Environmental Protections and the dangers of space (House-rule balance discussion)


Rules Questions


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The armor rules clearly state that ALL armor can provide protection from vacuum and other environmental hazards for a day per item level. This seems rather excessive to me, rapidly nullifying the danger of operating in the void, and ironically making spaceship battles in Starfinder environmentally safer than ship battles in Pathfinder (at least you can drown in rough water). Heck, as a recent discussion here brought up, it's potentially safer to vent your ship and fight in vacuum if boarded than it is to fight in atmosphere, as a number of threats are nullified without air.

It seems like this was a design decision change at some point in the writing process, which left some oddities behind. Like why would anyone ever have a space suit, when you can get stationwear armor for not much more cost, and not have your survivability threatened by every nearby pointy object? Why are Oxygen Candles a thing when every suit can let you breathe for days? Why do high-tech tents burn battery charges (that you have to pay for) to provide the same protection as armor provides for days (that recharge for free)?

Why is it a racial feature that Sarcesians can go 1 hour without breathing when the lowest level armor provides 24 times that?

Module spoiler:
Why does the Skitter Shot game module specify the presence of vacuum suits being available for players in the airlock when they all have armor already?

-(considered posting this in homebrew, but I'm hoping for discussion of the oddities in RAW too. If mods think it needs to be moved, feel free)
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Original design intents aside, I'd like to restore the threat of operating in the void. The easiest method that I see here is to just flat-out remove vacuum protection from the list of environmental hazards that armor can protect you from. Then provide secondary equipment to make up the difference (with varying degrees of inconvenience to avoid people just running around with vac helmets on constantly). Operating freely in the void with fancy personal atmospheric force fields should be something restricted to higher levels, if it's available at all; not something existing as a throwaway descriptor for all armor from lowest to highest.

I'm looking here to hash out some specific rules to achieve the above goals. In addition, I'm hoping discussion here can help me:
1.) Avoid any major rules conflicts and balance pitfalls from overlooking edge cases, and
2.) Not make the rules too punishing, because pissed-off players means nobody is happy.

Has anybody else messed with these rules in play? Any thoughts on a good direction to go with this, before I dive into potential specifics?


Honestly, it would seem weird to me if, in a setting with multiple interplanetary sentient species and several interstellar ones, nobody developed something you can wear to effectively deal with space.

I mean, we, as humans on Earth, have done pretty well with that sort of thing. It didn’t take particularly long to go from not-so-good gasmasks to full on NBC suits. If we had magic and super future tech, I have no doubt we’d have some kind of somewhat comfortable super protective space attire.


Pantshandshake wrote:

Honestly, it would seem weird to me if, in a setting with multiple interplanetary sentient species and several interstellar ones, nobody developed something you can wear to effectively deal with space.

I mean, we, as humans on Earth, have done pretty well with that sort of thing. It didn’t take particularly long to go from not-so-good gasmasks to full on NBC suits. If we had magic and super future tech, I have no doubt we’d have some kind of somewhat comfortable super protective space attire.

And that's fine for a lot of games, but it nullifies a major component of sci-fi drama. Any comments on the rest of the post beyond the first two sentences?


the core book has a space suit. But Whay? It really is useless compared to armor.

Same could be said for the Personal Comms Unit


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The book has space suits and such because the book isn't just for players. Or do you think the Drow buy armor for all their slaves that work in space?

The book has oxygen candles because why wouldn't you cram anything you can into your spaceship to help you live just a little longer. Maybe that rescue is a depleted armor battery and 3 candles away.

The book has tents because, and this off the top of my head, it’s really hard to perform surgery on someone wearing armor. Or because sometimes you can’t breathe here, but you do want to take your armor off, get a little sponge bath, maybe stretch your tail or wings or whatever your race likes to stretch.

Past me coming up with perfectly valid reasons for stuff to exist in this universe, I suppose I’ll cave to the demand and expand on my original thoughts.

Without even getting into ‘space is dangerous’ there’s an uncountable amount of lethal things in Starfinder. And they’re all potentially very, very lethal, since everything hits you pretty regularly, and saving against diseases and poisons is rather difficult, sometimes. So, no, I’d rather not see the thing that keeps my character safe from going outside just not exist.

