System Musing: Star Wars

So, with The Force Awakens due to hit the movie theater in a few months, my long-standing enjoyment of Star Wars is starting to rise again and I’m starting to get a geek itch about it. As a result, I’ve been prodding my old D20 Star Wars books again, and in doing so I’ve been reminded of something about the Star Wars universe that really bothers me.

No, I’m not talking about Jar-Jar Binks, although I really could’ve done with out him, or the incredibly ham-handed hack job that was done with the three-movie origin story of Darth Vader. I’m talking about how the Dark Side of the Force gets portrayed as one step shy of cackling Snidely Whiplash caricatures of evil, and the Light Side is supposedly this bastion of Nobility and Goodness. Even pulp fantasy novels usually do a better job of portraying nuance than these caricatures of Cosmic good and cosmic Evil.

So – I’m going to present my version of how the Force works for when I run Star Wars games; I think it presents a much more interesting challenge for players and GMs alike than simply delcaring the Dark Side to be cackling evil.

“Duct Tape is like the Force. It has a Light Side and a Dark Side, and it binds everything together.” -Unknown

The Force, in Star Wars, is essentially a cosmos-spanning form of energy that is either generated by or focused through living creatures. Those who are Force-sensitive can be trained to manipulate it to produce incredible effects – telekinesis being one of the most common, even though individual applications of that tend to be sectioned off into specific powers. Telepathy is another common one, and of course the signature power of the Dark Side is producing crackling bolts of electricity to attack people with.

In the D20 edition of Star Wars, players who have Jedi characters are expected to stay on the Light Side of the Force, with repercussions if they dip into the Dark Side that can lead up to them having to surrender their PC to the GM to become a NPC. If that’s what the player wants, that’s fine, but for a player who wants to explore how a Force wielder can delve into the Dark Side and not become a monster, it’s phenomenally boring.

Rather than the base system that simply racks up Dark Side points, with the character falling if they pass a certain value, I posit that both sides of the Force are dangerous if a character becomes too strongly aligned with them. Those who become too infused with the Light Side of the Force become inwardly focused, certain that their way is the one true way. This is what resulted in the ossification of the Jedi Council and their inability to adapt, and what ultimately led to their downfall for being unable to see their way as anything but the One True Way. A Dark Side person who goes too far is the opposite; they see the world as a place of turmoil and chaos, where rules only exist as far as they can be enforced by others, and might makes right – Palpatine saw himself as the mightiest of all, the rule-crafter for others and immune to the rules of anyone else.

As such, Force users must keep their Light Side points and Dark Side points in balance if they want to use both sides of the Force, but those who go outside this bound are not automatically transformed into NPCs. A player can let the difference between the two go up to their Wisdom score before they slide into a polarized state. PCs who keep their scores closely balanced – within three points of each other – gain a +1 bonus on their Force Use check for all their powers, as they represent the Living Force in their balanced state. Force users outside this balance point but still within their Wisdom range have no bonuses or penalties on their checks.

A Force user who goes outside of their Wisdom range immediately becomes polarized, their Light Side and Dark Side points are reset to zero, and they lose access to all powers tagged with the opposing side of the Force. Force checks for powers tagged with the side they’ve become polarized toward are made with a +1 bonus for every 5 points in that side, however, and their personality becomes influenced by that side; Light Side users will tend to become more ‘my way or the highway’ with a totalitarian bent, while Dark Side users will become more impulsive and uninhibited. They are no longer able to accumulate points for the opposing side of the Force.

At this point, the Force user remains polarized until they accumulate twice their Wisdom score in Light/Dark Side Points; after that, they fall fully to their side of the Force and become a NPC at the end of the campaign session; they will most likely withdraw into seclusion as they meditate on the sudden revelations their incredibly powerful connection to one side of the Force shows them. From this state are powerhouses such as Darth Vader and Palpatine born, driven by a singularly strong connection to one side of the Force.

A character who has become polarized can redeem themselves in exceptionally rare circumstances, if they seek out a nexus of the opposed side of the Force and undertake an exceptionally dangerous trial that reattunes them to the Living Force; if they succeed, their Light/Dark Side points are once against reset to zero and they regain access to both sides of the Force.

Of course, none of this matters to characters who have no Force attunement, as the Living Force is almost transparent to them.

System Musing: Star Wars

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