I am an experienced GM in Pathfinder, both 1st and 2nd Edition, but now I want to try out Starfinder. I have planned a mini-campaign using four consecutive Free RPG Day modules, Skitter Shot, Skitter Crash, Skitter Home, and Skitter Warp.
Once we have that bit of practice with Starfinder, I will start a Starfinder Adventure Path.
I am letting my players construct their own characters and none have chosen the pregenerated Skittermanders. Also, I have 7 players, so I will need to boost the difficulty a little, but having a cakewalk for Skitter Shot would not be bad. One player is new to tabletop RPGs and the other six are as experienced with PF1 and PF2 as I am.
Does anyone have advice for us?
If they are interested in playing Witchwarpers or Envoys the Enhanced versions are definitely the way to go. In general if you keep upgrading your weapons and armor every few levels the system is very forgiving in terms of balance. For a large party you might consider not having an operative. They are not as over powering as some might suggest, but they do cover a lot of areas very well so opening up space for the different characters to feel like the have their niche might be a consideration. Every character should have ranged and melee options but pure ranged fights can definitely be a thing in Starfinder way more often.
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Starfinder Enhanced adds an ability called Inspiring Combo for the ENvoy at second level that lets them both attack and use an improvisations as a full action. Not all the time, but at least once per combat. It opens up some extra value in some of the improvisations beyond the Get'em ones. Nethys hasn't added those versions yet, probably because of the major bandwidth needed to try and get Remaster added. There are a few other abilities added like signature support which basically just adds another improvisation for the envoys. Nothing really balance altering, but it increases the diversity of builds that are fun.
We have played two sessions of Skitter Shot, so let me tell stories.
The seven player characters are:
Anti, an entu colony solarian,
Dekoorc, a witchwyrd envoy,
F'yn, a stellifera mystic,
Kii Kii, a kiirinta precog,
Nikko Lightclaw, a vlaka solarian,
Slix, a strix technomage,
Tk'Pan "Panic", an alate formian nanocyte.
I also statted out Captain Nakonechkin Ginnady, a vesk vanguard, and added communications officer P'ress, a pahtra operative. P'ress was created to be left on the Clutch, because abandoning the ship with so many crew members available would have been stupid.
The first plot twist is the different crew from Captain Nakonechkin Ginnady and four pregenerated skittermanders. The second plot twist is that Dekoorc was a passenger on the malfunctioning tour spaceship, Emerald Empyrean, rather than crew on the salvage spaceship Clutch.
The different crew changed many interactions. For example,
Another funny twist was
My players love victory from having weirder characters than expected.
My players are quite proactive, so Kii Kii went into the ducts to deactive the malfunctioning AI named M2 while the rest of the party still battled the Luminance-class Security Robot (I switched to a higher-CR robot because of the larger party) in the Engineering Room. But the robot was defeated when she had deactivated only three nodes out of five.
Next Tuesday, they face the pirate spaceship Nova Witch. I realized that my players would want both the Clutch and the Emerald Empyrean in the fight, so I built the Clutch as a playable ship. Kii Kii's player had a story about how she and Captain Nakonechkin served together on a BMC Mauler, so I started with a BMC Mauler, decommissioned its weapons so that the pair had to buy civilian replacements, and spread it across a medium explorer frame.
Clutch - Tier 2
Speed 4; Maneuverability good (turn 1); Drift 1
AC 11 + Piloting ranks; TL 11 + Piloting Ranks
HP 55; DT —; CT 11
Shields basic 40 (forward 10, port 10, starboard 10, aft 10)
Attack (Forward) light cytplasm weapon (4d8, speed 14, limit 5)
Attack (Port) light ship tether (2d6, melee, anchoring)
Attack (Starboard) light ship tether (2d6, melee, anchoring)
Attack (Turret) light particle cannon (3d6, 10 hex range)
Power Core Pulse Gray Overclocked (101 PCU);
Drift Engine Signal Basic;
Systems advanced mid-range sensors, mk 1 armor, mk 1 defenses, mk 1 mononode computer;
Expansion Bays Medical Bay, Common Crew Quarters, 2 Cargo Holds;
Modifiers +1 any one check per round, +4 Computers, +3 Piloting;
Captain, Engineer, Gunner, Pilot, Science Officer, Medic
Captain Nakonechkin purchased a decommissioned BMC Mauler and rebuilt it around a BMC explorer frame with the aid of some retired military engineer friends. He kept the original Mauler controls for his business partner Kii Kii to fly it. Its static defenses are weak, but its weapons and sensors are quite good for the price.
