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Players and fear of taking damage in Starfinder


Starfinder General Discussion

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So, I'm wondering if anyone else is experiencing a certain phenomenon in GM'ing Starfinder.

I've just wrapped up the seventh session of a campaign I'm currently running and it's been great fun so far, but there's one thing I can't help but notice: despite how forgiving Starfinder is about damage and the range and variety of ways to heal that it provides for characters, many of my players seem inordinately frightened of taking damage.

In some ways maybe this is just a natural outgrowth of the kind of game I run: no matter what level the players are at I do try to present them with CR-appropriate challenges that nevertheless don't look and feel like "here's a band of disposable mooks." Perhaps in trying to make adventures and challenges feel more heroic I've also accidentally dialled up the perceived threat level, making it appear to be beyond where it really lies. In fact the first time I really did throw a large (but still CR-balanced) group of cannon-fodder enemies at the players they kind of panicked, and I can see how that might be part of the reason.

Yet I still can't shake the feeling that there's something beyond this. That something about the fundamental balance of Starfinder as a system, and about how tough it really makes even non-combat characters (not that it makes them invincible, but even your standard-issue squishy Envoy isn't made of glass), just hasn't sunk in yet. This is a bit of a problem because it makes it more difficult to get the players to nerve themselves to actually attempt the heroic things the game system is set up to allow them to do.

("Problem" is overstating it a little. They're RP-ing their characters and making perfectly understandable decisions in doing so. It's more that I want to give them ways to feel comfortable about leaning into the more dangerous end of the storytelling spectrum without fearing I'm going to TPK them.)

Has anyone else experienced this? Is it perhaps a holdover of expectations from Pathfinder players? How do you deal with it? Am I wrong about Starfinder being forgiving?


Pathfinder Class Deck, Maps Subscriber

In my experience damage in Starfinder, despite looks, is not as forgiving as in Pathfinder where you could just wand everything away at the end of a fight or after a blown trap. (However, that's one of the reasons why I like it!) You can regain your SP or HP but you have to spend a finite x-per-day resource to get it, be it a Resolve Point, spell, or use of a healing ability or item.

With that said, taking very small amounts of damage is a bit more "dangerous" in that it's usually not worth the use of an RP to recover small amounts of Stamina Point loss. And thus, the team may be going into the next fight not in 100% condition, which sort of ups the difficulty of those encounters.


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Starfinder is a game where you often fight a bunch of enemies with guns. If they focus fire, there's not much a PC can do to make it through the battle, short of running away and hiding. And if they don't focus fire, they still have the potential to do so, which makes them scary.


I mean, granting in general that Starfinder provides different tactical options for both characters and adversaries than Pathfinder (on average) would do. Either side can focus fire, try to disrupt the other side's ability to do so, seek cover and try to smoke the other side out of cover and so on, and has various powers and abilities designed for this. I'm taking all that for granted as the context here.


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From my perspective, one of the problems is that enemies are just so darned likely to hit you in Starfinder. So when you're in a fight and lose all your stam you feel like you could be killed at any moment. Let me try to prove it to you with some math...

Looking at Pathfinder: A first level PC easily has 14-18 AC, and CR1 enemies have +2 to +4 to hit (See Wolves as an example), dealing 1d6+2 or so damage. That's like 25-50% chance to hit for 5.5 damage on average. Say about 1.9 DPR.

And in Starfinder: A first level PC in Starfinder has 13-16 KAC (16 is at full optimization), and CR1 enemies have +6 to +8 to hit (combatant NPC guide) dealing 1d6+4 or so damage! That's like 55-75% chance to hit for 7.5 damage on average. Or about 4.9 DPR.

A 1st level Pathfinder PC has 8-14 HP. A 1st level Starfinder PC has 14-20 HP. A Pathfinder PC dies to their tormentor in 5-7 rounds or so. A Starfinder PC dies to theirs in 3-4 rounds give or take.

PLUS, Pathfinder melee PCs deal GROSS damage at low levels, ending encounters fast and taking little to no damage, while Starfinder fights are almost always slugfests where both sides chip away at one another. Average HP of a CR1 creature in Pathfinder is 15 per the Monster Creation guide (AC~12). The average fighter or barbarian with only a greatsword and power attack is dealing 16-18 points when they land an attack with about 70% accuracy. This is about 11 DPR. They will finish most enemies in 1-2 rounds. A Starfinder Soldier or Solarion has to bash through 20 HP for a CR1 enemy with KAC 13 (Per Alien Archive tables). At full optimization they hit for 8.5 damage with about 70% accuracy, or 6 DPR. It takes them more than twice as long to defeat the enemy!

