Request: gain sense / organ of a non-disabled human


Rules Questions

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

Questions come up regularly about gaining the generally-accepted senses or organs of a non-disabled human. Can a Stellifera gain sound-based communication, can a Khizar gain visual sight, can a kalo use gill sheathes to breathe outside of water lacking "lungs," same for Androids, can a Vlaka gain a sense, can Bantrids gain a sense of smell, and so on. I assume, given the awesome variety of species that is a staple of Starfinder, this trend will continue (and, to be clear, I love it and hope diverse, interesting, species keep coming!)

That said: it would be really helpful to have an official clarification or blanket statement on if, and how, players can/can't do such things.

Or, better yet, if we could get a FAQ (or Org Play Guide?) web update, or an Armory 2 section, or whatever that includes some low level augmentations for "gain any given sense or organ that a non-disabled human possesses" that would answer a lot of these questions. Pay <=500 credits to gain lungs/eyes/etc would answer a lot of questions without being game-breaking, I would think? It seems in line with the general design philosophy outlined in Armory, Alien Archives, etc of "any playable alien can purchase and use the equipment presented in various Starfinder books regardless of its specific physiology."

Disclaimer: I have tried to write about this delicate subject with respect. Apologies if I have offended anyone or used terms that aren't accepted. I looked up a few style guides and there doesn't seem to be universally-accepted verbiage, so I have tried to go with some kind of consensus re: terms like "non-disabled" or "accessibility disabled." I acknowledge that person-first or identity-first language is preferred when we speak about specific individuals, but we are here discussing groups (some of them groups of made up things!) rather than specifics.

Also, let's all try hard to keep this thread a discussion of in-game, game-mechanics things, without ascribing value/lack-of-value judgments, or re-opening closed threads. Yes, I hear some people asking, "why play a species if you want to pay money to change their physiology/abilities/etc as soon as you can?" This thread is not the place for that, or similar, questions.


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We already have a general blanket statement. In fact, you quoted the one from the book. And, while I didn't go back and look at the threads you linked, I'd bet a couple dollars that I show up in a couple of them and bring out this:
https://paizo.com/threads/rzs42m6h?Can-SROs-benefit-from-biotech#21

So. Yes. Every race can use every thing. Does it make sense? Not always. But I didn't make the game, and people who did seem to think its fine to operate this way.

As to your "Can we get a 500 credit implant that functions like a regular old organ?" I doubt we'll see it in a book, if you'd like to discuss item levels, costs, etc for something like that, feel free to start up a thread in General Discussion or Homebrew.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

There exists ambiguity in how to interpret the Blanket Rule you're quoting, to say nothing of the corner cases that aren't covered by it. For example: in the Stellifera example above, there's no item that grants "the ability to communicate using sound." If such an item existed, that rule would allow anyone to use it, regardless of physiology, though!

While I appreciate that you have arrived at a determination, there is obvious evidence that within the community at large, it remains an open issue. So, here I am, asking for official clarification. It is, if you will, a Frequently Asked Question :D


I think the issue here is not can I have the biotech/cybernetic, but how it would function if I do. In the case of vlaka, for example, their racial trait essentially gives them the blinded condition. A blind vlaka with a wide spectrum ocular implant would be in the same situation as a human with the same augment that got temporarily blinded by an environmental/enemy effect, the only difference being their blindness is permanent.


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

The vlaka is unusual in having language in the racial trait to specifically rule out things like using the ocular implant to get sight in addition to your compensation senses. It is also a reason I wouldn't expect a cheap augment like the proposed ones to be added.


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Third Strongest Mole wrote:
I think the issue here is not can I have the biotech/cybernetic, but how it would function if I do. In the case of vlaka, for example, their racial trait essentially gives them the blinded condition. A blind vlaka with a wide spectrum ocular implant would be in the same situation as a human with the same augment that got temporarily blinded by an environmental/enemy effect, the only difference being their blindness is permanent.

See, this is exactly where I was a few months back.

As it turns out, trying to puzzle out "This doesn't seem like it would work. How would this work?" is the wrong way to think about it.

If you need some sort of reason for WHY it works, you should start with "Paizo says it works. Let's work from there."

