What I told you was true, from a certain point of view
-Obi Wan [Return of the Jedi]
Star Wars, like many great stories, is all about conflict: Factions compete for dominance on the galactic stage, developing (and destroying) superweapons in an attempt to sway the balance of power. Meanwhile in the shadows, light and dark philosophies of the Force are locked in endless contention, influencing key players whose actions shape the galaxy for good or ill. The Jedi fight the Sith, the Old Republic fights the Empire, and the New Republic fights the First Order.
Where these conflicts become personal to the fan, however, is in the struggle of individual characters as family members caught between the forces of family loyalty and their own personal ambitions. Here we find the tragic life of Anakin Skywalker, already so insecure, grieving the recent loss of his mother and fearful about the potential loss of his wife Padme. In an attempt to protect her, he falls victim to Palpatine’s manipulation and is used ultimately as a tool to exterminate the Jedi. He is restored eventually to the light by his son Luke, who is himself freed to enter the galactic conflict after his uncle Owen and aunt Beru fall victim to Imperial cruelty. Han and Leia’s son Ben is lost to the opposing faction presumably as an indirect result of their inability to maintain a functional family -and as a result Ben betrays and kills his father and seems lost to the darkness forever. Family is the deep core of Star Wars, and the Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne expansions of Star Wars: The Old Republic are no exception.
In these most recent SWTOR expansions, the player engages the story as the Outlander, caught up in the dysfunction of the most powerful family in the galaxy. Valkorion enacts a plan to solidify his reign and ensure his immortality. Vaylin lashes out in anger and bitterness. Arcann slays his brother Thexan and falls victim to his own ambition. Senya sacrifices everything to redeem her children. Every character in the saga plays an important part. Each has a back story, a personality, an alignment, a set of values, convictions, and motivations that shape who they are and how they act. Moreover, they grow and learn and evolve as the story progresses. Those factors make a good character, and I believe a player who decides to do the same with their own characters, playing as a participant in a more active way rather than as a passive observer, enjoys a repeatable adventure unique to every character they play. So why not role play a character and get caught up in the events yourself as a character with your own personality, set of values, motivations, and goals?
With this thinking in mind, I began a role play experiment some weeks ago with the launch of Eternal Throne that has provided an added RP-driven element I have been enjoying more than I thought I would at the outset. I have role played through KotFE and KotET with three characters in this fashion since deciding to RP my way through, each character carefully designed and played from their particular point of view. Their alignment, background, values, motivations and goals provide the basis for their decision-making, and in so doing many of the difficult decisions in the chapter stories of these expansions have been theirs to make, not mine. This framework has allowed me to enjoy their story and to explore the expansion content in a more intentional and principled way. So what follows is an explanation of how to start thinking through a character’s design in this way, and then a few examples from my own cast of characters.
Role Play Character Design Elements
The following is a list of elements I take into account when designing a role play character for play through the KotFE and KotET expansions:
Every character should have a back story. Did your character play through the origin story? What was the outcome? Does the journey so far matter to your character or does your character regard the steps they took to get to the conclusion to be inconsequential? Did they barely survive the encounter with Rogun the Butcher, Darth Baras or Vitiate? Or did they triumph easily? How did those encounters affect your character? Was your character morally upstanding or self-interested and self-serving as they became more established as a player on the galactic stage?
If you started a level 60 or 65 character (thereby missing the origin story chapters), you may feel freer to design an epic back story yourself (although given that KotFE is such a break from the chapters preceding it, there is technically nothing stopping you from designing a new back story yourself despite playing a character you played through the origin story).
The point is, come up with a back story. Our histories give us our identity, and your character deserves to know who he or she is.
The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is a core element of all good storytelling. Essentially, the hero goes on an adventure and comes back changed as a result of the trials along the way. None of us are static beings. We are all dynamic in that we are changing, growing, learning and evolving every minute of our day. So in light of your character’s back story, how has he or she changed? What is your character’s trajectory? Have they hardened or softened over time as a result of what they’ve encountered? Have they grown to be more respectful of life or have they come to disregard it in a more amoral fashion? Have they become more responsible or less so? And yes, your character has license to remain unchanged too. (Why do you think Han and Leia couldn’t make it work and ended up going their separate ways leading up to their reunion in Episode VII? Neither could change or adapt).
Gary Gygax introduced an ethical/moral alignment system that is probably the most helpful paradigm created for RP character design to date -and it has been tremendously helpful in my own RP character experiments. Characters are essentially measured on two axes: (1) order/chaos, expressed as lawful-neutral-chaotic and (2) moral, expressed as good-neutral-evil. Feel free to read more about the Dungeons and Dragons alignment system here. But for a quick-and-easy version to help you understand if this kind of thing is new to you, the following is a Star Wars Alignment chart created by gambit508 on DeviantArt that I think captures the idea well enough:
The moral axis translates loosely into light- and dark-side alignments in SWTOR, so parts of this paradigm are already in place. But consider how much more subtle and definitive it could be with the added lawful-chaotic dimension. Consider, for instance, how Vaylin’s alignment as a chaotic-evil character gives her a drastically different persona compared to that of Arcann who is lawful-evil. (I would argue that it is actually quite out-of-character for Vaylin -who is probably far more powerful than Arcann- to serve him faithfully until he loses the Eternal Throne. Wouldn’t a chaotic-evil character think nothing of challenging her brother for dominance? Or did she feel perhaps that it was more fun to be out there causing havoc than sitting isolated in a stuffy throne room?)
