In Starfinder, the Operative class is akin to the rogue in fantasy genres, reliant on stealth, cunning, accuracy and an assortment of skills. These espionage experts cover a wide range of character possibilities—from heartless assassins to charming spies to outlaw hackers. Therefore, let’s take a look at this class’s possibilities and choose a character outside of the ordinary.
Consider the following when building an Operative in Starfinder:
- Focus on Dexterity and Intelligence
- Learn basic Operative abilities and strengths: Operative’s Edge, Trick Attack
- Android Ace Pilot
- Elf Xenoseeker
- Lashunta Spy
Focus on Dexterity and Intelligence
As I mentioned, this build is much like a rogue—an expert in subterfuge and guerilla tactics. Therefore, I’ll need to beef up my Dexterity and Intelligence scores for ranged attacks, stealth, tech and espionage.
Tapping into my high Dexterity score means building a character with high damage output and mobility—with raw defense and power left to the other members of my party. The operative can utilize the highest spread of ranged weapons, from sniper rifles to pistols. I’ll want to consider carrying:
- Sniper rifle for exploration or heavy combat
- A laser pistol, Azimuth
- Extra ammo
- Battery charge for my laser pistol
- Second Skin light armor
Also, I’ll want to tap into my Intelligence features to aid my party in a vast array of adventuring scenarios. Technology is an Operative’s other ally (besides a trusty firearm). Therefore, I’ll add:
- Personal Comm Unit—for James Bond style espionage or exploration purposes
- Med Patch—to piece myself or an ally back together… at least momentarily.
- Hacking Kit—Because of course.
For my initial skill list, my choices are extremely broad. In fact, the only class skills I can’t learn are Life Science, Physical Science, Diplomacy or Mysticism. This is one of the major benefits of the class—essentially being the party’s swiss army knife. I’ll need to choose skills based on my character’s overall purpose. Also, I’ll want to avoid spreading the points out too thin and focus on my strengths.
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Learn basic Operative abilities and strengths: Operative’s Edge, Trick Attack
No matter the path I take, I’ll have several key Operator abilities to take with me.
- Operative’s Edge: Level 1—add +1 Insight bonus to Initiative and skill checks. This increases by 1 at level 3 and every 4 levels after (7, 11, 15…)
- Specialization: Level 1—Further customization with added abilities. Choose from Daredevil, Detective, Explorer, Ghost, Hacker, Spy and Thief.
- Trick Attack: Level 1—Free movement. Then, make an attack with a melee weapon or side arm (I suggest the side arm). Just before attack, make a Bluff, Intimidate or Stealth check with a DC of 20 + opponents CR. If I succeed, I deal 1d4 additional damage, which grows as I level (1d8 at level 3, 3d8 at level 5, add 1d8 for every 2 levels after).
- Evasion: Level 2—take zero effect on a successful Reflex save instead of partial effects (damage, status effects, etc.)
- Operative Exploit: Level 2—Learn unique moves and tricks offered to the Operative class, including: Alien Archive, Combat Trick, Uncanny Pilot, etc.
- Quick Movement: Level 3—Speed increases by 10 feet on land. I’ll need to escape the direct line of attack if I can help it.
- Weapon Specialization: Level 3—I gain Weapon Specialization feat for each weapon type my class can use (sniper, small arms, basic melee weapons).
Higher-level Operative abilities
By level 5, I’ll have a definite niche and a fully fleshed-out character. However, I’ll gain even more abilities as I become stronger.
- Debilitating Trick: Level 4—Enemies hit with trick attack are made flat-footed or off-target until the beginning of my next turn. My chaotic combat style is becoming more fun—not to mention helpful for the rest of my party.
- Uncanny Agility: Level 7—I’m immune to becoming flat-footed. Plus, enemy gains no attack advantage by flanking or by attacking while I’m prone. This is a nice combination with Debilitating Trick, leveraging a definite advantage with the flat-footed condition.
