Societies and Factions in the D&D World

I don’t know what it is about Societies that is so attractive to me. Perhaps it is their secret nature, or just the fact that it gives elite Player Characters something to strive for. Not every character should be allowed to join a society, or a group because if we allow that to happen, then they become meaningless.

Some sub-classes really lend themselves to the idea . . . nay, require a little bit extra work on the Dungeon Master’s part to create them. Paladins, Rangers, Specialty Priests, all three of these require some sort of organization in order to be effective, especially Paladins! They are required to pay tithes to someone, as well as take orders from superiors. Rangers, while normally chaotic by nature, and loners, still require some kind of system incase an area becomes too much for one ranger to handle. While it isn’t as tight of a network as the Lawful Paladin, it is still a network all the same.

Specialty Priests, the most widely documented being the Druid, demand a military like infrastructure. But what other classes can benefit from a guild? We know that Thieves use them, Clerics also must follow orders of their superiors, even if this superior is a god whom only he can hear. Fighters, typically always honed their trade in the military or a militia which by nature is also strict. Wizards too, while very loose and secretive about what they do, also, no doubt, have some way of policing their own, as well as forming intelligent societies to further their own alignment beliefs.

You can see where I am going with this now, can’t you. I think alignment is key here, again, we’ll use it as a tool. This is too much work to do at one time, so we’ll just do it on a need-to-know basis when the existence of these societies and groups come into question.

All professional trades rely on guilds, being a carpenter required a youth to spend much time under a master who taught them the trade in exchange for the youth to do pain in the butt tasks which the carpenter shouldn’t be wasting his time doing. It is kind of funny to look at old books on carpentry, today this profession is wide open, but back in the day the trade was very secretive! Looking over antique books dedicated to carpentry is enough to baffle and stupefy any reader as they were written to be as complex and drawn out as possible. Applying complex mathematical formulas to the simplest projects, this was not a profession to be taken on by the laymen! This is serious stuff, which requires years and years of tutelage in the proper institutions!

This wasn’t done out of meanness, but in protecting ones value and industry. Now we are learning a huge lesson which goes with demystifying trades, as our jobs are slowly being replaced by robots or cheaper workers, but I digress, I’m getting too carried away and straying away from my original point.


Lets invent some! But before we do, we have to have some sort of direction. Our guilds have to have some sort of reason for being, and some structure. They have to have benefits for the members, and a goal or purpose.


Our game worlds are regulated by an important tool, this tool is called Alignment. NOW QUIT ROLLING YOUR EYES! It’s rude! Alignments aren’t just for rules lawyers, or things to ruin our players lives with, but honest to god tools to make the process of creation easier.

Take a book as an example, and I mean a really good one. One that you love. It has a plot, but if you are like me then you probably love the really complex ones which can’t be described in just a sentence or two. This book has a plot, but it is buried deep inside and hidden within the mechanics of the book. We don’t notice it, of course we know that it is there, but when we are reading the book, it isn’t important to us. The plot is a skeleton, and if we use alignment as a tool, like we are suppose to, then we’ll cover up the alignment just as tightly and neatly as a well written book covers its plot.

You’ve got 9 different Alignments, these alignments show us the relationships among them. Opposing alignments hate each other, Tight groups get along, and mixed groups can tolerate the other and perhaps work together if the need arises (or go through periods of hostility too). Chaotic Evil and Lawful Good will always fight amongst each other, that is the way it works, if this doesn’t happen then our worlds aren’t in balance, and while the real world doesn’t need to make sense, fiction does. This is a mechanic, and mechanics are there for a reason.

Since our mechanics aren’t meant to be obvious, we’ll cover them up with purpose. A good guild should have many goals, however they should also have a purpose that is as fixed as the rising and the setting of the sun. . . or at least appear to be.

