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Orcsmasher

Obligations: I think I hate them

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I'm reposting my response in a thread over in the GM section (and I encourage any struggling with Obligation to review that thread):

 

http://community.fantasyflightgames.com/index.php?/topic/88274-obligation-how-do-you-find-yourself-using-it/

 

 

1) My response is going to be pretty long.

 

2) This response will contain minor spoilers for the adventure, SHADOWS OF A BLACK SUN.

 

3) I have not GM'd EotE yet, so my response is entirely theoretical.

 

So...

 

Based on the description in the book, it seems clear that the game designers want Obligation to be a bit of a wild card, but not one that disrupts your game. It's meant to enhance, not disrupt, game play. In that sense, you should NEVER feel obliged to gut or even alter your intended tale because of the random results of a die roll.

 

Personally, I view Obligation as the potential for "story seasoning," or setting a secondary tone/"B-story." I do my campaign like a TV series (22 sessions per season, complete with a mid-season and season finale) and I see Obligation as a way to add another layer of things.

 

Consider a show like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. At its core, each episode is about pretty much the same thing: Buffy defeats the Monster of the Week. (Note: If you're a big Buffy fan, as I am, please don't call me to task on this oversimplification; I'm trying to make a point.) But depending on whose "obligation" has come up, how the episode plays out is going to differ: Are Xander and Anya arguing this week? Or is Buffy trying to figure out what she can do besides kill critters? Or maybe Willow is concerned that she might "fall to the dark side"? Or maybe Spike is particularly maudlin over Buffy... Regardless of the spin, the end result will be the same (Monster of the Week is defeated), but the path and tone might differ.

 

For GMs and players who relish the "role-playing" aspect of the game, I think this is a fantastic tool. Similarly, for a GM looking for some random "spice" session to session, there's just so much potential...

 

SHADOWS OF THE BLACK SUN gives some great minor manifestations of Obligation. They vary in detail, but all boil down to the same thing: If the PC's Obligation is activated, things get just a little more difficult for the PCs.

 

Character A's Obligation is Favor (basically, she works as a slicer for some criminals). If active, there's one scene where her attempts to get into a business's system are upgraded because high-end corporations know about her growing reputation are setting up counter-measures.

 

Character B has Family (both he and his brother work for the same crime syndicate). In the adventure, there's one particular social actions where the difficulty of skill checks get harder because the criminals the PCs are dealing with recognize the PC (and don't especially like/respect the brother).

 

Character C has Criminal (she's from a family of criminals). If her Obligation is active, security cameras pick her up at one point (assuming the PCs take certain actions) and move in to arrest her. Although this IS an additional encounter, it's relatively minor one.

 

Character D has Betrayal (a fellow bounty hunter as a minor nemesis). If this Obligation becomes active, the nemesis shows up -- but rather than a new encounter, he joins some criminals in an encounter that would happen either way. His appearance just makes the fight harder.

 

Note that none of these options are especially intrusive to the overall plot. Three of the four make a single encounter or challenge a bit harder. The fourth is a larger complication, but still more of a hassle than a true fight. I think that's an excellent way to approach things: don't disrupt your own plot, but look for some way to make things just a little more difficult for the characters, just once, during the session. (Note that in the SHADOWS OF THE BLACK SUN adventure, most of this complications impact the group as a whole, but the "offending" player in particular).

 

I think another good way to activate an Obligation without disrupting a story too much is incorporate it into something that was going to happen already. For example, in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, Vader MUST get to Bespin eventually for the story to work, but perhaps Boba Fett wasn't originally involved -- until Han Solo's Obligation came up...

 

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When I ran the beginner box adventure, the players were all over reading their backgrounds, and figuring out how that fit in the adventure.  They liked it, and it fueled their game.

 

I dislike obligation as a series of rules.  I don't plan to roll for obligation unless absolutely I have to.

 

On the other hand, I plan to have it and track it.  Its personal for the players if their story lines work with the action. I think its useful to have obligation to track NPC concerns. i.e. if you want that illegal equipment, a Hutt can help, but they will want more than money...  Now, how were you going to go about getting a Light Turbo Laser on your Wayfarer?  Jabba can help.

