How to Create Factions – 3 New Tips Plus: 44 Awesome Ready-To-Use NPC Hooks

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #447

How to Create Factions – 3 New Tips Plus: 44 Awesome Ready-To-Use NPC Hooks

I discussed in Issue #393: Have Fun with Factions how you can save a lot of time by combining world design with adventure design through factions.

Factions are such a useful game mastering tool I encourage all GMs to consider using them in their games. Even dungeon crawls would benefit from them.

If you want your PCs to be caught between sides, or defending their side against another, you need factions. If you want stories spawned from conflicts woven into the fabric of your world that ooze with flavor, you want factions. And if you want adventures and NPCs with depth and traction, you must try out gaming with factions.

Here are three additional tips on creating factions for your game.

Everyone Is a Member

If you get into the habit of making the inhabitants of your dungeon or urban regions members of factions, you will soon have well-populated factions. A common problem is trying to bootstrap factions, and it is time consuming crafting NPC rosters just to flesh out factions.

If you use NPC character sheets or cheat sheets, be sure to add Faction or Allegiance as a line.

In addition, ensure your NPCs are card-carrying members of their factions. You want the PCs to feel like they are in a dynamic environment filled with tensions, politics, and consequences for their actions.

If many NPCs display passively or actively their affiliations, you’ll remind your group about the setting and stakes. Also, such signs make great roleplaying hooks and NPC GMing hints – if you don’t know what an NPC would say or how they’d react, consider their faction and what orientation that gives them.

Passive display might involve clothing, tattoos, and mannerisms. Active displays are recruitment efforts; hand gestures; and the words, language, or speaking style NPCs use.

Base Factions On Your Game Rules

Your game system can help define your factions. This is a great way to get started with world design as well. Consider all the ways your game’s rules slice and dice PCs, NPCs, and critters.

  • Classes: If your game has classes, there is a set of excellent factions right there. Guilds are often formed around groups of single or similar class types.
  • Races: This is a natural division point within your world and gaming regions. You can also create factions through sub-races and half-breed races.
  • Skills: Look at your skill lists for inspiration.
  • Monster groups: Check out your book of monsters or aliens. Look for groupings that naturally form factions and sub-factions. Also look for instant enemies or rivalries to create conflicts right from the start. Ecosystems are a great source to find or place factions. Territories and resource competition is another way to slice the pie.

For example, giants in fantasy games are often split into species. Each types makes a great faction, with groups vying for dominance, the favor of a titan king, or some other common goal up for grabs.

  • Alignment or ethos: Here’s another natural cleavage point that can drag even gods into the fray.
  • Religion: Speaking of gods, religion or competing belief systems form natural tribes and conflicts.

Note that a faction need not be all about the common bond that draws members together. That bond can just serve to help members find like-minded folk, but the purpose and philosophy of the faction might have nothing to do with the original hook.

For example, in an alignment system, all the evil folk could form a faction. However, just being evil should not be the rationale for a faction. Perhaps a diabolical villain might seek to achieve some horrific goal, and he draws the black-hearted to him to help his cause. Everyone’s evil, but the faction is all about the common goal the villain has.

Another example: The Jugglers are all about murdering the ruling family. Two generations ago the King was ousted and his family put to death. Two royal members escaped and vowed to return for revenge. They honed their skills at killing and stealth, and used the cover of circus performers to get close to their unsuspecting victims. Forty years later the Jugglers are an official movement, and while this faction isn’t really about juggling at all, it’s a skill all members have and a creepy hook for a group of nasty foes.

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Create Faction-Based Encounters

Make sure your factions have a strong presence, not only in the game world but in your adventures as well. The best approach is to make adventures not about the factions themselves, but to involve faction politics, conflicts, and NPCs as roadblocks to the PCs’ goals. Make encounters that happen to involve factions, but don’t make the factions central to most encounters or the adventure.

Create a list of encounter seeds

Start with one faction and their goals. Brainstorm a list of 10 actions this faction will take soon to get what it wants. Note that not all actions are directly related to a faction’s end-game. Herein lies some great subtlety and deft storytelling potential.

Factions need resources. They need space, money, food, equipment, weapons, defenses, members, marketing or recruitment methods, information. Leadership is often engaged in faction business full time, so they need support as well – room, board, services at the minimum.

Then there are the special projects. The fruition of plans, staged events, coordinated attacks. These require additional resources.

So, when coming up with your list of 10 actions a faction will take in the near future, make most of those actions about acquiring resources, not about the execution of end- goal schemes.

Sure, to acquire resources a faction must scheme to rob, trick, or coerce (because honest business makes boring stories) but the smaller scale and purpose of these schemes casts a different light on the game than the big, end-game plays do.

