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Chapter 4: Running Starship Campaigns

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 124

Building Starship-scale Creatures

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
Though most species must design and build intricate craft to traverse the universe, there are some behemoths that have adapted to the unyielding void. Other immense creatures might be enormous menaces lurking in the atmospheres of gas giants, or even the gigantic guardians of a holy site in the obscure reaches of the Vast. Building monsters at starship scale is a great way to spice up an adventure, show something about how life evolved in a particular sector of the galaxy, or give your PCs a new and unique type of challenge.

Overview

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
This section provides rules for quickly creating your own starship-scale creatures for use in starship combat.

Step 1: Creature Concept and Tier

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
Come up with an overall concept for your creature. What type of creature is it? What is its origin and purpose? How does it pose a threat to starships? After considering these questions, set the tier for the creature. If you’re building it for a specific group of PCs to encounter, consult the following table to determine the appropriate tier. Further advice on building starship encounters of all kinds can be found on page 326 of the Core Rulebook.
DIFFICULTY ENEMY STARSHIP TIER
Easy PC starship tier – 3
Average PC starship tier – 2
Challenging PC starship tier – 1
Hard PC starship tier
Epic PC starship tier + 1

Step 2: Array

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
Using your creature’s tier, look up its Armor Class (AC), Target Lock (TL), Hull Points (HP), Critical Threshold (CT), Shield Points (SP), skill bonuses, gunnery bonus, and weapon damage on Table 4–1: Starship Creature Array (page 127). More information on these terms can be found in Understanding Starships on page 78.

Skill Bonuses: The array provides master skill bonuses and good skill bonuses. Your starship creature should have one skill that uses the master skill bonus, while the rest of its skills use the good skill bonus. The skills used by such creatures during starship combat are typically Computers, Engineering, and Piloting. A creature might also use Mysticism along with the magic officer actions presented on page 148 of Starfinder Character Operations Manual. A starship creature has ranks in each of its skills equal to its tier (minimum 1).

Gunnery Bonus: A starship creature has levels equal to its tier for the purpose of gunner crew actions.

Weapon Damage: The high and low weapon damage entries show the damage dealt by the starship creature’s weapons (see Step 3: Size). These are assumed to be direct-fire weapons with medium range (10 hexes).

Table 4–1: Starship Creature Array

TIER AC TL HP CT SP MASTER SKILL BONUS GOOD SKILL BONUS GUNNERY BONUS HIGH WEAPON DAMAGE LOW WEAPON DAMAGE
1/4 12 10 15 3 8 +5 +2 +2 2d4 1d4
1/3 13 10 20 4 12 +7 +3 +3 2d4 1d4
1/2 14 11 25 5 12 +9 +4 +3 2d4 1d4
1 15 12 30 6 24 +10 +5 +5 4d4 1d4
2 16 13 60 12 40 +12 +7 +6 3d6 2d4
3 17 14 90 18 48 +13 +8 +7 3d6 2d4
4 18 15 110 22 60 +15 +10 +9 4d6 3d4
5 19 16 125 25 80 +16 +11 +10 5d6 3d4
6 20 17 150 30 100 +18 +13 +11 5d8 4d4
7 21 18 175 35 120 +19 +14 +12 6d8 4d4
8 22 19 200 40 140 +21 +16 +14 7d8 3d6
9 23 20 225 45 160 +22 +17 +15 8d8 3d6
10 24 21 250 50 180 +24 +19 +15 1d8×10 4d6
11 25 22 280 56 200 +25 +20 +16 1d8×10 4d6
12 26 23 310 62 220 +27 +22 +17 2d4×10 5d6
13 27 24 340 68 240 +28 +23 +19 2d4×10 5d6
14 28 25 370 74 260 +30 +25 +20 2d6×10 5d8
15 29 26 400 80 300 +31 +26 +22 2d6×10 5d8
16 30 27 440 88 340 +33 +28 +23 2d8×10 6d8
17 31 28 490 98 360 +34 +29 +25 2d8×10 6d8
18 32 29 550 110 400 +36 +31 +26 2d10×10 7d8
19 33 30 600 120 480 +37 +32 +28 2d10×10 7d8
20 34 31 650 130 560 +39 +34 +29 2d12×10 8d8

Step 3: Size

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
Choose an appropriate size for your creature. This provides its speed, maneuverability, DT, and weapon mounts, and might modify its AC, TL, Piloting modifier, and HP, shown on Table 4–2: Starship Creature Size (page 127). More information on these terms can be found in Understanding Starships on page 78.

Generally, Tiny and Small starship creatures are tier 10 or below, while Medium and Large creatures are tier 5 and above, Huge creatures are tier 10 and above, and Gargantuan and Supercolossal creatures are tier 15 and above.

Weapons: This lists how many high- and low-damage weapons a starship creature has (see Table 4–1: Starship Creature Array on page 127). Weapons can be in any arc (forward, port, starboard, aft, or turret), but an arc can have at most two more weapons than the arc with the fewest weapons. For example, a ship with no aft weapons can’t have more than two turret weapons.

In addition, only low-damage weapons can be mounted on a turret, and weapons whose damage includes a ×10 multiplier can’t be used against Tiny or Small ships.

Note that while a starship creature’s weapons work mechanically like starship weapons, you can describe them however best matches the flavor of the creature you’re creating—for example, a zoaphorix (page 131) is an enormous aberration that expels seeds and tendrils at its targets.

Table 4–2: Starship Creature Size

SIZE SPEED MANEUVERABILITY AC AND TL MODIFIER PILOTING MODIFIER HP ADJUSTMENT DT WEAPONS
Tiny 10 Perfect (turn 0) +2 +2 –5 × tier 2 low
Small 8 Good (turn 1) +1 +1 –5 × tier 3 low
Medium 8 Good (turn 1) +0 +1 1 high, 3 low
Large 6 Average (turn 2) –1 2 high, 3 low
Huge 6 Poor (turn 3) –2 –1 +5 × tier 5 2 high, 4 low
Gargantuan 6 Poor (turn 3) –4 –1 +5 × tier 10 3 high, 3 low
Colossal 4 Clumsy (turn 4) –8 –2 +10 × tier 15 3 high, 6 low
Supercolossal 4 Clumsy (turn 4) –8 –2 +10 × tier 20 5 high, 7 low

Step 4: Creature Type Graft

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
Every creature belongs to one of 13 types. Choose and apply one of the listed grafts—a set of adjustments—to represent the creature’s type. Several grafts include special abilities described in Step 5: Special Abilities.

Aberration

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
An aberration is a creature with biology that defies reason, inconceivable motivations, strange abilities, or a combination of these aspects.
Adjustments: Gains the death throes special ability (page 128).

Animal

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 126
An animal is a creature with straightforward biology (relatively speaking) that’s somehow managed to adapt to life in the vacuum of space.
Adjustments: Increase speed by 2, +2 to Piloting.

Construct

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 127
A construct is a magically animated object or an artificially created creature.
Adjustments: Gains the improved hull special ability (page 128).

Dragon

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 127
Though dragons usually are used in epic terrestrial encounters, thanks to their strange magic and powerful breath weapons, they can also serve as threats in the vacuum of space.
Adjustments: –1 turn distance (to a minimum of 0), +2 to Piloting, +2 to AC, –1 to TL.

Fey

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 127
Fey are temperamental creatures that embody the ever-changing aspects of the natural world. Spacefaring fey often represent cosmic aspects such as stars and planetary bodies.
Adjustments: –1 turn distance (to a minimum of 0), +1 to Piloting, –1 to AC and TL.

Humanoid

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 127
Humanoids large enough to fight on starship scale are likely to be extremely rare giants, possibly scaled up to massive proportions via magic or technology.
Adjustments: –1 turn distance (to a minimum of 0), +1 to Piloting.

Magical Beast

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 127
A magical beast is a creature with magical powers or strange abilities, a biology informed by magic, or some other innate connection to magic.
Adjustments: Increase speed by 2, gains the improved shields special ability (page 128).

Monstrous Humanoid

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 127
While similar to humanoids, monstrous humanoids often have bizarre or powerful abilities, as well as monstrous or animalistic features.
Adjustments: –1 turn distance (to a minimum of 0), +1 to Piloting.

Ooze

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
An ooze is an amorphous creature, often with simple but mutable biology.
Adjustments: Reduce speed by 4 (to a minimum of 4), change maneuverability to perfect (turn 0), –2 to Piloting.

Outsider

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
Outsiders large enough to engage in starship combat directly are rare but not unheard of. Massive archons, demons, and devils have come into conflict before, often to the detriment of nearby mortals.
Adjustments: Gains the improved shields special ability (page 128).

Plant

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
A starship-scale plant is often a mindless creature that relies on solar energy and specific gases to survive. It might call a gas giant its home and survive on solar radiation from a nearby star.
Adjustments: Increase AC by 1, reduce speed by 2 (to a minimum of 4), gains the regeneration special ability (page 129).

Undead

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
Necromancers of significant power might construct a starship-scale undead creature or animate the remains of a massive, once-living creature, such as a vermelith (Alien Archive 2 130).
Adjustments: Gains the fearsome special ability (see below).

Vermin

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
Vermin are similar to animals, but they usually lack any form of advanced intelligence and react purely on instinct.
Adjustments: Gains the improved hull and speed burst special abilities (see below, page 129).

Step 5: Special Abilities

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
With your creature’s basic statistics taken care of, it’s time to add abilities to make it stand out.

Free Special Abilities

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
All starship creatures (including undead) gain the living starship special ability. Spacefaring starship creatures gain several more abilities for free.

Living Starship: All starship creatures you create with this system should have the living starship ability, as described below.

Living Starship (Ex): This creature is so immense that it functions as a starship (and thus engages only in starship combat). It has no crew, but it can take engineer, gunner, magic officer (Character Operations Manual 148), and pilot actions (one of each, in the appropriate phases) using the appropriate skill bonuses and ranks. Because living creatures have unique anatomy, they require a special table for determining critical damage effects and conditions (Core Rulebook 321). This also serves as a list of systems an enemy science officer can target with the target system crew action. An example critical damage effect table is listed here, but you can tailor yours to reflect your specific creature’s anatomy.

Spacefaring Starship Creatures: Starship-scale creatures that live or travel in space have the void adaptation universal creature rule, which grants immunity to cosmic rays, immunity to the environmental effects of vacuum, and the no breath universal creature rule. In addition, they often have the spaceflight universal creature rule, granting them the ability to fly through space at standard navigation and astrogation speeds (Core Rulebook 290).
D% SYSTEM EFFECT
1–30 Weapons array Randomly determine one arc containing weapons; condition applies to all gunner actions using weapons in that arc.
31–60 Propulsion Condition applies to all pilot actions.
61–90 Heart Condition applies to all engineer actions, except when patching or repairing the heart.
91–100 Brain During the next round, each of the creature’s attempted actions has a 25% chance of failure.
The brain doesn’t gain critical damage conditions.

Standard Special Abilities

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 128
In most cases, starship-scale creatures should have no more than three standard special abilities, including those gained from the creature’s type but not including those listed above as free special abilities. Unless otherwise noted, you can select an ability more than once. You can also come up with your own special abilities, but be careful using any that significantly adjust its combat statistics or abilities, as this might make your creature too easy or too challenging to defeat in combat.

