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Factions as Characters

This article originally appeared in Cepheus Journal issue #003, and reprinted with permission in the May/June 2021 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Traveller and its related games have always emphasised the use of patrons as powerful adventure elements. Patrons are single individuals, employers with a shady proposition and a suitcase full of credits to offer. Patrons are perfect for creating scenarios, providing motivation and purpose for the player characters. For a Cepheus Engine campaign, however, factions are often a better prospect. A faction can be an organisation, a cult, military unit, secret society, guild, corporation, whatever…. Rather than being a single individual, the faction can throw more ‘weight’ around in the game setting: it is made of many people, with access to bases or headquarters, resources and finances; it can have a presence in multiple locations simultaneously; it can have goals, beliefs, agendas and customs; and it provides a foil for player-characters. Several factions can operate within the player-character’s gameworld at the same time, and each has a different agenda and a different role, and interacts with the PCs in a different way. The factions might be small in scale (a town guard) some of more moderate means (a powerful, but local priesthood) and perhaps even factions of setting-spanning scope (a megacorporation or noble house).

A faction can serve several purposes:

Creating a Faction

The referee can decide what role is played in the game by a particular faction at the time of creation.

He/she can detail a faction as much or as little as needed; in fact, it might be best to only sketch out the faction briefly, initially, and add more depth and detail to it as the game develops over time. Here is a list of useful faction traits, pick three or four to develop. You always want to know how the PCs will eventually interact with the faction, either as an antagonist, an ally or some kind of obstacle.

Name: This is probably not optional!
Assets: Its bases, offices, troops, wealth, labs, hideouts, special projects, ships, and so on.
Agenda: This is the meat of any faction. What is it doing and why? What is its primary goal, and how does it aim to reach that goal?
Origin and History: Not important, at least initially, but over time aspects of the faction’s past adventures or its dark secrets might have direct bearing on a current scenario.
Rewards: What can the faction offer the PCs, perhaps as a reward for employment or as a prize to be stolen? Money, magic, contacts, favours, the loan of a ship, a contract, psionic training… are all boons to be dangled in front of the PCs.
Status: What is the faction’s status in society? Is it a well thought-of religion? An illegal crime guild? A hated paramilitary organisation? An innocuous corporation?
Organisation and Leadership: Who is in charge? Someone must be in charge, and there will probably some kind of organisation and hierarchy. It might be loose and informal, such as in a wandering guild, or strict and regimented as within a military unit.
Symbol: Most factions have some unique symbol, heraldry, flag or logo, whether a corporation, noble house, thieves guild or government agency. Some might not be well publicised, and instead could be represented by tattoos, secret signs or codes.
Relationships: Factions do not exist in a vacuum, even those three or four that the gamemaster is creating for his own setting. Each has relationships with others; perhaps it has an allied faction, or a rival; it might have a sister organisation (what a corporation might call a subsidiary) or a parent faction. There may be many rivals, many allies or the faction could even be isolated and secretive, and fear discovery (the Mandalorians? Middle Earth’s Rangers of the North?) A faction could be under a debt or burden to another faction, or conversely could be suppressing or exploiting another. Each relationship is some point of contention or linkage which can provide gaming fodder for a scenario.

Let’s look at an example:

Crimson Circle

This space-based faction was created following the latest of several interstellar wars. With many soldiers and starforce members being mustered out, a group of high-ranking officers retiring from the services, got together to create a charitable organisation. Veterans are looked after, jobs are found for them and monies saved up in order to assist a veteran in trouble. The Crimson Circle is known for altruism throughout the subsector. However, the true goals of the faction are less altruistic: the faction serves as an underground mercenary hiring group, veterans being paid well to fight in personal wars and violent contracts put out by the officers in charge. The true aim of the Crimson Circle is to overthrow the subsector government after a period of destabilisation and targeted sabotage.

