I Feel Obligated to Post This (Uses of Obligation in Edge of the Empire)

There was a question posted in one of the Edge of the Empire communities on Google+ that went something like, “how do you keep Obligation relevant in EotE?  Don’t PCs just want to pay it down and then stop dealing with it once it’s not an ongoing concern?”

Han is not currently concerned about his Obligation

It’s a good question, and I think it takes a little bit of digging to really get at what Obligation should be in Edge of the Empire.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Fantasy Flight dropped the ball with this mechanic or anything.  It’s just that it’s a huge book, and Obligation might get kind of lost between all of those guns and ships and talents and skills.

On the other hand, Fantasy Flight does throw Obligation out as one of the first things you should be thinking about when you make your character.  They stress that it’s an important element of Edge of the Empire.  In fact, it’s one of the things that differentiates an Edge of the Empire game from, for example, Age of Rebellion.  It reinforces the concept that the PCs are on the fringe, that they owe someone something, and that they need to stay in motion to pay down that Obligation before it gets so big that it consumes them.

If Obligation stayed static, and the PCs payed it down, and it stayed at the minimum five points after they did a few jobs, I can see how the mechanic would fade to the background.  If it stayed static, and the PCs worked really hard to pay it down, a group of five PCs could eventually get to the point that they only had about a 25% chance that anything related to Obligation came up during the game session, meaning that 75% of the time they could do more or less what they wanted to do in the galaxy, without much of a care at all.

“Are you sure you don’t want to make a deal?”

That’s why you have to look for opportunities to temp them with yet more Obligation.  Show them the quick and easy path once in a while, and sell it to them at the cheap price of a few more points of Obligation.  Look for parts of the campaign where the GM would normally cringe at what the PCs should have logically set in motion, or at things that may not be action packed, but would take the PCs out of the adventuring game for a while, and then use obligation to cut around those things.

One of the reasons I like Obligation as a mechanic is because it reminds me of another mechanic in another game, which, at least on the surface doesn’t bear much resemblance to EotE.  In Marvel Heroic, one of the functions of XP is to pay for unlockables.  Instead of just using XP to make your character better, with more or higher rated traits, or to pick up more plot points, there are often less tangible things they can pay for that are tied to an event that actually let the PC effectively shape the narrative by paying XP.

PCs can do things like calling in help from one source or another, call in a big favor to resolve a scene in a manner that they describe, or consider themselves affiliated with a given nation or group of people when that association never manifested before.

In a lot of ways, Obligation is the same kind of “shaping the narrative” mechanic, but the shaping is a little more tangible, and instead of earning a certain amount of XP and then paying for the change in narrative, free and clear, the PCs are borrowing against an “account” of sorts to change the narrative, and that borrowing will eventually have consequences.

Here are some uses I came up with for increased Obligation from the games that I have run, and from some ideas that I have had that have not yet been used in game.

Prince Xizor had lunch with the Emperor.  I’m pretty sure your name was brought up.

Hit the Reset Button–The PCs end up on the wrong side of a new Vigo in Black Sun.  They survive the it, but instead of leaving with the knowledge that someone is out to get them, they hound the Vigo as she attempts to leave and kill her.

Of course, killing a Vigo isn’t the end of a problem, it’s the beginning.  Others in Black Sun will wonder who has the stones to kill one of their upper tier leadership.  ISB will notice that an important, rich Imperial citizen has gone missing, and they know who saw her last.  Having Imperial Intelligence and Black Sun both actively looking for you could be bad.

Starting a new life, at least until the heat is off, could be a great idea.  So for the low cost of 10 Obligation each, the Zann Consortium offers the PCs airtight false identities and a brand new ship.  Of course they need them to do a job right off the bat, with the chance to change that 10 Obligation to 5 . . .

(This is a good one for changing the direction of the campaign in general, if you want to create a new theme and move away from old enemies and towards new NPCs and regions of the galaxy.  It does require you to really sell how deep the PCs have dug themselves in, but then again, if you tell them ahead of time that the building is being watched by ISB and they still kill a Vigo, well, that’s kind of fair warning . . . )

For moisture farmers, Beru and Owen has some pretty indulgent equipment . . . 2 land speeders, an air speeder, and an oil bath?  How much do you make moisture farming, anyway?

I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed–Someone in the party, maybe the marauder or maybe the droid, has taken a lot of crits.  It will likely take them weeks of rest and medical  (or mechanical) attention to get back to full strength, and all those extra crits make combat an especially dangerous risk for the time being.

Enter your local employer, willing to pay for the best medical droid or mechanic, and some quality time with a  bacta tank or an oil bath, allowing the character to be up and running in a day or two, simply by accepting 5 Obligation.  Of course, down the road, it may be time to do a favor for your boss that doesn’t involve you getting a paycheck, but hey, at least your organs or components are firmly attached to your body again.