Agile Flying: The creature gains a +2 bonus to its Piloting checks.

Biological Redundancy: The creature ignores the first critical damage effect it would take each combat.

Crystalline: The creature’s crystalline body refracts light. It takes half damage from weapons with the word “laser” in their names.

Cunning Predator: Once every 1d4 rounds, the creature can attempt the target system science officer action using a skill bonus equal to its good skill bonus.

Death Throes: When the creature reaches 0 Hull Points, it perishes violently. This functions as a self-destruct system but can’t deal more than the creature’s maximum high weapon damage from Table 4-1: Starship Creature Array.

EMP Resistance: The creature gains a +4 circumstance bonus to AC and TL against weapons with the EMP property.

Fearsome: Once every 1d4 rounds, the creature can attempt the taunt captain crew action using its good skill bonus.

Graviton Resistance: The creature gains a +4 circumstance bonus to AC against weapons with the tractor beam special property. It also gains a +5 circumstance bonus to Piloting checks it attempts to escape a tractor beam.

Improved AC: The creature gains +1 AC.

Improved Hull: The creature has additional Hull Points equal to 5 × its tier.

Improved Shields: The creature has additional Shield Points equal to 5 × its tier.

Improved Speed: The creature gains +2 speed.

Improved TL: The creature gains +2 TL. This special ability can be selected only once.

No Shields: The creature has no Shield Points and has additional Hull Points equal to one-quarter the Shield Points appropriate for a starship creature of its tier.

Realign Energy: Once every 1d4 rounds, the creature can attempt the balance science officer crew action using its good skill bonus.

Regeneration: The creature automatically regains a number of Hull Points equal to its tier at the start of each engineering phase, up to its maximum number of Hull Points.

Speed Burst: Once every 1d4 rounds, the creature can increase its speed by 4 for 1 round during the Engineering phase.

Teleportation: On its turn during the helm phase, in lieu of its standard movement, the creature can select an empty space within 5 hexes and teleport to that space with a facing of its choice. Once it uses this ability, it can’t use it again for 1d4 rounds.

Titanic Slam: Once every 1d4 rounds, the creature can make an attack that deals damage on a hit equal to 1-1/2 × its high weapon damage to a ship that is adjacent and in its forward arc.

Step 6: Final Check

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 129
Finally, look back over your starship-scale creature and make sure it lives up to your concept for it. Once you’re satisfied, give it a name, and it’s ready to encounter your PCs! You can use the advice in this chapter for using typical starships, such as Designing Starship Encounters on page 138 or Adventure Seeds on page 142, to make the most out of your starship creature.

Using Starship-Scale Creatures in Combat

Creatures that you generate using the system presented in this section require a few special considerations, both in and out of starship combat. These rules and guidelines can also be applied to starship creatures that appear in other Starfinder products, such as volumes of the Alien Archive.

Resolve Points: A starship creature has a number of Resolve Points equal to 3 + its tier divided by 5, which it can use for crew actions that require spending Resolve Points.

Restoring Hull Points and Shield Points: Most starship creatures regain Hull Points outside of combat at a rate of 1 per hour. During combat, a starship creature can use the divert engineer crew action to attempt to regain a number of Shield Points equal to 1-1/2 × its tier.

Destroying a Starship Creature: Generally, a starship creature that is reduced to zero Hull Points is destroyed, rather than disabled, though such a creature may simply be gravely wounded and may still be able to retreat or recover, at the GM’s discretion.

Alternatives to this System

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 129
While this system presents a simple process for building starship-scale creatures, you can also build a starship creature as you would a normal starship, changing the names of systems to match your concept. In this case, ignore the steps of this process, but still add the living starship special ability and any universal creature rules called for by Step 5: Special Abilities (page 128).

Space Hazards

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 134
Innumerable threats lurk in the inky spaces between the stars. This section addresses myriad dangers, from potentially civilization-ending events to more localized problems that might affect only a single starship combat. Each subsection presents a particular kind of stellar phenomenon and how you can include them in your game. Many of the hazards included here list damage or attack bonuses that scale based on starship tier—these are to help you provide balanced encounters for your PCs, but you can also set numbers that are higher or lower to better fit the actual danger.

Stellar Phenomenon

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 134
Space contains untold billions of threats, ranging from the inexplicably vast to the unexpectedly deadly. Some are legendary in their lethality, while other unidentified anomalies continue to vex even the most accomplished scientists. Thankfully, space is big enough that most pilots can fly around these threats—that is, unless pursuing pirates, gravitational anomalies, or other dangers turn such caution into a luxury!

Asteroids and Debris

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 134
Though they’re one of the most mundane aspects of space, chunks of floating rock can nonetheless have a dramatic impact on starship operation and combat. Even clouds of small pebbles can jam engines, throw weapon systems out of alignment, and disrupt sensitive sensor equipment. Larger asteroids, especially with significant velocity, can obliterate smaller starships and cause significant damage to larger ones. The biggest asteroids blot out entire hexes of space, creating obstacles that starships must weave through but can use as cover during combat. Large, stationary asteroids also make good locations for orbital weapon platforms.

Asteroids generally take up 1 hex on the grid; larger asteroids can be represented by filling two or more adjacent hexes. Traveling through an asteroid’s space is generally possible, but a starship risks taking damage when it does so. A starship’s direct-fire weapons can’t pass through an asteroid’s space, but tracking weapons can move to avoid striking one.

When either a starship or an asteroid enters a hex occupied by the other, the pilot must attempt a Piloting check (DC = 10 + 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier), with the ship taking 4d6 damage in a random quadrant and the ship’s facing changing by 1 turn in either direction (determined randomly) on a failure. Moving asteroids deal an additional 1d6 damage per 2 hexes they move on the round that they collide, and the DC of the Piloting check to avoid a collision with a moving asteroid increases by 5.

If a ship collides with an asteroid or hits it with a starship weapon attack (AC 5 and TL 5) that would deal at least 1 Hull Point of damage, that hex of the asteroid is destroyed and all adjacent hexes are sprayed with rock fragments, dealing 4d4 damage unless an affected starship’s pilot succeeds at a Piloting check to avoid the debris (DC = 10 + 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier).

Comet: This chunk of icy mass flies through space, leaving a trail of ice and gas behind. You can simulate a comet with a single large asteroid moving across the grid over the course of several rounds, trailed by a micrometeoroid cloud (see below) that represents the icy fragments making up the comet’s tail.

Fast-Moving Asteroids: These large groupings of asteroids travel together, usually caused by an explosion, a collision of larger asteroids, or a massive gravitational body pulling them out of orbit. At the beginning of combat, these asteroids start on one edge of the map and take up 1 hex each; place the asteroids farther apart than if you were using stationary asteroids. At the end of each helm phase, move each asteroid across the map in the same direction. Asteroids should always move in a straight line at a consistent speed, but they don’t all need to move at the same speed. For a sustained asteroid storm, randomly place new asteroids at the edge of the grid after moving the asteroids that are already on it.

Magma-Filled Asteroid: This asteroid forms when a globule of molten rock is exposed to the void of space, and its liquid magma core becomes encased in an obsidian shell. When a starship takes damage upon colliding with such an asteroid, the shell cracks, releasing roiling magma into all adjacent hexes. The colliding starship and all starships within 1 hex of the asteroid take 4d8 damage to a random quadrant. In addition, a starship can shoot at a magma-filled asteroid (AC 5 and TL 5); a hit with any weapon that would deal at least 1 Hull Point of damage punctures the obsidian shell and imparts the shot’s momentum, causing magma to hurl violently into space and deal 4d8 damage to starships in adjacent hexes (instead of the normal 4d4 damage). Exceptionally hot asteroids could deal even greater amounts of damage upon impact or when destroyed, whereas asteroids whose interiors have lost most of their heat over time typically deal less damage.

Massive Asteroid: A massive asteroid can be represented by 10 or more individual asteroids or by simply filling up an entire section of the combat grid with the asteroid. Asteroids of this size are impassible—starships can’t enter their space— so they’re useful as outer bounds to a battlefield. Space battles over the entrance to an asteroid mine, perhaps guarded by orbital weapon platforms, make a great backdrop to an epic starship confrontation.

Micrometeoroid Cloud: Tiny pieces of debris regularly strike a starship during space travel, bouncing off its shields and hull to no effect. However, traveling through a large cloud of such debris can overwhelm a starship’s conventional defenses and deal real damage. Mark hexes of micrometeoroid clouds on the grid; the hexes should be in groups of 4 to 7, with 2 to 3 hexes of space between them, and should take up no more than roughly a quarter of the total grid. If a starship flies through 1 or more of these hexes, it takes damage to its forward quadrant equal to 1d4 per micrometeoroid hex it flies through plus 1d4 for every 2 hexes the ship moved that round in total. Damage from micrometeoroid clouds has the ripper weapon special property. Moving clouds of micrometeoroids can be implemented in much the same way as fast-moving asteroids (page 134) and might even be a precursor to a larger asteroid event.

Other Debris: Other solid objects in space such as derelict ships, ice rings, and fields of debris from recent battles can pose similar threats to active starships. Use whatever rules are most analogous to your chosen phenomenon.

Damaging Zones

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 135
Some areas of space are actively damaging to starships. These damaging zones can represent hazards such as electrically charged nebulae, hull-eating bacteria, or the chaotic corona near the surface of a star. Depending on the nature of the damaging zone, it might encompass part or all of the combat grid, in a variety of shapes and sizes.

At the end of each round of starship combat, all starships in a damaging zone take damage from the hazard, distributed evenly across all quadrants. As a crew action during the helm phase, a science officer can align the starship’s shields to specifically protect against the active hazard (DC = 10 + 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier), negating any damage to shielded quadrants; quadrants with depleted shields can’t be protected in this way. In general, damaging zones should deal at most roughly 1d6 damage per tier of the PCs’ starship each round.

Hull-Eating Bacteria: While several massive species have adapted to the void of space, bacteria and other microparasites have also adapted to interstellar life by feeding off one of the most readily available substances: starship hulls. Infestations can last for decades as the tiny creatures feed on the remnants of derelict ships and debris fields. In areas with hull-eating bacteria and similar threats, unshielded quadrants of a starship’s hull each take between 1d6 and 7d6 damage per round, ignoring DT. Once a quadrant of a ship has been exposed, it continues to take damage each round at the end of the engineering phase, even if shields are later restored to that quadrant. As a crew action during the engineering phase, a starship’s engineer can vent plasma, superheat the hull, or perform a similar action to destroy the infestation (DC = 10 + 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier).

Proton Storm: Stars can emit streams of high-intensity protons capable of ripping starships apart. To represent a proton storm, draw multiple parallel lines throughout the combat grid, 5 to 10 hexes long and 3 to 5 hexes apart. Starships can fly through these marked areas, and the lines don’t block starship attacks, though tracking weapons that would fly through a proton storm are immediately destroyed. However, the storms represent significant danger: the protons have such high energy that they bypass starship shields. Each time a starship flies through or ends its movement in a marked hex, it takes damage directly to its Hull Points equal to 1d6 + an additional 1d6 for every 2 tiers of the starship.