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I've been thinking about this, too, and in our last session, none of us even thought once about the character obligations and how they play into the story.  We did the roll at the beginning, took the strain hit, and let it at that.  But that's kinda boring.

 

 

So, I came up with an idea.  Create an encounter.  Any encounter.  Make it generic enough to where you can place it into any setting (the street, a cantina, hangar bay).  Create the Advesaries, give them gear, stats, whatever.

 

Whether you're doing a pre-made adventure, or home brew, pick a spot in the adventure to put this encounter in.  It might mean that it's being shoe-horned into a pre-made, but at least consider it.

 

Then, have that encounter be the result of whatever obligation gets rolled at the beginning of the session.  When you get to that encounter, the narrative at the beginning of the encounter will be tailored to whoever made the roll.  Now, not every obligation lends itself to a faceoff with enemies, but take a look at your character's obligations and see if they could lead to a "generic" encounter that you can place into an adventure, if triggered for any character.

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You can also start it off small (not even an encounter) and expand upon it later.

 

I have a droid PC that took Betrayal (Mind Wipe) who was mind wiped by his previous owner and sold to the party.  His first obligation activation occurred.  Now, I know what I have planned for his obligation arc but he has no idea at the moment.

 

This activation created small program remnants that plagued him and disoriented his systems.  He didn't know what was wrong, simply that something was.  When he gets around to trying some self diagnosis, he may learn more about his side-plot.  Later on, I will introduce clues and NPCs that will help to flesh it out.  Most of these can be placed into a variety of locations or environments.

 

I have ideas like this for most of my pcs, and I am contemplating the rest.  Thankfully we are playing every other week so I have more planning time than my regular game.

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Dude, you're the GM. If you don't want their obligations to come up, roll the dice and go "Nope, no obligation." If you roll in front of them just be honest and say "You know, they just don't fit in tonight, so screw 'em."

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The only way for an obligation to become a serious issue during play is if you roll doubles - 11, 22, 33, and so on. Otherwise it's just a penalty to their Strain treshold.

 

My take on this has been to simply write up one or two minor "encounters" for each player, tailored to his obligation. These are generic enough to fit in anywhere and in (almost) any situation, and having them prepared beforehand means I won't have to rack my brains to come up with anything on the fly.

 

As an example, I have a Bounty Hunter player whose obligation is Dutybound - in this case to his guild. He also happens to have the Status motivation, as in he wants to be recognized as his guild's top hunter. I've designed a Rival-level NPC that can be a suitable target, and a short writeup of how he can be tracked down. If the player's obligation triggers with a double, he gets a visit from a guild official and another guild hunter. The official tells him that he's been getting behind on his hunting recently, and indicates that the other hunter (a suitably smug and annoying type) will have to step in and pick up the slack unless the player gets his act together and brings in this target soon.

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My take on this has been to simply write up one or two minor "encounters" for each player, tailored to his obligation. These are generic enough to fit in anywhere and in (almost) any situation, and having them prepared beforehand means I won't have to rack my brains to come up with anything on the fly.

 

As an example, I have a Bounty Hunter player whose obligation is Dutybound - in this case to his guild. He also happens to have the Status motivation, as in he wants to be recognized as his guild's top hunter. I've designed a Rival-level NPC that can be a suitable target, and a short writeup of how he can be tracked down. If the player's obligation triggers with a double, he gets a visit from a guild official and another guild hunter. The official tells him that he's been getting behind on his hunting recently, and indicates that the other hunter (a suitably smug and annoying type) will have to step in and pick up the slack unless the player gets his act together and brings in this target soon.

This is a pretty darn good idea.

 

Simply have a couple of "set pieces" tailored around that PC's Obligation, so when it comes up it can inserted into the encounter.  Just make sure to keep the location details as neutral as you can so that the insertion can look that much more seamless to the PCs.

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Lots of great ideas and good advice. I like the once per mission idea and love the make premade generic settings to fit them in when they come up. And rolling up at the end of the adventure before the next one is a brilliant idea.

 

Thanks so much. Two sessions today (if everyone shows up) I'll let you know how it goes.

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