Faction-Building, Part 6: Re-Visiting Scope

When you create factions, you should think about the scope they will entail.


I began this series thinking about the goals for my particular faction, and fleshing out their motivations helped lead me to a relatively cohesive group that has a number of hooks through which you could involve players. Having gone through this process, I wanted to re-visit a concept that I implicitly used in creating this group but didn’t detail much at the time. I said that I wanted them to have some influence but not be an insurmountable obstacle–basically, strong enough to make things difficult on my players but not so strong as to make fighting them seem pointless or overwhelming. This kind of decision is highly dependent on the players you have, and as I was writing I was thinking about low-level / early adventurers as my target in mind. Most adventuring seems to take place at relatively low levels, and the kinds of things players can do at this point aren’t quite world-shaking in importance just yet. This leads nicely into our discussion topic for today: scope.

When you create factions, you should think about the scope they will entail. There are different ways you could categorize this, but I want to approach the topic from a geo-political perspective. The way I see it, you can consider a group’s scope based on how big an area they can influence.

  • Local: A single village or town. Local groups should care about things farther away, but they don’t have the resources or manpower to affect such things very much. A local organization probably doesn’t need a lot of faction-building, given that they’ll be so small. Examples might include a Council of Elders or the Baron’s Elite Guard.
  • Regional: A larger city or network of villages or towns. Regional groups have a limited network and mean that the party’s actions in one place might have consequences nearby. Examples might include a city’s Magic College or valley-wide trading union.
  • Provincial: Larger provinces or “states” that might occupy a range of different geographical features. Groups at this level are much more powerful, and many of these regions have governing bodies to secure their interests. Although city-states may exist in your world, this is generally the level at which strong independent governments may begin forming. Examples here might be a minor culture’s religion or a general’s provincial legion.
  • National: Collections of regions united under a single government and suitable adversaries for high-level players. These groups are not going to be defeated in a fortnight. National groups and larger lend themselves to competing sub-factions, such as rival religious leaders or warlords. Examples here might be the emperor’s secret police or the official national religion.
  • Continental: Essentially the major territories in which you might expect your players to act, continental groups are extremely powerful and almost impossible to eradicate. Examples here might include an international peace-keeping organization or wide-ranging secret society. You could even include global organizations as an additional step up, though there likely won’t be much difference.

The Shields of Abigil work very nicely at a local or regional scope, making them a suitable organization with which low-level adventurers can interact. Their concerns are somewhat individualized and fairly minor, and even her lieutenants have small-scope ambitions. Alanis the Druid is concerned with protecting her small stretch of the woods, and Wari’s interest in invasion might be predicated on the region being small and not getting a lot of help from elsewhere. The land over which Abigil and Gyliam are concerned might not be worth an international war. If I wanted to scale this group up, I’d have to rethink the scope of their goals as well. If it were a battle over who would be the next imperial ruler, that would be more suitable for a national or continental sort of conflict.

In conclusion, when you design factions, think about what scope your campaign needs. Are they low-level characters confined to a small geographic area? Are you planning something world-spanning that only extremely powerful people can hope to resist? What are you going to need to engage your players considering their position in society? Don’t have everything planned out from level 1 or force them to resist a global conspiracy in their first adventure–it’s something toward which you have to build.

Author: lpivellius

I am a gamer of all kinds. Sometimes I write about them.

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