Simple Faction Systems

Hey everyone. I’ve been fiddling a bit with a simple faction system of my own, and was wondering if anyone had any suggestions on the best ones they’ve seen for OSR games?

I know that SWN (and WWN now) probably come up a lot but I feel like that system takes a long time to set up and actually run a faction turn. It also has very detailed rules of what you can do, how you do it, what tags do, etc. (Disclaimer: I do love the system, but am looking for something different right now.)

Is there anything a little more freeform out there? Something that is not bogged down with lots of math maybe?

Mostly, I am looking for a system that can be easily picked up and played out for a few faction turns during PC downtime.

So, what’s your favorite systems for running factions?

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I made a post a while back about using a flowchart for faction management.

It’s not really a system mechanic or anything, it’s just a useful approach for managing it.

Also, I never actually finished reading it, but speaking of Stars Without Number, Sine Nomine as another book, An Echo Resounding, that’s all about domain management, and I remember thinking it had some cool ideas that could be generalized to other systems or settings.

Finally, there’s a PbtA game, Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, which is a bit crunchy for my tastes, but I think has some really cool ideas for a faction-driven game.

Oh, I almost forgot Numenera Destiny. Again, not OSR, and also more about domain play than factions per se, but I think the two can go hand in hand. Personally, I think Destiny was a little rough around the edges and I think the book could have done more to demonstrate its utility, but I do think there are roughly some cool ideas.

Actually one more thing, I ran a campaign a while back, it was using Tunnels & Trolls so again not technically OSR, but factions / domain-play was a major part of it and I discuss that a bit in this blog post.

Bottom line most of the factions/domain mechanics I’ve seen tend to get bogged down in more crunch than I like, but basically, I’ve synthesized these things into a more ad-hoc approach that at this point I throw into most of my games.

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Wow, great response!

I read the flowchart post you made and thought it was a pretty clever way to track factions! I definitely understand where you’re coming from, when a game starts to get unruly with the amount of things going on. The flowchart seems like an interesting way to track that!

I’ve checked out An Echo Resounding and it’s good, but still a bit mechanically heavy for me. I had another suggestion of the system used in Godbound that I might check out as well.

I’m not a huge fan of PbtA games so I skipped out on Legacy, but might check it out for some ideas. Same with Numenera stuff, but I’ll definitely consider Destiny.

I’ve saved your blog post to pocket and will give it a thorough read through when I get a chance. Thank you so much for giving such a detailed reply! I look forward to some research.

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I’m not a huge fan of PbtA either but I enjoyed reading Legacy. I’ve wanted to do something like an OSR port of the concepts behind Legacy for a long time, but have never gotten around to it. If you’re interested in factions and domains, I think it’s worth reading even if you don’t necessarily have any intention of playing it.

Destiny too, even if you’re not into Cypher/Numenera, I basically used a stripped down version of it for my aforementioned Tunnels & Trolls game.

I remembered looking at that blog post, that I actually link to another post I did for another blog where I go into more detail on some of this stuff, but again it’s more about domain play than factions per se. Here’s the article. I’m realizing that blog post I linked originally was more about the campaign and setting than anything that would be useful for you haha but still, I hope it’s interesting.

I mean, I do genuinely think, if you’re looking to do rules-light factions stuff, it really is much more about the set-up than the rules per se. I might hack in some kind of resource that they can use specifically for building their domain or interacting with factions, that is itself more of an abstraction, but even that isn’t totally necessary.

As far as that flowchart thing goes, the hardest part for me is just the tools, I suck at graphic design (and in retrospect should just do it by hand or code up something to produce the graph), but being abe to lay it out that way I think is just a super useful GM tool, and potentially also a player tool.

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You’re right. I think some solid time spent on the set-up can pay dividends in the long run no matter the system I’m using. Interesting factions doing interesting things is just going to be better and more engaging to the players. I think it’s easy for me to lose sight of that in my creation/ search for the perfect mechanics :sweat_smile:

I’ve added that article to pocket as well! Thanks.

As for the flowchart stuff, one thing that might be a smidge easier than a Google drawing is using draw.io instead. It’s similar but made for flowcharts. It even has a way where you can automatically sort the flowchart into an appropriate flow after making it. I design lots of things in it!

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Oh ya, draw.io looks way easier, good idea, thanks :)!!

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I use a faction system similar to Mausritter’s. Essentially, each faction has a list of resources and a few goals. Each goal has a countdown clock marking progress in that goal. Between sessions, I roll for each faction to see if they make progress in their goals. Players can go on adventures on behalf of or in opposition of a faction, essentially substituting the roll.

It’s not complicated or intricate, but it works for my purposes and is simple to set up and run. I also combine it with various Conspyramids to play out and active and vibrant web of conspiracies.

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Love this idea! I had Mausritter suggested earlier in a different space and I realized that I only had the zine version of it and never checked out the expanded version. I actually really dig the faction system in it.

Adding Conspyramids is a great idea!! Thanks for sharing.

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This is a really good point in general too! At least personally, I’ve found sessions more fun when we play off each other and ad-lib the dice (besides the core gameplay anyway) than when we play based on a vast codified ruleset, even if rules-light. But by extension, any way factions work for your table is the way you ought to play them.

Also @eldritchmouse hi!! It’s nice seeing you here :smiley: I think the ruleset you made is really intuitive and nice, you ought to share it on here!

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Hello @chiquitafajita my friend!!!

I definitely feel that that these are solid points! I think, for me, I find it very easy to miss the forest for the trees often enough, mainly because mechanics for things really interest me!