A Chaotic Good Wizard’s Guild opposes all Evil, they aren’t as organized and probably meet only once per year . . . if that. To make it really mysterious, we’ll have the meeting be held only 1 time per decade during the Eclipse, this is a meeting which requires all of their energies to keep the forces of evil at bay. Perhaps they meet at a Stonehenge, which is in fact a gate to hell, and if they don’t show up on this date, and if they don’t direct their energies towards this goal, then the gate will be flung open and unleash hell on earth. Well, at least that is what they believe that they are doing, the fact is that nobody really remembers a time when they didn’t do this and a few of the members think that this may just be a waste of time. Evil and Good are just illusions, we of course know that this is a tool of the beasts wishing to be released.

There is also a lawful evil Cleric society, it’s goal is to release these monsters from the Stonehenge. They believe that they can direct the creatures, most of the time they can worship there, except when the CG Wizards guild shows up, they just aren’t strong enough to oppose them face to face. They get along with a Chaotic Evil wizard society, as well as the local Chaotic Neutral Guild of thieves. The master thieves think that both parties are crazy, but might is right, and even though they turn on the LE Clerisy by extorting as much money as they can from the union, the Clerics in charge continue to enjoy the spies, and thorns which the CN thieves constantly place in the CG Wizards guild.

Well, I could go on, but you get the picture of how the alignment tool works. It practically writes itself! Not all guilds will have such an important task, many will simply be there to police their own and to provide a reputable house of knowledge to folks who may require or depend upon it.

Now, honestly, we don’t need to create an enter Lawful Evil Cleric society to appose the CG Mages, all it would take is one evil Cleric who is the main tool of the devil buried under the rocks of Stonehenge. A Lawful Evil Cleric society would have a bigger goal then simply opening a pit to hell, that is just too easy. One man can do that! The main goal of a Lawful Evil Cleric Society would be to infiltrate a Good religion and corrupt it.

On the outside, they would appear to be Lawful and Just, but they manufacture fear. They keep their flock suspicious of each other, they engineer witch hunts, taking out high profile individuals under the guise that they have been corrupted. They would use good clerics to be their foot soldiers, they would get off on the idea! The ruse is undetectable unless the most inner circle is exposed, which is protected by secrecy and fear. Everyone thinks that the inner-circle is a myth, the fact that the church is controlled by evil is insane! They feed the poor and protect the populous from the ever present evil. It wouldn’t take much of the stretch of the imagination to see how powerful this cult could be. Corrupting the church of an entire nation, turning it against their King unless he cooperated with the Inner Circles goals, becoming just a pawn in their quest for greater wealth and power. Anyone who apposes them, their property is seized, their family bloodline discredited, their execution and torture imminent. Since they are lawful, they probably have an entire order of Paladins unknowingly perpetuating their evil plans.

Groups should have goals which are appropriate to their size and power. If one individual can do it on his own, then why have an entire society working to do it? Lawful orders will have more members then Chaotic ones, and will have bigger goals as well as the ability to realize much grander schemes. However, if a Chaotic Order is spread out far enough, this is when they can become dangerous! Chaotic Orders survive on the powers of truly awesome individuals. Great minds are normally associated with your Lawful alignments, however this isn’t always so, Chaotic philosophies embrace the power of independent thought and reward ambition.

Chaotic Evil Bandits are very popular enemies in D&D, most of these guys aren’t even thieves, just big buff bullies who simply take what they want and murder anyone who tries to stop them. Management is usually horrid, if not completely inconsistent. This is their weakness. Even when they do find some kind of direction, say from our LE Inner Circle, these people are simply used as fodder, they serve a purpose only as long as they are useful. The LE Clerics would use them to fake evil miracles and frame the innocent, however if they begin to feel that the CE Bandits are a liability because they know too much, then they will just as easily turn on them, murdering them all quietly in their sleep.

Chaotic Evil Orders require much more thought and planning then Lawful Evil ones do. Thankfully there is a recipe, CE respect only one thing, and that is violence and fear. In CE Orders, you will find highly specialized leaders, or generals. Each of them bring something unique to the table. They will have their own underlings, but they will keep them weaker then themselves. If they believe that anyone within their ranks has more potential then they do, they will seek to destroy that person before he turns on them and takes their position. Members of an order will be highly skilled at this.

