Fantastic Factions => 4 Tricks To Get The Most Out Of Your Villain Factions


Why do I use factions so much in my campaigns?

You know I love my NPCs. They are our avatars and “Agent Smiths” in the game to influence players and direct the characters.

Therefore, we get even more value out of groups of NPCs.

But random clusters do not make great storytelling.

We need each group to have a strong identity for player clarity.

Groups also need goals (Stakes), conflicts (Dangers), and resources (Treasure).

Thus, factions are born out of a need to create great adventures.

As part of villain month here at RPT, let’s look at factions.

Here are 4 ways to get the most out of your factions.

1. Create a Faction Map

A visual helps us sort and track information. Great factions have multiple members, a hierarchy, and internal struggles.

We can plot that out using a simple map, called the Faction Pyramid.

Here’s an example:

You can easily distinguish the leader from the Tier 2 Stage Bosses and flunkies.

And if you look closer, we see plot.

Seems like civil war could happen if we wanted.

Once you have basic details of your faction laid out, draw a Faction Pyramid.

Fill the boxes with cool NPCs.

Connect boxes with interesting relationships.

And structure boxes for internal conflict.

More tips on how to build Faction Pyramids here.

2. Walk Your Villain Faction Pyramid

With diagram in hand, we see our adventure unfold.

First we look at the tiers.

The bottom, Tier 1, becomes our mooks.

We introduce them as primary opponents in Act I. Room I+ stuff.

They then make appearances during every Adventure Milestone to fill out various encounters.

The next row becomes special opponents in Act II. Rooms II and III.

These Stage Bosses or superior minions challenge players in Difficult or Deadly type encounters.

While mooks have little useful information, lower and middle management always has hot gossip the party would love to learn.

Each tier in your villain’s faction diagram represents a form of adventure progression.

Player Fog of War peels back to reveal diabolical plots as players walk the pyramid, keeping your story alive.

Challenge increases as per the cadence of your game system.

And engagement increases because players instinctively know they approach closer to the truth as Dangers circle and press harder.

We eventually reach the top row => our villain and epic climactic confrontation.

Room IV.

By walking our villain’s faction pyramid, we can build a complete and wondrous adventure should we want that.

More tips on Walking Your Faction Pyramid.

3. Create Coherent Cohorts

Give mooks in lower rungs clear and separate identities.

An endless grey horde becomes boring.

Theme each Skirmish Group so players learn what tactics work and fail.

Emergent gameplay ensues.

Give each box in your pyramid their own goals (Stakes), conflicts (Dangers), and resources (Treasure). (I feel like capitalizing every word in that sentence.)

Roleplay flourishes from differences.

Here’s a great walkthrough on how to create distinct faction cohorts for better combats and roleplay. Part II here.

4. Create a Corporate Culture

To further improve roleplay and theme, give your villain’s faction a strong internal culture.

Too often we fail to make gameplay of factions feel different.

Skirmish Groups help for sure.

NPC development takes us further.

The ultimate test is to ask, “If I swapped another faction in for my villain’s faction, would gameplay become different?”

Whacking 99 hit points dressed in red versus 99 hit points dressed in blue would fail that question.

For our solution, we turn to my 3 Line Cultures method.

Make your villain’s faction distinct in three steps:

  1. Beliefs
  2. Aims
  3. Rituals

A unique belief makes roleplay differ. It also flavours aims and rituals.

What’s the cause? Why do minions follow that cause? What are the Beliefs that make the faction push their cause forward?

Evil serves as a good plot hook. But at the game table, we need more hooks and detail to make encounters compelling.

Aims give us that. Based on Beliefs, the Faction chooses a specific direction.

Taking over the world or destroying it serves our wants, but we must skin that into something unique for fantastic flavour.

That’s where Rituals come in. A faction’s Aims tell us what they want to do, and their Rituals flavour how they do it.

Rituals are habits and actions that define a culture’s identity.

Follow the 3 Line Culture method and no two factions will feel like mere cardboard hit point pools again. Your pool goes deeper than that now.

The method is fully detailed here.

It’s Your Turn

A villain can’t do it all by themselves.

They need help. Lots of help, so you have plenty of fodder for your adventures.

Start with a Faction Pyramid.

Then walk the pyramid to plot your adventure or campaign.

Next, create flavourful cohorts to make gameplay interesting.

Finish by developing a compelling culture to deepen your game.

For more tips on getting the most out of your factions, check out: