A recent post by DeReel on the NSR server set my mind ablaze with the concept of branching factions. It’s probably nothing new, and likely something we often do as Referees without actually thinking about it. However, it is pretty cool once you actually lay it out. It goes like this:
“Every issue the characters interact with a faction about, the faction branches, a new sub-faction is formed, and at least one new NPC pops up to represent the new current in that faction.”
This principle, to my mind, is so simple, robust, and brilliant that I will be consciously incorporating it in all my future games. Settings often come pre-loaded with a couple factions along with conflicts between those factions. With this tool in a Referee’s bag, players can create conflicts within factions as well, opening up a whole world of intrigue through simple player-driven interactions.
How would this look in practice?
- Create a faction.
- Imbue it with DNA:
- give it a Description (something obvious)
- Define its Needs (something veiled)
- Provide it with some Assets and/or an Agenda (something hidden)
- After each session in which players interact with that faction, determine if a new branch can be formed based on those interactions with.
- The new branch may have goals that are divergent from, or even directly at odds with, the main faction.
- Determine the new branch’s DNA, and create a single NPC to embody it.
- Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
And thus, every time players interact with a faction the plot thickens organically.
Creating Complexity, Organically
With this principle, even relatively straightforward and simple factions, like the Space Pirates in Space Aces: Voyages, who essentially just want to be rich and powerful for the sake of being rich and powerful, can become a complex web of internal conflicts and sub-factions for players to navigate and exploit.
Interact with the Space Pirate queen once, and now her second in command is building support to take her throne and become the Space Pirate king. Interact with would-be usurper faction, and now you’ve got his second in command who thinks that Space Pirates shouldn’t be ruled by anybody…
And that’s it. Depth created through play instead of exposition. Connections woven through player interaction instead of large chunks of lore. And the best part is: your players will have context for it all… because it’s all their fault!