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Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus

August 15, 2010


Once the zones are laid out, the next step is to decide who the important power groups are in the adventure site. I call these factions. A faction is nothing more than a specific population of creatures that work together and depend on one another. If that definition is a little vague, that’s because I’m trying to keep the idea of factions as vague as possible.

See, it is easy enough to see that a tribe of orcs or a tribe of goblinoids is a faction. But, you might also have a demonologist who is summoning demons and elementals into the world. If the demonologist is killed, no new demons and elementals will appear at the site. So, that’s a faction.

A faction is really nothing more than a way of organizing your monster population into groups that will respond to the player’s actions the same way so that I can say what monsters are found in what zones and determine when certain monsters will no longer be encountered.

While it might seem as if you want a faction for every zone, this is not the case. In fact, you probably want half as many factions as you have zones. There are two reasons for this. The first is because you want to leave unclaimed and contested territory for the factions to fight over and the second is because you want space for some unaligned monsters. A dungeon is not just filled with factions, for example, there are also all sorts of unintelligent creepy crawlies and wandering beasties that the players (and the factions) have to deal with.

In The City of Ur’Gunna Dy, I decide to include four factions (half as many as there are zones).

  • The Orcs of the Blood Pudding Tribe – a standard tribe of violent orcs just trying to spread through the city
  • The Gnolls of the Pointy Stick Tribe – a standard tribe of violent gnolls just trying to kill everything
  • Lord Vizier von Steward – Lord Vizier is a tiefling with a cult of followers and a smattering of devils. Asmodeus has promised to free him and his followers from the curse of tieflingness if they reclaim the city for Asmodeus. His first goal is to reclaim and rehallow the Infernal temple.
  • The Slimy Bunch – Aberrants who enter the city through a Far Plane rift in the sewers. This group doesn’t really work together, but the party can close the rift and thus defeat this group

So, the factions are set down with a few ways they might work in the story. The orcs and gnolls are just enemies and they are probably fighting each other and Lord Vizier. Lord Vizier would like to defeat them, but first he wants the temple. Most interestingly, depending on the party’s goals, they might be able to forge an alliance with Lord Vizier – if they don’t mind allowing Asmodeus to claim a temple and, ultimately, a city.

Faction Rosters

At its simplest, a roster is a list of all of the creatures you will use to fill out encounters with a particular faction. It is basically just a page of stat blocks you can quickly and easily refer to when populating zones and when running encounters. Obviously, each faction will have a roster of its own, but you will also have one or more unaligned rosters for creatures that aren’t tied to a particular faction.

A roster can also include any moving parts that might show up whenever the party encounters a particular faction. What do I mean by this? Well, I wanted to include the possibility of the party entering into a alliance with Lord Vizier’s faction. If the party encounters a tiefling member of his faction, they might be able to use a skill challenge to prevent or forestall hostility. I would include this on the roster because it can come in anywhere the party encounters the faction. Likewise, the orcs might carry around moveable spiky barricades that they can shove people into. Whenever the orcs dig into an area, they might set up one or two of these features (basically a terrain power).

A roster will also include some unique individuals. The orcs might have a chieftan and a champion. Lord Vizier is a unique individual along with his pet imp and his lieutenant. The gnolls will have a priestess of Yeenoghu.

It is important to note that, apart from the unique individuals, a roster is not a list of the entire population of a faction. That is, the roster does not tell me that the Pointy Stick Tribe has 6 Gnoll Spleen Eaters and 12 Gnoll Knee Breakers. It just tells me that an encounter with the faction can include Gnoll Spleen Eaters and Gnoll Knee Breakers.

Each roster should include a range of creature roles and levels because you want to be able to build varied encounters. More importantly, the roster should have some variety in the creatures themselves. At first blush, you might be inclined to include only Gnolls on the Pointy Stick Tribe roster. In fact, you could also include several varieties of hyenas or a few jackalweres that have been pressed into service. Pets, servants, slaves, and allies are all fair game.

How many creatures should the roster include? The glib is answer enough to build varied encounters, but not so many that the party is constantly finding new creatures. If you are working right out of the Monster Manuals, the range of options offered for a single creature is probably enough (for instance, all of the kobolds in MM1) provided you are adding some non-kobolds.

The Blood Pudding Orc Tribe roster might look like this:

  • Blood Pudding Axe Swinger (Level 7 Brute)
  • Blood Pudding Spear Thrower (Level 7 Artillery)
  • Blood Pudding Shield Puncher (Level 6 Soldier)
  • Blood Pudding Flail Waver (Level 6 Skimirsher)
  • Blood Pudding Curse Spewer (Level 8 Controller)
  • Enslaved Goblin Ankle Biter (Level 7 Skirmisher Minion)
  • Trained War Boar (Level 5 Brute)
  • Big Cheif Cheefbig (Level 8 Elite Soldier (Leader)) (Unique)
  • War Priest Preesty (Level 7 Artillery (Leader)) (Unique)

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