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Obligation House Rules - Feedback Appreciated

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Hi all
 
OK, so the Obligation Rules - much discussed on this forum over the year - have been bothering me for a while.  I really, really like them as a character creation tool, and a lot of the mechanics almost make sense from a design perspective; certainly you can see what the designers had in mind.  But it's actually not very narrative at all, it's a massive pain for the GM, it can disrupt the flow of adventures, and the random rolling means that some characters can get completely left out if the dice go the wrong way.  I also have fairly fluid party numbers, which means that things like the 100 Obligation cap, and the affect it has when dealing with NPCs, is a bit...weird.
 
However, what I *do* like about Obligation is that is attempts to provide a mechanical incentive for the players to to address it, with the imposition on strain threshold and the fact it can disrupt the best-laid plans.
 
I've been reading around the forums a fair bit, and I'm considering rewriting the Obligation rules the following way:
  • Obligation is not "rolled" - it doesn't "trigger" at any point.
  • Obligation imposes an automatic, individual Strain Threshold penalty on each character, reducing the threshold by 1 for every 5 points of Obligation after the first 5 (so 10 Obligation imposes a penalty of 1, 15 imposes 2, 20 imposes 3, and so on).  Edit: Realised it wasn't clear that this is based off each character's individual Obligation, so that each PC has a unique penalty depending on how much Obligation they've taken.
  • Each Obligation (or possibly each PC's total Obligation, TBC) increases automatically by 1 at the end of each session, unless something has been done to address that Obligation during the session.  Narrative reasons can be come up with to explain why this is for each Obligation (e.g. mounting pressure to pay back a debt, addiction/obsession becoming more prominent, etc.)
  • Although no roll is made, the GM should present regular opportunities for each PC to address their Obligation.  In addition, players interested in doing so should make suggestions to the GM as to how they might go about it.
 
The way I interpret Obligation, it should fundamentally present *obstacles* that prevent the PCs from achieving their *motivations* (whether these motivations individual or as a party).  I figure the above suggestions achieve that better than RAW, but I'd love to know what people think, and whether there's any obvious issues with these houserules.
 
(Note: while all feedback is greatly appreciated, I'm not interested in starting an argument over whether the current rules work/don't work - that has been addressed repeatedly elsewhere on the forums, and there are any number of threads where that argument is still going on.  I've accepted that, for my table, the rules *don't* work, and therefore am interested to find an alternative.)
 
Thanks in advance.
Edited by edwardavern
Lack of clarity

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I really don't like the strain threshold penalty, but I can't speak for you and your players. I like the rest of your bullet points, however. I def like the idea of the Obligation being used as a sort of "countdown", and the "interest" being added to the Obligation rating at the end of the sessions. I might nick that :)

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Sorry, I don't mean to be a neigh sayer but you did ask for feedback so here it goes:

I'm not a big fan of the static effects of the obligation style you describe. One thing I like about obligation is that it creates another way to provide surprises (even to the GM) in your story. I think surprises (and the threat of surprises) are the bread and butter of the SW RPG experience. This is the same reason I love the narrative dice. So I guess I'm saying that I'd rather have an element of the unexpected, even if it is a paint deal with sometimes. Here're some of my own house rules that I've used to deal with some of the pitfalls you describe:

1) I don't roll to see exactly which PCs obligation is triggered but rather use GM discretion to trigger an obligation that makes thematic sense with my current plot (we do roll to see if it is triggered using the more general threshold). I also use a rough rotation so that everyone gets their moment in the spotlight (or interrogation chamber:).

2) I won't let my campaign be derailed by obligation- if it's inconvenient then I'd probably just trigger the good ol' strain mechanism and tell them why 

3) I like that others have suggested to roll obligation AT THE END of each session so you have time to prepare and fit it into your campaign

Anyways, I really am not trying to be a #$%. I just thought I'd give you my own 2 cents, or whatever it's worth. 

 

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I don't know that when you make the roll is all that important during session , I think that if you just spell out the effects will occur the following session that's fine. 

 I know my guys like making the roll. They enjoyed the whole idea they were wanted , and on the run and didn't mind the effects .

 To me not rolling defeats the purpose . To a certain extent it's a game of chance and if you take the chance out of the equation what you're left with is an accounting exercise in my opinion . If you can plan for and budget the effects of obligation that certainly takes the adventurous spirit out of it for me .