On top of that, if you basically take Starfinder and regress it to something approaching the Age of Sail, you’ve got to reduce the amount of life, and therefore stuff to do, out in space. Nobody is taking a 1000 credit job from the Starfinders to go investigate mysteries if they have to assign a large worry percentage to becoming the Space Donner Party somewhere out in the black. Nobody is living out on the Diaspora if they can only go outside in the space suit for 20 minutes because of ambient stellar radiation. Nobody is visiting Eox because… well, jesus, it’s Eox.

Now if you want to have a conversation about how, in your game, you did this, and here’s what happened (or what might happen, or you think it’ll play out and be cool) then sure, let’s do that. I’ll see you down in the homebrew section.


The environment of space isn't really meant to be a challenge, and those items/abilities you mention are supposed to be cheap or very minor boons.

If you want to challenge the PCs with the environment, you're going to need to take away their armor first.


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I've always had a problem with spells and gear that negates environmental effects, as I've felt that they too easily get rid of a pretty common aspect of most adventure stories; surviving against the elements.

If someone doesn't want to deal with that aspect, it's easy enough to ignore it or handwave it in their game, but for those that want to include those, the existence of these readily available and cheap tools make such scenarios moot, unless you commit the gravest of GM sins and steal all the parties gear/nullify their spells.

In that vein; I prefer that such items give a bonus to survive in the environment instead of granting outright immunity. This is compounded in Starfinder as every suit is a mobile high-grade survival tent.

Let armor have a 10min/level air supply and grant a +2 equipment bonus to those environmental effects. If someone wants to go beyond that, then there are plenty of ioun stones, armor mods and gear that can grant better bonuses, and even though some of those things still make people immune to several effects, with Starfinder's limit of magical items and upgrade slots, it seems like more of an investment.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

I do think that long term space survival is not the biggest issue. The ability to negate things like inhaled poisons are actually more often a big concern, but it's still not that big of a deal because I do not assume that environmental protections are on in a breathable atmosphere until someone actually stops to seal their suit.

I have heard some people consider that assumption unfair, but anyone who has spent any time in a factory, workshop, construction site or war zone knows that people love to not use their protective gear if there's no one riding them about it.


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I have to agree with Samantha that the Environment Protection Systems are far to powerfull and that they are removing a lot of standard scifi tropes/hazards from the game.

Additional it removes the need for specialized "hazard" armor like the EA suite (what defines them as "designed for extravehicular activity in hazardous conditions" if every armor has this feature build in?)

On the other hand I see where they come from and that they are a logical evolution.

For my games I would change the EPS so that it only provides protection like the old endure elements spell (against cold/heat).
But I would add the option to upgrade it to a Full protection system (like the one from the CRB) which provides complete protection for 1/2 itemlevel hours (min 1) and need one upgrade slot.

Additional I would give some armors (like the EVAC suite) this upgrade for free.

You could also create different levels of this Environment Protection Module which need battery power and consumes charges at different levels and so restrict the time it can be used.
Example:
EPS Blue: 20 charges, one charge per minute
EPS Green: 60 charges, one charge per minute
EPS Red: 20 charges, two charges per hour
EPS Black: 20 charges, one charge per hour

This would allow for some intressting player dilemmas have to decide how to use their batteries or how to distribute the remaining power.
Of course this would be another ressource the players have to track in these circumstances.

On a side note: With all the focus on batteries/charges in SF I wonder why there is no specific "batteries" area on the character sheet to track it...


There is one category of environmental hazard that beats the environmental seals... Temperature. The seals only protect against a temperature band. Anything too hot or too cold is still going to hurt.


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Tryn wrote:

I have to agree with Samantha that the Environment Protection Systems are far to powerfull and that they are removing a lot of standard scifi tropes/hazards from the game.

Additional it removes the need for specialized "hazard" armor like the EA suite (what defines them as "designed for extravehicular activity in hazardous conditions" if every armor has this feature build in?)

On the other hand I see where they come from and that they are a logical evolution.

For my games I would change the EPS so that it only provides protection like the old endure elements spell (against cold/heat).
But I would add the option to upgrade it to a Full protection system (like the one from the CRB) which provides complete protection for 1/2 itemlevel hours (min 1) and need one upgrade slot.

