The factions – Emerald Enclave, Harpers, Lords’ Alliance, Order of the Gauntlet, and the Zhentarim – have been a part of Forgotten Realms lore and the Adventurers League since basically the beginning. These organizations play a part in the world’s functions, but often as supportive elements; rarely are they on the forefront of global events en masse. Sure, there are incidents that the Harpers have guided (lookin’ at you, Elminster) and the Zhentarim have a long, bloody history of working hand-in-hand with the nation of Thay (something-something-Manshoon’s a jerk). The others, too, have been party to history in much the same way.
We wanted to use them in a support capacity in our Adventurers League games but after 7 seasons we found that they just weren’t hitting the guided narrative tones that we wanted to hit. Their inclusion, while superficially an attractive option, was leading to weak story decisions and more often than not we felt that the faction missions and motivations were “tacked on” to the adventures. This takes away from the scope of the stories that we want to share, and nobody wants a subpar story.
Starting with season 8, we are adjusting how we interact with factions. Let’s face it, the players have a pretty clear idea of what they want from their factions, and that’s by-and-large in a single category: roleplay. As such, characters that want to be a part of a faction will need to take the Faction Agent background (check out the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for full details; at a minimum, you need to take the Faction Agent background feature). The adventure format and delivery for season 8 and beyond is pretty different from what we’ve seen previously, and we want to ensure that players and DMs are playing through the storyline in a manner that they enjoy, not just the content that we feel we need to deliver. This includes giving players and DMs the tools they need to more effectively explore the adventure content and use their factions as supportive elements rather than permanent shadows with very little game impact.
So what does this mean for characters that already have a faction? Well, it’s pretty easy:
- you can leave your faction (normal rules apply)
- you can stay in your faction by exchanging your current background feature with Safe Haven, the feature used by the Faction Agent background (from Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide). You may do this regardless of your level, just as how your alignment might change as your story progresses.
- factions will no longer be providing magic items, nor will the mentor functions exist
- we have a replacement system that is undergoing additional review to replace those functions – and more!
- remember that characters with a lawful evil alignment are required to be members of either the Zhentarim or the Lords’ Alliance, and Adventurers League play does not allow neutral evil or chaotic evil alignments in play
This has been grown from the custom background rules that are present in the Player’s Handbook. You don’t have to take the FULL background from SCAG, but at a minimum you will need to have the Safe Haven feature in order to remain a member of your faction (yes, this is the second time we’ve said this in the article; it’s intentional). This means that you can still have the gear and skills from, say, the Acolyte background while using the Faction Agent feature. Create your story and run with it!
And, from an adventure-building stance:
The factions may not be as present in our upcoming content, but they’re not absent! Their goals and motivations are a bit more open and accessible.
We’ve found that the players, DMs, and event organizers have a pretty strong handle on how they want the factions to play and behave. We want to see this grow! To that end, we would like to encourage event organizers to consider the CCC program – to develop content that the local community and your attendees wish to see. Are you seeking an adventure that strongly features Zhentarim characters and motivations? Or an Emerald Enclave adventure that circles around the reclamation of an ancient cairn that is currently threatened by a horde of undead? This is your chance!
Creating faction-focused content is a great way to communicate your community’s roleplay goals and desires, and is a huge opportunity to invite others into your stories. Adventures – including CCCs – need to be open to all players (we’re not looking for an adventure that can only be played by, say, Zhentarim characters) but you could certainly skew the events of that content in a way to spotlights the service and abilities of one specific faction. You’ll see some of these in the very near future as the first wave of Red War CCC adventures begins to roll out; these adventures take place during the Red War epic, and showcase the “zoomed in” efforts of heroes and often their factions during those chaotic hours. These actions (and more!) have planted seeds for many adventures to come, and we’re very excited for the future!
From an ongoing narrative perspective, we are modeling this decision thusly (from an ‘unnamed’ Harper’s perspective):
The world’s stage was recently dominated by the events that unfolded in Mulmaster. Ancient elemental princes were nearly summoned into the city, but the residents paid a steep price. The agents of Thay swept in like a flood and inserted themselves in the region, creating nearly-inextricable connections to the people, their infrastructure, and their lives. For a time they appeared to be content with rebuilding, with assisting the people; we knew that bubbling below that benevolent façade was a terrible truth and we waited for it to burst through. The people of Mulmaster needed champions and resources; resources that we Harpers and the other factions were unable to provide directly. Our coffers were simply not deep enough.
And then… sadness. In truth, a necessary grievance we believe, but still a series of actions was spearheaded by the Emerald Enclave and soon joined by many others from across all groups. These heroes chose to declare an open war against the Red Wizards and despite our erstwhile allies in the city – the Cloaks, our embedded agents, and others – warning them against this course of action they continued to press. Master Ar’soon’s words were not heeded, nor were the admonitions of Ambassador Firefinger, and for this the people of Mulmaster would pay a terrible price: the arrival of Szass Tam himself.
As we feared, the Thayans had been building towards some terrible work of magic. The details were scant as our own spies were hard at work but these things take time, and the arrival the great and terrible lichlord presented an insurmountable hurdle. This would become known in short order as “The Red War”, and though it was short-lived it represented a turning point for all of Faerun. Our combined efforts destroyed many of the agents of the lich but what we learned ensured that we could not return without jeopardizing the remaining population of the City of Danger. The Thayans redoubled their efforts and tightened their chokehold on the region. For every faction member discovered, regardless of membership, three citizens would die, or worse. For every spell cast by someone other than a Red Wizard, three citizens would die. Any agent acting of their own volition or motivation that is discovered in the vicinity of Mulmaster would result in their extermination, and the death of three citizens.
We were to gather our known agents and bring them home, and to disclose their identities to the Thayans. Any that were not reported were to be considered disavowed, rogue agents and could be dealt with as the Thayans saw fit. Thay has begun to set about erecting magical defenses and walls around Mulmaster to rival some of their on upon the Thaymount. What dire plans they have we can only guess at, as our agents are no longer welcome in that city. They are watching even beyond the walls, and the coffers of Thay are as rich as are their memories and grudges. We withdraw, and we wait; we watch the Blight upon the Moonsea stagnate and fester, but we must admit that the killings have, as far as we can tell, stopped now that our agents – all of them, from every known faction not native to Thay – have been removed. It is a sad reality that we are all equal in the eyes of the dread lich; Harpers, Lords’ Alliance, Zhentarim, Emerald Enclave, and the Order of the Gauntlet are seen as nothing more than a single punishable obstacle by those vile wizards.
So now we bring our allies home; we extend to them the formal protections of our ranks and reform our plans. The watchful eye of Thay is upon us and we cannot turn from this course, lest we upset the balance that has been struck. It is a delicate game, but we Harpers are no strangers to such things. The Red Wizards tell us that they only need five years in the City of Danger, at which time they would consider entering into negotiations regarding their continued presence in the city. None of us want the unblinking gaze of Szass Tam upon us and despite the sincere frustration we feel with the demands that have been levied, the potential cost of innocent lives is too much to bear. It is better that we play by their rules for now and work to develop our counterstroke slowly and methodically as time allows.
Tymora’s blessings upon us all, my doves.
The Platinum Harp