Consider how Shae Vizla represents the classic Mandalorian lawful-neutral alignment, and how that makes her wholly different from Satele Shan who is lawful-good. Alignment is a powerful framework for character design.
Now think about your own character. What is your character’s alignment?
Values, Motivations and Goals
Values are usually abstract concepts that play an important role in what convicts and motivates us -things like justice, compassion, progress, revenge, order, power, or freedom. What does your character value? What are they fighting for? What motivates them and keeps them moving through the story? What are they trying to achieve? If your character’s end-game is no more complex than killing Valkorion or defeating Arcann, spice it up some and take it deeper. It may be that your character is on the quest for ultimate power in the galaxy or that they are trying to save as many lives as possible from an oppressive Eternal Empire. In that light, killing Valkorion and defeating Arcann is a means to an end, but not an end within itself.
Bear in mind also that we can each hold conflicting values -and your character is no different. We may be ambitious, for instance, but still care deeply about people and not want to hurt them. In cases like this, our values conflict. It may provide some interesting complexity to build some conflicting values into your character’s persona. It was conflicting values that resulted in Vader’s redemption to the light, after all. Luke just knew there was something there to leverage.
What I have described above should be enough to get you going thinking about how to build an RP character. I’m sure there are facets I have overlooked and I invite anyone to develop these concepts further or introduce things I might have overlooked in the comments. For now, let me conclude by sharing three of my own characters as examples. Good luck with your characters!
Tassera is my true neutral (i.e. neutral-neutral) Marauder, and as a result she’s somewhat difficult to play. As a strict pragmatist she is neither inherently good nor inherently evil -and her propensity for doing whatever is best at the time and in the given situation makes her responsive and action-oriented, yes, but hardly chaotic. She’s all about action: Fast, decisive action. She fights that way and she thinks that way and it forms the bedrock of her leadership style. She leveled up through the origin story taking to heart her appointment to the exalted office of the Emperor’s Wrath precisely because she could get immediate results, but when she found herself toyed with and betrayed, she switched sides. Now she lives for revenge and savors the idea of setting right the wrongs she (and the whole galaxy along with her) has suffered. So who better than her to rule the galaxy? So in that light she accepted Valkorion’s help when he offered it -but only because it was a practical solution to the immediate problems she was facing at the time. It was never indicative of her allegiance, and he will come to regret betraying her.
Secorovin is my lawful-neutral Powertech, and for all intents and purposes, I play him like a United States Marine. For him, ruthless precision is the name of the game as he reluctantly finds himself a key player on the galactic stage. He prides himself on his perfect record delivering exactly what is asked of him -no more, no less- and on his legendary reputation for delivering even when no one else can. There’s not much more to him than that. Because he values precision so highly, he is very careful to limit collateral damage and will try not to hurt anyone other than his mark, whom he pursues vigorously and with relentless intent. But so help him, if you get between his mark and offer aid and comfort in any way, you might as well be his mark. As a result, when Senya tries to aid Arcann’s escape, her reasons don’t matter to Secorovin. He takes the shot.
Secorovin also values loyalty very highly and will fight to the death for his own in true Mandalorian style. But betray him and you’re done. He believes the punishment should fit the crime as a deeply lawful individual, however, so you can expect him to be even-handed though still intentional and decisive. Consequently, he does not take the betrayal of Major Jorgan very lightly (who led Havoc Squad into battle despite his orders to the contrary) and banishes Havoc Squad upon their return. Banishment is also the fate of Koth for the theft of the Gravestone and the resulting hardship on the Alliance, whom he allows to live only as a result of Koth’s remorseful attitude.
Serach is my tyrant, my snake, my neutral-evil Sorcerer -and his deepest drives are power and ambition. Serach is deeply narcissistic and believes ruling the galaxy is his birthright -not because he is willing to earn it and lead its inhabitants in the name of lofty ideals for their supposed benefit, but because he believes the strongest and the most cunning always win. As a result, he cares little for the well being of others and is willing to use them as tools to achieve his ends, though he is also deeply calculating and is willing to go along and even capitulate to others as necessary now if it unlocks doors for him to get where he ultimately wants to go. He also has no qualms about discarding the useless if and when he finds someone to be of no value -or worse, to be detrimental to his ambitions. His back story therefore plays an integral part in his character formation: He was once a slave who rose to become a member of the Dark Council through scheming, collusion, and careful execution of highly risky ventures. However, even his meteoric ascent to membership on the Dark Council is but a stepping stone on his way to inevitable galactic domination. All will fall before him. Murder and mayhem await indeed -but not for the sake of wanton destruction as is the case with many fools, but because they are necessary in his grand design.
Tags: Alignment Anakin Skywalker Arcann Back Story Character Development Darth Baras Darth Vitiate Eternal Empire Eternal Throne Fallen Empire gambit508 Gary Gygax Goals Han Hero's Journey KotET KotFE Leia Luke Motivations Obi Wan Padme Rogun the Butcher Role Play RP Secorovin Senya Serach Shae Vizla Tassera Thexan Vader Valkorion Values Vaylin