One of the elements that makes characters in Swan Song unique is the concept of Obligation. During character creation, players not only customize their characters by selecting skills and talents, but by choosing what sort of Obligation the character has. A group may share the same Obligation, or each PC may have his own. Narratively, Obligation can come in many forms. An Obligation may represent a large debt or the character being blackmailed. A character may owe a crime boss a "favor" or have a bounty on his head. Obligation helps tell the character's story and reinforces the gritty experiences of Swan Song.
Obligation plays a vital role in defining a Player Character. Defined simply, Obligation represents the debts a Player Character owes. These debts may be physical (money owed, services that must be repaid, or a binding contract) or they could be intangible (a feeling of responsibility for a friend's well-being, the duty he feels to help his family, or a favor owed to someone else). A character's actions can often be guided by his Obligation, and in Swan Song, Obligation is a vital aspect of a character that can have very tangible effects on his development. During character creation, players not only customize their characters by selecting skills or characteristics, but also by choosing what sort of Obligation the character has. An Obligation may be a large outstanding debt, the PC being blackmailed for services, owing a crime boss "favors," having a price on his head, or being locked into a binding contract. Over the course of a campaign, Obligations can put pressure on characters—having unresolved Obligations can affect them in very tangible ways. At the same time, taking on additional Obligations allows characters to obtain goods and services that would normally be far out of reach. This provides players with a choice: do they resolve their character's Obligation as quickly as possible, do they maintain their current level of Obligation, or do they take on even more Obligation in the hopes that the risk will pay off with larger rewards?
|1-10||Betrayal: This Obligation can work in one of two ways: either the character is the target of a deep and personal betrayal, or the character is the one who betrayed others. Whether it's as simple as a betrayed confidence or broken promise or as serious as treason or mutiny, the betrayal eats away at the character and affects his everyday life. The target of the betrayal may seek answers, compensation, or simply revenge. This can take any form from being double-crossed by a Mr. Johnson to deep personal betrayal from friends and family.|
|11-20||Blackmail: Someone has discovered one of the PC's dirty secrets and is using that knowledge for some sort of gain. To make matters worse, the blackmailer possesses evidence that could possibly leak out—a holovid, bank records, a weapon used during a crime, and so on. In order to keep the secret safe, the character must do what he is told, although the blackmailer is savvy enough to keep the demand simple enough to maintain the blackmail for as long as possible, generally demanding money or favors|
|21-30||Bounty: For some reason, the character has a price on his head. This may be in the form of a legal warrant or a contract by criminals, collection agencies, or even someone who felt his honor violated in some way. What he did to earn this mark is up to his background, and the severity of his actions can be based on the size of his Obligation|
|31-40||Criminal: All Crossers are criminals. But the character actually has a criminal record, or was accused of a crime (perhaps one he didn't even commit), and is somehow embroiled in the legal system. Maybe his fake (or real) SIN got connected to a dirty job. Obligation may be settled by paying ongoing legal costs, making attempts to bury evidence, or efforts to prove his innocence. As long as this Obligation remains the Character suffers the Obligation Value divided by 5 (rounded up) as Public Awareness.|
|41-50||Debt: The character owes someone a great deal, whether that debt consists of money or something else. Perhaps the PC has a huge gambling debt to a crime boss, is indebted to the a Corporation for his starship, owes a wealthy family for patronage, or has some other serious financial obligation. To make matters worse, depending on who owns the debt, even fully paying it off might not get the character completely off the hook—if the character can get that money, he can surely get more.|
|51-60||Dutybound: The PC has a deep sense of duty that he feels compelled to fulfill, such as military service, making good on a contract, or following some sort of thieves' code. A Dutybound character has some legal or ritualistic bind to an organization or cause making it extremely difficult or detrimental if he fails to live up to that commitment.|
|61-70||Family: The character has deep ties with his family that require a great deal of time and attention. This could include providing care for or assistance to siblings or parents, the management of an inheritance, trust, or family business, or simply mediating between squabbling family members.|
|71-80||Favor: The PC owes a big favor. Perhaps officials looked the other way when he smuggled in goods, or a friend got him out of prison. Regardless, the favors are stacking up, and soon he's going to be asked to pay them back or return the favor. This favor may be called in a little at a time, prolonging the Obligation.|
|81-90||Obsession: The PC has some unhealthy obsession that tends to interfere in his life, whether with a celebrity, a region, a political movement, a cultural icon, or some other facet of society or life. He must pursue this, possibly to the detriment of his health, finances, or well-being. A character with this Obligation tends to get along well with others that share his interest, but is looked at with pity, amusement, or even a bit of fear from others who don't understand.|
|91-00||Responsibility: A character with the Responsibility Obligation feels a strong sense of accountability or relationship to a person, place, or thing (a responsibility to kin falls under the Family Obligation described above). This could include a strong connection to a mentor, a strong desire to care for orphans in a given location, or taking on the needs of an under-represented minority.|
What is Obligation?
