I don’t know if I’ve done this to this point, but I think D&D 5e’s Dungeon Master’s Guide is the best incarnation of the game’s since I started playing in 2006 (I know, that only covers 3 editions). So let me take a brief moment to plug it as a great book if you plan on running games yourself–it may not have the detailed mechanical pieces of previous editions, but it’s a lot more advice-based and accessible, with tons of suggestions for changing certain aspects of gameplay.
The reason I bring it up today is that, as we design our faction, this book can be a useful resource for designing non-player characters or NPCs (and by extension, the organizations that they form). When I design organizations, I usually think about who created them in the first place and let my group flow from there. Thinking about character-based motivations also gives me more room to flesh out other involved members and have potential conflicts or differences of opinion. Today we’re going to take the DMG‘s NPC chapter and create the leader who will give this faction its goals.
First, our leader is wise but unintelligent. This suggests to me some sort of religious leader, maybe a shaman-type, who understands things instinctively and on a spiritual level but has little formal education and not much organized knowledge. She is excellent at one game–we’ll say some sort of bluffing game used as a diplomatic contest. She frequently chews on a stick or bark and is generally arrogant in her interactions with others. She seeks the greater good, however, so we’ll mark her as a bit of a utilitarian in her ethics. Additionally, she possesses some sort of keepsake and enjoys decadence. (All of these qualities were generated by DMG tables.)
Now that we know her basic personality, we can think about her goals. Despite her focus on the greater good, she has a desire for revenge, wanting to retrieve some stolen property and punish the thief. To do so, she seeks to humiliate the thief and ruin his social standing. She has also struck a mystic pact to help her achieve her goals.
Let’s go back and think about what kind of character we want mechanically, then. High Wisdom, low Intelligence suggests a cleric, druid, monk, or ranger or maybe a paladin or very non-traditional barbarian / warlord type. With another random roll, I decide on making her a paladin, which fits in well with her vengeance focus. We can fluff her class abilities or any other special abilities we want her to have as the result of her pact and not necessarily a traditional interpretation of her class, though we probably don’t need to in this case. She and her group have decided to fight this battle primarily through social means–perhaps she wanted a bit of extraplanar assistance to cover for her own deficiencies in planning and coercion. Any lawful kind of creature might be interested in bringing a property thief to justice.
Bringing all of this together, let’s sketch out the details for Abigil. She is former nobility, cheated out of her ancestral home by a bad bargain made in a game of baham. All she could save from the estate was her family’s signet ring, which she guards jealously. For assistance, she turned to the minor angel Rielach, who granted her Oath of Vengeance powers. Both knowing that murder is kind of bad and has bad consequences (and preferring rehabilitation in general), she has had to take a more subtle approach to winning her title back. This thief has cheated a number of people out of property and is emblematic of how the upper classes treat the poor, so she has gathered some followers who use primarily whispers and gossip to combat the nobility. Calling themselves the Shields of Abigil, this group seeks to restore their leader and end oppression in the region.
Next: we’ll define Abigil’s nemesis and maybe a few lieutenants, further fleshing out this group.