- Seth Saunders
Roleplaying the Galaxy: The Force is my ally
This entry in my ramblings about Star Wars roleplaying will contain a fair amount of opinion. Feel free to disagree and play out your own games accordingly.
Anyway, so the Force isn’t magic. Which is to say that it’s obviously the heaviest fantasy aspect of the world Lucas created in that it’s the way to have characters performing great and powerful feats, but, despite the Force itself being boundless and connected to all things (save those pesky beings or species who deserve banishment or unfortunate planets sapped of their energy in dark rituals), it’s not meant to turn anyone who wields or commands it into Golden Age Superman, able to draw a convenient new power from their bag of tricks whenever the situation at hand might prove to be a challenge.
Dedication and meditation, whether on peace or passion, is required to help strengthen one’s connection to the galaxy’s pervasive energy field. And, even when one is a living vergence in the Force, one is not all-powerful. Luke Skywalker himself was practically the embodiment of raw Force potential, and, though he came to be incredibly powerful as Grand Master (heh, GM) of the Jedi Order, even he had his limitations. Not even Yoda knew all the mysteries of the Force, nor did older beings like Odan-Urr or Ood Bnar.
Basically, the Force is meant to be something of a mystery. Which doesn’t mean that there are no rules, of course. There are ways that it can be wielded and ways that it cannot, inherent costs for exploring different aspects, and a chance for failure or oversight, even for beings considered masters of their Force-wielding factions.
And, perhaps most crucially, the Force is a living thing with its own movement and will, its aspects based heavily on things like animism, karma, and bushido. The closest thing the Star Wars galaxy has to gods are the Celestials (or “Architects”), but the Force itself is the true rule of the stars, speaking direction to those who will listen and exacting an inevitable toll on those who would abuse it.
So, what does all this mean as a player or game master as you embark on your Star Wars roleplaying adventure? What good are stats and in-game limitations on Force abilities, when, by its nature, the Force is limitless? Put simply, they’re there to keep the game from turning unwieldly and unbalanced. If someone found a way to stack their abilities so that they could eventually just be tossing planets around in every session, there soon wouldn’t be a galaxy left to play in, as the game master would have to keep on ramping up the threats to match the party’s power. And, if one PC is vastly superior in deadliness to the others, how does everyone get their moment to shine?
Put more complexly, the rules are always there as a base. If everyone’s on board, some rules can always be tweaked or ignored, whether they pertain to the Force or not. And, in my opinion, things should grow especially fluid when it comes to what’s meant to be the awe-inspiring power of the galaxy.
Which isn’t to say that easy victories or outstanding feats should be handed out or attempted lightly. Quite the opposite. The fantastical, when overexposed, turns mundane.
Boring. If every untrained noob ran around with Cade Skywalker’s healing ability, Obi-Wan’s affinity for mind tricks, or Meetra Surik’s natural prowess in forging Force bonds, things would grow stale. Not only would there be little threat, but your band of heroes would feel homogenous. Where’s the thrill of the ace pilot sprinting for the driver’s seat or the nail-biting of whether your best swordsman can engage an encroaching Dark Jedi long enough for the team to accomplish its mission?
At crucial moments, however, a single character who’s devoted time, training, and even money toward developing an expertise in one aspect of the Force should certainly attempt—and, I feel, be rewarded— with (dice allowing) a memorable unleashing of the Force’s true power. Think of Nomi Sunrider’s shocking judgment against Ulic Qel-Droma, Anakin’s chilling defeat of Asajj Ventress, on their first meeting, or Jacen Solo’s overwhelming display against the Yuuzhan Vong, in the final battle of the war.
Think on your character’s strengths and weaknesses, within the Force. What sort of phenomenal feats might they attempt, should they accept that the Force is truly without limits? What would drive them to try something so potentially ridiculous or devastating? Maybe you and your character simply don’t know, until the moment comes, but, properly executed, such moments can be a defining turning point in which a character turns from a simply adventurer, however reluctant, and into a hero. Perhaps even, as most great Star Wars characters now are, a Legend.
Maybe your character can even shake the foundation of worlds. There are many nexuses of power throughout the galaxy that might temporarily bolster a Jedi’s efforts. And the galaxy is, indeed, vast. Anything from an ancient holocron to a plant might enable one to open to the will of the Force to perform a truly awe-inspiring deed.
However, both the player and the game master involved should always weigh the cost. Great displays of power don’t always herald a happy ending. Just ask characters like Galen Marek, Anakin Solo, T’ra Saa, and more. Sometimes the cost is even greater, especially when one’s actions are twisted by the dark side. Anyone for a thought bomb?
And, even if your character survives to hear the praise of their actions, what emotional toll is there? Has the character’s view of the Force been forever altered? Do they secretly cling to the memory of what they’ve done, savoring the taste of such unbridled power, or are they haunted by visions of light and darkness they can only wish to comprehend? Perhaps there were unintended side effects of what they’ve done. The loss of someone loved or respected, a pyrrhic victory that only half-achieved their goal, or a glimpse into a desired future now lost to them because of the path they’ve chosen?
Ultimately, both in and out of game, all should keep in mind the adage used to describe many a profession; one must know the rules in order to break them properly. The Force may be a mystery, but that shouldn’t stop us from studying its many facets, the better to determine where things can be shifted, bent, and, on the rarest of occasions, broken.
Thankfully, much of this homework has been done for you already. The system you’re utilizing should have detailed workings of how one wields and interacts with the Force. These rules are built by people devoted to actualizing an authentic Star Wars experience, which means they’re there for a reason. Use them…until the situation warrants going off-book.
Finally, as a note to all players who feel all this hokey religion and ancient weapon stuff doesn’t apply to them, this is Star Wars. The Force touches all life in this world, affecting the destinies of even those who think every religion of the galaxy is either a cult or a hoax. Your character may not interact with the big ol’ energy field as directly as some, but, whether or not they believe in the Force, the Force just might believe in them.
Or maybe some Sith just had a dream about you and you’re about to be on the run from some red guy in a bathrobe. The Force is hard to predict.
However you choose to represent the mystical energy field of the galaxy in your game, just remember to maybe let it keep a few of its secrets.
May the Force be with you, sometimes bombastically!