Making it Matter in Numenera, Part III

Factions

Organization
Previously we talked about making what happens in your game matter to your players by making things personal, and then we talked about letting your players tell you what’s important and how to use the old reoccurring mastermind trick.

This time we’ll talk about factions. Groups of people who have their own agendas and have plots and plans in motion.

Factions are useful in a lot of ways.

World Building and Continuity

For one thing factions help with building the world in your players minds and with continuity. If your players keep bumping into The University of Doors, The Order of Truth, the Convergence, and other factions, your version of the Ninth World comes alive with the give and take of organizations and movements bigger than the adventure you are running. It’s a big world out there, and the PCs aren’t the only movers and shakers in it.

Anchoring PCs to the world

Factions can create ties to player characters. If a glaive in your party has a backstory of being in an order of bodyguards to Aeon Priests, that player is just begging you to run adventures that include the Order of Truth. If not, you can invite them into such an organization after an impressive performance that aligns them to the order. Give them a badge or amulet that shows they belong.

En Garde

Factions are great adversaries. The party may have defeated one plot from the Convergence, but the Convergence can always be relied to up the ante next time. The organization itself become the reoccurring villain.

The Amber Papacy

The biggest faction in the Ninth World are the Aeon Priests and their Order of Truth. They can be a big help to the characters, and may act as patrons. But what of the ties between the Order of Truth and the Angulan Knights? How does that sit with a mutant character? Are there factions within the Order of Truth who support mutant rights? Factions within factions?

king and queenFor the Queen!

The Steadfast is full of monarchies, all of which contain factions. Are the PCs acting for the Queen of Navarene? One of her enemies?

Factions with Faces

Players won’t react strongly to abstract factions. A faction needs a face. Use NPCs that you roleplay to represent the faction. For examples, check out the People of Renown at the back of MCG’s The Ninth World Bestiary. What if Magistrix Nelgadara tries to recruit a player character into the Convergence? If the PC refuses to go along, will the Magistrix use him as a double agent? And what if you then throw the players into a Convergence scheme, such the Three Sanctums adventure from the core book?

Watch your players. If they react strongly to a faction, think of ways to bring it into your adventures. If the faction matters to them, then the adventure with that faction will matter to them.

Good gaming!

See Also:

Making it Matter in Numenera, Part II

In Making it Matter, last time we talked about making it personal. This time we cover letting your players tell you what matters and the old recurring mastermind trick.

Throne Room
Art by Justin Wyatt

Let the players tell you what’s important. This is a bit of improvisational game mastering. Listen to your players. If you hear a lot of table chatter about a town, an NPC, or anything else in the game world, make it a key part of your games. If the players are always going on about Qi, make Qi the setting for a good number of your adventures. If the very thought of the Jaekels of Aras makes them ready to smash heads, use the animalistic pirates as villains every so often.

If you have a player who can’t get enough of their pet or a favorite NPC, use that it to tie the character to an adventure. The loyal Seski runs through the portal. The favorite innkeeper vanishes leaving clues of a involvement with in a plot about to engulf the PCs home base.

Remember, it’s not wrong if the players fixate on something in your world you haven’t planned on. It’s awesome! They are telling you what they find engaging. Go with it.

The Reoccurring Mastermind who always gets away to start trouble again. Despite being a gaming cliche, it can still be effective. Over and over again the players confront the evil mastermind, and over and over again she gets away. In a world with teleportation cyphers this isn’t hard.

Every time she gets away, the players might be just that much more invested in the game.Players can obsess on how to finally bring her down. The trick is to make the characters feel she won’t get away forever. It may be impossible to stop her, but the player characters are used to doing the impossible!

One trick is to have the major threat be able to teleport only to their lair. This way, they can always get away, until the characters track them down. In The Sun Below: City on the Edge, the King of the Praithians has just such a power. When the characters finally confront him in his throne room, his teleportation power can’t save him.

Or give it a twist — the enemy who got away has grown to appreciate the player characters. Perhaps she will aid them in a future adventure, which could confuse the players wonderfully. Will they trust the healing cyphers that come from the woman who tried to stake them in front of the Iron Wind?

Or the old enemy could have run afoul of a new and bigger enemy. Their old nemesis begs for help from the characters. If they refuse, the new enemy is becomes stronger and more bold. If the accept, they have created an interesting alliance. Where will it lead?

See Also:

Making It Matter In Numenera, Part I

Numenera is a game of exploration set in a world where anything can happen. Anything. Places and people are incredibly weird. Creatures more so. Which makes for a wonderful sense of awe and wonder.

Art by Alysha Lach
Art by Alysha Lach

But some players may worry, why should I care about anything in the Ninth World? It’s so damned weird, how can I relate to it?

Some games, like The Strange or Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, come with a set of built in ties to the world. The player characters are part of an organization (The Estate, The Rebellion) and what’s important to the organization becomes important to the characters. Other RPGs, like Call of or Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, or Hunter: The Vigil come with built in sets of adversaries all characters are expected to take on. If you join a Call of Cthulhu game, you know you’re going to be investigating and struggling against the machinations of Elder Gods.

However, in most RPGs, including Numenera, PCs are likely to be freelance operators.

The GM has a few tools to help player characters care about the world. This time I’ll talk about how to make it personal. Next time we’ll discuss how let the players tell you what’s important, the reoccurring mastermind, and factions with faces. They are not mutually exclusive.

Make it personal. This is the key in any kind of story. You know the cliché from all those movie trailers, This time it’s personal? While you don’t have to say that in the deep movie trailer voice (oh, go ahead, your players will love it), you do want to make the stakes personal.

Survival is damned personal. For example, in MCG’s The Devil’s Spine, at least one player is put at risk. If the group doesn’t succeed in the adventure, the player character dies. Or in Beyond All Worlds, another from MCG, the entire party is trapped in a Ninth World Hell. Escape or die, it’s that simple.

Family is personal. Kidnap a character’s mother. Cripple or murder a younger sibling. These plot hooks, when not overused (“What? My mother’s kidnapped for the third time?”), are great for making the players care about the outcome.

An appeal to the character’s morals is personal. The Sun Below: City on the Edge, includes the player characters witnessing the kidnapping of two young children, and an appeal from their grandmother to rescue them. When a PC tells themselves “I may be an opportunistic bastard at times, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let these children suffer,” they care.

When PCs have a personal stake, they know why they are taking action. They are not just tourists.

See Also: