Tuesday, March 2, 2021

A Faction System That Doesn't Get in the Way

I'm following up on my last article but I get tired of numbering every blog post that's related to another because not everything is always part of a planned series, you know?

Once again, I need to credit Gundobad Games for sparking this thought process, albeit in a completely different context from last time. It was many months ago when I was trying to do research on domain-level play and I dug up a bunch of reddit posts about it and read people's game recommendations and blablabla and one of the most fruitful things I found were these blog posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. I could say a lot about those posts but right now I'm just gunna focus on Part 3, and I'm gunna re-write everything relevant from it here.

So the writer was putting a spotlight on Chris McDowell's Into the Odd, a nifty minimalist old-school RPG, and in particular, on its faction system. He calls them "enterprises" which is a decent name. Here is the full text of Into the Odd's enterprise rules, reproduced here:

Between expeditions, you can try your hand at business, or muster a military force. DETACHMENTS and ENTERPRISES each cost 10 Gold to establish. Detachments demand a further d6 Gold in upkeep each month, or else they revolt.

Income: New ENTERPRISES generate 1d4 Gold of Income each month. They also face a Threat that will cause 1d4 Gold in Losses unless dealt with. If an Enterprise cannot pay its debts, it collapses. Growth: If an ENTERPRISE ends a month with Profit, its income moves up to the next type of die, to a maximum of d12. However, this larger die also applies to losses from Threats.

By the by, a "detachment" is his name for a group of warriors fighting together, which we won't be discussing here. Maybe another day.

Anyway, today I'm gunna talk about the strengths and weaknesses of this system, the more immediate ways in which I've thought to tweak it, and then how I might go about reconciling it with all those other thoughts I vomited up in my last post.

Into the Odd's Faction System Reviewed

Here's the important thing: it's simple and elegant. Honestly, just for that quality alone it instantly becomes better than 90%+ of any alternatives. That's why I titled this post the way I did. The main thing which turns people off to domain-level play is the worry that it'll distract the game from the fun stuff and make you focus on boring accounting bullshit. Business-management just isn't the activity that your players signed up for.

On this subject, I have previously said that the most important thing you can possibly do is make your faction system entirely automated if the players so desire. Like, if your player wants to benefit from owning a lucrative organization and you want to reward them with one, but they still prefer to be Batman over Bruce Wayne, then you need to offer them an Alfred who can manage all the behind-the-scenes stuff. I wouldn't necessarily want to deny any player the option to micro-manage their enterprise if they really want to, but it has to remain an opt-in thing, you know? It's never more complicated than they want it to be. If they're content to just bring home a bit of scratch from their enterprise at the end of each month with no greater concern, then let them.

But here's what I like about the Into the Odd enterprise rules: not only is there not much micromanaging to be done, but they're basically just quest generators. And while I said I think players shouldn't have to concern themselves with their organization's upkeep if they don't want to, I actually think this is a pretty fair thing to ask of them. "The benefit of owning an enterprise is you automatically get some money every month. The cost is that you'll have to routinely thwart some bullshit that threatens to destroy your enterprise." Sounds like a win-win for me. If you don't wanna be tied down to your club, then don't start one. Whether you choose to be a Barbarian or a King, you'll be doing the same amount of adventuring. It's just a question of whether those adventures will be a bit more free-spirited and meandering around the world or if they'll have consequences concerning the parts of the world you've spent time investing in.

The main downside of the system is that you really only get money out of it. I suppose there's no reason the referee couldn't allow the PCs to use their enterprise for other benefits implied by their description of it (e.g. if the PCs create a thieves' guild enterprise then they might also use it as a secret place to stash stuff away, as a network of informants in their local area, as a front to build clout and gain a group reputation, etc.), but it certainly doesn't work great for nonprofit enterprises. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand that 99% of ideas players have for a faction would be money-making schemes, and even the sorts that aren't necessarily "businesses" can still manage to turn a modest profit (like if they start their own religion/cult). But if they wanted to start something like a charity or a political party then it really is strange to model it as a "monthly gold generator" first and foremost.

