How to use factions in a hexcrawl?

Hello DMs and players. I have a few few musings, wondering and ideas on how to make my factions function in a medium sized hex crawl I’m running. So far, players are not traveling as far as I as I imagined them doing, but I’ve not made any long distance connections or dropped any hooks, so I hope to get them going further soon.

The campaign is following some of the conventions of a West(east in my case) Marches campaign: They are as far East as civilization goes, there’s an small home base town ,the further East you go the weirder things get, almost everywhere is hostile or so raw as to prevent the civilization the PCs are coming from to spread here.

I grew up playing AD&D and followed editons as they came, so I’m bred on big plot based adventures. I don’t want that and love emergent story telling I’ve experienced with my last few years as an OSR-style gm, but I want a little more energy than just the players dinking around in a persistent world that responds to them.Faction seem to be a way to inject some “story” or through lines and help the world feel more alive without railroading the PCs.

I have these factions busy in the world:
1 Rebels gathering strength to strike back West at the Captiol
2. Evil Shrooms trying to assemble their Demon Spore and suppling the rebels with bioweapons (See Matt Finch’s Demonspore)
3. Cultists of Despair trying to find magic to end everything
4. Slaad incursions that cause huge disruptions, planar and planetary overlap and whom the Cultists mistake as gods. They are capricious and plague this area every few hundred years.They have destroyed many burgeoning cultures in this wild land. Of course, now the Stars are Right!
5. Non human members of a fallen empire who are starting to have a reawakening (hopefully catalyzed by the PC’s)
6. Their successors who dwell in the once abandoned capitol city.

So, I have some questions about how you all use factions or your ideas on using them them:

  1. Do you introduce them ASAP or have PC’s bump into them while exploring?
  2. Do you ‘gamify’ their actions outside of character interactions to see how they ebb and flow in power, and location? An example would be World’s without Number’s system for running factions
  3. Do you give the players an idea that they are a cohesive group right off the bat, so they have an idea of what they represent?
  4. Do you come up with guidelines of the group’s ethos or how they generally act?
  5. Any other thoughts or suggestions about factions in a larger environment?

Thanks for sharing your ideas in advance!


I’m running a similar campaign that you described, here’s how I handle these things:

  1. I introduced the main ones, which the characters would know about for sure at character creation like the Empire and the Caliphate as the whole premise of the game is adventuring in a valley which has been devastated by the war of the above factions.
  2. I don’t have a specific procedure, but I try to make sure that the player’s actions impact the factions, and because of this the factions react to them.
  3. Similar to 1, unless they are a secret society I’d just introduce them e.g. “Yeah your character probably heard news of smugglers operating in the northern swamps, this dude probably works with them”
  4. I came up with 2-3 goals for each faction, but not much more then that.
  5. What really worked for me to get them involved with factions was having the factions be interested in the dungeons. E.g. both the Empire and Caliphate are interested in acquiring a magical artifact from the burial mound of a renown shaman. Will the players take a contract for one of them, or will they keep it the artifact themselves thus angering both factions. (Of course in the game they decided to side with one of them than double cross them and hand them a fake artifact, keeping the real one. So naturally the next session will consist of hired assassins trying to ambush them :smiley: )

I don’t have a ton to add to this other than recommending you check out fronts from Dungeon World. It has really helped me with factions and informed how I run them in a big way.

Many of these develop organically (though after Naming a Region, my first step is generally to populate a Wilderness Encounter Table for it, and that can give me some “groups” to start thinking about in terms of Factions):

I can see that there’s something going on here, but I might not have a good idea What until a little later on in the stocking process (when I roll a “Monster Lair” I can just roll on this and stock it accordingly…if I end up with multiple Lairs nearby…then I have to answer some questions about how those two Factions feel about each other :slight_smile: ). Sometimes, I’ll roll on my Encounter Activity Tables for additional inspiration as many of these can introduce unexpected elements or interesting situations into Play, often these provide some seeds for additional potential interactions.

Once Play begins, the good ol’ Reaction Roll does a lot of heavy lifting to determine how things end up involving the Players themselves. Befriending the Blink Dog Pack might earn you the emnity of the Werewolves also in this Hex, etc.

sunbather, I really like number 5 and will implement than one.
cobbland, thanks for the reminder about Fronts. Dungeon World has some amazing DM advice.
ktrey, I really like how you use the random encounter charts to generate factions. I think I’ll use the tables to reinforce faction presence in various areas that they are active in.
Excellent ideas, so far, thank you!

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There’s a rules lite faction system in mausritter that has been pretty useful for me so far. kind of gamified, you roll after a session to see if any factions did anything, and account for what the players have done in the session (which effects the roll.) Has rules for two factions vying for the same goal as well which is cool. Very simple and straightforward I feel. Might be worth checking out.

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This seems good. I like the idea of not knowing what’s going to happen as the GM, but the systems in WWN seem very labor intensive. Perhaps I’ll DL the PDF from DriveThru. Thanks for the suggestion!

ye its very much not labor intensive, mausritter. Roll a d6 a couple of times and add or take away some pips on a progress tracker. Right now im using it for a small region my party started in and there are bandits trying to capture ancient places of tech, looking for cloning facilities to create an army to siege a pretty major town. roll some d6’s to see if they progress, if the town is hindering them in certain areas they get negative modifiers to their rolls. roll for the town to see if they can protect their caravans. once a goal is completed by a faction you describe in the next session how its gone down. Could be well protected caravans moving along the trade routes confidently, could be trade merchants being turned into mutant abominations attacking the pc’s on the road. all just a couple d6 rolls after a session. I quite like it.

Edit: another thing i like about this is that it is scalable. I can use it to run the goals of a nation, attacking a certain part of the map and taking a city, to small street gangs in one district of a town. You could even use it for single NPC goals if you wanted. Rules lite and scalable, so far has worked for me.


Mausritters faction system is the best one. It stays out of the way and is super quick but provides just the skeleton I need to keep track of whats going on in the setting. That said I dont find myself getting a lot of actually gameable content out of it, but in theory you could prep something (maybe a hexes worth) for each resource and just let the players meddle?