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Corradus

Alternate Ways of Dealing with Obligation

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So...Obligation's mechanics have bothered me for a while, and I'm looking to replace them with something better, and I wonder if anybody's got any houseruled/homebrewed suggestions?

I like the notion of Obligations, but as with any ostensibly punitive meta-mechanic, Obligations in practice just end up being an annoying Strain-tax on players who - because of the particulars of a campaign's story - might not be in any position to do anything about it.

 

Now, granted a spectacular Game Official can often weave cited Obligations into present storylines, but more often than not trying to do so comes off as contrived.  I've found that discharging Obligation often works best when it's kept separate from "my" plotlines.  That's not absolute of course, sometimes I need a crime boss to act as a prime heavy for a plot and oh lookie there!  Player Ignatius just happens to owe Crime Boss X a lot of credits!  But more often than not it just doesn't flow that way.

Which means that - like I said earlier - players just end up losing strain game after game without any remedy, especially in larger game groups like five or six players.

There just has to be a better way...any thoughts?

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I'm prepared to brave the storm of criticisms, but I have an idea of changing Obligation to run like Duty, caling it influence instead.  The PCs are trying to build Influence and gain ranks in Connection (equal to AoR Contribution) once they reach 100.  PCs choose Influence in different types of activities (both legal and illegal) that equate to power in the Outer Rim.

 

INFLUENCE TABLE: (d100) Influence Type

  • (01–08) Acquisitions: A colloquialism for collecting bounties, the Player Character is deeply involved with the location, capture, and sometimes death of individuals who do not wish to be found. He actively seeks out contracts to increase his status and reputation with the various bounty guilds and crime lords.
  • (09–16) Activism:  The enslavement of alien species, genocide, political disenfranchisement, elimination of corporate greed–the PC is dedicated to bringing attention to a specific cause, possibly even resorting to terrorist tactics to get the message across.
  • (17–24) Development:  From exploration and colonization to simply running a trading post, the Player Character is concerned with making the Outer Rim a more habitable place for the rest of the Galaxy. To this end, he seeks to establish lasting improvements, be they settlements or hyperspace routes, as his legacy.
  • (25–32) Information:  In the Outer Rim, just as in every other corner of the galaxy, information is power, and knowing the right things can save one’s life. The Player Character gathers and trades information on the various dealings around him. While he may sell this information and even occasionally engage in blackmail, the collection of important secrets itself is what drives him.
  • (33–40) Law and Order:  The Outer Rim is a dangerous place well beyond the reach of civilized society, and it takes a strong hand and a steady blaster pistol to maintain order. The Player Character is devoted to the enForcement of laws. Whether he his approach is good mannered or oppressive and brutal is up to him.
  • (41–48) Military Contracting:  War is a business, and business is good in the Outer Rim. The Empire, corporations, criminal syndicates and even the Rebellion call on the services of mercenaries to turn the tide of a battle. The Player Character works as ether a freelancer or a member of a mercenary company.
  • (49–56) Networking:  Sometimes it is not what you know, but who you know. Similar to the Information Influence, but the Player Character is driven to make connections and build networks of friends and allies for use at a later time. He often gives out favors so that one day he might collect on them.
  • (57–64) Political Influence:  Power of the people or power over the people, the Player Character desires involvement in the political machinations of various governments. He may seek office himself, become a lobbyist of sort, or attempt to exert control of a politician through extortion or blackmail.
  • (65–72) Smuggling:  The Outer Rim thrives on its black market economy. It takes the right kind of person to move goods quickly and quietly while dodging imperial customs at the same time. The Player Character is an expert of moving items–and sometimes people–from place to place.
  • (73–80) Syndicates:  Hutt kajidics, the Black Sun, Tenloss Syndicate, corporations, etc.–the Player Character is focused to the development of an organization. Similar to the Networking PC, the Syndicate-driven PC makes connections on behalf of the group. He strives to make the syndicate stronger, expand its reach, and increase its power and influence.
  • (81–88) Tech Development:  Whether through legal research or with Outlaw Tech, the Player Character develops–or possibly steals–the latest technology. The PC is constantly seeking to improve the machines around him, pushing them to their limit. To this PC, having the right tech is a matter of life and death in the harsh reality of the Outer Rim.
  • (89–96) Wealth:  Pure, unadulterated greed. Whether to be the biggest entrepreneur in the Outer Rim or steal them all blind, the Player Character is driven to amass a fortune of credits for his own personal gain.
  • (97–00) Roll twice on this chart:  The PC's Influence is equally split between two different areas of focus, and success in either is good for increasing the Influence score.