I’ve gotten lots of really great suggestions and especially dig the Mausritter stuff.

I don’t want anyone to think I’ve come here just to shill my own stuff or do market research or anything, I really enjoyed hearing everyone’s opinion, since it helped me solidify what I’m sort of looking for when it comes to this! If you want to check out what I was working on, you can check it out here! I won’t say that this is better than anything listed here, more like it’s just a sort of brainstorm I’ve had lately and put into a post.

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This is a topic near and dear to my heart! I’ve written up two different approaches on my blog and have one other that I’m currently using (I’ll summarize all three below). You might also check out Blades in the Dark for a fairly simple system: each faction is on a Tier (scope of influence), and within its Tier has a Hold (how effective at acting within that tier). Factions try to seize turf, which conveys various benefits, and each faction has a Status with other factions (how friendly they are). If that sounds appealing or the right amount of complexity, check it out.

tldr for 3 methods below

  1. Power Dice: Each faction has a different die, bigger dice are more powerful. Roll and interpret high as good and low as bad. This is what I use right now.
  2. Factions as NPCs with Reaction Rolls: Based off of Courtney Campbell’s system in On the NPC. Each faction has a bond with other factions, which represents how likely they are to get along, and then you roll reaction rolls to see what actions they take against each other, which affects bond positively or negatively. Great if reaction rolls are natural to you, maybe fiddly if they aren’t seared into your mind.
  3. Faction Stats and Reputation: Each faction has a stat for Force, Cunning, and Wealth, and the PCs have reputation with the faction. When they want something from the faction, the stat defines what kind of things the faction can do, and the reputation defines how likely they are to provide it. Maybe a touch fiddly, especially for “off-screen” factions.

Now, here are the approaches I’ve tried:

Power Dice

This is my current system and the most lightweight of these three. Each faction has a die size assigned to it which represents how powerful it is - d4s are the equivalent of street gangs or small businesses, d20s are the mighty rulers of the setting. When two factions come into conflict, roll a die for each, and whoever gets higher makes progress/beats the other, a bigger difference in score implies a more decisive win. Combine with clear ideas of what each faction wants/does not want and some short and long term projects. If you want to be more granular, combine with countdown clocks like @ItsPizzaTom mentioned, and each “win” advances the clock, maybe two spots for a really big difference in rolls.

Want something even faster? Grab a die for every faction, roll em all at once, and interpret higher as better, to get a feel for how everybody is doing.

I use a relationship map showing each faction inside an icon that shows their die size and with color coded lines connecting allies and enemies. If I want to see if factions are growing or failing, I treat them like exploding and/or usage dice - a maxed out roll might give them a chance to go up a die size, while a 1 might mean they go down a die size.

I’ve toyed around with having a different die for a handful of resources/stats, but that seems to get away from the freeform oracular value of this system.

Faction as NPC with Reaction Rolls and Bonds

I based this one on the system Courtney Campbell lays out in his book On the NPC and I detailed the basic idea in this blog post, and further built on it with inter-faction combat here. I never got to use it all that much in game, so it likely has some warts. I think it would be most helpful in a situation where all of the factions want roughly the same thing (say, territory in a megadungeon or a share of crime in a city), and less useful with lots of different factions that all want different things.

The basic summary is that each faction has a “bond” with other factions, a morale or strength score, and for each faction “turn” rolls a reaction roll. You use the bond to modify the reaction roll, and that determines what action each faction takes towards the others. When factions come into conflict, roll 1d20 and add their morale/strength, and the winner harms the loser.

If you really like reaction rolls and/or normal distributions, and if you have a fairly limited number of factions, this one might be good for you. If you have more than a handful of factions, tracking each faction’s bond with every other faction will likely become crazy, so you’ll want some combination of a default bond (probably zero) and/or a way to limit which other factions each faction cares about (maybe only their neighbors/rivals/allies).

Faction Resources and Reputation

I built this system for my “Heresies Without Number” game - as you might guess, it’s doing Dark Heresy with Stars Without Number. I wanted a way to maintain the benefits of treasure as XP in a campaign based primarily on gathering information and where money isn’t really a constraint. My solution was to make “treasure” be information/access wanted by various factions, which is rewarded by reputation, which allows you to get the things that faction has to provide. It’s definitely the most fiddly of the three I’ve worked out, and it’s the closest to Kevin Crawford’s systems, so it might not be what you’re looking for. The good news is that like Crawford’s systems, once set up it creates a lot of “living world” adventure material for you with only a bit of fiddliness. So this is most likely helpful if the “faction game” is meant to be the primary motivator for adventure, and you want the PCs to have lots of interaction with it and how it’s going.

Hope some of these come in handy!

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Whoops, I was so eager to share my stuff I didn’t see the write-up you put together! I really like your system, especially tying the effect die to the asset, rather than generalizing it to the whole faction, while being very flexible about what counts as an asset or an action you can take with it. Really good stuff!

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Thank you for this very detailed write up @jeffprussell ! This is really really great stuff. I love your Power Dice system, and yeah–my ideas came pretty close. I actually very sincerely considered a “highest result wins” resolution like you came up with.

I think we’re both searching for the same thing and the concept of just “rolling all the dice at once and interpret from that” really speaks to me! One thing about faction turns that I don’t love is how long it sometimes takes to resolve them. You’ve solved that for sure!

Again, thank you so much for taking the time to write that up. It’s really impressive and handles the scope of factions neatly, which mine currently doesn’t.

(I also really enjoy the reaction die stuff too!!)

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I know this is an old thread but FYI I’ve had to use these draw tools for a work thing just recently and now I feel validated lol

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