Small-game plots, such as a quest for more resources, prevents faction play from overshadowing your adventure while still allowing the faction to be an important participant in the events leading up to your adventure’s climax. It also adds dimension to your faction and believability to your setting.

Unless every encounter in your games needs to be cinematic and climactic, then these more mundane purposed faction encounters will flesh out your setting, introduce NPCs in interesting ways, and let your group develop a hate for the faction because of its ongoing interference with the PCs’ actions.

Make factions collide – with each other and the PCs

Once you have your list, create two more such lists so you have plans for three factions in hand. Next, look for cross-overs and opportunities for the factions to conflict. Will groups be in the same place at the same time competing over something? This would be inconvenient for the PCs should they need that time and place for either the same thing, or by coincidence, something different. Feel free to tweak your lists to create conflicts where possible. Sometimes, just having one or more factions in the area is a great recipe for interesting encounters as they investigate a ruckus, or spot each other or the PCs, and decide to interfere, spy, steal, or block the PCs in some way.

44 Awesome Ready-To-Use NPC Hooks

From John Lewis

“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.”
– Mark Twain

As both a player and a DM I love good character hooks. In the current campaign I’m running I had each of the players draw a couple of the following at random and work them into their personal histories. I’ve even been using some of them for important NPCs to give them more depth and personality.

The following lists hooks by category: background, relationships, and motivations. Most of them are not completely specific; they are simply designed to inspire and get you thinking about your character. Use them for your character, NPC, or just as inspiration to create your own.

Background Hooks

  1. You have a former mentor, role model, or teacher that disappeared under unusual circumstances.
  2. You owe a significant debt to someone else. The debt could be financial, moral, or even a blood debt.
  3. You have an embarrassing secret you do not want others to know. This secret might be from your past or something ongoing.
  4. You have served time for a crime. You may or may not have actually committed the crime.
  5. You are the sole survivor of a great tragedy that affected your family, social group, or entire community.
  6. You are a reluctant member of your character class. Unusual or perhaps tragic circumstance brought you to your current vocation.
  7. You once served (or maybe still serve) in a local militia.
  8. You have no recollection of your past beyond a few weeks ago. Everything about you is a mystery to yourself, although others might remember all sorts of things about you – both good and bad.
  9. You are scarred from some traumatic event in your past. These scars may be mental, emotional, or physical but always serve to remind you of the past.
  10. You are out to clear your family name due to some notorious family member or some infamous event.
  11. You have a childhood rival always out to one-up you.
  12. Unusual circumstance surrounded your birth and many have considered this an omen of some sort, either for good or ill.
  13. There is a price on your head. This may be a legitimate bounty placed on you for a crime or debt, or someone might just be out to get you.
  14. You feel the burden of expectation placed upon you by some person, community, or organization.
  15. Someone close to you was recently killed or disappeared mysteriously. You want to discover the truth behind the event and perhaps seek justice or revenge.
  16. You were once a slave, outcast, or some other pariah. Perhaps you have escaped that life or maybe it haunts you still.
  17. You have returned from the dead. A local priest raised you. Now you seek out answers for your death.
  18. You are the rightful heir (perhaps the only living one) of a displaced noble family. You seek to reclaim your rightful place as a noble.

Relationship Hooks

  1. You and another PC are related. This relationship could be by blood, marriage, or adoption. The relationship may be near (siblings) or more distant (second cousins).
  2. You are an orphan. You may or may not know what happened to your family.
  3. You are the descendant of a well-known and much despised villain.
  4. You have a significant love interest. This person may or may not know that you have feelings for them.
  5. You have a sibling of great renown and fame.
  6. You are from a well-known and highly respected family in the community.
  7. You have a twin who disappeared when you were both much younger.
  8. You have a child. This could be from a past or present marriage, a child out of wedlock, or one you adopted. You might not even know of the child.
  9. You have a spouse. This person may or may not be supportive of your life as an adventurer. Your spouse might even be an adventurer; perhaps another PC.
  10. You and another PC are former rivals. This rivalry may have had its roots in something personal, professional, or even romantic. For whatever reason the heart of the rivalry is no longer an issue.
  11. You are trying to please a person, group, or organization. Your reputation and standing within that is very important to you.
  12. People are suspicious or doubtful of you due to some mistake you made when you were younger.
  13. Someone looks up to and admires you. This might be an apprentice you are training or perhaps just a fan who idolizes you.
  14. Some person or group believes you are the chosen one. They virtually worship you and hold you in very high regard. Some of them might seek to emulate you or even have you perform miracles for them.