So the first set of tweaks I had introduced were 1) changing the money system to match the economy I use in Brave, and 2) adding "Opportunities" in addition Threats. So instead of just generating 1 plot hook per month (something that'll cost you money if you ignore it), it'll also generate an extra plot hook that'll double your money if you secure it. After all, you have a whole month to address the Threat, so generating a second quest hook at the same time isn't too cumbersome. Plus, you know, it's fun to think that you're expanding your club through concrete and exciting actions.

As for details, I added a bit more substance to the money side of things. Here's the text I wrote for that:

Any profits made can be used freely, whether saved up, spent on items or assets, covering the upkeep pay of an employed crew [note: this is what I was calling a detachment in my rules. Now I'm thinking of calling them "cohorts"], or invested as growth. An enterprise that has spent three cumulative months growing can increase in size class [note: this is equivalent to the Into the Odd rule of "increasing the die size of your monthly profits"]. If an enterprise suffers great enough costs to exceed income, the enterprise has to pay out of pocket to cover the losses or go into debt. Any subsequent income gained can (and likely should) be used to pay off debts. An enterprise perpetually in debt will have trouble doing business, and if its debt worsens for three consecutive months then it will decrease in size class. For simplicity’s sake, the referee may treat all NPC enterprises as breaking even each month unless the PCs’ actions create Threats or Opportunities to change them.

I don't think that extra level of detail was wasted. Then I started thinking more and more about other questions I wanted answered, and I wrote all this out too:

An enterprise’s sites-of-operation should be accounted for. Many enterprises will have a headquarters, others might work as a phantom cell, while others yet slowly accumulate more and more properties. A site could be bought, rented, built, granted, stolen, or whatever else. Enterprises require people to operate of course. Management and laborers are usually abstracted, but contacts, experts, and other NPCs with special roles may be tracked individually. Lucrative enterprises may eventually employ crews and other, smaller enterprises.

Conglomerate enterprises are informally called institutions when their combined incomes, assets, crews, and savings yield enough power to shape societies, such as militaries, wealthy dynasties, popular churches, and even kingdoms. Operations at this scale require more income than a single Huge enterprise [note: this was the name of the largest size class on my chart] can provide, but also multiply their Threats and Opportunities as they grow more complex. Enterprises with many crews in their employ will eventually have high enough upkeep costs to barely break even.

And since I wrote that bit about how you should probably account for the enterprise's location, I realized that fleshing out buildings and property at least a little bit would be of some value, since that's the main thing that most people associate with "domain play." I was even ready to make it a third type of domain asset in addition to enterprises and cohorts, but reading all that stuff from my last post made me realize that I was just describing a bunch of traits to a faction that cannot be covered by the "enterprise system" alone.

Like, why pretend that it makes sense to define a faction in my RPG as being primarily this monthly income roll mechanic and secondarily every other quality of a faction?

Another thing that really made me think this through a bit deeper was my own written attempt to explain the distinction between cohorts and enterprises. The vast majority of cohort rules have to do with their function in combat, but I was determined to make sure they were not merely defined as "a group of warriors who fight together" because I can think of lots of non-combat cohorts that would benefit from being defined by a lot of the same mechanics. But a non-combat cohort of people who work together for some other function might end up just being... well, like an enterprise, right? Here's what I ended up writing:

It can be tricky to distinguish cohorts from enterprises. While you could describe one as “people” and the other as an “operation,” obviously operations are performed by people. An enterprise requires characters to function, but they’re typically individual NPCs and faceless middlemen involved in carrying out various processes. A cohort represents a detachment of NPCs who all work closely together in coordinated activity. And for the purposes of management, demand payment together and lodge together. So, if you run a thieves’ guild as your enterprise, then the people involved are various individual thieves, as well as fences, fixers, paid-off officials, accountants, and other associates. But if you recruit a cohort of thieves, then you now have a squad of burglars who can expertly infiltrate a house and clean it out of all valuables together.