So in summary:
Why are players scared of taking damage? Because fights are way tougher and more damaging than in Pathfinder and they can feel it! Each Starfinder foe is sticking around longer and dealing more damage each round, leading to a damage output over the course of a fight that vastly exceeds its Pathfinder brethren. A Pathfinder foe sticks around for 2 rounds and deals a total of 4 average damage over those rounds. A Starfinder foe sticks around for 4 rounds and deals a total of 20 average damage over those rounds.

Starfinder PCs may have 50-70% more total HP, but enemies are doing 5x the damage to them over the course of a fight!

Real TL;DR: In Starfinder, combats are way more life threatening at low levels based on the math above. It is NOT a more forgiving system!


Harley Quinn X wrote:
In my experience damage in Starfinder, despite looks, is not as forgiving as in Pathfinder where you could just wand everything away at the end of a fight or after a blown trap.

Could you expand on this point? I'm not as familiar with the Pathfinder system as some others coming to the game; I had the impression that PF was the less forgiving system (in particular because characters don't have the padding of SP) but I'm interested in more PF-experienced perspectives.


Cellion wrote:
In Starfinder, combats are way more life threatening at low levels based on the math above.

Interesting. For purposes of that analysis, what qualifies as "low levels"? Anything below level... 6 or 7, say?


We've just had our first session, and one of the major feedback points was damage and healing. My players had some of the same fears based on the argument that there was little to no combat healing.
The mystic in the party basically had to wait until everyone was near death before he could heal with any effectiveness. And even then he could only heal them to half strength, as mystic cure doesn't heal stamina.
Coming from Pathfinder, the mystic's argument was: "I can't heal before they are under half hp, and I can only heal them up to half hp." (As they regard stamina + hp as total hp from a pathfinder perspective.
The result was pretty much that no one took fulll attack actions, as tney didn't think they could afford to miss any attacks, and thus risk taking damage without dealing any back.
For a party that usually solves all problems in any game with liberal amounts of violence, regardless of the game system, they sure were very conservative, and spent way more rounds in total cover than they did attacking.

Silver Crusade

In Pathfinder, a Wand of Cure Light Wounds has 50 charges and costs 750 gp. So even a first level character can afford one, and anyone who has CLW on their spell list can use the wand (for core that would be clerics, paladins, bard, rangers, druids). So PF has much more healing available on the "between combats" level. CLW heals a little (1d8+1 for the wand), but the 50 charges mean that with a wand, it's easy to patch everyone up even if they only lost a couple of HP. It's almost never going to go much over your max HP.

Starfinder on the other hand only has either single-use items or x/day resources from classes, and fewer classes in general have HP healing capabilities.


With full optimization I am seeing a KAC of 10 +3(dex, class soldier and guard for the extra dex bonus) +5(armor, hidden soldier) +1(racial, vesh) of 19, EAC of 17.

I might have missed another possible bonus somewhere but I don't think I did.


CeeJay wrote:
Cellion wrote:
In Starfinder, combats are way more life threatening at low levels based on the math above.
Interesting. For purposes of that analysis, what qualifies as "low levels"? Anything below level... 6 or 7, say?

I've only done the analysis at 1st level, so I can't really say with any authority about levels beyond that, but I assume it stays roughly true due to the slighly higher HP totals in Starfinder and significantly lower player damage output.


Necrodemus wrote:
The mystic in the party basically had to wait until everyone was near death before he could heal with any effectiveness. And even then he could only heal them to half strength, as mystic cure doesn't heal stamina.

Heh, well your party certainly makes mine sound a lot more adventurous. People aren't terrified to the point where they won't use full actions for attacks, at least. I think party make-up has something to do with it. We have an Envoy in our party and Inspiring Boost makes a huge difference to the amount of SP damage they can soak up. But we don't have a Mystic and that's perhaps part of the reason HP damage makes them so nervous.


Abraham spalding wrote:

With full optimization I am seeing a KAC of 10 +3(dex, class soldier and guard for the extra dex bonus) +5(armor, hidden soldier) +1(racial, vesh) of 19, EAC of 17.

I might have missed another possible bonus somewhere but I don't think I did.

You're absolutely right. I was looking at items with item level = character level, and didn't consider the Guard Soldier or vesk natural armor. Oops! In any case, this would lower the CR1 enemy's DPR to 3.7 ish meaning it takes them 5-6 rounds to defeat such a PC and it lets them get about 15 damage out on that PC until the foe keels over.

