How can I help my players bring more oomph?

As I mentioned in the last post, my players for my Star Wars: Force and Destiny game sessions sometimes struggle with taking action in the game. Part of it is unfamiliarity with the rules and, in most cases, being new to the hobby. But some of it is, I think, not being sure of who their characters are.

The struggle with Morality and Motivation

Each of the three Star Wars roleplaying games has a couple of mechanics – one common to all three and one unique to each game – that help a player define what’s important about their character’s personality, both generally and in the game’s specific context.

While all three sets of rules give the players a choice of Motivations for each character (in Force and Destiny’s case, an Ambition, a Cause or a Faith), Force and Destiny is my favourite of the bunch because its specific mechanic, Morality, is all about the character’s emotions – which are key to their experience (and use) of the Force.

Each Morality gives not only a score from 1 (fully given over to the Dark Side of the Force) to 100 (fully in the embrace of the Light Side) but also is a pair of attributes, an Emotional Strength and an Emotional Weakness.

The last couple of Sundays, I’ve been a player in a session GMed by a new friend, using the official Savage Worlds version of the RIFTS roleplaying game. During character creation, I chose three Hindrances for my Glitter Boy character: Big Mouth, Loyal and Overconfident.

I haven’t had the chance as yet to really dig into the character, but I found being mindful of all three Hindrances helped me decide what my character was going to do next; Overconfident, particularly, was great in working out how I responded not just to the game master’s supporting cast but also my fellow players as we engaged each other in dialogue.

That said, I’m a veteran of the hobby. My players, for whom my game is pretty much the first, have so much on one side of their character sheets (attributes, skills, stun and wound thresholds, equipment) that they’re getting the hang of and trying to be mindful of (mostly what their skill selection allows their characters to do) that it’s easy for the rather nebulous terms of their Moralities and Motivations to get forgotten.

The goal

While I do think that the best way to help a group of players bring more character in their characters is to bring it myself, I think that finding ways to make life easier for my players is also a key part of the equation.

It’s my hope that, with a little more focus on the character of their characters, the playres will start earning Conflict points by playing to their emotional weaknesses (what each of them struggles with in their write-ups below). Ideally, I’d like them all to earn at least two, if not five or six, per session to keep the Morality score rolls at the end of each session interesting.

Keeping Morality and Motivation in mind

When we last discussed this issue, my players and I talked at one point about creating a half-page summary sheet that lists each Strength, Weakness and Motivation, as well as its supporting text.

I want to see if I can get them down to a single sentence so that my players can get an at-a-glance reminder of what their characters are about, with the option to read further if they wish.

And, I think, it’s maybe worth them crafting their own responses to their Strengths, Weaknesses and Motivations so that they have more of a direct buy-in than the general text of the book.

The Crew of the Bin Chicken

In that vein, let’s take a look at some of what my players have communicated so far about their characters, these heroes in the rough in the Star Wars universe. They’re the crew of the Bin Chicken, a Corellian YT-1300 light freighter that, back when it was called the Arc, was the property of Henday Anorr, an adventurer famed throughout the local sector who disappeared about a year ago.

Desert Run (Millennium Falcon) by Chaninja

Henday summoned player character Hilsepu (a longtime fan of Henday’s work) to come meet her on a planet within the sector and take the Arc away, but when Hilsepu arrived (after gathering the other player characters together as a potential crew), only the ship was there; Henday and her crew had vanished.

I’ve listed the Emotional Strengths and Weakness as what each character takes strength in and struggles with, respectively, and each Motivation as a specific want (Ambition) or strived-for goal (Cause) – none of the players took a Faith.

I’ve also include their Force powers as I’m looking for excuses for the players to use them, especially as choosing to use dark side force points runs Conflict up.

Amnen Ni

Kaminoan Consular with the Sage specialisation. A former clone trainer from the Clone Wars, Amnen herself was trained in the Force by Master Shaak Ti and narrowly fled the Jedi Purge. She’s seeking holocrons, miniature Jedi library devices, to expand her training.

Amnen strives for equality and takes strength in discipline but struggles with obstinance. Her current Force powers are Enhance and Sense.

Ghronna

Wookiee Consular with the Healer specialisation. A former member of Kashyyk high society on the run from the Empire. She’s still recovering from betrayal by her trusted bodyguard who tried to turn her in.

Ghronna wants survival and takes strength in compassion but struggles with hatred. Her current force power is Heal/Harm (she boosted her Morality to start play in the light side of the Force and access the Heal side of the ability).

Hilsepu

Human Seeker with the Ataru Striker specialisation. A drifter keen on the history of the Jedi, he’s actually Fenn Mesarthim, runaway prince from the noble family controlling the planet Alzoc III, who have a “capture alive” bounty on his head.

Hilsepu wants discovery and takes strength in his independence but struggles with coldness. His current Force powers are Heal/Harm and Move.

Maximilian Stormflight

Human Consular with the Sage specialisation. A wheeler-dealer, Max is looking for an opportunity to captain a ship all his own. His brother leads an activist group on a planet in the local sector.

Max wants wealth and takes strength in pride but struggles with arrogance. His current Force power is Influence.

Nerdra Bin-Craft

Cerean Sentinel with the Artisan specialisation. This talented mechanic left Cerea after being exposed to the wonders of galactic technology. He hopes to return one day and enrich his homeworld with what he learns.

Nerdra strives for knowledge and takes strength in curiosity but struggles with obsession. His current Force power is Move.

