At some point it’s going to happen. Either the adventure calls for an enemy that is just outside the party’s ability to defeat, has powers or resistances they don’t have the tools to overcome, or luck just turns against them. Having been on both sides of the GM screen for it, I know how heart breaking that defeat can be. For the player, it’s a gut punch to have all they time and emotional investment they’ve put into a character be suddenly negated. For the GM, it feels like a failure to have run a scenario where the story got derailed and quite possibly no one had fun. In short, it sucks for everyone.
So how do you deal with defeat in Starfinder? There are a few things you can do to keep the game going, and if you have a plan in place for the possibility, it’s going to go a lot smoother. Here are a few ideas:
Sounds a lot nicer than ‘we ran away’ but it’s not all that different. In short, if things are going bad enough, the players may make a break for it. The problem here is that different groups have different thresholds, and not every player is going to likely be onboard for the ‘run away’ plan. There are some things you do to get the danger across. If there is an Operative in the party (and there usually is) they have a built in mechanic for finding out what the CR of their foe is in Trick Attack. If after a few rounds the party discovers they are battling something way outside their comfort zone, the smart party is going to make tracks. Another possible approach is to have a few rounds of combat, then let the table know you are changing the nature of the encounter as you switch from combat to a chase mechanic. Adapting chase mechanics from Pf1 is fairly simple, and this allows the party to maintain agency while very clearly communicating that they need to get the hell out of Dodge.
The White Flag
It might be a hard pill to swallow, but if several party members are down then the prospect of surrender over total destruction starts to become more appealing. If the party is facing intelligent foes and the GM can tell things have tipped into TPK territory there is nothing wrong with having the antagonists offer the party the chance to lay down arms. This adds a wrinkle to the game, setting things up for either some kind of prison break scenario or forcing the party into working for the antagonists in some capacity until they can find a way to wriggle free. So long as the GM has a rough plan in their back pocket, there is no reason the story has to end with this defeat.
Death is Only the Beginning
Whatever the reason, sometimes death is inevitable. It doesn’t have to end the story. Souls continue on after the body dies in Starfinder, and magic or technology to raise the dead is a thing. Perhaps the story moves forward some period of time, then the bodies of the heroes are found and they are returned to life. Or once dead they have to fight their way through the afterlife in order to return to the living and continue the battle.
Hopefully these tips will help. The most important thing is to keep an open dialog with your players. If you’ve got plans for how to deal with the party’s failure, and you end up with some fleeing, some dying, and/or even some surrendering, talk to your players and figure out how best to proceed. It might be tempting to run multiple scenarios (the fleeing heroes must recover the bodies of the fallen, while the dead ones have to struggle through the afterlife to return sort of thing) but only do that if you are comfortable running a split party or have a way for the whole table to contribute in both sides of the adventure.
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