So: It works because implanting a set of cybernetic eyes with wildly different kinds of visual acuity than the native eyes comes with something (a chip, a processing unit, a video card, a tiny fey who works a console) that is implanted into the brain, allowing it to process what the new 'eyes' see.

Or, implanting a set of biologic eyes comes with all the wetware required by the nervous system to use them.

Or, implanting a set of magitech eyes works because future tech space magic. (yeah, this one is boring. I got tired.)

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

Honestly, focusing on specific examples doesn't really help; they're all subsets of the overarching issue, that being "is there a way (and if so, how) to gain some specific ability that non-disabled humans are generally accepted as having?"

Even if the Wide-Spectrum Ocular Implants granted visual sight to naturally sightless creatures (and there are plenty on these fora, myself included, who are not swayed by Pantshandshake's arguments for why it should, but - not the point) then...great? You've solved one specific problem. What item does that...for hearing? For touch, or smell? For the ability to respire gases? For modulating and pushing a medium through flappy bits to create sound? There aren't any in the game right now.

And those are even the questions we can ask right now! What happens when a Society scenario takes us to Vandellia 9, The Planet Without Taste, and we now have a species whose abilities specifically call it out as lacking taste buds? Can they ever gain the sense of taste, and will it take 18 forum threads before we get an answer, either way?

Even that is a simple hypothetical question, analogous to existing problems. What about, I dunno, if Alien Archives 4 comes out and there's a sweet species made out of a perfectly superconductive material, such that they do not interact or interfere with electricity at all. Their species trait grants them immunity to electricity, but they also block all electromagnetic signals and can't operate or interact with any device that uses electrical fields, which happens to include all modern User Interfaces. No touchscreen or haptic computers, personal comms, automatic doors, starship controls, or anything, can be used. What a fun, quirky, species! They have to buy a 5,000 credit antique pre-Gap wired mechanical keyboard to type into tech, old school! A species for clicky-clacky Cherry MX nerds, joy!

...except, now the forum is littered with people asking if they can buy biochemical salts channels, or copper wiring, or magical lightning runes, or whatever so that they can use technology like all the other species.

Right, that's a made up example and I'm not sure the science makes sense there, but - do you see what I'm getting at?

So please: saying "every species can use every item" is not the answer to the question I'm asking.


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

Here's the thing: from a perspective if creating alien races for this game, the absolute last thing I would want to do is issue a blanket ruling that all racial disadvantages can be simply patched for a few credits, because if I do that I lose the whole design space of being able to write racial disadvantages that mean anything.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

That's a really good point!

I am of two minds about that: on the one hand, having interesting species abilities with tensions and trade-offs is pretty cool, and serves up plenty of interesting character and RP opportunities.

On the other hand: Pathfinder, and even like 3 and 3.5 before it, are all about paying cash for magic to solve your problems. Low stat? Buy an ability boost book, or staple it to a belt/crown, or buy a wish from a genie, or whatever. Surface-dweller going to the City of Merfolk? Magic ring of water breathing. Too much loot for your feeble wizard arms to carry? Easy peasy Ant Haul cast into a ring. There's all sorts of weirder stuff, too - like, want to play a troglodyte in War for the Crown and worried about smelling up all those nobles? There's literally a lvl 1 spell for that. And so on. Using resources to address deficiencies or shore up weaknesses is a pretty core idea in these TTRPGs.

Although, since you can't just easily and cheaply turn any ol' spell into a persistent duration worn item in Starfinder, a lot of those are less compelling. Within the Starfinder design space, there's still examples, though. Drow or orc that's dazzled in bright light? 500 credit for a lvl 2 fix. SRO whose body doesn't heal easily? Just spend more $$ to double your healing serum stock. Raxilite or Stellifera that's too small and not-strong to interact with a Medium-sized world? Heck, those two don't even have to spend money; your species abilities overcome that, for free.

So...I dunno where that leaves us. HammerJack makes a good point that it's boring to just say "address any species thingy with X credits." But, there's also numerous examples already published of just that.

Maybe there should be more focus on species 'disadvantages' that aren't just "you lack some physiology?" Here's a good example: Large sized characters. They're at a (generally agreed on) disadvantage in that you're often squeezing and having a hard time getting cover, which is a hindrance with so much ranged combat in the system. That's less obviously a problem in the sense of "you lack what most other species have." I guess there's still ways to solve that with credits/magic, via like Reduce Person, though. (Wait, is that a thing in Starfinder..? Ok, maybe that was lost to The Gap.)