Faction Characteristics

Factions can be rated just like player characters with the very same characteristics: Str, Dex, End, Int, Edu, and Soc. Obviously these characteristics have a slightly different meaning in this context, but the idea is the same. Why bother with characteristics? Well, for the same reason you use them with player-characters – they provide concrete numbers that can be used in task rolls, making a faction a little less nebulous.

Strength (Str): A faction’s military might be represented by legions, troops, bases, ships, artillery units and commandoes.
Dexterity (Dex): Leadership and/or organisation is rated by Dex.
Endurance (End): The resources, logistics and raw materials a faction can draw upon is measured by End; it is wealth.
Intelligence (Int): The quality of a faction’s advisors, officials, spies, informants and bureaucrats is measured by Int. A low Int rating indicates young, inexperienced or misguided advisors or spies, giving a faction leader little incentive to trust his hierarchy.
Education (Edu): The faction’s involvement level in player character plots and scenarios. A high Edu indicates a faction with lots of goals and an active presence out in the setting, the player characters will quickly up over one of their plots or schemes. A low Edu faction may be secretive, subtle or just out of touch and bypassed by the more active factions.
Social Standing (Soc): What is the political and social standing of the faction? What pressure can it apply through threats, bribes or diplomacy? What chance is there of the public at large turning against the actions of the faction, if they get too blatant? Is it generally well thought of?

These characteristics can play an important role in the game. If a group of player characters allies itself with a faction (always a smart move), then they have a chance to raise or lower one of the values. If the PCs destroyed a lair of pirates who were attacking shipping belonging to the faction, then at the scenario’s end the referee might award +1 to the faction’s End stat. Likewise, if they managed to kidnap a key scientist from a rival faction, then their own faction might benefit from a Int increase of +1. Obviously being able to have an immediate and obvious impact on a portion of the gameworld brings the background of the game much closer to the fore. In addition, the characteristic values of a faction have a direct impact on the lives of the player characters. If they are allied with a faction, the referee can use a characteristic roll to resolve all kinds of questions. Most characteristic rolls will be Average (0) difficulty, but some may be Difficult (-2) or even Very Difficult (-4).

Here are some examples of characteristic rolls:

Str – Can the faction provide some armed backup if requested?
Dex – Will the leadership respond to a challenge from the PCs? Is there a way to contact the faction in this remote city? Will the commander the PCs just talked to pass the message on up the chain of command?
End – Can the outpost support the refugees? Will the faction be able to help the famine-struck colony?
Int – Will the faction’s intelligence service track the PCs down? Can the faction’s advisors provide any useful information?
Edu – Is the faction quiet, out of touch or isolated, or is it embroiled in current affairs and working actively to reach its goals?
Soc – Will the embarrassing revelation really damage the faction? Will a rival faction force your own to hand you over to face justice?
Characteristic Modifiers for Factions
Characteristic 0-2 3-5 6-8 9-12 13-15 16-18 19-21 22-24 25-26
Modifier -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6
Note: The letter I is not used in Extended Hexadecimal Notation

We can go back to the Crimson Circle now, and create those six characteristics to provide that earlier description with some hard numbers:

Str: 6 Dex: 11 End: 6 Int: 18 Edu: 9 Soc: 16

Final Advice

When creating factions for my own setting, I needed to know the ‘limits of power’: who exactly were the ‘big guns’? What were the maximum characteristic values I was going to find in my setting? After that, I could create all of the other factions within that umbrella. I didn’t want to start off imagining a bad-ass mercenary group with Str 24 (and a modifier of +6), then later have to create the emperor’s legion of crack death commandoes and have no where to go, having maxed out the mercenaries!

So think of your extreme factions, even if they don’t play a part in your games; think of those bigger factions off-screen that certainly exist and maybe, one day, might make an appearance – you never know, and plan it so that those big ass factions really are the best. Scale all your game setting factions, those involved in the PCs’ world, at least, to nestle somewhere beneath those faction titans.