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How do you feel about factions in RPGs?

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
D&D did, IMO, a pretty awful job with factions and are an excellent example of how a whole lot of words can be of very little use. Ravnica was supposed to be the 'faction' book, and the Guilds in that setting are supposed to drive the action. What's actually in the book though? A renown stat that does absolutely nothing other than measure status within the guild, and even then has no mechanical effect whatsoever other than as a prerequisite for positions within the guild. You get contacts, yay, but they're off a table and also have zero mechanical support. You have a small handful of background abilities, which also have nothing to do with the actual factions. Finally, you have some descriptive text about what the guild does and how much they like or dislike each other, but again, no mechanics at all, and almost no specifics. No rules for faction interactions, no rules for the factions themselves, no rules for influence or favors, no rules for PC impact on the guild, or guild policy, or anything.

In short, there are almost no actual rules for factions in Ravnica at all. It's all char gen and flavor text. I'm perfectly capable of using what's there in a campaign but the lack of rules means I'm doing all the grunt work, and all the adjudication ends up being DM fiat, all the narrative stuff and guild interaction is DM fiat. It's not really particularly good for maps and notes type prep, and it's brutal for play to find out style games. The players have no hand holds or rules at all to help the gauge the potential effect of their actions in relation to their faction, and no guidance about what a negative or positive relationship with other factions actually does, and nor does the DM. Anyway, I'll get down off my soapbox now. Lets just say it wasn't what I was looking for. /rant
 

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practicalm

Explorer
I really don't like the 5e factions and I never join a faction in AL games.

Factions are better when the players don't fully join them but are able to play the factions against each other or curry favor for specific reasons.
Because the factions are certainly going to use the players as cats-paws so it's fair for the players to do the same.

Paranoia requiring everyone to join a faction is all good fun because it is the trope of that game.
 

To me, it's very much setting/game specific. The various WoD game that use factions did it quite well, integrating it into an important aspect of the game, while D&D... not so much. Having conflicting factions can add an interesting aspect to a game (assuming you have mature players who can handle it), but you don't want it to overshadow the game itself.

With D&D, I've heavily modified the faction concept. Instead of being a vaule of membership in a faction, I use it as a "glory" type mechanic instead. If you do things that benefit a faction, you get some points towards them, and having a certain number of points you can spend them for various favors/benefits. The factions themselves are greatly varied, rather than being setting wide (although they exist), such as town councils, noble families, churches, etc. A character can be a member of one of these factions, usually via a background, which allows them to pay less points to get the favor/benefit.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
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.
Sounds like you have failed to assign consequences to PC actions.

People/groups who are in power normally are in/have power for a very good reason.

This is what happens when there is a disconnect between the setting and the PCs. When PCs have no ties to any community they are free to wander about as pointless murder hobos.

But if they have an actual background, with family ties and an organized world, consequences can hit them right where they live.
 

MGibster

Hero
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.
I won't lie, I was absolutely blown away by Vampire when it was first released in 1991. It was so different from anything I had played before and factions were a big part of that. You had the big ones like the Camarilla and the Sabbat but you could divide those two into many more subgroups as well which led to all sort of fun opportunities for game play.

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.
There are many players out there who chafe at the idea their characters might have obligations to any authority be it noble, the law, or a god. Perhaps they feel as though they follow enough rules in real life and they just want to cut loose and have fun in game. That's fine. Games where factions are important might not be for them. Especially if their characters are expected to toe the line.

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.
Personally, I don't think it's a good idea to look at D&D settings with an overly critical eye. They're simply a setting designed to have fun adventures in.

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.
There was plenty of wonder in the Indiana Jones movies with the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant even though the Nazis were hot on his trail.

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?
I think factions are a great way to help new players figure out what they're going to be doing in the game. In Shadowrun, the player characters are shadowrunners (I'll define them as a very loose faction) in a world awash with corporations, nations, religious groups, etc., etc. It's a fantastic setting and without that shadowrunning faction I think it'd be tough for newer players to figure out what they were supposed to be doing. But that doesn't mean you need factions in every game. The bulk of my D&D games were spent without PCs joining any faction save their adventuring group.
 

