work in-game. That is, their cost, range, and power is scaled in such a way as to make them useful, but not something that is going to end an encounter with one action or allow minor NPCs to kill all the PCs with one lucky throw. That is, of course, arguably not how grenades work in the real world. That’s the “game” part of a roleplaying game.

But there are other factors as well when scaling grenades compared to reality. They are heavy and expensive per use, compared to other ranged counterparts, and real-world fatigue is more complex than just a bulk or credit system. They can be unpredictable in exact aiming, pose a potential danger to the user or their allies, break or detonate when damaged on your person in combat, and often require you to expose yourself more from cover than using a rifle does. None of these factors are major enough to call for complex rules to model them in Starfinder, but they are a reason it’s not common for individual soldiers to carry 20 grenades with them.

So, is there a way to give players the big-boom-to-save-our-butts experience, without breaking the game so grenades become the go-to solution for every combat? Well, yes, but since we are trying to overcome a gamist issue, it’s going to require a gamist solution with some limitations that have to do with fun gameplay for everyone rather than modeling reality. Not everyone will like that, but for those who do, here’s a feat to become the guy who has one cinematically-impressive grenade on their belt for when the situation calls for a big boom.

(Art by Sarah Hollund)

Hold-Out Grenadier (Combat)
You keep one bad boy ready, in case things go badly south.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with grenades and heavy weapons
Benefit: Once a day, when one of more of your allies is out of Stamina Points (or is down to 25% of their HP, for allies that lack a SP score), and you have access to your normal selection of gear (so not if captures searched and weapons removed, or when you have unable to resupply since last using this ability, and so on), as a full-round action you may throw a hold-out grenade that you keep for emergency situations.

The grenade is a grenade of your choice with an item level no greater than your item level +2, and you add your level to damage dealt by the grenade. If the grenade does dice of damage, it deals one additional die of the same size its damage is calculated in (thus a 4d6 grenade becomes a 5d6 grenade). The grenade cannot be one that does not directly deal damage (such as a smoke grenade, flash grenade, or grenade that summons a creature).

The round after throwing the grenade, you cannot make an attack, attack action, full-attack action, cast any spell unless it is harmless, or use any ability that requires an attack roll or forces opponents to make a saving throw.

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Owen Explains It All — Command Voice and Sonic Weapons for Starfinder

Before we get to any OGL content, an editorial aside:

First, this blog has spoilers for Dune — the book, both movies, and the miniseries. So if you want to avoid those, don’t read this.

Second, you may be wondering why is this tagged as an “Owen Explains It All” post, when that’s very unlike my normal marketing tone? Well, because this links into a show from the BAMF podcast I’m on, titled “Owen Explains It All!“. We do an episode every two weeks, picking new things from the zeitgeek to use as inspiration for game material, specifically the Starfinder Roleplaying Game.

We have a logo and everything!

If you haven’t already gone and watched the October 25, 2021 episode, we talk about various version of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Specifically, how it’s very much a skill-based setting, with the Voice, Prana-bindu training, and the Weirding Way as taught and learned abilities. We also spoke about David Lynch’s 1984 Dune movie, which replaced much of that with raw technology, in the form of “Weirding Modules,” which still required training as the words used impacted its effectiveness.

And all of that leads me to Command Voice and Sonic Weapons, as OGL content

Command Voice Feats

The brain of any sentient is designed to take in information, process it, decide what it means, and use that to form a mental picture of what reality is and what actions should be taken. Normally, speech is processed as a form of information that must be carefully analyzed and considered before being accepted. However, with extensive training it is possible to change the pitch and intensity of the spoken word such that short commands bypass a brain’s normal analysis portion of taking in information, and accept it as a decision made by the target’s own mind. This is known as the Command Voice.

Command Voice
You can cause the weak-willed to briefly obey you.
Prerequisites: Charisma 13, 5 ranks of Diplomacy, 5 ranks of Intimidate.
Benefit: You can expend 1 Resolve Point to use the bully task of the Intimidate skill as a full action, rather than the normal 1 minute. The creature is only bulled for 1 round, plus 1 round for every 5 by which your check exceeds the DC.
Special: An envoy can take Command Voice as an envoy skill expertise, without meeting its prerequisites.

