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RPing Illness and Disease

Published by under Role Play on Feb. 24. 2012.

((The RP XP with MJ #27))



How much further?” Jenla sneered as she stepped over a clump of something that could have been random Huttmuck or chemlizard scat.

Neither the Mandalorian nor his sister turned back, so Jenla trudged on in silence and tried to keep up.

Margis whispered to her brother, “Your mate is somethin’ of a complainer. I woulda thought the Empire raised less squeamish lieutenants.”

Boarsch raised his chin and squinted past his sister. “She’s a good officer, Margis. She’s smart and dedicated. Leave her alone already.”

Margis shrugged and gave up on the taunting. The Chiss Imp wasn’t really worth her time. Besides, they had reached the edge of the reservoir. “Here’s what I wanted you to see, Boar.”

Boarsch and Jenla stood on either of Margis and looked out at the stagnant rust-colored lake.

What are we looking at?” The agent asked.

Margis looked up at her brother. “This is my village’s water supply.”

As Jenla wrinkled her nose in disgust, Boarsch said, “You drink this?”

Margis nodded solemnly. “Almost as-is. The water purifiers gave out some time ago.”

Jenla said, “You could die drinking this slime.” That’s when Margis finally turned to acknowledge her.

A tear formed in the hardened Hutta woman’s eye. “The doctor in our village says I have about two months to live.”




About a year ago I was diagnosed with a condition called Atrial Fibrillation. It’s a condition that affects over two million Americans. A form of Cardiac Arrhythmia, Atrial Fibrillation (or A-Fib) occurs when the heart loses rhythm and beats rapidly and irregularly, causing the upper chambers of the heart (atria) to quiver. In my case if feels like you’re falling… forever. While it can be spurred on by hypertension and sleep apnea, it’s primarily an electrical dysfunction and can strike anyone regardless of body type or heart history. Some A-Fib can be so bad the sufferer needs to be defibrillated (shocked) back into rhythm. I’m glad to say my case isn’t that severe.


What does that have to do with Star Wars: The Old Republic?


Well, after my last trip to the emergency room, I wondered what kinds of maladies or diseases my characters in the game could fall prey to and what doctors in the Star Wars universe would do to treat them.




Let’s start small. If you’re a serious RolePlayer who wants to bring every aspect of your character to life, you have to bring life to your character. Everyone gets sick from time to time, at least acutely. That’s why it’s called the “common” cold. There’s no reason the same thing couldn’t befall humans, or other species, in a galaxy far, far away.


Is it “godmodding” to say your character “never gets sick”? No. Not in this case. Think about the people you know in your family, work or school. You probably know someone with a rock-solid constitution who never even sneezes. For the rest of us, and for those who want their RP to have dimension and “humanity,” start thinking about what you can do with illnesses.


The “/cough” emote can be used if you’re trying to get someone’s attention, sort of an “Ahem, excuse me,” move, but you can also use it repeatedly (though not excessively) to demonstrate a simple cold or allergy.


When Should You Use It?


“Come down with something” whenever you sense the personal RP you’re involved in is starting to slump or stagnate. Got nothing else to say, but don’t want to stop RPing with your friend? A sudden case of Alderaanian Hay Fever might give you something to talk about or offer a simple distraction into another topic.


What Can You Do With It?


Simple allergies can be a lot of fun to play with in RP. Imagine that your trooper is allergic to wookiee fur. What happens when you RP with your smuggler friend who insists she bring along her wookiee friend, Bowdaar? Sneezing, coughing, watery eyes. It could add a humorous interjection to a boring RP session, but be careful not to overdo it. Make sure you keep a note next to your computer as well. If you’re allergic to wookiee fur, you’re allergic to all wookiee fur all the time. Be consistent.





Ok, now we’re getting a little more serious. These forms of illness can range between anything from a nagging and annoying issue to a completely debilitating illness. The word “virus” can also be used to describe a cause for certain actions or behaviors. In Star Wars: Galaxies, for example, there was a mission involving a scientist who developed the Berserker Virus as a bioweapon to make animals go, well, berserk. And we all know by now the effects of the original Rakghoul plague first introduced in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which started as an engineered disease.


