Comm Units in the Starfinder RPG

The Starfinder RPG takes place in a setting with high technology and varied means of communication, player characters can be in near-constant contact with each other even over significant distances. This blog post examines some clarifications and limitations surrounding comms technology within my version of the default Pact Worlds setting.

Personal Comm Unit, clarified

This standard item is as everyday a piece of technology as the smart phone is to us. According to p218 of the core rulebook it is “a minor portable computer” and a “cellular communication device”. The device is listed under the planetary communications range category on p430, it states there also that they are “powerful enough to transmit anywhere on a planet”. I have ruled this incongruous in my campaign: the mechanic class has a default range of contact with their drone of 2500 feet (see custom rig on page 69), why would this be such a limited range if any old personal comm unit can reach anywhere on the planet? So I keep this same range restriction for the personal comm as well with the following notes:

  • By default, a standard personal comm unit will connect with any available planetary cellular network, hence planet-wise near instant communications is possible, if you are within 2500 feet of a network repeater mast or similar.
  • If no such network is available, e.g. in the wild continent of Ukulam on Castrovel, then comms range is limited to 2500 feet by direct unit to unit connection. There is no Infosphere access and no “calling for backup”, unless access to a larger communications facility or installation is available.
  • Comm units can send messages to any other comm unit in range (2500 ft.) using the DriftNet messaging client for encrypted plain text messages, or video or holographic calls. The unit can show other units in range and connect with them to send a message or start a call, the receiving unit’s owner will be notified and can accept or decline the incoming message or call. Comm units can be ‘paired’ for direct communication purposes to skip such security measures between friends or colleagues.

Inline with the more advanced comms technology available to the mechanic at higher levels, two more expensive and possibly restricted versions of the comm unit are available. Depending on which world a character finds themselves, such items might be more expensive, a restricted military-only technology or simply unavailable.

Comm Unit, Advanced

This larger version of a comm unit has a much more powerful transmitter, antenna array and battery. It can broadcast to another unit, or connect to any Infosphere repeater within 50 miles. It is bulkier than a personal comm unit (1 bulk), requiring two hands to operate (it’s exact form can vary but basic models are a clamshell laptop computer-style device). It requires a move action to set up or store away as the antenna array folds away when not in use. Its cost and availability may vary wildly based on market conditions: level 5, price 2,000, bulk 1, capacity 40 (1/hour).

Comm Unit, Superior

This largest of portable comm unit technology is invariably restricted technology. It can broadcast to another unit, or connect to any Infosphere repeater on the planet on which it is used. Most worlds limit its distribution to their military or other government agents. It consists of a backpack sized comm unit with the most powerful transmitter and antenna tech available. It is either worn in a custom-fit backpack, or as an armour upgrade module. The detachable shoulder-mounted antenna array require a full round action to set up or store away. Level 10, price 3,000, bulk 2, capacity 40 (2/hour).

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