It’s been a big problem. Every single time Syndicate have organized a new job, they’ve had a run in with the Sleepers. Don’t let the name fool you, these guys aren’t sleeping on anybody. The Sleepers are a well established gang looking to assert control over the night city district, and in their eyes, the Syndicate are nothing but flies on a windshield. Known for their hustle of painkillers and other drugs focussed on lifting the daily worries off of the average soul, this criminal faction are poised to defend their stake at all cost. However, the Syndicate has a problem. While they have the capacity to kill everyone off, the Sleepers do have a defense greater than any weaponry can provide: connections. Politicians, businessmen, and other powerful members of society all rely on their supply chain to keep things running smoothly. Simply eliminating them would cause chaos amongst the city, and bring down the worst on the Syndicate. No, they’ve got to think of something more clever to bring them down…
Factions, Guilds, Businesses, Clubs, Gangs, whatever you call them. They’re the entities in your worlds that compose of 3 or more people that are organized and working towards a goal. They can be terrifying, or extremely friendly and helpful. Maybe both. Whatever your faction is, they stand for something, and your world is going to have a few, whether you realize it or not.
In the upcoming Factions episode, Worldcraft Club will be going over some of the staples of great and bad factions within popular writing and cinema. However, we should talk about something more specific here. In a tabletop RPG, how should a faction be written to incorporate players at your table? There’s going to be a few key components that separate the enticing parties in your game, to the bland background groups that your players won’t bother with.
An Opportunity for Division
Let me ask you a political question, which political party do you side with?
Okay, now let me ask you. Do you agree with every stance they have, 100%? Unless you’re the head of that political group, I’m going to assume no. And that’s fine.
Factions are going to have a mission statement, or a goal in mind for accomplishing a certain goal. That could be something as simple as “Get Rich”, but it could also be something like “Restore Balance and Order to the Realm and Maintain Stability”. Either way, even within those statements, there’s going to be wildly different opinions on how to accomplish those tasks.
See, your players as people and as characters are going to have certain ideals and traits to rely on. The players themselves may often disagree with how their characters behave. This introduces how complex their interactions with factions can become. In a story, a Faction is an opportunity to establish political and physical conflict in your game. The ideas and drives of each character will either align with, or come into conflict with the motivations and needs of a faction.
There’s a couple of basic ways to introduce faction conflict. Here’s some basic starting points.
The faction may be aligned with someone who has a political history of being problematic. Or, perhaps, the faction has decided to start working with the villain, turning allies into servants of the bad guy. The individuals inside of a faction may also have their own ideas of how to go about their duties, which may rub against the desires of other members. If you’re running a faction like an episode of Game of Thrones, you’re probably adding lots of personal interests and conflict to your faction.
There’s something a bit less tangible that is causing the issue with your party. Maybe you don’t like how that faction leader treats women? Maybe there’s a commander that seems to take too many liberties burning suspected witches? There’s an artifact the leaders are attuned to that you suspect is evil? There’s a lot that could be going on here, but there’s some aspect of decision making or tradition that is surprising, or hard to deal with.
Frankly, where a faction is going or where they are sending a party can be a difficult thing. “No, I really don’t want to descend into the layers of hell, or traverse the Upside Down.” If a faction is heading into a path, or wanting to send a group into a path of pain, that’s someplace where I don’t want to be.
The party may be all aboard the faction’s to-do list, but one thing that will never be unique to evil is time constraints. You need to retrieve the artifact? Destroy this entity? Get to this location? Save the world? Yup, you have 3 days to do it or I’m pressing the big red button. Time constraints are understood easily by all, and make for good suspense.
Probably the most typical source of conflict, why a faction wants you to do something can lead you to ideological differences. The faction wants to preserve the evil artifact, not destroy it. They want to save the money for a greater end, not use it to help others immediately. “Why” motivations can be very small, and that’s a great way to consistently rub your players against them.
Using these basic ideas, you can start to spin a web of conflict for your Faction. We may talk about structure, ideals, or some of these other tenants in the future, but having points of conflict is a must. Start by writing out a single possible point of conflict in each area listed above, and then begin to construct and flavor your faction around that. You could also do it the other way around, it’s up to you!