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I hope this question isn't too broad. I'm looking into Starfinder and I'm curious about the balance between Range and Melee combat.

Most Fantasy games are balanced toward close-combat with melee weapons. The rules focus on being relatively close. For example, most encounters start at a position that melee can get an attack in on round 1 and it is up to the ranged fighters to keep distance, as opposed to starting more at range and the melee fighters have to figure out a closing strategy.

So the question is, is Starfinder similarly balanced or does it move that balance out toward the ranged weapons so that the higher tech weapons play a more dominant role in the combat?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just clarification because it sounds like you are confusing a range increment with a range maximum. After 100 feet (and every 100 feet after that), you have a -2 to hit. I think that this is pretty realistic since we aren't talking about stationary targets but moving opponents who will have a longer time to see the arrow heading toward them. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadoCat Feb 2 '18 at 20:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough. My example may be flawed a bit. To put it another way, most fantasy game encounters are focused on getting melee characters into the fight turn 1 and it's on the range characters to back out or keep themselves covered, as opposed to balancing the other direction where the guns have the focus and melee characters have to figure out their strategy to close. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Feb 2 '18 at 21:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Updated the question so that this mistake on my part doesn't cause confusion. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Feb 2 '18 at 21:36
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Starfinder preserves the focus on melee-range combat.

There are a wide variety of elements that affects this, but ultimately there are 2 that dominate the range/melee issue.

First, Starfinder does not provide an easy way to "cover" an area with ranged weapons (i.e. to punish foes for moving through that area if they attempt to close to melee range). This makes closing to melee range a relatively trivial matter, unlike what would be the case in real life (where anyone attempting to run forward without cover, or at least covering fire, stands a good chance of being shot rather than reaching their opponent).

Second, melee weapons simply do more damage than ranged weapons, so there is a considerable incentive to close to melee range (especially against foes that would prefer to use ranged weapons). Here's a chart indicating the best average damage per attack (disregarding ammo usage, special abilities, ranges, etc) available at each level for each of the general categories of weapons:

Chart of Average Damage per Level for Each Weapon Category

Note that heavy ranged weapons just barely beat out one-handed (non-basic) melee weapons, and two-handed (non-basic) melee weapons are always the best choice in terms of damage per hit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ma Deuce wept. If you check out US Army Doctrine, you will find that artillery is the King of Battle . Given that starfinder is a post industrial age game, the idea that melee is more efficacious than energy augmented ranged weaponry is pathetic. Ranged/energy driven over melee/hand held supremacy is as old as about WW I. sigh Reality Wept . (Good answer, though, in the game system context). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 3 '18 at 3:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast As I said, that graph is purely for attack damage. Most of the melee weapons that push that line up have no special effects, and in some cases even have drawbacks. The heavy weapons, and to a lesser extent the longarms, tend to have very good special effects; in particular, most of the heavy weapons have an AOE component (cone, line, or burst). Melee has the edge if there's a single high-value target you can afford to get that close to, while ranged often has the edge against large numbers of weaker foes. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Feb 3 '18 at 3:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Really what gimps ranged is, as I mentioned, the lack of a way to punish foes for closing into melee range rather than staying behind cover. There are other D&D-based systems/settings with high-tech gear (see Amethyst for example) that do include rules/abilities like that, and melee is a much riskier tactic in them. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Feb 3 '18 at 3:43
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Speculation:

For an objective answer, you may need to refine your question to be narrower in scope. For example, do you wish to know if the damage output is balanced by weapon type? Or, do you wish to know if the damage throughput is balanced by modifiers by weapon type?

The graph supplied by Oblivious Sage begins to answer a smaller, more specific question; but I wonder if it doesn't answer your question entirely. For example, it does not take into account battlefield tactics which vary widely with factors such as terrain, environmental effects, and surprise.

Context:

If a party enters a planet and lands on a mesa overlooking a valley, they may find themselves with a superior, ranged advantage over a small party of space goblins that have camped about 200 feet below. If one or more characters own a Shirren-eye rifle, for example, they can line up shots and fire at a range increment of 250 feet in the same round. Once fired upon, the goblins may be hard pressed to close the distance, as they have to clamber up loose, shale rock (difficult terrain that slows their movement) to get to the heroes.

Take that same situation and add jump boots to the goblins and man their party with their own Shirren-eye weapon wielding sniper and suddenly the encounter's challenge rating balances.

My Opinion:

The rules do not favor ranged over melee because combat can literally happen in any environment with an innumerable number of variables/conditions. It might be more applicable to ask if certain classes favor ranged over melee (I don't think there's a hard/fast answer to that, either). What I like about Starfinder rules and their relative simplicity is that you can flex your GM creativity and create balance/imbalance as you see fit to further your story along.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you need information about the question, an answer can't be used for that. Please post the question(s) you want clarified as comments under the question. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 11 '18 at 5:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ The questions were part of a rhetoric. I answered the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Kharmageddon Feb 11 '18 at 19:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ If I thought it wasn't an answer at all it would have been deleted. :) Alright, consider it feedback: it's not obvious that those are rhetorical questions, because they can't be read as statements of truth or directions to follow (which is the function of a rhetorical question). It's also not obvious what that sectio is for because it frames the questions by advising changes to the question post, making them read as actual questions. You might want to edit to make improvements. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 11 '18 at 19:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the elaboration. I think your answer expands on the accepted answer's first point very helpfully. What I've seen playing the game since asking this question is that the mechanics radically favor melee weapons if you leverage map-based tactical rules. I see no significant adaptation from Pathfinder that encourages combat to occur outside of the normal 5 - 10 ft range. However, nothing stops a GM from creatively solving this problem and generally I found that ditching the map and a house rule of extending the attacks of opportunity got me the gameplay I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – Daniel Feb 12 '18 at 17:43
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I just played the starfinder society's encounter 1-18, the blackmoon survey. During this encounter, there were two snipers firing at us from on top of a cliff, 1000 or so feet away. None of party had a sniper rifle, and our only person with an even somewhat long range weapon was our mechanic, with an azumith laser rifle. However, the snipers focused fire on her instantly after she landed a hit, sending her down to 3 hit points. She had to play dead in order not actually be dead. by the time we actually made it within a range where we could hit the sniper, we were all down to low hit points. upon which, the snipers ran away. This is one instance where ranged combat will absolutely crush melee. Meanwhile melee fighters can do incredible amounts of damage, ecspecially at higher levels.

All that this shows, is that really depends on the GM and encounter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. All answers must directly answer the question; StackExchange is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. You should elaborate on how your experience actually answers OP's question. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 1 at 1:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have opposing anecdotal evidence about the same encounter...when I ran it, the melee-focused characters were able to rush in and engage in melee in 3 rounds, while the rest of the group avoided significant injury. Don't think that really makes this terribly helpful in either direction. \$\endgroup\$ – YogoZuno Apr 1 at 3:14

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