If you're interested, I have made a guide on my approach on how to blend the 3 mechanics.  It hasn't been playtested yet, but it is something we are considering implementing when our campaign reboots in a few months.

Edited by Domingo

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Domingo's blended system is interesting, I recommend reading through the guide.

However, I think Obligation works quite well.  The one caveat to that is that it must be set up well from the beginning.  I really think Obligation is best if chosen during character creation and discussed, altered, adjusted in a Session Zero.  If you just have a bunch of random Obligations attached to PCs then yes, it seems arbitrary and meta.  If the Obligations make sense to where the PCs are in their story, then their use will be more organic and grow out of the narrative.  Ideally the Obligation roll at the beginning of a session helps drive the story and give more depth to the plot. 

 

I would challenge you to write "your" plots with the potential for triggered Obligation, instead of ignoring it.  More than other systems I've run, Edge of the Empire (and the other FFG Star Wars) are about the characters' stories, not the world's story.  A lot of adventures work with any characters tossed into the story.  In this system, it's more about figuring out what the characters' place is in the adventure and how they develop throughout it.  It's a subtle shift of focus, but I think it's important and that Obligation (as well as Motivation) are part of the way the system encourages it.

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I have an entire document with each PC's Obligations noted, what can be inserted into stories when triggered, plus ideas on how they can reduce the Obligation. In addition I've got a collection of NPCs associated with each Obligation that may appear at given situations if the PC hasn't done anything about dealing with the Obligation.

 

You don't have to have the triggered Obligation interfere with your story or campaign, it can very easily play out in the background. For example: Last session I had my players getting involved on Hoth as freelancers aiding the Rebels. One of them had their Obligation triggered for a debt to Black Sun, so although I was playing in a canon setting I was still able to insert in some Black Sun influence (aligned with Shadows of the Empire) where the player found some code imbedded into a ship that was obviously tracking them. The player had the option to remove the code and help the Rebels, or leave it there and help Black Sun (thus dealing with Obligation). He chose to remove the code, so next time his Obligation triggers he'll now have to deal with a higher level issue.

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[...] but as with any ostensibly punitive meta-mechanic [...]

There's varying opinions on this, but by various conversations with the devs and my own interpretation of the rules as written, Obligation is not meant to be punitive at all. You take on obligation in exchange for some sort of benefit. If the GM wants punish players of "bad story decisions" without also giving them shinies in return, then I would suggest they handle it narratively rather that increasing their obligation.

 

However, if a player really wants a Heavy Repeating Blaster but does not have the credits to purchase it, allow him to take a 5 debt obligation and work with the player on who owns the debts so you both can craft an interesting story for that character.

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[...] but as with any ostensibly punitive meta-mechanic [...]

There's varying opinions on this, but by various conversations with the devs and my own interpretation of the rules as written, Obligation is not meant to be punitive at all. You take on obligation in exchange for some sort of benefit. 

 

Well, okay, first of all, it's not optional.  EVERY player MUST have Obligation, they can't start out clean.  So, saying that it's a reward for shinies is only partly correct.  The only way to make Obligation work for you mechanically is to take more of it, because you're not rewarded for taking the minimum "required" amount.

Now, in PRINCIPLE I don't have a problem with it, but frankly the way its set up mechanically is that basically the PC's have the equivalent of a persistent medical condition - like a toothache or a touchy gallbladder.

See, IMO, if you're gonna have a punitive meta-mechanic (and I know the Devs don't THINK of it this way, but IMO they're incorrect.) you either go one way or the other with it.  You either have a serious mechanic hooked to it, or you leave it entirely, completely in the realm of the narrative.  That is to say you let the GM and the Player work out when, where and how bad the Obligation pops its head up during the campaign.  Now, granted, that makes it harder to make everything fair across the board and harder still to assign a starting exchange value to any Obligation, but the way they're doing it now is pretty weak sauce.

 

I have an entire document with each PC's Obligations noted, what can be inserted into stories when triggered, plus ideas on how they can reduce the Obligation. In addition I've got a collection of NPCs associated with each Obligation that may appear at given situations if the PC hasn't done anything about dealing with the Obligation.

 

You don't have to have the triggered Obligation interfere with your story or campaign, it can very easily play out in the background. For example: Last session I had my players getting involved on Hoth as freelancers aiding the Rebels. One of them had their Obligation triggered for a debt to Black Sun, so although I was playing in a canon setting I was still able to insert in some Black Sun influence (aligned with Shadows of the Empire) where the player found some code imbedded into a ship that was obviously tracking them. The player had the option to remove the code and help the Rebels, or leave it there and help Black Sun (thus dealing with Obligation). He chose to remove the code, so next time his Obligation triggers he'll now have to deal with a higher level issue.

