For the past two years, Iʼve been part of the team at Fantasy Flight Games working to take our vision of a Star Wars roleplaying game from concept to reality. Now, the culmination of all that hard work has been realized with the release of the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Roleplaying Game, and Iʼd like to take this opportunity to offer you an introduction.
Let me start by saying that in my mind, a good roleplaying game isnʼt all about the rules; itʼs about the ability of the rules to encourage stories and gameplay full of rich concepts and themes. If the players donʼt even notice it happening, thatʼs even better…
Life on the Galactic Fringe
Edge of the Empire is the first of three roleplaying games set in the Star Wars universe. Players take on the role of smugglers, scoundrels, outlaw techs, and bounty hunters living on the galactic fringes. They work to survive in a galaxy split by galactic civil war. Later, in Age of Rebellion, the players move to the front lines of the war, joining the ranks of the Rebel Alliance to fight the tyranny of the Galactic Empire. Finally, in Force and Destiny, players have the chance to assume the roles of the few remaining Jedi, mystics, and other Force users who survived the merciless Imperial purges. In Force and Destiny, the most important conflicts may be the player charactersʼ battles with their own morality.
Each of these games uses the same core rules, and a character from one could be played in a campaign built with another. What really separates these games is their themes. This is where we get to the idea of rules that encourage themes.
Although itʼs fully compatible with the other two games, Edge of the Empire does have some unique game mechanics. One of these is something we call Obligation. As you might expect, Obligation is basically a debt your character owes. This debt could be something tangible, such as owing ten thousand credits to Jabba the Hutt after a botched smuggling run. It could also be something more abstracted, such as your characterʼs Obligation to his family or his Obligation to uphold an oath he took to do what he can to end galactic slavery.
You Are What You Owe
Obligation has a mechanical effect; it has a value, and the larger the value, the more likely it can be triggered by the Game Master during a session. If it triggers, the character who possesses the Obligation suffers a penalty, and everyone else in the party suffers a slightly lesser penalty. In addition, if the groupʼs collective Obligation ever grows beyond a certain amount, the characters can no longer spend any experience they earn on advancements — they have to take action to lower the Obligation first.
For example, a group might run afoul of a Hutt crime lord when he learns they destroyed his personal sail barge. A Hutt crime lord is a powerful and vengeful figure, and he could easily place a bounty upon each member of the group, increasing the groupʼs total Obligation. If that total rises above 100, the characters will find themselves burdened by such a constant threat of retaliation that the players wonʼt be able to spend their charactersʼ experience. Instead, before they can train new talents or gain other advantages from their experience, the characters will need to confront the local bounty hunters, appease the Hutt, or remove him from power.
However, Obligation also offers players some great benefits. Players can have their characters take on additional Obligation during character creation in order to buy better gear or obtain more starting experience. In addition, the GM can use Obligation to give characters big ticket items: expensive weapons, shipments of spice, and new starships. Donʼt have a few hundred thousand credits to throw around? How about some Obligation, instead? Donʼt worry, it wonʼt matter…for now.
Thatʼs why the rules for Obligation work so well to encourage roleplaying. Because characters are caught up in the struggle to survive and prosper on the fringe of the galaxy, players are often willing to burden their characters with more Obligation in exchange for immediate rewards. Then, theyʼll spend whole sessions worth of adventures to reduce their Obligation. It would be like earning and paying off credit card debt — but only if you earned that debt by angering the local crime lords and paid it off by scoring the biggest gem heist of the century!
Playing True to Your Character
Side by side with the rules for Obligation are those for Motivation. Players choose Motivations for their characters during character creation and, sometimes, at other points later on. Motivations are those desires that drive a character to act the way he does. A Motivation might be a sincere desire to overthrow the Empire, become famous, explore the galaxy, or simply take care of a good friend.
The rules donʼt introduce any downsides for Motivations. However, if a player has his character act to accomplish his Motivations, he can earn additional experience for playing true to his character, especially if playing to his character means making choices that may not lead to the most convenient situations.
It may seem like thereʼs a lot of overlap between Obligations and Motivations, and thatʼs true. In the end, the biggest difference is that Obligations are what you have to do, while Motivations are what you want to do.
In great adventures, characters are often forced to choose between fulfilling their Obligations and staying true to their Motivations. And, as a certain smuggler and his Wookiee sidekick found out in a galaxy far, far away, those tough choices often lead to the very best stories!
Sam Stewart is a senior RPG producer at Fantasy Flight Games in Minnesota. His credits include the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Core Rulebook, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, and Black Crusade.