Each general will probably be of a different class, so an order will have a further reach then the single classed lawful societies do. The generals will be given orders from a really mean and bad, bad dude! Someone who even a 20th level mage would be terrified of! He will be even better at making himself irreplaceable then they are, a seemingly impossible goal. A demigod in his own right, a mystery man whose name has to be a myth, but it is still whispered just in case.

CE Societies always begin as an infection. Perhaps a LE society invites them into their inner circle, a major mistake, because as soon as the time is right, the CE society will murder and kill the LE masterminds and take over the entire order, and once they have a foot solidly in the door, it will take a full scale war to remove them and most nations don’t have that kind of resources or the skill required to get the job done quickly. Just because a group is Chaotic, it doesn’t mean that they are stupid. Once they become organized in their own way, they are worse then LE. Nobody is happy under them.

An example is a state policed by Murder. The King is never seen, and folks like it that way, he’s been in power for centuries perhaps it is a family name, but there are rumors. Life in the area is harsh, and secretive. Superstitions are high, garlic hangs in every window, small shrines decorate the streets. Pay your taxes, or disappear! This is a military state, however it is worse then that. A secret militia composed of monsters! Few people are aware of this, and those that figure it out are never heard from again. The highest ranks are filled by were-creatures, through mysticism, suspicion, and spies, they secretly deal with individuals in the night. Humanoids are allowed in the city and treated as equals, the human population is kept in check as serfs, each having a job to do, extra money being paid to those who have information about their neighbors. Most religion is outlawed, only evil deities can be openly worshiped, and worship is required by law.

Apposing them is an even more secretive society, a Neutral Good order whose ranks even include humanoids who believe in the old ways, that their kind should return to the wilderness. Their goal is to find out the identities of the individuals who form the secret police force, and assassinate them. They are aware that the King is a monster, but as of yet, no way has been discovered to eliminate him directly. There numbers are much smaller then the Kings, and casualties on both sides are a daily occurrence. The Neutral Good order has had to become more flexible then normal, because of the stakes. They use underhanded tactics believing correctly that the only way to fight fire is with fire.

Man, I just realized that that sounds exactly like the Karagat in Ravenloft, which is cool as it is a magnificent idea! In the art of DMing, one has to know how to take old ideas and make them your own.

Neutral Evil groups are typically associated with thieves, but frankly, that is just too easy. Bram Stoker had struck gold with his classic “Dracula”, in it, the Chaotic Evil Count operated unopposed in his homeland, only being thwarted when he tried to expand his power to the West. His minions were many, but most memorable were the gypsies. Gypsies are a mixture of bard and thieves, but also contain fighters, clerics, and mages in their ranks. Gypsies are more of an alternative human race with mystical and mysterious qualities. Dracula had formed an alliance with them, in return for protecting his interests during the day, and doing his evil bidding, they were allowed to live the life they wanted to live unopposed. This relationship is common with NE groups. They will align themselves with a powerful individual and thrive! Dracula would never turn on them as a whole, he wouldn’t feed off of their people, they were protected and they knew it. A gypsy caravan travels from town to town, they don’t care if the people know they are evil or not, it doesn’t matter, if they do know it is all the easier to operate. They don’t settle down because they have an undying love for travel, they provide entertainment, rumors, potions, and trade, but at a cost, they steal, and swindle the population. They spread fear and do the bidding of their evil master. Harm one of them, and the entire tribe will take their pound of flesh not just from you, but from your loved ones as well, even your children’s children are fair game to them! Never cross a gypsy, this lesson has been learned long ago, they are quick to anger and a powerful enemy that will never forget the slightest misdeed.

The Break Downs

There you have some examples of different factions. Rarely should a PC be able to join one of these things, and then, only after 9th level, and it should always be treated as a big deal.

