Iconic Design — A Slice of Humble Exocortex Pie

Welcome to Iconic Design! Where I start your week off right with an exciting character build for the Pathfinder or Starfinder Roleplaying Game! I’m Alexander Augunas, the Everyman Gamer, and I’m here today to tell you folks that I was WRONG about the exocortex mechanic! Wrong, wrong WRONG! If you watch Know Direction: Beyond, you might famously remember our mechanic episode where I go on a massive rant about how poor of an option the exocortex mechanic is. Well, I’ve played in and finished the Dead Suns adventure path since then, and one of our party members was a mechanic. (Butters, the lovable android mechanic whose body is a recycled toaster.) And after over a year of gaming and going from 1st all the way to 12th level, plus all the Starfinder Society and numbers crunching I’ve done in between, and I can definitely say with confidence that I was WRONG about the exocortex mechanic. It is a fun, competitive class that can comes close to matching the soldier standard action to standard action. Wanna see how? Read on!


  • Race: Ysoki.
  • Theme: Roboticist (+1 Int).
  • Ability Scores: Str 9, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 16, Wis 10, Cha 10
  • Feats: Skill Focus: Any (1st; Bonus) Weapon Focus: longarms (1st), Weapon Specialization (3rd; Bonus), Deadly Aim (3rd), Versatile Weapon Focus (5th), Versatile Weapon Specialization (7th), Cleave (9th), Slippery Shooter (11th)
  • Class Features: bypass +3, coordinated assault, custom rig, expert rig, miracle worker 2/day, overload, override, remote hack
    • Artificial Intelligence: exocortex.
    • Exocortex Mods: Advanced Melee Weapons Training (7th), Enhanced Senses (11th)
    • Mechanic Tricks: overcharge (2nd), overclocking (4th), visual data processor (6th), improved overcharge (8th), hyperclocking (10th), invisibility bypass processor (12th)

Playing the Build

While I originally thought that the exocortex mechanic was terrible on paper, after a bit of digging I discovered that you can come pretty close to matching the soldier class advantage for advantage with a well-built mechanic. Now, for this build the most important attributes are Dexterity and Intelligence so while ysoki isn’t necessary, its a pretty easy pick because it offers bonuses to both of the build’s important stats. Elf could also work, but the Con penalty hurts HARD  in Starfinder, but since this build’s melee option doesn’t turn online until Level 7 you could theoretically boost yourself up to a Con 10 and be okay.

Yes. That’s right. I said melee build. Lemme work to it.

Early game this build uses the exocortex mechanic’s free proficiency with longarm weapons to great effect. At 2nd-level, you can use triple ammo to have your weapons deal an extra d6 of damage. This means that you’re only likely to get 6 shots out of your normally 20-shoot laser rifle, but its pretty rare for anything but a boss fight to last more than 6 rounds anyway. Plus you’ll be dealing an average of 8 damage with your laser rifle (compared to the average of 5 damage from a 2nd-level operative’s successful trick attack), so you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Now, you might be curious as to why I picked the Deadly Aim feat for this build. I don’t normally recommend it. As someone who’s played a 12th-level soldier through Dead Suns, there weren’t many opportunities I wish I had Deadly Aim, but that’s largely because my build was designed to get me into melee fast and let me sit there. That works well enough for a soldier, but the exocortex mechanic has one issue—retargeting. The exocortex needs to be retargeted onto anything you want to attack, which means you’re regularly feeding move actions to it that a haste spell (or a haste circuit) can’t circumvent. Deadly Aim is great for those turns where you need to designate a new target; its very niche, but Starfinder feat design thrives in niche situations.

One of the nice things about the overclocking mechanic trick is that it basically adds enough average damage to your roll so that your energy weapon does as much damage as a kinetic weapon of its kind. This means that if you’re a mechanic sticking to energy weapons, you’ll have a slight damage edge over a soldier using the highest-damaging weapons in the game simply because EAC is, on average, 2 lower than KAC. That additional 10% chance to hit adds up over time! If you wanted to edge out the soldier, pick a powered melee weapon that goes against KAC instead, like the buzz blade. In either case your single attacks are going to hit just as hard, just as often. (Note that Deadly Aim is great here too, since overcharge is a standard action. You can’t full attack when using overcharge, so your Deadly Aim allows you to getj ust a little more damage.) Note that its worth mentioning that a soldier will out damage you if you’re going full attack to full attack, especially since the exocortex mechanic doesn’t get any equivalent to soldier’s onslaught. But speaking from experience, the times when multiple attacks during an onslaught hit are rare. For all purposes your hits are going to be more accurate and will deal more damage. Additionally, the mechanic can copy the soldier’s awesome AC with overclocking, which gives an extra +1 insight bonus to AC. Coupled with heavy armor proficiency and only a soldier with the guard style AND the armored advantage gear boost will beat you. (To be honest, your AC could be higher than this if you’re willing to invest in powered armor, but that’s super expensive and it doesn’t scale well in society since the scaling rules don’t seem to be legal there, so I sort of ignored it.)

As a basic summary, if you’re comparing standard attack to standard attack, the exocortex mechanic does more damage. Once you get into full attacks, especially with soldier’s onslaught, the soldier can hedge out ahead, but its really more luck-based at that point. Onslaught isn’t likely to hit high-CR opponents (especially combatants), but a full attack will. Exocortex mechanic makes better use out of the Deadly Aim feat since it can’t always full attack, and exocortex has more skills and more quality of life utility (such as this ability’s ability to see invisibility). The exocortex’s options are also available more generally, as soldiers currently are VERY restricted by weapon time due to a lack of gear boosts options. (Hopefully COM fixes that!)

Overall, this build has really made me reconsider my opinion on the exocortex mechanic. While I still think that the option isn’t as flashy as it could have been, mathematically the exocortex is a sound option that is extremely competitive as a combination skill monkey / death dealer. Don’t expect the exocortex mechanic to be able to cover as many skills as the operative or even the envoy, but as a middle group between the operative’s “high skills” niche and the soldier’s “high combat” niche, the mechanic is a great option that can patch up tons of holes in a party composition. Next time I’ll be doing a Dev Pit on puzzle design in RPGs and after that you can look forward to my “samsaran kineticist” Iconic Design. Thanks for reading and have an awesome week!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder and Starfinder Roleplaying Games, owns Everyman Gaming LLC, and cohosts Know Direction: Beyond with James Ballod and Jefferson “Perram” Thacker. You can keep up with Alex’s exploits on the Know Direction Discord or at his Twitter, @AIJAug.


Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at http://www.everybodygames.net, or support him personally on Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/eversagarpg.

1 Comment

  1. Gitch

    Why did you take the feats Versatile Weapon Specialisation at 7th level and Heavy Armour Proficiency at 9th level?
    The Exocortex provides Heavy Armour Proficiency and Specialisation for Longarnms as part of Combat Tracking.
    Or have I missed an errata?