Review – Starship Operations Manual (Starfinder)

The Starship Operations Manual adds a broad array of starship options to Starfinder, from new customization to new rules options to new manufacturers and their ships, plus guidance for the GM on how to make starships a bigger part of their campaigns.

The flashiest new element, to me, is the new rules options, including squadron and armada combat. Armada combat uses the same framework as standard starship combat but supersizing the scale. Each fleet is run as a single unit, with characters taking on roles like admiral, chief caster, and chief engineer. Squadron combat is more significant, however, because it gives the players the option to each control their own starship (usually with a carrier ship to serve as the standard way of getting from system to system). You can even go Voltron on your enemies with the option to use a Unification Matrix that combines all of the squadron’s ships together. Other options include boarding parties, drop bods, crew locations (for figuring out who gets hurt from that critical hit), atmospheric combat, and starship chases.

Options for starship building include new weapons, armor, systems, and special materials to construct them out of. There are starship melee weapons, electronic countermeasures modules, physical tethers, gravity wells, more mystical options, orbital weapons, teleportation, ablative armor, deflector shields, seven special materials, more options for undead/necromancer crews, pods (of the orbital or boarding variety), ghost drives, colony ships, space stations, and AIs and VIs. There’s also the option to install modules that allow characters to apply their personal class abilities and feats to the starship. For example, using an entropic pool to gain a bonus from damage taken by the ship or kip up to reduce penalties from malfunctioning equipment. There is also the option to deploy a Supercolossal starship, with a new superweapon spinal-mount class.

The new starships provides half-page write-ups for a score of manufacturers, each with a single mechanical benefit, plus over 40 pages of individual starship write-ups. Each gets a full page with an image. They’re sorted by tier, and range from short-range interceptors to supercolossal base ships designed to conquer entire worlds. Most entries are for types of ships, but several – mostly among the biggest ships – are descriptions of individual named ships. In addition, there are a handful of new starship creatures introduced, although these are tucked into the section on running starship campaigns.

Speaking of which, there’s some GM advice in the back. This includes a few pages on non-combat starship hazards, and then escalating levels of advice on designing starship encounters, starship adventures, and starship-focused campaigns.

More than I would have expected, the Starship Operations Manual is a pretty GM-focused book, beyond the obvious guidance on running a starship campaign. The information on non-Drift methods of interstellar travel is designed for NPC ships. The twenty pages of optional starship combat options need to be selected and deployed by the GM (although, of course, if the GM decides that there’s going to be atmospheric combat, the players will need to learn those rules). Those 50 pages of new starships and new starship-scale creatures are the starship equivalent of a bestiary supplement. I think that the main draw for players will be the additional options for starship customization.

I’ve found starship combat to engender mixed reactions among Starfinder players. Some players love it, but some tables will collectively groan when the SFS scenario calls for it. While some other books have added some starship combat options that mitigate some of the less-liked aspects of starship combat (e.g., some character builds not having much of anything to do in combat), as a book entire dedicated to starship matters, the Starship Operations Manual is almost entirely focused on those players who do like starship combat (if you don’t like the length of normal starship combat, you’re unlikely to want to play armada-scale starship combat). There aren’t any new starship roles, although previously-introduced additional roles like the mystic officer get more options. The main option a group might want to try out is the rules for individual fighter-size ships for each member of the party, with a carrier-type ship serving as a home base. This allows everyone to act independently in starship in combat, controlling the movement, attacks, and other actions of their own ship, making starship combat more like ‘normal’ ground-based combat.

Overall, the Starship Operations Manual provides a lot of new and exciting content for groups that are interested in expanding the starship side of their campaign, especially the GMs of those groups. By the nature of the book, however, it doesn’t have the broad “must buy” feel of something like the Character Operations Manual.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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