Welcome to Guidance, dear readers, and let me preface by saying I absolutely, 100% did NOT intend to write two complain-y style blog posts back to back for my last two offerings. It just sort of happened that way. You see, originally I had sat down to prepare my article for the week about my technomancer, Asai Proudfellow. (His crying face is the image for the title card to highlight that fact.) Asai is my PC in Leo Glass’s Fly Free or Paizo game, and I was (and still am) incredibly hyped to play that character, as well as sit down and actually build him. The problem, however, is that every time I sit down to work on Asai’s build I get immensely frustrated by how unimpactful the technomancer’s array of magic is. I literally sat here for two weeks with this Iconic Design open and just glowered angerly at it. Then three hours before midnight on the evening before the article was sit to publish, it hit me. I shouldn’t spend my evening forcing myself to make a build I had absolutely zero passion.
I should instead write my article about —why— I have absolutely zero passion about the technomancer spell list. Feel free to disagree with me as always, fam, but I’m diving into this face-first!
#1 — Damage Scaling
When you take a look at the technomancer spell list, one thing is immediately made clear. The technomancer is supposed to be the blaster caster; the spellcaster that has tons of awesome, flashy spells that deal damage to enemies. In practice, however, this doesn’t hold true and largely this is due to how spell damage is scaled in Starfinder. If you compare the damage of a given spell to the damage of any heavy weapon, you’ll find that the Starfinder spell does about twice as much damage as a heavy weapon whose item level is equal to the minimum caster level to cast the spell. For example, a laser artillery weapon deals 1d10 fire damage, for an average 5.5 damage, while magic missile deals a maximum of 3d4+4 damage, an average of 11.5. This formula generally holds pace with Starfinder’s weapon design, but this means that spells tend to fall behind their weapon counterparts every time a new spell level is unlocked at minimum, which is sort of a major problem with the balancing metric you’re using is effectively unlimited. Do not try and lie to me and say that you, as a GM, have ever hard-core made your players track their ammunition the way you make casters track their spell slots, because you’ll get really mad when I accuse you of fibbing. Even if you are a literal axiomite and you successfully manage to police your players’ ammunition, ammo doesn’t increase in level for anything except a grenade launcher / grenade arrows, so by high levels nothing is stopping you from basically having unlimited ammunition by Level 5 or so while spellcasters are stuck with extremely limited spells per day.
Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning that the technomancer doesn’t have the highest single-target damaging spells in the game. That honor goes to the mystic’s mind thrust, which is the highest single-target damage in the game. And you might be thinking, “But Alex, it’s fine to give that power to the mystic! Technomancers are much better at Area Attack spells so it all evens out.” Except that’s NOT true. Being better at area damage in a d20 game has NEVER been better than being stronger at single target because of how the Challenge Rating system works. Lower-level enemies are easier to kill without magic, so magic is better when it can be used against big single target enemies because of how limited it is. You don’t want to explode a storm trooper because that storm trooper’s going to miss you and die. You want to explode Darth Vadar, or better yet, Senator Palpatine. But the technomancer, the master of damaging spells, isn’t good at hurling damage at bosses. They excel at wiping out low-CR enemies, and that does not feel good. But this isn’t the full extension of the technomancer’s issues. The technomancer has many, many more of them.
#2 — Number of Spells Known
The technomancer has fewer spells known than the mystic or the witchwarper. All three classes use the exact same Spells Known chart, but mystics get an extra spell at every level from their connections and witchwarpers get Infinite Worlds; while Infinite Worlds isn’t technically a spell and is kind of awful until you can cast 3rd-level spells, technomancers literally just get what the chart says they get. Which is probably for the best, if I’m honest, because truthfully….
#3 — Most Technomancer Spells are Hyperspecialized to Near Uselessness
Technomancers have like five different “junkbot” spells that each do a slightly different thing. They have like five different spells for scanning their environment, a bunch of different spells for hacking, spells like life bubble that replicate things mundane tech can already do, and plenty of other spells that simply don’t do much of anything useful. It’s a great example of one of the technomancer class’s biggest weaknesses—it’s theme governs the class so heavily that it can’t really do anything cool or fun outside of it. I think there’s a problem when everyone picks the same three or four spells (flight / haste / dimension door) because all the other spells just aren’t versatile enough to see mainstay use.
#4 — Technomancer Spells Have Planned Obsolescence
This isn’t so much a problem with technomancer spells as it is Starfinder spells as a whole. Because of how saving throw DCs scale and the fact that spells in Starfinder (unlike those in PF1) do not scale their effects at all save for some very specific examples, all technomancer spells are doomed to become obsolete after two or three spell levels. At that point, you’re better off swapping your combat spells for some of that hyperspecialized utility that you’ll never use because saving throws don’t scale, so neat spells that you got as 1st-level spells but aren’t variable level spells just disappear into the void, never to be used again. A great example of a spell that would be good at every single spell level if saving throw DC math didn’t scale it into oblivion is incompetence, which causes a target to lose its proficiency with a specific kind of weapon of your choice. A -4 penalty is always useful, but after Level 7 or so nothing will ever fail its saving throw against a 1st-level spell.
Technomancer hits a ton of snags and missteps in design that the mystic just doesn’t stumble into, and the spell selection is probably it’s most glaring area. To me, the technomancer is a case study in how design can be numerically correct, but not satisfying to play. Ultimately it doesn’t feel good to essentially have your primary class feature constantly rendering itself into obsolesce; you have to constantly cycle your combat spells into the latest, greatest options while relegating old options into niche choices you might sometimes use. And honestly, I feel like the technomancer class admits that it has this problem by virtue of having a few different magic hacks that let you throw away spell slots for different bonuses. That way you can always toss your obsolescent junk for a +1 bonus to hit and an extra d6 of weapon damage or something.
I’m Alex Augunas, the Everyman Gamer, and hopefully next week I can think of something a bit more positive to write about. Until next time, take care!