Now we need to master the spaceship combat rules.
We resumed the Nakonechkin Salvage mini-campaign on Tuesday, January 9, after a holiday break and my illness. We started Skitter Crash and got through page 6, Event 1 and Event 2 parts A and B. We had only five players present, so the PCs were nanocyte Panic, precog Kii Kii, solarian Nikko, solarian Anti, and technomage Slix.
My players were disappointed. My wife said the adventure felt like a fantasy wrapped in a spacesuit as a disguise. The players kept trying science fiction tropes and I shot down half of them as not working due to the static from the Drift cyclone, but really because I was not agile enough to reshape the plot on the fly.
Event 1, the circumstances that led to the party crashlanding a mining pod onto Varkulon 4, felt like science fiction. When the drift cyclone dumped the party's ship Helping Hand and the pirate ship Nova Warlock into normal space in a non-orbit above Varkulon 4, I described a yellow wall appearing behind the PCs on the bridge. They soon realized it was the hull of the Nova Warlock, superimposed over their own ship, cutting off access to most of their ship and cutting off their controls to the engines. The stairway down to the cargo bay was not blocked. They had no idea what the planet below them was named, but their instruments showed that they were falling toward it. The players assumed that the Helping Hand had its own escape pods, but easily accepted that those were cut off, too, so they compromised on the small mining vehicle on the cargo bay for their escape.
Three pirates exited a hatch on the Nova Warlock into the cargo bay. They knew that they were above Varkulon 4, but did not realize that the fused ships were falling. This is a change from the module, in which the pirates were immediately fighting the party for the mining vehicle as their only escape. Instead, pirate Velta ray tried to coerce the PCs into surrendering.
Pilot Kii Kii immediately raced to the mining pod. She encouraged all her crewmates to head there because the hull of the pod would stop the weapon fire of the pirates. Once Velta Ray mentioned Varkulon 4, Kii Kii called up information on her datapad and saw that it was habitable and had a research station on it.
The rest of the party fought the three pirates for one round. Pirate Lars lost half his hit points after trying to intercept the party on their way to the pod. Pirate Renato called up pirate engineer Wilson on her comm and learned that their ships were falling onto the planet with no engines to slow them. Lars climbed into the pod and dropped his weapons in surrender. Renato followed, but she provoked an attack of opportunity from Anti, who was in no mood to let her pass unharmed. Anit was the last PC into the pod, and she sealed the door behind her, leaving Velta Ray outside.
The module made a big deal about setting the cargo bay door to open automatically, but Kii Kii had a telepathic command module for interfacing this ship systems and ordered the bay doors to open via that. Velta Ray had to flee the cargo bay to avoid being sweep out by the rushing air.
In space, the PCs used a Computer check to located the research station and Kii Kii made piloting checks to try to land safely near it. Then I made a verisimilitude mistake and mentioned that cargo swept out of the cargo bay was falling toward the exact same location, an unbelievable coincidence necessary for the plot at Section B, Monitoring Station. The science-fiction veneer over the module started to peel away. That the emergency supply kit in the pod required a DC 15 Perception check to find further hurt the impression. In real life and in science fiction, the kit would have had big, bright letters declaring EMERGENCY KIT. If I had my wits about me, I could have ad libbed that the kit had become hidden in debris when the pod split apart upon its crashlanding.
The PCs wanted to sit tight, contact the research station over their comms, and wait for rescue. That is what we Americans are taught in real life. I pointed out that the drift cyclone was bleeding through into the atmosphere of Varkulon 4 and making heavy static that regular comms could not penetrate. Only the very strong signal of the monitor stations were able to punch through the static. So they were willing to slog through the swamp to the nearest monitoring station to use its comms. Kii Kii, Panic, and Slix were glad that they could fly.
The description, "You find yourself in a swampy environment, with irregular hillocks poking from murky water and tall, skinny coniferous trees in every direction. The sky is the color of an angry bruise, occasionally lit by ... flashes of purple lightning," is not exotically alien. That was a missed opportunity.