Greater Command Voice
Your command over can cause the weak-willed to briefly obey you.
Prerequisites: Charisma 15+, Command Voice, 8 ranks of Diplomacy, 8 ranks of Intimidate.
Benefit: You can use Command Voice as a standard action (though it still requires you to expend a Resolve Point). Alternatively you can use Command Voice without expending a Resolve Point, but take a -10 penalty to your Intimidate check when you do so. When using Command Voice, if you exceed the normal DC by 5, the target does not realize you bullied it and it’s attitude towards you does not change as a result of it. If you exceed the normal DC by 10, the bullying lasts for 1 minute.
Special: A character with 5 or more envoy levels and Command Voice can take Greater Command Voice as an envoy skill expertise without meeting its prerequisites.

Sonic Weapons

Faiet Module

Faiet Modules are hybrid magic item weapons that use the power of specific words or sounds, and converts them into killing energy. They are the ultimate expression of the Faiet Way, a method of influencing and controlling creatures through the use of specific tones of voice and combinations of phrases that bypass much of the psychological defense of a target. However, Faiet Modules take those sounds and convert them into physical harm far beyond some tool of coercion or deceit.

(Faiet Module art by Jacob Blackmon)

In addition to a small hand-held emitter, a Faiet Module has a throat mic, which must be worn to use the weapon. The price is included in the price of the module, and it can be added to armor without taking up an upgrade slot. If the operator of the Faiet Module is for some reason unable to speak or make a sound as loud as a shouted word, the module cannot be used to attack,

The results from attacking with a Faiet Module are only partly about accuracy and combat acumen. A great deal of the successful use of a such a module depends on the ability to accurately create the needed killing words, and to do so in rhythm with the sounds of a conflict. As a result, despite being small arms Faiet Modules cannot be used to perform trick attacks (the misdirection required for trick attacks is not compatible with the voice control and forthrightness needed to create effective killing words), and rather than the normal Weapon Specialization a character gains bonus damage equal to their ranks in Bluff, Culture, Diplomacy, or Intimidate (whichever is higher). A character that has no ranks in Bluff, Culture, Diplomacy, or Intimidate can’t use a Faiet Module at all.

Faiet Modules target EAC, despite doing both sonic and bludgeoning damage. Additionally Faiet Modules have the sound-dependent weapon special property.

New Weapon Special Properties

Sound-dependent: If a target cannot hear you when you attack with a sound-dependent weapon, it cannot be harmed any sonic damage dealt by that weapon. Thus, for example, they don’t deal sonic damage in a vacuum. However, if the weapon does more than one damage type (such as a Faeit Module dealing both sonic and bludgeoning damage), the weapons can still deal the non-sonic portion of the damage.

Sonic Small Arms
Faiet Module, Mummer14001d6 S & B30 ft.Wound20/1LSound-dependent
Faiet Module, Eulogy42,5001d10 S & B40 ft.Wound20/1LSound-dependent
Faiet Module, Epitaph76,5002d6 S & B40 ft.Wound20/1LSound-dependent
Faiet Module, Lament1128,0004d6 S & B40 ft.Wound40/2LSound-dependent
Faiet Module, Dirge15100,0006d6 S & B40 ft.Wound40/2LSound-dependent
Faiet Module, Requiem19625,0009d6 S & B50 ft.Wound100/4LSound-dependent

Expanded Post

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The Traumatic Weapon Property for Starfinder/ShadowFinder

Sometimes, you have to decide if an idea is worth the mental load adding it causes the game to gain.

Stamina Points and Hit Points are wildly unrealistic simulations of how creatures and objects take damage. After all, people who are stabbed once sometimes die, people who are stabbed 30+ times sometimes survive. Similar numbers are true for gunshot wounds, and often the people involved are sufficiently typical there’s no reason to suspect they are secretly 11th level heroes with a vast pool of damage points… or that the people who kill with a single attack are pulling off massively high-level trick attacks.