John Dallman

Explorer
Factions are OK, if they make sense in terms of the setting. By which I mean that they arise naturally from features of the setting that aren't just people's tendency to form cliques and rivalries. So different worldviews, different ecological niches, really large past conflicts, things like that, can make sense. Recreating high-school cliques, not so much.
 

Sadras

Hero
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.
I do not think enough guidance was given in the AP on how to deal with the various factions/delegates.
For example, it should have been emphasised that they had the support of Leosin, not necessarily the Harpers (yet). And that the reason they had been selected as the Champions of the Council was because of they represented a neutral party within the delegation. They were the secret weapon of the Leosin and Remalia, with the sole goal to attempt to curry favour with all the other delegates/factions for the good of the Sword Coast and get them to pledge and eventually commit their forces in the fight against the Cult. If they were given that agenda secretly and early on, it would help against player pushback. And if not Leosin and Remalia someone else. I used Laeral Silverhand.
 

I can’t really imagine a setting without factions.

I don’t think they need to be as formalized as Vampire the Masquerade , or Planescape did. I also don’t think that games should push membership on PCs as some kind of expectation.

But beyond that, I think their use is essential to portraying a fictional world and in giving PCs useful groups to work with or against. They help flesh the world out and help define the PCs’ place in the world.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The problem I've had with factions, in every game I've read or played that had them, was that every faction had a tendency to treat anyone who didn't join up as an enemy. If you don't like any of the factions presented to you, you are treated as an enemy by all of them and you end up ground to a fine paste between them. Also, if the game is about the PCs' stories, it can feel as though factions are a way of imposing the GM's story onto the game--this is probably more my reason for not using them as a GM than anything I can point to as something I've experienced as a player.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
Factions are tools. Like all tools they have a best-use case and a worst-use case.

Factions can be an excellent tool to provide access to abilities the party (or even just a single PC) normally can't access on their own.

They can also be excellent foils / drivers of adventure that provide a means for common motivations and tactics that once learned by the players, allow the PCs to arrange novel ways to detect and defeat the plot.

If the expected table play includes intra-party squabbling (cf. Paranoia), they are an excellent lever to causing PC disagreements.

Those were the best-cases.

Worst-cases include taking focus away from/overshadowing the PCs, introducing squabbling where it isn't desired, and a tool to force PC direction.
 

MGibster

Hero
The problem I've had with factions, in every game I've read or played that had them, was that every faction had a tendency to treat anyone who didn't join up as an enemy. If you don't like any of the factions presented to you, you are treated as an enemy by all of them and you end up ground to a fine paste between them. Also, if the game is about the PCs' stories, it can feel as though factions are a way of imposing the GM's story onto the game--this is probably more my reason for not using them as a GM than anything I can point to as something I've experienced as a player.
Imposing their story onto the game is one of the fundamental jobs of the dungeon master. But it's a collaborative effort wherein the DM sets up the context in which the PCs stories will be told. i.e. I arrange the pins and you knock them down however you choose. So regardless of whether the game has factions or not, if I put down some pins and you tell me you don't want to bowl, we've got a problem. If you dislike factions that much it's probably best if we select another game.
 

auburn2

Explorer
So as both a DM and a player I have found factions extremely fun as being part of the roleplay, not so much for players joining factions (although I have been dm for a couple harpers) but rather incorporating them into the story.

As DM I have found them particularly good when they are morally opposed to the players but seeking the same goal in the module. There are a lot of role playing opportunities and moral conflicts when your good party is working with the Zhents to take down another evil person/group. The zhents might be doing it because they are a rival, while the players are trying to free people from tyranny or whatever. It works best when they NEED help from the faction.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
It works best when they NEED help from the faction.
That IMO is the key to factions. The PCs should not be a power bloc, striding through a world to which they are indifferent.

They should face tasks far beyond their capacities, but which are attainable if they can obtain support from other groups, which obviously leads to side missions and payment-gathering, hard choices, and planning.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Imposing their story onto the game is one of the fundamental jobs of the dungeon master. But it's a collaborative effort wherein the DM sets up the context in which the PCs stories will be told. i.e. I arrange the pins and you knock them down however you choose. So regardless of whether the game has factions or not, if I put down some pins and you tell me you don't want to bowl, we've got a problem. If you dislike factions that much it's probably best if we select another game.
It's probably a difference in outlook, mostly. I see my job as GM being to write what happens before the PCs come on the scene (and plausibly what'll happen if they don't). Once they do, the story belongs to them. Factions, when used badly (and I've never seen them used well) feel to me like the GM refusing to hand the story over to the PCs.