Star Corona: Flying near a star without specific protection is never a good idea. If unprotected, a starship can take between 1d6 and 20d6 damage each round from the heat given off by a star’s corona, depending on the intensity of the star and the distance to the star’s surface. Some stars also discharge radiation that bypasses normal defenses and can affect the crew on board (see Radiation below).

Gravity Fields

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 136
Black holes, nearby planetary bodies, unstable magical effects, and neutron stars can create powerful gravity fields that make starship combat challenging.

Choose a side of the grid to represent the direction of the gravitational pull. At the start of each round, move all starships, tracking weapons, mines, and other relevant objects 1 hex closer to the source of the gravity. If an object starts within 6 hexes of the edge, move it 2 hexes toward the edge. While a starship is moving toward the gravitational source, each hex of movement moves the object an additional hex. While a starship is moving away from the gravitational source, each hex of movement costs 2 hexes instead. Tracking weapons follow the same rules for starships and have their effective speed ratings doubled or halved, as appropriate.

Starships that move past the edge of the grid where the gravitational pull originates are out of the combat and might be destroyed or disabled, crash-land, or something similar. A ship removed from the grid by a black hole is almost certainly destroyed, for instance, while a starship pulled toward a planetary body might crash on its surface or even burn up in any extant atmosphere.

For especially strong gravitational fields, the rate at which the hazard pulls could exceed 2 hexes per round. However, starships with a speed of 4 can’t escape such forces, even with a successful divert crew action. Generally, use gravitational pulls of 3 hexes per round or more only if the vessels involved in the starship combat can escape the gravity field.

Radiation

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 136
Space is full of background radiation from stars, space stations, manufacturing platforms, and stellar novas from far-off star systems. Starship hulls protect against most of this radiation, as do sealed space suits. However, more massive cosmic events produce intense radiation capable of impacting even heavily fortified vessels.

Radiation is most often adjudicated like a damaging zone (page 135), but instead of dealing damage to the starship, it exposes crew members to radiation as if the ship were hit by a weapon with the irradiate property that lists low (for starship tiers 3 and below), medium (tiers 4–10), high (tiers 11–17), or severe (tiers 18 and up) radiation.

Gamma Ray Burst: These super-luminous events are some of the brightest electromagnetic phenomena known in the universe and often are the result of a high-mass star collapsing into a neutron star or black hole or, less frequently, occur during a nova or supernova. The area is washed in severe radiation for 1 round, followed by an afterglow that can that can last for several hours. Every 10 rounds, the affected space is exposed to radiation that starts at high and degrades to medium and then low radiation over the course of the event.

Solar Flare: A star occasionally experiences a sudden flash of brightness near its surface, followed by a coronal mass ejection that projects a stream of plasma and radiation away from the star. This threat can happen anytime a starship is traveling near a star, but it’s far more common around red dwarfs and other smaller, cooler stars.

Represent this hazard by performing a direct-fire attack against each starship during the gunnery phase every 1d4 rounds, originating from the star. A solar flare typically has an attack bonus equal to 1-1/2 × the PC starship’s tier, deals 1d12 damage per 2 tiers of the starship, and has the irradiate (high) weapon special property. During the helm phase, a science officer can take a crew action to analyze the star with the ship’s sensors (DC = 10 + 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier). If successful, they’re able to predict when the next flare will occur, granting the ship a +5 bonus to AC against the next solar flare attack. If they perform this analysis the same round the flare erupts, the science officer guides the pilot out of the path of the flare, avoiding the attack entirely.

Solar Storm: These eruptions of radioactive waves can cause electric disruptions and electromagnetic interference in nearby space. When a starship is hit by such a storm, the living occupants are exposed to medium or high radiation. These storms typically last 2 to 8 hours and affect a large area, exposing the entire grid to radiation for the duration of starship combat.

Combined Effects

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 136
Some galactic effects combine gravity fields, damaging zones, and radiation, making for very dangerous areas for a starship. However, sometimes the PCs’ goals lie in the heart of such treacherous areas of space!

Neutron Star: The collapsed remains of a giant star can form this ultra-dense body featuring extreme heat, gravity, and radiation. Flying near such a star often exposes a starship to as much as 1d8 damage per round per 2 tiers of the starship from the intense heat, high radiation, and strong gravitational pull. This damage occurs at the end of each helm phase and is divided evenly among the ship’s quadrants.

Pulsar: This neutron star has a very short rotational period (from milliseconds to seconds) and emits ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. Represent this hazard by adding a direct-fire attack every 1d4 rounds from the direction of the pulsar during the gunnery phase. A pulsar’s ultra-high-energy cosmic ray has an attack bonus equal to 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier, has the irradiate (severe) and vortex weapon special properties, and deals 1d12 × 10 damage; this damage increases by 1d12 × 10 per 5 tiers of the starship. During the helm phase, a science officer can take a crew action to analyze the pulsar with the ship’s sensors (DC = 10 + 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier). If successful, they avoid the cosmic ray entirely that round.

Quasar: This is an ultra-luminous active galactic nucleus. The accelerating ring of gas revolves around a supermassive black hole, releasing energy across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including bright visible light. Though beautiful to behold, a quasar is enormously dangerous; it emits high levels of radiation and heat, and its black hole has a strong gravitational pull. If a starship approaches the galaxy’s quasar core, use the rules for a neutron star (page 136) except it deals 10 times as much damage. Note that even the most stalwart ships could not survive this hazard for long.

Other Effects

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 137
The far reaches of the galaxy contain a plethora of additional phenomena and anomalies that can have a variety of effects on starships.

Nebula: This large and diffuse area of gas is generally not hazardous to starships, but depending on the exact nature of the nebula, it can cause any number of adverse effects. Represent a nebula with 10–20 contiguous hexes. These hexes might conceal a ship, forcing gunners to use unreliable sensor information to target a starship inside the nebula, which gives attacks against ships in the nebula a 20% miss chance. Alternatively, corrosive gases might eat away at the starship (as hull-eating bacteria on page 135). Or electrical storms may have erupted inside the nebula after being exposed to the technology of a starship, giving the nebula an attack each round against any starships inside (as solar flare on page 136).

Temporal Rift: Waves of tachyon particles or damage from powerful gravitational forces can leave temporal scars in the fabric of space-time. These areas have unpredictable effects on time and can leave unlucky crews stranded. Mark an area 5 to 10 hexes long that varies from 1 to 3 hexes wide. When a starship begins a phase inside a temporal rift, time shudders and shifts; roll 1d4 for each crew member when they attempt an action. On a roll of a 1, they lose their action for this round. On a 2 or 3, they act normally. On a 4, they can take 10 on their action.

Wormhole: These anomalies are bridges in space-time, linking two different points in space, two different moments in time, or a combination of the two. When a starship flies through a wormhole, its crew often experiences flying through a tunnel in a luminescent nebula. Mark 2 hexes on the grid that are linked to each other; you can choose either or both locations or determine either or both at random. Whenever a starship enters one of these hexes, it immediately enters the wormhole; remove it from the combat grid. On the next round of starship combat during the helm phase, when it is that starship’s turn to move, it first appears in the linked hex with a random facing.

Drift Phenomena

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 137
In addition to the effects listed above, even stranger events can manifest in the Drift. Temporal rifts, wormholes, and proton storms are relatively common occurrences, and large sections of displaced planes often function similarly to asteroids and debris (pages 134–135). Creatures and forces loyal to Triune inhabit the Drift, and their intentions are often unclear; the strange encounters that travelers experience here do little to shed light on the tripartite god’s enigmatic plans.

Paraforan School: When crystalline paraforan fragments (Starfinder Alien Archive 3 76) congregate into a single paraforan in the Drift, they often follow behind starships to consume the energy given off by Drift engines. Sometimes these fragments become overly enthusiastic and slam into a starship while attempting to feed off its latent Drift engine energy. At the beginning of the engineering phase, a paraforan appears in a single hex within 2d4 hexes of a random starship. During the helm phase, the paraforan acts last and moves at a speed of 14 with perfect maneuverability (turn 0) toward the nearest ship with a Drift engine. During the gunnery phase, after all other ships have acted, a paraforan adjacent to a starship can siphon that starship’s Shield Points, reducing that quadrant’s Shield Points by 10.

If a paraforan is targeted by a starship weapon (requiring a gunnery action but no attack roll), or if a starship travels through a hex containing a paraforan, it immediately disperses into paraforan fragments that occupy 3 adjacent hexes. Paraforan fragments can’t deplete a ship’s shields, but they function as a stationary micrometeoroid cloud (page 134) for 1d4 rounds before re-forming into a paraforan.

Planar Energy Nebula: Planar energy nebulae populate the Drift, often dragged in with the displaced pieces of other planes. When a starship enters a planar energy nebula, roll 1d4 to determine the effects. On a 1, the starship is drained of half its shields in a random quadrant. On a 2, a random system gains a critical damage condition. On a 3, the starship is spun around and gains a new facing, determined randomly. On a 4, the starship’s shields are replenished as if an engineer succeeded at a divert action.

Time Eater Ganglion: This enormous colony of time eaters (Alien Archive 3 24) interlocks their tentacles together to form a massive web. The resulting ganglion can be anywhere from 1 to 3 hexes in size and slowly drifts toward the closest starship at a rate of 3 hexes per round at the start of the helm phase. If a starship ever shares a space or ends its movement adjacent to a ganglion, the time eaters attempt to grasp the ship to steal its temporal energy. The starship’s pilot must succeed at a Piloting check (DC = 15 + 1-1/2 × the starship’s tier) to avoid being grasped by the ganglion. If the ganglion grabs the starship, the ship loses all its shields in a random quadrant. If that quadrant’s shields were already depleted, the starship’s speed instead decreases by 2 for 1d4 rounds and the ganglion can move 1 additional hex for the same duration. These effects are cumulative, to a minimum starship speed of 0 and a maximum ganglion speed of 10 hexes, and the duration is refreshed each time a ganglion grabs a starship. A ganglion can be targeted by starship weapons and has an AC and TL of 15. If a ganglion takes a total of 20 damage per hex it occupies, it disperses into individual time eaters, which are generally inconsequential in starship combat.

Designing Starship Encounters

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 138
Starship battles, daring piloting stunts, and fast-paced space chases are iconic elements of science fiction. At the gaming table, such encounters can shake things up by adding variety to combats on foot and encouraging players to work together as part of a team. When starship encounters are done well, they can be memorable experiences that players enjoy retelling months or even years later. The following pages provide tools and advice for creating starship encounters that players will remember long after the last enemy ship has surrendered or been destroyed.

Cinematic Starship Encounters

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 138
Ideally, starship encounters are cinematic and exciting experiences, but a number of potential pitfalls to running starship encounters could undermine this goal. While each starship role is important, some lend themselves better to dramatic description than others. Without your efforts as a GM to keep things engaging, an encounter could easily devolve into a dry, colorless affair of moving ship minis around a hex grid and firing at the enemy until one side is destroyed. When creating starship encounters, consider whether it’s appropriate to add harrowing hazards to shake up the game mechanically, toss in an unexpected noncombat challenge, or add especially detailed descriptions to bring your encounter to life.

Hazards and Terrain in Space

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 138
Starship encounters are sometimes presented as if they take place in an empty void, with only a blank hex grid to note the ships’ positions. Of course, this makes sense in many situations—starship encounters usually take place in space, not in-atmosphere, and vast portions of space are fairly empty, lacking any real terrain features.

