Low Prep Traveller Factions : Basics

This is a Low Prep RPG Philosophy article.

The article on Low Prep, Rich Traveller Campaigns : A Game Structure Overview gave a framework for building the physical and broad political layout of a campaign This article begins to clothe that space with NPC groups that are doing things.

What is a Faction?

A group of sentient beings that work together and pool resources to achieve a common goal. A faction may itself be divided into factions.

Why would a GM use factions?

Factions, by their presence and behaviour, provide situations for player characters to engage. The factions only require light treatment in order to produce large benefits in engagement.

How do factions work?

Factions have a presence in various locations: members, allies, and assets. These things may merely be implied or procedurally generated as needed. Factions mobilise regularly in operations to further their goals, to grow their strength, to consolidate, or to oppose rival factions. Events may result in factions merging together or breaking into smaller factions. As players move through locations they encounter rumours and news about factions and their operations, and can encounter and engage with faction members, allies and assets. Player characters may join factions or oppose them, and PC actions may impact on faction strength, membership, allies, assets and oppositions.

faction-basics

Factions In Low Prep, Rich Traveller Campaigns

Lets look briefly at the faction system in Stars Without Number, an RPG with similar scope to Traveller but with a very different premise. (there is a free edition ) There the factions have one or more tags that give their nature, what they are about. They also get a home world and number of characteristics: hit points, force rating, cunning rating, wealth rating, faction credits and experience points. Factions also have hit points, purchase and maintenance costs, and various other capabilities. During each month factions get to do something, which the GM plays out like a sort of wargame. This structure can be fun and works well, however I don’t find it low prep, and it doesn’t scale well to astro nation scale factions or single planet scale factions. Its also a bit fiddly to create factions on the fly as players move about.

Another example of interest is Justin Alexander’s Keep on the Borderlands: Factions in the Dungeon. Here there is a detailed scenario with elements that can readily be identified as factions. The bit that interests us is the mechanism suggested. Between adventures pick two factions and roll on an interaction table to see how they effect one another. This results in updates to the keyed locations involving those factions. The lightness of that mechanism is what we are after here.

So what I want is a faction system that:

  • Scales to many different scopes from an area on a planet’s surface to astro national action across a galaxy.
  • Allows a vague, general definition to be quickly generated, even then only where relevant, sometimes on the fly.
  • Has the general definitions providing guidance for materialising detail as it becomes desirable.
  • Is dynamic but only as much as is useful without a large background prep burden.
  • Provides enough structure to engage players and allows them to have a significant impact and to make meaningful choices.

A Note About Star System Types

The low prep faction guidelines reference star system types such as Capitol, Trade Hub and Population/Cultural Centres. If you are running a regular Traveller game that does not descend from my low prep system that’s fine, simply give those designations to appropriate star systems in your game.

Factions in the Core Rule Book

Mongoose Traveller (2nd Edition) very lightly mentions factions for planets (pages 219 and 220). Such factions should still be used, in addition to the system here. I would recommend generating them only for planets significant to play and within the context of the broader interplanetary and interstellar factions. Season to taste.

Basic Faction Descriptions

We only want to know four main things about factions in general:

Scope which can be National, Sector-ish, Star Group, or Star System.

Nature What do they try to achieve, how do they go about it, and who are the beneficiaries.

Strength an abstract numerical value (2 to 12) of how much power they have.

Presence where a factions strongholds are and if the faction is present in any given star system.

As play occurs factions will also end up with a History and Relationships to other factions. You may generate some history and relationships prior to play but its not essential.

Factions will regularly perform operations, attempts to increase their strength or presence, to support allied factions, or to oppose rival factions. These will be resolved at various time scales, monthly, quarterly, yearly and 4 year term. The results of operations provide Growth DMs that are used to influence a dice roll for faction life events, where factions may shrink, grow, merge, fragment or give birth to child factions.