I'm all in favor of stuff that works the way @Jd Smith1 says--and I try to have NPCs that engage the PCs' interests and provide some incentives--I just don't think that being recruited by a handful of factions and being treated as enemies by the ones you don't join feels like fun.
 

MGibster

Hero
It's probably a difference in outlook, mostly. I see my job as GM being to write what happens before the PCs come on the scene (and plausibly what'll happen if they don't). Once they do, the story belongs to them. Factions, when used badly (and I've never seen them used well) feel to me like the GM refusing to hand the story over to the PCs.
I don't know if we have a radically different outlook as this is my approach the the game as well. Except I don't see the story as just theirs so much as it's ours due to the collaborative nature of role playing games. Most of the games I've seen make heavy use of factions are those where it's simply baked into the setting. If somebody really hates the Camarilla, Anarchs, or the Sabbat then Vampire the Masquerade isn't the game for them.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Most of the games I've seen make heavy use of factions are those where it's simply baked into the setting. If somebody really hates the Camarilla, Anarchs, or the Sabbat then Vampire the Masquerade isn't the game for them.
Yeah, I haven't liked the setting of any White Wolf game I've read or played (which is far from all of them). To closely paraphrase you: not games for me.
 


Bawylie

A very OK person
I like it best when the faction system is behind the dm screen. When you have various groups with their own interests and needs and they interact with the players incidentally unless they develop very strong ties.

For example when you do a lot of quests for the local church and get to know the priest, the priest gets some better spells, and the community that the church serves improves. The players don’t have to join the faction formally and they don’t know they’re at “+7 with the Temple of the Mountain.” Of course the players could stop off at any time for the usual services they provide - basic healing and shelter - but if they don’t make donations or undertake quests, then that’s all they’ll ever access. And they’ll never really need to worry about how they’re doing with that faction.

Idk. Something about even saying “faction” out loud gets me in a weird mindset. It makes me want to game out and advantage. Instead of a guild or group that operates in the world and does stuff, a faction feels like a sub-game I’ve got to farm points for.

Maybe that’s just me.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
The PCs should not be a power bloc, striding through a world to which they are indifferent.

They should face tasks far beyond their capacities, but which are attainable if they can obtain support from other groups, which obviously leads to side missions and payment-gathering, hard choices, and planning.
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.
I wouldn't describe my RPGing as "random murderhoboing", but our play doesn't tend to invovle NPC elements driving the events that occur at the table.

In our Prince Valiant game the PCs are there own faction - a bit like what Campbell describes - with two being (respecitively) Master and Marshall of a holy military order the PCs founded, and the third knight PC tagging along with them against his better judgment.

In our Classic Traveller game the PCs have had allies and enemies, and those NPCs are connected to various organisations such as the Imperial Scout Service and the Psionics Institute. But the PCs are not themselves members of any particular organisation. They are the crew of a vessel that belongs to the noble PC.

In our Burning Wheel game the PCs have personal connections to various NPCs, and the wizard is a member of a sorcerous cabal. But it is moslty personal dynamics (eg affections and rivalries), not political ones, that drive the action.
 

Oh, there were consequences. Maybe not character-ending ones, but their actions (when the rest of the party failed to mitigate their insults) absolutely had an affect on the game. But since it was really just 2-3 PCs being mouthy, I didn't want to punish the whole table too severely for the actions of a few.

Sounds like you have failed to assign consequences to PC actions.
I concur 100%. The adventure came up with a system for tracking the factions and their commitment to the coalition, but then got pretty vague as to what the effects were. Each of the factions should have had some sort of bonus for securing their loyalty (like magic items, or some sort of boon), and an effect for alienating them (like adding encounters as a result of that particular faction not being present). Heck, they even could have tied Tiamat's strength at the end to the coalition strength.

I do not think enough guidance was given in the AP on how to deal with the various factions/delegates.
 

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