News for March 2013
It Is Your Destiny
Designer Jay Little Discusses Character Obligation in Edge of the Empire (TM)
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire | Published 11 March 2013

You can never escape your past. Our histories are always present in our character; the choices we make shape who we become. Through our actions, we shape our destinies, and characters in the Star Wars®: Edge of the Empire™ Roleplaying Game all start with histories that will impact their destinies over the course of play.

Edge of the Empire immerses players in adventures throughout some of the grittiest locations in the Star Wars universe, and characters will be forced to make difficult and important decisions while colonists await their aid, bounty hunters track them down, and Imperial stormtroopers stand in their way. The lives of characters in Edge of the Empire are filled with hardships and burdens. Each of them has drifted to the fringes of the galaxy for a reason.

Whether your character aspires to a better life and views smuggling as a quick escape or ran afoul of a Hutt crime lord, he’s bound to owe somebody something, and he’ll have to find a way to repay his debts or try to outrun his debtors. In Edge of the Empire, these debts are represented by a character’s Obligation. Today, designer Jay Little takes a closer look at the game’s Obligation system and its impact on storytelling, character creation, and the direction of your Star Wars campaign.

Designer Jay Little on the Obligation System

Edge of the Empire delivers one of the views of the Star Wars universe that I find most compelling – for all the shiny metal and technology, the universe is still a gritty, dirty, dark, and dangerous place to live. Even near the Core Worlds, millions of people work hard just to eke out a meager existence and stay under the radar.

And for those people who live at the fringes of society – or the galaxy – their survival often depends on favors, blackmail, or loans. This is part of the “Edge” of Edge of the Empire, and one of the ways it’s reinforced is the concept of Obligations. The Obligation mechanic is one of my favorite parts of the game, and its development was a significant milestone in the design process. It gave me a strong foundation upon which I could keep building.

One of the interesting things about Obligation is that the more it was fleshed out, the more important it became. That’s because as we developed it, the design team started to realize that it wasn’t just a powerful narrative tool; it was a great resource for the GM and the players alike. Not only that, Obligation has a mechanical impact that can come into play at key moments, reinforcing the idea that the characters aren’t operating in a vacuum, but live in a world where other individuals carry on with their own agendas and schemes.

Using Obligation

For the GM, Obligation is a holocron of story ideas, adventure hooks, and character motivations. Does one of the characters owe a Hutt a favor? What better way to motivate the character than to have that Hutt call in the outstanding favor? Maybe another character has a sick daughter who needs costly treatment. When he receives word of a lucrative job, he may see no other choice than to accept, even if he has reservations about the work involved. There are so many different types of Obligations, and so many ways those Obligations can be described, that the GM could create an entire campaign solely around the characters resolving their Obligations.

For the players, Obligations help define character concepts, tether them to the setting in real ways, and offer opportunities for the players to determine how their characters know and interact with each other. Perhaps that character who owes a favor to the Hutt isn’t the only character whose progress the Hutt has been tracking. Another character may owe the Hutt a large sum of money. Perhaps another character is being blackmailed to provide surveillance of the Hutt’s hideout. Discussing the party’s Obligations can really help bring the group together by establishing relationships and context between the characters and the setting.

Mechanically, Obligation can come up during play when the GM makes an “obligation check” at the beginning of the session. Here is a general overview of how that works. The GM rolls percentile dice against the characters’ combined Obligation ratings. If the percentile roll is equal to or less than the total party Obligation, one of the characters’ Obligations may come into play. Perhaps that Hutt is calling in that favor the character owes him. Maybe bounty hunters arrive to collect an outstanding debt, or maybe a skip tracer has been sent out on someone with a criminal record trying to keep a low profile. 

When Obligation is triggered like this during a session, the character whose Obligation was triggered suffers a minor in-game penalty. Being around that character is stressful enough that the other party members suffer a lesser penalty. This represents the anxiety and tension that build up as the character realizes he may have to face his Obligation – or face the consequences. It’s just enough to remind the players that their characters’ Obligations really do matter, and if left unchecked, their unresolved debts could get them into (even more) serious trouble.

You Are What You Owe

Click on the thumbnail above to preview the Edge of the Empire Obligation chart (pdf, 136 KB).

By the time Obligation had been defined narratively and mechanically, I felt strongly that it was a cornerstone concept; it had become a key part of relating the sort of experience Edge of the Empire is meant to deliver. It is such an important element, in fact, that during character creation, determining your character’s Obligation is one of the very first steps. Before you even select your race or career, you determine your character’s starting Obligation. 

This process can be as simple as deciding how much he owes and to whom he owes it. However, it could also help a player inform a rich, detailed background for his character based on how that Obligation came into being and how it has affected the character’s life. Regardless, spending a little bit of time thinking about a character’s Obligation adds context to the other decisions made during character creation. And it adds depth, drama, and a definite edge to your Star Wars adventures.

Thanks, Jay!

Obligation is one of the many ways that Edge of the Empire immerses players in the Star Wars galaxy’s high fantasy and shadiest locations. It helps players imagine their characters’ histories and motivations, and it connects their characters to the world in which they live.

In coming previews, we’ll learn more about the characters of Edge of the Empire. We'll walk through character creation and look at some of the rarest and most mysterious individuals in any Edge of the Empire campaign, those Force sensitive exiles who have managed to keep their abilities secret. We'll explore how GMs may use obligation in a single session and throughout a campaign, and we'll watch the narrative system in action as we explore how players can work together to tackle the obstacles before them. Keep checking back!

Participate in grim and gritty adventures on the fringes of the Star Wars universe with Star Wars®: Edge of the Empire™. Edge of the Empire is a complete standalone roleplay system that transports players to some of the shadiest locations in the Outer Rim, the underbelly of the Core Worlds, and everywhere else in-between!

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