This is excellent of you, but I submit that such preparation is simply not an option on a continuous basis.  There WILL be times when a PC(s) "toothache" kicks in and they're knee deep in a plot that has nothing to do with them and due to the way it is CANNOT have anything to do with them, and they suffer strain or worse yet double strain tax because they can't do anything to discharge their Obligation or even service it where they are.  These situations aren't rare and they cannot always be solved by careful bridging of PC issues with general plot issues.  Thus the mechanic becomes at times needlessly punitive - particularly if I have a situation where a single plot situation is being resolved over multiple sessions.

I understand there's a heavy pressure here for me to put on my GM's Handwavium Gloves and just "make it right" but frankly that's simply not always possible, and what I need is a mechanic that takes that REALITY into account.

 

,Edge of the Empire (and the other FFG Star Wars) are about the characters' stories, not the world's story.  A lot of adventures work with any characters tossed into the story.  In this system, it's more about figuring out what the characters' place is in the adventure and how they develop throughout it.  It's a subtle shift of focus, but I think it's important and that Obligation (as well as Motivation) are part of the way the system encourages it.

Oh I have no problem with character driven storylines, but that has its limits too.  In Edge of the Empire, you're dealing with people who - perhaps more than in any of the other core books - are acutely motivated by their own agendas.  That means you simply cannot expect that Hired Gun Joe is gonna care about Explorer Sally's problems and vice versa.  Nevermind three other people's concerns and issues tossed into the mix.

Put another way - I have three characters in my campaign who have addiction Obligations.  If *I* didn't slide in my own plots, we'd basically have a Substance Abusers Anonymous campaign set in the Lucasian universe - which frankly isn't the best universe to explore such ideas in.  Not to mention the other two players who don't have that Obligation - what are they supposed to do?  Maybe their Obligations can be woven into the story, maybe they can't.  But if I introduce a plot, I know everybody's on board because the plot is generalized enough that nobody can end up left out of it.

As for a Star Wars game being "not about the world" umm...patently incorrect.  Star Wars is epic pulp space opera.  This is where the big ideas come to live, unencumbered by petty notions of "how does that work actually?" and "how precisely does any economy no matter how large make a space station the size of a small planet?"  Which lends itself periodically to rampages of big ideas and the armies that back them across the galaxy.

But even if you don't want to look at it that way, every world, no matter where, no matter what imposes its reality on characters.  If they want to eat, sleep and have a little fun sometimes they must play by the rules of the "world" they're in.  Otherwise why does Obligation even work?

So, like I said, I'm not averse to the notion of Obligation, I just really think it needs better mechanics.

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I think you will find that no system is perfect for the campaign you want to run. I have never run a RAW game. I have always used house rules.

If you want to do the stress factor as purely narrative, there is no problem with that. If you want to throw in a setback die when the player(s) is making a check in a particular stressful situation relating to their obligation you can. You should always take the rules as suggestions. Your main concern is just being consistent and fair.

When I eventually get around to running my campaign, I will have the obligation predetermined as it is a major factor in the campaign. It will have a significant impact on NPC interaction when active. The campaign will have the players working from obligation to duty when they are fully accepted by the group they are joining. When the obligation becomes active, some event will have happened and the player will be suspect as they are new to the group. This will provide tension in their interactions with other NPCs. When they transition into duty, they will feel a difference in their dealings with the NPCs, so they will feel a sense of advancement.

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[...] but as with any ostensibly punitive meta-mechanic [...]

There's varying opinions on this, but by various conversations with the devs and my own interpretation of the rules as written, Obligation is not meant to be punitive at all. You take on obligation in exchange for some sort of benefit. 

 

Well, okay, first of all, it's not optional.  EVERY player MUST have Obligation, they can't start out clean.  So, saying that it's a reward for shinies is only partly correct.  The only way to make Obligation work for you mechanically is to take more of it, because you're not rewarded for taking the minimum "required" amount.

Now, in PRINCIPLE I don't have a problem with it, but frankly the way its set up mechanically is that basically the PC's have the equivalent of a persistent medical condition - like a toothache or a touchy gallbladder.

 

Meh.  Just MHO, but I only rarely directly invoke Obligation in the game.  Using it for chargen is great, it helps the players define their characters and develop a backstory.  But the last thing I need as a GM is to be held hostage by a funky dice roll that says I have to use PC X's Obligation this session because I rolled some number.  Instead I treat the Obligation as backstory threads I can weave into the current narrative and help build a richer story.  As far as rolling, the most I'll do is see if the party gets triggered, and then weave in whatever thing I have prepared for that eventuality, so long as it makes sense for the rest of the campaign.