Some factions are open, while others are highly secretive, have fun with the alignments, treat them as the tools they are and not inflexible borders which always lead people to trouble and abandoning them entirely.


Valandil said...

Wow! THAT is one major kick ass post. I cant stop being amazed by the way you´re able to handle alignements to help you create stuff. Well done!

RipperX said...

Thanks Valandil. If this blog accomplishes anything, I would like it to be that people reconsider their abandoning Alignments, by seeing just how useful they can be.

Brooser Bear said...

Hmmmm, historic Driuids, the ones exterminated by Ancient Romans so long ago, were anything but military hierarchies, truly secret societies that used to murder and good works to keep the local population in cehck, and human sacrifice, the wicker man, to keep their mambers in check. Talk about bad outcomes for office politics and failing grades (religion was passed via oral lore, expressed in poems, and Druids had to write their own poems to show the elders what they learned, those who failed, were used up in sarifices. Exams were contests not to be chosen to go up in smoke.

Guilds, yeah; Knightly Orders, these can go by alignments, Temples had their own secret societies and knightly orders, as well as orders for layety and fighting orders for non-warriors (in the Orient); I think that care should be taken to avoid blurring the line between the D&D alignment and political ideology. There WERE politics as long as man has been around, but not as we know it. Ideologies and Political Parties are really new, maybe 400 years old. Now it's a challenge to explain politics without the parties or ideologies, but read up on the political process in Rome at the time of Julius Cesar, and make of it what you will.

Now, D&D Alignment is the purely game system driven invention to amke some sense of the fantasy world. Numerous grad students tried to root the Alignemnt in reality and ended up pulling a little from here, a little from there, emanign that alignment as envisioned by AD&D is not grounded in reality. having saidn that, Psychologists have come up with experimental data to show that whether one is predisposed to being liberal or conservative in American politics is largely a function of the parenting style. Another interesting parallel is that the measure of Goodness on most seriously designed What Alignment are You? tests directly corresponds to the measure of Altruiam and Maturity. I.e. aybody grown up and with any kind of responsibilities will score as a strongly Good character. Another surprise was that after the allegations that D&D was mentally unhealthy and driving people insane, a bunch of clinical psychologists did studies to ascertain teh effects of role playing games on adolescence. RPG's improve the reading ability which results in higher tests scores on some high school tests, and a big suprise was that patients who were diagnosed with narcissistic and anti-social personality disorders, borderline schizophrenics and psychopaths, actually improved while playing D&D, i.e. their grades went up, they made better progress in pscyhotherapy, and were able to fucntion better in the real world. Typically they were drawn to evil characters, one guy made it through grad school while playing an evil wizard. Apparently playing evil characters made them better able to get along with others in the real world.

RipperX said...

Like I said a hundred times, alinment is a tool, not a crutch. You can apply this to modern politics, just as the base and in deciding who should get along with who.

This is fiction, and fiction requires order. Just because we know something is following an alignment, doesn't mean that he can't act outside of it, or pretend to be something that he isn't and do it convincingly. It is just a tool that we can use to look at something and know instantly what to do with it. When writing, if we have an alinment written besides an NPCs name, then we know how to role play him without wasted words. It also gives sub-classes who have alinment restrictions something to base their decisions off of.

Brooser Bear said...

It also makes for better interactions between PCs and NPCs. I keep track of players behavior and figure their real alignment as opposed to the stated one. Clashing or matching alignments will affect morale and reaction rolls, a PC straying outside his/her stated alignment will lose charisma points with their allies, while enemies will still hate them. I never tell players that they can not do something, nor do I warn them of consequences. Fallen Rangers turned to bandits are a par for the course. An idiot CG fighter who took the battlefield and did a few CE acts ended up falling out of favor at the court, making headaches for DM, as he had to run a fugitives escaping adventure instead of the next dungeon adventure (a perk of having a well designed sandbox, but still a headache).

Good book to read on the subject is "Presentation of Self in Everyday Life"

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