How to Set Up and Use Faction Turns


Handling factions in a campaign world can be quite challenging. Few systems teach the importance of managing factions or how to do it effectively. I've often found myself keeping everything in my head, writing plots, or deciding on a whim that a faction had secretly advanced its goals. This approach usually resulted in an unstructured mess. I would often forget details or lose my random notes. This changed when I decided to adopt a more structured approach. I started taking better notes and following a streamlined procedure.

In my previous post, I mentioned Faction Turns. I explained how they enrich the verisimilitude of the game world. They create dynamic, evolving scenarios that engage players in a larger narrative. This ultimately leads to a more responsive and alive world.

I borrowed the term "Faction Turns" from the game Stars Without Number. However, my approach shares little in common with it. My method draws heavily from how the Mausritter system handles factions. I've made adjustments to allow the framework to be more adaptable. It can now change scope and focus on specific factions. These adjustments are inspired by Agile methodologies from software development.

In this post, I will discuss:

Setting the Stage for Faction Turns

Determining Your Campaign's Scope. It's crucial to understand your game's scale. In a compact campaign of about 10 sessions, setting long-term goals for factions may not make sense if achieving those goals would take years. This is unless you're planning to extend the story over multiple campaigns in the same setting. Although the framework I use is versatile and can accommodate different scopes, I find it beneficial to think about the scale early when developing factions.

Choosing the Right Cadence for Faction Turns. Establishing a rhythm for Faction Turns is just as important. In shorter campaigns, I prefer to advance factions between sessions. For longer campaigns, updating them weekly, according to in-game time or during character downtime, works better. For games with an open table and multiple groups sharing the same world, I set a weekly timer to update factions. This ensures their actions have a tangible impact.

Being able to adjust the pace is a significant benefit. It allows for changes in response to how the campaign evolves. Nonetheless, having an initial cadence in mind offers a structured way to weave faction dynamics into your game.

Building the Framework for Factions

Identifying Factions. When I start a new campaign or introduce this approach into an ongoing game—whether it's with a published setting or a custom creation—the first step is to identify each faction I plan to include. I write down a concise description for each faction to establish its essence and set the tone.

I keep all details in a text document or a spreadsheet. While the location isn't critical since I won't need to reference this information during gameplay, it's essential to allocate enough space for detailing each faction. A two-page spread often works best: one page for a faction's log and another to outline its categories.

Diagram showing the relation between Factions, Goals, Missions, and Tasks

I categorize the strategic components of a faction into four interconnected elements: Resources, Goals, Missions, and Tasks. Each element plays a distinct role in depicting a faction's ambitions and operational capacity within the campaign world:

By identifying each faction's Resources, setting their Goals, breaking those Goals down into actionable Missions, and further delineating those into specific Tasks, I create a layered approach to faction dynamics. This system is structured yet flexible, allowing for the organic evolution of the campaign world as each faction's actions influence the narrative's progression.

Remember, it's not necessary to break down every Goal and Mission. You can keep it more abstract if a faction is further from the focus.


Let's explore the Faction Turn framework with a faction from Dolmenwood. The forces of the Nag-Lord control the wild regions in the northern part of the Wood. This faction, consisting mostly of chaotic creatures and twisted goatfolk known as the Crookhorns, serves as a great example of how Resources, Goals, Missions, and Tasks interplay.

This example shows how the Nag-Lord uses its resources to pursue goals through actionable missions and tasks. Each step, from broad ambitions to specific actions, illustrates the faction's strategy and its impact on the campaign world.

Assigning Resources. At the start, I aim to give each faction three unique resources. As the story unfolds, a faction may gain more resources, boosting its power, or lose them, which could lead to its decline or even removal from the game if it runs out of resources completely. Still, the legacy of its past influence or key characters might continue to affect the story.

If finding a resource proves challenging, I choose something simple yet significant. Examples include:

Setting Goals. I prefer long-term goals because they guide a faction's strategic decisions. I usually set three goals for each faction and might add a fourth occasionally. More than four goals can scatter focus, while less than three may overemphasize one aim, making the faction seem predictable and one-dimensional. At this stage, how to achieve these goals is less important than knowing the goals themselves.

Creating conflicts between factions with overlapping or opposing goals is a great way to build tension in the narrative. It's also crucial to keep goals varied. Some goals might focus on strengthening the faction itself, while others could aim for more unique or personal achievements. This diversity creates a complex web of motivations and storylines. Types of goals might include:

Breaking Goals into Missions. I break down goals into smaller, actionable missions as a way to move towards the broader objectives. I don't need to decide on the exact number or details of missions right away. Starting with one mission and adding more as each is completed gives me the flexibility to adapt to the evolving story and events.

Missions are valuable because they offer flexibility and convey information that might be known by a wide range of characters in the world. For instance, an officer may not know the faction's ultimate goals but will likely be aware of the immediate next steps. This information might also reach people outside the faction through espionage, rumors, and observations, providing players with actionable information and deepening their engagement with the game.

Creating a mission involves looking at the larger goal and choosing an objective that is both relevant and achievable in the current context.

Detailing Missions with Tasks. This strategy is especially useful when a faction's actions are happening close to the players or are being closely monitored. It makes sense that inhabitants of a town would regularly receive updates about hostile military activities nearby. Such transparency gives players many chances to get involved or take advantage of the situation, emphasizing that the game world goes beyond their immediate experience.

