Starfinder weapons design Q&A
Recently I posted four weapon damage tables based almost entirely off the ones found on Owen KC Stephens blog, you should go there and look at it, maybe throw some money at his patreon if you enjoy the content and would like him to create more.
I recently released a small booklet of new Battle Gloves for Soldier in order for them to have an appropriate item level damage rating available to a Armor Storm Soldier with the Hammer Fist class ability. Before then there were only 4 battle gloves in the hardback books and great gaps in what you could use for the ability. I don’t believe it was the fault of the designer who wrote the class, the ability is fine mechanically. The equipment section does not support the ability well, this goes double for grenades and the bombard soldier ability to make grenades from scrap, or Operatives wanting level appropriate operative weapons.
Owen wrote his weapon damage tables on June 15, 2020 and it took me 3 months to decide to write a booklet about the thing he said in another post, the tables enabled us to do solve the Battle Glove problem. I looked at the weapon damage tables, looked at the cost for upgrading items tables and had 20 levels of battle gloves in like 4-5 hours. The gap in the rules stood for 3 years, Paizo never touched battle gloves again, the soldier suffers to this day. Once the mechanics were available and the idea just sitting there, it still took 3 months for someone to do it.
- You go to the weapon damage tables, you pick the column for one-handed basic melee weapon.
- You choose the item level and make a note of the suggested damage
- You put an em dash where the critical effect goes, there are a lot of basic weapons with no critical effect
- You put an L under bulk, real battle gloves are light bulk, Hammer Fist battle gloves are technically part of your armor
- You put analog or powered under special properties
- Powered battle gloves get 20 charges and usage one
- You go to the weapon upgrade pricing list and you start counting 3 between levels and find the number you think fits best
- You do that 16 times, you add the 4 battle gloves form the core rules and you’re done
Battle Gloves might have been the easiest case I could have picked to start with.
I wrote some front matter defining the problem and the need for the book. I wrote some comparison of the battle gloves to the Improved Unarmed Strike feat or just letting the soldier buy a lot of different weapons. I put a cover on it, I updated the OGL statement to cover the book and Owen’s blog. I sent it to Jim for a proofread and comments. I put it up for sale the next day.
It cost me $3 in stock art, 3 years of learning InDesign, a monthly Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, a night away from my wife or watching TV, a night I didn’t play an MMO or Destiny on the Xbox.
People can and do write books in Word or OpenOffice/LibreOffice, you could send a manuscript to a layout artist. We will address those parts more under publishing.
The thing I want you to take away is that making weapons for starfinder can be as easy as making monsters, NPCs or starships for the game, now that Owen has published his math for doing so. Owen has been working on the math for a couple of years according to his blog. According to my notes and records he and I talked about it in June of 2019. After I released the battle gloves book I went looking for the notes from that conversation which was not in my normal questions for Owen doc, or the Ask a game designer doc, it was unhelpfully labeled as Pathfinder 2e notes.
So Owen has some assumptions built into his weapon damage tables, they have standard assumptions, as well as conditions or properties that make you move up and down the charts a few levels. there are also minimum item levels for certain critical effects. For right now go to Owen’s blog and use the level adjustment notes he has on his tables.
In June 2019 I had a lengthy Q&A with Owen about how starfinder weapons worked and he was very patient in going over these things with me until I understood them. At the time we discussed the differences in the weapon properties expressed as percentages, not level adjustments, it’s also worth noting that certain level adjustments are worth more or less before and after the 9th level break point. These are my notes, any errors are likely from my transcription and not the source.
Owen’s advice to me at the time was to model the Starfinder kinetic ranged weapon damage progression and costs off the SF core and armory books. Obviously he’s done that work now, but for historical interest, here is the rest of what followed in that conversation.
- Weapons item level 1-5 skew higher damage than they should.
- KAC shots do 10% more damage than EAC attacks because they are on average +2 more likely to hit. By making separate EAC/KAC tables you shouldn’t have to do this math now, but its nice to know the why of something.
- Player character damage at level is NOT the same as NPC or Monster damage at CR.
4d010 slashing 13th level +13 for specialization 16 STR to an 18 at level or bonus item 4d10 +17 (22+17) 10% less or 36 for an EAC weapon of 19 +17 so about 4d8
Area of Effect as a balancing factor for weapon damage
- Blast weapons do 20-25% less damage because it’s an area effect.
- Explode weapons are treated like blast for 20-25% less damage, because its an area effect.
- Line weapons don’t change damage much because it’s hard to line up multiple targets.
Action economy as a balancing factor for weapon damage
- Unwieldy can do 10-20% more damage because you can’t make multiple attacks with it.
- Small Arms and Operative weapons assume they are being used by an Operative with Trick attack, add 20% more damage which is like making the operative weapon unwieldy.
- Boost is extra 10-20% (as much as 33%) which isn’t always used and limits the number of attacks similar to unwieldy or trick attack.
- Automatic doesn’t penalize for damage because you run out of ammo and have to reload. Despite saying this, the Autotarget rifle is level 2 does 1d6 which is less than the 1d8 Hunting rifle level, the Magnetar rifle level 9 does the same 2d8 damage as the tactical seeker rifle level 7. So if we called it straight 2 level adjustment and allowed for both an item level adjustment and damage level adjustment to cover the total cost.
Number and variety of weapons and game balance
Range Increment, number of shots or Charges and the Crit aren’t too much of a design concern, the primary balancing factor to watch out for is that you don’t create the one best gun. You’re looking for game balance and variation. Paul’s note: Charles Ryan wrote a Bullet Points article on this for D20 Modern called Firearms in the d20 Modern Game, you can still find it on the Wayback Machine. He basically said you can have 50 guns in the rulebook, if there is a best gun, then you only ever see people using the one gun, you might as well not have the rest.
Additional considerations for Special Qualities
How do you add special qualities at what level and why? Stunned, Wounding, Critical Wounding are the biggest balance factors against a level when cybernetic replacements and regeneration become available and are for advanced not basic weapons.
By trying to make the design tools more readily available, it is my sincere hope we hear from some new voices bringing us weird stuff we never thought possible and start to break down a stigma about 3PP content not being as mechanically sound as other game content.
If you have any feedback about this post or our books please feel free to contact us.
Evilrobotgames at Gmail.com