 I typically ran my Star Wars games episodic , so that made dealing with obligation much easier . What I will say is I always gave my players an idea of the story they would be playing and the sort of people that they would be . It helped informing them when they selected obligation , so it made it a lot easier for me to integrate it into the story . 

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13 hours ago, panpolyqueergeek said:

I really don't like the strain threshold penalty, but I can't speak for you and your players. I like the rest of your bullet points, however. I def like the idea of the Obligation being used as a sort of "countdown", and the "interest" being added to the Obligation rating at the end of the sessions. I might nick that :)

Glad you like the countdown/interest mechanic.  Can I ask why you object to the strain threshold penalty?  I mean, obviously I've modified it, but a penalty on strain threshold is already RAW.  I was hoping that this system would make it less arbitrary.

 

11 hours ago, whafrog said:

I simply don't use it at all past chargen.  Incentives, and *actual* obligation, should come from the story, not some bean-counting technique.

Hey whafrog.  Yeah, I've read your comments on this on other threads.  I thought about it, and I completely agree that incentives and obligation should be built into the narrative, but I like having a mechanical pressure to build tension and push my players into action.  Some of my players are relative newbies, and anything that encourages them to be proactive, rather than simply reacting to the story, is useful.  Like I say, the RAW almost did this.

As for bean-counting...I mean, sure, but you could make the same argument about wounds, strain, XP, encumbrance, force points, skill ranks...

 

8 hours ago, VadersMarchKazoo said:

Sorry, I don't mean to be a neigh sayer but you did ask for feedback so here it goes:

I'm not a big fan of the static effects of the obligation style you describe. One thing I like about obligation is that it creates another way to provide surprises (even to the GM) in your story. I think surprises (and the threat of surprises) are the bread and butter of the SW RPG experience. This is the same reason I love the narrative dice. So I guess I'm saying that I'd rather have an element of the unexpected, even if it is a paint deal with sometimes. Here're some of my own house rules that I've used to deal with some of the pitfalls you describe:

1) I don't roll to see exactly which PCs obligation is triggered but rather use GM discretion to trigger an obligation that makes thematic sense with my current plot (we do roll to see if it is triggered using the more general threshold). I also use a rough rotation so that everyone gets their moment in the spotlight (or interrogation chamber:).

2) I won't let my campaign be derailed by obligation- if it's inconvenient then I'd probably just trigger the good ol' strain mechanism and tell them why 

3) I like that others have suggested to roll obligation AT THE END of each session so you have time to prepare and fit it into your campaign

Anyways, I really am not trying to be a #$%. I just thought I'd give you my own 2 cents, or whatever it's worth. 

 

4

No need to apologise, my friend.

I'm happy to have obligation come along as a surprise to the players - my system doesn't preclude that at all.  In fact I will almost certainly do so.  And I've basically been using the 3 points you suggest in my game so far; we came to the same conclusions.  I've just not found that to be satisfying enough.  My group can't meet as regularly as I'd like, and if there's no Obligation for a couple of sessions - either because nobody's was rolled, or because it would derail the story - then it can be very easy to forget (again, especially for my newer players).  Having something that constantly reminds them that it's there, in the back of their mind, seems like it would be useful.

 

7 hours ago, 2P51 said:

I don't know that when you make the roll is all that important during session , I think that if you just spell out the effects will occur the following session that's fine. 

 I know my guys like making the roll. They enjoyed the whole idea they were wanted , and on the run and didn't mind the effects .

 To me not rolling defeats the purpose . To a certain extent it's a game of chance and if you take the chance out of the equation what you're left with is an accounting exercise in my opinion . If you can plan for and budget the effects of obligation that certainly takes the adventurous spirit out of it for me .

 I typically ran my Star Wars games episodic , so that made dealing with obligation much easier . What I will say is I always gave my players an idea of the story they would be playing and the sort of people that they would be . It helped informing them when they selected obligation , so it made it a lot easier for me to integrate it into the story . 

Hmm.  I agree that removing the element of chance does somewhat compromise the "adventurous spirit"...although I don't agree that it becomes just an accounting exercise, any more than tracking XP does.  I'm hoping it'll create a slow build of tension in the back of everyone's mind.

My campaign is less episodic than I originally planned, I must admit, although I did the same thing as you when it came to Obligation.

 

Thanks for the feedback everyone.  Much appreciated.

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8 hours ago, VadersMarchKazoo said:

if it's inconvenient then I'd probably just trigger the good ol' strain mechanism and tell them why 

 

1

Meant to include this in the previous post - apologies for that.