Terraj

Human Warrior with the Aggressor specialisation. An ex-Stormtrooper, Terraj formed and ran with a bounty hunting crew before meeting Amnen and joining her in the quest for holocrons, which he hopes to earn money from.

Terraj wants survival and takes strength in bravery but struggles with anger. His current Force powers are Enhance and Influence.

Tihzuli

Twi’lek Mystic with the Makashi Duelist specialisation. She’s a former slave who idolises Cham Syndulla, a famed freedom fighter on her home planet Ryloth.

Tihzuli strives for justice and takes strength in caution but struggles with fear. Her current Force powers are Foresee and Influence.

How do we bring oomph to these characters?

So, looking at these characters, what are some cool things that their background summaries, Motivations and Emotional Strengths and Weaknesses suggest? It’s easy to replicate the text of the rulebook in any summaries we created, but how might my players flavour their own takes on their chosen traits?

I gotta look out for number one

We have a fairly ambitious mob; two want survival, one wants wealth and one discovery. Ambitions tend to be self centred; they’re more about “looking out for number one”

Survival: Okay, Terraj and Ghronna, tell me about your backup plans and exit strategies. How do you look to get out of any room you’re in? Where are your stashes of gear? Bolt holes? (Spare keys to the ship?) You’ve likely done a mental triage on the group; who’s on your “safe to leave behind” list and who will you drag off with you on your way out, no matter what they might want?

  • How does your struggle with anger tie into this, Terraj? How do you respond when someone interferes with your exit strategy, takes something from your emergency stash? Who will you Influence into giving you a better shot at getting away?
    And what about when your bravery wins out, and you put your survival on the line to help others, perhaps Enhancing your abilities to do so? Do you curse your own damn foolishness, promise yourself never again? How do you push those you just risked your neck to save away?
  • In some ways, Ghronna, you have it worse, because both your strength and weakness fly in the face of your need to survive. How do you balance your aim to survive with your compassion, the strength you find in lifting others who are in need up, parhaps using the Force to Heal them?
    And then, who do you hate? Whose face do you see when you or others are put in harm’s way? Whose fault is all of the pain and anguish inflicted on you? Who will you pursue heedless of threat to yourself, even pouring your hatred out through the Harm side of your power?

Wealth: What does “enough” wealth look like to you, Max? What are you aiming to spend it on? At what point will you negotiate for more when cutting a deal? Even – who would you steal from?

And hey, you’re a proud being. When did your sharp skills and winning personality cut you an awesome deal? How much do you look forward to doing it again with everything you’ve learned since? Are there any opportunities on the wind?

What, then, about your arrogance? Who are you obviously worth a higher percentage of the takings than? Who is so woefully wrong in thinking they’re better than you? (Who do you think might actually b better than you, though you won’t admit it to anyone?) Whose mind will you bend with Influence when a deal doesn’t go your way?

Discovery: What leads on tantalising secrets do you have, Hilsepu? When will you push ahead when others advocate staying where you are?

On that note, you’ve been independent since you cut out of the family estate. You’ve had to surround yourself with a crew since then which seems to have grown beyond your expectations. What reassures you that you can still handle things yourself if you need to? Your strength in the Force?

And what makes you feel you might need to? It’s a cold galaxy out there, and you need to be just as cold to make your way. Who are you trying to disentangle yourself from? On whom would you use Harm? Who do you catch yourself letting your guard down around, and how are you stopping yourself?

There are more than just myself at stake

We also have three characters compelled to act in service to the greater good: one seeks knowledge, one justice and one equality. Causes are explicitly about serving the needs of a larger group of people as well as, maybe even instead of, your own.

Knowledge: Who needs to benefit from understanding those things yet unknown, Nerdra? What do you feel as though you have insufficient knowledge of?

Naturally, your curiosity plays into this. What’s got your interest at the moment? What about your colleagues and crew do you want to know more?

But when you become obsessed, what lengths will that obsession drive you to? What gets shut out when your tunnel vision kicks in? How far will you go to crack a secret, even one kept by a friend? And on that note, who close to you do you suspect of hiding knowledge the galaxy needs?

Justice: Who needs to be brought to account for doing wrong, Tihzuli? Who has been wronged and needs your help? In these dark times where the Empire enforces rule by fear, which authority can you count on to help you in your cause? And has anyone close to you acted unjustly?

How does your caution temper your search for justice? How has it already stopped you (and maybe the rest of the crew) from jumping into a situation that you weren’t ready for? How have you Foreseen the wisest course?

And how has your fear driven you away from your search for justice? What situations are good at triggering your flight response? Have you ever been cornered before, and what did you do? When has your Foresight brought you a vision of danger?

Equality: Who do you know who is not being granted the same rights and respect as those in power, Amnen? How do you plan to redress that imbalance? And what are the imbalances you see in your own circle?

Your discipline is a valuable asset in your quest. When did it carry you through when things got tough? When has it prevented you from the darker side of your powers? And when has it helped you put up with the rest of the crew?

But what of your obstinance? When have you planted your feet and set your course without heed to any objections, and how has it made things worse? When have you used the Force to keep you planted in your position?

Answering tough questions

It’s my hope that helping my players more aware of their characters’ personality traits will bring up some good stuff in play, and with any luck, giving them interesting characters to interact with will bring more opportunities for their Moralities and Motivations to come to the fore.

More on that soon…

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