But SP and HP aren’t efforts to model reality. They are gameist rules designed to make it easy to know if a character is being hurt, near death, or dead. Often the situations they create are pretty clearly at odds with typical reality, even if possibly within the realm of things that have happened a few times in medical history. But the rules do a good job of indicated levels or harm, allowing resource management to help track available healing and rest times, and allowing players a metric by which they can gauge the threat posed by a wide range of threats.

Normally, you look at changing rules to make them easier, faster, more realistic, or more “fun,” (which can, admittedly, encapsulate a lot of potential elements). While it would be pointless to try to make weapon damage more “realistic” in a system using SP/HP, due to the inherent gameist nature of that system, there is, however, another potential reason to have firearms work differently than melee weapons in Starfinder (or a compatible modern version, perhaps ShadowFinder) – genre emulation. While lots of supernatural monster hunters in genre fiction have shotguns and pistols, others with access to such materials restrict themselves to knives, axes, and wooden stakes, and go so far as to claim firearms never help.

And there IS a difference between the way a bullet damages a soft target and the way it damages a hard one. The vast speeds of bullets means they often deform and warp soft tissues in a much larger area than the wound track, whereas a stiletto punching the same size whole in someone lacks that additional damage mechanic.

So, maybe we want bullets (and maybe some other weapons) to work differently than other damage-dealers… sometimes. Kinda.

So, what if we create a new weapon property, called “traumatic”?

Traumatic: A traumatic weapon is one that does a significant amount of soft-tissue and propagating damage, such as a gunshot’s effects through hydrostatic shock. When used to damage a target that has no hardness and no DR, traumatic weapons deal additional damage equal to the listed amount (such as “traumatic +1d6”).

Kinda like Boost and some other traits, traumatic gives you more damage, but only in specific circumstances. I’d have to do a lot of math and comparisons to know exactly how much extra damage traumatic can add at any given level… and I’m not sure it’s worth it

Sometimes you have to craft a rule before you know if you like it. I’m really on the fence with this one. So I can try to adjust it until I like it, ir discard it and start over… or just decide it’s a bad idea.

But even fi I do that, I’m saving it in my archived files. Sometimes a bad idea for one game or function turns out to be just what you need for another project.


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Designing Weapons for DungeonFinder, a theoretical all-fantasy Starfinder Hack

Starfinder is not just “Pathfinder in space,” it’s its own ttRPG with specific changes (designed to be improvements and/or simplifications of PF1 rules, or to cover issues common in science-fantasy but not traditional fantasy settings). Some people genuinely prefer its core game system to that of PF1, PF2, or 5e, totally aside from the genre and setting (I’m not claiming that’s a MAJORITY of people mind you, or even a big minority, just that such a group exists.)

One of the things that means is, it would be possible to design a pure-fantasy version of Starfinder, specifically for doing the kind of dragon-slaying and dungeon-delving of a typical d20 fantasy RPG. For the moment, let’s call that theoretical game, DungeonFinder.

Ideally, DungeonFinder would be 100% compatible with Starfinder, so if you *wanted* to have androids and lasers show up in DungeonFinder (like they do in official PF1 material and in some fantasy ttRPGs right back to the beginning), you can just grab the appropriate Starfinder material and use it, no changes needed.

To make a pure-fantasy with the normal swords-and-feudal-themes of a typcial fantasy ttRPG work in a 100% Starfinder-compatible setting, you need some way to make tiered fantasy weapons work, using the same higher-level-gear-does-more-damage framework as Starfinder’s SF weaponry.

That’s perfectly possible — higher-level melee weapons simply become masterwork or magic weapons, and deal more damage. Of course everyone will expect to have +1 longswords and so on, just because that’s the terminology the fantasy predecessors to Starfinder have, which isn’t how Starfinder normally works… but as long as we restrict the bonus to damage (rather than attack rolls), we can make it work.

Here’s a sketch of what a set of tiered Longswords might look like, from 1st to about 17th item level.