Motivation Hooks

  1. You have a strong commitment outside of your adventuring. The commitment might be of a family, religious, political, or even professional nature.
  2. You are a deeply religious individual. You might revere one deity in particular or perhaps the entire pantheon. Your religion colors your outlook on life.
  3. You are an honor-bound person. Your word is your bond and you never give it lightly.
  4. You worry about your reputation. You may want others to like you, respect you, follow you, or even fear you. You work hard to achieve and maintain this reputation.
  5. You have a personal hero; someone you look up to. This might be a living family member or a long dead ancestor. It might be a great hero of myth and legend or someone alive today. Either way you admire and seek to emulate your hero.
  6. You carry with you long-standing guilt for a past misdeed either real or imagined.
  7. You long for a normal life, one without monsters and villains or adventures to the far corners of the world.
  8. You feel the call of some higher power. This could be a religious calling, some sworn duty or obligation, or just something you feel you have to do.
  9. You feel as though it is your destiny to do something of great importance.
  10. You grew up pampered in the lap of luxury. Rebelling against this you have struck out to make a name for yourself based on your own merits, not those of your family.
  11. You belong to a secret society or organization whose goals are more important to you than your own.
  12. You always strive to make up for some dark past. The details of this past might not even be all that traumatic and dark.

These are just a handful of ideas that each could be implemented in any number of different ways. How might you elaborate on any of these? What are your ideas and thoughts?

For Your Game: Magic Item Backstories

The Story Behind the Universal Solvent

From Alain Chinca

The universal solvent, that unique substance able to dissolve glue and tanglefoot bags, is a common and relatively cheap item, selling for 50 gold pieces. Yet it requires a high level caster to create. Why is that?

Well, it all comes back to how the Universal Solvent was created. A poor farm girl of questionable beauty grew up in a small town and was teased and persecuted because she was poor and ugly. One of the favorite things her abusers would do to her was glue copper coins to her tattered clothing or directly on her face.

The girl grew up resentful, and dreamed of revenge. She started to develop a strong ability for magic and was hired by a very powerful wizard to become his maid. However, the girl showed she could do more than wash the dishes and she quickly became the old wizard’s assistant. She listened to the wizard’s instructions, studied hard, and quickly developed amazing arcane skills.

She could have just altered her appearance or sold her services to amass riches, but she wanted revenge. Finally, after years of plotting, she took her vengeance.

Using enlarging spells, she made herself and a tangle bag grow to gigantic proportion. In that enormous shape, she went back to the town and dropped the gigantic tangle bag on the town. Everyone was covered and unable to move. Then she poured a huge quantity of copper pieces that covered everything and everyone. Her revenge was complete in her eyes.

It was then she realized she had become the bully she was afraid of when she was young. She thought of a solution to repair what she did but her magic was not good enough. She went back to the old wizard and confessed her actions and asked for his help. The wise sage decided to forgive and help her.

Using his arcane powers, he created a powerful spell that used the copper in the copper pieces glued to everything to dissolve the tangle foot bag. After that, he was able to make a product that would dissolve glue or tanglefoot bags. The key ingredient is cheap – a copper piece – but the magic required is very high level.

Hook: The girl, now an old angry crone, has become resentful again at her home town and decided to reenact her punishment using a modified tangle bag, which can resist the Universal Solvent. The group of heroes sees the crone take her revenge and must find a powerful wizard to come up with a modified solvent.

Challenges: Find a high level enough wizard, convince him or her to listen to them and create a modified solvent, and fight the crone who wants the town punished before the clock runs out. If the solvent is not applied soon enough, everyone in the town will die of starvation or be killed by wild beasts.

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The Mace of Disruption

From Michael Sean-Jones

The Mace of Disruption was originally given to the HellsGate Guardian by the Lord of the Dead. He used it to make sure none of the dead escaped back to the surface world.

When the dead were destroyed by the mace they would simply reappear back at the lowest level of Hell to receive their punishment at the hands of the Demonic Administrator.

One day along comes a hero who is, so to speak, hell bent on bringing back the love of his life.

Along the way the hero defeats the Guardian and takes the mace, not realizing its purpose or nature, just that it’s clearly a special item.

By the time the Guardian recovered, the hero had found and rescued his love and escaped back to the land of the living.

Denied his primary tool of enforcement, the Guardian was no longer able to keep the dead in check and now the land of the living is being inundated with undead.

Fearful of the having to come before the Demonic Administrator himself, the Guardian travels the world seeking the Mace of Disruption and its bearer, whom he hopes to bring before the D.A. himself in an attempt to lesson his own punishment.


One of the PCs was the hero, or later found the Mace of Disruption.

The PCs, while trying to discover the cause of the sudden increase in the number of undead, somehow find out about the hero and need to convince him to return the Mace – leaving, of course, the issue of the D.A.

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Acidic Longsword

From David Washburn

An elven woodland begins to experience dying vegetation, especially near the main river that flows lazily through the area. Over time, the region of blackness and decay expands farther and farther on either side of the river and farther downstream.

