In the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire the player characters must have Obligations. This is a great game mechanic and here’s why!
“Jabba’s through with you. He has no time for smugglers who drop their shipments at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser.” The iconic scene in the Mos Eisley Cantina, where Greedo tries to collect the bounty Jabba has issued on Han Solo’s head and his failure of paying back what he owes the Hutt gangster, is one of my favorites.
I’ve been an avid Star Wars fan ever since I saw these films when I was a kid and I’ve played every Star Wars roleplaying game I’ve come across, from good’ol West End Games, to d20 Star Wars and Saga System, to the latest version published by Fantasy Flight.
Each of these games have their pros and cons, naturally, and each tries to catch the cinematic and grand space opera feeling in their own way. There’s however one simple mechanic in Edge of the Empire that I believe makes that particular version of Star Wars outshine all the other games. That game mechanic is Obligation.
How Obligation works
At character creation every player chooses an obligation for her character. Obligations come in many different form, but might be a debt to a crime lord, a bounty or something similar. As in the case with Han Solo, who owed Jabba big money, the player characters start the game with some trouble looming over their heads.
This does not only have a narrative effect, but also affects the characters in-game and has effect in character creation, as the more severe the obligation is, the more starting experience you have. In-game the characters might possible start each session with a number of strain due to the effect obligation has on them, i.e. stress, worries, always looking over their shoulders etc.
What makes Obligation great
Obligation is one of the best narrative tool I’ve found in a roleplaying game. In my opinion it is a way more powerful tool than the alignment system in D&D and similar games, since it has an effect within the system and the player characters not only feel its effect within the narrative.
Used correctly, Obligation is in itself all the motivator that the player characters need to move the narrative along. They need to get money to pay back their debts or to get the bounty of their heads, to have their identities erased from the Imperial archives and so on.
As the narrative progresses, the player characters might free themselves of one obligation, while taking on another more severe one, making the stakes even higher. They might pay off the debt they collected while buying that modified YT-1300 freighter, using money they stole from the Black Sun syndicate who want them caugt, dead or alive, preferably dead.
Obligation centers the narrative
The thing I like most about obligation, is the fact that it centers the narrative around the player characters and makes sure that their actions or inaction, has some effect, both in the narrative and within the system. The enemies they make and the people they screw over on the way actually matter and can have detrimental effect on the characters.
Each obligation has a numeric value and as that number grows, the chances that the player characters feel stressed and strained rise. When the numeric value is higher than 100 the player characters are so stressed out that they can’t spend experience, forcing them to deal with their actions and take them into consideration.
It’s more than just surviving
Obligation makes Star Wars: Edge of the Empire a superb roleplaying game. It’s more than just surviving, more than just raiding bank vaults, freeing crime lords from imperial prisons or collecting that bounty on Tatooine. It gives each player character a purpose, a reason to be among the scum and villainy of a galaxy far, far away.
This is what makes Obligation one of my favorite game mechanics ever.