On a Red World Alone; Handling Factions

On a Red World...ALONE!The other day I was getting ready for an upcoming session of ORWA. Much of the adventure was going to involve the players interacting with various factions. As I wrote up the notes I thought I would need, it dawned on me that over the past year of running this game I’ve come up with a fairly robust set of tools for faction management. It happened without me even noticing, so I never really put it all together in writing. It doesn’t have all the features that I want a faction system to have, but perhaps there’s something here that others will benefit from.

First you should know how ORWA is laid out, since it’s not your typical campaign world. The physical size is very small–a single biodome on mars. I’ve been intentionally vague about precisely how big the dome is, but the point is that there’s not a lot of room for folks to get away from one another. It’s not unusual for my players to spend time in three, or even four different sovereign territories in a single game session

Given all that, the factions have ended up as cross between city states and street gangs. They have traditions and governmental structures, and wars. But their armies are measured in the hundreds at the most, and moving the boarder a few city blocks is considered a significant shift in territory. Within their territories they provide law and order, but unless you’re at the very heart of their turf, then you’re never more than two steps from anarchy.

I keep a simple map with faction boarders on it, which serves as my primary campaign map. There are narrow strips of no-man’s land between each faction, but pretty much all the space is the territory of one group or another. Each territory is keyed to a short description of the faction that holds it. These started out as 1-2 sentence affairs, but have slowly grown larger as the factions were developed through play. As with a lot of things in tabletop games, I’ve found it works a lot better to start simple, and let the details take shape on their own.

ORWA Map

The Outsiders (group “E”), for example, began as giant dudes who’ve learned how to survive outside of the Dome for days at a time. Through play they’ve earned a sort of celtic flavor, and we’ve established that theirs is the best territory to try and start a new life in, so long as you’re okay with always being a second class citizen for lacking the biological advantages they’ve discovered. (Advantages your children will have a chance to achieve).

At some point I put all of the factions on a D% table. The amount of space each faction takes up on that table is weighted by how often they’re likely to have an impact on events beyond their own boarders. Five of the factions equally share about 70% of the table. These are the big, established powers. They provide the closest thing to stability the dome has.

Then next 20% of the table is for the two up-and-coming factions. Small territories with ambitions of expansion. The final 10% of the table is shared between three groups. There’s the Lords of Light, who are the vestigial remainder of a defeated power. There’s The Fighting Mongooses, a territory of mercenaries who are understood to be a neutral party by all the other territories. And, finally, there’s the territory of The Friends of Needletooth Jack, which is a completely insular territory. No one goes in, no one comes out.

Anytime I need to determine where something happens, or who did a thing, I roll on this table. Pretty much anytime anything happens I randomly determine who or where, because why not? It adds an interesting texture to the world. If I come up with everything myself it’ll make a bland sort of sense. But if you give me two dots and I have to figure out how to connect them, that’s where things start to get creative.

For example, a couple adventures back, my players needed to raid a building and recover a machine. Randomly determining where the building was determined which encounter table they’d be rolling on during their travels, and what sort of purpose the building might have been put to since the apocalypse. This particular territory happens to factor into one of the conspiracies that drive the campaign, so sending the party there on completely unrelated business gave me an opportunity to drop hints about what was coming.

In their last adventure, the party needed to rescue someone who had been captured, because I thought a rescue mission would be interesting. I rolled to determine which faction had this person, and that helped me determine why this person was being held, and whether it was an official act of the faction as a whole, or whether it was an individual acting without official sanction. The whole character of the adventure was determined by that roll.

In the party’s current adventure they need to protect a third party during a war between two factions. The location of the third party didn’t really matter, so long as it was fixed once determined. I randomly rolled an aggressor, then flipped a coin to decide which of their neighbors they were attacking. When that was done I rolled opposed d6s as a rough measure of discerning how successful each side of that conflict would be. The player’s goals really had no bearing on that, but the result of the war would have a huge effect on the territorial balance in the dome.

The different territories also correspond to different encounter tables, which allows me to show my players, rather than tell them, the difference between each faction. In the territory of the Redstone Lords (Faction “A” on the map), for example, the government is unusually organized. There are fewer encounters with monsters, and more encounters with thieves, aggressive agents of the state, or non-combat stuff, like slave markets. Meanwhile, in the territory of the Dukes of the Dome (“B”), where mutants are hated, there are no encounters with mutants. Or, if you do encounter a mutant, it’s being harassed / arrested / killed.

For interfactional relationships, I’m so far keeping things simple. Every faction hates the factions which boarder it, and are neutral with the factions that don’t. The simple fact of the matter is that everybody wants to grow, and there’s no territory to take that doesn’t already belong to someone. That means your neighbors want your territory, and you want theirs.

There are a few exceptions to this which are easy for me to just keep in my head. For example, the priests of Technotopia (“I”), have a particular grudge against the Lords Beneath the Black (“C”), because they are the two largest religions within the dome, and both would prefer to get rid of the other. Likewise, nobody likes the Friends of Needletooth Jack (“G”), but nobody is ever going to fuck with them either, because their territory is small and they’re scary as shit.

I don’t really have any means for tracking the player’s reputation with each faction, but I’ve found that I don’t really need it so much. Even with factions as small as these, the PCs are beneath the notice of the faction as a whole. I do track the player’s relationship with pretty much every NPC they ever meet, which serves as an adequate substitute. So while The Outsiders as a whole have no feelings about the PCs, the leader of the Outsiders (known as The Highlander) did once have a meeting with them. They brought him reliable information, but he repeatedly caught them lying about the details. So the party is useful, but he doesn’t trust them.

What I’ve put together for ORWA does lack a lot of the features I have always wanted from a faction system. Things like a reward/penalty track for building a reputation of working for or against each faction. But what I do have has been working surprisingly well, so hopefully others can get a little use out of it.

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