Starfinder Character Themes

Friday, June 9, 2017

In Starfinder, every player character has a theme, which represents a focus for the character beyond those determined by race, class, and skill and feat selections. In many ways a theme is a description of the character's place in society based on what interests them and what kinds of tasks they undertake. While a theme may represent a job or role within a broader culture, it can also be a result of a character's background, upbringing, training, or mystical destiny.

Each theme has a set of benefits when first selected, including a +1 bonus to one specific ability score and a skill-based benefit. Each theme grants additional special benefits that reflect major aspects of that theme at 6th, 12th, and 18th levels. None of the abilities are limited to any specific character class, race, or type of character. Conceptually, themes are designed to give the same kind of specialization that traits and favored class bonuses do in Pathfinder, but are faster and easier to select (no theme has any kind of prerequisite or limitation on who can take it) and rather than many tiny character adjustments, each theme focuses on 4 noteworthy adjustments over a character's career. Think of it as one extra dial you can turn to customize your character, giving the same class and race a dramatically different feel—a vesk soldier with the icon theme might be a celebrity gladiator, while one with the priest theme might be a chaplain of Damoritosh the Conqueror.

Illustration by Pixoloid Studios

There are nine themes in the Starfinder Core Rulebook, with a tenth option—"themeless"—for characters with a specific concept that they don't feel is a good match for any of the currently extant themes. The themes are intentionally kept fairly broad, with the names functioning as descriptive titles rather than hard limitations on what kind of character might take each theme. You can see a little of how themes can help you hone in on a particular character concept in the character build examples presented at the end of each class. Take the outlaw theme, for example: in just those few class build examples, we show you how the same outlaw theme can make an envoy into a fast-talking scoundrel, a mechanic into a saboteur, an operative into either a hacker or a thief, a solarian into a disgraced outcast, a soldier into a freelance sniper, and so on.

The nine themes (and the themeless option) are described briefly below.

Ace Pilot: Thanks to steady hands and nerves of steel, you are skilled at operating starships and other vehicles.

Bounty Hunter: Almost nothing will stop you from tracking down your quarries and returning them dead or alive.

Icon: You are a popular and respected celebrity within the bounds of colonized space.

Mercenary: You are a well-trained soldier of fortune who works well with your companions in battle.

Outlaw: Whether you're guilty or not, somebody wants to see you behind bars—or worse.

Priest: Your unshakable devotion to a philosophy or religion forms the core of your personality.

Scholar: As an academic, you have a broad knowledge base and a thirst to expand it.

Spacefarer: You live your life among the stars, seeking new worlds to explore and yearning for the next adventure.

Xenoseeker: As you travel outside of Pact Worlds space, you strive to make first contact with alien life forms.

Themeless: You don't fit neatly into any of the above categories, or you see yourself as a blank slate.

The abilities gained by each theme at 1st, 6th, 12th, and 18th level are useful and appropriate to the theme, but not so overpowering as to be a mandatory part of any effective character build. Below are examples of a few theme abilities—the 1st level ability gained by themeless characters (general knowledge), and the 6th level ability gained by the xenoseeker (quick pidgin).

General Knowledge (Themeless, 1st): You gain a class skill of your choice when you create a themeless character. You also gain an ability adjustment of +1 to any ability score you choose.

Quick Pidgin (Xenoseeker, 6th): If you don't share a language with creatures you encounter, you and the creatures can spend 10 minutes attempting to converse (if they are willing), after which you attempt a DC 25 Culture check. If you succeed, you formulate a simple pidgin language that allows basic communication. You can use the pidgin language with those specific creatures only, but you gain a +2 bonus to Culture checks to create a pidgin language with similar creatures that speak the same language.

Owen KC Stephens
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The system goes much lighter on the hallmark subsystems of PF (spells, combat) to emphasize on other sectors. If this means cutting prepared spellcasting, it's a design, editorial and developmental decision I can stand behind.


Also I for one I'm happy spells aren't obsoleting skill use. I'd be down for early spells to be short narrow effects to allow skills to shine more.