Additional I would give some armors (like the EVAC suite) this upgrade for free.

You could also create different levels of this Environment Protection Module which need battery power and consumes charges at different levels and so restrict the time it can be used.
Example:
EPS Blue: 20 charges, one charge per minute
EPS Green: 60 charges, one charge per minute
EPS Red: 20 charges, two charges per hour
EPS Black: 20 charges, one charge per hour

This would allow for some intressting player dilemmas have to decide how to use their batteries or how to distribute the remaining power.
Of course this would be another ressource the players have to track in these circumstances.

On a side note: With all the focus on batteries/charges in SF I wonder why there is no specific "batteries" area on the character sheet to track it...

Please remember, Starfinder is Science Fantasy, not SciFi. They are similar, but not the same.

The devs never really planned for "survival" to be the focus of the stories told. Just like they didn't intend it for PF1 either.

You can tell those sorts of stories. It requires extra work, and it simply isn't what the game was designed to be about.


Claxon wrote:
Tryn wrote:
I have to agree with Samantha that the Environment Protection Systems are far to powerfull and that they are removing a lot of standard scifi tropes/hazards from the game.

Please remember, Starfinder is Science Fantasy, not SciFi. They are similar, but not the same.

The devs never really planned for "survival" to be the focus of the stories told. Just like they didn't intend it for PF1 either.

You can tell those sorts of stories. It requires extra work, and it simply isn't what the game was designed to be about.

Also, from a player perspective in pathfinder, and from my players in starfinder. A story based on survival against the elements tends to be two things, a) boring, and b) deadly. The worst combination.

Just because the enviromental threat to survival is on a daily-weekly basis instead of a minutes-hourly basis doesn't mean the threat is not there, just lessened.

There are plenty of other ways to make space/enviroments hazardous. Micrometeor showers, high levels of radiation, monsters, magic hazards, etc.

If you want to force players to buy special vacuum protection for your sci-fi game you can, but you had better be prepared to re-write pre-written modules and keep in mind the added deadliness when making your own stories because it's not the default setting.


Up until about 10 minutes ago, I fully agreed that the times should be shorter, but then I thought about this scenario.

You're adrift in space, but you've managed to get a distress signal out into the drift. In a few days, it'll make it back to Absalom Station. A few days later, your rescue awaits. Even if you're in the same system as Absalom, this takes up to 6 days.

I think this is a fair scenario to compare the time to. Heck, it seems like a good scenario to balance the times to. Before level 8 or so, you're going to have scrounge to stay alive if you're relying on your suit to live. At higher levels, being stranded in space is an inconvenience but you're likely to live through it. Seems about right, and the rescue times can always be stretched out by a GM who wants to.

There's also the species that require their suits to exist in our environment; shorter times could make those races unplayable.

Maybe if there were more scenarios where players aren't in their armor, the environmental protections wouldn't feel so omnipresent.


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Tryn wrote:

For my games I would change the EPS so that it only provides protection like the old endure elements spell (against cold/heat).

But I would add the option to upgrade it to a Full protection system (like the one from the CRB) which provides complete protection for 1/2 itemlevel hours (min 1) and need one upgrade slot.

Additional I would give some armors (like the EVAC suite) this upgrade for free.

You could also create different levels of this Environment Protection Module which need battery power and consumes charges at different levels and so restrict the time it can be used.
Example:
EPS Blue: 20 charges, one charge per minute
EPS Green: 60 charges, one charge per minute
EPS Red: 20 charges, two charges per hour
EPS Black: 20 charges, one charge per hour

This would allow for some interesting player dilemmas have to decide how to use their batteries or how to distribute the remaining power.
Of course this would be another resource the players have to track in these circumstances.

On a side note: With all the focus on batteries/charges in SF I wonder why there is no specific "batteries" area on the character sheet to track it...

This seems like a decent jumping-off point for a set of survival rules, since the numbers for drain rates can be tweaked as desired. I think I'll play with this a bit and see if I can put together. I'd been putting off going through all the armor tables to define different built-in survival components, but I should probably at least make the attempt.

Claxon wrote:

Please remember, Starfinder is Science Fantasy, not SciFi. They are similar, but not the same.

The devs never really planned for "survival" to be the focus of the stories told. Just like they didn't intend it for PF1 either.

