Starfleet Design — Nobody Trick Attacks on Purpose, All Operatives Are Gonna Die, Come Play a Soldier

“Now, Come Play a Soldier?”

Hey! Perram ran the numbers, and apparently you guys like it when I throw mathematics at your faces while throwing vaguely insulting headlines at you. So guess what, suckers? ROUND TWO!

This time, I’m going to mathematically smack everyone who thinks that the operative is an OP damaging god in the face. Stick around! You’ll find tons of stars, I promise.


Operative Build

  • Class: Operative 12
  • Feats: Weapon Focus (basic melee) (1st); Weapon Specialization (3rd; Bonus), Deadly Aim (3rd), Mobility (5th), Step Up (7th), Spring Attack (9th), Step Up and Strike (11th)
  • Class Features: debilitating trick, operative’s edge +4, quick movement +20 ft., specialization skill mastery, trick attack +6d8, triple attack, uncanny agility
  • Specialization: specialization exploit
  • Exploits: Alien Archive (2nd), uncanny mobility (4th), specialization exploit (5th; Bonus), bleeding shot (6th), sure-footed (8th), improved evasion (10th), improved uncanny mobility (12th)
  • Weapon of Choice: ultrathin dagger (4d4 S)

So, it’s pretty clear right from the get-go that the operative is in a similar boat that the solarian was last week—they just don’t have the feats to match the fighter in crazy martial tactics. What’s more, most of the operative’s tricks are utility, not damage or combat-oriented, so they don’t have many of the crazy cool powers that the solarian gets for damage. The biggest damage-dealing choice that the operative gets from their class is the bleeding shot exploit. (Which, granted, shouldn’t be underestimated; bleed equal to your level is GOOD.)

So with this in mind, let’s pull up some mathematical calculations!

Mathematical Calculations

First, we need to figure out the raw damage output of the operative. Remember, when looking at damage output we want to concern ourselves with averages, and the average on any die is equal to half the maximum result + .5. Now, we’ll assume our operative has an 18 Dexterity and any of the non-ghost specializations that use a Dex-based skill. (Ghost is overpowered, and I am sure its “I’m better then you” bonus will be errata’d.) Now, Strength isn’t AWFUL to have, but how do we decide what our operative’s Strength score should be? I’m going to go ahead and say 12. Strength is low-priority compared to Int or Con (ESPECIALLY Con for a melee operative like ours), and since Trick Attack is supposed to off-set that Strength bonus a bit, it seems reasonable. Finally, we’ll need to know our operative’s Intelligence for the Alien Archive exploit, so I’ll say that we took a 12 in that too. Seems easy enough to assme, and its also likely that our bigger numbers went into Con.

As with our soldier and solarian, we’ll also assume our operative took the +4 Personal Upgrade in Dexterity and a +2 Personal Upgrade in Strength, as well as a Dexterity, Strength, and Intelligence increase at 5th and 10th level. All in all, this would leave our characters with a theoretical 24 Dexterity (+7 modifier), an 18 Strength (+4 modifier), and a 16 Dexterity (+3 modifier). With this in mind, damage looks like this:


  • Attack Bonus: (+9 + 7 (Dex) + 2 (Weapon Focus) = +18)
  • Base Damage: 10 damage
  • Ability Score: +4
  • Feats: Deadly Aim (–2 Atk for +4 damage), Weapon Specialization (+6 damage).
  • Total Bonus: +16
  • Total Damage: 24 damage

Trick Attack

  • Damage: 39 (6d8 trick attack + 12 bleeding shot)
  • DC: Assuming our CR 13 necrovite, the trick attack DC is 34 ((13 * 1.5 = 19) + 15 = 34) and our Mysticism trick to identify him is 29 ((13 * 1.5 = 19) + 10 = 29).
  • Skill Bonus (12 ranks + 7 (Dex) + 3 (class skill) + 4 (operative’s edge) = +26).
  • Alien Archive: (12 ranks + 3 (Int) + 3 (class skill) + 4 (operative’s edge) = +22).

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, this is where our math is about to get … tricky. So we start by rolling a Mysticism check to identify our undead buddy. Since we have a +22 and we’re looking to roll a 29, we’d need a 7 or better to ID him, meaning that there’s a 70% chance to identify the foe. (We only fail on a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, and possible result is worth 5%, which adds up to a 30% failure chance. That means there’s a 70% chance to succeed.)