- Triple Attack: Level 8—Make 3 attacks on a full attack instead of 2
- Quad Attack: Level 13—Make 4 attacks instead of 2
- Double Debilitation: Level 17—Apply 2 effects to Debilitating Trick.
- Supreme Operative: Level 20—Whenever I attempt a specialized skill check, I can essentially roll with advantage—taking the highest of 2 rolls. Once per day, I can temporarily trade one operative exploit for another (lasts 24 hours).
Now that we have the fundamentals of the operative figured out, let’s see what kind of creative characters we can build.
Android Ace Pilot
Operatives make effective pilots with an array of skills and high Intelligence and Dexterity. However, this might not be the most obvious theme for a roguish character.
An Android Ace Pilot is both a pilot with literal nerves of steel and a fun reverse of the typical “maverick” trope. Androids have excellent eye-sight—both low-light vision and darkvision. Plus, they gain bonus +2 to Intelligence and Dexterity (with a -2 Charisma). My interactions with NPCs might suck, but I’ll fly a ship with AI precision.
The Ace Pilot theme will give my Operative the pilot twist he needs—adding Theme Knowledge, Lone Wolf, Need for Speed and Master Pilot abilities to my repertoire.
- Theme Knowledge gives me a reduced -5 DC for Culture checks about starships or famous pilots.
- Lone Wolf means I can essentially run a ship by myself with half my pilot level as a bonus to the check, which should fit well with my technical nature.
- Need for Speed gives me a couple of benefits. Reduce any penalty to Piloting checks I make when operating a vehicle by 1. When I take the double maneuver action during a vehicle chase, I can reduce the penalty for each action by 1. Finally, whenever I gain a penalty from a failed check of 5 or more, that check is stretched to 10 or more.
- Master Pilot lets me regain a Resolve Point after succeeding in a starship battle or vehicle chase.
For my Operative Specialization, I’ll choose Hacker. This theme fits the android background well and uses tech knowledge I would have as a pilot. Plus, I like the idea of hacking into other ship’s piloting systems. Either way, I need to know my way around computer systems.
Operative Exploits I’ll consider should include hacking, field work and piloting. Consider:
- Uncanny Pilot is an obvious choice that allows me to attack while operating a moving vehicle with a ½ my vehicles penalty to the attack roll. Plus, I’ll gain a +2 bonus to a skill check when taking the evade or trick pilot actions.
- Holographic Clone projects 1d4 holograms that looks like me and last for 1 minute (1 per day). I figure I could be tricky with my android nature while off the ship.
- Uncanny Shooter could couple well with these clones, negating an attack of opportunity when I attack with small arms.
- Speed Hacker allows me to disable mechanical and computer systems in half the normal time.
The Elf Xenoseeker is an idea that pulls from a classic Pathfinder character—the elf ranger—and amplifies this archetype to a galactic scale. This character could be a master hunter and explorer who specializes in Survival and the sniper rifle. They could be a member of an exploration team—alongside a scientist and/or mercenary group.
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Naturally, Elves bring Keen Senses, which gives +2 to Perception checks, and Elven Magic to the table. Elven Magic helps me resist magic and identify magic items with a +2 bonus to each check. Plus, who doesn’t want to play a quick-drawing sniper elf of the future?
The Xenoseeker theme takes the concept of the explorer and stretches it to the edges of the known galaxy. Really, these guys are more like first-contact diplomats, which fits a light-hearted elf character well. This character will blend some sort of diplomacy with lethal combat knowledge and survival skills. Their theme abilities include:
- Theme Knowledge gives me Life Science as a class skill, which is one of the few I don’t receive from being an Operative. I can then reduce Life Science checks for identifying a rare creature by 5. Also, I’ll gain an additional +1 to Charisma at 1st
- Quick Pidgin gives me an opportunity to develop a simple language with a new people after spending 10 minutes conversing. I make a DC 25 Culture check to establish this simple language. Also, I gain a +2 bonus to this check for creatures who speak a similar language.