Secret Wizard wrote:
Also I for one I'm happy spells aren't obsoleting skill use. I'd be down for early spells to be short narrow effects to allow skills to shine more.

Yes, won't it be nice when everyone gets to shine, rather than the case which is so typical in Pathfinder where the party looks at each other then back at the GM and go, "We wait till tomorrow and let the Wizard fix it."

You might actually come up against situations where the answer isn't, "because magic." No more, "Are you a prepared caster? Yes? Welcome to tier 1."

I for one am pleased with magic taking a back seat so technology can take center stage.

Liberty's Edge

Luke Spencer wrote:
Yeah prepared casters always seemed like an extra level of redundancy, I don't think I've ever played a game where prepared casters have actually said what spells they prepared, they just cast whatever was appropriate at the time.

So... I'm no fan of Vancian or prepared casting, but this is all sorts of awful. The inability to just pull out whatever spell they want is one of the biggest balancing factors of prepared casters, it's one of the only things that have kept them from making every other class completely obsolete.

Liberty's Edge

Aratrok wrote:
There are plenty of 6 level casters that are prepared. Just refusing to handle prepared casting in the core book is baffling to me, since it's one of the more unique things about d20 compared to most RPGs.

Being unique doesn't make it good.


Can we go back to character themes now?

If you have any issues with casters, casting and the like, just make a thread for it.


let's get this back on track, shall we?

As for themes, can't wait to see what the bounty hunter and scholar ones get you. Have ideas for a kasatha with multiple weapons and I want to make a mad scientist android or shirren. Cant fricken wait :D


Torbyne wrote:
Owen K. C. Stephens wrote:
Aratrok wrote:
Your specific example is a pretty unlikely one, though, since it also assumes whatever "scouting party" you're running into that has a totally unknown language both isn't a hostile encounter and has the patience and intelligence to spend 10 minutes trying to make up a pseudo-language with you.

It becomes much more likely when the campaign included the option of seeking out new worlds, new life forms and new civilizations, while boldly going where no one (from your civilization) has gone before.

There should be more totally unknown languages on previously-uncontacted worlds than known ones. (At least maybe -- one could assume that planar tongues are the same on every world, which might make them common trade tongues... )

Ah, old school detect evil... say something flattering in infernal and if they thank you for the compliment than the race is evil and purging is authorized...

Which brings back up some curiosity, doe the Starfinder Society have anything like a Prime Directive when encountering new civilizations? or maybe a pamphlet on how to handle it at least?

Well... One or two of the Deities has a directive if I'm not mistaken. But its basically just the promotion of peace, diplomacy, and possibly xenophilia.

But let's all be honest with ourselves, if there was a prime directive anything like the Star Trek version; what with its "don't give tech to primitives, don't interfere with politics, don't talk to primitives", most players would rebel against that.

... I say that because I, myself, if I had decent opportunities to play rather than GM, would bring engineering science to the galaxy, and even bring a Druid to cast Awaken on literally everything with a pulse (and some things without) just so I could teach them science.

As for a pamphlet on how to handle it... It would probably have to acknowledge that you're in uncharted waters every time you meet a new species; and the best advice is to learn about them, basic things like Language, Culture, Ideals, Family Structure, and so on. From there, it would basically just need to have "DON'T PANIC" on the front.

While I don't know if the Starfinders themselves are Good or Neutral or otherwise... I'm pretty sure the fact that the pact worlds do have evil members among them that are tolerated, it kind of implies that they can't even say "don't be an evil bastard" without being fully aware someone's going to ignore that directive. They can however make reasonable arguments towards such figures to appeal to their self interest and suggest they make friends rather than enemies where possible, if not for its own sake, then at least because societies are a potential long term asset.

... For example, a Lawful Evil person can grant technological wonders to a primitive civilization in exchange for service/servitude/Loyalty/making him leader... And said Civ would be like "You know what, that actually sounds like a good deal".