PS: Now that I'm looking at all the 1st level Starfinder characters in play by post games on the boards, they have mostly 14-16 KAC. There are a few outliers with 17, and a couple of daredevils with 12 or 13. No 18s or 19s, probably because the Guard fighting style is fairly unpopular, and the combo of vesk+highdex+lvl2heavyarmor is somewhat rare.


Yeah I am doing my character tree and the vesk combat icon is number 2 on it. Make no mistake it is expensive item wise but I think it will be worth it.

With as few defensive bonuses as there is I think it's likely that planning with a little more emphasis on defense might pay much more of a return on investment than in Pathfinder.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

I think one of the issues our group has had going through the AP is that we really don't know much about the creatures we encounter, and how hard they hit. Because of this we were very cautious to the point that the GM was getting frustrated at all our detailed planning and such!


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My experience so far has been that characters are more survivable than they were in Pathfinder, but you really shouldn't be sending enemies more than +1 CR. Starfinder is much better balanced in terms of the CR system than Pathdinder is.

The first combat I had in Starfinder as a solarion I took one hit, but it also turned out to be a melee crit that dealt me 15 damage which was a very significant hit that went through my stamina and deep into my hp.

You probably shouldn't send "large groups" of "cannon fodder" because the Starfinder system doesn't work like it did in Pathfidner. Enemies are designed to have significantly better to hit chances which means underleveled enemies still have a significant chance to hit a PC, they didn't in Pathfidner. Try running combats with a number of enemies equal to the number of PCs.


I was wondering about that with the "significant enemies" bit. Seemed like a cop out of, "yeah these can screw you up but shouldn't, but will so don't do this."


Claxon wrote:
You probably shouldn't send "large groups" of "cannon fodder" because the Starfinder system doesn't work like it did in Pathfidner. Enemies are designed to have significantly better to hit chances which means underleveled enemies still have a significant chance to hit a PC, they didn't in Pathfidner.

Well, I mostly do have them facing smaller groups, not on those grounds but because the mechanics of running a bunch of enemies can turn into a slog. As indeed was the case with my merry band of mooks, and grounds to rethink that strategy right there.

But while I don't have GM'ing experience in Pathfinder itself to refer to, I do find character proximity in Starfinder makes a huge difference. If the characters pull together -- within about thirty feet or so of each other -- then provided they have a good distribution of classes, races and abilities, there exist so many ways that they can buff and support and derive benefits from one another (from Shirren communalism to virtually all the Envoy abilities to technomancer spells like Supercharge Weapon to just the physical act of being able to toss weapons and supplies to one another) that under-levelled mooks will tend to fall like chaff in front of them even if they're outnumbered. It's if they're scattered that things can really go to hell.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I can't speak to the game mechanics analysis side, but purely in terms of a player's perception...

Necrodemus wrote:

The mystic in the party basically had to wait until everyone was near death before he could heal with any effectiveness. And even then he could only heal them to half strength, as mystic cure doesn't heal stamina.

Coming from Pathfinder, the mystic's argument was: "I can't heal before they are under half hp, and I can only heal them up to half hp." (As they regard stamina + hp as total hp from a pathfinder perspective.

This has been my experience too. If you're thinking of SP and HP combined as your actual "health" as a character, then it seems to vanish a lot faster than I'm used to.

While the existence of SP might be designed to offer a more forgiving way to recover the abstract concept of "health", as a player it's unnerving to have two separate tracks that are recovered in different ways. There's no action that recovers both SP and HP (I don't think?) so there's no way to heal someone "all the way" with a single action. The best you can do is get back half of their total "health", which at level 1 is often an amount that can easily be taken away by a single hit.

At least for me, I think it's an issue of still getting used to the SP/HP system and how to manage them in a single combat and across an entire adventuring day. Being reduced to 0 stamina is probably meant to be not uncommon, because you can rest to get it back, but it doesn't feel natural yet to just absorb that much damage every time something attacks you.


It's funny. For me I take tremendous comfort from the SP/HP system when I'm in the player's role, but maybe it's precisely because I don't have a huge amount of Pathfinder experience that that's so. As a player losing SP doesn't feel "real" to me, so much, because it can be regenerated relatively easily. I don't experience them as any kind of analogue to "total HP."

I played a campaign where I was actively irritated that we almost never took HP damage because I never felt like I was under any real threat, that there were any stakes. Maybe I'm visiting some of that frustration on my poor players.


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Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Interesting question!

I haven't really noticed any differences with player behavior in the Starfinder Society sessions I've run. I think they pretty much follow the (wise) idea that the best way to survive a combat is to defeat the enemies as quickly as possible with overwhelming force.


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Cellion wrote:
In Starfinder, combats are way more life threatening at low levels based on the math above. It is NOT a more forgiving system!