This here is one of my biggest issues with the Obligation RAW.  The strain penalty is useful mechanically; it reminds the PCs that their past is always there, and creates incentive to reduce Obligation.  But it's also completely arbitrary, and almost always gets used this way: "I couldn't work Obligation into the session, so reduce your strain threshold and we'll ignore it".  Plus, it always bothered me that one PC's Obligation affected the strain threshold of other characters, especially if that Obligation was something like "Oath" or "Family" or something that wouldn't/couldn't affect the party.

(I'm not even going to mention the doubles rule...)

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15 hours ago, whafrog said:

I simply don't use it at all past chargen.  Incentives, and *actual* obligation, should come from the story, not some bean-counting technique.

What Whafrog said:

 

Never let a good storyline be interrupted by random die rolls. The last time I used a random generation system for a game was a D&D random dungeon generator in 1985.

 

I ignore the obligation rules completely and use the obligations themselves as hooks for plot lines inside my main story arc. 

That way all characters feel included and the story can intertwine around the characters to bind them together as opposed to leading off in random directions. 

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19 hours ago, edwardavern said:
 
I've been reading around the forums a fair bit, and I'm considering rewriting the Obligation rules the following way:
  • Obligation is not "rolled" - it doesn't "trigger" at any point.
  • Obligation imposes an automatic, individual Strain Threshold penalty on each character, reducing the threshold by 1 for every 5 points of Obligation after the first 5 (so 10 Obligation imposes a penalty of 1, 15 imposes 2, 20 imposes 3, and so on).
  • Each Obligation (or possibly each PC's total Obligation, TBC) increases automatically by 1 at the end of each session, unless something has been done to address that Obligation during the session.  Narrative reasons can be come up with to explain why this is for each Obligation (e.g. mounting pressure to pay back a debt, addiction/obsession becoming more prominent, etc.)
  • Although no roll is made, the GM should present regular opportunities for each PC to address their Obligation.  In addition, players interested in doing so should make suggestions to the GM as to how they might go about it.

 

Here's some Feedback like you asked for - I'm not going to tell you what I personally do or don't do. 

The Automatic individual Strain at thresholds of 5 is a good idea and also gives the players a Tactic they can use to make choices. I.E. trying to avoid the next threshold or reduce to get under the one currently at. Thresholds of 10 might be less harsh as taking on extra obligation early will be extra punishing for low exp PCs. Later on a PC can offset this with talents. 

If the Obligation never "triggers" I don't think it should increase by 1 automatically. This removes player choice and I think that is negative. Instead I think that you as the GM should determine when someones Obligation comes into play and if that situation isn't resolved or perhaps even ignored - then increase the Obligation. The player has then made a choice or perhaps failed  to deal with their Obligation and the causality is evident.

Some Obligations are easier to work in to your stories than other, so I think that while you avoid the Randomness, you have to substitute that with even more planning with this method. Especially since players should have a similar about of time in the spotlight.

 

All in all - I like this house-rule and will try it myself.

Edited by GM_loke

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19 hours ago, edwardavern said:
OK, so the Obligation Rules - much discussed on this forum over the year - have been bothering me for a while.  I really, really like them as a character creation tool, and a lot of the mechanics almost make sense from a design perspective; certainly you can see what the designers had in mind.  But it's actually not very narrative at all, it's a massive pain for the GM, it can disrupt the flow of adventures, and the random rolling means that some characters can get completely left out if the dice go the wrong way.  I also have fairly fluid party numbers, which means that things like the 100 Obligation cap, and the affect it has when dealing with NPCs, is a bit...weird.
 
However, what I *do* like about Obligation is that is attempts to provide a mechanical incentive for the players to to address it, with the imposition on strain threshold and the fact it can disrupt the best-laid plans.
 
I've been reading around the forums a fair bit, and I'm considering rewriting the Obligation rules the following way:
  • Obligation is not "rolled" - it doesn't "trigger" at any point.
  • Obligation imposes an automatic, individual Strain Threshold penalty on each character, reducing the threshold by 1 for every 5 points of Obligation after the first 5 (so 10 Obligation imposes a penalty of 1, 15 imposes 2, 20 imposes 3, and so on).
  • Each Obligation (or possibly each PC's total Obligation, TBC) increases automatically by 1 at the end of each session, unless something has been done to address that Obligation during the session.  Narrative reasons can be come up with to explain why this is for each Obligation (e.g. mounting pressure to pay back a debt, addiction/obsession becoming more prominent, etc.)
  • Although no roll is made, the GM should present regular opportunities for each PC to address their Obligation.  In addition, players interested in doing so should make suggestions to the GM as to how they might go about it.
 