(Art by serikbaib)

Advanced Melee Weapons, One-Handed (Longsword)

 Longsword13751d8 S1analog
Longsword, masterwork53,2001d10 S1d6 Bleed1analog
Longsword, +178,7502d6+1 S1d6 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +1 flaming912,7502d10+1 F & S1d8 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +2912,7502d10+2 S1d8 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +1 holy1127,0004d8+12d6 Bleed1analog, magic, holy fusion
Longsword, +2 flaming1127,0004d8+2 F & S2d6 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +31127,0004d8+3 S2d6 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +2 holy1480,0007d8+2 S2d8 Bleed1analog, magic, holy fusion
Longsword, +3 flaming1480,0007d8+3 F & S2d8 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +41480,0007d8+32d8 Bleed1analog, magic
Longsword, +3 holy17250,00010d8 +3 S3d6 Bleed1analog, magic, holy fusion
Longsword, +4 flaming17250,00010d8+4 F & S3d6 Burn1analog, magic
Longsword, +517250,00010d8+5 S3d6 Bleed1analog, magic

I could carry this concept on through 20th level equipment, but since this is just a thought experiment, there’s no real need to do so.

Of course it would be nice if we could avoid having to do a table for every weapon we put in the game. But it might well be possible to break weapons down into a few categories, and have some standard rules (like “masterwork weapons are item level 5, cost 3,000 gp more, do one die step more damage, and gain a minor critical hit effect”), once we have a few exemplar weapons to work from.

This is very much early days yet, but equipment is absolutely the #1 thing that needs to be worked out to make DungeonFinder work. Some Starfinder classes could be ported over with little more than some new class features)soldiers are fine, just create new gear boosts and fighting styles, similarly envoys, mystics, and operatives envoys take little work), while other classes should be more extensively rewritten, or replaced entirely.

I could also carry this same concept into a theoretical ShadowFinder game…


Writing things like this is work, and it takes time from my other paying projects. If you got any use out of this article, or have enjoyed any of my content, please consider supporting my Patreon to cover the cost of my doing it. You can join for the cost of a cup of coffee a month.

New Critical Hit Effects for Starfinder

As I work on running my first Really Wild West campaign, and write up weaponry for it, I find myself using new critical hit effects.

I’ll present a weapon list later I presume, but here are some new crit hit effects for GMs doing their own homebrew weapons.

RWW Weapons

(Art by warpaintcobra)

New Critical Hit Effects

Alternate Crit
When you score a critical hit, you may apply either its normal critical hit effect, or its alternate critical hit effect (listed in parenthesis), at your preference.

AoO (Attack of Opportunity)
Scoring a critical hit with the weapon causes the target to provoke an attack of opportunity from you. Normally only melee weapons have this critical hit effect.

A weapon with a trauma crit does double normal damage to living thing on a critical hit, to a minimum of its maximum normal damage.

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Hex Rounds and Wandshells for Starfinder

Yesterday we presented spell guns and runethrowers, magic devices that can produce spell effects from battery power. The next obvious question is — can you have magic bullets that produce spell effects?

Of course you can. Presenting: Magic Muntions!

Magic Bullet
(art by Yuri Hoyda)

Magic Munitions                     Item       Credit
Item                                            Level      Cost       Bulk
Hex round, 0-level spell          2             140           L
Wandshell, 0-level spell          3             325           L
Hex round, 1st-level spell       5             450           L
Wandshell, 1st-level spell       7             750           L
Hex round, 2nd-level spell     8          1,400           L
Wandshell, 2nd-level spell    11         3,250           L
Hex round, 3rd-level spell     11         3,700           L
Hex round, 4th-level spell      14       10,600          L
Wandshell, 3rd-level spell      15       17,500          L
Hex round, 5th-level spell      17       36,650          L
Wandshell, 4th-level spell      19       81,000          L
Hex round, 6th-level spell      20     112,800          L

Magic munitions allow you to load a one-shot, consumable version of a spell into a weapon. Any spell with a casting time of no more than 1 standard action, that does not require Resolve Points or materials with a cost, can be turned into a magic munition. Activating a magic munition is a standard action, and when you do so the weapon does not have its normal effect (and does not use any ammo or battery beyond the magic munition). The magic effect normally originates as if you had cast the spell. If the spell has a range of touch, you can instead target any legal target within the weapon’s reach of first range increment. The caster level for the spell effect is equal to the magic munition;s item level.