However, that doesn’t have to be the case. The advantage of traveling through an infinite universe lies in the fact that while a very large portion it might be generally empty, hazards can show up anywhere, at any time. Adding a hazard of some sort— whether it’s an asteroid field to navigate, a field of hull-eating bacteria to avoid, or a black hole that threatens to pull the PCs’ starship into a void—can add flavor to an encounter and give the PCs something to think about besides the enemy ships.

Adding such a hazard can also add tension to your starship encounters, since it might be difficult to detect these hazards in the vastness of space. Likewise, from a combat perspective, adding a terrain-like feature that changes from round to round, such as a solar flare that periodically pulses with radiation, can provide a more dynamic feel and introduce an additional tactical element. (More details about specific challenges to add to a starship battlefield can be found in Space Hazards, beginning on page 134.)

If incorporated holistically into a starship encounter, such features can make for more dynamic and interesting experiences at the table. Below are some specific ways hazards and terrain-like features can enhance your starship combats.

Environmental Storytelling

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 138
Besides adding a twist to a starship encounter’s mechanical elements, hazards present an opportunity to reveal something about the corner of space where the PCs are fighting. When incorporating a hazard, you as GM should keep in mind why the hazard is there in the game’s world. Adding a hazard that at first glance seems out of place is a great opportunity to inject extra context, depth, and verisimilitude into the game. For a careful GM, aligning your game’s narrative continuity with the hazards that the PCs encounter in starship combat can also open up more opportunities for your players to explore. A great hazard might even inspire the PCs to take the game in a delightfully unanticipated new direction, if you so wish!

For example, perhaps an asteroid recently hit a small moon, destroying it to create an unexpected asteroid belt or debris field the PCs aren’t expecting. Or perhaps a colony ship whose inhabitants were conducting powerful time-bending research imploded, warping the fabric of existence around it. It would certainly catch the PCs off guard to unexpectedly fly into the resulting temporal rift! Figuring out exactly why these hazards came into being can also provide a fun side trek for the players, if you as the GM wish to provide even more hints of adventure seeds here.

Working small setting details into hazards not only provides an explanation for their presence but also makes them more memorable—and it might spur the PCs to investigate further. However, even if the PCs don’t learn the full story of a hazard’s origins, adding a few hints about its backstory can influence the feel of an encounter. If the PCs come across the example temporal rift above, they might occasionally catch glimpses of a ghostly-looking ship that doesn’t show up on their sensors; even if it has no mechanical impact, this can provide a thematic bit of spookiness to the encounter.

Benefiting from Hazards

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 138
Although PCs generally approach a hazard as an obstacle to overcome or avoid, clever players can sometimes use a hazard to their advantage. Unless there’s a compelling reason why enemy ships wouldn’t be affected by a particular hazard— such as a Corpse Fleet ship crewed by undead going through radiation—an area’s hazard affects the opposition just as much as it does the PCs. By using their starship’s sensors to perform a special scan action, the PCs may even be able to learn things about environmental hazards or terrain-like features that are unknown to the enemy.

Perhaps the PCs are about to fight several other ships, and there’s an asteroid field between them. With a special scan action and a successful Computers check, the PCs might identify abandoned ground defenses built into the surfaces of several asteroids. With additional actions and some clever computing, the science officer could potentially hack into these defenses and turn the weaponry against the enemy starships—all while the rest of the crew buy time while fending off the overwhelming foes! No matter the threat, consider ways that the PCs could interact with (or even counteract) hazards they unexpectedly encounter, and encourage creative problem solving.

PCs aren’t the only ones that can use such creative thinking, however—their enemies might do the same. If a hazard has a potential advantage that the PCs are able to learn about through scans or other actions, you should provide hints that this is possible, whether through narrative description or by granting opportunities for skill checks. If the PCs realize their options but choose not to act on any of them, an interesting twist might involve their enemies beating them to the punch and harnessing the power of a hazard against them!

Non-combat Challenges

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 139
Though many of the rules around starship encounters focus on combat, not all starship encounters need to be battles. In open space, the PCs may need to fly through an area dense with the wreckage of other ships, get close enough to a dangerous celestial body to scan it, or follow another vessel without being noticed. In a campaign with a heavy focus on starships, the addition of non-combat challenges can break up the battles and prevent encounters from feeling repetitive.

When creating a non-combat challenge, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, since these encounters don’t need to follow the same mechanical structure as a starship combat, you should reward player creativity. Secondly, even more so than in a starship combat, it’s important to make sure that each PC can contribute to overcoming the challenge, particularly if it’s one that’s likely to take a while to resolve at the table. It’s fine if a simple non-combat challenge requires only a successful skill check or two, but an extended sequence such as shadowing another ship for several days risks losing players’ attention if their PCs are given nothing to do during this time.

In a starship combat, the PCs have defined tasks they can do in their ship roles, and while some non-combat challenges may have similar tasks to fulfill, not all roles will necessarily be accounted for with existing rules. It’s not necessary to have every PC attempt a check at each stage of the challenge, but all players should feel as though they’re helping resolve the encounter. For example, if a player’s character can’t mechanically contribute to solving a problem, but that player suggests a brilliant idea to a task-performing character through roleplaying, you might consider awarding the latter PC with a minor bonus to any required skill checks to reward the former PC’s smart thinking.

Examples of Non-Combat Challenges

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 139
Space contains multitudes of threats that shouldn’t or can’t be fought at all. Consider the following non-combat obstacles to challenge the PCs.

Navigating Debris: The PCs stumble across a field of debris. While it might seem obvious to require Piloting checks to navigate this hazard, you might also place several obstacles in the area that characters other than those flying the ship can help mitigate. For example, a large asteroid fragment might come into view too quickly for the PCs to avoid, so they must shoot it down instead. The science officer could assist the gunner in finding a weak point with a successful scan. Then, the PCs might come face-to-face with a strange energy field. The pilot must attempt a Piloting check to avoid it, but any PC could attempt a Physical Science check to determine some information that helps the starship avoid the worst of the field’s effect. This scenario provides a variety of different checks that could be attempted, empowering PCs with diverse skill sets.

Scanning a Ship Caught in Orbit: The PCs come across a derelict starship whose onboard computers contain information vital to their mission. However, the ship is caught in the orbit of a neutron star. While you might assume that the players will want to fly straight toward the ship, if they have a highly skilled mechanic, advanced supplies on board, and several PCs with strong Engineering and Computers skills, the players might decide to build a drone ship capable of getting close to the starship to scan it. In this scenario, you should reward this creative strategy, since the PCs are using their resources and the destruction of the derelict ship isn’t imminent. You might allow the players to take a few days cooperating to build their drone with a series of successful skill checks, including Engineering, Computers, Physical Science, and the like, depending on the PCs’ strategies. If you allow the PCs to solve challenges in unexpected ways, the group is likely to feel more invested in the solution.

Injecting Excitement

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 140
You as GM can spice up any starship encounter, including one that’s fairly mechanically straightforward, by narrating and describing things in an exciting way. A simple mechanical description of an event in combat gets the necessary information across to the players, but it’s more dramatic to add details that draw them into the action.

Not every action will necessarily need to be described in this fashion—sometimes an attack is relatively simple, session time is running short, or you’ve already come up with 10 imaginative descriptions for particle beam attacks during that combat—but narrating notable events such as critical hits, near-misses, or the final shots that destroy a ship adds energy and dramatic tension to an encounter. It makes a combat feel more cinematic and helps the players better embody their characters. You can also encourage the players to narrate their own actions and describe what they’re doing rather than simply stating what check they want to roll, and also to engage in combat banter with their crewmates and opponents.

Enhanced Gameplay Descriptions

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 140
Using more descriptive language to narrate otherwise routine events during gameplay can help make starship encounters more thrilling. This goes for GMs narrating gameplay as well as players narrating their character’s actions.

For example, say the PCs are battling another starship and are hit with a light plasma torpedo.

A minimal description from the GM might be, “The torpedo hits you for 15 damage. You have only 3 Shield Points remaining on your starboard side, so you take 12 damage to your Hull Points after that.”

But a more exciting description could be “The torpedo strikes your starboard side. Your ship lurches from the shattering impact and takes 12 Hull Points of damage as the torpedo smashes through your starboard shields and strikes the wall of your medical bay, sending the serums and supplies clattering to the floor in the fray.”

Or, if a player decides their captain wants to taunt the enemy gunner, providing a clever highlight for their character, a minimal description might be, “I roll an Intimidate check to taunt the gunner of the enemy ship.”

But a more dynamic description would be “I turn on the comm system and broadcast, ‘You call that a shot? Our pilot has evaded plasma shots close enough to fry an egg on the hull! If that’s all you’ve got, you might as well go home.”

Creating Memorable Villains

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 140
Another way to liven up a starship encounter is to have the PCs interact with a memorable NPC on the opposing side. With ship comms, NPCs and PCs can easily banter back and forth, providing an opportunity for the PCs to get to know their opponents.

In a noncombat encounter, the PCs likely have more time to talk with some of the NPCs on other ships, whether they’re attempting to navigate the same area, racing them in a competition, or guarding their ship as part of a convoy. These conversations can provide PCs who focus on social skills an outlet for making new friends and learning new things, and it may help draw quieter PCs out of their shells, especially if they meet an NPC with a shared interest.

Even during a battle, when communications are likely more limited, giving personality to the NPCs involved gives the combat more weight than shooting down a starship crewed by faceless grunts with whom the PCs never interact. Perhaps the PCs are dueling a gruff military man with a strict sense of honor who won’t break the rules of a duel, even if it means he loses. Or perhaps they have the opportunity to talk to an unusual Devourer cultist who’s more interested in engineering projects than the Devourer’s cause, who the PCs may be able to encourage to join their side instead. Giving an NPC a more fully fleshed-out personality than “enemy pilot” gives more flavor to the encounter, and depending on how things go, could leave the PCs with a new nemesis or unexpected ally.

Alternate Win Conditions

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 141
When the PCs are faced with a starship encounter that could erupt into combat, it’s important to point out that not every such encounter must end traditionally. Even an encounter that starts with combat be resolved in multiple ways, and some encounters may begin with different parameters altogether. GMs who are willing to entertain such possibilities should listen carefully to their players and think creatively about the myriad ways the engagement could end.

In a campaign that’s heavy on starship encounters and combat, it’s particularly important to include many types of interactions to liven things up and make sure that all PCs get a chance to spotlight their abilities. Below are some examples of encounters that could have win conditions other than defeating the enemies in combat.

Avoiding Attack: Sometimes, fighting an enemy is futile; rather than attacking directly, the PCs should evade the enemy so they can live to fight another day. Such encounters can take a variety of forms. Perhaps the PCs are cornered by an overwhelming number of opponents and must cut a path through enemy lines to make their escape. In this scenario, defeating all the opponents isn’t expected or even possible, and the PCs will need to think strategically to determine the best path to get out.

Another example of this type is a stealth mission where the PCs must follow a target starship without being detected, whether to find its destination or to gather information about the ship as a precursor to a more direct assault. This could involve the PCs using special stealth field technology or making use of the environment around them to avoid detection, such as a field of chunky debris that is difficult to scan.

