D&D 5E Factions and Visibility

Princelucianus

Explorer
I have a question (I couldn't find an answer for with the search function).

I'm going to DM 'Storm King's Thunder' and planned for the first time in my life to use factions.
But I'm surprised that any agent with some knowledge, recognizes the agents of the other factions (maybe not the Zentarim).
That leads to all kinds of difficulties (spotting factions at key locations could lead to....... whatever you can think of).
Players can see that other players belong to different factions (if you opt for that) which could lead to strive within the group.

But if the agents' insignia are not visible, that leads to other problems (you need help, the faction says they'll send help but how do you recognize them).
Secret signs are also dangerous, because a little bit of torture would reveal them to any other faction/monster.

This is not specific to SKT of course.

How do you use factions, specifically with the issues I wrote above?
 

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As I understand it, most factions aren't actually at war with each other. There may be some economic and political competition but they aren't stabbing random members of the other factions in the street.
More to the point, it is in all the faction's best interests to solve the problems in SKT, so their agents working on that will likely be under orders to cooperate with each other to get the job done.
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
The way our DM presented it was that there were these strange attacks against towns and villages controlled by the various factions all across Faerun. So we (the party) were made up of representatives of the various factions assigned to work together to investigate these attacks and discover its source.

The other players picked factions before me so I ended up with the first barbarian recruit to the Order of the Gauntlet. I imagined that no knight or Paladin would work with a Zhentarim which is why the Gauntlet recruited my barbarian. I further imagined that my orders were to protect the Zhentarim and keep him alive so he could use his subterfuge and scheming to discover the source of the attacks. That way I could turn a blind eye to his pick pocketing, grave robbing and strong arming of NPCs. :)

We've had some player turnover and whenever we picked up a new player we just roleplayed that they were fresh recruits sent from the factions to fill out our party, or members of other parties given the same mission but that got broken apart at some point along the way.
 

the_redbeard

Explorer
Secret signs are also dangerous, because a little bit of torture would reveal them to any other faction/monster.
Don't want to get political on this, but the science and data show that torture doesn't work.
TL;DR the article: people will say anything to stop the torture, making things up as much as saying any truth.
 

MarkB

Legend
Think of it as the difference between uniformed and plainclothes police officers. Members of a faction who are working openly for that faction can and do display their affiliation, and they generally steer clear of places where that faction isn't welcome.

Members of the faction who do need to venture into such areas, or who otherwise need to keep their faction's involvement a secret, disguise themselves as appropriate.
 

MarkB

Legend
Don't want to get political on this, but the science and data show that torture doesn't work.
TL;DR the article: people will say anything to stop the torture, making things up as much as saying any truth.
Which is why torturers will start by asking questions they know the answers to, and make it very clear that false answers will not stop the torture.
 

the_redbeard

Explorer
I have a question (I couldn't find an answer for with the search function).

I'm going to DM 'Storm King's Thunder' and planned for the first time in my life to use factions.
But I'm surprised that any agent with some knowledge, recognizes the agents of the other factions (maybe not the Zentarim).
That leads to all kinds of difficulties (spotting factions at key locations could lead to....... whatever you can think of).
Players can see that other players belong to different factions (if you opt for that) which could lead to strive within the group.

But if the agents' insignia are not visible, that leads to other problems (you need help, the faction says they'll send help but how do you recognize them).
Secret signs are also dangerous, because a little bit of torture would reveal them to any other faction/monster.

This is not specific to SKT of course.

How do you use factions, specifically with the issues I wrote above?
I use factions in all my games. However, unless the players really all desire otherwise, at session zero the players pick a general "side" and don't pick factions that compete directly or otherwise oppose each other.

As far as discovering covert contact methods, the opposition would have to discover a faction member in the first place. If the faction is paranoid enough, the discovered faction member was being observed/check in on by another faction member who can alert the organization that they have a compromised link.