Viruses are the most abundant form of life on Earth, so it follows that an entire galaxy would have an endless supply of them. For that reason, it’s a simple matter to create a virus of your own without breaking canon. Just don’t go overboard and say that your virus wiped out everyone on Dantooine or that it turns people into zombies with absolutely no cure. To make your virus work, keep it simple and believable.


A syndrome is described as a set of symptoms that indicate a possible disease, and a disease is a specific illness with a direct relationship to its cause, be it genetic, toxicological, bacterial or viral (which brings us back to virus). Let’s see what we can come up with for some examples….


Start With A Name


You can name your illness for what it does, or after Patient Zero (the first person ever infected by it), or after the planet or location in which it was first discovered. For example: Tarik Syndrome, Belmorra Septic Virus or Kholings Village Disease. I just made those up on the fly. Now it’s time to think about what they do, how they manifest and if they have a cure – oh, and what we can do with them in RP.


Action of the Illness


Now that you have a name for your illness, what are the symptoms? Is it physical? Does it change your character’s actions? Is it communicable? Is it terminal? How can it be treated? Make sure you know the answers to those magic questions before introducing your bug to the world. And don’t give yourself an untreatable disease that’s terminal unless you’re using it as a creative way to permadeath your character.


If your character shows physical signs of the disease, remember you can’t “paint” your toon, so be prepared to describe the symptoms in your exposition. Keep it simple. “Ergus has blotchy skin with patches of raw flesh that’s scaly around the edges. There are also red rings under his eyes and a purple mucus running from his nose…” is a bit much. Just pick one. “Ergus has blotchy skin” works fine.


Consider the reason for the disease prior to introducing it. Does it play a part in the RP story you’re telling, serve as a clue to an RP adventure you’re hosting, or is it simply an extension of your character’s history? Let’s take a look at the ones I made up and see what we can do with them.



  • Characterized by sluggishness and a frequent need to go to the bathroom, among other things.
  • A rare sexually-transmitted disease passed from Twi’leks to humans following intimate contact. (Note, the word “rare” protects the canon. You’re not claiming everyone who has a Twi’lek-human relationship will fall prey to Tarik Syndrome. The chance could be one in a billion for all you know). It can be treated with powerful antibiotics.
  • RP USE: To explain the reason your Sith warrior character hates Vette.

BALMORRA SEPTIC VIRUS (also known as Bal-Sepsis)

  • Characterized by life-threatening low blood pressure, dehydration, and infection of the adrenal gland.
  • Spread through contact with a rare plant on Balmorra that grows near lakes or ponds. It can be treated with antibiotics and Kolto, but it often recurs.
  • RP USE: To gather a band of healers or physicians to travel to Balmorra and brave the dangers there as they search for a cure for the virus.


  • Characterized by severe joint pain that escalates and causes immobility, cancer of the marrow and eventually death.
  • Discovered in a remote village of the planet Kaal in the Yushan Sector, Kholings Village Disease (KVD) seems only to infect Zabrak, Advozse and other horned species. It’s presumed genetic. There is no known cure. NOTE: Planets are big. While Kaal and the Yushan Sector are real and can be found in Star Wars lore, the village of Kholings is made up.
  • RP USE: To permadeath your Zabrak Jedi because you feel he’s too old and you want to recreate him in a younger shell, say for example an illegitimate son who is immune to KVD.


Oh, and you Imperial RPers can take a tip from a few of the NPCs you’ve no doubt encountered in your travels in SWTOR. It seems everyone is working on a synthetic disease of some kind to eradicate one population or another… for the glory of the Empire!


Does this give you any ideas? Write to me and let me know what crazy diseases you’ve created, discovered or cured. And always secure the lid on your petri dish.


((The RP XP with MJ publishes every Friday right here on Got a topic, question or idea you’d like to share? He answers your questions every 10 articles, so get them in before Q&A #3! You can contact MJ directly via email at swtorliferp(at) He answers every email he gets. You can also follow him on Twitter @MJswtor))

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