What I didn't bother including was probably the most useful element of the explanation: if you set up a physical map with minis of all these world elements, then you should make cohorts either a jumble of a bunch of minis standing together in formation or you should represent them with one big mini that abstracts the group. Meanwhile, you can't represent an enterprise by similar means because they transcend mere personhood or people-hood.

So when I tried writing a list of cohorts and then a list of enterprises (each of which the referee could roll on when generating factions), there were lots of weird similarities where the line is kinda blurry.


  1. Mercenaries
  2. Warrior clan
  3. Thugs
  4. Burglars/thieves
  5. Exorcists
  6. Cultists
  7. Criminal enforcers
  8. Highwaymen
  9. Hunting band
  10. Bodyguards
  11. Archers
  12. Guerillas
  13. Rangers
  14. Knights
  15. Assassins
  16. Laborers
  17. Research techs
  18. Performer troupe
  19. Rebel fighters
  20. Expedition team
  21. Manor staff
  22. Pack of animals
  23. Field workers
  24. Hoodlums
  25. Ship crew
  26. Pirate crew
  27. Spy cell
  28. Angry mob
  29. Soldiers
  30. Lawyers
  31. Militia
  32. Tribe
  33. Miners and diggers
  34. Acrobats
  35. Musicians
  1. Mercenaries
  2. Gang
  3. Thieves’ guild
  4. Church
  5. Mystery cult
  6. Merchant company
  7. Pirate ship
  8. Spy ring
  9. Political party
  10. Social club
  11. Bank
  12. Military
  13. Ranger conclave
  14. Knightly order
  15. Assassin order
  16. Artisan guild
  17. Alchemist lab
  18. Fine arts company
  19. Wizard cabal
  20. Witch coven
  21. Rebel group
  22. Explorer society
  23. Business
  24. Historic preserve
  25. Courts
  26. Crime racket
  27. Secret society
  28. Outlaws/bandits
  29. Heist team
  30. Philosophy school 
  31. Noble house
  32. School
  33. Militia
  34. Art movement
  35. Ethnic clan
  36. Fight club

You seeing some of the problems? Of course a philosophy school or a courthouse or a bank isn't a cohort. And of course a group of archers or pack of animals or troupe of acrobats aren't an enterprise. But "mercenaries" describes both a business and the chunks of warriors conducting that business. Militaries are an intangible operation on one level but are comprised of tangible groups of soldiers doing the hard work. And assassins? Obviously an assassin order works as an enterprise, but to be honest, does a cohort of assassins who all kill together as a group really make a lot of sense? I'm pretty sure the Ides of March was a one-time event, you know?

It gets worse. I was also thinking about how to make the most useful possible "faction generator" when you're generating a settlement, and how, sure, the possibility of enterprises being important forces in society makes as much sense as individual cohorts also being influential. But you know what else is often a really powerful force defining a city? A popular ethos. That's when I made this third table, which might also be rolled on if the "random faction roll" dictates it so:

  1. Anarchism
  2. Capitalism
  3. Chivalry
  4. Environmentalism
  5. Evangelism
  6. Hedonism
  7. Humanism
  8. Jingoism
  9. Loyalty
  10. Nationalism
  11. Nihilism
  12. Pacifism
  13. Parliamentarianism
  14. Populism
  15. Primitivism
  16. Progressivism
  17. Rationalism
  18. Royalism
  19. Socialism

Maybe you can see how these function similarly to factions. When you are defining the social landscape of a city, you might think that you ought to mention the big gangs and the rich businesses and the respected knightly orders and whatnot, but you also need to consider the really big political leanings that motivate people. If your settlement has a defining ethos, then every NPC you run into probably has a varying degree to which they support that ethos. And if an NPC adheres strongly to an ethos, a clever PC might appeal to it and sway the NPC. If a settlement has multiple competing ethea, then they can probably be treated much like alignment, or perhaps party affiliation. And you can systematically attack or support an ethos in much the same way as you can a faction. They don't own property or have leadership like a true faction does, but you can certainly generate Threats and Opportunities that'll strengthen or weaken that ethos in the local culture.