The party, accompanied by the two injured pirates, dealt with the earth elementals peacefully, because the telepathic party members could talk with them. Technomancer Slix repaired the monitoring station and tried to rig its transmitter to send their call for help to the research station. He and others failed their Computer checks with the transmitter. I claimed the osharu operating system was unfamiliar to them. They did figure out that monitoring station had already sent a request for repair to the research station, so the party decided to wait there until the repair crew showed up.
I switched to metagaming and explained that no rescue would come, so please follow the clues to walk to the research station themselves. They could find remains of the road for maintaining the monitoring station. They had the direction of the transmission from the monitoring station. That is when the players pointed out that the planetside part of the adventure felt like fantasy with no real science fiction beyond some Computer and Engineering checks. And the players whose characters didn't study Computers or Engineering felt left out.
Rescuing Ponatia in Section C will be a fantasy battle. The Helix Lyceum acts more like a temple than a scientific research station. And PART 3, BLAST OFF! comes down to, "Bypass the engineering difficulties with a single DC 22 check and blast off into space!"
How can I alter Skitter Crash to restore that flavor of science fiction?
Starfinder is science fantasy rather than science fiction, but my players want that to mean that both science fiction and fantasy flavors will be present in abundance and they want to play with the science side. They had fun with that in the Pathfinder Iron Gods adventure path and want more.
Afterwards, my players and I had a discussion about the difference between fantasy, science fiction, and science fantasy. I linked to the Wikipedia articles in the previous sentence, but all three literary genres are about revealing the human condition through exceptional circumstances in which they interact with reflections of humanity such as elves or robots. Fantasy pulls from myths and folklore, in which humans are new part of an ancient world. Science fiction pulls from science and views of the future in which humans are exploring new aspects of the universe. Stories about humans in circumstances strange to us can reveal more about the characters than ordinary circumstances.
Science fiction has more civilization, because science comes from civilization. The Third Field Test for Starfinder 2nd Edition was subtitled, That Cantina Feel because the multi-cultural bar scene near the spaceport paints a view of a starfaring civilization. In contrast, the supernatural avoids civilization. Fantasy is often set beyond the edge of civilization, in the untamed forest past the village, the uncharted mountains beyond the roads, or the ancient ruins forgotten in lore. Any tavern there would have solid doors barred during the night against the supernatural.
My players in Skitter Crash assumed that the research station was civilization that would reach out to rescue them. With that missing, the adventure became fantasy instead.
I have thoughts about adding more science and civilization to Skitter Crash.
First, I am going to give Ponatia a jeep, a wheeled vehicle. The beginning of Event 4, after the party teams up with Ponatia says,
Ponatia leads the PCs about half a mile through the swamp across osharu-built bridges, eventually reaching dry land and a paved road stretching into the distance. A sleek hover cruiser is parked here.
Um, page 228 of Starfinder Core Rulebook says, "Some vehicles have hover speeds, which means they can move overland and over water but not underwater." Why did Ponatia abandon a vehicle perfect for driving all the way to the monitoring station? Instead, he will explain that the drift-cyclone disables hover ability, so he had to drive out in a wheeled vehicle that could not cross the broken bridge. He walked out onto the bridge to examine the damage and another piece broke off to dump him into the jaws of the nilothera.
Then back at the Helix Lyceum, Headteacher Saguntes will be overjoyed to see three fliers among the party. The drift-cyclone had teleported a piece of forest from the northern hemisphere into some shallow water only 40 miles away from the lyceum. The researchers had investigated such transported lands during non-cyclone season, but with no hover vehicles their only way of reaching it was with an airplane that could not land in the forest nor water. She wants the party to volunteer--perhaps in exchange for room and board until interstellar travel is possible again--to jump out of the airplane to videorecord what happens to the transported land immediately after transportation. And to take samples of the animals there. How do the two different ecosystems interact? She wants them to do science for a week.
This will also let me correct that Varkulon 4 is not a "dismal and swampy" Single-Biome Planet.
As for the Nova Warlock/Helping Hand fused spaceship, they will be stuck in the drift cyclone for a week.