... In an unrelated note: Other than the clear exploration based themes, the theme I have my eyes on is outlaw. Though that's probably more because a "Technomancer Scholar" may be a little redundant concept wise. Funny they didn't mention what a Technomancer Outlaw would be, even though they had examples of basically everything else. Granted, we already know it's probably a Hacker.


Prime directive makes not much sense, the pact worlds are rather a losely associated alliance
Every party has still own goals, interests and others
also there is religion in many different directions at work
and capitalism

wherein the federation in Star Trek had no currency whatsoever, a very strict codex that bonded the worlds pretty close together, no religion that had a major influence and basically a norm for their academies, star ships and a lot more


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WHAT DO YOU MEAN I'M NOT ALLOWED IN! DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO I AM?!? I SPLIT PLANETS ON A WHIM! I DON'T NEED A BLOODY SPACE STATION TO DO THAT!!!

EURGH! I'M GOING BACK TO MY DEMIPLANE! SCREW YOU GUYS!


i did not suggest a Prime Directive as a thing that would apply to adventurers but something similar or just a general non interference agreement would create a nice gray area for PCs to play in. For instance if the Pact Worlds all agreed that they would not expand and take over new worlds in competition against each other until XX years after the last pact world joined or until the swarm is no longer a threat, any thing like that, then it means PCs can act as unofficial operatives of various planets or have special legal privelleges to do things that a proper military isnt allowed to do. It makes for fun hooks. Imagine if there was a no expansion policy until say, 20 years after a planet joins the Pact, some of the less well positioned member worlds would find it in their best interest to discreetly fund third parties to scout out potential new member worlds and convince them to apply just to keep the major powers from conducting a major wave of governement expansion. A consequence of this is that there are no strong multi world governments but corporations and guilds are able to flurish and gain a lot of power for themselves.


Torbyne wrote:
i did not suggest a Prime Directive as a thing that would apply to adventurers but something similar or just a general non interference agreement would create a nice gray area for PCs to play in. For instance if the Pact Worlds all agreed that they would not expand and take over new worlds in competition against each other until XX years after the last pact world joined or until the swarm is no longer a threat, any thing like that, then it means PCs can act as unofficial operatives of various planets or have special legal privelleges to do things that a proper military isnt allowed to do. It makes for fun hooks. Imagine if there was a no expansion policy until say, 20 years after a planet joins the Pact, some of the less well positioned member worlds would find it in their best interest to discreetly fund third parties to scout out potential new member worlds and convince them to apply just to keep the major powers from conducting a major wave of governement expansion. A consequence of this is that there are no strong multi world governments but corporations and guilds are able to flurish and gain a lot of power for themselves.

This sounds more like justification for treating Starfinder like Shadowrun. The problem with such a situation is that if Adventurers were to enter into one of these "unofficial" matters, then they're quickly going down a path that Lawful types are unlikely to involve themselves with. As much as I like Chaotic, I don't think it would be fair for players to feel forced to use Chaotic alignments just to play in games where that kind of thing happens.

Second, the way you've phrased that idea of a "non-expansion policy" where it's "for 20 years after the last member joins"... That basically deincentivizes the pact worlds from gaining any new members, and deincentivizes any new members from joining; especially if they're undeveloped worlds who desperately need new planets. Since everytime a new member joins, it means they would have to wait another 20 years before getting a new planet. And thus they stagnate for far too long.

What can work... Is a prime directive that prioritizes gaining new members and not antagonizing potential members. Basically "don't claim planets with intelligent life already on them", and by extension setting aside nearby uninhabited or wild planets for the benefit of the native sapients. That way, they can still at least not get stuck in an infinite loop of new members being added and never getting a new planet for themselves.

It also only just occurs to me now that regardless of what directive is picked, characters of the Spacefarer or Xenoseeker themes who happen to be lawful will be held to them (and members of those themes even if chaotic will likely be held accountable for them by authorities).