But look how far I've gotten from where I started because of thinking like this.

Reconciling This With The Freeform Faction Systems I Previously Covered

What's funny is that, in my own rules, I was already framing these things as basically just being a part of an individual PC's inventory, rather than something that exists as its own thing independently of that. Here's the opening description I wrote:

Big-time adventurers face big-time threats, but also stand to gain big-time resources. A domain entails all the major assets and reach a character commands beyond their own person. The referee uses NPC domains for allies and enemies who project power and ambition, but successful PCs can also begin building their own domains. The two major types of domain assets are cohorts and enterprises.

So while the front of your character sheet has slots for the items you carry on your person, the back of your character sheet lists all the assets your character has which go beyond that. Money in the bank and items in storage, contacts and favors, hirelings and vehicles, properties owned and, at least I thought, cohorts and enterprises. But that's all just kind of a mess. At what point does an assortment of domain assets coalesce into a proper faction?

I'm strongly considering making it a hard mechanic that a player must "found" a faction, likely by pooling their domain assets with at least one other character (likely a PC), and essentially create a new legal entity which owns those assets. Something that exists beyond one person, and which can continue to exist without them. And what does it take to found a faction? Honestly, probably just declaring it. You just have to understand going in that, by doing so, you're also converting personal assets into shared assets, personal goals into shared goals, personal rules and expectations into shared ones, and so on. When you declare it, you have to tell the referee the faction's name, basic description, and what assets you're putting in to start. And from there, all the real work can go into giving more detail on the asset types. The real questions are "what does it take to add a cohort to your faction" or "what does it take to add a recurring source of capital to your faction" and so on. I imagine nearly any kind of asset which could be added to a faction could also be stuff that an individual has at their disposal, but any individual that ends up running an iron mine, getting a percentage from a trade caravan, and barking orders at a community militia is probably functioning so much like a faction that they may as well formally incorporate as one.

I think there might be some formal mechanical benefit to it as well. For example, I always wanted to impose a limit on how many cohorts/what size of cohort a single PC can command (and even a single one would automatically fill all their normal "follower slots"), with the most sensible strategy being to pool your cohort capacity with other PCs... but if cohorts are loyal to a faction instead of a person then there could definitely be a lot more of them. Loyalty to the PCs would be a bit looser, with a greater risk of members being more committed to the organization and its mission than any individual leader, but this might have to be a prerequisite for that quality of "followers being so common they're on the local random encounter table" thing I was talking about in the last article.

But in any case, the sort of matrix I mocked up near the end of the last article might be something made into its own "faction character sheet" with as many asset types as I can think of. There'll be a small library of example assets, but the explicit message that players and referees should be creative in thinking of more (so you get the kind of rich variety of useful traits that a faction in Blades in the Dark might have, but tailored to your faction). And then specific major asset types, like buildings+vehicles, cohorts, and "enterprises" (or whatever I'll call the asset defined as "recurring, reliable source of money") will have their own rules spelled out a bit more. So while all of those kinds of things can exist on their own, they can also be ingredients making up a faction. And this is probably a lot more elegant than the idea I had of "conglomerate enterprises," which was just "when a PC owns more than one enterprise."

Much as I hate to add more fiddly bits, it might be worth it to give factions something like a level system or a reputation score, just because I feel like I need to define their power and reach somehow. Not all types of assets are easy to measure against each other, but there's gotta be a difference between the kind of faction that just patrols a piece of turf in a city versus the kind that shows up on random encounter tables in a a 100-mile area. The enterprise system was nice because I could just key those sorts of traits to its size class. "Once an enterprise makes X amount of money per month, then they're considered big enough to do this." Not so anymore. I still might substitute the hypothetical "reputation system" with something like "the sum of all character levels among the faction owners" since that's an already-existing stat.