A hex round can only be fired from a spell gun or runethrower able to cast a spell of the same or higher level, or a weapon with the spellthrower fusion. A wandshell can be loaded into any weapon. As magic munitions these ammos can be loaded into any ranged or melee weapon, even ones not designed for physical ammunition or that are normally totally unpowered. Loading a single he round or wandshell into a weapon is a move action. A weapon can’t have more total item levels worth of magic muntions loaded into it at a time than its own item level. Thus a item level 9 laser pistol with the spellthrowing fusion could have one hex round with a 2nd-level spell, or three wandshells with 0-level spells.

Magic munitions not loaded into a weapon are easily identified as magical at a glance, of even by their unusually heavy heft. Most have the spell loaded into them carefully noted on their casing. You cannot craft a a magic munition of a specific spell unless you can cast that spell, or have someone able to cast the spell available to do so when you create the munition.

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Spellguns and Runethrowers for Starfinder

As soon as you say a setting has spellcasters and blasters, there’s a group of players who want to have spellguns. And that’s fair. After all there are numerous examples of spell-generating hybrid technology in science-fantasy fiction (my specific inspirations come from The Irregular at Magic High School and Outlaw Star, but there are many more examples).

But Starfinder doesn’t really have anything like that. There are spell ampules and spell gems… but those are 1-shot consumables, not the spellguns we want.  So I was going to post a few examples of spell guns last Friday… and realized I hadn’t written how how I figured the item level and cost of such things. So I delayed the article to today, and you get a enarly-double-length Monday article that both shows the design process I used, AND presents two sets of finished spellcasting weapons.

So how do we figure out the effective item level of a device that can cast detect magic using a battery, and how do we scale that against a baleful polymorph rifle?

Well, let’s start with something we CAN easily scale — damage. If we can find a relationship between damaging spells at each level and weapons that are roughly as effective, and spells of each level have roughly the same impact on the game as one another, that should allow us to set item levels for devices that create other spells effects of each level.

It’s best if we pick a few spells that come as close as possible to JUST doing damage at each level. We can then figure out a rough benchmark for the typical weaponlike damage each of these things does, looking back at our benchmarks for weapon damage. There’s some subjectivity there of course, but in general we can compare these to damage from weapons (treating a save and attack rolls to be about even in terms of damage-per-round options, and treating area or ongoing attacks as being 10-20% more damage for benchmark purposes) to tell us roughly what item level weapon does comparable damage.

We want two effective item levels (EIL) for each spell — one taken from the closest equivalent longarm or advanced melee weapon (representing an item used by people skilled in combat), and one taken from the closest 1-handed basic melee weapon or small arm (representing an item use by those unspecialized in combat). Those are listed with a slash as skilled/unspecialized. We’ll go into why we want those separate numbers in a moment.

Technomancer spells have the following exemplar damage spells at each spell level:

Energy Ray (1d3, single target EAC ranged)  EIL – 0/1

Jolting Surge (4d6, single target EAC melee) EIL – 12/15
Overheat (2d8 energy in a cone, save for half) EIL – 11/15

Caustic Conversion (4d6 energy, single target EAC ranged, ongoing damage) EIL – 13/18

Arcing Surge (10d6 energy, line, save for half) EIL – 19/24
Explosive Blast (9d6 energy, radius, save for half) EIL –  19/24

Since we already hitting item level 19+ by 3rd level spells, it’s pretty clear 4th-level and higher spells would be beyond the scope of even 20th level equipment.

