Back in January, the IdDM posted an article about Increasing Immersion using Obligation. In it he talks about how the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire’s Obligation system can be really useful for increasing immersion into your character and the story.
This article is largely a plug for you to go to his site, since he’s a great RPG blogger, but I’m going to give a quick overview as well, along with a couple of good ways to try and implement it into a few different systems.
Obligation comes from owing something to someone, whether it is truly owed or the character just feels like they owe it. I’ll give a couple of examples, most of which are from Star Wars:
Han Solo has an obligation to Jabba the Hutt. He owes Jabba quite a decent sum of money. That drives his actions a fair bit throughout the original trilogy, indirectly explaining why he had to become such a good pilot (running from the law teaches you a few things; running from Jabba can teach you quite a bit, too). It ends up creating the entire opening of Return of the Jedi as well.
Chewbacca has a life debt with Han, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he had ‘paid’ that off in full by now. But he still likely feels obligated to keep Han safe out of friendship and an overly large sense of honor involved in the life debt.
Luke’s obligation might not be so easy to pick out. I would say that Luke’s obligation is to his ‘promise’ to Obiwan to be a jedi. Obiwan sacrificed his life for Luke, so now Luke feels obligated to continue his training and overthrow the Empire.
My last example is the voodoo guy in the Princess and the Frog. He has debts to pay to his “friends on the other side”. These debts drive him to be more desperate about his dealings. In the end, though, those debts get the better of him (of course, since he’s the bad guy).
Adding Obligation to Other Systems
Personally, I think adding Obligation will be one of the easiest systems to add it to. You simply (as a player)make your character’s Trouble into an Obligation or else (as the GM), make it so that every character has an Obligation Aspect. The mechanics of Aspects take care of the usefulness of the Obligation on its own.
Dungeon World would probably work best if you use it like Alignment or Bonds, gaining an experience point at the end of the session for taking a step to fulfill your Obligation.
You could also get a simple bonus like giving a +1 bonus towards actions that involve fulfilling your Obligation.
13th Age would likely be best served with the +1 bonus mentioned for Dungeon World.
Let me know what you think; has obligation helped in your games?