Anyways. My motivation for this thread was to ask for any answer - yes or no - that people could point to, since this type of question comes up regularly. Mucking around the weeds of the details has shown that maybe it's not the kind of thing that can be solved easily with a blanket "allowed, here's the cost!" or "disallowed!" from the devs. And going through things on a case-by-case basis sounds even more complicated.

In home games, it's less of an issue - GMs can wave their hands as needed, on that case-by-case level. In Org Play, it's a bit more of a pickle.

TL;DR dang, who knew game design was hard :D


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Honestly, I think the opposite: its the space opera, super science, super magic future. Racial disadvantages just generally shouldn't be a big thing. Being able to cheaply fix your poor vision is right alongside being able to cheaply replace that missing arm: its just one of the benefits of not living in a medieval dark age.

Does this mean that disadvantages should not be "worth" much when designing a playable species? Yes, and this is a good thing. Racial weaknesses are almost *never* a significant balance factor in practice, because players choose their race to optimize strengths and mitigate weaknesses, and essentially no weakness will be equally problematic for all character concepts. Its like the old class/level limits in 2nd edition- they didn't actually balance anything, because if they were at all likely to come into play, you wouldn't build that character in the first place.


Replacing eyes is on par with the replacement cyber arms. Cheap and low level.

Adding eyes to a creature that doesn't have them (or a visual cortex in their brain to interpret the data and integrate it with their consciousness) is more like adding extra limbs - which is high level and expensive in Starfinder.

Sovereign Court

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Starfinder kinda flirts with transhumanist themes. Do you have the crippling weakness of not being able to breathe [underwater]? There's an implant for that. Do you have a problem seeing in the dark? There's an implant for that. Do you have trouble talking with animals? There's an implant for that.

So humans are allowed to trespass beyond their normal racial limits which are so normal to us that we don't describe them as weaknesses. But aliens are supposed to stay in their ancestral boxes?

I feel like there's a clash in designs here. You can make a setting where all the races have strengths and weaknesses and you have to live with that. Or you can have a setting with a theme of rebuilding yourself into what you want to be, and not being condemned to whatever your DNA has saddled you with.

Part of it is in designers not really telling us what they mean with their design. Is a drow's light sensitivity supposed to be mostly flavor, to illustrate where they came from? Or is it supposed to be a real weakness to balance our their powers? In the one case, fixing it with cheap sunglasses is fine, in the other that's problematic.


I don't think it's impossible to design an augmentation to give sight to a race that didn't develop it, since there are augmentations to give x-ray vision and echolocation to humans. I just question whether such augmentations are the same as the cheap, low level eyes that races with eyes use. Their novel new sense augmentations, after all, are not low level and cheap.

Sovereign Court

So we could basically have two main tiers of such implants:

- Prosthetics that replace something you'd normally have, but have lost somehow.

- Enhancements that give you that your species normally doesn't have / that remove a racial weakness.


I mean, we could have two sets of implants, but we don't. The difference between "Ah, this works fine, because that race has a sense kind of like that already" and "No, this doesn't work because that race doesn't" is completely, 100% made up by the people playing the game. You know, us. The books and devs are certainly not dividing implants into "this section is fine for everyone" and "this section is only ok if you have something kind of like the implant you're purchasing."

Unless you're a cybernetics expert in real life, and somewhere around this planet we have cybernetics even close to what's on offer in this game, whether it makes sense to you or not is irrelevant.

*edit*
Also, lightvision shades are 500 credits, and as long as you can activate them, negate light sensitivity.


I'd actually be kind of interested in seeing a one-arm race. We have contemplatives already, who can't wield 2-handed weapons very well, but they still have 2 arms. Hopefully they'd have some other powerful abilities to balance it out, since cybernetic arms aren't cheap. Then again, if you were building a level 20 character you could cheaply (for level 20) go from one arm to 3 and the limitation would be meaningless. It's probably best for starfinder if character species remains mostly a flavor choice with a few cool abilities.


The Raxilites are effectively one armed.

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