What’s the GM’s Main Job? – Star Wars: Force and Destiny

All sets of rules for tabletop roleplaying games share one aim: To help a group of people share their imaginations for a few hours. That said, each RPG has its own unique flavour, and the Star Wars: Force and Destiny Roleplaying Game is no exception. Its focus on heroes who are strong in the Force – and subject to the lure of the dark side – means that it needs to approach the emotional drives of its leading characters directly.

I’ve game mastered two sessions of the Star Wars: Force and Destiny Beginner Game so far, with the third scheduled for late January. I’ve been learning my way around the rules as much as my players have, and the downloadable adventure for the Beginner Game, “Lure of the Lost,” introduces slightly more advanced rules that focus on the conflict between the best and worst of each character’s nature. What do I need to focus on to ensure those rules bring Star Wars: Force and Destiny’s flavour to the fore?

Morality: The Two Sides to Every Character

When Fantasy Flight Games acquired the licence to make Star Wars RPG products, they did something unusual. Rather than put out a single “core” book that let players and game masters explore the Star Wars universe as they wished, they slowly brought out three individual “core” books. While the first, Edge of the Empire, dealt with the seamier side of the Star Wars galaxy (the smugglers, scoundrels, gamblers and bounty hunters) and the second, Age of Rebellion, dove directly into the Rebel Alliance’s war against the Empire, they set the Force – the mystical energy that gives Star Wars’ Jedi Knights and Sith Lords their powers – as a significant but minor part of the rules.

The third book, Force and Destiny, focuses on those characters who are strong in the Force, and it ties the Force to the player characters through what it calls Morality. I knew that I was probably going to get Force and Destiny because I like giving my players cool toys, and lightsbares are some of the coolest toys out there, but it was how the book described Morality that sold me on Force and Destiny.

Each player character has two sides to their personality: a Strength and a Weakness. Here’s an example for one of the Beginner Game’s pre-generated characters, as explained in “Lure of the Lost”:


Sarenda

Emotional Strength: Compassion
Sarenda always has time to help those in need, and she rarely considers anything she owns so important that she would not give it to someone who needs it more. What’s more, Sarenda’s sense of compassion doesn’t stop at charity and empathy—she is a tireless crusader who seeks to fight injustice and halt the problems afflicting the galaxy at their source. At her best, Sarenda is a selfless champion for the downtrodden.
Emotional Weakness: Cruelty
Sarenda doesn’t just want to help the helpless, but to stop those who would prey on them. Sometimes she can do this with persuasive words or a tough stance, but at other times, she finds that only violence can dissuade someone. At times like these, it can be hard for Sarenda not to feel a sense of satisfaction in letting loose on a deserving target, even if her foe is no match for her. At her worst, Sarenda ends up becoming just another predator, albeit one with a particular choice in targets.

I love that these aren’t abstract concepts like “Lawful Good” or “Chaotic Evil”. They’re rooted in two emotive words that give insight into what the character is like as a person, an individual. You can almost see the movie in progress, Sarenda’s kind eyes as she gives he last of her water to a being in terrible thirst without hesitation or second thought, her beetled brow and hand tightening on the hilt of her lightsabre as she witnesses a crime lord’s thugs shaking down a market stall owner for protection money.

Conflict and Strain

Star Wars: Force and Destiny anchors these ideas within the rules by tying them to a character resource: Strain, one of the two measures of a character’s capacity for conflict (the other being Wounds). Run out of strain and you can no longer participate in a combat or other struggle.

When you make an important action, you roll a handful of positive (ability, proficiency and boost) and negative (difficulty, challenge and setback) dice; negative results (failure and threat) cancel positive results (success and advantage) out. A player earns strain when a dice roll is resolved with un-cancelled threat, with each threat adding one strain to the character’s current total (if the GM can’t find something else to spend the threat on). Un-cancelled advantage reduces the character’s current strain total by one.

Players can also use strain up directly by performing an extra manoeuvre during their combat turn or so that they can use a Dark Side point to power a Force ability.

The Beginner Game rules for Force and Destiny present a simplified version of the main book’s Conflict rules:

  • As a player character acts on her Emotional Weakness, she earns Conflict points. With five or more Conflict, the character’s strain threshold, the maximum value of strain points that a character can  earn before being unable to fight (whether verbally or physically), drops by two.
  • As a player character acts on her Emotional Strength, she loses Conflict points. With a Conflict balance in the negative, the character’s strain threshold increases by two.

The GM’s Main Job: Promoting Conflict

To make sure that a session of the Star Wars: Force and Destiny Roleplaying Game is doing what it does best, my main task as game master in future sessions will be to make sure that the players are involved in the strain/conflict ecosystem. This means I need to:

  • Introduce situations during a session that tie into the player characters’ Emotional Strengths and Weaknesses.
  • Make sure that threat and advantage apply and remove strain from player characters’ totals so that they feel those absent or extra two points keenly.

What’s going to be tricky is those characters who have Morality that is harder to queue with external situations, like this one:

Dao Jodh

Emotional Strength: Discipline
Dao Jodh is never rash or thoughtless in his actions. When making important decisions, he strives to examine each option carefully and objectively in order to make the right choice, not only for himself, but for the galaxy. At his best, Dao Jodh is full of wisdom and consideration.
Emotional Weakness: Obstinateness
Careful introspection usually leads Dao Jodh to the right answer, but this means he has built up a habit of being correct. He tries to consider all evidence carefully, but if the evidence suggests he has made a mistake, then he is as likely to see a flaw in the evidence as to adjust his course. At his worst, Dao Jodh is stubborn and willful.

I see Dao as needing to queue more off other player characters’ actions, especially those in a rush, or dice rolls that don’t go in Dao’s favour.

What if the players game Conflict?

In an ideal world, the players will be invested in their characters’ Strengths and Weaknesses such that they’ll seek out opportunities to play to them because the result is entertaining drama.

Some players might not buy in that deeply, preferring to approach a situation based on whether it’ll help increase their strain threshold. Others simply may not choose to engage their Strengths and Weaknesses, and well, that’s their call. If they’re not causing any upset, just keep playing. They’ll either feed off others’ excitement and start buying into their characters as alter egos or they’ll keep having fun in their own way.

Links

Star Wars: Force and Destiny Beginner Game

Between Dark and Light: A Designer Diary on the Morality system in Force and Destiny (Fantasy Flight Games)

Featured image and inline images sourced from the Fantasy Flight Games website.

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