Is Starfinder Combat "broken"?


Rules Questions

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

In the Pathfinder Playtest threads I have noticed a great number of people who hate the way NPCs/Creatures are created in Starfinder (Alien Archive page 126).

Their complain usually centers around the extreme bonuses that NPCs get to attacks and skills. (I mean, +8 for a 1st level character is a bit extreme.) While I am sure that many on this board will not agree, my feeling is that they are right about this.

The thing is, while the logical fix would be to build NPCs as if they were PCs, this creates several new problems.

  • Too many hit points/stamina/resolve making combats last too long.
  • Armor and weapon values are too low.
  • Fixing any of this would require far too much work.

What have others felt about this?


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From what I have seen starfinder combat is just fine. Yes npcs have high to hit bonuses, but they have low ac and pcs have high ac. In the end you have about a 60% chance of being hit and about the same to hit in my experience. Because pcs have stamina and can easily recover half their health this is good. Pcs can take a lot of hits without being really in danger. It is a mean that a pc that gets focused can go down quickly but you usually don't die even then. If you used the pc rules to make Jo's they'd struggle to hit pcs and combat would drag on longer.


Well, the alternative of course is that instead of PCs having low attacks and high AC, while NPCs have high attacks and low AC... they both have high attacks and AC. PCs would have the same chance to hit against higher AC foes if their attack bonus rose commensurately, and would still have an advantage long term due to stamina and the recovery mechanic.

So there's really no reason NPCs couldn't have been built in a similar way to PCs, it just required some rethinking in the base assumptions.


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Fuzzypaws wrote:

Well, the alternative of course is that instead of PCs having low attacks and high AC, while NPCs have high attacks and low AC... they both have high attacks and AC. PCs would have the same chance to hit against higher AC foes if their attack bonus rose commensurately, and would still have an advantage long term due to stamina and the recovery mechanic.

So there's really no reason NPCs couldn't have been built in a similar way to PCs, it just required some rethinking in the base assumptions.

This was an intentional imbalance by Paizo.

A dev said it was so when mind-control comes into play it wouldn't be so bad as in PF where it could equal TPK. A PC turning on his allies doesn't hit them all that much (lower attack vs. higher AC) while an NPC that turns on its fellows hits them all the time (higher attack vs. lower AC).

This also helps Summon spells stay viable.

I'll add that I think it also helps with mooks. In PF, throwing a horde, or heck any decent sized squad, at PCs was often futile due to low attack rolls making the minions no threat. Since hordes are a genre staple, that's pretty lame. And hardly any tactics to win? Meh.
In SF, the party might actually have to take cover or be wary when a warband is near, something I appreciate. Or better yet, use tactics.


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I love that starfinder makes cover and teamwork significant tactics to consider though and the AC and accuracy rates do a lot to make that happen.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Castilliano wrote:
This was an intentional imbalance by Paizo.

That's the crux of the complaint isn't it? If one does not like this balance, it is kind of hard to change.

Castilliano wrote:
A dev said it was so when mind-control comes into play it wouldn't be so bad as in PF where it could equal TPK. A PC turning on his allies doesn't hit them all that much (lower attack vs. higher AC) while an NPC that turns on its fellows hits them all the time (higher attack vs. lower AC).

That is not a trama I've ever experienced, so I am not sure what the big deal is.


Starfinder Superscriber

Oh, it sucks when it happens. Unless you're prepped for the possibility, it can totally hose an entire campaign.


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Ah, so the decision was because of mind control and summons. I do think there are other options, like imposing something like a "shaken" condition (-2 to all rolls) on a mind controlled individual, or just allowing summons to call up better creatures without warping the entire attack / AC paradigm from top to bottom. But at least I understand the context in which the decision was made, even if I don't necessarily agree with the decision.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Fuzzypaws wrote:
Ah, so the decision was because of mind control and summons. I do think there are other options, like imposing something like a "shaken" condition (-2 to all rolls) on a mind controlled individual, or just allowing summons to call up better creatures without warping the entire attack / AC paradigm from top to bottom. But at least I understand the context in which the decision was made, even if I don't necessarily agree with the decision.