Competition: Even in combat, destruction of the opposing ship doesn’t always need to be the intended outcome. Many types of competitions can also make use of starships. Perhaps the PCs need to win a race, beat their competitors through an obstacle course, or engage in a shooting contest where contestants try to take out other targets rather than each other. Some starship competitions might even involve the competitors remotely piloting drones instead of being on a ship themselves.

A starship duel is another potential nonlethal competition. Although much of a starship duel will be resolved like a typical combat, the participants in a duel generally need to abide by certain rules—such as agreeing on which weapons are permitted or which ship systems are off-limits as targets, like life support—and have a set win condition. These win conditions vary based on the terms of the duel but could include things such as depleting a ship’s shields, reducing a ship to a certain number of Hull Points, or a first strike taking the win.

Like in any context, it’s possible but risky to cheat. Getting caught breaking the rules could result in anything from good-natured dismay to utter disapproval to even lethal retaliation. Even the outwardly lawless Free Captains only abide a certain amount of foul play, whereas breaking a dueling covenant with a proud vesk crew could earn the PCs an enemy for life! This duplicity could spawn an entire new segment of a campaign—one in which the PCs have made serious enemies or must answer for the unintended consequences of their actions.

Protection and Defense: Sometimes the PCs need to focus on defense rather than offense, protecting or attempting to reach a target to prevent it from being harmed. In these cases, there is likely some typical starship combat involved, but destroying the opposition means little if the PCs don’t succeed in their protective duties. These missions could include transporting a wanted target through enemy territory, protecting a more vulnerable ship from raiders, or breaking past an extremely powerful ship in order to defend a vulnerable target elsewhere. The same risky maneuvers that work brilliantly in other starship scenarios might instead prove to be a liability when protecting an objective, so reckless crews might have to change tactics to adapt.

Social Starship Combat: Just as the PCs’ opponents aren’t always going to fight to the death or to the destruction of their ship, the PCs won’t always want to do so, either. In some encounters, the PCs may be able to talk their foes down or trick them into specific actions that will work in their favor. For example, the PCs may wish to challenge an enemy ship to distract its crew from pursuing another goal. Such an encounter might eventually result in combat, but the PCs need to taunt the enemy captain into fighting them. This could include special, encounter-specific actions, such as giving the captain the ability to bait the enemy into taking a particular action (like attacking) with a successful taunt action, or giving the science officer the ability to target the enemy’s systems to prevent them from escaping. When inventing such actions, be flexible with the rules while keeping the PCs’ capabilities in mind.

Another socially-oriented encounter could require the PCs to convince an opposing starship’s crew to surrender without dealing too much damage to the ship—perhaps they need to capture something or someone aboard. This might involve dealing some blows before opening negotiations, or perhaps other encounter-specific actions like a special demand or encourage action by the captain convincing the opponent to surrender.

Strategic Timing: Sometimes, the method PCs use to accomplish a task is less important than the moment at which they do so. The tension of beating the clock, surviving long enough, or timing an attack perfectly can introduce fresh tension into an encounter. Perhaps the PCs face an overwhelming enemy armada—but if they can hold out for a certain number of rounds, reinforcements will arrive to help turn the tide. Conversely, the PCs may need to win an encounter as quickly as possible, with each successive round introducing greater danger via worsening environmental conditions, enemy reinforcements, or a key target escaping. Different still, an encounter might require the PCs to fulfill an objective at a precise moment, like pushing an asteroid into an enemy or firing a missile through a portal before it closes. Despite its dramatic potential, strategic timing is a trope best used sparingly, lest your players become fatigued from the constant pressure.

Starship Adventure Seeds

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 142
With their ability to transport characters nearly anywhere in the galaxy and their need for a multitalented crew, starships are a natural catalyst for adventure. These interstellar vehicles can serve a number of roles for campaigns in space, from providing a method of transportation for planet-hopping heroes, to inspiring villainous research and development, to being the focus of a mystery or heist. The following pages present ideas for GMs looking to create starship-focused adventures, organized by theme.

Secure the Assets

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 142
The following adventure seeds involve the PCs using their starship—or another they’ve acquired—to chase down valuable research, retrieve a stolen luxury ship, or track down a dangerous bioweapon and ensure it’s never used on innocents.

A Looming Bioweapon

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 142
While working in the archives of Healthworks Innovations Inc., a lashunta bioengineer named Fayae discovered a tiny capsule of a virulent disease known as stardust plague. A dangerous communicative disease spread through the air, stardust plague is a potent potential bioweapon and, as such, was contained and all but eradicated in the Pact Worlds centuries ago. As part of this public health initiative, the Pact Council confiscated all vials of the plague for safekeeping—except, apparently, for the one in the Healthworks archives. Upon discovering the capsule in his employers’ archives, Fayae panicked and pocketed it. Days later, high-level Healthworks inspectors discovered that the capsule was missing, along with the bioengineer. They began a quiet search for Fayae and the stolen vial, but months have passed without a lead.

When the engineer steals a starship from the PCs to escape a close call, they are put in a conundrum when they find out Fayae’s identity and his suspected crime. Do the PCs join forces with the authorities trying to track down the lashunta? Or do they acquire a new starship and pursue him on their own, giving them leeway to hear Fayae’s side of the story and sort out the consequences themselves? As the PCs look into why Healthworks Innovations even had the vial in the first place, information emerges that points toward a sinister corporate plot.

The Schematics Hold the Key

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 142
A shirren drive specialist for Hyvonix Industries named Nyshele is on the run. Absalom Station officials believe a dispute involving a new Drift engine prototype has boiled over at Lucent Shipyards in the Burning Archipelago, and the young Nyshele is at its center. A junior member of the company’s prodigious research and development team, Nyshele is rumored to be developing a cleaner, more efficient engine for starship travel into and out of the Drift. Details are spotty, but anonymous sources within Hyvonix claim a breakthrough is coming—one that might very well revolutionize the efficiency of Drift engine technology and earn the company a fortune.

The reason for Nyshele’s disappearance remains unknown— perhaps she’s been threatened, or perhaps she simply decided to keep her work for personal gain. Regardless, Hyvonix officials believe that she has absconded with the digital schematics for the new Drift engine, possibly intending to float the data on the open market or defect to a rival manufacturer. Industry insiders aren’t so sure, however. The shirren engineer—known to be introverted but fiercely opposed to political hostilities in the Pact Worlds—may be trying to keep the game-changing technology out of the hands of those who might misuse it.

Nevertheless, nearly every major manufacturer is allegedly hiring fugitive hunters to retrieve Nyshele and the Drift engine schematics—with Sanjaval Spaceflight Systems offering the largest reward. It’s up to the PCs to find the shirren and her schematics, either to collect a hefty reward or to sell the plans back to Hyvonix or another manufacturer, or even making a deal with the elusive Nyshele herself.

Starship Bandits on the Loose

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 142
Redshift Revolution executives are frantically searching for a speedy ship crew to retrieve some runaway merchandise. Two days ago, a band of goblins scuttled up from the seedy bowels of Absalom Station and commandeered one of the company’s Pleasure Sails, inexplicably avoiding detection as they launched the luxury starship into open space. Station security pursued the craft for almost 30 minutes until its transponder blinked off ship sensors, confusing those tracking the seemingly easy-to-retrieve craft. Some believe the vessel was destroyed, but Redshift insists these thieves are more sophisticated than the average goblin tinkerer.

The company suspects that a more powerful force is at play in this theft, especially because it’s still a mystery how the goblins managed to gain entry to a privately docked vessel. Three guards assigned to watch over the Pleasure Sail in Redshift’s hangars claim they were attacked by at least a dozen of the cackling creatures, but security feeds throughout the sector show nothing of the sort. In fact, the cameras don’t show anything out of the ordinary.

One of the thieves, the guards insisted, carried a crystalline object spitting with wild energy, possibly explaining this anomaly. The company doesn’t know what to make of the situation, and it has brought the PCs in to investigate—through a reward, by calling in favors with connections of the PCs, or other such incentives. Although wild speculation about the reason for the heist abounds—a Veskarium conspiracy, insurance fraud, or a full-fledged goblin uprising, among others—many stationers delight in the idea that the joyriding goblins are simply having the time of their lives.

Solve the Mystery

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 143
The following adventure seeds involve embroiling the PCs in a central mystery that involves starships, whether it’s investigating a monstrous starship-scale creature, tracking down a famous ship from hundreds of years ago, investigating a strange crash, or unraveling a starship-focused pyramid scheme.

Murders Most Foul

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 143
For years, interstellar archaeologists have debated the fate of the body of famed android and Drift explorer Aleksana Guryari. Some believe that her body never underwent the renewal process, while others believe that it is still in use with a new soul today. Two androids have recently come forth claiming to inhabit the former body of the famous pilot, one on Apostae’s Nightarch and one on Absalom Station. When both androids are murdered within a few days of each other, their bodies dismembered to prevent renewal, the public outcry to find the culprit is intense. The Pact Council offers a large reward to anyone who can gather information about the suspicious circumstances, and the PCs have their own reasons to want to find the killer—or killers. If the culprit is a lone murderer with a motive, the PCs may have to immerse themselves in the seedy underbelly of anti-android hate groups. If a government conspiracy is to blame, those seeking the truth might find themselves accused as scapegoats. Answers may be hidden on the remains of the Chaos Wyrm, Guryari’s original starship, though locating it could prove even more difficult than finding the androids’ killer.

The Swallowed Starship and an Alien Horror

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 143
Spacefaring vessels passing by the Riven Shroud in Near Space have observed a ghoulish form lurking among the wreckage. Witnesses describe a mysterious-looking ship that’s been invariably described as alien. Estimates indicate the vessel is a behemoth, with a hulking skeletal frame and long, tendril-like phalanges that sweep behind the posterior vents. No visible thrusters can be seen, but the ship appears very much operational—moving under its own power, with a brilliant blue light pulsing beneath its hull. Speculation abounds. Is this ship an automated defense drone for the Shroud? A long-dormant entity suddenly awakened? Or something else?

Efforts to communicate with the ship have proven fruitless, save one: the Eoxian destroyer Venophage moved into the phantom’s path and was engulfed—and presumably vaporized—by a wave of blinding magical energy. Whispers of a shakeup on Eox are now spreading, as the heir of an influential bone sage was rumored to be aboard the Venophage, which transmitted one last broadcast into open space before it was swallowed whole. The Eternal Convocation also claims to be receiving strange transmissions from inside the Riven Shroud’s central star, fueling hope that the Venophage and its crew could be rescued. Days ago, Eoxian agents issued a lucrative open contract to any starship willing to investigate and, if possible, confront the mysterious alien craft. Between this reward and the PCs’ personal ties to Eox—or their need to learn more about the Riven Shroud—this is a prime mystery for them to solve.

A Starship without a Crew

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 143
When a starship called the Nomaren crashes into a wealthy section of Absalom Station, a preliminary investigation finds no one on board. The team who once piloted the starship has gone missing, and all communications with them ceased near Aucturn. The PCs get involved as investigators working on behalf of the Pact Council or the Starfinder Society, and they must launch a mission to travel to Aucturn and find the missing crew or, at the very least, clues about what might have happened on the starship between Aucturn and Absalom Station.