What is a good small amphibious predator among the Starfinder creatures that can be crawling out of the swampy water to invade the transported forest?
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I have thoughts about adding more science and civilization to Skitter Crash.
What is a good small amphibious predator among the Starfinder creatures that can be crawling out of the swampy water to invade the transported forest?
Hey, I have to say I like a lot of your suggestions. I agree with a lot of your thought processes regarding it. I didn't get al the way through the adventure with my own family, and they didn't themselves run into the missing the expectations of the players yours did, but I agree that the scale between science fiction and science fantasy can certainly be something that could/would affect peoples enjoyment of various adventures.
While not specifically aquatic/amphibious they are noted to be found in both marshes and forests
Tashtari CR 3
I made the changed to Skitter Crash that I described in my previous post, and they went over well. But first the party had to battle the nilothera.
They had come upon the nilothera chewing on the osharu scientist Ponatia. The nilothera rolled a natural 20 on initiative, so only the pirate Lars, who also rolled a nat 20, went before it. Lars asked for his weapons back, but Anti refused. Then the nilothera leisurely chewed on Ponatia for a mere 1d6 damage, knocking him unconscious and dying.
Panic rushed to the nilothera with her reach weapon and missed. Kii Kii pulled out her sniper rifle and missed. Nikko advanced with his solar claw and hit for 6 damage. Slix made a ranged attack with an energy beam and missed. Anti shot from a distance and missed. A full round of attacks dealt only 6 damage to the nilothera's 84 hp. That was typical of later rounds, too. Kii Kii switched to casting an Injury Echo cantrip that required a Will save. It did little damage, but was more reliable.
F'yn's player had returned for this session, so the mystic F'yn joined the party with a handwaved explanation (maybe she had descended to Vakulon 4 in another escape pod?). F'yn cast Stabilize on Ponatia. Next turn, when the nilothera moved away from Ponatia's body to attack Panic, she cast Mystic Cure to get him back to 4 hp and awake. Ponatia was confused to be talking to a fish and thought he was hallucinating, but he had the sense to move away from the nilothera.
The nilothera's second turn was a guarded step to Panic and attacking. It rolled a 4, but 4+14 = 18 was a hit on Panic for 16 damage. On her turn Panic used her nanites to create an obscuring mist around her and Nikko for a 15% miss chance. The nilothera attacked Nikko on its third turn, and rolled high enough for a death roll, but it rolled poorly due to the nanite mist and missed. On its fourth turn it attacked Panic again, rolled well so got the extra 1d6 damage from the death roll, and knocked her prone. She could not figure out a save way to stand up without provoking an attack of opportunity from the nilothera, so she delayed her turn.
Meanwhile, Ponatia and F'yn waded to the other island at the end of the broken bridge and reached Ponatia's jeep. Ponatia had realized that he was not hallucinating and really was talking to an intelligent fish alien in a hydrobody of telekinetically shaped water. And he knew how tough the nilothera was, so he yelled to everyone to join him in the jeep so they could escape. Kii Kii encouraged everyone who could not fly to cross the bridge. Lars successfully made the Long Jump over the gap in the broken bridge. The other pirate Renato tried to follow, but the nilothera had taken a guarded step closer to the bridge between their turns, and she passed within the 10-foot reach of the nilothera's attack of opportunity with reach. She went down and dying.
This freed Panic to stand up without provoking, so she stopped delaying. She hit the nilothera for 10 damage. The party's bad luck streak of usually rolling 10 or less ended. F'yn ran to the bridge to cast Stabilize on Renato from 30 feet away. Lars jumped back to try to rescue her. Fortunately, Lars did not have to jump the gap while carrying Renato on his next turn, because the party finally dealt enough damage to the nilothera to trigger the retreat mentioned in its tactics. Its movement provoked attacks of opportunity from Panic and Nikko, which killed it.
The party crowded onto Ponatia's jeep, some riding atop its roof, for the 10-mile drive to Helix Lyceum research station. He got the party's story about their ship being expelled from the Drift and overlapped with another and them escaping in a mining pod. At the lyceum Ponatia hastily introduced them to Headteacher Zoni, the resident expert in the Drift, for technical talk while he escorted Lars carrying still-unconscious Renato to the lyceum's medical center.