Based on the math above, yes.

But Wolves are an exceptionally weak enemy in Pathfinder too.

Replace the wolf with a common orc and suddenly the enemy is doing ~4 DPR instead of ~2. Oh and there's three of them. So 12 DPR. Using your own numbers that means on average they're dropping someone ever round.

And that's ignoring their 18-20 crit range too because I'm lazy.

The numbers seem a tiny bit off too. Your minimums for Pathfinder are 8 HP and 14 AC, but 14 dex and con -or 12 con and the FCB - on a Wizard or Sorcerer seems a pinch on the high side. Certainly doable, but not entirely common and not what I'd call the bare minimum.

Likewise your top end for Starfinder is 20 HP, but a Vesk Soldier does that without any investment in Con at all. I know some people don't much care for Con in SF, but a character with no investment in HP is still an odd choice for your ceiling.

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

really if you have an envoy on the team stamina recovery can be fixed easy enough
and a mystic heals fine.
but honestly i an running 2 games and have played in a few and damage has not really been much of an issue


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This thread makes it sound like SP is a shield that regenerates if you stop for a minute haha

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

well its action movie heroes catching a breath then moving on ..so it kinda is :)


Ridiculon wrote:
This thread makes it sound like SP is a shield that regenerates if you stop for a minute haha

Ten minutes and 1 resolve point. Yeah, the game makes regaining SP quite easy even if you don't have Inspiring Boost handy. A scenario could be specifically set up to make ten-minute rests impossible but it would have to be a very singular, constant-pursuit or race-against-time kind of thing.


Pathfinder Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Could be that they don't have any indicator of the balance.

Which is scarier: three enemies, or six? If players don't yet have a good sense for low-level mook vs. competent enemy, they may be projecting the strength of stronger individuals from lower-count groups onto the weaker enemies of higher-count enemies.


I assume that to be a factor, although I dunno... one of the things we covered in our Session Zero was my explicitly telling them I'm not an adversarial GM who is looking to kill them, from which it should be possible to deduce whether I would throw a map full of high-CR enemies at them. In the moment maybe one can forget about that kind of thing, though.

Liberty's Edge

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honesly while i have run games where the players were risk averse it's never been a common thing that i have encountered ,

maybe put someone at risk and if there to risk averse kill the hostage

teach them to be assertive.

one of my games has players that are maybe to assertive
they just weekend of bernied a devour cultist leader to give misinformation ..was awesome


Hahaha, that sounds fun!


Something I think plays into it is there are lots of ways to replace hit points represented in the book that are quick/easy to use.

Spellgems, spell chips, serums, spells, medicine, and so on.

The listed methods of restoring SP is much more limited. Granted anyone can spend resolve and 10 minutes to gain back SP... but resolve also powers a lot of other neat abilities and such too.


Well, quite. It would be rather boring if the system filed all the sharp edges of the setting, after all. Players should not feel invincible or like they never have to make tough choices either.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

The first scenario (Yesteryear's Truth) I played the combats were 'swingier' than PFS.

There was one point where half our party was down, and the other half was going down and would have with one more turn of 'average' NPC rolls.

During the Scenario pack, there was one encounter that was a TPK in the making and was blatantly *bad* for an introductory path (unless the goal was to put fear of character mortality into the mix).

So if either one of those situations came up, I can completely understand the paranoia.

And yes, it does feel... it reminds me of a different publisher's Star Wars game in that sort of context.


My adventures are all homebrew so far, though I've been thinking of dropping in one or two of the Society modules. Which one had the TPK in the making?

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

One of the sections of the Quest 'Into the Unknown'


CeeJay wrote:
Well, quite. It would be rather boring if the system filed all the sharp edges of the setting, after all. Players should not feel invincible or like they never have to make tough choices either.

The issue is it does the exact opposite of what they wanted. HP is easier to restore in combat. SP is hard. That means SP is more valuable than HP.

If HP is supposed to be the hardest resource then it should be harder to replenish.

Quote:

Stamina Points represent the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one or to shrug off some attacks through sheer toughness. They act as a buffer that absorbs damage before it starts to deplete your Hit Points. When you take damage, you lose Stamina Points first, then you subtract any leftover damage from your Hit Points. If a creature doesn’t have Stamina Points, damage is subtracted directly from its Hit Points.

Hit Points
Hit Points measure your ability to take physical punishment and keep going. Running out of Hit Points can be deadly.

Resolve returns SP but has more critical uses. HP can be replenished in a lot of ways, many of which are cheap. This cheapens HP and makes SP more "valuable" from a resource perspective.


