I recently started running a Force and Destiny game, which seems to be going quite well. However, even though we’re only two sessions in, we’re already struggling with the most controversial element of any Star Wars RPG: Morality, how the game measures a character’s alignment to the Light and Dark Sides of the Force.
Let me start by saying there are a few things I really like about Force and Destiny’s Morality system:
- Characters that fall to the Dark Side remain playable.
- Both Light and Dark Side characters gain advantages for their alignment, though for Light Side characters, holding onto those advantages can be challenging (whilst in contrast the hold of the Dark Side is unrelenting).
- The random element, which is essential for avoiding bizarre ethical mathematics (“Murdering children loses me 20 points, I’m 43 points away from being a Darksider, so I can safely kill exactly two children”).
Unfortunately, we’ve also run into a number of problems, of which the ones below are most persistently annoying…
- By default, characters are always assumed to “increase” their Morality every session (becoming “more Light Side”), unless they take specifically “Dark Side actions”. This gives players the option of “Napping to the Light Side” – becoming paragons of virtue not by strictly observing the Jedi Code, but by not really doing anything at all.
- Exacerbating the above problem, some of the penalties for Dark Side actions are ridiculously low. Unless a character gains more than 5 points of “Conflict” in a session, their Morality is more likely to increase than decrease. By the book, physically assaulting someone for no reason (!) only awards 4 or 5 points of Conflict.
- The game marks a checklist of every bad thing the characters ever do, My Name Is Earl style, which is a constant intrusion into roleplay. It also results in more bizarre morality-maths, where physically assaulting three people is three times as evil as physically assaulting one person (as well as being more evil than murder).
- If the system doesn’t work, if blames the GM for not being tough enough, as if pointless violence and torture is “supposed to be” the easy solution to every problem the players encounter. This in spite of the fact that Star Wars is a family-friendly game about heroic space adventurers, with no room for ethical nuance whatsoever.
It seems I’m not the only one who has a problem with Force and Destiny’s Morality system, because Fantasy Flight Games’ forum and the game’s Subreddit throw out a new suggested house ruling every week. None of the ones I’ve seen quite work for me – I like the attempt to chronicle good deeds performed as well as evil ones, but measuring every single action the PCs take by that criteria seems exhausting, un-immersive and a book-keeping nightmare. What I’m looking for is something to make following the Light Side a conscious choice, keeps the amount of mid-session recording to a minimum, but maintains the black-and-white morality that is a distinctive part of the Star Wars canon.
Unfortunately, it meant pretty much re-writing the Morality system from scratch, so this will be kind of long.
HOUSE RULE: CHANGING MORALITY
When measuring Conflict in a Force and Destiny session, only record Conflict that is earned by turning Dark Side pips on Force dice into Light Side pips. Do not record Conflict for failed Fear tests, or for any other action the GM would normally assign Conflict for.
At the end of each session, choose a player, and ask them if they believed their character demonstrated Emotional Strength during the session. In order to answer yes, they must choose one of the options listed below, and explain how they fulfilled that action during the session. Each example of Emotional Strength also has a Harmony rating attached to it, which represents how attuned a character felt to the Light Side of the Force. Since players only get to select one example of their emotional strength, they will usually want to choose an example that gives them the most Harmony possible, to increase the potential for a gain in Morality.
After that, the GM should assess if they believe that player’s character demonstrated Emotional Weakness during the session, by choosing one of the examples below, if any of them applied to the character’s conduct that session. Each example of Emotional Weakness has a corresponding value of Discord – which measures a character’s seduction by the Dark Side – and if a character presented more than one Emotional Weakness, the GM should choose whichever one has the highest Discord value.
Repeat this process for every player character.
If a PC demonstrated Emotional Strength, then roll a D10, and compare the result to the PC’s Harmony-minus-Conflict. If the result of the D10 is equal or higher, the character’s private fears and insecurities undermine their good works – do not change their Morality score. If the result of the D10 is lower, the character increases their Morality by 1 for every point their Harmony-minus-Conflict exceeded the D10 result.
If a PC demonstrated Emotional Weakness, then roll a D10, and compare the result to the PC’s Discord-plus-Conflict. If the result of the D10 is equal or higher, the character’s remorse and determination to atone stave off their corrupting influences – do not change their Morality score. If the result of the D10 is lower, the character decreases their Morality by 1 for every point their Discord-plus-Conflict exceeded the D10 result.
If a PC demonstrated both Emotional Strength and Weakness, complete both of the above steps, increasing and then decreasing Morality as instructed. At the end of the process, the character’s Morality might have increased, decreased, or stayed exactly the same!
If a PC demonstrated neither Emotional Strength or Weakness, do not change the character’s Morality. The only exception is if the character gained five or more points of Conflict, in which case they should decrease their Morality by their Conflict-minus-four.
After these steps have been completed, every character’s Conflict, Harmony and Discord are reset to zero.
SPECIAL: A character’s source of personal strength can keep them balanced in the most trying of circumstances, whilst an Achilles Heel can doom a hero no matter how good their intentions. If a player chooses an Emotional Strength at the end of the session that matches their character’s Emotional Strength, they may ignore any examples of Emotional Weakness that do not generate more Discord than their Harmony-plus-four. If the GM chooses an Emotional Weakness at the end of a session that matches that character’s Emotional Weakness, the player cannot select examples of Emotional Strength that do not generate more Harmony than their Discord-plus-four.
So here’s what I like about this hack:
- It prevents PCs from becoming champions of the Light Side through apathy, and guarantees that characters who act like pricks for a whole session will never increase their Morality.
- It focuses the battle for a character’s soul on their internal struggle, not how that manifests externally. Whether you steal two landspeeders or seven shouldn’t have any impact on your alignment – whether you’re the kind of person who steals landspeeders is what matters.
- It reduces the amount of book-keeping that goes on mid-session.
- It gives greater mechanical weight to what a player chooses as their character’s Emotional Strength or Weakness in character generation.
Here are things that might be bugs, might be features, or might just be weird things that only I like:
- It greatly increases the chance of a character’s Morality remaining static from session-to-session.
- Requiring two steps of dice rolling to resolve Morality is a bit awkward.
- When a character demonstrates both Strength and Weakness, the effect of Conflict generated by Dark Side pips is doubled, whilst its impact on characters who don’t demonstrate Strength or Weakness is minimal (I actually kind of like this, surely it’s called “Conflict” for a reason?).
- It increases the amount of time players spend recalculating their Morality. Consider that the old system allows players to work out their new Morality without having to confer with anyone else; this process is much more involved. To my mind, this is compensated by the reduction in mid-session calculation, not to mention a justifiable focal point for a game which is supposed to be all about the battle between Light and Dark.
- There are probably more options on the list than are strictly necessary, which is just a hold-over from using the existing game’s list of Strengths and Weaknesses.
Anyway, I plan to give this new system a try in my campaign – but I’d be very eager to hear from more experienced Star Wars GMs. Share your thoughts in the comments!
EDIT (April 2018): It turns out this is one of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written! So I should probably say that, when I playtested this, my gaming group rejected it after a single session. It’s not all bad though, because I created another morality system, which we liked much better and used for the rest of our campaign (40+ sessions). Find it here!