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

We NEED a Comedy Relief theme for such characters as C3PO or Jar-Jar Binks or Rocket Racoon or Drax

Come to think of it, the whole Guardians of the Galaxy cast likely has the Comedy Relief theme, except Gamorra I guess :-)


The Raven Black wrote:

We NEED a Comedy Relief theme for such characters as C3PO or Jar-Jar Binks or Rocket Racoon or Drax

Come to think of it, the whole Guardians of the Galaxy cast likely has the Comedy Relief theme, except Gamorra I guess :-)

How would that even work mechanically? Moral bonus to resist fear?

Aside from the fact it sounds a bit like Bard and Envoy style shenanigans, since I'm not sure if themes being similar to existing class dynamics is a thing or not... I think that there's probably indirectly a theme for that in the "Icon" theme.

Think of it, the comic relief is usually a group mascot, much like the idea of the Icon is; and when the comic relief isn't being purely comedic, they're doing things to improve moral or to distract others with a bombastic performance.

That work for you?


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The Raven Black wrote:

We NEED a Comedy Relief theme for such characters as C3PO or Jar-Jar Binks or Rocket Racoon or Drax

We really don't. Comic relief needs to come naturally from the people at the table, and arise naturally from the situations. Ordained by a character feature it's just super-irritating, nearly 100% of the time. See kender or malkavians.


Voss wrote:
The Raven Black wrote:

We NEED a Comedy Relief theme for such characters as C3PO or Jar-Jar Binks or Rocket Racoon or Drax

We really don't. Comic relief needs to come naturally from the people at the table, and arise naturally from the situations. Ordained by a character feature it's just super-irritating, nearly 100% of the time. See kender or malkavians.

To put a really long point I want to make short: yeah it would be an irritating mechanic, but I can think of a few ways to turn irritating mechanics into hilarious moments... All of which involving trying to subvert those mechanics during the usual cases it would apply so that it builds up tension for when it will go off, and then playing it up when its harmless, or even helpful.

Like a Malkavian feigning sanity until they've made what appears to be a genius tactical move, only to explain said move using the logic of the insane.

Or a Kender who only ever jokes that they MIGHT show off a streak of kelptomania, and then during a BBEG's monologue about their macguffin that will help them rule the world, they pull the macguffin out of their cloak (having run a private session with the GM to steal it).

But back on point, it would be a pretty bad move to throw in an explicitly "comic relief" theme; because the way I see it, the only times people are going to use it (and use it right) is when they're doing it "ironically".

So you'd kind of have to be really confident that those few times people do it, that it adds enough value to the game to justify it, before anyone should actually go ahead and add it to the game.

(Yes, this was the short version; the long version would have been me trying to make an entire story out of the examples.)

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I am now considering that tropes might actually be interesting themes. After all, many references here come from movies or TV shows or Animes. Or maybe Tropes could be an interesting 3PP mechanic by itself.

The Professional Traitor could be one, like that guy from the Divergent trilogy or Lando Calrissian. With bonuses to Bluff and Diplomacy and the ability to come back to past positive Attitudes if you roll high enough

Also, we definitely need gestalt Themes, or maybe VMT = Variant Multi Theming, where you can get some nice Theme abilities in exchange for feats :-)


Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
The Raven Black wrote:
Also, we definitely need gestalt Themes, or maybe VMT = Variant Multi Theming, where you can get some nice Theme abilities in exchange for feats :-)

Wouldn't it just be easier and more elegant to implement feats that have certain themes for a prerequisite? Even then, I'm not sure that is a good idea.


Yeah, I agree
That would be probably not a very good idea, I don't see it working


Represent that aspect of yourself with your actual skill points. Problem solved lol


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Ashanderai wrote:
The Raven Black wrote:
Also, we definitely need gestalt Themes, or maybe VMT = Variant Multi Theming, where you can get some nice Theme abilities in exchange for feats :-)
Wouldn't it just be easier and more elegant to implement feats that have certain themes for a prerequisite? Even then, I'm not sure that is a good idea.

That actually seems to be the opposite of what they're after (getting some abilities from outside your own theme.)

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