Clearly, I do not. And that's my problem.

Mindjammer FATE is looking better and better.


I think people have a tendency to compare their numbers against other players. Or even their own, you can have a +3 to hit and an AC of 16 at level one... which looks like a bad situation if you have to fight yourself. But monsters aren't build like PCs so it can mess with your expectations.


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber
Lord Fyre wrote:
Their complain usually centers around the extreme bonuses that NPCs get to attacks and skills. (I mean, +8 for a 1st level character is a bit extreme.) While I am sure that many on this board will not agree, my feeling is that they are right about this.

As people have said above, enemies have large bonuses on attack rolls and skills to stay relevant against the speed at which player defenses scale. The disparity of players having high AC/low attack rolls and NPCs having low AC/high attack rolls serves an important game balance roll.

The problem of course is that it has poor "feel" in game, for lack of a better word. Your enemies hit you about as often as you hit them, and it can feel like all your investment into AC was for naught. It feels as though they can full attack with impunity, while your full attack is rolling with really low bonuses. In reality, the players and equal level NPCs are about balanced with each other (assuming martial PC vs. combatant NPC; skill vs. skill; and caster vs. caster).

On top of that, the balance in Pathfinder was skewed in favor of the PCs most of the time (and I think people are really used to this). If I go to a random CR1 creature from a Pathfinder bestiary, skipping those that aren't focused on dealing damage, I generally find that CR1 enemies stand no chance vs. a Level 1 martial PC. Just now I flipped through a bestiary and stopped on the first CR1 enemy, I got a Skulk:

Bestiary 2, Skulk stats wrote:

AC 12, touch 12, flat-footed 10 (+2 Dex)

hp 16 (3d8+3)

Melee short sword +2 (1d6/19–20)
Ranged dagger +4 (1d4/19–20)
Special Attacks sneak attack +1d6

Here's a simple 1st level fighter"

Example CRB fighter wrote:

AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 15 (+2 Dex, +5 armor)

hp 12 (1d10+2)

Melee greatsword +5 (2d6+6/19–20)

The fighter's got a better AC, better attack roll, better damage even if the skulk is getting a sneak attack. He's got worse HP, but when he's hitting twice as often for more damage, that's not too important.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Cellion wrote:
The problem of course is that it has poor "feel" in game, for lack of a better word. Your enemies hit you about as often as you hit them, and it can feel like all your investment into AC was for naught. It feels as though they can full attack with impunity, while your full attack is rolling with really low bonuses. In reality, the players and equal level NPCs are about balanced with each other (assuming martial PC vs. combatant NPC; skill vs. skill; and caster vs. caster).

Why is the game played?

What I mean is that "poor 'feel' in game" kind of defeats the point. If the player's can't feel heroic, then it's time to find another game.

If the players feel more pressed as they enter the Mid-to-High game, that's okay. They will have committed to the characters at that point.


More hits landing on both side make the combat more interesting and tense. High AC bosses or mobs that can't hit ever can stay back in PF1.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

The Ragi wrote:
More hits landing on both side make the combat more interesting and tense. High AC bosses or mobs that can't hit ever can stay back in PF1.

We'll see what happens with Pathfinder II's combat balance. Remember that the Fantasy Genre is much more melee focused.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

NPCs will only "constantly" be hitting the players if you are "constantly" fighting NPCs of equal level or higher. If you are fighting foes of that quality? They *should* be hitting you constantly.


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Characters are balanced just fine against NPCs if they make effective use of teamwork, tactics and leveraging a whole suite of abilities and feats which the NPCs rarely have. The way Starfinder is set up considerably encourages this, and combat is thus considerably more interesting than Pathfinder was for my money.


Lord Fyre wrote:
The thing is, while the logical fix would be to build NPCs as if they were PCs, this creates several new problems.
  • Too many hit points/stamina/resolve making combats last too long.
  • Armor and weapon values are too low.
  • Fixing any of this would require far too much work.

What have others felt about this?

Regarding Low Armor values, I've thought that the SFS rules are intended to reflect that the most common attack in SFS should be a ranged attack and that the best defense against ranged attacks is Cover+Prone+Covering Fire which allows for even unarmored enemies to have pretty impressive AC against ranged attacks.

