The Devastation Ark AP is the first adventure Paizo has produced for Starfinder aimed at characters beyond 12th level. High-level play can be challenging for a GM in any system, and Starfinder is no different, but Starfinder also poses some specific concerns.
Require Abilities, Don't Block Them
High level characters have access to story-breaking abilities. They can safely perform reconnaissance with arcane eye or infiltrate a base with perfect shape-changing disguises. They can read the minds of their enemies or cast dominate person. They can banish powerful outsiders to their home planes and even teleport to another planet. And, of course, they can come back from the dead.
It’s tempting to design adventures that prevent the PCs from using these abilities, inserting walls of force that block teleportation, for example, or zones of antimagic to prevent divination spells. After all, that makes the adventure much easier to write and more like the adventures we usually read and play through—but that’s exactly why we shouldn’t do it. High level play should feel special. Your players have worked their way up through a dozen levels, over months or even years of play, in order to get access to these special abilities—let them use them!
Instead, write the adventure so that the PCs must use these abilities to succeed. To give just one obvious example, the PCs might need to reach a computer located in a room that is inaccessible to ordinary people. It’s buried 100 feet down in solid rock, with no doors, no windows, no access at all. But a group of PCs with clairvoyance and teleport can get there, and now you have an adventure where only high level characters can succeed, which is exactly what your players want.
Be Ready To Improvise
As characters progress in level, they gain access to more and more abilities; it soon becomes impossible for the GM to keep track of these abilities or anticipate them. So don’t try! When the PCs are high level, you can create a problem without knowing for certain how the PCs will solve it—just trust that they’ll come up with something and be open-minded when they do. For example, let’s go back to that room surrounded by solid rock. What if the PCs don’t have teleport? Well, they’ve got plenty of other abilities, and the credits to spare. There’s probably a way they can tunnel through the rock, go incorporeal, or otherwise get into this “impossible” room. You don’t have to worry about how they’ll get in; let them figure it out, and then reward them when they do.
As characters advance in Starfinder, their skill bonuses improve, but operatives get better at skills than every other class. Inevitably you’ll reach a point where a skill DC that is challenging for an operative—one in which the player has to roll a 15 or better to succeed—is impossible for everyone else. Even if your player characters include an operative, keep an eye on these skill DCs and set them at a number your player characters can reasonably hit. Be generous with aid another attempts, so that even when the other characters can’t hit the DC themselves, they can at least contribute to the operative’s check.
There’s a lot more that could be said about high level adventures for Starfinder, but the tips here should get you started making and running solid stories for your players, in the Devastation Ark Adventure Path and beyond!
High Level Starfinder Play
Tuesday, September 22, 2020