So, erring on the side of items that duplicate spells skewing up at lower item levels (as we not the benchmark damage for low-level weapons is a bit off, a weirdness the designers accepted so no one would actually have a weapon that did 1 point of damage), and standardizing the curve between skilled and unspecialized, we come up with the following typical item level for something that can reliable reproduce magic effects:

EIL by Spell Level
0-Level Spells: 3/8
1st-Level Spells: 11/16
2nd-Level Spells: 13/18
3rd-Level Spells: 19/24

We know from the price difference in spell gems vs spell ampules that giving a spellcaster access to more spells from their spell list is cheaper than allowing anyone to use that magic effect, so let’s use the same logic here. The lower “skilled” EIL is what we use for “Spell Guns,” which we define as only being able to be used by a character who can cast spells of the same spell level and class list as the one reproduced by the spell gun. So a microbot assault spell gun can only be used by a technomancer who can cast 2nd level spells.

The higher-level EIL we’ll use for Runethrowers. They function just like Spell Guns, except they can be used by anyone.

Also, we’ll use Small Arms proficiency for Spell Guns (so any spellcasting PC can use them), and Longarms for Runethrowers. Of course attack rolls won’t matter for all spell effects, but we’ll rule that any nonproficiency penalty you take with with a Runethrower impacts both any related save DCs, and reduces the Runethrower’s caster level.

We’re also going to ban any spells that require Resolve Points, have a casting time greater than 1 action, or require an experience material mentioned in the spell description. Otherwise each item casts a spell and works like a spell-like ability with a caster level equal to the item level, and all decisions made by whoever pulls the trigger.

So, borrowing some typical costs and battery usages from appropriate items:

Small Arms

SPELL GUNS                    Item     Credit      Spell
Name                              Level    Cost         Level   Battery  Usage
Spell Gun, Apprentice        3         1,500       0           20            2
Spell Gun, Mage               11       26,000       1           40            4
Spell Gun, Arcanist           13        52,000       2           80            8
Spell Gun, Archmage        19      600,000       3         100          10Spell Gun by info at nextmars dot com
(art by


RUNETHROWERS                 Item     Credit      Spell
Name                                    Level    Cost         Level   Battery  Usage
Runethrower, Neophyte       8          10,000       0           40            4
Runethrower, Warlock         16       180,000      1           80            8
Runethrower, Theurge         18       400,000      2         100            10Spell Rifle by info at nextmars dot com
(art by

Runethrower (neophyte, Warlock, Theurge)
A runethrower is a hybrid weapon that contains a single spell of the listed level. It can convert energy from a battery into the energy needed for that spells, using a rune embedded within the weapon to provide all the eldritch control needed to create magic effects.
Only spells that can be cast in a single action or reaction can be placed in a runethrower (and always use a standard action to activate), and it must not have any Resolve Point cost or require any material with a cost (as noted in the spell description). A runethrower’s caster level is equal to its item level, and any decisions that need to be made when it creates a spell effect are decided by the user.
A runethrower can normally only have a single spell added into it. That spell can be changed to another spell of the same level by anyone with the ranks needed to craft the runethrower, at half the cost of creating a new runethrower. A runethrower can also have a additional spells of the same or lower level placed within it as Weapon Fusions (at the normal fusion cost, though it cannot be transferred from another weapon). Each weapon fusion of this type is treated as a weapon fusion with a level equal to 5 + the level of spell it contains. If a runethrower has multiple spells, the user decides which one to use each time it is activated.
Any penalty to attack rolls a character takes applies to a runethrower’s save DC, and if a character is nonproficient, that penalty also applies to the ruenthrower’s caster level when they use it.

Spell Guns (Apprentice, mage, Arcanist, Archmage)
A spell gun is a hybrid weapon that contains a single spell of the listed level. It can convert energy from a battery into the energy needed for that spells similar to a runethrower, but rather than have an internal rune that provides the directions to create a spell effect, requires an eldritch spark from the user to initiatie this conversion. Thus a character can only use a spell gun if they are of a class and level able to cast the spell contained within the spell gun (though it need not actually be a spell known).
Spell guns otherwise follow the rules for runethrowers.

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