Player character generation may activate operations and events for factions whose scope covers the location of the character during each term of service. While characters are playing then the game master may process the operations of factions that are present in the player’s vicinity. Players may have encounters with faction members and assets and experience their operations when they are present in the same star system. The detail of those encounters is not strongly defined, and is up to the game master to consider within the context of the star system and the faction information to hand and any pre-determined history and details. The outcome of such encounters may add additional Growth DMs (positive or negative) to the faction.

Remember that none of this requires any strong commitment to detailed or complete coverage. It is a system for creating some useful context that helps in generating adventures for players and to give their adventures meaning.

Creating Factions, Scope, Nature and Strength

Scope

The first thing to consider is the scope of a faction. How many star systems is it likely to cover and where.

Scope Extent
Astro Nation Nation

Sector-ish

One or more sub sectors.

Star Group

Collection of stars within 5 jumps* of the centre of the group.

Star System

Collection of stars within one jump* of the star.

* a jump is the number of parsecs that can be travelled in a single jump by the fastest technology generally available in the nation.

When starting your campaign create one or two factions at each scope level around the star system(s) that the players will begin in. Factions that cover other areas can be defined as play progresses and they become relevant.

Nature

Factions are about something with an intended beneficiary, and they have ways of going about stuff. To keep things light I suggest here having some descriptive tags that indicate each factions nature. This can help decide who will help or hinder who, and what they do in a general sense, without bogging down into mechanics.

These tags are arranged in groups. If you give more than one tag to a faction then it can only have one tag from any given grouping. You can use dice to select your faction tags or simply select them to suit your campaign. These tags are not necessarily exhaustive so add your own as you see fit.

Roll d6 to choose a column: 1-3 = Column A, 4-6 = Column B.

2D6 Column A Column B
2 Psychotic Cult / Con
3 Hedonists / Ascetics Individualists / Communitarian
4 Anarchists / Authoritarians Pro Social / Anti Social
5 Fanatic / Reasoned Emancipationist / Slavers
6 Expansionists / Consolidators Traditionalists / Progressives
7 Wealth Concentrators / Wealth Distributors War and Glory / Peace and Stability
8 Hierarchic / Networked Tech + Science / Mysticism / Psionics
9 Roll 2 tags, re-roll if 9 comes up again. Roll 2 tags, re-roll if 9 comes up again.
10 Elitist / Egalitarian Bigoted / Inclusive
11 Assassins / Protectors Criminals / Vigilantes / Law Enforcers
12 Paranoiacs / Egotists Conspiracy Theorists / Puppet Masters

Faction Visibility

Most factions are in full public view, but some are more secretive. Roll 2D6 to select a visibility type or choose one to reflect your concept of the faction.

1-7 Open Nature, behaviour and assets are largely known to the public. Some parts of operations and assets will be obscured for the life of the operation but then they will become public knowledge.
8-10 Obscure The faction and its general nature are known to the public but its inner workings, operations and assets are not known, and require some digging to discover.
11-12 Secret The existence of this faction may be rumoured. Everything else is hidden. Digging may reveal some of the nature of the faction. Knowing about its assets and operations requires hard investigative work, which has the risk of drawing the factions attention.

Faction Use of Force

Most factions achieve things by persuasion, expending resources, strategic positioning and general lobbying. Some are more inclined to use force and threats. Roll 2D6 to select a use of force type or choose one to reflect your concept of the faction.

1-7 Standard The faction relies on law enforcement and does not resort to using force generally.
8-10 Aggressive The faction will resort to threats and violence when it seems it will be effective.
11-12 Dangerous The faction prefers threats and violence as a way of getting things done.

Faction Strength

Roll 2D6 or choose an initial strength for each faction. This will influence presence and the outcome of operations. It is also an indicator of how many assets should be available where the faction is present.

Faction Presence

Factions have a scope which tells you where they are generally present, and within that scope they may have strongholds, areas where they are more strongly present than elsewhere. During prep you don’t want to have to detail the presence of every faction for every planet. This scope mechanism allows you to define presence generally. You may then detail some specific presences, and then rules help to decide what factions are in specific star systems as players move to them.