That means that contingent on our success, we get another +2 bonus on our check to trick attack the necrovite thanks to the Alien Archive exploit. This extra +2 would bring our total bonus to +28, and since we need a 34 this means we only fail on a 5 or lower, meaning there is a 75% chance we’ll make our trick attack DC for the same reason noted above.

So 70% chance to ID him, then 75% chance to trick attack him.

Now, assuming we trick attack him AND ID him, he gets a –2 penalty to his AC thanks to trick attack making him flat-footed. This would drop his AC from 23 to 21, and since we have an attack bonus of +16 when using Deadly Aim, we would only miss on a 1, 2, 3, or 4, meaning there’s a 20% chance to miss. If we hit, we get to deal a total of 63 damage on average. So our numbers look like this:

  • 7 * 0.75 * 0.8 * 63 = 26.46 damage

HOWEVER, we’re not done yet. Because it is possible for us to trick attack without using Alien Archive, and it is possible for us to hit without successfully trick attacking. Let’s do MORE math!

Basically, looking at the numbers, we are making three dice rolls that are completely independent of one another. So what I’m going to do for this one is look at every possible combination of dice rolls for our attack. In this AA means “Alien Archivist,” Trick means “Trick Attack,” and Atk means “Attack Roll.” S means “Success,” referring to a passed skill check, while F means “Failed,” referring to a failed skill check. Finally H means “Hit,” referring to a successful attack roll, while “M” means “Miss,” referring to a missed attack roll. Here’s our basic array:

  • AA (S), Trick (S), Atk (H) = ?
  • AA (S), Trick (S), Atk (M) = ?
  • AA (S), Trick (F), Atk (H) = ?
  • AA (S), Trick (F), Atk (M) = ?
  • AA (F), Trick (S), Atk (H) = ?
  • AA (F), Trick (S), Atk (M) = ?
  • AA (F), Trick (F), Atk (H) = ?
  • AA (F), Trick (F), Atk (M) = ?

Okay, so we got our array. Now it’s time to slowly fill it in. First, we know that any Attack roll that misses automatically deals no damage, so let’s plug in 0 damage for all of our missed attack rolls. Next, we know that any attack that hits and has a trick attack is going to deal an average of 63 damage, so we’ll plug those in anywhere that both a trick attack and an attack roll were successful. Finally, if only an attack roll was successful, we’re looking at 24 damage. So this leaves us with the following for potential damage outcomes:

  • AA (S), Trick (S), Atk (H) = 63
  • AA (S), Trick (S), Atk (M) = 0
  • AA (S), Trick (F), Atk (H) = 24
  • AA (S), Trick (F), Atk (M) = 0
  • AA (F), Trick (S), Atk (H) = 63
  • AA (F), Trick (S), Atk (M) = 0
  • AA (F), Trick (F), Atk (H) = 24
  • AA (F), Trick (F), Atk (M) = 0

Now, finally, we need to take these arrays and figure out the chance for each outcome occurring. I’m going to take our array and just replace the letters with the appropriate success chance, based on the probabilities we’ve gone with. To remind you, our probabilities (based on the math we did above) look like this:

Alien Archivist

  • 70% chance pass
  • 30% failed

Trick Attack

  • 25% chance to fail IF AA passed
  • 35% chance to fail IF AA failed

Attack Roll

  • 20% chance to miss IF trick attack passed
  • 30% chance to miss IF trick attack failed

The Array

  • AA (.7), Trick (.75), Atk (.8) = 63
  • AA (.7), Trick (.75), Atk (.2) = 0
  • AA (.7), Trick (.25), Atk (.7) = 24
  • AA (.7), Trick (.25), Atk (.3) = 0
  • AA (.3), Trick (.65), Atk (.8) = 63
  • AA (.3), Trick (.65), Atk (.2) = 0
  • AA (.3), Trick (.35), Atk (.7) = 24
  • AA (.3), Trick (.35), Atk (.3) = 0

And with this, we can make probability statements for ALL of them!

