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Designing Spells

Step 3: Construct

Source Starfinder Enhanced pg. 114
Before you build a spell, it’s helpful to quickly review the basics of magic and spellcasting in Starfinder. Then, as you construct a spell, step through each item in a spell description (school, range, duration, and so on) and make sure you understand how each statistic works; explanations for these can be found on pages 332–335 of the Core Rulebook. Additional considerations for statistics are as follows.
School: A spell’s school has some limited interactions with certain abilities and items but otherwise isn’t extremely impactful. Deciding on the spell’s school is about choosing what best fits the theme and effect of the spell.
Descriptors: These can have much more of an impact on a spell’s interaction with the game system; see the full list of descriptors on page 269 of the Core Rulebook and choose accordingly. Note that mind-affecting affects will generally be ineffective against constructs, which are a common feature of many Starfinder campaigns, while the force descriptor can help a spell become a powerful tool against incorporeal creatures.
Casting Time: Generally, spells require a standard action. You can increase the power of a spell slightly by making it take longer to cast (which adds the risk of being interrupted by damage) and should generally avoid all but the most minor or situational effects for spells that can be cast more quickly (including as a reaction).
Range and Area: There are several standard ranges and areas; use those that best match your spell in theme and power level. In most cases, even shorter ranges will cover the typical Starfinder battlefield, while the size and shape of a spell’s area are much more impactful on the spell’s power level.
Targets: Generally, spells that target more creatures are more powerful, though you can certainly balance a spell such that its effects are stronger if cast on only one creature versus multiple. You can also potentially limit the types of targets of a spell (beyond the limitations inherent in certain descriptors) to justify a corresponding increase in power level.
Duration: This is another place where it can be particularly important to compare your spell to similar spells, especially in the case of imposing a condition on an enemy or granting a benefit to an ally; the appropriate duration for such effects can vary widely, from a single round to several hours or more.
Saving Throw: Most spells that can harm or hinder an opponent should allow a saving throw for reduced effects (such as half damage, a reduced duration, and so forth). Spells that require the caster to hit with an attack roll generally don’t need a saving throw.
Damage: Spells do approximately 7 damage (or roughly 2d6) per spell level as a baseline, though this can and should be heavily modified based on various considerations. If the spell requires an attack roll or allows a save for half damage (or negation), it should do anywhere from 60% to 90% more damage. If it affects multiple targets (or likely will, in the case of a spell with an area), deals its damage repeatedly, adds burning or a similar condition, or has other utility effects (such as imposing conditions), the spell should do anywhere from 20% to 50% less damage for each of those factors that exists. As ever, finding the closest comparable spell you can (in terms of things like targets, duration, and the like) will go a long way toward establishing balanced final numbers.