Each Player Character starts with at least one Obligation. As described previously, this Obligation may be a tangible one such as a debt owed or a bounty on one's head, or an intangible Obligation such as an unpaid favor or familial duty. A player may select his character's Obligation in one of several ways. He may roll randomly from the list found on the Obligation Table below. Alternatively, if a particular Obligation fits his character's backstory, he may choose one of the table instead of rolling, as long as he has his GM's permission. Finally, he may make up his own Obligation, if he has a concept that better fits his backstory.Each Obligation consists of two parts:
Each character begins play with a moderate Obligation of some sort. The nature of this Obligation is determined by the player, either by rolling randomly or by selecting based on his backstory. The size of each player's Obligation is based on the starting number of players, as determined by the Starting Obligations table.
Starting with the same Obligation
Olbligation can prove to be a great way to tie characters together. If two or more characters start with the same Obligation, either because they roll it randomly or because they chose it. their players may decide that the characters don't just have the same type of Obligation, they all share the same Obligation. Perhaps they all roll Debt, and owe the same crime lord for giving them a ship. Or perhaps they all decide to select Oath, and the players decide their characters have all sworn the same oath to accomplish a greater goal.
In addition, players may choose to increase the size of their characters' starting Obligations when they generate their Obligation, in order to gain additional starting experience, or additional NuCred to purchase starting gear. However, doing so puts both the individual character and the group at greater peril when the GM makes an Obligation Check at the start of a session (see Obligations).
|# of Players||Starting Obligation per Player|
|Additional Bonus||Obligation Cost|
Starting Obligation Values
The different starting amounts in are designed to have starting parties begin with a total group Obligation between 40 and 60 points after taking on additional Obligation. Players who too readily dip into extra Obligation to gain more experience points or extra credits during character creation may find their group with a much higher starting value, while more cautious groups may begin with less. Each Player Character has the option to gain additional starting Obligation in exchange for additional mechanical benefits, as laid out the Additional Obligation table. There are two limitations to this: Each player can only choose each option once, and Player Characters cannot gain more additional Obligation than their original starting value. Obligation values can fluctuate over the course of a game, as players have the chance to buy down their existing Obligations, or take on new Obligations.
Obligation in Play
Over the course of a campaign, Obligations can come into play in several ways—either as plot hooks and character motivations or as compelling character decisions. For example, the characters complete an crossrun and receive a sizable payment. Do the characters spend those NuCred to make repairs on their ship—or pay down their Obligation? Obligation helps provide short-term decisions, long-term goals, and story hooks that help tie together campaigns and shape the "fringe" experience In addition to the narrative implications, Obligation has mechanical impact, as well. Before each downtime / crossrun, the GM rolls a d100 and compares it to the group's current outstanding Obligation. If the roll is greater than the total Obligation, they've stayed off the grid or under the radar enough that it doesn't come back to haunt them-yet. If the roll is equal to or less than the total Obligation, it comes into play and impacts the run in some manner. The character whose Obligation is triggered feels the heat, and may suffer penalties or strain under the scrutiny or pressure of his Obligations. While players create Obligations for their characters, it is another tool for the GM to help reinforce the story, motivate characters, and even provide rewards. Players feel a real sense of relief when they have the opportunity to pay down or settle part of their Obligation.