When they arrive on Aucturn, it becomes clear to the PCs that cultists tied to the Dominion of the Black do not want their investigation to continue. The PCs must outsmart the cultists and find out what happened to the Nomaren on a planet where human experimentation, genetic manipulation, and twisted games played for sport are the norm.

A Tangled Pyramid Scheme

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 144
Ten years ago, a young ysoki named Vrabel had an idea: designing proprietary starship modifications and selling them to a group of buyers who would then sell to others, over and over again. Soon, Vrabel ended up running an enormous pyramid scheme that spanned the Pact Worlds. Business boomed at first, as he designed modifications that were high-quality and often unique. Over time, however, the quality waned, and in the past year, over a dozen starships with Vrabel’s modifications installed have experienced fatal errors midflight. Representatives from Vrabel’s business—now styled Pinnacle Starship Innovations—blame user error, much to the dismay of those who have lost loved ones. These same representatives have disappeared without a trace, leaving no legal ties back to Vrabel himself and technically absolving the ysoki of blame. When a pushy seller low on the pyramid approaches the PCs, they begin the long climb to the top of the scheme in search of the original seller. Along the way, the PCs discover that the corruption runs deep, with devout worshippers of Lao Shu Po all clamoring to sell and connive and even more unscrupulous characters involved than they could have ever anticipated.

Take the Job

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 144
Sometimes, money and fame are the best motivations. The following adventure seeds involve the PCs taking lucrative jobs to stop an immoral scientist’s experimentations, freeing hostages from a dangerous cult, or quietly tracking down an illegal fleet of racing starships.

The Case of the Missing Racing Ships

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 144
Though starship drag racing is a nuisance to the Pact Worlds, authorities often overlook it in favor of investigating more serious crimes. When a gang’s fleet of racing starships goes missing on Absalom Station, law enforcement is happy to call it a total loss and close the case. One of the gang leaders is convinced that the disappearance was planned, however, and hires the PCs to look into it further—discreetly, of course. The PCs are tasked with going undercover as drag racers, but they find themselves in over their heads when they learn that the dangers of these starship races go well beyond what they bargained for. This new world is essentially a brutal professional sport, with harsh rules and terrible consequences when those rules are broken. Who stole the starships, and what has happened to them? Was it revenge enacted by a rival racing gang? Or is it all an elaborate ruse in order to trap the PCs in a compromising position?

Free the Cult’s Hostages

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 144
A Vercite Drift Cruiser transporting wealthy sightseers to Bretheda has been hijacked. Members of the Cult of the Devourer have taken credit for the attack, calling for corporate ransoms and the immediate release of several cultists imprisoned throughout the Pact Worlds. The hijackers’ leader, a ryphorian calling herself Vash, has also declared war on the “rampant commercialism” that the cult believes corrupts the natural chaos lurking inside individuals, chaining them forever to a societal construct. If the cultists’ demands are not met, the hijackers have threatened to detonate the vessel in Bretheda’s volatile helium-hydrogen atmosphere.

Aside from a wealthy human palladium magnate from Castrovel named Reece Jorenby and his tiefling paramour Rylah Zee, the exact identity and number of hostages aboard are unknown. Efforts to pinpoint the Drift Cruiser’s location have been unsuccessful. Vercite officials also suspect a lashunta former Steward aided in the takeover of the ship. The Pact Council has pledged a strike team of Stewards to storm the vessel and neutralize the hijackers, but a swift recon crew is needed to make initial contact and help pinpoint its position (rumored to be somewhere in the Diaspora at present). However, several corporations with ties to the known hostages are refusing to meet ransom demands, instead banding together to hire the PCs (for a ludicrous amount of money) to retrieve the vessel and hostages.

Stop the Rogue Scientist

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 144
Dr. Juvarn, a discredited osharu scientist, has reportedly gone into exile somewhere in the desert wastes of Akiton. Long accused of conducting prohibited genetic experiments (though he has always claimed innocence), Juvarn managed to escape justice by accepting early retirement from his employer, the multiplanetary corporation Zenith Solutions. Over the past two months, however, several residents near Hivemarket on Akiton have gone missing or died under mysterious circumstances. Others report that the native ikeshti have begun to behave strangely, feasting on dead flora and babbling like children. Even more unsettling, Eoxian Cairncarvers have taken to patrolling the Kaviri Plains, forming a tight blockade southeast of the Edaio Rift.

Akitonian representatives are pleading with the Pact Council to intervene, but word around Absalom Station is that available resources are spread thin and these disparate reports have yet to rise to the government’s attention. The peacekeeping Stewards, however, believe Dr. Juvarn might be developing a new xenobiological weapon for the Corpse Fleet and have secretly offered compensation to any starship crew able to skirt the no-fly zone and apprehend the fugitive for “procedural questioning.” A lucrative contract, sweetened with several bounties on Juvarn’s head, has just become available, and the PCs stand to gain much from accepting it.

Travel Into The Unknown

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 144
The following adventure seeds revolve around the PCs boldly flying their starship into unknown territory, whether in search of knowledge lost to the Gap or to perform a daring rescue mission.

One Final Plea for Help

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 145
Starships throughout the Pact Worlds system have received a strange message of distress from the Shamadis, a stranded Kevolari explorer floating somewhere between systems in Near Space. A recorded message from the vesk captain reports his vessel suffered a catastrophic power failure of unknown cause, endangering five lashunta scholars who had paid for safe passage to what they claimed was a research site at a classified location. The Shamadis has now disabled onboard comms, probably in hopes of conserving available power for life support. What appears to be a simple rescue operation, however, is anything but. Signal data eventually pinpoints the location of the stranded craft—a Venture-class explorer with ample cargo bays—near the shattered island cluster of Orry. Suspecting that the ship’s true purpose was a salvage mission—and no doubt dreaming of a bounty of ancient technomagical artifacts stowed inside—several dozen pirate convoys, smugglers, and other opportunists have mobilized and are preparing to jump to the Shamadis’s position. The PCs each have a personal reason to care about the Shamadis and its crew—whether it’s a personal tie to one of the researchers, an investment in the vessel’s mission, or a suspicion of a deep conspiracy at hand—and it’s up to them to rescue the ship, protect its crew and the researchers, and get some answers.

A Signal from the Dark

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 145
Researchers in the employ of AbadarCorp recently discovered a faint, pulsing signal emanating far beyond the Pact Worlds system, deep in the Vast. Initially, researchers thought it to be a remnant broadcast long since silenced. But they soon discovered that not only is the signal still pulsing, its source is a low-frequency channel signature from an old Equoi-class cruiser—a group of early Drift-enabled ships used only briefly in the years immediately following the gift of Drift engine technology from Triune. A review of starship records revealed a likely candidate for the lost cruiser: a ship named the Durodal. Retrofitted with a rudimentary Drift engine, the Durodal had seemingly attempted to jump to a newly discovered adjacent star system, but never arrived. Records indicate no known final location for this long-lost ship, and the fate of the crew likewise remains a mystery.

Given the ship’s age, it could have operated during the Gap, and thus it could contain secrets lost to time, along with answers about the final fates of the crew. As such, Starfinder Society archaeologists are clamoring to secure funding for a recovery expedition. So far, the usual benefactors are unwilling to help retrieve the lost ship, pointing to the remoteness of the signal’s origin and the lack of substantiated evidence about the potential value of its cargo. Some Society agents believe that a larger conspiracy to cover up the Durodal’s clandestine agenda is at play, whereas others worry that signs of mystic radiation detected near the signal origin could mean that supernatural interference is afoot. Either way, it would be wise to take every precaution possible before exploring this mystery.

Starship Campaign Arcs

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 146
While starships naturally appear in most Starfinder campaigns, they sometimes fade into the background and become simply a way to get from Absalom Station to the adventure locale. But starships can provide their own settings for adventure and inspire plot points. They can even—in the case of a ship with an AI—serve as friendly NPCs. Integrating starship action with more traditional encounters adds a new dimension to a campaign and gives PCs the opportunity to show off skills and abilities they otherwise rarely get a chance to use.

If you’re a GM creating a starship-focused campaign, discuss this emphasis with your players early, so they can create characters who are well suited for it. Most starship roles rely on a single skill, and if the players spread these skills out among their characters, they’ll quickly be able to master starship encounters. The wide variety of starship roles means that any character concept should be able to take part, whether as a clever mechanic repairing the engines, a soldier seated in the gun turret, or a mystic magic officer. A greater focus on starship encounters, however, means that characters who specialize in their starship role have more opportunity to use those skills than they would in a typical campaign. Your starship-focused campaign could have a grand story arc, similar to those found in Starfinder Adventure Paths, but because you’re designing the game for the players at your table, you also have the opportunity to use a more sandbox-style structure that allows the PCs to go where they wish. These adventures may be more episodic, not unlike a series of Starfinder Society Scenarios but guided by the PCs themselves, who decide where they want to go and what they want to do.

Starship combat might appear only once every few sessions in a traditional Starfinder campaign, but if you’re running a starship-focused game, your PCs may have an even mix of starship and traditional encounters. But combat is just one flavor of starship encounter. Perhaps the PCs need to scan an enemy vessel without being detected; perhaps they’re in a competition, navigating their ships through an obstacle course; or perhaps they’re lost in the Vast and must get through a dangerous asteroid field. They might earn money by salvaging starship wreckage, winning starship races (after covertly betting on them), or tracking down starship schematics and technology from across the galaxy to build their own ships. Just as in traditional campaigns, using a variety of encounter types keeps the players engaged. Even in a starship-focused campaign, it’s important to have other things for the PCs to do. Provide a mix of starship encounters along with reasons for the PCs to disembark and have encounters face-to-face, allowing them to enjoy starship action while still using all their class abilities. After all, the PCs are still heroes when not aboard their starship!

The campaign outlines below provide you with campaign structures that you can customize for your own player group. Each gives a general premise, with additional sections dedicated to low-level (levels 1–5), mid-level (levels 6–11), and high-level (levels 12+) adventures. These outlines don’t detail specific encounters as a Starfinder Adventure Path would, but they do offer suggestions for encounters of your own design that fit the premise. There are many suggestions for specific foes, organizations, or locations, but you should feel comfortable replacing any of these with whatever suits your game and group. And although these outlines sketch out a full campaign, you can also adapt any element of them into a standalone adventure or side quest in your existing campaign.

Down On Their Luck

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 146
Space is vast, its frontiers are ever expanding, and there’s plenty of business and fortune to be found among the stars... or at least, there would be, if an oppressive organization—whether corporate or governmental—weren’t trampling all over your ambitious, entrepreneurial, and morally ambiguous player characters. In this campaign, the PCs have each been slighted by a society, government, or other organization that has stolen their livelihood, crushed their dreams, and caused the heroes to lose their homes and families. Perhaps the Veskarium colonized their home planet, or a corporation has established a monopoly that drove the family business bankrupt. It’s hard for the PCs to find hope when they’ve lost all they had to the oppressive control of a system so much greater than themselves, but they’ve got a ship and a ragtag crew, so it’s time to keep flying and—just maybe—find a new fortune.

