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How do you feel about factions in RPGs?

Another thread got me thinking. I don't care much for factions in my RPGs. It might be a personality thing. It's fine that there are occasional factions in a setting, but it can easily be overdone for me.

Vampire: the Masquerade and it's fellow WoD games are where factions as a big part of the play experience really became popular, and that has had a lasting impact. I think factions work better in some of their games than others, but I think the influence on other people's game design has been too strong.

What is it I don't like about them? I'm not entirely certain. Part of it might be that my level of individualism doesn't mesh well with that sort of group mindset when I (in this case, my character) doesn't completely agree with the faction. They aren't going to sign up because they can get 70% behind the faction's platform and they dislike the other guys more. Nope. Just let me be a lone hero and don't have the system punish me for it.

Another reason I'm not too keen on them could be that they often feel artificial. As an example, take the way 5e D&D Forgotten Realms has an artificially expanded list of factions (as in, they took some small local groups and decided to make them groups of major Faerun-wide importance so the players would have more choices than the Harpers or the Zhentarim) that they insist on weaving through their published adventures. I'm much more amenable to factions that seem less contrived--such as religions, knightly orders, magical academies, or even nations. Those feel more natural and D&D is already full of them.

I'm also not a fan of having interactions between various factions be the driving force in the setting, which is something that usually results in systems where you are are expected to choose a faction. Maybe that's because one of my major role-playing drives is exploration and wonder, and having that blasted opposed (or even allied) faction pop up all the time pushes that away, because they already got there first or they are right there on your tail, etc.

I think I enjoy factions slightly more in passive entertainment than in RPGs, but even then they can get in the way of the experience for me.

How about you?
 

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Campbell

Legend
I am not keen on games where players are expected to join a faction, particularly if they are expected to join different factions that may be opposed to one another. I love games like Blades in the Dark or Godbound where players are part of a personal or shared faction that they establish and lead.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I love factions, provided they are done well. Firstly, they are a relatable aspect of the setting, secondly they are very useful in melding PCs into the setting, instead of playing yet another pointless 'Stranger from Elsewhere Murder Hobo'.

Working within a faction adds a level of complexity and restraints that deeply enrich a story and bring out the best in players.

And the interplay of factions and nations creates the background noise of a living world, rather than a news-less, event-less movie set.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Factions are cool but indeed they can be overdone. I think the best thing to do is to at least diversify them in form, not just content. With that I mean that it's better to have a mix of religions, kingdoms, clan, guild, etc... some small, some worldwide, rather than trying to partition everyone into similar boxes.

I am not a fan of being required to belong to a faction. There are some fantasy world which are built around that, notably Planescape and Rokugan. It's fine, but the downside is that in such a setting, it makes most sense that every PC belong to the same faction. Otherwise you end up with the same "your bosses decided to put a mixed-faction team together to foster an alliance" trope.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I am not a fan of being required to belong to a faction. There are some fantasy world which are built around that, notably Planescape and Rokugan. It's fine, but the downside is that in such a setting, it makes most sense that every PC belong to the same faction. Otherwise you end up with the same "your bosses decided to put a mixed-faction team together to foster an alliance" trope.
The thing with factions is to layer them as is done in real life, centered on issues in which refusing to participate is in fact a faction in and of itself.

For example, in real life a person will have a political affiliation, religious standpoint, membership in professional groups, membership in civil groups, veteran of a branch of service, veteran of a specific conflict, alumni of specific schools, and so forth. Depending upon where you live in the world, these choices can amount to life or death.

That's how you run factions. The player's choices will define their PC far better than any alignment system or PH 'background'.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't mind factions as background fluff or as opposition but I do mind if or when my PC is forced to join one.

Note that I draw a very clear distinction between factions, i.e. groups of disparate people working toward (or against) some common goal, and things like class or professional guilds e.g. Thieves' guilds or Wizards' guilds or merchants' guilds. Guilds I don't mind at all, and if my PC's of a class that has a guild I'll join it every time.
 

Raduin711

Adventurer
I guess it depends on the factions. D&D presents the factions a bit like character classes, which has the effect of driving a wedge between the players. White Wolf tends to present factions in such a way that there are a number of sub-factions beneath them. You generally wouldn't play Vampire with a coterie consisting of a Camarilla Ventrue, a Sabbat Tzimsice, a Setite, and a Red Fang Werewolf. I mean, you could, and some do and have, but good luck.

Usually you would up front say "We are going to play a group of Anarchs" or what have you, and let players choose what kind of Anarch they want to play... and if one player really wants to play a Setite, then let that player come up with a way to incorporate his character concept with the rest.

I would say if a faction feels too restricting, then maybe the faction needs to be broadened a bit. The Order of the Gauntlet sounds great for a fighter or a paladin, but... what am I supposed to do with my rogue or my bard?
 

Sadras

Hero
I would say if a faction feels too restricting, then maybe the faction needs to be broadened a bit. The Order of the Gauntlet sounds great for a fighter or a paladin, but... what am I supposed to do with my rogue or my bard?
I do not agree, not every faction though needs to be all-inclusive to every class/race/other.
The Order of the Gauntlet follows specific tenants which may not align with a rogue's lifestyle. Why would the rogue want to join?
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I guess it depends on the factions. D&D presents the factions a bit like character classes, which has the effect of driving a wedge between the players.