- First Contact helps me get by aggressive races on first contact, who are indifferent.
- Brilliant Discovery grants RP for new fauna or flora discovered (up to 2 a day).
For my Xenoseeker, I’ll choose the Explorer Operative Specialization. I like the ability to use my natural surroundings for a +4 bonus to my Trick Attack. Naturally, this specialization will rely on Survival and quick dexterity to keep the wild universe at bay.
My Operative Exploits should focus on combat, survival and exploration.
- Alien Archive doubles my Operative’s Edge bonus for my skill check when I identify a creature. I then gain a +2 enhancement bonus to my skill check when I make a Trick Attack against this creature. This ability goes together with both my explorer and hunter vibes.
- Uncanny Mobility allows me to negate an attack of opportunity when I use a Trick Attack. Then, I can choose a creature and prevent opportunity attacks from them. This will keep me from being eaten alive by the unholy horrors of the unknown.
- Debilitating Sniper gives me the ability to use a sniper for my Trick Attack. My opponent will still end up flat-footed and I can pull off debilitating tricks. However, I’ll lose the bonus to damage.
- Sure-Footed lets me move at full speed over difficult terrain. Also, I have no penalty to Stealth or Acrobatics checks at full speed.
A lashunta spy could lean into the charismatic spy angle, a master in espionage, intel and manipulation. She’s a mixture of James Bond cool and a femme fatale, all with powerful telepathy and cunning.
I’ll want to choose the Damaya lashunta subset, who gain a +2 bonus to Intelligence and a -2 Constitution score change. Their telepathic nature gives all kinds of advantages to a spy character, including Limited Telepathy, which allows telepathic communication with those 30 feet away, and several innate spells. I’ll be able to cast daze and psychokinetic hand at will and detect thoughts once a day.
I’ll use the Outlaw theme for a +1 Dexterity bonus and shadowy secrets. You don’t work in espionage without being wanted somewhere. Plus, this theme gives me underworld connections where I can operate effectively.
- Theme Knowledge allows me to reduce Culture checks related to the criminal underworld by 5. Also, I gain a +1 bonus to Sleight of Hand checks.
- Legal Corruption (level 6) is exactly how it sounds. I have access to lawyers who can get me out of a pinch for a price, just like a real-life spook.
- Black Market Connections (level 12) gives me the ability to sell hard-to-find or illegal goods in any city for their usual price, even if it’s too luxurious or the locals can’t afford it. Also, for 10% more, I can purchase a good and have it dropped off.
- Master Outlaw (level 18) gives me the option to gain benefits when running a heist. If I succeed in at least one of the steps in my mission, I regain a Resolve Point.
Naturally, this Operative will use the Spy Operative Specialty. This specialization grants me a +4 bonus to Trick Attacks using the Bluff skill. I’ll also gain Master of Disguise and the ability to fool technology or telepathy into reading me incorrectly. In other words, I can make cameras see something other than me.
Using more charisma and personal interaction, I’ll want to be able to manipulate situations and fight my way out of a bad situation.
- Quick Disguise essentially gives me the disguise self spell for 1 minute.
- Holographic Clone fits a spy well, using the lashunta’s telepathy to create up to 1d4 illusions. I get a feeling this character is going to be tricky.
- Mentalist’s Bane gives me another chance to resist a mind-altering effect at the same DC on the next round. Plus, I can hide the fact that I succeeded on a Will saving throw and confuse my opponent.
- Speed Hacker should come in handy when I’m stealing data from a physical location like a 90’s spy thriller.
These are a few ideas of not-so-average Operators that could be fun to play. I wanted to think outside the assassin character and play with this class a little. Overall, the Trick Attack stack of abilities make for exciting game play. I’m glad this class doesn’t rely too much on stealth and has a ton of creative potential.
How would you build your operative?