Another Day, Another Problem

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 146
When they’re starting out, the PCs really need to feel hardship. Their ship may have been good in its day, but now it’s barely flying. It needs a lot of work, and the PCs need funds soon— especially if they want to eat next week. The group includes PCs with a disparate mix of personalities and values forced together by economic and social pressures, but if everyone can learn to tolerate their strange crewmates, there’s a promise of both riches and security.

The PCs spend their first few missions taking on various jobs—simple endeavors to get them started, like transporting cargo or desperate passengers, acting as guides or bodyguards, or procuring and delivering a difficult-to-acquire item. But taking jobs indiscriminately can get the PCs into trouble. Some of their jobs have unintended consequences: their desperate passengers are actually fugitives, their cargo is contraband, or the item to be procured needs to be stolen from its current owner. The PCs may be aware of these wrinkles before taking the job, allowing them to debate if the reward is worth the risk, but the revelation of additional danger can also come in the middle of their mission, raising the stakes. The PCs, intentionally or accidentally, find themselves on the shady side of the law and on the radar of governments and corporations who’ve oppressed them in the past. Over time the PCs figure out how their team functions; as they set up their new lives and pursue their fortunes, they struggle with inadequate equipment and question their morality.

At a Crossroads

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 147
With money flowing and opportunities to improve their ship and gear, the PCs have established themselves as a reliable, multi-skilled crew capable of handling challenging jobs. Their previous actions have earned them a reputation, good or bad, and that reputation precedes them; more prominent clients seek them out, and their services are in greater demand.

The PCs’ latest job is exceptionally shady, but also promises to be very rewarding. This may be a simple escort mission with an excessive reward or a mercenary gig that pits the PCs against defenseless combatants. Regardless, the PCs realize they’ve been asked to do something immoral, unethical, or simply wrong. Perhaps they’ve been hired to traffic in sapient beings or squash a rebellion with which the PCs are sympathetic. This job challenges the PCs to choose a side: their morality or material wealth. If the PCs abandon the job or actively sabotage it, they’re regularly challenged to uphold this decision, damaging their reputation and costing them additional work. They also make an enemy of their former employer. But if the PCs carry out this controversial job at the expense of their moral sensibilities, the resulting wealth comes at great personal cost. Important NPCs walk away from the crew, refusing to associate with such mercenaries; something precious to the PCs is stolen (perhaps even their ship); or their patrons turn on them after the job is completed. Naturally, their employers insist this betrayal isn’t personal— it’s just good business.

A Jaded Affront

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 147
Eventually, enough is enough. The personal losses the PCs have faced and the horrors that they’ve endured make it clear that they will never truly be safe, secure, and prosperous until they confront the forces that have plagued their lives. The PCs are an experienced crew now, and together they have what it takes to succeed where they unfortunately failed before.

In a previous job, the PCs attracted the attention of an authority figure in their nemesis organization. This individual may have hired them in the past or may be an antagonist who came after the heroes when they sabotaged a job for ethical reasons. Now the PCs can investigate this individual, turning up evidence of extensive corruption and crime. These crimes have a personal connection to one or more PCs, a connection no one knew about until now. For example, the rotten rations that sickened a whole colony world and cost a PC their family could be revealed to have been mass-produced by the same corporation the PCs have been running from, and the signature on the bottom of the form is that of the same person the PCs already hate.

Up until now, the PCs have been merchants first and warriors second, but all that changes. They take on a new, more difficult, kind of job with lucrative payouts so they can outfit their ship to become a weapon of war. But simply killing this nemesis individual won’t do the job—that person will simply be replaced by another tool of the bureaucracy. Instead, the PCs need to amass enough evidence to delegitimize the organization itself. This requires subtlety and subterfuge as the PCs sabotage the career of the individual who’s become their nemesis, recruit allies within the organization itself, and gather evidence they can use to expose the organization’s nefarious deeds to the galaxy at large. The campaign might end with the PCs achieving a final victory over the organization that has tried to keep them down and out for so long—or it might continue, with a new organization filling the power vacuum resulting from the PCs’ victory.

The Infiltration Race

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 147
The PCs begin this campaign as rookie starship pilots in a popular Pact Worlds racing circuit that includes Skydock on Verces, Arl on the planet Akiton, and Triaxus’s city of Zo. These in-atmosphere races use single-pilot racing fighters made by Redshift Revolution, Terminator, and other specialized firms. As the PCs strive to build their reputation as rising stars, they’re contacted by a mysterious person claiming to represent an unnamed corporate interest. This contact tells them of a terrorist plot to destroy a notable landmark, such as the space elevator on Verces. The attack could injure or kill thousands. Clues indicate prominent members of the local racing scene are involved in the plot, and the mysterious contact asks the PCs to assist in the investigation by monitoring (spying on) the competitors.

Fire Your Engines

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 147
To gain access to the exclusive racing circles where the suspects can be found, the PCs must gain a higher profile— and that means winning races. These races use the chase rules for starships (page 44) or vehicles (Core Rulebook 282), and they include team relay races that provide an opportunity for the PCs to work together. As they win more acclaim, the PCs gain the trust of high-profile racers. They discover that the terrorist group has indeed infiltrated the racing scene as a means of getting close to the landmark—which lies along the course of the Pact Worlds’ Championship, a race to be held in several months.

Clues suggest the ringleader of this terrorist cell is the Pact Worlds’ top-ranking racer. The PCs must survive a race that turns deadly as the terrorist cell seeks to take them out, then confront the champion either during the race or soon afterward. The champion, it turns out, is part of a fanatical sect of a neutral faith, such as that of Eloritu, Ibra, or Triune, that believes the targeted landmark must be destroyed to avert a terrible fate for the entire planet—or perhaps all of the Pact Worlds. Their information, however, does not specify the nature of this threat.

The Grand Prix

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 148
The PCs have eliminated one cell of the sect, but many more members remain. The PCs deduce that the terrorist base is located in the Drift, near a relay beacon along the course of the planet’s Grand Prix, a preliminary race for the Pact Worlds’ Championship. The exact course of the race is a secret, so the PCs must qualify in order to find the base. The qualifying races could involve single-pilot racers or larger starships that require the PCs to cooperate as a single crew. At the same time, the PCs discover their contact is more than they appear: a state intelligence agency, a rival corporation seeking sabotage, or some other group with a hidden agenda that doesn’t necessarily alienate the PCs.

Once the PCs qualify for the Grand Prix, they can compete in this multi-day marathon race. The course jumps between relay beacons in the Drift, so it involves larger, Drift-capable starships with racers operating as teams. During the race, the PCs contend with strange Drift creatures and hazards as well as other competitors—some of whom are members of the terrorist sect. They need to do well enough in the race to qualify for the Pact Worlds’ Championship while tracking down the base, but they don’t necessarily need to win. When they find the base, they confront the terrorist presence there and learn that the sect believes the landmark was constructed as a beacon for a nefarious cosmic threat, such as the cult of Nyarlathotep or the Dominion of the Black—a beacon that will soon activate and summon a massive invasion force. The sect plans to destroy the landmark during the Pact Worlds’ Championship, but the leader of the sect—a mystic of their deity—is nowhere to be found.

The Championship

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 148
The PCs’ alarming discovery encourages them to protect the landmark during the Pact Worlds’ Championship. Law enforcement and race officials refuse to listen to warnings and assure the PCs that security is airtight, forcing them to take matters into their own hands. The terrorist sect, however, attempts to keep the PCs out of the race, trying to get them disqualified through false accusations, sabotage of their starship, and even attempts on their lives. The secrets kept hidden by the PCs’ contact cause additional complications, entangling them with a rival intelligence agency or corporation.

For the championship, the PCs split up into multiple single-pilot ships again, but the terrorists do everything they can to take the PCs out, even attacking them directly during the race. (This is an opportunity to use the squadron combat rules starting on page 54.) The PCs may confront the sect’s leader in starship combat during the race, or they may need to pursue the leader to the landmark and confront them on foot. However, the sect was right about the landmark serving as a beacon; after the PCs defeat the terrorists, they must contend with the vanguard invasion force the beacon has signaled. The PCs must defeat these starship-scale creatures and the monstrous being they protect, then deactivate the beacon before the rest of the invasion comes through. This victory saves the Pact Worlds from invasion, but if you want to continue the campaign further, the PCs could reverse engineer the beacon signal to counterattack the cosmic threat in its home domain.

Invasion!

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 148
In this campaign, the PCs are a starship crew from various Pact Worlds—but the story is set during the 5-year period between the Veskarian attack at the Battle of Aledra in 36 ag and the signing of the Absalom Pact in 41 ag. Without a treaty that unites them, the Pact Worlds are scattered and in disarray. It’s up to the PCs to lead the fight against the Veskarium—first as ragtag refugees, then as seasoned veterans, and eventually commanding the flagship of a Pact Worlds fleet.

A Thousand Fronts

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 148
The campaign begins with the Veskarian invasion, culminating in a landing on Triaxus and the Battle of Aledra. The PCs come from worlds throughout the system and serve as crew on several different starships. Each of these ships is caught in the Veskarian attack, with the PCs crashing on Triaxus in escape pods. There they meet each other, fend off local wildlife and Veskarium troops, and salvage a wrecked starship. Once they get it working, they arrive at the Battle of Aledra in time to lead a counterattack that brings temporary peace to the planet.

But now there’s a war on, and every ship is pressed into service. The PCs might be drafted, but after losing everything to the Veskarium they’re likely volunteers. What’s notable about their ship and crew is its diversity; most other ships defending the system are crewed by citizens of a single planet. Bretheda, Absalom Station, and the rest each have their own fleets, but no single planet or organization is calling the shots. There are interplanetary organizations like the Knights of Golarion, but there’s no structure within which they can work. It’s every world for itself.

The early phase of this campaign highlights the chaos of war; the Veskarium enjoys early success and the future Pact Worlds are left reeling. Competing interests among the factions make cooperation difficult and unreliable. When Veskarian forces cut off an Eox fleet, for example, other worlds refuse to help. Even noble organizations like the Stewards refuse to send help when it means exposing their home world to Veskarian attacks. There’s no one telling the PCs what to do—even if there should be. Instead, they’re left on their own to intercept invasion plans, scout hidden bases, and conduct guerrilla actions that deprive the Veskarium of vital resources. As the PCs travel from one world to another, they forge alliances among many cultures, put aside the demands of their home worlds in order to focus on the larger threat, and inspire other locals to organize. When the PCs encounter Veskarian warships, one of them is led by a vesk captain who becomes a recurring nemesis; the PCs get a chance to capture this captain in a rematch that forms the climax for this phase of the campaign.

A New Uniform

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 149
The PCs’ example leads to the creation of a war council staffed by admirals and generals from throughout the system. Some of these individuals represent planetary military forces, but others are civilian or ad-hoc groups—Free Captains and Golden League families share the table with Stewards and Hellknights. They elect a chairperson, but that individual has little authority and can’t keep meetings from breaking out into arguments or even physical violence. The war council can, however, begin to organize a coordinated defense. A small system-wide fleet is formed, and the PCs are asked to join. The tone of the campaign shifts. The PCs are no longer operating independently, striking the Veskarium wherever they can before fleeing. Instead, they’re part of a larger force; when they’re outnumbered, reinforcements appear, and when their allies are ambushed, the PCs are sent to aid them. The PCs cooperate with other captains in small groups of two or three ships, guarding supply convoys, protecting civilian settlements, and leading counterattacks on Veskarian bases and squadrons. Planetside, they assist civilian leaders, train local forces, and construct physical defenses. But the PCs have made enemies and rivals in the war council. These political enemies have their own ideas about how to stop the Veskarium, and they see the PCs as the chief obstacle to these plans. When a major Veskarium operation forces everyone to retreat towards Aballon, these political enemies assign the PCs to be rear guard. It’s a suicide mission, buying time for the allied navies to fall back and regroup. The PCs, however, are more resourceful than anyone expects, and captains they’ve befriended arrive to help. Eventually the PCs are cut off and thought dead, but if they can triumph in battle against the Veskarian flagship, they can return as heroes to the allied fleet.