You can tell those sorts of stories. It requires extra work, and it simply isn't what the game was designed to be about.

Oh, I know. I'm not in any way saying that the current rules should be universally changed. What I really want is for my game to have "hull breach" to be an actual threat players have to care about. Maybe have a damaged life-support system be something more worrying than a minor penalty on captain actions.

Garretmander wrote:
Also, from a player perspective in pathfinder, and from my players in starfinder. A story based on survival against the elements tends to be two things, a) boring, and b) deadly. The worst combination.

Definitely something I want to watch out for. I want the threat of vacuum to be a background concern, not a constant focus. I.e. Star Trek, not 21st century spacecraft. It doesn't need to come in most sessions, but a hull breach can be an occasional tool for dramatic set-piece.

Garretmander wrote:
If you want to force players to buy special vacuum protection for your sci-fi game you can, but you had better be prepared to re-write pre-written modules and keep in mind the added deadliness when making your own stories because it's not the default setting.

Thankfully not an issue. I'm not running in the Pact World setting right now as it is, so I don't need to worry about modules.

Edit: To clarify, it's less about forcing them to purchase more gear (not interesting), and more about making it an actual choice of whether or not to use that gear. Picard does not sit on the bridge of the Enterprise in a vac suit. Also, if a race can survive naturally in space (I have a Sarcesian player), it should at least have some small meaning.


If you want the occasional "hull breach" to be a concern its probably easier to tell your players something along the lines of "the breached hull has damaged the integrity of your ship, until it's repaired you can't enter the drift because the stresses and strains would pull the ship apart".

There are ways to create tension without having to make it "you can only breath for 10 minutes". Because that just gets to be very annoying for players.

Shadow Lodge

Sarcesians have better wording than other races. Remember that just having no-breath (Androids) does not make space safe for you. Decompression sucks, but the big thing is cosmic rays. Anytime you're in space without your suit, you're in at least medium radiation. (Core page 394) Sarcesians specifically say they're immune to the environmental effects, so good job there.


Felix the Rat wrote:

Up until about 10 minutes ago, I fully agreed that the times should be shorter, but then I thought about this scenario.

You're adrift in space, but you've managed to get a distress signal out into the drift. In a few days, it'll make it back to Absalom Station. A few days later, your rescue awaits. Even if you're in the same system as Absalom, this takes up to 6 days.

I think this is a fair scenario to compare the time to. Heck, it seems like a good scenario to balance the times to. Before level 8 or so, you're going to have scrounge to stay alive if you're relying on your suit to live. At higher levels, being stranded in space is an inconvenience but you're likely to live through it. Seems about right, and the rescue times can always be stretched out by a GM who wants to.

Sorry, missed this because of post timing. That is something to keep in mind. And as player survival time increases with armor level, so too are they more likely to be traveling deeper into the Vast for more dangerous missions. This is exactly the kind of overlooked consequence I was hoping to have mentioned here, thanks!


Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

so i had some of these exact thoughts when i was reading the RAW rules for armor, and some of them i understand and get. but i found the universal armor rules were kinda broken in some situations where literally days of protection even under extreme conditions were far far too long to even conjure up drama. So i have personally homebrewed a extra definition for extreme environments. and for the most part things like space, or basic underwater are standard uses for armor life support and last for days. the k*&+r becomes when you enter a extreme environmental environment, such as a highly corrosive environment, a high radiation, deep water pressure, extreme stellar enviroments (micro dust or radioactive ray bursts. where the days are shifted to minutes of exposure. its a straight shift of time. a rank 10 armor gives 10 hours of comfortable snorkaling and underwater life support.. want to enter or be forced deeper into a cravasse by a creature.. that becomes 10 minutes. now you ask how to extend this? add a armor enviroment extender that updates that time by double or more for better upgrades. the idea that armor is a infallible shield vs all enviromental threats imo detracts from the game play and the threat. we have literally how many pages of rules for environmental and any decently leveled player wearing armor is essentually shrugging and turning on their armor for up to 10-12 days and its a zero game issue. sure there are spells and such, but thats another argument, sticking strickly with armor and it needs some tweaks. or at least a optional rule for extreme enviroments to all gms a challenge option to present to players.

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