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Tie Characters to Factions

by Mike on 27 May 2024

Tying characters to factions is a great way to connect characters to a central hub in your campaign. Building and using these realtionships in game give players a choice in how they want to approach that campaign.

I've been running a lot of Shadowdark recently and I love it. Characters, however, die often and sometimes their quests die with them. This situation can get awkward when a group of characters enters a dungeon driven by a quest and then die off, leaving their replacement character to wonder why they ever bothered coming to this terrible place.

Linking new characters to existing factions can avoid this problem. A faction acts as an abstraction between quests and characters. A character might be allied with a local adventurer's guild. The guild has the intention to find the cure to a terrible curse. Thus, the character tied to this faction has this quest but so does their replacement character since they both come from the same faction.

I used a similar system in my 4th edition D&D Dark Sun campaign. Players had a choice of a stable of characters they could use for any given adventure, all coming from a guild of former gladiators. It made perfect sense when a player switched from their wizard to their fighter – they're just two different members of the same guild.

Eberron's dragonmarked houses and the five Forgotten Realms factions described on page 21 and 22 of the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide also work well. That whole section of the DMG has interesting advice for earning and benefitting from renown with particular factions.

Offer a Choice of Factions

There are a few ways to introduce factions and different reasons why you might choose one over another. You might choose a single faction the characters are all tied to as part of your campaign. That's a little forced, though. Instead, you might offer several factions and ask the players to pick one for a whole campaign. Turning the decision over to the players gives them a choice about how they want to shape their approach to the campaign.

For example, you might offer four dragonmarked houses the characters can be tied to for an Eberron game – each with their own take on the world around them. You can tie these choices to specific alignments – the lawful good House Jorasco, the lawful neutral House Lyrandar, the chaotic good House Tharashk, and the chaotic neutral House Deneith (I'm almost certainly going to receive email and comments about getting those alignments wrong but you get the idea).

One Faction per Character

Another more complicated way to do it is give each character a connection to a faction of their own choosing with their own quests, hopefully overlapping with those quests from other factions and NPCs. This system can get complicated, however, and there's no guarantee that the motivation of one faction syncs perfectly with the motivations of another faction. Choose this option if the quests overlap enough that you can still get some individual flavor but the group as a whole is moving in the same direction.

A Simple Abstraction between Characters and Quests

Tying characters and quests to factions is a great way to ensure that quests don't get lost should characters change. It gives players a common source for quests and the agency to select which faction they want to support.

The next time you're starting a campaign, select a handful of factions and ask players to choose one. Use that faction to drive the quests and direction of the campaign, keeping continuity should old characters depart and new ones jump in.

More Sly Flourish Stuff

Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Character Faction Tips and The Green Knight Queen – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 29 Lazy GM Prep.

Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

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