What I'm Thinking Now

Okay, I'm going to work off of that matrix-looking thing I made last time. Here's that image again:

Something like this will indeed appear on the character sheet, described as your PC's "domain." But anyway, a player can elect to found a faction (maybe with some prerequisites), and they'll have to invest a few of their assets into it to get it started. Get out a new sheet to record faction info onto, with its own matrix much like this. There are, I imagine, several traits unique to faction status that aren't present for mere individuals. For example, "membership" is automatically something that exists for factions. In that above image, the individual player version probably wouldn't have the "people" row, just a "followers" row. But a faction? Yeah, you can start recording their membership. And beyond hiring individual henchmen and cohorts and experts like a PC would, they can start hiring huge groups like "labor pools" and "armies" and "volunteers" and stuff. But while those kinds of NPCs are indeed at the command of the faction, they probably aren't controllable to the same degree as a hireling is when they're following an individual PC.

Another unique trait of faction status is probably some kind of "stability" rating, right? Like, as an individual, you already have to make sure your followers are well taken care of if you don't want to risk them making a morale roll. Well once you're leading a faction, you have to maintain your presence over it or else they might push you out. It's kind of funny to imagine, but it should be a real concern that players might lose control over their own organizations. Again, that's the cost of having so much extra power: less overt control.

I'm at risk of thinking of too many mechanics now, because my immediate thought was to create a dynamic Exit - Voice - Loyalty system measure this. More importantly, I want to steal the threats and opportunities system and apply it to more than just enterprises. Owning a faction will automatically create threats and opportunities each month. Something on the threat list would be "degraded stability among membership." The degree to which it suffers can be mitigated by a loyalty score, but ultimately if it gets too low then you'll need to see if the members choose to Voice their opinions or to Exit entirely. And every high-level or high-charisma individual involved in the organization, including other PCs, might be able to steal control at a moment like this. Is this too much? I hate adding new metrics to the rules, but I hope the strength would come through by always having a "do a quest to help or hurt this thing" method of resolution. Every variable in your faction can indeed improve or degrade somehow, but it won't feel like accounting if the solution is always "do a quest," right? And a complicated enough faction will start generating all your quest hooks for you each month. I think the "let Alfred handle it" automation option could be adequately represented by just ignoring the threats and opportunities. They'll likely balance out anyway, so that's how you keep faction management simple.

How do you expand a faction? I guess the same way you expand your normal domain. Depends on the assets. Some stuff you can buy. Some stuff you gotta earn. Adding another building? Buy it, build it, steal it, or be gifted it. Adding a cohort of warriors? Pay them, inspire them, kidnap them, whatever. Want an expert on retainer? Do them a favor, get them to like you, and boom, that's a contact. I doubt I'd follow Blades in the Dark by listing all the types of assets they can acquire and in what rough order, but I do appreciate the value of trying to make it an adventure each time you seek to expand.

On the flip side, there's maintenance and using a faction. And while I was maybe thinking that each asset type would have to make Threat + Opportunity rolls each month, I realize that would get unwieldy fast with even a small faction. Rather, there could just be a single, general roll for the whole organization, with different results targeting different assets. "Looks like this month your Threat is that the castle HQ is falling apart, but your Opportunity is that your trade caravan met some merchants who could be interested in a lucrative deal." If the results are kept vague, then it encourages the referee to do a freeform, creative-thinking brainstorm similar to the creation of threats in the Engle Matrix Games I discussed last article. They're always inspired by the existing assets and the players are free to use the other assets as part of their solutions.

