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5E A Primer on Creating Organizations

Wik

First Post
Organizations in 5e are a great way for your PCs to belong to something beyond the adventuring party. As detailed in the Adventurer's League and organized play, they also become a way to introduce a bit of variety in adventures - how the adventures will play out will vary depending on PCs' affiliations.

That being said, the five organizations detailed in the DMG are rather vanilla and plain - the Harpers, Zhentarim, Lords Alliance, Emerald Enclave, and the Gauntlet are kind of bog standard and don't easily port over into other campaigns.

I've personally just spent about a day working on the nine joinable organizations in my own campaign setting, the Shattered Isles. I've come to a few conclusions about how to put them together, and thought I'd share.

1. Keep them broad

It's very easy to have an organization for religions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Of course, each of them will have different class associations (the god of magic might have a few wizards in its ranks, while the god of thievery will have a few rogues), but ultimately, all six are religious organizations. While it can be tempting to have an organization cater specifically to one class type (The Barbarian Organization, the Bardic College, the Druidic Circle, etc), it's better to unite them with a broader theme that encourages a few specific classes but bars none. The College of Fharlaghn, for example, could be a college concerned with bardic lore and music, but it will also attract sages, sorcerers, rogues, and elves and halflings from all walks of life.

Doing this will let your players look at the organizations you present, and pick the one that most appeals to their own interests, instead of the one that most closely matches their race and class type.

In addition, when placing organizations, be aware that while they might be more present in certain areas of your campaign setting, they should have at least a minor presence in most cities and towns - otherwise, if the PCs adventure out of the way of an organization's influence, their choice won't really have had any consequence.

2. Encourage a Bit of Conflict

While you shouldn't have the organizations engaged in an outright war with one another, it's perfectly fine (and fun!) to encourage rivalries and points of contention. The Knightly Order of the Scale, concerned with protecting and educating draconic young and hunting "rogue" dragons, might have a bit of a problem with the Order of the Horn, a group of wild mercenaries that see no problem with hunting and destroying dragons of any type simply for their hoards. Likewise, in Faerun, the Lords Alliance and the Zhentarim rarely see eye to eye, but rarely do they cross blades in the streets.

3. Membership Benefits

The basic format for joining an organization should be graded on about five "ranks", each requiring a minimum renown. In addition, gaining higher level tiers should require the accomplishment of a minimum number of secret missions (see below) and perhaps a minimum character level (but NOT a class level).

Each rank should have an interesting name associated with it, that reinforces the flavour of the organization. If you're no good with names, there are plenty of places to go to - the old level titles from earlier editions, historical titles of organizations or military ranks, or 4e-style portmanteaus.

Each organization should follow the same rough outline of powers, so that players are more encouraged to choose an organization based on the flavour, as opposed to mechanical benefits. Avoid having organizations grant combat abilities.

Rank 1 - Initiate Level. Requires 0 Renown. Grants no special ability.

Rank 2 - Novice Level. Requires 3 Renown. Character gains a higher-ranked mentor within the organization who could assign quests. Character might be given "Secret Missions" from the organization. Might gain a minor ability to access within the organization (a discount on a certain service or good, for example).

Rank 3. Full Membership. Requires 10 Renown, a minimum character level (I prefer 5th), and must have accomplished at least 1 secret mission. At this rank, characters gain an organization specific downtime activity, or a modification of an existing downtime activity.

Rank 4 - Upper Managerment. Requires 25 Renown, a minimum character level (I prefer 9th), and must have accomplished at least 3 secret missions. At this rank, the character gains access to a number of very low level NPCs (guards, 1st level wizards, whatever), or a single apprentice of around 3rd to 5th level. The character can also make requests of the organization much more easily.

Rank 5 - Leadership. Requires 50 Renown, minimum character level (I prefer 13th), and must have accomplished at least 10 secret missions. At this rank, the character is a leader of the organization, though not "The" leader (that requires a bit more of actual play!). What this means, of course, is up to the GM.

4. Gaining Renown

Characters can always gain renown through downtime activities, as listed in the DMG. If they do so constantly, they could "power level" through the ranks. I suggest that PCs are only able to gain one or two points of renown per level.