Scope Stronghold Size Stronghold Count
Astro Nation Collection of stars within 8 jumps of the centre of the stronghold home star. Str 2 to 3 = 1

Str 4 to 6 = 2

Str 7 to 9 = 3

Str 10 to 12 = 4

Sector-ish

Collection of stars within 5 jumps of the centre of the stronghold home star. Str 1 to 7 = 1

Str 8 to 12 = 2

Star Group

Collection of stars within one jump of the stronghold home star. 1

Star System

None None

Each stronghold within a faction’s area has a home star and the stronghold extent is worked out radially from there.

Star System Presence

This chart tells you if a faction is present in any significant way in a given star system within the factions total extent. Some star systems have an automatic yes or no, others have dice rolls. Where a dice roll is used then apply a DM for the factions strength as if it were a character strength value. There is nothing to stop you just deciding for yourself whenever you want. You can prep some presence but a lot will be tested during play as it becomes useful to know.

Scope Capitol Trade Hub or Population Centre Star Port type E or X Other Star System Type
Astro Nation

– Stronghold

Yes

Yes

No

8+

– Other

6+

8+

No

10+

Sector-ish

– Stronghold

Yes

Yes

No

8+

– Other

6+

6+

No

10+

Star Group

– Stronghold

Yes

6+

10+

6+

– Other

6+

6+

No

8+

Star System

6+

8+

No

10+

Star System factions are present in their home system. Other scopes have presence automatically in their stronghold home systems.

Coming Up: Low Prep Traveller Factions : Dynamics

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6 thoughts on “Low Prep Traveller Factions : Basics

  1. Pingback: Low Prep, Rich Traveller Campaigns : A Game Structure Overview – Strange Flight

  2. danskmacabre

    A good read.
    I know what you mean re factions, star systems taking a while to set up in SWN, although I don’t think you’re meant to flesh it out lots, just give a vague idea and flesh ouit as required.

    For me I used a SWN auto sector generator as follows:
    http://swn.emichron.com/
    It takes most of the work away and I have used that sector for 2 campaigns so far.

    Still, this work you have done really is low prep compared to the SWN tables. Very nice 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dandare2050

      Yes, I mention generators in my earlier article on Low Prep Campaigns. However as a DM I find I’m not deeply engaged by them. I end up with data but “no soul” as it were. So I developed these techniques to allow me to paint my campaign personally while leaving the final, mechanical detail to the generators.

      Its really a matter of taste and style for each GM. I have certainly found your SWN campaign very engaging and enjoyable and you have hung a lot of flesh on the generated bones. I just find that harder to do that well. I work best when I’m doing the creating and my digital underlings are only filling in minutia.

      Like

  3. danskmacabre

    Yes, there’s definitely a style and taste GM factor there.
    Also for me, I just don;t have a lot of spare time what with work, family life and lots of interests.
    So that I can just generate an entire sector in seconds, all documented, ready to be fleshed out is a bit of a Godsend.

    Also, I love the random nature of the generation, even I don’t know what I’m gonna get and it stimulates my creativity to use what’s generated as a seed for a campaign.
    TBH, I HAVE changed the the random content generated quite a bit, but used it as a springboard to make things fit together.
    AS a GM, I found SWN really suits me ATM.

    I think if I had the time to process a fresh large scale idea in a campaign, it would be fun, but I simply don’t have the time.
    I CAN explore unique ideas that I insert into the campaign, such as the mini sun thing with the small planets orbiting it. That’s part of the campaign and in a way , self contained for me to use if it’s explored. I will still use it indirectly if it’s not.

    One day, if/when I get more time, I’d love to build a campaign up from scratch.
    Actually in a DnD fantasy sense I am as a one on one campaign with my daughter, we created everything from the ground up, loosely based on ideas she had. But is very small and play it irregularly.
    I’d love to see a fantasy version of this btw 🙂

    Like

  4. Pingback: Low Prep RPG Philosophy – Strange Flight

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