May 3, 2013
Character Destiny In Star Wars: Saga Edition
In celebration of “May the Fourth be with You,” redOrbit is hosting a series of Star Wars-inspired blogs.
It is a staple of fantasy for the hero to have a destiny. We see it all the time in literature, film, and video games. In Star Wars there are many characters who have a destiny. Anakin Skywalker is destined to bring balance to the Force, which he does through both fathering Luke and by killing the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. In Star Wars: Saga Edition, giving your character a destiny is an optional part of character creation, though I do not know of many players who wouldn’t want to give their character something great (or terrible) to accomplish. However, I am often lenient to make player characters “destined” heroes in my game. Why? Three major reasons.
First, the most games uses randomness as a part of their core mechanic. In short, games often use dice. Despite what many people might think, a Gamemaster is not an author of the game. There is only so much that the Gamemaster can control, and trust me, gaming dice can be very cruel. A few bad rolls can spell the end of a well-loved and established character, and what does that mean for the character’s destiny? Does it fail? If that destiny was to save the universe, is the universe doomed? This issue doesn’t come up as often when the destiny involves a group, but “not often” is not “never.” Some characters die, players roll up new characters, other characters die, more are rolled up. Too many times the group that ends an adventure or campaign is not the same group that started the journey, and what happens when none of the current characters have any connection to the ongoing story? This, of course, can be mitigated by working in character back-story and working with your players. But as character deaths are almost always a surprise turn of events, it can be hard to do that when the player just wants to get back in the game as quickly as possible, rolling up a new character as fast as they can.
Second, characters who have a destiny to fulfill often feel that they are more important or central to the game than characters who don’t. An easy fix to this is to have the entire group share in a destiny. However, that risks none of the characters feeling special, which is often the driving force behind wanting to play a character with a destiny. If all of your characters have their own destinies, which might seem the best option, then does the game alter between its focus on individual characters? If it takes a five-session adventure to fulfill the destiny of one character, what happens when another character completes theirs during a single session of gaming? Players can easily become dissatisfied if they feel that their character isn’t being given the same import as others, and I cannot blame them. The game is meant to be a shared story, one in which players take turns being the main protagonist.
Finally, the idea of a hero or (as is often the case with role-playing games) a group of heroes that are destined to save the world/universe/reality is a part of gaming that I don’t find all that necessary. Your characters save the world? Good for them. They might have saved day, but others might have been able to do it in their place were they not able to. Other characters, for example. The characters did not need to be destined to save the world in order to do it. They were just the ones best suited for the task at the time, or, more often, they just happened to be in the right place at the right time. When destinies start being woven into the narrative, characters start feeling as though the Gamemaster has already determined what the end result of the game will be. (See my article on railroading in regards to this.) Players have a tendency to rebel against attempts to railroad their characters, and this can often disrupt any carefully laid plans a Gamemaster might have in regards to how these characters’ destinies are fulfilled.
Personally, I feel that destinies are best avoided in table-top games. That isn’t to say, however, that they don’t make for interesting narrative elements in other works. My only real advice regarding using them in your own campaigns, particularly in games like Star Wars, is be smart about integrating them into your story. Destinies can make a story as easily as it can destroy one.
Image Credit: StarWars.com