In addition, if PCs accomplish quests of interest to their organization, they gain 1 renown. If they accomplish quests vital to the organization, they should gain 2 renown.

Since you'll have around five PCs, it's probably going to be a stretch to have adventures centre around each and every organization they belong to. Instead, try to include organization goals as "stretch goals" in the adventure you're already planning to run. For example, imagine your party has members of three organizations among them - the Royal University, the Knightly Order of Whatsit, and the Dark Brotherhood of Thieves. The party is sent to destroy a giant stronghold in the mountains. Without telling the players, you set up a few renown-gaining goals in the adventure:

* Characters that are able to find and steal a well-hidden gem deep in the dungeon gain 1 renown among the Dark Brotherhood.
* There is a series of coded messages on ancient cyclopean carvings within the dungeon. Decoding it and returning with the code is worth 1 renown with the Royal University.
* The Knightly Order is interested in valour first and foremost. If at least fifteen giants are slain, that's worth 1 renown (this award should only be added if, say, there are only 18 giants in the dungeon, and a few of them are gonna try and parley or run).

5. Typical Missions

When making organizations, try to think of at least three adventures the organization would be interested in sending PCs on. This is a great way to hook your players into whatever adventure you have planned (and it's a great way to earn that 2 renown!). If you can come up with three goals and adventure ideas for your organization, you'll have a better idea of what that organization actually DOES within your campaign, and how to award renown as PCs go about their adventuring day.

6. Secret Missions

As PCs go on adventures, they'll be asked by their organization to go above and beyond and perform specific tasks. These "Secret missions" should be tasks that are always optional to the adventure's completion - not so much "kill the dragon" as "bring us back this item in his hoard".

The typical set up for a secret mission is to have a PC (or PCs) be approached by their contact within the organization before going on the next adventure. This contact will say something like "Hey, we know you're going to x dungeon. We know there's a red statue somewhere in there. If you could destroy that for us, that'd be peachy."

The PCs then go to the dungeon, and find a hidden red statue - and for whatever reason, not everyone in the party is keen on destroying it (maybe it's worth money. Maybe it's sentient. Maybe it's binding a demon within, and the party isn't looking to free it).

For example, in the giant's lair adventure, above, imagine the three organizations approach the PCs, and put forward the following quests:

* The Dark Brotherhood says "There's a crown worth a small fortune to us. Get it, bring it to us, and we'll give you (and just you) 10% of the sale price. We wouldn't like it if you bypassed us and sold it on the market yourself and split the winnings among your companions..."
* The Royal University says "Look, there's a bound Elemental in there. We know the giants are going to unleash it. It has a powerful explosion attack. We have this receptacle that can catch it. Sadly, you're going to have to be hit by this attack once or twice for the receptacle to work. But if you do, we'd be eternally grateful."
* The knights of whatsit says "You know that Giant Lord, King Snarrg? How cool would it be if you challenged him to a duel, one on one?"

In all three examples, these are things players might not be keen on doing, as they'll make the adventure even harder. Secret Missions are D&D on hard mode. Accept the possibility that PCs might not be up to the task.

7. An Example Organization

Here is an organization I've put together for my own campaign world.

Imperial War Academy

Despite the name, the Imperial War Academy isn’t really about war. The empire, always wary about arcane magic, developed universities to train magical initiates in the matters directly of interest to the empire – that of war.

Over time, the War Academy has trained thousands of wizards for induction into the legions. But after those wizards have completed their fifteen year term of service, they return to the academy for nobler pursuits – magical research, exploration of ancient ruins, and the acquisition of knowledge. The Imperial War Academy, as a result, has become the greatest repository of knowledge in the Shattered Isles.

Motto: “For the Empire”

Beliefs: The beliefs of the Imperial War Academy can be summarized as follows:

* Often, the violent approach is less effective than the one that favours knowledge or misdirection.
* If you can know your enemy, he becomes much easier to destroy.
* The empire, while it has its faults, is the greatest force for good in the Shattered Isles and should be maintained.

Goals: Acquire knowledge, research new and interesting magical spells, work in the interest of mages everywhere, and overcome the people’s natural distrust of arcane magic.

