Thursday, May 30, 2013

Return to Mar Tesaro - Meet The Factions

When I first ran the Mar Tesaro campaign, there were a few major factions running around.  There were the three racial nations comprising the island:  Dwarf, Elf, and Human.  By the time my players showed up, the Elves were pretty much in control of everything, although with civil wars there can be significant lag time between the end of the war and various participants admitting it's over.  There was also the cult of Mordan, which played the active role of "bad guys" for the campaign.
Civil war doesn't seem quite as scary in comparison.
My goal for the return campaign was to have a much greater variety in the groups who made up the sociopolitical landscape.  I also wanted all of my players to be natives of the island, not visitors, so having a variety of factions for them to incorporate into their personal story would really help integrate the characters with the setting, as well as providing resources and contacts for the players.

Below is a list of the major factions I decided would be a part of the setting, as well as a brief description of each:

  • The Arcane College and the Enchanters' Union - Two organizations of mages, both split from the generic "Mages' Guild" that was present in the first campaign.  The College is much more focused on education of new mages and theoretical research, while the Union is a practical group, emphasizing the crafting of magical goods and providing large enchantments, such as those needed by the Queen's tournament.
  • The Circle - The druidic enclave, mostly dwarves, who settled at the foot of the mountain to worship Fiore from afar. Since the former mining town Della Minera was abandoned, the Circle took up residence here, renaming the town Della Natura.  
  • The Family - An organized crime syndicate with hands in a variety of businesses. Their prime money maker is in smuggling and black market goods, though they also run protection rackets and brothels.
  • The Council of Nine - An organization of the leaders of the largest faiths on the island, not including worshippers of Fiore. They work actively to ensure that newcomers to the island are able to practice their faith, connect with other worshippers, as well as ensuring fair treatment by the authorities and outreach to the needy.
  • The Archive - A vast library and historical research facility located in the capitol. They have sponsored a lot of expeditions around the island to locate lost information; Mordan destroyed most of the official historical records when he first came to power. The researchers of the Archive have sought to piece the island's history together ever since.
  • Tournament Guilds - Various groups of organized mercenaries who field teams and individuals in the Tournament. Most participants have found the support and resources of an organization to be helpful to success in the competitions. In the charter of each guild is a clause stating its duty to rise to the defense of the island should the Queen call for it.
  • The Blades - A shadowy group of assassins mostly known by rumor and innuendo, they rarely make their work obvious.  It is said they aren't contacted in person, but by ritual magic.*
  • The Order of the Thorn - Alessia’s elite guard and special forces, their arrival indicates the end of the Queen’s patience. Most of its members wear solid helmets with the Order’s emblem inscribed on the face plate; only those without helms have ever been known to speak in public.
  • The Boland Brotherhood - Fort Boland was the capitol and last stronghold of the human nation before the elven queen won the civil war.  In its aftermath, a group of war veterans gathered under that name to reminisce for their lost kingdom.  
  • The Cult of Mordan - Mordan’s reign was not solely the product of legions of undead; he also developed a slavish following desperate for a portion of his power. During the centuries of his imprisonment by the Triumvirate, his cult kept his memory alive and taught various forms of necromancy and shadow magic; they were instrumental in his return for the War of the Lich. It is assumed that Alessia purged them following the final defeat of Mordan.
For a home-brewed campaign, I think that's a pretty lively scene.  Lots of groups with a variety of potential interactions between them, but each could be interesting in its own right.

My intent for the campaign was for the players to organize under the banner of one group, but not to limit their involvement in other groups.  I figured this would be a good way for the players to have a unifying interest but still permit variation in backstories and character interests.

When I pitched the campaign to the players, I didn't have a specific story in mind.  I did have an "endgame," with a some vague milestones for the players to meet on their way there, but the goal was to make this a character-driven game.  Let the players pick a banner and start from there.  I had a few seeds in my head for each group.  The Arcane College and the Enchanters' Union would have the fantasy equivalent of corporate espionage/sabotage.  The Council of Nine would be dealing with internal politics between churches, and probably fending off rogue necromancers.  The Family would be trying to keep the Queen off their backs while shutting down new competition.

Based on the pitch I gave, the players didn't think there was enough "oomph" in this for them to choose a path.  I'll admit to being a bit taken aback by the accusation of lacking "oomph."  Any writer will tell you it's hard to be objective about your own work, though.  I'm just glad they found something to latch onto in the end.  Nobody wants their game to die on the vine, as it were.

I retooled the groups and added more conflict, much of it seen above, but the biggest change was to the Boland Brotherhood.  Instead of a group of drinking buddies, they became a simmering rebellion, gathering all the discontented under their banner to someday remove Alessia from the throne.  My players cast their lot with the Brotherhood and opted for war.
This is how Shamus illustrated the Queen.  Messing with her might not be the best idea.

* - Okay, I admit that this is pretty much a straight rip-off of the Dark Brotherhood. I couldn't even be bothered to look outside of the Elder Scrolls for a group name.  This group has yet to make an appearance in the campaign, however, so it's a moot, if embarrassing, point.

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