The Grinding Wheels of Disorder: A Method for Managing Factions and Their Moves

 I have struggled, and I know I am not alone in this, to maintain the movement of factions in my home campaign. When one plays biweekly, one is focused first on what the players will or could encounter at the table. I tend to prefer building campaigns that way, rushing a bit ahead of my players to hang drywall and slap up paint, creating a strange metallurgist intrigued by hypnotic space metals, what have you.

But where this method (or lack of a real method) falls down is managing the various machinations happening "off screen". In my current campaign "Postcards from the Edge" which is based vaguely on Spelljammer 2e, there are four main factions which I have developed with my players during pre-session 0 world and character creation. I also have an intentionally deeply malevolent and authoritarian mindflayer faction, the Dominator Creed, or as they self style, "The Planar Voyagers". 

As we are now a year into this campaign, I have found that it's difficult to remember to move the factions and their various macro scale political machinations forward. The Dragon Game (which I am using for this) does not have downtime. My factions were initially developed using Dungeon World fronts, though simplified. 

Progress Clocks, as seen in Blades in the Dark, give factions a series of tasks to complete with progress clocks on each to complete them. The way I have used this is: roll a d6 each session, on a 6 they gain a pie section toward the completed project. Signal progress on clocks through rumors the player party receives from information brokers/wandering minstrels/town criers. 

My issue is, politics is not as clean as this. I'd like to propose a spark table/push your luck based method for faction actions based on my meandering thoughts on The Quiet Year by Avery Alder, Blades in the Dark by John Harper, In a Wicked Age by Vincent and Meg Baker, Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, Dungeon World, and (edit) Michael Raston's Empyrean Dynasty as well as ongoing  conversations I've had about spark tables with Tam H. over the last few years. So, here's an incomplete idea on considering faction actions in the context of the world. Also: we had a conversation about this on a discord server I'm on!

First, determine your Faction's agenda

Write their one sentence mission statement, main resources, complication or weakness, and level of influence amongst neighbors (High influence, average influence, low influence).

The Planar Voyagers seek to subjugate the universe under the influence of their Dread God Torax. Their main resources are a small nautiloid fleet, advanced psionic technology and a floating city on a broken moon that can travel from place to place. Their weakness is they are new to the area and cannot blend in easily as they are tentacled fascists. They have high influence with their thralls the science cult Those That Shiver, but are low influence at the beginning of the campaign with the other factions, to whom they have hostile intentions.

Next, Roll for a Faction Action

Faction actions should be interpreted through the lens of the agenda.

1. Invent: something new is invented to support the faction and or/their agenda (simple, complex)

2. Discover: a new resource (ample, scarce) or threat is discovered (prepared, caught off guard)

3. Invade: the faction acts violently and attempt to seize control (of territory, resources), (brazenly, stealthily)

4. Search: the faction attempts to find (something lost, something belonging to a friend or rival) 

5. Begin a Project (Low Complexity, High Complexity). A project should have a clear start or end, and be measurable.

6. Unifying the Faction (through discussions or consensus, through aggression, threats or violence) 

Push Your Luck: Opportunities and Complications

To increase the faction's chance of success, roll to push your luck. Like a Devil's Bargain in Blades in the Dark, this result will happen either if you succeed or fail. Pushing your luck allows you to reroll. 

1. Regardless of success or failure, a resource (material, reputation) is sacrificed.

2. Regardless of success or failure, there is a significant betrayal. 

3. Regardless of success or failure, there is unintended harm (to the populace, to a project).

4. Regardless of success or failure, a resource is discovered or strengthened.  

5. Regardless of success or failure, a relationship begins, grows stronger, or is repaired.

6. Regardless of success or failure, the faction's morale and unity is improved. 

Faction Action's Level of Success

1: Utter failure. Desperation. The faction has a serious setback and loses something of value (influence, anonymity, territory, alliance, resources) 
2-3: Failure but with an opportunity  
4-5: Success with a complication 
6: Triumphant Success

Setting Events in the Background

1. Nature. Is the act of nature beneficial or detrimental? How is the act of nature interpreted by the various belief systems? How are the beneficiaries/victims treated?

2. Pestilence and Plague. How does the faction treat or contain the plague? Does it build unity or loud dissension among the populace?

3. Bounty and Abundance, Devastation. How does the faction use this plenty? OR How does the factio navigate this resource devastation?

4. Assassination (of character, of a person). Who is pilloried or slain and how does it impact the factions?

5. Cultural product (novel, art) captures the society's imagination. Is its influence celebrated or treated with suspicion? 

6. Conflict or violence. What is the spark of violence or conflict? Is intractable or able to be resolved? If so, how?

More thoughts I have on factions:


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