The finale of my memorial for my Star Wars campaign, this is a combination philosophical meditation upon and revised mechanics for the Force. While the previous two posts are useful for basically any Star Wars game (or, with minimal alteration, any space opera game in any setting), this post includes a very specific interpretation of the Force that I favored and which my players agreed was reasonable. The nature of the Force can be a contentious issue and this particular interpretation of it may not be well liked by all fans. It also may or may not hold up with the new canon at all.
tl;dr The Light Side is at peace. The Dark Side is passionate. The Dark Side is not necessarily evil, nor is the Light Side necessarily good.
The Light Side is about being at peace. That is to say, being content with things how they are. The extreme end of the Light Side is a zen master who is completely unflappable and is okay with basically anything that could ever happen. That’s a pretty cool place to be for you personally, but it also means that he is 100% apathetic to the suffering of the masses. A pure Light Side guy legit does not care that other people are suffering in exactly the same way and exactly the same reason that he does not care if he himself is in dire straits: That’s just the way of the galaxy and he’s not going to let it get to him. All but the absolutely most extreme of Light Side types will still try to help, but will not especially miffed if they fail. Clearly success just wasn’t in the cards and those wookiees were meant to live their entire lives under the brutal dictatorship of the Galactic Empire. Oh, well, life goes on. Most Light Side people don’t reach this level of zen, though. Even Qui-Gon and Yoda weren’t able to be that detached. Though both of them were able to accept the galaxy for what it was, and in Yoda’s case even when it was terrible, it weighed on them. Though they believed in the Jedi code that it was best to do what they could for the galaxy yet also be calm and dispassionate about the ultimate result, they’re both mortal and you can’t be plugged into the background noise of an entire galaxy suffering under the tyranny of the Galactic Empire without being kind of sad about it.
The Light Side is also about harmony with others, because that is something that comes automatically when you are at peace. Emotions and passions come from within, and the Light Side is all about connections beyond the self. The Dark Side’s passions and emotions are turbulent and distracting and obscure the natural connections to the living Force, and when you remove those and become perfectly calm you also become perfectly connected, at least, in a perfect world. In reality other people channel the Dark Side which can cause disturbances in the Force which can obscure a Light Sider’s connections. The greater the Dark storm, the deeper your connection must be to find the still Force beneath it.
While the purest of the Light Siders basically don’t do anything ever except be a hermit, the Light Side is predisposed towards good. Their natural connection to others gives them a built-in reason to have concern and compassion, and that in-turn makes them inclined to help. Yet the more passionate they are in their desire to help, the more they obscure their own connection to others. The purest of the Light Siders are always either trying to help or uninvolved, but it is very common for low-grade Light Siders to miss the forest for the trees. A common drawback of Light Side traditions is becoming caught up in mantras and dogmas and the suppression of emotion over the calming of it. Zen is a tricky thing in that the harder you try to achieve it, the more you’ve missed the point, and a common pitfall of Light Side adepts is becoming obsessed with the mantras and the koans and getting really passionate about being dispassionate. Jedi who strive for the Light because it is expected of them and not because it is where they want to be tend to be a storm of emotions hidden behind a placid surface. Like a maelstrom that rages at the bottom of a lake accompanied by a windstorm which forces the waters as flat as it can on top. At first glance it might look like the waters are mostly calm, disturbed only by the ripples of rain, but a wise observer knows that they are in a storm, and doubly so for trying to hide the appearance of the storm. These sorts of Light Siders become dedicated to codes and laws, enforcers who believe that they can thrust enlightenment upon the unwilling and that the laws of the Force are things that can be enforced. In truth, the laws of the Force are laws for the mind and the heart and enforcing them is counterproductive to upholding them, but many fail to realize this.
The most common of these half-dark Jedi are people like [campaign-exclusive Force tradition you’ve never heard of], who become obsessed with people and events and forget the ideals which they are supposed to be upholding. They form traditions which are concerned with the appearance of calm, often becoming stoic and dour rather than placid and calm. The most famous of the half-dark are people like [campaign-exclusive character you’ve never heard of] or Darth Revan, people who either could not overcome the grief caused by the pain they could feel all too well due to their connection to the Light Side, or refused to overcome it, believing the passions it ignited in them and the strength it gave them would help them to accomplish their goals and make the galaxy a better place. Darth Revan ultimately succumbed to the Dark Side entirely, forgetting his original intentions and becoming obsessed with the power he had accumulated in pursuit of them, but there’s no reason it has to end this way (and there’s no guarantee it’ll end this way for [that character]). You can sustain this half-dark state forever if you’re careful, and neither allow the fires of the Dark to die out nor let them burn out of control and consume you.