SFS rules don't really focus on melee fighters, though an option, it clearly isn't the focus of the combat rules in the Core Book.

I personally think that PCs have far too much HP/SP, while manufactured weapons deal far too little damage. Shooting an ally with a lvl 1 pistol, for example, should risk killing a lvl 1 player character. Instead, it bruises them...this results in drawn out combats when facing suprior foes.

I like the attempt the attempt at Sci-fi that was SFS, but the CRB seems like a draft more that the fantasy CRB felt when it lauched.

That said, the space combat rules are excellent, and Paizo needs to work out rules for playing characters that never leave their ships.


Combats run a lot different if any of the PCs are built for melee. The bad guys focus on the melee PCs; the AC of the ranged PCs rarely matters. For a good chunk of the game, melee PCs do a lot more damage.


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Melee attacks are common too, and I think every published enemy has had a melee option, often one better than the ranged one in their artwork!

SFS, with its somewhat vanilla combat options and bounded accuracy, does reward tactical choices, like not running forward when ranged opponents can focus fire on you! Strictly melee or strictly ranged PCs are going to face circumstances where they're at a major disadvantage:
-Melee vs. a group of ranged and they'll focus fire on you.
-Ranged vs. a group of melee and they'll surround you so you provoke when firing or are constantly denied full attacks by pulling back.
The funny thing is most players are used to a melee PC taking lead vs. melee opponents to protect ranged, but in SFS the reverse can be just as valid, the ranged protect the melee from ranged (by taking out enemies before melee goes into open.)

Paizo did some serious number crunching in SFS, and I think any imbalance toward ranged you detect is illusory based on how much more description ranged rules require or maybe the art. To make up for having to leave cover & close, melee PCs have a serious offensive advantage in combat: about double damage until weapon specialization kicks in, then 50% more. Relative bonus fades with leveling, but mobility increases dramatically to compensate.

I've also found having a melee PC able to pressure casters or enemies that prefer ranged attacks has been quite advantageous, especially if they wield a pike for reach. Or maybe that's just a feeling because they kill enemies so much faster. When my two melee allies in the AP have closed together on an enemy, that enemy has a round of life left, two with bad rolls or if a BBEG (with only one CR+3 exception). When I found myself in an SFS game with all ranged, it was quite funny awkward how much we had to scatter. But since all but one of us were Ysoki, it suited us.


I agree melee can be done, but the feat and rule support that is present in PFS for melee characters is just not there in SFS. No power attack, no 1.5x strength for two-handed weapons, you can't ready melee attacks to attack enemies not in melee range (without a feat), and a whole ton of things that provoke AoOs in PFS don't provoke in SFS. Plus no iterative attacks. I also think the 18 max stat at 1st hurts melee characters more than other classes.

Creatures not found in the CRB probably have solid melee options, but my comment was regarding content found in the CRB. I don't think the SFS CRB has very good melee support.


whew wrote:
Combats run a lot different if any of the PCs are built for melee. The bad guys focus on the melee PCs; the AC of the ranged PCs rarely matters. For a good chunk of the game, melee PCs do a lot more damage.

Do they? When are you thinking of?

At level 1, a tactical doshko does about 7.875 damage, on average, to a combatant target with no DR, wielded by an S18 wielder. An artillery laser wielded by a D18 wielder against a combatant target with no FR does about 7.5 damage when full attacking (assuming any burn goes out immediately). I assumed a BAB of 1 and Weapon Focus.


quindraco wrote:
whew wrote:
Combats run a lot different if any of the PCs are built for melee. The bad guys focus on the melee PCs; the AC of the ranged PCs rarely matters. For a good chunk of the game, melee PCs do a lot more damage.

Do they? When are you thinking of?

At level 1, a tactical doshko does about 7.875 damage, on average, to a combatant target with no DR, wielded by an S18 wielder. An artillery laser wielded by a D18 wielder against a combatant target with no FR does about 7.5 damage when full attacking (assuming any burn goes out immediately). I assumed a BAB of 1 and Weapon Focus.