Members: Members of the Imperial War Academy are typically arcane casters, though any sage or well read noble can join the ranks. Many, if not most, have military experience in the imperial legions. Despite being ordered in a military hierarchy, most members of the Imperial War Academy actually dislike military matters, and focus on the more erudite matters of magical research.

Upon joining the organization, members are given a specially emblazoned spellbook used to record magical research. By Academy law, this book can be requisitioned at any time, “For the good of the empire”. In reality, this is seldom, if ever, done.

Rank 1, “Cohort”. Requires 0 Renown.
No special perks.

Rank 2, “Centurion”. Requires 3 Renown.
Gains one higher-ranked contact within the organization.
Gains either one arcane spell to add to the spellbook (GM’s choice), or 1d4 spell scrolls (GM’s choice).

Rank 3, “Tribune”, Requires 10 Renown, Character level 5th+, must have completed at least one secret mission.
Training. You can train to gain knowledge of new tools or weapons. You can perform the “training” downtime activity to learn any useful tool (GM’s choice) or gain proficiency with any weapon. Doing so takes 125 days of downtime, instead of 250.

Rank 4, “Master of the Horse”, Requires 25 Renown, Character level 9th+, must have completed at least three secret missions.
Mentor. You gain a loyal apprentice from the organization, almost always a wizard, eldritch knight, or bard.
Honor Guard. You gain the services of 4 guards. These are to serve your needs for as long as you hold rank within the organization.

Rank 5, “Consul”, Requires 50 Renown, Character level 13th+, must have completed at least ten secret missions.
You become an organization leader.
 

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EvanNave55

Explorer
This looks AWESOME! I'm totally asking the Dm of the campaign I'm in to implement something like this. Currently as part of my backstory I'm part of a merchant's guild to help with my fake identity (I'm and arcane trickster and accidentally took something in my youth so people are trying to hunt me down), so while I have the official paper work and everything it doesn't have any sort of impact on the game. I'm hoping to have me being part of the merchant's guild be wide open knowledge and while I will try to increase my rank in it some I will secretly be part of a crime syndicate or something and consider my real ranking to be m title in that.
 

Wik

First Post
Thanks. I have nine PC organizations in my campaign:

1. Knights of the Scale: Protect and raise baby dragons, regardless of alignment. Hunt down and slay evil dragons that do not follow the Knights' teachings.

2. The Gray Wizards: Smuggle magic items, avoid taxes, and protect wizards from unfair laws. Mostly just smuggle stuff.

3. Imperial War Academy: Act as a university, protect the empire, and try to avoid being labelled too much as "Soldiers".

4. The Guilders: Protect the traditional religious practices of the world, where the guilds and temples are closely related to one another. Build stuff.

5. Unification Church: Unite all temples under one banner, and have the guilds be freed from religion. Support the empress of the empire, who kind of kickstarted all this.

6. The Hellhounds: Do anything for profit, because money is awesome. Also, maintain a reputation as revolutionaries, because it's good PR.

7. The Free Islanders: Act as moving sheriffs, judges, and messengers for the Free Islands. Protect the law.

8. The Imperial Foreign Service: Spy for the empire, engage in shadow plays, and act as messengers and diplomats.

9. The Friends of the Golden Stag: Protect the natural world, teach druidism to those interested, and fight the excesses of civilization.

It's a good mix, I think, of campaign interests and character goals. I have a player (a half elven bard with the sailor background) that's a smuggler with the Gray Wizards, and simply because of that association (he has no persuasion training), he's become the party fence for magical items. Likewise, there's talk about which side of the religious debate (guilders vs unificationists) sounds better, with neither being the "right" choice (I love those decision points!).

In short, I really like organizations, and I find the ones given in the DMG to be a bit vanilla for my tastes.
 

Mephistopheles

First Post
Nice work.

Another thing I think could be added to the treatment of factions in the DMG is the application of Winninger's Second Rule of Dungeoncraft: whenever you design a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece.
 

Nicholas Hoar1

First Post
The Artikel, starting with a group of dwarves, the organizations purpose is to collect all ancient and powerful magic items so as to prevent their misuse and prepare for an inevitable apocalyptic war.
 


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