Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Intrigue at Court with Random Factions

Adventurers, at least those in the mid- to high levels, are probably no stranger to royal courts. What better patron to foot the bills and look the other way when people start getting fried by stray fireballs than a king or queen?

King, queens and their courts are centers of power, though, and power breeds a certain sort of paranoid hunger. After all, working for a living is for suckers. Getting paid to do nothing other than figure out a way to keep out of a field or factory for another day is pretty sweet gig, but also pretty competitive. This makes royal courts hotbeds of intrigue. Courtiers compete in the most civilized way (well, if you consider poisoning people civilized … Conan probably would, hence his hatred of civilization) for power, and in monarchical terms, that means the favor of the king and/or queen.

When adventurers wander into court, they often enter wealthy (from all that plundering), and romantic (from all that murder and mayhem). They’re like fantasy rock stars, and that means there’s a good chance they’ll receive the favor of the king or queen. That makes them a target. But a target for who?

The following is really just a collection of notions about court factions disguised as random tables. They involve determining five things about potential factions:

Cause: This is the cause or notion that ties the faction together. Power is the real tie, of course, but every faction has a few idealists who actually believe what their leader says.

Size: This is the overall size of the faction at court. It is given as a percentage of the members of court, which would include minor nobles, royal ministers, ladies in waiting, pages and folks like jesters, court magicians, court chaplains and heralds. The total size of a royal court is up to you, the GM.

Symbol: This is the overt or covert symbol of the faction.

Leader: This is the leader, again secret or public, of the faction.

Allies: This is a powerful ally of the faction.

Causes might be straight-forward political desires, philosophical notions, religious beliefs or rather silly fashion trends. Note - if a faction desires a particular course of action, there is likely a faction in court opposed by them.

1 Attack the nearby humanoids – the faction wants an aggressive policy in the borderlands
2 Attack a nearby city-state/nation
3 Raise taxes, especially on adventurers and merchants
4 Ban adventuring – nothing but upstarts and pirates
5 Seize property from high-level adventurers – too much money on the borderlands, not enough loyalty
6 Encourage more settlements in the borderlands (i.e. subsidize stronghold construction)
7 Desire a ban on the use of magic-user style magic – witch hunters who claim magicians are secretly controlling the country
8 Cynics – support a lifestyle that rejects a desire for wealth, power, sex and fame (for others, of course, not the folks in court!)
9 Epicureans – pleasure is good (Epicurus meant knowledge, his followers probably don’t), superstition and divine intervention (i.e. clerics) are bunk
10 Stoics – emotions are bad; essentially fantasy Vulcans who primarily exist to drive chaotic players nuts
11 Skeptics – want everything investigated to within an inch of its life before a decision can be made
12 Chaos – worshippers of chaotic/evil deities – probably a secretive faction
13 Neutrality – seek a middle way between Chaos and Law; resist those alignments and their adherents
14 Law – worshippers of lawful/good deities – demand virtuous, honest behavior from government and the adventurers who work for it
15 Fashion – a faction of fashionable men and women, seemingly non-political but generally in favor of more power and wealth for aristocrats and more obedience from everyone else
16 Regional – a faction of humans from a particular region of the kingdom
17 Racial – a faction of demi-humans and their human supporters from within the kingdom
18 Peasants – not peasants at court, but aristocrats who want to champion “the people” – want all that adventurer and noble wealth spread around (except their own; oh, and they’ll be happy to take a cut of the distributed wealth as well, thanks)
19 Moralists – more than just the “government should be honest” Lawfuls, these folks want to see morality pushed from the top down – no sex, no booze, no … well, anything adventurers are going to want to buy with their ill-gotten gains
20 Traitors – a secret faction who wants to undermine the existing political structure – either getting rid of the monarchy in favor of something else, or replacing the current monarchs with one’s of their choosing

Roll 1d4 and multiply by 10; this gives you the percent of the court that supports this faction and actively works for its goals

You can go 50/50 on whether the head of the faction is male or female. Alignment could be determined by the faction itself, or just make it up. The leader’s race should match that of the king and queen or the ruling elite of the kingdom unless the faction’s cause is racial or the leader is monster (see below). When leader is determined, roll for the chance they are a court officer first. If they are not, then roll to see if they are a minister.

1 Aristocrat (1d4 Hit Dice) – member of a wealthy family; probably not of the nobility; 10% chance the leader is a court officer; 1% chance the leader is a court minister
2 Knight (1d4 Hit Dice) – member of a minor noble family (Knight or Dame); 25% chance the leader is a court officer; 10% chance the leader is a court minister
3 Noble (1d4 Hit Dice) – member of a more powerful noble family (Baron, Count, Duke, etc.); 50% chance the leader is a court officer; 25% chance the leader is a court minister
4 Minor NPC (1d3 for level) – member of a class; if the faction is political, the leader is probably a fighter; if philosophical, leader is probably a magic-user; if religious, leader is probably a cleric; otherwise, use whatever you like; 25% chance the leader is a court officer; 10% chance the leader is a court minister
5 Medium NPC (1d4+3 for level) – see above; 50% chance the leader is a court officer; 25% chance the leader is a court minister
6 Major NPC (1d4+7 for level) – see above; 75% chance the leader is a court officer; 50% chance the leader is a court minister
7 Spy – leader is an assassin working for a foreign power or a powerful monster; whatever the faction appears to be, it is really working towards the furtherance of that foreign power or monster; faction includes 1d4+2 additional low-level assassins; other members are unaware of the faction’s true purpose; 50% chance the leader is a court officer; 10% chance the leader is a court minister
8 Monster – the faction is led by a monster that can masquerade as a human being (doppelganger, shapeshifter, vampire, etc.); 50% chance the leader is a court officer; 25% chance the leader is a court minister

Note that a secret faction will likely just use option 5 or 6.

1 Members wear a small shape cut from paper and plastered on the face
2 Members wear a particular color or pattern of colors (stripes, checks, etc.)
3 Members wear a particular item of clothing – a sash, feathers, hat, boots of a particular height
4 Members carry a particular type or style of weapon (silver daggers, etc.)
5 Members communicate with a secret language (code words, alignment language, hand signals)
6 Members have a symbol tattooed on their bodies, probably in a place usually concealed by clothing, but which can be displayed if necessary

Allies might be secret backers or controllers of the faction, or simply powerful people that are not officially members but show favoritism for the faction and its cause.

1 None – the faction has no powerful ally
2 Officer of Court
3 Minister of Court
4 Member of royal family other than king or queen
5 Queen (if applicable, otherwise no ally)
6 Queen Mother (if applicable, otherwise no ally)
7 King (the faction is currently in favor at court)
8 Powerful monster (demon, angel, devil, vampire, lich, aboleth, mind flayer, etc.)


  1. I am constantly amazed by the simple elegance of your seemingly endless supply of clever "why did I never think of that" ideas. Keep it up!

    1. The fun part of having a blog like this is that I'm always trying to think of something new that I can post.

  2. To further twist it all up you could divide the monarchs themselves between factions. The king is a moonshiner and a drunk and the queen wants to ban all alcohol. The king is trying to quell violence through pacifism, but the queen loves the spectacle of burly men trouncing each other, so she's secretly paying to keep bruisers brawling. The queen thinks pit fighting is barbaric and wants it stopped, but the king loves nothing more than blades and blood. The list goes on and on.


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