Telemetry expert Headteacher Cheliko and astronomy expert Headteacher Kiodea joined the discussion between the party and Headteacher Zoni and they discussed the Drift cyclone, the superimposition of the two ships, and the dangers of the Drift cyclone. The oshura scientists had investigated whether the damage to Varkulon 4 had been caused by 300 years of Drift cyclone season, but they had determined that it was caused before that by portal to the Plane of Hell that let devils conquer the planet. But the plane is still interdimensionally close and squeezes the Drift, causing the cyclones.
Their scientific enthusiasm was more fun to roleplay than the headteachers acting like stuffy administrators.
The biologist Headteacher Saguntes showed up with their skittermander pilot Gazigaz (I decided to throw in one of the pregenerated characters). She was delighted to see three winged characters in the party. The Drift cyclone had teleported in a 1000-foot wide piece of northern forest to just 30 miles away, within range of their dirigible airship (hovercars did not work during Drift cyclone season, so they had purchased alternative transportation for this season). But the trees did not let them land and the wind did not let them stay in place, so they needed a way to set up mooring lines to fasten the airship in place. The flying party members could do that! She hired the party on the spot for room and board and transportation off Varkulon 4 after cyclone season let ships visit again. She, Gazigaz, and the party rushed off in the airship immediately without a night's sleep to rest and recover spells, because time was of the essence. The local creatures would be consuming the transposed ecosystem this very moment.
I had copied a semicircle of Candadian forest over coastal ocean for the new map. The transposed animals were mudpuppies (the Earth salamander) sleeping the winter away under mud and Bantling Murzzilat. The invading creatures were Fangfrogs, the PF1 Slurk ported to Starfinder and shrink to a small CR 1 creature and Atlapaks. Thus, I followed two of Loreguard's suggestions. The fangfrogs where digging in the mud with their fangs to reach the hidden mudpuppies.
After the airship was moored above the forest, the fliers Kii Kii, Panic, and Slix immediately flew to the muddy streambed they had spotted from the air to grab some fangfrogs. Slix failed his stealth check, so one frog fled but another stood still as it ate a mudpuppy. Kii Kii shot it from the air and they took it and the dead mudpuppy as samples. The party also surveyed the terrains and sampled the mud and the plants. They found a murzzilat in a hole in a tree, and it bit Panic as she grabbed it to put it live in a glass cage.
They returned to the Helix Lyceum for a good night's sleep and returned the next day. They saw that a local atlapak had arrived to eat the fangfrogs, but Saguntes decoded that since the lyceum already had the genetics of local atlapaks, they had no reason to risk themselves in sampling that dangerous creature. (I had planned the fight, but somehow Saguntes ended up concerned about safety than I had intended.)
Though the danger of the biological sampling was low, the project made the party feel very useful and productive. My players liked the combination of a challenging battle and a productive project. I am getting the hang of designing a satisfying Starfinder mission.
The party returned to the lyceum to learn that Headteachers Zoni and Cheliko had been tracking the fused starships as they blipped in and out of the Drift. It was moving closer to the planet's surface and might reach the ground the next day. They insisted that the airship be reserved for them at the possible landing time. They feared that the starships might have been visiting Hell, too, and acquired some devils.
Tuesday, January 23
When the fused starships Helping Hand and Nova Warlock landed on Varkulon 4, Headteacher Cheliko identified the landing spot as only 200 miles away. Headteachers Cheliko and Zoni, airship pilot Gazigaz, the party, and the two pirates Lars and Renato boarded the airship and headed there.
Well, not quite all the party. The player of Dekoorc returned from his lengthy trip out of town, so Dekoorc resumed the game. After discussing how he could be belatedly rejoining the party (maybe had had taken a separate escape pod), he decided that Dekoorc had been on the Nova Warlock. The pirates had tracked down the Helping Hand by capturing Dekoorc and getting information out of him. Or maybe out of his datapad.
For the last three days, the fused starships had been shifting between the Universe, the Drift, and Hell. One time in Hell, devils had boarded the starships. The pirates had released Dekoorc and returned his weapon so that he could fight the devils, too. They won, and Dekoorc became a tentative member of the pirate crew. I piled two dead devil tokens on the ground of the landing site, Map E "Outside the Warlock's Hand."