Ah, then I know the scene you mean. It kind of didn't make sense in a lot of ways, actually.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Wei Ji the Learner wrote:


One of the sections of the Quest 'Into the Unknown'

Which section?


My guess was wrong. I was forgetting about the encounter Wei Ji mentions.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Into the Unknown:
The massive opponent in an environment that's already capable of debilitating the entire party without the encounter... No, the gun wasn't a help because of firing into melee plus being a weapon that the only person that was proficient in it's use was... in melee trying to keep the party alive.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Starfinder Accessories, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber
CeeJay wrote:
Ah, then I know the scene you mean. It kind of didn't make sense in a lot of ways, actually.

envoys make stamina recovery in a fight pretty easy and on can easily restore stamina between fights


^ It turns out I didn't know the scene Wei meant. :D

Although in fact the scene he does refer to actually looks to have been carefully balanced to be survivable and winnable by a low-level party, so I'm not sure the TPK-waiting-to-happen claim really applies there. Wherever the "Into the Unknown" adventures involve higher-CR threats they also impose weaknesses and limits on them, in some cases quite stark ones. I've done similar things in my own adventures. It makes for challenging encounters but hardly for unbeatable ones.


Abraham spalding wrote:

Resolve returns SP but has more critical uses. HP can be replenished in a lot of ways, many of which are cheap. This cheapens HP and makes SP more "valuable" from a resource perspective.

I agree, and that was sort of the sentiment that my players expressed. They would much rather have SP be something that could go up and down during combat due to heals and whatever. But once they dug into HP, it would hurt a bit more in the long run, and be a measure of the number of encounters they could tolerate in a day's work.

As it is now, the mystic sits on his hands (not quite, but I hope you get the picture) until they are well into HP damage, before be can do anything. And then it barely feels like he is keeping them one step from death. And once the fight is over, everyone spends a RP and is up to full health. So now RP is the true measure of encounters per day, which again keeps them from spending RP on abilities.

But alas, maybe it's just a matter of gett8ng used to the system. But yeah, we didn't get the feel of SP and HP that they describe in the rules. In was more the other way around.


The classes are designed to complement each other and I think Envoys were designed to be a particularly important class, in part because of that SP thing. The way it's set up, a party that wants SP buffs in combat needs the Envoy. Spellcasters (incl. Mystics) on the other hand are freed up to assume a variety of roles because they don't have to be heal-guns. The system as it's set up vastly improves the experience of playing a spellcaster for my money for this reason but it is confusing if you're trying to just port over Pathfinder class concepts. Mystics are not clerics.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Well, that, and I'm hesitant to spend RP on anything because if I go to 0 HP, then I need a BUNCH of them to just not outright die.

May contain Gross Conceptual Errors:

And there's no real 'negative HP' buffer anymore, last I checked?

So if one took more than one's RP past HP... well, time to roll a new character?


Resolve Points are the buffer.

In practice I've never felt at risk of being even close to running out of Resolve Points but experiences may differ. I'm playing a Solarian in a campaign right now and I might feel different about this as I get into territory where I have the option of spending Resolve Points to use powers.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

So instead of -CON damage, it's 'any point past 0'?

I think that explains a definite fear of taking any damage, then?

On an average CON score in Pathfinder, that'd be 10 more HP to 'buffer'. Most folks start with at most 4 RP, which they also need to power abilities AND restore SP. So the furthest they could go is -3 HP (because they need at least one to stabilize...)

Yeah, I can see the fear of damage, especially in such a potentially lethal environment.


The number of abilities that need "powering" by RP is relatively select, but you'd want to spend them wisely. That said, I'm seven sessions in with my group and have played in two different campaigns and have run into the need to spend RP exactly twice, once as a player myself and once for one player in my game. So I don't really think that explains it. The sense I have is that situations would have to get extreme for RP to become a scarce resource.


CeeJay wrote:
The classes are designed to complement each other and I think Envoys were designed to be a particularly important class, in part because of that SP thing. The way it's set up, a party that wants SP buffs in combat needs the Envoy. Spellcasters (incl. Mystics) on the other hand are freed up to assume a variety of roles because they don't have to be heal-guns. The system as it's set up vastly improves the experience of playing a spellcaster for my money for this reason but it is confusing if you're trying to just port over Pathfinder class concepts. Mystics are not clerics.

I like the envoy class overall, it's just the fact that if you want any sort of SP replenishment in combat that almost mandates an envoy... which was something I thought Paizo wanted to get away from.

The niche protections in Starfinder are very wonky to my point of view.

Perhaps it's just starfinder needing maturing, and some adjust to how I think of role playing games, but lots of parts feel extremely metagamy to me.

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