  • Array 1: .7 * .75 * .8 * 63 = 26.46 damage
  • Array 2: .7 * .75 * .2 * 0 = 0 damage
  • Array 3: .7 * .25 * .7 * 24 = 2.94 damage
  • Array 4: .7 * .25 * .3 * 0 = 0 damage
  • Array 5: .3 * .65 * .8 * 63 = 9.828 damage
  • Array 6: .3 * .65 * .2 * 0 = 0 damage
  • Array 7: .3 * .35 * .7 * 24 = 1.8375 damage
  • Array 8: .3 * .35 * .3 * 0 = 0 damage

So with this, all we need to do is add up all of the values from all of the possible outcomes to determine the total average damage that the operative deals! And to save your calculator some work, the sum is 41.06.35, or 41 damage for short. But we’re not done yet! We just rolled three dice, so we should really divide our result by 3 to get us a more fair representation based on all possible scenarios where the operative hits something. That’s four scenarios, so we’ll divide 41 by 4 to get 10.25 damage on average.

Now, if we go back to our Solarian and Soldier calculations, we can plug this in and see what the numbers look like!

  • Soldier Full Attack: 24.948
  • Solarian Full Attack: 29.592
  • Operative Trick Attack: 10.25

So, point for point the operative’s trick attack is about half as damaging as a full attack from a soldier or a solarian. But honestly? That’s pretty darn good considering the operative is only making one attack roll. (They’re throwing around as many dice, sure, but they’re still only making one roll.)

It’s also worth noting that the operative is going to look REALLY bursty at the table because they’re rolling single attack rolls that hit roughly twice as hard as a soldier’s. (Remember, last wee we discovered that our average soldier’s hit usually strikes for about 38.5 damage.)  But on average, the soldier and the soldier will outdamage the operative for one very straightforward reason—while the operative is rolling the same number of dice during a trick attack, only one of those dice ever really matters in terms of dealing damage. In short, comparing the operative to the soldier or solarian is like comparing a modern compound bow to a composite bow—sure the compound bow can hit a LOT harder than the classics ever could, but more moving parts means more places to fail and ultimately break down.

I hope this encourages more people to give the operative and the solarian a try at the Starfinder table; trust me, no matter how sparkly the operative looks on the tin, those classes really are the kings of combat. Until next time, I’m Alex Augunas and I’m always here for YOU when you need a little bit of Guidance. Take care!

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 Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alexs Twitter, @AlJAug.

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, or support him personally on Patreon at


  1. David

    Have you thought about doing a comparison when the Operative also full attacks? With Quad attack, I wonder if it’d be more comparable.

    • Alex Augunas

      That’s not a bad idea. Maybe! I kind of want to do a full-attacking exocortex mechanic first. I feel like I need to mathematically confirm or disprove my initial bias against them.

  2. Dan

    Came across your page looking for operative info, and wanted to point something out. Trick attack always uses a specialization skill, which means you can take 10 after level 7. As a result, trick attack in your example succeeds 100% of the time up to CR 14, without Alien Archive. Here’s a ranged example with the level 12 small arms laser (also 4d4 like your dagger).

    Feats – Weapon Focus, 5 anything else
    Exploits – Bleeding shot, 5 anything else
    Attack Bonus – +9 BAB, +7 Dex, +1 Weapon Focus – +17 total
    Damage – 10 (wpn avg), 6 (specialization), 27 (trick avg), 12 (bleed) – 54 total
    Trick skill – +26 (your numbers) – 100% success up to CR 14 (take 10)

    Gives you an 80% chance to hit AC 21 – results in 43 average damage per round, with 90 feet of safety (if it’s a melee opponent). Deadly aim actually lowers your DPR. For a melee operative, they’d get STR damage, and the average would be 46 DPR, also with 80% hit rate; if you flank, you get 90% hit and 52 DPR.

    • Dan

      Also, I lie because it’s 15% miss chance and I clearly cannot count to 3. So everything is even higher than I said. 46 DPR, 49 DPR melee, and 95% / 55 DPR flanking.

    • Jonathan

      Dan’s point about Taking 10 is correct. Any operative level 7 or higher that knows what they’re doing is going to Take 10 on their TA and only start rolling the check if somehow Taking 10 fails.

      Also, as you mentioned, you didn’t include the specialization bonus (Ghost was changed via errata to be +1 instead of +4, fyi). However, some of the non-Dex skills can still be higher than a dex skill without a bonus due to the +4 TA bonus. For example, a Hacker Operative at level 12 with 18 Int will be at a +27 to TA with Computers (12 Ranks + 4 Int + 3 Class Skill + 4 Op Edge + 4 Hacker Spec). This is a 100% success on targets up to and including CR17.

      Long story short, after level 7, an Operative is very, very unlikely to fail their TA check even without Alien Archivist.