In addition to the narrative implications, Obligation has a mechanical impact as well. At the start of every downtime period or crossrun, the GM determines whether the group's total Obligation affects the game. Before each of those, the GM rolls percentile dice and compares the results to the group's current outstanding Obligation.
Obligation Check Results
If the roll is greater than the party's total Obligation, then their Obligation is low enough that their collective tangible or intangible debts and duties are not pressing enough to affect them—at least for now. However, if the roll is equal to or less than the group's total Obligation, something related to their Obligation may introduce complications during the upcoming session. In addition, the GM can determine exactly whose Obligation triggered by comparing the results of his roll to the chart. If, for example, the GM rolled a 17, then the character with the Obligation value 16-30 would have his Obligation triggered. A character who's Obligation gets triggered, takes Strain Damage equal to the Obligation Value divided by 5 (round up). This damage can not be reduced and can only be healed through natural recovery. So e.g. a character with a triggered Obligation of 20 would take 4 Strain damage. In addition to this the character automatically gains 1 Notoriety (see Reputation). This mechanical effect represent either internal or external pressure on the Player Characters as a result of their Obligation. It could be as simple as the characters being worried about paying off their Obligations, and their concern distracting them and stressing them. However, triggered Obligation can also result in tangible problems. Favors could be called in, debts may require an impromptu payment, or an addiction may bring with it a sudden craving that needs to be satisfied. Ultimately, even though the mechanical effects always come into play, it's up to the GM as to how this affects the characters narratively. One thing the GM should not feel obligated to do, however, is disrupt his own narrative or story in order to represent a triggered Obligation. Remember, the effects of a triggered Obligation can always be mental. If a PC's "bounty" Obligation gets triggered, but the GM is in the middle of an ongoing adventure and doesn't want to complicate things by having a bounty hunter show up, he can just tell the player that his PC is suffering a lower strain threshold because he's worried this adventure is making it harder to avoid bounty hunters.
Obligation and Reputation
A Crosser who doesn't pay his debts and goes back on their world is less likely to be trusted in the corporate space as well as in the shadows. Everytime a character's obligation increases by 5 or more during play, he also gains 1 notoriety. Conversely, a character reducing his Obligations also decreses his notoriety (see Reputation). Starting Obligations do not produce Notoriety but can be settled to decrease it.
Obligation as a Resource
Sometimes characters have the option to voluntarily accept additional Obligation to obtain items and accomplish goals that would normally be out of their reach. In these cases, the GM may increase an existing Obligation by a certain amount, or decide to create an entirely new Obligation to reflect the transaction or events. A point Players should be aware of is that not all Obligation is created equal. Obligation does not have an equivalent value in NuCred; its value is solely dependent on the circumstances, what is being acquired, the person or people being negotiated with, and so on. Acquiring an illegally salvaged power coupling on the black market may require 5 Obligation from a well-known fence and underworld contact, but could require 15 Obligation from a politician who needs to pull a few strings and ensure he retains plausible deniability about the entire affair. When characters have an opportunity to pay off or commit resources to decrease their current level, this is called settling the Obligation. Settling can occur in several ways. In most cases, the Obligation settlement will either be specific or generic.
The party's Obligation generally ranges from 5 to 100. No matter how much the PCs pay off. return favors, or try to live squeaky clean. Obligation cannot be reduced lower than 5. While 100 is the top practical range when rolling percentiles, Obligation can exceed 100. In this case, simply track Obligation as normal. Exceeding 100 means Obligation triggers every session, and has an additional detrimental effect on characters, which is covered below.
Exceeding 100 Obligation
Once the party's Obligation exceeds 100, the pressure of their Obligations is so severe that they can focus on little else until that Obligation is back under control. Until the party brings its total Obligation back under 100, none of the Player Characters can spend experience points to improve abilities, train skills, or acquire talents. The PCs simply have too much on their minds, and are fraught with too much mistrust, anxiety, and strain to focus long enough to improve themselves.