(This works best for a group that feels the urgent need to do something, and especially if you can sell how boring and unadventurous waiting around to heal would be to the characters.  Alternatively, it’s a great time for a recurring villain to track them down violate the sanctity of their base of operations, if only to reinforce why staying as healthy as possibly might be in their best interests).

“Next time I trust you will remember the cover letter for your TPS reports.”

A Shield of Red Tape–Has your group’s Force Sensitive Exile been a little too public with their use of Force powers?  Has their midichlorian flavored bacon saving technique happened on well known and observed worlds like Coruscant or even a resort planet like Cadomai Prime?

Maybe the best way to stave off paranoia and a potential visit from black armored inquisitive types might be to have a business associate of yours call in a marker so that the locals will investigate the potential rogue Force user.

How will that help?  Because if the locals are already filing a report and looking into it, and it doesn’t happen again, it’s likely to be handled at the local level, instead of involving pesky ISB or Inquisitorius agents.  And local Imperial government is much more likely to “forget” about this kind of investigation, especially when your business contact already donates plenty of credits to the local government official’s favorite charity.

So for 5 Obligation  (10 on a major world like Coruscant or Corellia), you don’t need to worry that your hand waving Rancor taming trick was seen by thousands of tourists, because the local officials are “looking into it,” and Imperial Center never needs to get involved.

(Making this one appealing is generally a matter of letting Force sensitives know exactly how bad it might be if the Empire sends someone around from higher up the food chain to ask about hand waving miracle workers.  And making Force users paranoid and ultra careful is really one of the ways this era of Star Wars differs from others).

“I find our lack of seats disturbing.”

The Mysterious Rescue–The PCs get into a fight in an enclosed space, somewhere they can’t get out of easily.  They just fought people that have the means to call in reinforcements, and the ability to make the PCs regret those reinforcements arriving.

For example, let’s say your PCs look guilty as hell when they present their travel papers to the Imperial officer and his squad of Stormtroopers on the grav train.  Let’s say a fight ensues.  The PCs survive the squad of Stormtroopers and the Imperial Officer.  But what about the stormies waiting for them at the train station when they pull into town in a few minutes?

They might be able to survive the big fight, or they might be able to sneak away, but those options involve immediate risk and potentially bad odds.  But what if a mysterious rescuer pulls up along side the grav train before it gets into the station, and asks them if they want to hear about a job offer.  The pilot makes it clear that they are essentially signing a contract by jumping off the train, but there is no immediate danger to the escape, just 5 Obligation as they tacitly agree to pay back their rescuer.

(This one is especially tempting as the grav train gets close enough to the station to actually see the legion of the Emperor’s Best Men standing with guns at the ready, or the uncountable horde of Hutt henchmen with very mean looking vibro axes forming a welcoming committee).

“Seriously, next time I get picked up for jaywalking, I’m just going to do the 90 days.”

I Don’t Do Due Process–The PCs get nailed for doing something illegal. It’s nothing big, like murder or sedition.  But they boosted a speeder, broke into a warehouse . . . something like that.  And they got caught.  In a fit of almost unheard of adventurer wisdom, they don’t shoot it out with the local authorities.

Maybe they figure they can break out of jail.  Maybe they figure they can make a run for it during the time they get transferred to their hearing.  But what if a lawyer shows up and tells them he can bail them out and get charges dropped, as long as the PCs talk to his employer, who will expect certain concessions  (and 5 Obligation) from the PCs.

(This one is a nice double edged sword, since it shows the PCs they can get away with routine crime will reinforcing both their willingness to commit said crimes, and the Obligation hole that they will be digging themselves into).

“According to your medical insurance, it’s time for a surprise colonoscopy.  Please make a vigilance check to see who acts first.”

Throwing Up Some Hurdles–The PCs are pressed for time or just want to get something done with as few complications as they can manage.  They have their objective, and they see an impediment, and along comes an recurring rival or enemy that might slow them down, or even turn a bad fight into a three sided nightmare.

At the first sign of trouble from the old “friend,” the PCs might arrange for a meeting to either pay them off or attempt to deal with them right then and there, but that takes time, and it could still get messy.  Or, they could call in a contact that might be able to make sure that said rival/enemy has his ship inspected by the local customs agent, detained for improperly filled out travel papers, or arrested for an accidentally illegal hunter’s license.  Nothing permanent  (or else the price goes from 5 Obligation to 10), but enough that said rival/enemy isn’t going to be a factor for a session or two.

(This one can be really fun when it comes to recurring rivals and villains, because the more rotten things that have passed between adversaries, the more fun the confrontations between them become.  The thought of being able to bring up the time that X happened to their hated foe the next time they meet might be temptation enough to take on the Obligation).

“I don’t speak their language, but I’m pretty sure I just won their home planet.”

Embracing Debt

Probably one of the best ways to make sure that you keep the cycle of Obligation moving in a game is to make sure you let you players know you are willing to take their suggestions about what they might be willing to take on more Obligation to obtain.  I’m not saying you should always say yes when they propose something, but when they say, “I wonder if X would help us if we asked?,” that’s when your ears should be perking up.

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