I would say if a faction feels too restricting, then maybe the faction needs to be broadened a bit. The Order of the Gauntlet sounds great for a fighter or a paladin, but... what am I supposed to do with my rogue or my bard?
D&D tends to be highly superficial. The first question to be asked is: why does this faction exist? A faction must have a purpose or goals. Is it political? Commercial advantage? Civic? Nostalgic?

Start with real life examples: the American Legion, while on the surface a fraternity of military veterans, was actually formed as a framework to secure veterans as a hedge against anarchist groups in the immediate post-WW1 era (the FBI was born of those same fears). Basically, a quiet copy of the German Frikorps that saved the Wiemar Republic in Germany in 1919.

Second, how does membership benefit the members, and the organization?

Third, how does the faction interface with the powers that be?

And fourth, who opposes the factions goals/purpose.

So again, real world: The Grand Old Party (GOP). Organized in every county and city in the USA. Members pay dues or contribute work, both for the party goal and for related charitable work. The members are honored for their service, and obtain both insight and access in the workings of government. The faction's goal is to secure and maintain political power. It's relationship with the powers that be are mixed, but substantial. It is opposed by the Democratic National Party, which has identical (therefore conflicting) goals and structure. Both factions are opposed by a host of much smaller faction with similar ambitions but nowhere near the numbers, organization, or resources.

File off the serial numbers and you have a bevy of ready-made faction for your campaign. Have the various factions backing various candidates to replace a ailing monarch without a clear heir.

Add in criminal organizations, terror organizations (which have existed throughout history), religious factions of varying methods...the list is endless.
 

I use factions in my 3rd edition pirate campaign mostly to create a framework of possible alliances the players can pursue. They are under no obligation to do so, but befriending factions opens up new story developments, new resources and allow them to build a larger coalition of like minded people. The factions I use are all independent small nations with their own unique cultures. They are generally all already allies to one another, so the players are free to just befriend them all.

To make a faction loyal however, the players must complete a loyalty quest for that faction first. The goal is to eventually build towards one big climactic battle where all their allies matter.
 

Tonguez

Legend
I use factions and start by the players creating their own faction NPCs explaining why the faction and npcs relevant and how they might work in the game.

Factions are great structure that allow the PCs to become a part of the setting and play in it within set guidelines for action and adventure. Afterall a knightly order or religious sect is different to an artisan guild, an outlaw band, a towns poor tenants or a mercenary company, the differences can be fun. Factions need to be diverse and importantly treated as characters in their own right with their own actions and reactions to the world.
Those reactions can even create whole adventures in themselves
 
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Derren

Hero
I also dislike mandatory or heavily suggested factions. Especially if the faction do not have much of an agenda and are just there to spend bonus points/influence on them for boons. D&D and Pathfinder are both guilty of this, with the latter one heavily relying or suggesting that the PCs are Pathfinder/Starfinder
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It is all about the implementation, to me.

When factions are essentially several organized crime syndicates vying for power, I find them terribly uninteresting.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I find factions far more interesting when their design indexes motivation, purpose, and action. Really, that usually means that they're defined more like characters than anything else with comparable rankings or stats of some kind. As mentioned above, this is far more useful when it's specific and when there's conflict. Having a faction called "the kings court" is pretty bloody useless IMO. But if a noble faction is the traditionalists, say, who are trying to overthrow the current king and return the realm to a republic, now you have something interesting. Same thing with things like the Thieves Guild. That's a crap faction most of the time I've seen it done up, it's just a list of some NPCs and an overview of some illegal activities. Blargh. I want to know where the conflict is. Not even necessarily between organized crime groups, but things like, 'currently stacking the senate with candidates they either already control or have suborned'. Whatever the specifics, I want them. I don't need a list of NPCs and a name. I want to know where they're influential, what their resources are, and how they go about 'conflict'. The Inquisition, for example, flexes it's influence a lot differently than the Guild of Mercers. Anyway, that's my two cents.
 


payn

Explorer
Political intrigue is a huge factor in our games, so factions are as necessary as swords and magic. Though, PCs are never required to join one. Factions will act independently of the PCs if necessary. Sometimes they can be interesting obstacles, other times strange bedfellows. The best is when the factions use the PCs as a catspaw and seeing how the PCs decide to deal with that.
 

Pretty much this. My Tyranny of Dragons campaign was continually on the verge of some of the more vocal PCs managing to utterly alienate every single faction. Some players just can't help but try to push authority figures as far as they can.

These days, I really try to avoid running adventures where the main hook is "someone in power asked for your help" for this vary reason.

1/3 of PCs will join a faction, another 1/3 will fight all the factions, and the last 1/3 will just ignore them
 

innerdude

Adventurer
I find that games with active factions with known motivations, agendas, and agents/figureheads are a nearly crucial element to enjoyable RPG play.

Random murderhoboing with no motivation other than "phat lewt" is the very definition of RPG hell to me.
 

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