Factions are a must in any form of conflict. Whether it’s the standard Us vs. Them, to the more complex Us vs. Them, and Them, and Maybe Them too, factionalism increases the uncertainty level of a game, putting variables that the players have little to no control of.
It’s the uncertainty of the situation, as well as the mercurial nature of loyalty and agendas that gives a campaign an edge that only factions can provide to a game.
But how do you come up with good factions? Well, let’s go over the details:
- Agenda – Every faction is born from a purpose. People don’t band together in an organized manner for kicks, they do it for a purpose. Whether it’s pushing for a certain kind of change, the death of the reigning monarch or to play an rpg every Saturday, every faction’s agenda dictates their motivation.
- Resources – Factions also have weapons, money, influence or flunkies. This is how they apply pressure upon their target, whether by threats, disinformation, bribery or violence, a faction is always capable of enacting change in their own way.
- Operating Profile – Some factions are out in the open, while others rely upon stealth and discretion in order to survive. Not all factions have to be visible to the players, and it’s the invisible factions that usually end up being the most dangerous.
So how does one apply factions in a game? to properly discuss this, it is necessary to go back to a metagaming angle. As a GM, I try to pepper a scenario with at least 2 other factions, not including the party. These factions are usually aligned against the party or each other, and will take steps in the session to further their respective agendas.
These steps can take the form of bribes, deals or even attacks… it’s important that each of the factions recognizes that the players provide a powerful (or suspicious) new presence, that they might be able to take advantage of, or must destroy immediately.
This achieves 2 things… it provides something for the Players to interact with or fight, and it gives them the impression that the world recognizes them and that they can affect it at a significant level. The players therefore are treated as a potential threat, or a potential asset, which may color the interactions involved.
Once a faction is built, don’t forget to continue onwards with the changes, even while the game goes on. Every achievement, and victory on the part of the players should be taken in account, and the factions will pursue their own goals and change their plans accordingly. A particularly successful group of Player Character Mages, for example, might find offers for an arrangement for protection in exchange for access to knowledge or Mana, or on the other hand, they might be the targets of a rival group that’s unwilling to let a new group elbow in to their perceived territory.
Factions have long memories, and will take an accounting of the character’s performance. As an organization, Factions are enduring, and the friends and enemies that characters make will follow them through their entire careers, or even longer, if we’re talking about Vampires or other long-lived beings like elves.