Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Obligation and You! (Star Wars, Edge of the Empire)

Hey Game Fans, we’re back today to continue our series on the joyful experience that is the Edge of The Empire Roleplaying Game from Fantasy Flight Games.  After consulting with my experts on the topic, we came to the consensus that pushing back a character creation example for another week allowed us to feature one of the most important/cool/amazing/interesting design mechanics we’ve seen in several years, Obligation.  Obligation is an essential component to every character in Edge of the Empire, and serves to pull the entire Star Wars Universe together in a tangled web of favors, oaths, bounties and intrigue.  Sounds fun, right?  Let’s take a closer look.

Obligation as an idea

Obligation, in Edge of the Empire represents a favor, a bounty, or any of a hundred other connections that bind people together.  An interesting idea behind Edge of the Empire is that everyone is connected to another creature/philosophy/ideal by personal bonds that motivate them to do the things that they do.  From the lowest swoop ganger to the head of a major interstellar crime syndicate, everyone has something that moves them to act, and more importantly, can be used to push them to act, given the right circumstances.  Neat idea, right?  Now how the hell does it work as a statistic?

Obligation as a Statistic

Mechanically, every character created to play a game of Edge of the Empire has a statistic called Obligation, with a numerical value between 5 and 100.  The numerical value represents a quantitative expression of that character’s level of Obligation and how deep they are in with the source of their Obligation.  Obligation comes in two parts, a Short Narrative description and a number.  The narrative description tells a player who/what the character owes their obligation to/from, and the number describes its intensity.

So if you see an Obligation like “Addiction, my Character is rapidly falling down a sharp decline towards using harder and harder drugs with reckless abandon” and a numeric value of 40, You can infer a couple of things.  First, this character’s obligation to satiating his or her drug habit is costing them more and more resources.  The numeric value of 40 gives you a rough idea of how deeply in debt this particular Drug Addict is.

Similarly, an Obligation like “Bounty, my character is being looked for by Bounty Hunters involving a crime on a distant backwater system in the Outer Rim.” with a numeric value of 5 tells you another story.  This particular character has gotten into a bit of trouble somewhere out on the Rim and someone hired a bounty hunter to track them down.  The numeric value of 5 tells you this probably isn’t Boba Fett or Dengar looking for this character, but there will be run ins with the law somewhere

A Starting character (depending on the size of the group) will likely start with an Obligation score between 5 and 20, though a brand new character can take on extra obligation to earn some extra starting experience points or credits.  The lower your character’s Obligation, the less likely it is to intrude on your character’s life and cause problems for them.  How does Obligation work as a Mechanic?

Obligation as a Mechanic

Mechanically, Obligation works a couple of ways.  First, Before each of your sessions, your Game Master is going to roll some percentile and dice and compare it to the total Obligation of the group in an arcane and wonderful process that is detailed in a sidebar in the middle of the section on Obligation in Chapter 2 of the corebook.  If the percentile roll comes up higher than the group’s total Obligation, have a little party.  Your various web of favors and debts hasn’t caught back up to you and your companions yet.  

If the roll is under that value, well, stress is settling in.  Through various channels, interactions, and encounters, the collective pressure of the Obligation is weighing on everyone’s mind.  Everyone reduces their strain threshold by one, representing their stress and a failure of their coping mechanisms.  If that sounds bad, remember this is Star Wars, It Could Be Worse.
Since Obligations have a numeric value, they can be added on top of each other so that when the GM rolls the Obligation Check, he or she can determine on whom the dice land.  

For Example:  Kave has an Obligation of 20 to a Hutt Crime Lord, Delron has Obligation 25 to the Black Sun and Marek has Obligation of 22 to the no-good murderous in-laws that exiled him from his homeworld.  Assembling their Obligation looks like:
    Delron                  1-25
    Kave                  26-45
    Marek                46-67

Barb, the long suffering GM of these miscreants rolls her percentile dice and rolls a 32.  This puts the weight of the Obligations firmly on Kave, which means he reduces his Strain threshold by 2 instead of 1.  Had Barb rolled a 33, (doubles are bad) Kave’s Strain threshold would have been reduced by four, while everyone else reduces their Strain thresholds by two.  Clearly, something’s going to have to be done to settle up with Black Sun…

Triggering an Obligation (rolling under the party’s Obligation threshold) can result in tangible consequences during the session, like the Crime boss needing a favor, a job that has to be done, a quick score to make some credits...these all provide wonderful ways of shaping a game session using the Obligation mechanic.  Remember, Obligation isn’t a static number.  The GM can also use Obligation as a Threshold to determine is either desperate or trustworthy enough to handle a given job.  

Obligation in flux

Game statistics can fluctuate up and down over the course of a game, and Obligation is even more fluid than other statistics.  It can increase or decrease, depending on what the characters decide to do, and the potentially good/bad decisions they make.  A character’s Obligation can go up or down primarily in the following ways.  
  • Obligation as currency:  It’s possible that a character can increase their characters Obligation to pick up additional resources or assets during the course of the game.  Some criminal or nefarious organizations are perfectly happy to trade current items like guns, money or ships in return for favors to be named later.  The GM has some ideas how this is likely to work, and if you’re interested in making this sort of Faustian bargain business deal, ask him or her about it.  This will in all likelihood increase your Obligation, make sure you can handle the increased stress.
  • Settling Up:  Through good fortune, clean living and the judicious use of force against dorks with credits, Edge of the Empire characters can end up with quite the haul of credits, valuable commodities, or “loot.”  Some of you enterprising players might be wondering how to turn this “loot” into a break from your Obligations.  It is certainly possible to do it, but there are two things to consider.  It’s possible that a resource pops up in game, such as a giant diamond showing up when one of your Obligations is a known gem fiend.  That’s a kind of a specific settlement, and it’s a reasonable bet that trading that gem to the Obligation holder is going to make life easier for the character in question.  The other settlement is more general in nature, and basically involves the characters burning extra resources to help settle Obligations.  Maybe paying down old fines or loans, or clearing out a debt from way back.  Maybe hiring folks to investigate other problems that have come up.  There are several ways that this type of activity can occur, but the GM has final approval on any nefarious plans.  This typically reduces Obligation.  

Changing Obligations

This isn’t covered specifically in the book, but it is possible to change Obligations over time.  Remember, you can never truly get rid of your Obligations, but you can change them around over time.  Maybe you’ve cleared your debts to the Hutt Crime Syndicate, or paid off your fines and the Bounty Hunters have stopped looking for you.  Work out with your GM the type of change you’re considering and work it into the narrative of the ongoing story you are telling with your friends.  Remember, this is a role-playing game and you’re working with other players to tell cool stories with lasers and starships and droids and aliens and stuff.  You can figure out how to work out a cool idea and tell a fun story.

All right Game Fans, that’s our write up on Obligation, and i’m pretty sure that i’ll actually do a character creation write up next week.  Unless i get an idea for something cooler.  Let me know what you think and we’ll go from there.  

Game On

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