The way I interpret Obligation, it should fundamentally present *obstacles* that prevent the PCs from achieving their *motivations* (whether these motivations individual or as a party).  I figure the above suggestions achieve that better than RAW, but I'd love to know what people think, and whether there's any obvious issues with these houserules.

I've never seen Obligation as a method to throw up obstacles. I see it, primarily, as a built-in stick to motivate players into either biting on plot thread or just... doing something. Anything. Turtling up is a bad habit a lot of players get into. Secondarily, it's a guide for GMs to develop plot threads that suit what the characters bring to the table. Writing out an entire campaign is a bad habit a lot of GMs get into.

Players should be following their character's Motivations regardless of Obligation. If they're not, the GM and the players should discuss switching their Motivations or the GM should figure out a reward system for adhering to Motivation.

Mechanically, the problem with automatically imposing a Strain Threshold penalty is that it affects every player the same. The Obligation becomes less of a personal problem for the character and a universal group problem. While they're part of a team, Edge of the Empire characters are also rugged individualists that bring their historical baggage to the group dynamic. Some people will be affected more than others but it's also completely random, which makes it fair.

The easiest workaround to dealing with a triggered Obligation, if you don't have a plot ready for a player, is to just say, "your problem is on your character's mind. You take a Strain Penalty for this session." As long as you give your players an opportunity to address and lower their Obligation during the campaign, you're being a fair GM.

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1 hour ago, SirSaiCo said:

What Whafrog said:

 

Never let a good storyline be interrupted by random die rolls. The last time I used a random generation system for a game was a D&D random dungeon generator in 1985.

 

I ignore the obligation rules completely and use the obligations themselves as hooks for plot lines inside my main story arc. 

That way all characters feel included and the story can intertwine around the characters to bind them together as opposed to leading off in random directions. 

I mean...yeah, sure.  Which is why I have, in fact, suggested getting rid of the random dice rolls...?

 

35 minutes ago, GM_loke said:

 

Here's some Feedback like you asked for - I'm not going to tell you what I personally do or don't do. 

The Automatic individual Strain at thresholds of 5 is a good idea and also gives the players a Tactic they can use to make choices. I.E. trying to avoid the next threshold or reduce to get under the one currently at. Thresholds of 10 might be less harsh as taking on extra obligation early will be extra punishing for low exp PCs. Later on a PC can offset this with talents. 

If the Obligation never "triggers" I don't think it should increase by 1 automatically. This removes player choice and I think that is negative. Instead I think that you as the GM should determine when someones Obligation comes into play and if that situation isn't resolved or perhaps even ignored - then increase the Obligation. The player has then made a choice or perhaps failed  to deal with their Obligation and the causality is evident.

Some Obligations are easier to work in to your stories than other, so I think that while you avoid the Randomness, you have to substitute that with even more planning with this method. Especially since players should have a similar about of time in the spotlight.

 

All in all - I like this house-rule and will try it myself.

Thanks for the feedback.

Yeah, I'm not entirely sold on the thresholds of 5 either...but then 10 feels too high.  And anything in between just...upsets me.  So I might trial it one way and see how it goes.  I'd actually rather have something that felt slightly too harsh than something that never came into play because it was too soft.  But I'm also aware that if with 5+ PCs having lower thresholds could end up derailing the campaign as they all constantly scramble to reduce their Obligation.  So you might be right.  Will consider.

I do sort of see what you're saying about player choice, especially since there will inevitably be some sessions where the PCs are unable to do anything about their Obligation (last session, for example, the entire party was trapped in Coruscant's extreme lower levels; there wasn't a lot they could do to, for example, pay of debts during that time).  Hmm.  Will think on this.  I sort of feel that adding 1 compulsory Obligation is low enough that I'm not really robbing them of any serious agency.  I'll see what my players say, though - if they agree with you then I'll definitely rethink.

I definitely agree that some Obligations are easier to work into the story than others, so I will have to do a bit more planning for some PCs.  That's fine.  I'm happy with that.

