I was on Know Direction: Beyond last Tuesday and gushed about Starfinders Core Rulebook with Alex and Perram (Check it out here). Seriously, the game is awesome. I enjoy almost everything about it. I only had one gripe which I aired on the show, and it’s about lasers.
My gripe comes from a description of laser weapons from the Starfinder Core Rulebook on page 184 which says the following; “Laser weapons emit highly focused beams of light that deal fire damage. These beams can pass through glass and other transparent physical barriers, dealing damage to such barriers as they pass through. Barriers of energy or magical force block lasers. Invisible creatures don’t take damage from lasers, as the beams pass through them harmlessly. Fog, smoke, and other clouds provide both cover and concealment from laser attacks.” Malarkey! Laser weapons are the only type of ranged firearm that gets rules like this. Projectile firearms don’t have special penalties for shooting into a tornado, and cryo weapons don’t have any penalties for use in hot environments, so why are laser weapons balanced in this way?
Looking at them against other weapons, they’re not significantly more powerful or cheaper for their item level, in fact they use what is likely to be the most common type of energy resistance you’ll face in Starfinder if Pathfinder is any indicator. But what gets me isn’t just that its balance feels gross, but that it seems to ignore what a laser is. A laser is a focused beam of light, light which passes through transparent objects damaging them. How are invisible creatures immune to this? The text even says it passes through them! This ignores the fact that even if a beam of light passes through an invisible medium it would still interact with the medium by making it hot, like a solar beam through a window.
This brings into question how invisibility in Starfinder works. Invisibility in Starfinder is an Illusion spell, which the Starfinder CRB describes on page 334 as “spells deceive the senses or minds of others.” This means that the Invisibility spell, which is probably the easiest way to become invisible, is a spell that tricks your senses but doesn’t cause any physical changes to the subject of the spell. If laser weapons somehow can’t hurt invisible creatures by landing a direct hit and transferring energy it leaves only one answer, your laser is sentient and its perception of reality has been fooled. It also probably hates the dark, dirty holster you keep stowing it in, treat your laser rifle better.
I have a lesser gripe with the lasers ineffectiveness in smoke. Not only do targets get concealment like they would normally from effect like that, but the target ALSO gets the benefit of cover against the laser attack. This makes laser weapons ineffective in dusty places like Akiton, the place you may have seen Shobohads wielding laser rifles on in Pathfinder. Smoke grenades exist in Starfinder and they are cheap, if you ever want to get past laser traps, just throw one down and watch those laser turrets cry themselves back into their hidden sponsons. It seems preposterous that in this science fantasy world that in its first range increment a laser rifle can’t just burn off the small particulate matter in its way. On the plus side, lasers seem a great way to start dust fires from afar, ruining local agrarian economies. (Caution Headphone Users.)
I prefer to be positive when writing about tabletop RPGs, because I do love them something fierce. I’ve played 16 hours of Starfinder so far and have had a blast doing it. This game feels like the real deal and additionally the work being done in Starfinder Society content is fantastic. Don’t let this criticism of one weapon type in 500 pages of rules and campaign setting dissuade your enjoyment from the fantastic game. I just wanted to share my frustration with the community at large. In fact, I had a prototype for this article talking about how light worked, refraction, bending, etc, but I realized that none of that mattered due to the Illusion school that the Invisibility spell belongs to. I plan to home rule this facet of the game once my group finishes up Reign of Winter and I start running Dead Suns. Are there any rules in Starfinder you’re going to home rule? I’m interested on any things that may spice up my groups session.