Sep 11, 2017

Posted by in RPG, Sci-Fi | 1 Comment

Party roles and Starship combat

Most players only look at the damage output, because that’s a) a lot of fun and b) easy to see. Looking at the pure damage output is one of the reason some character classes in Starfinder got a bad rep on the message board. While all classes can deal damage, some excel in other roles.

In a party there are three main roles:

  • Strikers ( or hammers ): They deal damage
  • Leaders ( or arms ): The help strikers deal damage
  • Controllers ( or anvils ): They make the job for the arms and hammers more easy

I like the arms, hammer and anvils way of describing roles, because it’s very visual. The hammer is what actually strikes against the enemy. The arm increases the damage hammers can do by either giving them more options, actions or damage. The anvil makes the job for the arms and hammers more easy by decreasing the options, actions or defense of the enemies.

You can think of arms as buffing the allies and anvils as debuffing the enemies.


Some pretty hard encounters can be made pretty trivial by good anvils that limit the options of the enemies and lower their defenses. In Pathfinder, a lot of enemies can deal devastating damage if they get their full round attack action. If an anvil manages to deny them their full round attack, say by forcing them to move or by limiting them to a standard action, their damage potential is suddenly very limited. In Starfinder the impact of a full attack is not so extreme anymore but the damage mitigation of a class like the envoy still makes a big difference.

While most damage outputting classes can handle most problems using pure fire power, they need to expand a lot of resources (like stamina, health, weapon charges and resolve points) to do so. That limits the number of encounters they can deal with in short succession, or limits their progression. Getting healing serums, stocking up on batteries, ammunition or one use items like grenades can eat up a lot of the credits they get during an adventure.

Starfinder has a whole subsystem that teaches players about these roles. And that’s Starship Combat.

In starship combat, the different roles are very prominently displayed. The roles are Captain, Engineers, Science Officers, Pilot and Gunners.

The Captain is mainly an arm, giving bonuses to the the other stations. He can also soften the enemy by taunting the enemy and giving the enemy station’s a malus on their checks, making this role a secondary anvil.

The Science Officer is a typical arm, giving the other stations bonuses.

The Gunner is the arm. They deal damage.

The Engineer is an anvil, reducing the damage or the impact of the damage the enemy deals on the ship.

The Pilot role is a bit outside of the system, I’d say it can be considered either an arm (if the idea is to increase damage) or an anvil (if the idea is reduce the potential damage of the enemies).

If you have trouble hitting an enemy, you either need to increase your chances to hit (that would be the arms job) or reducing the defense of the enemy (that would be an anvils job). If you don’t have these options, the fight will take way longer and thus will require more off the group.

If you eat a lot of damage, you need an anvil to reduce the effective damage the enemy deals.

You can read a way better descriptions on these roles and how they apply to Pathfinder in this very readable and educating post on the Paizo messageboards: On building a balanced group: working out just what works and why you may have been doing it all along.

Knowing these rules makes you appreciate the options of the classes in Starfinder a lot more. It also can help you to find your weak spot in the party based on your typical problems.

  1. I love, love, love starship combat in Starfinder. I get a very strong FTL vibe from it. It really makes the party come together and work in much different ways than normal combat. A crew who works well together, fights well together and lives together.

    Great write up as always, enjoy readying your stuff. Keep it coming.

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