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Vehicle Encounters

Source Tech Revolution pg. 88
High-speed vehicle chases have long been a staple of cinematic action, and Starfinder brings this adrenaline-pumping tension to your game using the vehicle tactical and chase rules (Core Rulebook 278–286). Even then, there are a few considerations when introducing vehicles into your campaign to maximize these encounters’ excitement and fun while also avoiding a few potential pitfalls.

Vehicles In Tactical Combat

Source Tech Revolution pg. 88
Whether your PCs are facing off against space goblins driving junk dune buggies on Akiton or cybernetic ninjas riding enercycles on the streets of Verces, adding vehicles to a tactical encounter gives another dimension to the action. Vehicles provide secondary targets for the PCs to attack or defend against, such as goblins’ scrapheap ATVs the PCs have to wreck before they can crash into the PCs’ own vehicles and explode. Even more crucially, vehicles represent a big change to speed and action economy, with one creature piloting a vehicle while all of the passengers benefit from the free movement around the battlefield. Vehicles might even be a crucial tool in accessing an environment, such as a hovercar that enables the PCs to chase enemies escaping over the waves.

Choosing the Right Vehicle

Source Tech Revolution pg. 88
The vehicles you choose strongly determine an encounter’s feel. An skirmish with goblins in dune buggies is very different than those same goblins driving through the desert on a huge, heavily armored transport scavenging scrap metal.
Is the tactical combat likely to evolve into a chase, or is it the conclusion of a chase? If either is true, choose vehicles with capabilities similar to your PCs’ vehicles. Evenly matched vehicles keep the tension high, as both parties stand a fair chance of victory. Using a vehicle with a slightly different movement form (wheeled travel compared to hover-based movement, for example) can help you create specific zones to give your PCs the advantage or disadvantage, depending on your needs.
How much cover does the vehicle provide? When a vehicle provides improved cover or total cover, its passengers usually become so difficult to harm that the vehicle itself becomes the only viable target. However, if your NPCs are of lower CR, the massive cover benefits might increase their defenses to competitive levels that keep them in the fight for a few additional rounds. Compare this to a vehicle that provides cover, partial cover, or no cover, which leaves the passengers exposed and invites gunfire between rival crews.
If you don’t see the perfect vehicle in an official resource, try using the vehicle creation rules in this book (page 76) to make your own vehicle for the encounter.

Power Level

Source Tech Revolution pg. 88
Technically, a vehicle doesn’t have a Challenge Rating, and it’s not part of an NPC’s typical gear allowance. So how does one account for a vehicle when building and balancing an encounter? There’s no magical formula, but there are important qualitative considerations. A vehicle might simply grant a creature more mobility without significantly increasing their power, such as how ysoki on motorcycles don’t have greater firepower or defenses, in which case no adjustment is needed. A vehicle that provides substantial cover, passenger space, or mobility options might significantly change the encounter, though, allowing gunners to fire freely from untouchable heights or behind durable barriers. A vehicle might even have potent integrated weapons that could exceed the passengers’ usual gear allotments. In these cases, consider increasing the CR by 1, much as recommended on page 389 of the Core Rulebook.
Don’t overlook the impact vehicles can have on the PCs’ resources. A powerful vehicle might make a fun challenge, but it could also represent a huge boost to wealth if captured. In some cases, stealing such a tank is the encounter’s goal, yet it could easily upset the balance of subsequent encounters. Lower-level vehicles, on the other hand, are unlikely to upset wealth and encounter balance, even if sold.

Chase Combat

Source Tech Revolution pg. 88
Many of the same considerations of vehicle choice and power levels apply to designing chase encounters, with key differences.

Terrain and Obstacles

Source Tech Revolution pg. 88
Because vehicle chases are more abstract than tactical combat, you have the freedom to create and describe any environment you need without depicting it on a map, giving you substantial flexibility. Consider your chase zones’ features and how these might facilitate or complicate maneuvers. An area with lots of small obstacles like rocks, trashcans, or pedestrians might increase the DC of Keep Pace or Speed Up actions. An area with slippery mud or wet pavement might increase the DC of Evade and Slow Down actions. Varying these conditions keeps each zone exciting, especially if those conditions might affect certain vehicles unequally. Shallow pools of acid can melt the tires off a vehicle, but a hover vehicle likely avoids this damage altogether. Smoke-filled air might endanger occupants of a vehicle that doesn’t provide passengers with total cover. The ratio of how many hazards threaten the PCs versus their opponents can tip the encounter’s overall challenge in either side’s favor.
A basic chase is strictly linear, but environments are rarely so simple. Upon departing a zone, a vehicle might have to choose between multiple routes that later intersect and rejoin, providing the participants vital options that enhance engagement. Do the PCs veer onto the highway where their exposed position offsets their ability to speed up, or do they detour into the crowded alleys where they enjoy cover yet must avoid more obstacles? When presenting these choices, be sure the players have enough context to infer how they will impact the experience, otherwise their actions might feel random and unfulfilling.


Source Tech Revolution pg. 89
Because escaping and getting left behind (Core Rulebook 284) are relatively easy in Starfinder, requiring only a two-zone difference, it’s valuable to plan for ways to extend an important chase scene near the encounter’s start and help the PCs succeed near the end. This ensures that the chase doesn’t end prematurely and uneventfully, and it allows the PCs to experience the different environments you’ve created for them.
Extending a chase scene is more art than science, especially since bad die rolls could stymie even the best drivers. If one party is too far ahead, adding complications could slow them down, and removing earlier complications for whichever group is behind could speed them up. Be careful of using too much overt manipulation, however, as a heavy hand can dispel the idea that the chase was ever fair.

Vehicle Campaigns

Source Tech Revolution pg. 89
Including vehicles in a campaign changes up some expectations in adventure design, so be prepared to adapt and embrace these nuances.

Avoiding Encounters

Source Tech Revolution pg. 89
With the right plane or submersible, clever PCs could entirely bypass whole encounters. Rather than penalize them for missing that loot and experience, let the PCs celebrate as they knowingly skip a few threats, then adapt one of the threats to provide a challenge. For example, after the PCs dodge terrestrial predators in their enercopter, they might find some of the enemy patrols have jetpacks that let them take to the air. Occasionally, you might use circumstances that limit the vehicle’s use, such as inclement weather, but be wary hindering the PCs’ vehicle so frequently that it feels contrived. Instead, you can softly limit vehicle use by providing objectives that require the PCs to explore a threat rather than bypass it. Then, give them a way for their vehicle to facilitate the mission, like being able to parachute past some defenses or plan a daring getaway—possible only thanks to their exploration buggy.

Party Vehicles

Source Tech Revolution pg. 89
Vehicles are expensive, and acquiring one that can transport the whole party safely could represent a big share of the PCs’ wealth. If you intend for vehicles to feature prominently in your campaign, you might treat the party’s main vehicle as you would a starship in most campaigns: providing the PCs one for free and allowing upgrades as the PCs gain levels. This lets the PCs get the intended function from the vehicle without its purchase impacting their overall character wealth.