Forging the Pact

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 149
The PCs’ political enemies have been exposed or persuaded by the PCs’ success. They recant their opposition and join the cause of the PCs, who are now leaders in the war. Their new flagship is equipped with technology from throughout the star system: it has Akitonian armor, Aballonian engines, psychic shields from Castrovel, and a cutting-edge Barathu sensor package. People are talking about a pact to kick the invaders out and take the fight to the Veskarium. The PCs lead the allied fleet from Aballon back through the worlds of the system, fighting all the way. They take charge of planetary defenses, lead an assassination mission against a vesk general, rescue a vesk defector, and conduct vital diplomacy with potential pact members.

With information gleaned from vesk prisoners and the high-ranking defector, the stage is now set for a counterattack. Groundwork for this attack involves sneaking into the Veskarium, finding a safe place for counterattacking starships to gather, and recruiting allies among the vesk’s myriad subject populations. Finally, when the counterattack comes, the PCs split up, each taking command of a starship to lead the assault. Back home, the Absalom Pact is being prepared by diplomats and politicians, but everyone is holding their breath—it will take a victory in the Veskarium to convince all the signees to take this final, drastic step. If your campaign continues after the signing of the Absalom Pact, the PCs enter the Silent War (Core Rulebook 428).

Lost In The Vast

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 149
In this campaign, the PCs are far away from the Pact Worlds, and critically, they can’t just hop to the nearest Drift beacon. Some confluence of events has thrown the crew deep into the unknown, and their challenge is getting back. Perhaps an anomaly in the Drift took them off course and destroyed their Drift engines in the process, or maybe sabotage is at work, preventing them from making a speedy return. Exactly how the PCs’ ship is launched into space is left up to the GM, but there are two basic variations: in one, the PCs are far from home but they know the path to get back. The journey may take a very long time, and go through inhospitable environments, but it’s predictable. In the other version of this campaign, faster-than-light travel is essentially random; every time the PCs flip the switch on their Drift engine, their destination is completely unpredictable. Every session has a one-in-a-million shot of returning the PCs home.

Notably, this campaign doesn’t require a central antagonist and could easily focus on the PCs’ survival and exploration; indeed, if the PCs are constantly on the move, they’ll leave behind any enemies that are not physically on the ship with them. The episodic nature of the campaign lends itself to short-term challenges that build up to an overarching struggle to survive. Maintaining the ship and crew, scavenging for resources, and contacting indigenous species both friend and foe allow for a host of novel encounters that the party might face on their odyssey. Of course, you can still introduce an antagonist if that adds to your story, but the central conflict of the campaign is between the PCs and their environment.

Accidents Happen

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 149
Begin the campaign on a familiar world or space station. The Pact Worlds provide a stark contrast for the isolation that the party will experience later on, and this also allows characters to become familiar with each other and important NPCs before their primary focus turns to survival. At the same time, use odd happenings around the ship to foreshadow future events. Tools might go missing, the PCs might experience déjà vu or black out for periods of time, or they may hear voices in strange languages echoing from far away. When the event that maroons the PCs in distant space finally does occur, these details will fuel speculation and aid their investigations into what happened.

After the PCs get lost, a host of immediate dangers need to be addressed. Dramatic skill checks will be needed to keep the ship’s atmosphere from venting, maintain life support, treat serious injuries, and evade immediate threats. By this point, the PCs are working with limited, dwindling supplies and will be eager to explore nearby areas for resources.

At lower levels, NPCs aboard the ship can be both a blessing and a burden to the party. Their skills could be the only thing keeping the crew from oblivion, but these same NPCs could have goals that conflict with those of the PCs. These NPCs may be the only company the PCs have for some time, so they’re an excellent source for interpersonal plotlines. Alternatively, there could be no additional crew; a PC-only crew develops closer ties as they rely on each other and deal with relative isolation. These campaigns focus more on adventure and exploration than interpersonal dramas.

As the PCs conclude this chapter, they dodge immediate dangers and stabilize the ship, restoring basic life support and navigation systems. They are now able to pick a general direction and begin limping toward home or a habitable location. And even if they don’t fully understand what threw them off course, they have enough information to begin an investigation.

Just Another Day in the Vast

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 150
Mid-level PCs have the experience necessary to face the bizarre and unknown elements beyond the ship. Anything the crew encounters in these remote places should be completely unfamiliar, so let your creativity run rampant. Nothing is too strange for the depths of space!

When initial supplies run low, the PCs scout planets, asteroids, and salvageable wrecks to harvest and process suitable materials—but these strange otherworldly devices and substances may have side effects on the ship and crew. These missions offer unique, unusual environments and mini-plots as the PCs negotiate harsh terrain, bizarre flora and fauna, and unknown and mysterious civilizations.

This could be the first contact the denizens of these isolated places have had with citizens of the Pact Worlds— although it’s also intriguing if inhabitants of the Pact Worlds have made contact in the distant past. These societies may be fascinating allies, or they may want to imprison and subjugate the crew. Whether these cultures are a small collective or a vast technological empire, they present a host of intriguing story opportunities for you and your players to explore.

Stories at this level also begin to illuminate the factors that caused the PCs to become lost, enabling the heroes to develop a plan that deals with their situation—though they may not have the power to enact that plan just yet. The PCs acquire this information directly through their travels and interactions with other creatures, as well as through long-term investigation that confirms their growing suspicions. Ultimately, the PCs figure out how to save themselves: discovering how to cross a vast distance far faster than they first thought or repairing their Drift engine so that it no longer sends them to random destinations.

Time Runs Short

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 150
By the time the campaign is entering its final chapters, you can leverage the high-level PCs’ newfound abilities to reveal the information they’ll need to get home. These high-level abilities also enable the party to tie up loose ends and capitalize on clues spread throughout the campaign to discover the means to their return—but the heroes must act quickly. Perhaps there is a rapidly closing portal that they need to reach to get home, or an artifact of great power that a previous contact also wants to acquire.

This campaign offers a chance to do something unusual: finish out the story with a series of high-stakes skill checks instead of a brawl. Take note of each PC’s abilities and include everyone by layering party challenges on top of each other. Not only does this give every character a time to shine, but it builds tension, with every failed check impacting the others. A race against time tests the pilot, while an envoy rallies the NPCs and alien contacts the party has made along the way. Perhaps a cast of old enemies return at the last moment; with the ship careening to its destination, there’s no time for a lengthy fight, but someone has to hop on the guns to buy time. The party is sufficiently powerful that you can introduce time, space, and divinity as story elements without worrying if the PCs are up to the challenge. By layering multiple challenges into the same encounter, the final moments of the campaign become a truly epic conclusion, not focused on winning a fight but just escaping the story alive.

Red Stars At Night

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 151
This campaign opens when the PCs are contacted (individually or as a group) by a member of the Pirate Council. All the PCs have a friendly tie to this pirate lord; they may be relatives, for example, or favored crew members. The pirate lord intends to step down from the Pirate Council but wants to ensure the seat is in capable hands, so they’re taking the unusual step of allowing several groups to audition for the seat. This pirate lord could be Ceris Hightower, the Council’s longest-serving member, or it could be another pirate lord, seeking to check Hightower’s influence. The PCs are one of several groups who have been selected to compete for this honor, and each group is outfitted with a ship and some starting funds. The PCs must distinguish themselves as pirates and fend off their rivals in order to prove themselves worthy of the Pirate Council!

Raise the Skull and Crossbones

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 151
The PCs have little time to celebrate their initial recognition. If they want to get a jump on the other contenders, they need to build up their reputations as pirates. This involves a great deal of starship combat, but you can use the boarding rules (page 40) so that the PCs can plunder a ship for treasure rather than blowing it up. The PCs then need to be careful during starship combat lest they destroy valuable cargo. Depending on the PCs’ inclinations, they could use their piracy to help the oppressed and downtrodden from any given place—literally stealing from the rich and giving to the poor—or they could be out for personal gain.

While the PCs attempt to build their fortunes, however, their rivals are not sitting idle. Other pirate groups, each with their own leaders, goals, and histories, attempt to sabotage the PCs or even attack them directly. The PCs might have to fight some of these groups, but others can be won over, becoming allies and potentially enabling the PCs to start their own fleet.

Repel Boarders

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 151
Before the PCs earn a seat on the Pirate Council, their reputation as skilled pirates draws the attention of an organization that opposes piracy and seeks to crush them. This organization could be the Hellknights, the Stewards, or a splinter sect of AbadarCorp that takes a more proactive antipiracy approach than the church normally does; evil PCs may even be opposed by the Knights of Golarion. Regardless, the group is led by a former Abadaran priest who takes a brutal approach to fighting piracy; this leader doesn’t confront the PCs in person, but instead safely directs their forces from a massive flagship.

While the PCs are tangling with these new foes, they hear news of a legendary ship captained by one of the first pirates to return to the spaceways after the Gap. Rumor has it that this ship, long thought lost in the Drift, has emerged somewhere in the Vast. If the PCs could claim this ship for their own, the council seat would be as good as theirs. Finding the ship won’t be easy, though, especially with their myriad foes hot on their trail. This section of the campaign concludes with a battle over the lost ship; alternatively, the PCs may beat their enemies quickly only to find that the ship, though long adrift, is far from empty.

Broken Rock Under Siege

Source Starship Operations Manual pg. 151
With the recapture of a famous pirate ship, the PCs feel that they’ve earned their seat on the Pirate Council—but trouble is brewing. On their way back to the Pact Worlds, they receive an urgent message from an ally: Broken Rock is blockaded by the enemy organization’s armada, and several of the pirate lords, including their patron, have been captured! As Broken Rock’s location is a closely guarded secret, there must be a traitor among the pirates. This could be a defeated rival of the PCs, or even another pirate lord.

To learn where the pirate lords have been taken, the PCs must track down the traitor and pull the information out of them somehow—or at least find out where or from whom that information can be learned. Either before or after they’ve gained Broken Rock’s location, the PCs then must infiltrate the planet—a prison world such as Daegox 4 in Near Space serves nicely—and free the pirate lords before the complex’s defenses mobilize against them. With the pirate lords rescued, the PCs can at last return to Broken Rock, mobilize their own armada, and make a stand against the enemy fleet. It will likely be a long, tough fight that might require just as much brains as brawn, but once the bulk of the enemy ships are defeated, the PCs can board the enemy flagship and face the priest of Abadar.

This campaign concludes when the PCs’ benefactor steps down and grants the PCs their seat on the Pirate Council— but this also provides the opportunity for more high-level adventure, as the PCs are now pirate lords!