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This is mainly for Starfinder. My players are L4.

So, my players have set up a successful political party on the moon of Europa, which is currently in revolt against the Soviet Union. One of the PCs as well as some VIPs were recently captured on a prison ship, and the (PC) party has successfully rallied many other dissenting factions into putting together a strike force against said prison ship.

Now here's the immediate problem I'm facing. How do I balance the size of this strike force?

The strike force (not counting the party's private possessions) currently consists of 4 L1 ships and 2 L3 ships, as well as about 250 untrained conscripts. These numbers are quite arbitrary, decided by GM fiat (based on the L2 ship and the "hidden" L3 ship, as well of a crew compliment of 100 unmotivated shipmen) more than anything. If the players ever asked why I gave them this number of resources, I won't have much of an answer.

As a stopgap, I've provided the party with multiple objectives that are far smaller in scope but necessary for the success of the operation, like "here's a communications hub that would paralyze the defenders if a small strike team were to neutralize it" or "here's their commander, located in this particular cell block". This makes any potential imbalance no longer a problem at the moment, at least, but I would still like to know the proper solution.

Earlier in the campaign, there was also a similar issue. The party's resident Scientologist placed an ad on a newspaper, trying to recruit other Scientologists to act as spies, and to join his faction of Scientology. I provided him with 2d4 Scientologists per day. The player in question wanted more Scientologists per day and kept pressing it. I told him to buy a bigger ad on a bigger newspaper, but behind the scenes I was wondering how I could balance these resources. I don't know whether spending 250 credits on a newspaper per day should get him 2d4 semi-permanent recruits, nor would I be able to explain how much spending an additional 250 credits would work.

A similar experience (as a player) I had was in Pathfinder 2E, where we were about to face the BBEG's army whose size we did not know. After spending a day rallying our forces, we put together a force of about 3800 cannon fodder, which, as a player, was not much to work with since we didn't know how much we needed and how many resources we took to get them. Again, post-session discussions with our GM showed that this number was quite arbitrary because he did not know how to give us a "proper" number, if one even existed.

What are some concrete ways that I can use to say, "because you've spent X amount of days drumming up support at population centers of Y size and Z prosperity, you now have A amount of resources to bring against the BBEG"?

Any answers are welcome, but I would prefer Starfinder-based answers. Please let me know if more detail and clarity is required to solve this issue.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Since when did Starfinder have the Soviet Union or Scientology? \$\endgroup\$
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 8:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Aggressive homebrewed lore. I didn't think that mentioning that the lore is homebrewed is relevant to this question since I've encountered this in other settings too. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 14, 2023 at 8:31

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While I imagine you've already resolved your issue, here's some advice for any future Starfinder game runners facing a large-scale combat scenario:

  1. Typically, TTRPGs focus on skirmishes, not huge battles. Players are exceptions in this universe, with most sentient creatures not exceeding level/cr 1, and lacking weapon or armor proficiency.
  2. During a large-scale battle, like a boarding assault on a prison ship, concentrate on the immediate environment around the party. The broader conflict unfolds around them, they should interact indirectly.

Here's a potential scenario:

The party hears attack alarms from their cells but know nothing specific without contact with allies. Guards, largely dismissive of any questions, eventually leave for defense. Assault team cuts power to the cell block, enabling a breakout. The players may have to fight guards or other prisoners, possibly even forming alliances.

They must then retrieve their gear, navigating restored power and automated defenses. They need to reach the breaches made by allies, possibly utilizing ship computers to guide them.

Once with allies, a chase scene may ensue, evading activated defenses like force fields, gas, turrets, decompression, or even a self-destruct system.

Returning to their ships could lead to a space battle, given potential distress signals sent by the prison ship.

One way to incorporate allied strength would be as an attrition countdown. Have a random roll each round, and objectives for players to achieve to minimize losses. Excessive casualties could lead to morale penalties, disorganized escape attempts, or even insufficient crews.

Remember, untrained civilians are mainly liabilities in combat, having poor armor and attack capabilities due to their lack of proficiencies, and having only their species' base HP. They're best used as plot devices, providing information, negating penalties, or providing bonuses. The main actors in your campaign should usually be the player characters and their adversaries.

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    \$\begingroup\$ > "While I imagine you've already resolved your issue" I have not, until now. Thank you very much. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 10:26

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