 

It's a useful tool, but you shouldn't feel like you have to use it exactly as prescribed.

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I keep a sheet with the group's obligation among other things.

At the end of a session (not at the beginning!!) we roll for morality and obligation.

I note whose obligation has been triggered and announce it. If possible, i will weave it in in the next session (something needs to happen, i don't like the strain-only option).

If nothing can happen due to current story, i'll just use the strain penalty for that session, but leave the obligation with a mark. At first opportunity, i will provide something that triggers the obligation, which might come in 2 or 3 session.

Obligation may start to add up; if you have the same obligation triggered twice before being able to "respond", just make up something "harsher". If different people are triggered, you can easily make a session where two different obligations come up.

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I was under the impression the mechanic hooked into Obligation was giving the PC group a 120,000cr starship (or business/homestead if using the colonist options from Far Horizons).

 

That said, I enjoy when a PC's Obligation conflicts with the plot just as much as when it conveniently ties into the current events, if not more so. Some of my most memorable sessions in EotE are ones that were greatly 'derailed' by old comrades showing up or somebody that *has* to try their luck in winning that new XP-38, or entire episodes that were side-tracks focusing on one PC who *had* to go home on the way to the mission proper. The Strain effect is usually seen as a rather minor effect of stress from the reminder of what's compelling them to live out on the fringe.

 

My current GM is apparently not invoking our Obligations in our campaign and I find it rather lacking. Motivation is OK enough to outline a character's basic operations but I find the ones with Obligation have so much more story and drive behind them.

 

The main rule I alter (asides from not strictly adhering to Obligation roll results or the altered reputation chart) is rolling Obligation after a session (including session zero). I like a little prep time to work Obligation into the session's events and I don't know what FFG thought would be gained by doing so at the beginning with hasty improvisation.

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Obligation is a narrative device.  It's supposed to be used to add plot twists and conflict into the story line.  It shouldn't be treated like a punishment.  Obligation isn't there to screw your characters, it's there to help the story.

 

As a GM, you can use obligation or not use it as you see fit.  If you roll someone's obligation and it's just highly unlikely, or even silly, that it would occur with the current state of affairs in your campaign, just ignore the roll.  If what you've got planned would fit perfectly with someone's obligation, just do it; don't bother rolling.  And if you do roll, and if you're finding it too difficult to incorporate rolled obligation into your campaign on-the-fly, do as someone else suggested and roll obligation for the NEXT session at the end of the CURRENT session.  That'll give you a week or two to incorporate it.  If you want to.  If you don't, ignore it :)

 

Again, it's there to help, not hinder, and not to punish anyone.  And I would definitely NOT recommend just applying the strain adjustment without actually doing something with the obligation.  To me, that's totally ridiculous.  The point is not to blindly follow a game mechanic, but to use obligation as a tool to help advance campaign plots.  If my GM told me that I had to lower my strain threshold by one just because Bob the Bounty Hunter was "worried" about his gambling debt, I'd tell the GM, and Bob, to kiss the business end of my blaster rifle :)  There's no gain to the story, or to the fun, in that situation, so it's pointless to do it.  If, however, half way through the session, my group is attacked by thugs working for the mob boss that ran the sabacc table where Bob lost all of his credits and bet the group's ship as collateral (and neglected to tell the group), then THAT would be a proper application of the lower-strain-threshold-by-one rule, and moreso for Bob lowering his by 2 since as soon as the group finds out, they'll probably be just as likely to want to kill him as the thugs.

 

See?  First way, you get annoyed players who think "that's a stupid rule!" (and they'd be right).  Second way, you add a fun new plot twist, escaping from thugs and trying to figure out exactly what else Bob bet that night, how much Corellian whiskey he was drinking, and who was that mysterious twi'lek dancer he was talking to and what group secrets did Bob tell her?  Didn't we see her later that night, hanging around outside that Hutt's palace...?

 

Remember that this is a game and it's supposed to be fun.  If something doesn't make the game fun, then don't do it.  And if a basic game mechanic appears to be making the game not fun, then you're probably not using it correctly :)  Or at least, in the spirit with which it was intended.

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The main rule I alter (asides from not strictly adhering to Obligation roll results or the altered reputation chart) is rolling Obligation after a session (including session zero). I like a little prep time to work Obligation into the session's events and I don't know what FFG thought would be gained by doing so at the beginning with hasty improvisation.

Hey you know I never thought of doing it that way...good thinking!

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