The Dark Side is about passion. It’s about caring about things. The Dark Side is wanting to be with someone, and it’s also not always knowing if they feel the same about you. The Dark Side is loving your husband or wife and grieving when they die. The Dark Side is loving your children, wanting them to succeed, being sad when they fail, and wanting to help them get back up and try again. The Dark Side is not just hatred, but also love. No one denies that the Dark Side brings pain, but it also brings joy, and the Light avoids the peaks for fear of the valleys. No one denies that the Dark is a new and uniquely sapient twist on what was previously a purely Light Force, but it is closed-minded to say that it must be a corruption and not an evolution to something greater. The Dark Side isn’t a placid lake, it’s a flickering flame, unstable, chaotic, and potentially destructive. If you aren’t careful with it, it’ll burn you, but if you are careful with it, it gives warmth and light (which is where the Light/Dark nomenclature breaks down).
Of course, if you just want to rule the galaxy or have as much hookers and blow as you can swim in, those are also passions. And developing a calm, placid connection to those around you definitely isn’t going to help you crush dissidents under your iron boot or host an orgy that puts Slaanesh to shame. So your most spectacular villains are usually Dark Siders. The Dark Side is also impatient. The Dark Side doesn’t want to be a small part of something much greater. The Dark Side wants results. And on the one hand, this makes the Dark Side much better at getting results, but on the other hand it makes Dark Siders prone to rash action and jumping the gun, and often a Dark Sider whose intentions are 100% good and never falls to the temptation of “screw all you ungrateful, spineless dicks who can’t lift a finger to help yourself and do nothing but hate me for defending your lives and livelihoods, I am the Sith Emperor now” might still end up causing lots of harm because they are desperate to fix galaxy-spanning problems right now and their solutions either end up badly overcorrecting the problem, wasting resources and goodwill on what is ultimately an unsustainable band-aid solution, or else they become so fanatically obsessed with fixing the one problem that they ignore all the other problems they’re causing in the process of fixing the first, and ultimately end up with a cure that does more harm than the disease.
Dark Side Points are used to represent the Dark Side as a force of pure malevolence [in the core rules]. That doesn’t really work with this new interpretation of the Force, but at the same time it’s important to maintain that wielding the Dark Side is certainly playing with fire and it is very possible to lose your way and become entirely self-absorbed. Dark Siders do become slaves to their passions, too obsessed with their own desires to care about anyone else. I don’t spend much time talking about it because we’re already familiar with the supervillain extreme of Dark Siders, but that is in fact still a thing. Emperor Palpatine still gets corrupted because of his immersion in the Dark Side and that is still something that does not happen to you if you use the Light Side.
So here is how Dark Side corruption works from [point in the story] onwards. Number one, non-Force sensitives do not have to care. They don’t get Dark Side points. It is technically true that they are pretty much constantly in the half-dark stage because that’s where most people shake out but since they aren’t Force Sensitive they have no reason to care about having any number of Dark Side points below total corruption. So technically non-Force sensitives follow these same rules, but they don’t need to bother tracking their Dark Side points.
For Force sensitives, Dark Side corruption comes in six stages. The first stage is Pure, and if you gain even a single Dark Side point you are no longer Pure. This stage is so difficult to maintain that most people, even Force sensitives, should probably just mark themselves down as having a Dark Side point already. When you are Pure, you gain a Dark Side point for any act of aggression, including non-lethal attacks, any kind of threat, and even totally non-violent but aggressive outbursts of questionable IC/OOC status. The thing with hard Light Side status is that you specifically do not care what happens, though, which means you legit don’t have to care how violent or aggressive your party members are so long as you do not participate in their violence at all. In fact, condemning their violence would gain you a Dark Side Point. You might attempt to instruct them (calmly) that their violence is a manifestation of their passions and desires, and these passions and desires are an illusion which in truth only lead to suffering, but you yourself must have no desire to quell the violence. The Pure are seriously extremely zen.
If your DSP are between 1 and 1/4 of your Wisdom rounded down, you are Enlightened. An Enlightened character can gain DSP for lethally attacking a living creature unless they have firstly made every effort to avoid violence and second they are committing the violence in defense of others such that the total amount of violence going around will hopefully be lower. Exactly what qualifies is up to GM discretion, but token efforts don’t count. Even [player character with strong pacifist ideals] would be unlikely to maintain this level for very long, because she rarely makes any effort to reign in the aggression of her party members even though she can expect to significantly reduce fatalities if she does, and equally rarely attempts to accomplish anything without violence. Restrictions on Force abilities are even tighter. Anything that causes physical or mental harm or distress grants a DSP, even if you can reasonably expect to be reducing the total amount of harm by doing so. Even though using something like Fear is clearly less harmful than a blaster bolt (assuming you aren’t just stunning them so your allies can kill them), channeling the Force to harm others does things to your connection whether you want it to or not. Finally, expressing deep concern for specific other individuals, including something like stabilizing a party member who is further away from you than a wounded NPC or even an incapacitated enemy, will also grant you Dark Side Points. The Enlightened play no favorites – they’re here to help everyone. Maintaining this level is a serious roleplaying challenge, but unlike Pure it is reasonably doable if you are willing to commit your every action to it. Nevertheless, the majority of people, even those trying to be Light Siders, are going to want to go ahead and just start out with one quarter their Wisdom in Dark Side points.