The doshku is a horrible weapon for a combat specialist. Unwieldy melee weapons are best for builds expecting not to full attack (or make AoOs) like an Envoy who uses her move actions to support or a Spring Attack build.

A tactical pike works better even before factoring in reach.
What's also nice is that in tight confines, which are just as common as in PF, you walk around cover and pin them down.

Pax, you are comparing SF melee to PF melee, not SF melee to SF ranged. You are also forgetting all the ranged feats that are missing, like Rapid Shot. Plus iterative attacks are missing for ranged too, but both are getting two attacks at 1st! And you're not noting that while there aren't many generic boosts for melee (via feats) there are class boosts plus the old standby, flanking. Share the table with a decent melee build and you should see their worth. (Not an Operative, they gain little by going melee, even if they should carry a melee weapon for tight combat.)


Also of note, because thrown weapons use strength to hit instead of dex melee character make pretty good switch hitters, especially later in the game when the range on thrown weapons increases. This is opposed to a dex based ranged character that can use operative weapons to get dex to hit. The damage output for a character that is forced to do so is really miserable.


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My answer to the question posed is: "No."

The big disconnect is that Starfinder combat - despite using the same mechanics and similar stats to Pathfinder - is very different than Pathfinder.

Having played through multiple combats, Starfinder characters can easily lose fights if they "stand and fight" as one would do in Pathfinder. Finding cover, teaming up, and creating advantageous situations outside of just attacking is necessary. Even Solarians and Soldiers - who shine in the thick of things - can't rely on attack rolls alone to win the day.

It's also put a lot of emphasis on getting better armor for my party. Overall, the dynamic is very different than anything I've played in Pathfinder, but it's a very good dynamic.


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Lord Fyre wrote:
Castilliano wrote:
This was an intentional imbalance by Paizo.

That's the crux of the complaint isn't it? If one does not like this balance, it is kind of hard to change.

That's fair. Starfinder combat appears to be based on a particular paradigm of play; one that is different than Pathfinder. If it's not your cup of tea, there isn't an easy fix.


Brother Willi wrote:

My answer to the question posed is: "No."

The big disconnect is that Starfinder combat - despite using the same mechanics and similar stats to Pathfinder - is very different than Pathfinder.

Having played through multiple combats, Starfinder characters can easily lose fights if they "stand and fight" as one would do in Pathfinder. Finding cover, teaming up, and creating advantageous situations outside of just attacking is necessary. Even Solarians and Soldiers - who shine in the thick of things - can't rely on attack rolls alone to win the day.

It's also put a lot of emphasis on getting better armor for my party. Overall, the dynamic is very different than anything I've played in Pathfinder, but it's a very good dynamic.

Are you playing Paizo's published adventures? In my experience so far, melee characters rule. Also, it's hard to avoid melee when going room to room indoors.


My experience is that melee makes for high-risk high-reward gameplay. Melee strikers hit harder, and they're less likely to have to attack through cover. They never have to worry about prone targets.

On the other hand melee strikers are less likely to be able to take advantage of cover or going prone, and they tend to spend a lot of time next to big nasties - as a result they take more damage and have more exposure to diseases and poisons.

It's a small sample size, but so far only melee characters have been taken out of action (knocked unconscious or seriously debilitated by an affliction) or died in my campaigns. They've also done by far the most damage on average, and had a lot of clutch moments in general.


I am running Dead Suns. I have had an experience similar to Kudaku - Melee fighters can hit hard, but also get hit hard. My party's Solarian is really keen on getting new armor.

There are fights in rooms that benefit melee fighters, but most of the "ranged" characters have taken to using SWAT methods to keep themselves behind doors and avoiding going out in the open. I think their tactics will refine as we play the game more.


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Starfinder GM here, gotta throw my hat in with the "liking this change" crowd.

I made it clear to my players from Day 1 they are going to need to think more about tactical positioning and teamwork to win the day. Round-to-round decisions matter more, and actions that buff AC or reduce enemy attack rolls are more valuable, as opposed to everyone just doing all damage all the time. As a GM, I've enjoyed it and so have my peeps.

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