One major difference between Starfinder and both Pathfinder and Pathfinder 2 is how magic works in the setting. In both versions of Pathfinder, a spellcaster’s source of power is usually well defined and that shapes what abilities they get and how they access them. Starfinder, in contrast, is much more inclusive. To some degree the class (Technomancer, Mystic, Witchwarper) shapes what kind of spells that player has access to and the nature of their abilities, though there is certainly overlap, and a Mystic’s connection implies a certain flavor to the character, but the source of their magic is undefined. Not only that, the manner in which they cast is left to the player, other than to say it is noticeable and in most cases, involved enough to provoke an attack of opportunity.
But where does magic in Starfinder come from? Is magic an all pervading animus, like the Force in Star Wars, and the caster simply taps into the power source? Or perhaps it is all a complicated con involving nanites, holograms, mesmerism and no small amount of showmanship to give the effect of magic? After all, as the saying goes “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Or is the character a powerful psychic able to bend and even break the laws of physics through sheer will power alone?
Give this some thought next time you make a spellcaster character or NPC. What is the source of their power and how does that effect the act of casting their spells. A Technomancer or Witchwarper that believes reality is a simulation and they have the hacks to break the rules is going to cast overheat in a much different manner than a mystic who has a planar connection to the plane of Fire that fuels their power. The mechanics are the same, but how you flavor them in game can be the difference between a memorable character and a stack of hit points the players take down in three rounds.
Here are a few examples:
Hurdag the Hungerer is an infamous space pirate ghoul who has raided more than a hundred trade vessels. With each victim he devours he binds their spirits to his will, and he is able to command these souls to produce fantastical results. The tortured spirits hover around him in a semitransparent haze, rushing to do his bidding every time he casts a spell, then returning to circle his undead form.
Vestiel is a forlorn Elf who has spent the last 300 years in meditation, sharping their will to a razor’s edge. With just a moment of concentration they can psychically alter the fabric of reality around them, causing ripples in the fabric of space time itself whenever they assault the minds of their foes or heal the wounds of their allies.
Nebuchadnezzar 99 came off the assembly line able to see the code within the world around them. His android mind is so attuned to the under-code that he can over-right packets of the programming that fuels what others call “reality”. With a flash of their circuitry markings and a gesture they can take over the minds of robots or fire damaging bolts of pure code at their enemies.
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