In the run-up to actually getting into playing the game, I’ve been having a think about the characters you get to play in terms of actual CHARACTER instead of game mechanics – in other words, how to role-play in TOR. Now, I don’t normally go for an RP server or join an RP guild in MMOs, and what I say in-game varies from mildly RP to completely OOC depending on the company I’m in and my mood. On the other hand, as an old pen and paper roleplayer and occasional writer of fiction, I do tend to think about character and setting and not just optimum talent builds and skill rotations anyway, and I found TOR’s character story and use of dialogue bringing that to the fore during the beta weekends. Since I found the dark side to be more fun, I’ve put most effort into thinking about the Imperial character classes. I’ll take a stab at the Sith classes here (Warrior and Inquisitor) and then take a look at Imperial Agents and Bounty Hunters another time.
The first problem is that it’s very easy to portray the Sith and the Empire as stereotyped cartoon villains, because, well, that’s what they are. Most games with multiple player factions go out of their way to portray all sides as equally good or bad, at least from their own point of view. Not so the case here – this is Star Wars, where the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys wear faux Nazi costumes and speak with British accents. While Bioware are happy to throw in some moral ambiguity on the Republic quests, there’s little doubt that the Sith are evil with a capital E.V.I.L. Not just the “ain’t we cool, we wear black and have an attitude” so-called evil that appeals to rebellious adolescents, but genuine oppressive, genocidal, torturing nasty pieces of work. Given that, you could easily play a Sith as a murdering psychopath who slaughters his way across the galaxy, Force choking anyone who looks at him crosswise and needing regular shiploads of goons to replace the minions he kills himself in a fit of temper. After all, that pretty much describes Darth Vader.
But that would be boring. At the very least, I want someone in the mold of the original Inquisitor Tremayne from my old PnP Star Wars campaign: urbane, intelligent and while he may be utterly ruthless where necessary, not prone to committing dumb and self-destructive acts purely because he’s wearing a ‘hey, I’m evil!’ badge. Even better, can I take things a level beyond George Lucas’ Saturday-matinee style of morality and create a character that’s a ‘good’ Sith while still remaining true to the setting? Let’s take a look at the Sith Code – something you get explained to your Warrior Inquisitor early on, and encapsulates the Sith teachings:
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
I find the interesting thing is that the Sith Code doesn’t mention anger or hatred at all. The Sith Code is about PASSION. Sure, a lot of the Sith you meet are vicious, evil buggers, but that’s probably because anger and hatred and fear are the easiest strong emotions to produce on demand, when any strong emotion will call upon the dark side. I can imagine a Sith Warrior who is a berserker, who finds joy and revels in battle and the glory of struggle and victory, without necessarily being driven by hatred and cruelty. This guy is giving vent to his emotions in a way that is utterly alien to the Jedi, he’s going to seek out conflict because fighting is what he does best – but he’s not driven to crush and dominate, but rather to battle against worthy foes. Out of combat, he can be honourable and probably good company in a rambunctious, hearty way. For role models, look to Conan or any half-decent movie or book with viking characters (personal picks – The 13th Warrior for a movie, Robert Low’s series of novels about the Oathsworn for reading).
That’s the Warrior. For the more cerebral Sith Inquisitors, I offer a more enlightened view of the Sith Code. Most Sith take the first line of the code to exhort them to an endless round of murder, betrayal and internecine warfare, trying to reach the top of the hierarchy through a brutal Darwinian process that ultimately leaves you as either Emperor or dead. I think that’s a narrow reading of the Sith code. It’s not necessarily a call to endless strife. Maybe that first line would be better stated as “Tranquility is a lie, there is only passion”. The Jedi way is to seek serenity, and to act from a center of calm and balance. The Sith way is to take the raw energy of your emotions and channel them. The danger of the Sith way is that the darker emotions such as hate and fear are lot easier to call up and channel, and also that in the grip of these emotions you may let them rule you instead of you ruling them. So most Sith indulge in hatred and perform hateful acts… but that means that they haven’t achieved victory. The last set of chains are ones they have set upon themselves, by letting their anger and hatred control their actions.
Only when a Sith has the power of will to master his emotions and make them his servant has he achieved true victory, broken his chains and become truly free to do what he will. Freedom and victory don’t have to require crushing every other being in the galaxy. Once you have mastered yourself, you are truly free whatever your immediate circumstances. Even if you give your service to another – if you have done so of your own volition, that doesn’t mean that you are not free. The enlightened Sith, at the end of his journey, may stand at the right hand of the Emperor as his willing servant and ally, master of himself yet dedicating that mastery to serve a cause he believes is just and worthy. Whether other, lesser Sith who are still slaves to their own fears can believe that that is truly your position is another matter.
The thoughts above give me some hooks to hang a Sith character on, at least. I hope if anyone who reads this is planning on playing the Imperial side they find it sparks some thoughts of their own. And any Republic players who read it may realise that their opponent is not necessarily just a marauding psychotic with a red lightsaber. He might be far more dangerous than that.