When the airship reached the landing site, everyone failed their perception check (must have been low clouds) so they did not glimpse the scene on the ground. Fearing devils and pirates, the airship moored a good walking distance away and the PCs and Lars and Renato walked over. The six PCs from the airship tried to sneak up, but three failed their Stealth checks: Nikko, Panic, and F'yn. Lars and Renato appoached openly. Only Dekoorc, Captain Silazi, and two observer-class security robots were present. The other four pirates were elsewhere.
Surveying the three PCs who failed to hide, Silazi asked Lars if they were the only survivors of the Helping Hand. Lars answered in a half-truth, explaining how bad their landing in the mining pod had been and of the viciousness of the nilothera they encountered. Silazi argued with Nikko and finally challenged the party to a fair duel of her and the two robots versus the three PCs. Instead of agreeing aloud, Nikko attacked first.
Ironically, I did not know how to use the solarian powers of Captain Silazi, so I had to ask advice from the player of the solarian Nikko.
The PCs cheated during the fight (they had never agreed to Silazi's rules). The three hidden PCs joined in secretly. Kii Kii shot Silazi and then hid again before Silazi spotted her. Anti also shot from hiding, but failed the Stealth check. However, F'yn's turn was immediately after Anti's turn and she was adjacent to Anti, and the player was the healer and not good at combat. I told her that she could bluff that she herself had shot Silazi so that Anti would remain unnoticed. She succeeded at the bluff.
Dekoorc also bluffed. He shouted a warning to Silazi that was actually a distraction that left her flat-footed.
The observer-class security robots are oddly built. I had the first one flank Nikko, yet even with flanking, its Melee slam +6 has less chance of hitting than its Ranged integrated pulsecaster pistol +9. To compare, the first robot kept flanking and slamming, and the second robot kept its distance and shot its pistol. Nikko was their primary target, but Panic also closed in with her 10-foot-reach polearm.
Slix failed to hide, so he openly joined the combat. Silazi ordered Renato and Lars to attack the PCs. They joined in on their turns, but deliberately used bad attacks, such as Renato trying to grapple F'yn's hydrobody. Those two knew that they had to pretend to not be pirates to earn the aid of the osharu scientists, and did not want to have to explain killing the PCs.
Then time came down to the round when both Silazi and Nikko had their solarian supernova charged up. Nikko had rolled slightly higher in initiative, so he got to use his first. And Silazi was hurt enough that Nikko's supernova took her to negative hit points.
Lars ordered the security robots to stop attacking. The party let Silazi die rather than administering first aid. They faked to the osharu scientists when they arrived that she had died fighting devils. That took long enough that the other pirates returned, but Lars clued them in that they had to pretend to be innocent in order to get their ship back.
Cheliko and Zoni rigged up their drift-phase plan to separate the starships. Pirate engineer Wilson admitted that they had cut holes in the Helping Hand to run replacement control cables through the ships, so Slix, Anti, and Wilson took time to patch the holes.
By putting the drift engines of the two starships in opposite phases, they sent the Helping Hand into the Drift while the Nova Warlock remained on the surface of the planet. Kii Kii had some hasty piloting to get the Helping Hand into the part of the Drift that would be open air in Varkulon 4 when the ship phased back to the planet in a minute. The player rolled poorly, but then realized that she could use her best precog daily roll instead, so we ignored the bad roll.
Lars pointed out that Captain Anga Silazi owned the Nova Warlock, so her brother, the pirate captain Abram Silazi whom the party sent to prison in the previous chapter, would inherit it. Dekoorc forged some documents to justify Nakonechkin Salvage claiming the Nova Warlock as salvage. The former pirates became new employees of Nakonechkin Salvage.
They stayed on Valkulon 4, aiding the scientists, until the Drift cyclone season was over. When they returned to Nakonechkin Salvage, Captain Nakonechkin was worried about them having been missing for weeks. With the profits from the original salvage operation on the mining asteroid (only 1/3 of the salvage had fallen out of the cargo bay), Nakonecking converted the cargo bay into a shuttle bay so that they had a shuttle as a better escape option (I was influenced by the Spacedock YouTube video Escape Pods and Lifeboats in Science Fiction).