Executing Faction Actions. Actions are the endeavors a specific faction is currently engaged in, which can encompass goals, missions, or tasks.

I decide how much detail to go into based on how closely I want to follow each faction. It's important for a faction to always be pursuing three actions, each linked to a different goal. I also assign a progress bar to each action. The action's complexity and nature determine the number of segments in its progress bar. Generally, I suggest:

Diagram depicting the time it takes to complete an action depending on the scope
This diagram demonstrates that the broader the scope of an action, the longer its completion time.

This system adds another layer of control over pacing, complementing the established cadence. Adjusting the progress bars or the tasks and missions needed to achieve a goal lets me speed up or slow down development. The ability to make these adjustments at any point, even mid-campaign, is incredibly useful.

With the actions defined, the faction is ready to take its first turn.

Executing the Faction Turn

After determining the scope and cadence, and documenting the resources, goals, and actions for each faction, I'm ready to take the first step in the Faction Turn process. Here's how I do it:

  1. Review a Faction's Resources and Goals. I take a close look at what the faction has at its disposal and what it aims to achieve.
  2. Select an Action. I randomly choose one of the three actions that the faction will try to advance during this turn.
  3. Roll a Die. I roll a six-sided die (d6) for the action I've selected. If a faction's resource benefits the action, I add +1 to the roll. If there's interference or an opposing faction's resource negatively impacts the action, I subtract -1 from the roll. However, this adjustment is capped at +1 or -1.
  4. Advance the Progress Bar. If I roll a 4 or 5, the action's progress bar moves forward by one segment. A roll of 6 or higher pushes it ahead by two segments.
  5. Complete and Replace Actions. After an action is finished, I cross it out and introduce a new one, considering how to present this change in the game.
  6. Log the Turn. For each faction turn, I make a log entry that includes:
    • The turn's date
    • The chosen action
    • The dice roll result
    • Whether the action was completed
  7. Repeat for Each Faction. I follow these steps for every faction involved.

Keeping a log of each turn is vital for managing the game in the long term and ensuring the narrative remains coherent. I often jot down brief notes next to a log entry for potential future actions to keep track of my planning.

This process is adaptable and can be tweaked as needed. For example, if the story calls for it, a faction might concentrate on a specific action instead of picking one at random. A faction that's performing exceptionally well might get to roll for two actions in one turn. Yet, I recommend being cautious with such changes to prevent the game from becoming unbalanced unexpectedly.

Anticipating Early Completions. It's essential to recognize that actions can affect other factions' actions and resources. Keeping an eye on these interactions is crucial. Players can significantly help or hinder a faction's goals and resources, potentially stopping an action from being completed as initially planned. In such instances, I mark the action as finished, cross it out, and replace it with a new one that reflects the altered circumstances or provides an alternative approach. This is also the case if players directly help a faction achieve its goal during gameplay.

Integrating Faction Turn Results into Your World

When factions complete actions, they typically have a significant impact on the world. I need to find creative ways to communicate these changes to the players.

Diagram illustrating how far the immediate impact of an action type reaches.
Diagram illustrating how far the immediate impact of an action type reaches.

First, I assess whether an action directly impacts the players' current situation. For example, if the players are in a town that a faction is attacking, the consequences are immediate. I would describe the escalating military presence, the growing anxiety among the citizens, and the opportunity for some to exploit the turmoil. Players might observe increased patrols around the town, among other signs of unrest.

If the players are in a nearby town instead, they might catch wind of the attack through rumors in a session or two, or through official news sources. Should they be far away, they may remain unaware of the attack until much later, possibly after it has already ended.

The action's nature dictates its impact, including how quickly and widely the news spreads. Achieving a long-term goal, for instance, would be felt across wide regions, often preceded by signs hinting at the upcoming change.

Furthermore, I consider the broader consequences of these actions. For instance, I might adjust encounter tables to mirror the new situation. A previously cleared dungeon could be repopulated with new occupants, serving a different purpose than before.

Finally, while I typically focus on traditional medieval fantasy settings, the presence of advanced technologies or other means of swift, widespread information dissemination in your world needs different considerations. This aspect could significantly alter the way you present the outcomes and impacts of faction actions.


To wrap up, adding this process to my games has brought the world to life and created many new story opportunities to captivate my players. It has led to unforeseen twists, like a seemingly minor faction suddenly rising to prominence, while others falter, causing internal strife, potential uprisings, and fresh objectives.

Feel free to dismantle this framework and adjust it to fit your game. I recommend giving Mausritter a look, as it uses a similar method but on a smaller scale. Here are the main takeaways:

Learn from mistakes. This system is meant to be flexible, ready to adapt to changes. There's no need to get every goal, mission, and task perfectly aligned from the start. Often, beginning with a broad idea or mood is enough, and you can refine the details over time. This flexibility means you can tweak things as better ideas come up. Try to keep the established elements consistent throughout your campaign to ensure it remains cohesive.

Completing this piece took more time than I anticipated. Next, I plan to share the Faction Turn sheet from my Dolmenwood campaign, after making some edits and clarifications. Keep an eye out!

#faction turns #guide