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Chapter 9: Starships / Starship Combat

Designing Starship Encounters

Source Starfinder Core Rulebook pg. 326
From a simple skirmish against pirates to a massive fleet engagement, designing a fun and challenging space combat requires thoughtful planning and careful design on the part of the GM. A crew of PCs can’t simply spend their hard-earned credits to upgrade their starship between encounters as they could with ordinary gear. In addition, often due to the circumstances of the story, the characters might find themselves in a ship that is significantly more or less powerful than their Average Party Level might indicate. The GM needs to take these factors into account when deciding what sort of enemies the PCs will face.


Combat between starships of equal tiers is more evenly matched than a fight between PCs and opponents of an equal CR. Usually, there is only one PC ship in the fight, containing the entire party. This means that if the battle is lost, the PCs might be taken captive or perish. As a result, starship combats where the PCs face off against a ship of equal tier and capability are very difficult. Most encounters should be against ships of a lower tier. Use the following table as a guideline.

DifficultyEnemy Starship Tier
EasyPC starship tier – 3
AveragePC starship tier – 2
ChallengingPC starship tier – 1
HardPC starship tier
EpicPC starship tier + 1

Multiple Ships

If the PCs have more than one starship, use the highest-tier ship’s tier as a base and add 1 to this value for each additional starship within at least 2 tiers of that starship. If none are within 2 tiers, add up the tiers of all the additional starships and add 1 to the base value if the total is equals or exceeds the base starship’s tier. Use this modified value when determining the encounter’s difficulty.

If there are multiple enemy starships, treat every pair of enemy starships of the same tier as a single starship of the pair’s tier + 2 (and every trio as a single starship of the trio’s tier + 3). If there are a number of ships of different tiers, use the formula for multiple PC ships to determine the final difficulty. For example, if the enemy consists of three tier 1 starships, a tier 4 starship, and a tier 7 starship, the final result would be a tier 8 challenge.

Crew Level

Most starship combat encounters are between characters of roughly equal level and skill, regardless of the tier of the starships they are aboard. If there is a large level discrepancy between the combatants, adjust the difficulty of the encounter up or down a tier to compensate. In any case, combats between crews that are more than 4 levels apart should be avoided.

In general, the level and skill ranks of an NPC crew member are equal to the CR of the NPC or the tier of the enemy starship (minimum 1). To determine the skill modifiers of an NPC crew member, first decide whether the NPC has mastered the skill or is simply good at the skill. Usually, one crew member will be a master at one skill; the rest of the crew will have good skills. The skill modifier for a master skill is equal to 9 + 1-1/2 × the NPC’s ranks in the skill. The skill modifier for a good skill is equal to 4 + 1-1/2 × the NPC’s ranks in the skill. Alternatively, you can determine NPC skill ranks and modifiers using the master and good skill modifiers for the combatant array from the monster building rules in the Starfinder Alien Archive. Of course, if you have full stat blocks for the NPC crew members, you should use their actual skill ranks and modifiers.

Experience For Starship Combat

PCs should earn experience points (XP) for defeating enemy ships. To award XP, compare the difficulty of the encounter (see Challenge above) to Table 11–1: Encounter Difficulty on page 390 to find the Challenge Rating equivalent of the encounter. Look up the value of that CR on Table 11–3: Experience Point Awards (also on page 390) to find the party’s XP award for the encounter.

For example, suppose the PCs have an Average Party Level (APL) of 10 and are flying a tier 10 starship. They encounter and defeat a tier 9 enemy starship. As the enemy starship’s tier equals the PCs’ starship’s tier – 1, this was a challenging encounter. Looking at Table 11–1: Encounter Difficulty, a challenging encounter has a CR equivalent of APL + 1, making it a CR 11 encounter. The PCs should earn 12,800 XP total for the encounter.