No insect or other infestation appears to be taking place. Alchemical analysis is able to determine that both the soil and water have high levels of acid. The effects on small areas of contamination can temporarily be halted (and in some cases even reversed a little) through the use of restorative nature magic’s, but once the spells expire the area once again continues to die. As the affected area becomes larger, the elves sense a feeling of dread in and around it.

The elves believe there is a curse upon the land, and the source of the contamination must be removed. The pattern of the expansion of decay leads the elves to send an expedition upstream to see whether something physical is responsible for the continuing defilement of their lands.

The group follows the course of the river into previously green lands which now are developing a stench from the decay. Members also begin to suffer feelings of despair and fear the farther the group travels upstream.

After some distance the land appears to be affected less and less. Nothing can be found to be out of the ordinary – aside from the death all about them as they travel – until they arrive at an area that appears to be nearly completely devoid of ill-effect.

The elves come across a number of dead and somewhat decaying human bodies strewn about a wide area at a large clearing by the bank of the river. Some even fought hand-to- hand and died in the shallow parts of the river.

Many of the bodies wear identical black and red scale armor that the elves never have come across before. These fallen warriors generally are found with a thick-bladed falchion nearby, each of which has a blood-red handle.

Other bodies in the area wear a mixture of soft and hard leather pieces over their tunics. They are variously armed, but it appears a force of crossbowmen also took part in the battle from the many bolts found piercing the black and red armor.

A small portion of one body can be seen a short distance into the river with the black handle of a sword protruding from it. The sword will radiate a strong magic.

If the body is moved, it can be determined that the sword is a longsword of all-black metal. The sword continuously emits a viscous, greyish liquid from the blade. If the sword is removed from the body the liquid will stop flowing from it, effectively ending the poisoning of the water supply. At that point magic can be used on a more permanent basis to restore the land to it former beauty.

The only problem is that the handle of the sword is set with a spring-release mechanism that will stick anyone holding the handle without one of the black and red armored soldiers’ gauntlets. While this does little physical damage to the holder, a dose of the same acid is delivered to the hand of the victim – even through leather gauntlets.

Item: Magical longsword that creates acid along its blade on a critical hit. The sword hilt also is trapped; specially magnetized gauntlets must be used to wield the blade. The blade was created by an evil enchanter and dwarven master weaponsmith specifically for its user. The enchanter is given the knowledge of the location of the blade at all times when held by the hilt.

Premise: A new war band has entered the area, the leader of which possessed the sword until he was killed in this recent battle. The leader simultaneously killed one of his foes with a critical hit.

Because their combat drifted into the water of the river, the tip of the blade was in the water, resulting in its never reaching the full level of acidity at its point which turns off the acid.

When the enchanter sent a scouting party to survey the last known position of the blade it was not spotted in the water, so it could not be recovered. He will be after it again once someone else holds it.

Tips from Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Age of Misrule

From Matt

I’d like to add an unusual post apocalypse-style setting to the list given in Issue #445. 4 Tips for Post Apocalypse Game Masters

Mark Chadbourn’s “Age of Misrule” takes the idea of the ancient magic’s returning to the world and causing technology to work intermittently or not at all.

The first trilogy deals with the main event itself; however, there are two follow-up trilogies. The Dark Ages takes different characters on an exploration of the new world setting, and The Kingdom of the Serpent chronicles a war fought across ages for the future of the world.

Age of Misrule trilogy:
The Age of Misrule Omnibus (Gollancz)

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Sci-Fi Logic Puzzles

From SB

I was trying to find logic puzzles that were suitable for adapting to exploration and discovery in a sci-fi campaign. My particular interests involved things that would allow the PCs to deduce a proper sequence for control settings, finding paths to a goal in complexes (not just wandering through a maze), decoding an alien language, working alien equipment, etc.

I have found a lot of material aimed at fantasy but not a lot that fits into a sci-fi setting without overly upsetting the suspension of disbelief – hobbit riddles and most magic traps just didn’t seem to fit.

Below are some links I found. Maybe Roleplaying Tips readers have other ideas, tips, and links for fun sci-fi cryptology, puzzles, and traps.

San Jose Semaphore; for budding mathematicians and cryptologists – not really something for a game setting but might spark an idea or two.

The Article: – San Jose Semaphore – The Solution

The Site – San José Semaphore

Use Matrix Logic – Download PDF

Online Enigma Machine Simulator

Ciphers in JavaScript

Substitution Ciphers

Used by Che Guevara – Vernam Substitution Cipher

Cryptology history and examples – Secret Bits

ADnD Netbooks including Traps Collections – Olik’s Archive – NetBooks