The 1/4 to 1/2 Wisdom stage is where the Jedi live, and I have no better name for it so for now we’re just calling it Jedi. Jedi can jolly well use the Force to shove people around and even off of cliffs. They do not gain Dark Side Points for taking lethal action, with or without the Force, so long as they can be reasonably certain that what they are doing will prevent violence overall. A Jedi needs a very good reason to start a fight, but if it’s already started they are under no obligation to be the one who dies for it and can commit as much violence against the other side as they like. This goes double if the fight is in a populated area where bystanders might be harmed if it isn’t ended quickly. This applies even to people who are looking for a fight and haven’t found one yet so long as number one you are certain and not merely suspicious that they are looking for a fight (for example, if they are in an enemy army) and number two that these people will not become non-violent if they do not find the fight they’re looking for. This means that if they’re an enemy army in a cold war, and once they stop looking for you they’ll just go and guard a depot or something, you can’t ambush them, because that’s starting a fight. If it’s an enemy army that is actively fighting a war, however, if they don’t find you then they will go find someone else to kill so you aren’t really making things any worse by ambushing them. There was going to be a battle either way, you may as well win it. If they’re scum or a cult or some other non-military opposition, things get murkier. The GM (me or others) is under no obligation to be kind to you when dealing with these grey areas, so err on the side of caution. You can also have stronger attachments to your allies than your enemies without getting a DSP, however strong relationships are still forbidden. Expressions of love whether romantic or platonic, including an “I would follow you anywhere” sort of declaration, will still get you DSPs, as will the pursuit of any strong personal ambitions. You also can’t use the Force with aggression, however unlike the “are you preventing violence overall” question the GM is required to be more lenient about this. A few Dark Side talents are pretty explicitly channeling aggression, as is anything which has the [dark side] tag that you haven’t trained yourself to use dispassionately through buying Shades of the Force, but other than that you’re safe.
The 1/2 to 3/4 Wisdom stage is Darkened. People are born without Dark Side Points but usually have this many by the time they’re two years old, so any character who is not specifically trying to be a Jedi-type Light Sider can just go ahead and start with half their Wisdom in DSPs. When you’re Darkened, it’s pretty tough to get more DSPs. You don’t have to make any particular effort to avoid fights so long as the people you’re attacking aren’t innocent bystanders and your reasons aren’t completely selfish. You can have strong, passionate relationships with other people so long as they aren’t obsessive. You can be dedicated to personal goals like becoming personally wealthy or reclaiming your ancestral homeland so long as you aren’t dicking people over to do it. People with this many DSPs follow the standard rules for the most part: Don’t be an evil dick and don’t use Dark Side powers without protection and you’re good (although it is worth noting that obsessive dedication to one’s passions counts as “being an evil dick” even if your obsession isn’t directly harming anyone – if it’s excessive, it’s Dark enough to drive you towards Corrupt stage, regardless of whether or not it’s harmful from a pragmatic perspective).
The 3/4 to one point less than maximum stage is Corrupt. At this stage the Dark Side is beginning to physically corrupt you. Your eyes have changed color and you find it more difficult to resist the urge to cackle maniacally or villainously monologue. People at this stage are affected by powers which under the old rules affected anyone with at least one Dark Side Point. They tend to be mostly obsessed with something (or completely obsessed, if they’re on their way to being Consumed). Corrupt is where the Dark Jedi live. They still care about others besides themselves, but only in the context of an unhealthy obsession. Living like this is bad for the Corrupt, but doesn’t have to be bad for those around them so long as the Corrupt recognizes that their emotions are flawed and can’t be allowed to rule their every action. A Corrupt person might, for example, be obsessed with defending bystanders from the ravages of a war, obsessed with liberating the oppressed from a tyrannical empire, or obsessed with defending their friends and loved ones from some inevitable doom, and so long as they are aware of their limitations, this doesn’t have to end the way it did for Anakin or Revan. Whether you have Shades of the Force or not, using [dark side] tagged abilities no longer grants DSPs on its own. At this stage, only utterly psychopathic actions grant DSPs. Killing, torturing, or otherwise inflicting severe/fatal harm on people who aren’t even your enemies (like bystanders or inconvenient third parties) is about the only thing that can qualify, as no amount of cruelty towards people who are your enemies will earn DSPs at this stage, although someone must actively and violently oppose you to qualify as your enemy – simply disliking you or withholding aid does not qualify and taking lethal action against people for that sort of behavior will earn even the Corrupt a DSP. The final DSP to bring your total equal to your Wisdom score and make you Consumed must be a particularly heinous action. It doesn’t have to be wholly unjustified, but it does have to represent a willingness to abandon all other morals in pursuit of a single, monomaniacal obsession, and almost always has to involve harm done to bystanders who were completely uninvolved until you showed up (though someone doesn’t have to be helpless or even outmatched to be a bystander – killing a bunch of well-guarded hutts qualifies if those hutts were making every effort to stay out of the conflict you killed them over).
At the final stage, when your DSPs equal your Wisdom score, you are Consumed. Your physical appearance is now crazy: You have prematurely aged or your body has become skeletal or something else that doesn’t quite make you look like an alien but totally does make you look extremely unhealthy (if you’re like Palpatine, you have some means of disguising your appearance so that you look more normal). Even at this stage people don’t necessarily have to be evil, it’s possible that they were just very, very desperate and were forced to do a lot of things that they wish they weren’t. Maybe the alternatives to burning down that orphanage were legitimately worse. They have, however, proven themselves willing to do absolutely anything in pursuit of their passions. Whatever concern they have for others, they are not letting it slow them down, and are fully willing to have their finger be the one that pulls the trigger on the innocent if that’s what it takes to get what they want, whether that’s some kind of greater good or something wholly selfish. Even the Corrupt would at least hesitate before doing something so extreme, but not the Consumed.
Atoning for Dark Side corruption is much harder the further from the middle you are. If you are Darkened or Jedi, sacrificing one Force Point removes one Dark Side Point like normal. An act of exceptional self-sacrifice removes enough Dark Side Points to bring you to the point where you are just barely still within your current category (so if you are Darkened, it reduces you to exactly 1/2 your Wisdom score rounded down, if you are Jedi, exactly 1/4). If you are Corrupt or Enlightened, acts of exceptional self-sacrifice only reduce your Dark Side Points by one. When you level, you can sacrifice all of your Force Points for that level to reduce your Dark Side Points by one. If you are Consumed, you must perform an act of exceptional self-sacrifice and sacrifice all of your Force Points to reduce your Dark Side Points by one (which will make you Corrupt again). Which does mean that if you happen to be out of Force Points at the time, you get away with atoning from Consumed level with no additional cost than if you were Corrupt, though intentionally gunning for this is a dickish as Hell violation of the spirit of the rules.
In order to qualify as an act of exceptional self-sacrifice an act must meet three criteria. Number one, it must have very real risk of extreme personal cost or involve a sacrifice of significant (though less extreme) personal cost. PCs risk their life in the sense that it is technically possible for a random encounter to go against them all the time, but to count as exceptional self-sacrifice the odds must be stacked up such that it is genuinely unclear if the person attempting to atone will survive. Costs other than death are also acceptable, though, like giving up the majority of your material wealth or cutting off your own hand in order to free yourself from a binder cuff and save the day (which is pretty much peanuts mechanically because you can get a robo-arm, but it satisfies the criteria of being a dramatic sacrifice). In this case the potential cost is lower, but that’s okay because the odds of paying that cost are 100%. You aren’t risking your arm, you are personally cutting it off of yourself because that’s the only way to save the day.
Number two, at no stage during the act of self-sacrifice can you do anything that would get you a Dark Side Point if you were one level lower on the track. So if you’re Corrupt, it only counts as exceptional self-sacrifice if nothing you do would get you a DSP if you were Darkened. Killing a captured enemy doesn’t qualify you for a DSP when you’re Corrupt, but it does when you’re merely Darkened, so if you are Corrupt killing a captured enemy disqualifies you for an act of exceptional self-sacrifice no matter how well you tick the other two criterion. Notably, however, a Consumed character can kill captured enemies while atoning, because that wouldn’t earn a Corrupt character a DSP.
Number three, it must not further any of your personal ambitions or passions. If hacking your arm off helped you save the galaxy but also helped you save one person in particular whom you really love and care about, that doesn’t count if the reason you became Dark in the first place was because of your love for that person. In that case, it’s ambiguous whether or not you are legit atoning for what you’ve done wrong or just furthering your obsessive need to be with the object of your affections. You can get around this by intentionally rejecting your obsession in the aftermath, provided you live that long, even just by something as simple as keeping your distance from the object of your affection instead of trying to cash in on having saved their life. In other words: Darth Vader can’t redeem himself by exerting power over death, although he can (and did) redeem himself by saving a life generally. The irony of Darth Vader’s obsession with preventing death entirely actually causing Padme to die prematurely doesn’t mean that he can’t redeem himself by preventing the premature death of Luke, because the latter did not further his obsession with preventing his loved ones from dying indefinitely. Also, Darth Vader’s fall to darkness was really poorly executed and I don’t consider myself bound to the reasons for Anakin’s fall given in the prequels.