Magic can make a secretive faction campaign very complicated, between scrying, charms, detect thoughts. You'd want to determine how much magic you want in your campaign or it becomes a magical arms race.
 

Which is why torturers will start by asking questions they know the answers to, and make it very clear that false answers will not stop the torture.
Sure, people have been doing that for a very long time, and that still doesn't make it effective or reliable. Humans have been trying to make it so it was for thousands of years, including in this era (when the US heavily applied science to it), and it still didn't become reliable or particularly useful. At some point you have to accept a technique doesn't work well for anything but instilling terror. Trickery and false friendship have proven vastly more effective for getting information. With secret signs trickery and observation would be the primary concern I suspect.
 

They could know about each other but be working towards a common goal, as the prior posters said.

You could see them as equivalent to coworkers with opposite political affiliations--we'll fight fires together, and we make sure never to discuss politics...
 


auburn2

Adventurer
Which is why torturers will start by asking questions they know the answers to, and make it very clear that false answers will not stop the torture.
If the person they are torturing is trained to resist torture (as presumably most agents are) then it will be very difficult to get useful and reliable information out of him or her. They will all talk yes, but the torturer will have to sort through the information to figure out what is real, most of which will be misinformation or half-truths.

If you turture multiple people in a group and they have a common cover story that all of them know this becomes even more difficult for the torturer. That is what ended up happening with many of those we tortured in the early 2000s.

For example if you are trying to find out who the mole is and all the enemy have agreed to finger a certain person who is not truely the mole, more than likely that is the person the torture will reveal.

As alluded to by a poster above, traditional espionage and surviellance is generally a more reliable way to get information. Of course access to spells like charm person, zone of truth or detect thoughts could change this in the d&d world.
 
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Oofta

Legend
Don't want to get political on this, but the science and data show that torture doesn't work.
TL;DR the article: people will say anything to stop the torture, making things up as much as saying any truth.
Which is why I ban torture (well, one of the reasons) in my game.
 

Oofta

Legend
This is a problem in real life, sure.

In D&D, you cast zone of truth.
But you can still either refuse to answer, give answers that are technically true or use magic to counter. Zone of truth only tells you if the speaker believes they are telling the truth.
 


Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
I think one thing I would use for factions and recognizing their agents are going to be little things like code phrases.

There was a great short story from Dark Sun about the Veiled Alliance, an underground to protect the preserver magi from all their enemies. Since one of their founders had been a templar of one of the god-kings (or whatever you call them), he designed the Alliance to work in cells and to spot for betrayals. Their catch phrase was "My father was a templar," and the response was "My mother was a gardener."

For recognition too, there are other things you can use. In John Wick's 7th Sea, one faction uses their longcoats and they know how to recognize another agent that way. And then they can send messages without making contact - for instance, leaving every other button unbuttoned might mean something. I know that pulling the collar up, for instance, means 'do not contact me, I'm being followed'

/ramble
 

Zentarim like faction would certainly wear tabard proudly and obviously.
Identifying a Harper like member would be another kind of challenge.
Dont treat each faction equally.
 

auburn2

Adventurer
Zentarim like faction would certainly wear tabard proudly and obviously.
Identifying a Harper like member would be another kind of challenge.
Dont treat each faction equally.
The Zhents have both merchants and informers. the Merchants would wear their tabard, the spies would not (and don't in the books).
 

But you can still either refuse to answer, give answers that are technically true or use magic to counter. Zone of truth only tells you if the speaker believes they are telling the truth.
Yeah though in interrogation it seems like charm person + zone of truth, especially with some shapeshifting/illusion spells thrown into the mix you could do a tremendously good job of getting info out of people. I think this is one of those things where, if D&D was real, there'd be a lot more depth of magical counters - like a long-term spell that prevented charms from working - perhaps whilst making it so it seemed like they did somehow, spells that a willing subject (only, to avoid creepy stuff) could use to voluntarily give themselves approved false memories, and so on.
 

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