 

13 minutes ago, Concise Locket said:

I've never seen Obligation as a method to throw up obstacles. I see it, primarily, as a built-in stick to motivate players into either biting on plot thread or just... doing something. Anything. Turtling up is a bad habit a lot of players get into. Secondarily, it's a guide for GMs to develop plot threads that suit what the characters bring to the table. Writing out an entire campaign is a bad habit a lot of GMs get into.

Players should be following their character's Motivations regardless of Obligation. If they're not, the GM and the players should discuss switching their Motivations or the GM should figure out a reward system for adhering to Motivation.

Mechanically, the problem with automatically imposing a Strain Threshold penalty is that it affects every player the same. The Obligation becomes less of a personal problem for the character and a universal group problem. While they're part of a team, Edge of the Empire characters are also rugged individualists that bring their historical baggage to the group dynamic. Some people will be affected more than others but it's also completely random, which makes it fair.

The easiest workaround to dealing with a triggered Obligation, if you don't have a plot ready for a player, is to just say, "your problem is on your character's mind. You take a Strain Penalty for this session." As long as you give your players an opportunity to address and lower their Obligation during the campaign, you're being a fair GM.

I agree with your description of Obligation as a stick, and that's in fact something I'm actively trying to encourage with this revised system.  I guess the reason I also like to view it as an obstacle is that I had an experience awhile ago where a Technician's Obligation (obsession with tech) was basically in line with her motivation (building cool tech).  The result was that when her Obligation triggered it was tricky to cause her any problems - ultimately, she wanted what she wanted.  Whereas if her Obligation had been, say, addiction to lesai, or family responsibility, it's much easier to see how those would have come into conflict and created a more interesting dynamic.

I've realised I wasn't actually clear in my original post... I meant that characters suffer individual Strain Threshold penalties based on their personal Obligation scores, not that the party suffers a universal Strain Threshold penalty.  Apologies for the lack of clarity.  Will edit.

(Sidenote: I must disagree with your equation that random = fair.  Random = random.  The result can still be deeply unfair.)

Yeah, I've basically been doing that workaround so far.  It just felt...naff, really.  So I was looking for something more present.

 

Thanks all.  Appreciate the time taken.

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5 hours ago, edwardavern said:

As for bean-counting...I mean, sure, but you could make the same argument about wounds, strain, XP, encumbrance, force points, skill ranks...

Not really, those are not plot- or character-driven, they are a measure of how your character directly interacts with the world.  I suppose you could say the Obligation mechanics can represent that too, but it's pretty nebulous, to the point that, for me at least, it's not only useless, it gets in the way.  But of course YMMV.

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Another thing I was thinking about is that the increasing strain mechanism you propose is a major disincentive to taking obligation. It's always been my understanding that obligation is something that the players must voluntarily take. If the penalty is too high, then I imagine that the PCs will just skip the chance to take any. So either you'll need to provide really sexy reasons to take obligation (or perhaps life threatening) or the obligation component of your game will just disappear.

Personally, after 21 sessions, I've found that it's somewhat hard to get my PCs obligation up to any considerable level (they typically hover around 45-55). I've been getting better at using it during metagame negotiations ex. dude, I really want mandolorian armor -  GM's response- Sure, is it worth 10 obligation to you?

 

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7 hours ago, edwardavern said:

Meant to include this in the previous post - apologies for that.

This here is one of my biggest issues with the Obligation RAW.  The strain penalty is useful mechanically; it reminds the PCs that their past is always there, and creates incentive to reduce Obligation.  But it's also completely arbitrary, and almost always gets used this way: "I couldn't work Obligation into the session, so reduce your strain threshold and we'll ignore it".  Plus, it always bothered me that one PC's Obligation affected the strain threshold of other characters, especially if that Obligation was something like "Oath" or "Family" or something that wouldn't/couldn't affect the party.

(I'm not even going to mention the doubles rule...)

I don't know. I think if someone in your group is feeling depressed or angry or mentally absent it can have a big impact on the group dynamic. 

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9 hours ago, edwardavern said:

Glad you like the countdown/interest mechanic.  Can I ask why you object to the strain threshold penalty?  I mean, obviously I've modified it, but a penalty on strain threshold is already RAW.  I was hoping that this system would make it less arbitrary.

I originally thought it applied to the whole group, but you've since clarified :)

 

Overall a solid houserule that I may borrow for my next game.

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17 hours ago, Archlyte said:

I like your rules as I understand them so far. I was wondering if the only reason you ditched the roll was because it denied some characters the opportunity to address their Obligation? 