But no matter how I spin it, the most complicated and vital domain-level asset for both individuals and factions is the money-making. Because while not all factions need to be businesses, it's unlikely you'll be able to continuously employ a cohort without a steady source of income and you'll certainly have trouble resolving many of the generated Threats without shelling out some cash now and then. Let's think about that piece of the puzzle.

So, if I instead convert "enterprises" into my model for "recurring sources of capital" as just one of several kinds of major domain assets, then what makes something an enterprise? After all, you can always just do stuff and charge money for it in the rules as they already exist. If you own artisan's tools and you know how to use them, then you can spend downtime working that trade to automatically earn some scratch (mostly just covering the cost of living). "I can bake and I have the supplies, so let's bake during downtime!" isn't quite yet an enterprise. By starting a baking "business," you're moving yourself up to management and guaranteeing the operation can run smoothly enough that you'll be automatically making those profits every month, even as an adventurer.

So to start a true enterprise, you have to explain to the referee what sort of operation you have in mind and have an idea of what further assets you'd need in order to make it happen. Property, supply, and a labor pool are the main types of overhead, but you don't need to get super detailed. If you want to start a mining company, then you just need to secure an ore mine, somewhere to store and sell the ore, and put out a call for laborers. If you come up with an enterprise that's achievable without property or external supply or laborers, then you've got a simpler task. But the important point is that enterprises are themselves one type of domain asset that often involves having other types of domain assets up front.

The ore storage building is probably just something I'd list as a purchasable asset in my equipment page (probably made a little more broad than that). A labor pool would probably also just be rolled into the initial cost of founding the enterprise, and their payment would be assumed to already be accounted for before the monthly income roll is made (because, again, I really really don't want you to have to actually run a business here). So the only part that requires a little bit of freeform action and thinking on the player's part is finding and securing the rights to an ore mine. It stands to reason that your ambitions are going to be a bit constrained by the circumstances of the setting, alright?

But if, once the simple stuff is secured, running an enterprise is just the monthly profit roll, then that might be good enough. I've taken the Threats + Opportunities mechanic and shifted it upwards to a faction-specific thing. Except, you know, I kinda made it a part of how enterprises grow and shrink before. I guess technically they could improve in size category slowly just by saving up money, but the possibility of losing money and going into debt came entirely from the Threats generated each month. Should I still have a means by which enterprises, just on their own, can lose money? It seems a bit strange to me that it would technically be safer and more reliable to run one business on its own than to try and run an entire faction, within which the business is just one part.

But in any case, I think I'm now comfortable acknowledging that Into the Odd's enterprise system offers me a good framework for "running a business" but is still not the actual full solution for "running a faction." And that factions should definitely be modeled as a network of different asset types, many of which can have some hard rules to them but always retaining a freeform spirit to how they're used and how they're affected by the world. Something else that's definitely needed to bring a faction to life is flavor stuff, which PCs should be explicitly told. Come up with a symbol, a uniform, a handshake, a catchphrase, a ritual, a gimmick, etc. Give it some character and that'll go a long way towards making it feel real. Likewise, it's those parts that'll be most meaningfully experienced from the point of view of a faction's members. Don't forget: this system is also used for NPC-run factions, and if a PC wants to become a member of someone else's faction then the asset matrix really isn't the part that concerns them. But at least having an awareness of the pieces that comprise the faction is still valuable to members. Knowing the faction's relationship to other things is important and knowing what buildings you can go to or experts you can consult as a member will help a lot.

As for that idea about "when a faction is large enough to be omni-present in an area," I was thinking about that being another thing that, yes, is in the domain-level play, but which is uniquely available only to factions (rather than PCs). Perhaps one defined type of asset could be "outpost," which has the explicit benefit of generating patrolling members out of that area (who'll then start showing up on random encounter tables). I've also thought about "supply center" being a fairly generic but defined asset, which would offer guaranteed safety to rest and some basic common supplies related to that faction's primary activities (e.g. the Merry Men of Robin Hood would have supply centers with plenty of arrows). Then, I think an asset maybe called a "headquarters" combines the benefits of both. I think an outpost in the wilderness will give you rough control over a hex, while setting up an outpost in a dungeon of course requires that you establish control over it. In a megadungeon, one outpost merely indicates that your faction controls one region of the megadungeon (like I showed in those diagrams last time). And in a settlement, outposts have to be done one district at a time. Only once you've gotten an outpost in every district can you now claim control over the settlement, and your members will start showing up across the entire overland hex.

