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Starfinder Enhanced’s new optional starship combat rules could make the game faster

You’ll make the Kessel Run in, like, 9 parsecs tops

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On a Star Trek-inspired bridge the crew of a nameless vessel sees an enemy fleet off their prow. The captain orders the attack with a defiant fist. Image: Paizo
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Starfinder, Paizo’s endlessly unfolding tabletop spacefaring game, helped pave the way for Pathfinder’s second edition while establishing a clear identity of its own. But across the dozens of books and adventures published since its launch in 2017, a fair bit of rules bloat crept in, Tribble-like — especially as it applies to starship combat. Starfinder Enhanced, a 192-page rules resource, clears the decks ahead of the planned second edition entering the public playtest phase in 2024. The optional rules for a narrative-oriented version of starship combat could be a great way to keep the drama high while briskly moving through the game’s most exciting new storylines.

For the uninitiated, Paizo’s epic mixes classic science fiction with science fantasy, meaning you can cast spells with one hand while firing a blaster with the other. In space, however, things tend to lean a bit more toward hard science-fiction. Players and game masters are regularly dealing with some very dense rules for things like shields and exotic weapon systems, all while flitting around on a hex grid with their miniatures. That complexity was later amped up even further in supplementary products like Starfinder Character Operations Manual and Starfinder Starship Operations Manual, which include topics like fighting as a squadron of smaller independent ships and launching boarding actions.

A dozen ships of all sizes tear each other apart in a section of space domiated by an ugly red neubla. Chapter opening art from Starfinder Enhanced. Image: Paizo

As a result, space-based combat in Starfinder tends to make the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game look like two infants smacking Duplo Legos together on the floor. Starfinder Enhanced is therefore a bit of a compromise: It maintains all the fun and flavor of the big ensemble casts found in shows like Star Trek, Firefly, or The Expanse while also getting to the part where things blow up a lot faster.

First off, there’s no map. You’ll be flying by the seat of your pants using traditional theater of the mind gameplay. Second, the ship stat blocks are much smaller than they used to be. Third, it’s going to be up to you to gently convert those older ships in which you’ve been flying around. Sorry, game masters.

Finally, damage has been hugely simplified. Basically, every ship in the Starfinder universe now has what’s called a threshold, derived from the damage threshold stat previously given to the game’s largest capital ships. To do damage, players must succeed at skill checks. Succeed at enough skill checks to meet or exceed the threshold and you’ve done a point of damage.

The first page on Narrative Starship Combat from Paizo’s Starfinder Enhanced. Image: Paizo
The second page on Narrative Starship Combat from Starfinder enhanced. It includes rules for converting special abilities.

Player actions during combat remain just as viable as they were before, so you can recalibrate those weapons systems in the gun bays as you like, divert more power from engineering all day long, or taunt the alien captain by impugning his parentage from the command dais. It’s just that those successful actions will add up in slightly different ways than they did before, all relative to the opposing ship’s threshold — and its ability to fight back. The new system even does a good job of preserving the spirit of those actions by rewarding players when they roll extremely well, and punishing them when they biff it.

Starfinder Enhanced arrives on Oct. 18 in both a physical and a digital format, and will also be included in the Starfinder Roleplaying Game Ongoing Subscription.