The roll just felt a bit...arbitrary.  I've no objection to random elements in a game - I've actively encouraged them on other threads - but in this case it just felt like the whole mechanic was quite abstract from the thematic of the rules.  Plus, then, as you say, it left some characters out in the cold obligation-wise.  And sure, I can fiddle things to make sure everybody gets a turn, but if you're going to do that then why roll at all?  Why not just introduce it as a story element?  Or with Destiny Points?

 

16 hours ago, VadersMarchKazoo said:

Another thing I was thinking about is that the increasing strain mechanism you propose is a major disincentive to taking obligation. It's always been my understanding that obligation is something that the players must voluntarily take. If the penalty is too high, then I imagine that the PCs will just skip the chance to take any. So either you'll need to provide really sexy reasons to take obligation (or perhaps life threatening) or the obligation component of your game will just disappear.

Personally, after 21 sessions, I've found that it's somewhat hard to get my PCs obligation up to any considerable level (they typically hover around 45-55). I've been getting better at using it during metagame negotiations ex. dude, I really want mandolorian armor -  GM's response- Sure, is it worth 10 obligation to you?

 

3

This is a fair point, although again it's worth pointing out that a strain penalty is RAW, and while the original rules don't increase the penalty they do increase the odds of the penalty applying.

But yeah, you're right - this could discourage players from taking Obligation.  However, TBH my players aren't great at that anyway.  I'm planning on having a bit of an Obligation chat with my players at the beginning of the next session, to discuss the above rules and to remind them about things like taking new Obligation, etc.  I'll check with them to see whether they feel if the new system might discourage them more, and what reason they would find acceptable to take new obligation.

 

18 hours ago, whafrog said:

Not really, those are not plot- or character-driven, they are a measure of how your character directly interacts with the world.  I suppose you could say the Obligation mechanics can represent that too, but it's pretty nebulous, to the point that, for me at least, it's not only useless, it gets in the way.  But of course YMMV.

 

Fair enough.

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On 5/22/2018 at 9:57 AM, edwardavern said:

I agree with your description of Obligation as a stick, and that's in fact something I'm actively trying to encourage with this revised system.  I guess the reason I also like to view it as an obstacle is that I had an experience awhile ago where a Technician's Obligation (obsession with tech) was basically in line with her motivation (building cool tech).  The result was that when her Obligation triggered it was tricky to cause her any problems - ultimately, she wanted what she wanted.  Whereas if her Obligation had been, say, addiction to lesai, or family responsibility, it's much easier to see how those would have come into conflict and created a more interesting dynamic.

(Sidenote: I must disagree with your equation that random = fair.  Random = random.  The result can still be deeply unfair.)

I can see combinations of Obligations and Motivations causing problems. That seems like a good conversation to have with the player. By this point in my FFG SW GMing "career," I've become adept at spotting potential problem combinations. That's not to say that there isn't a way to resolve this combo but it may not be worth the extra effort. It also feels like the player may be min-maxing (or edging the story probability) in her favor. When I ran Shadowrun games I had players who were gun-specialists who also wanted their free hobby and knowledge skills to be "gun-related," to which I said, "NPCs are more well-rounded than that; try again." 

How is randomness unfair? Getting results that a player does or does not want isn't unfair unless the GM is putting his thumb on the scale. It may be advantageous or disadvantageous but unfairness doesn't factor into it; unfairness requires human intervention.

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1 hour ago, Concise Locket said:

I can see combinations of Obligations and Motivations causing problems. That seems like a good conversation to have with the player. By this point in my FFG SW GMing "career," I've become adept at spotting potential problem combinations. That's not to say that there isn't a way to resolve this combo but it may not be worth the extra effort. It also feels like the player may be min-maxing (or edging the story probability) in her favor. When I ran Shadowrun games I had players who were gun-specialists who also wanted their free hobby and knowledge skills to be "gun-related," to which I said, "NPCs are more well-rounded than that; try again." 

How is randomness unfair? Getting results that a player does or does not want isn't unfair unless the GM is putting his thumb on the scale. It may be advantageous or disadvantageous but unfairness doesn't factor into it; unfairness requires human intervention.

I mean, I think we're just disagreeing over our definitions of fair, here, really.  Seems like a somewhat semantic argument.

In that particular instance of the player I don't think it was so much min-maxing as an inexperienced player and, at the time, a pretty inexperienced GM.  We addressed it, so that's not a problem any more.

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