And as long as we're thinking about "qualities exclusive to factions," I feel like there could also exist the nebulous trait of "super-broad membership" even if the organization is fairly lite otherwise. Like, I bet when a lot of people think about "factions in an RPG," they might be picturing something more like the factions of Planescape or Dark Souls. They're more like allegiances and a shared identity than a true club or operation. Maybe they have some tangible assets like a home base stronghold and a sentry guard to defend it, but the membership is basically just "thousands of people who've sworn themselves to the group, gone through all the rites, and can be called on to serve the group's goals." This is a very real type of faction dynamic. If you're registered with a political party in your country, you probably don't actually have much involvement with "your" faction beyond keeping up with their activity and voting for them now and then. Likewise, the faction of "House Lannister" has "members" of different degrees: actual family members (probably mostly PCs but maybe a few unique NPCs), employed NPC cohorts and experts and armies and whatnot, and then Joe Schmoe NPCs who just support the Lannisters as mere citizens. Those people are technically an asset to the faction, you know? How do you gain that asset or define it, mechanically? Something to consider.

The Impact it Has on the Game

My main problem remaining is that I increasingly feel like it could get unreasonable to let a player be totally hands-off with a faction that's, like, national-level. It's one thing to adventure while you have a business running in the background or a little witch coven you organize. It's another thing to be in charge of the Catholic Church and still be off doing sword and sorcery. But then again, I've always imagined that players participating in the management of huge factions would always be doing so in collaboration with lots of characters, likely a large pool of PCs. Want the PCs to run a kingdom or a group like the Knights Templar? Someone's gotta put in a minimum number of monthly "management days," but the more people you can share the burden with, then less of your adventuring time is taken from you. That might be my solution.

Remember, in traditional old-school D&D, when a PC gets high level and starts managing their own little barony or whatever, you didn't actually stop adventuring altogether because you had other PCs to play as. I'm already going to build my game for an assumption of "stable of characters" play, so once again: maybe it is okay to ask a bit more involvement of PCs running a faction if you know there'll be a way to balance against it. Robert Baratheon gets too high level and starts focusing on running the kingdom all the time, so the player starts spending more sessions playing as their other PC named Tyrion. Eventually Tyrion hits mid-level, so the player creates another PC they can play during the sessions when they have to commit Tyrion to a bit of domain management. So now about 50% of their sessions they're playing as Brienne of Tarth and the other 50% they bring Tyrion back out for some proper adventuring. And if you only want to have one PC you're focusing on? Then get the other players to help you run the faction and each take turns managing it.

Speaking of Game of Thrones, one of the more interesting types of national-level factions I've been thinking of this whole time is "powerful family dynasties." After all, couldn't you model the Lannisters as a faction with this system? A strong combination of collaborative domain-level play that the party focuses on sometimes, but also with individual PC members playing their own part in the whole thing. And if you, as an individual PC seeking to create your own faction to control, get married and start having kids... well then the faction rules can also be one and the same with the "lineage rules" that might enter the campaign. Your "stable of characters" is literally just your family.

Alright, this has been a lot more spitballing without firm results, and I don't know where I might take this subject next, but hopefully this was worth thinking and writing about. I'm happy I was able to take the Engle Matrix Games and the Blades in the Dark crew rules and think of ways they influence the design of my faction rules. The Dungeon World stuff didn't find it's way in but maybe I'll see something in there.


1 comment:

  1. Did you look at Reign by Greg Stolze at all? It has an interesting take on factions and campaign level play.