Ferrymen: Factions and Factional Conflicts

Over the last three dozen sessions of Ferrymen, the crew of The Erebus (aka the player party) have repeatedly run up against the legislative dominion of the Carthage system – the sole manufacturers of FTL “slipstream drives”, who limit this precious technology to those who pay tribute and abide their trading regulations.

From the harsh taxes that drive business owners into criminality, to the ruthless eradication of “piratical elements”, to the spies of the Carthaginian Consultancy that reside on every slipstreaming vessel… it’s difficult for the crew to escape the evidence of Carthage’s misdeeds. Unfortunately, being a hard sci-fi game, running off to join the Rebel Alliance and overthrowing the evil empire by blowing up a couple of Death Stars is not a realistic prospect for the crew. Nor would starting a revolution be a particularly desirable option, since the pirates that Carthage declares war against are no better, and everyone still needs to put food on the table.

Instead, the crew attempts to reform from within. Over the duration of the campaign, they have scored public relations victories to endear themselves to the most sympathetic elements of the Carthaginian administration, and only undertaken criminal action like smuggling or industrial espionage when the moment is right.

Now, the crew has made enough of a name for themselves that political activism stands a reasonable chance of enacting change. To that end, they have formed a union of slipstreamer captains, “The Ferrymen”, who hope to successfully lobby for the reformation of an institutionally broken cluster.

A new theatre of engagement demands new rules for how to operate within it. This is what I’m planning to use.

FACTION ASPECTS

Factions in Fate Core operate in the same way as characters, albeit ones controlled by the players collaboratively rather than individually, but the elements that construct them are slightly different. Factions have faction aspects, skills, stunts, an institutional stress track and consequences.

Faction aspects are a hybrid mix of character aspects and situation aspects. Like character aspects, they are always in-play when the faction acts, and never go away over time. Like situation aspects, they can be removed from play with an overcome action – if this happens, they leave an empty slot on the faction’s sheet. Enemies can create advantages to fill an empty faction aspect slot, and these will stick around until an action is taken to replace them, but so can the faction itself. The best way to clear out a faction aspect you don’t like and replace it with one you do is to have an allied faction act straight after.

As usual, you can only create faction aspects for an allied or enemy faction that are plausible for you to create within the fiction in your current context.

Unlike characters, factions don’t get refresh. PCs can spend their own fate points to support friendly faction rolls and invoke friendly faction aspects if they are so inclined. Enemy factions spend from the GM’s pool and reserve as he/she sees fit.

Most factions begin life with three faction aspect slots, one of which is blank at the start of play. Larger, established factions might have up to five faction aspect slots.

FACTION SKILLS AND STUNTS

Skills work the same way for factions as they do for characters, but only 10 of the 20 Ferrymen skills are relevant for factions.

  • Bureaucracy. Internal management and legislative authority.  Used to determine who goes first in a factional conflict (ties are broken by Investigate, then Rapport).
  • Contacts. Breadth of influence in other (typically neutral) factions.  Mostly used to create advantages.
  • Deceive. Bullshit PR and rhetorical “half-truths”, opposed by Investigate when it targets enemy factions.  Creates advantages based on trickery and improved perception.
  • Education. Organisational output of useful, accurate statistical analysis.  Sometimes used to create advantages, if the truth is actually useful.
  • Investigate. Digging up the dirt on rivals.  Usually opposes use of Deceive, can also create advantages.
  • Provoke. Negative campaigning, used for scathing critiques of an “enemy” faction.  Used to make institutional attacks – enough bad publicity can “take out” a faction.
  • Rapport. Skilful negotiation in a way that wins you friends and customers.  Good for overcoming faction aspects related to a negative perception.
  • Resources. The disposable income of a faction.  Often used to create advantages, well-placed bribes might also overcome or build new faction aspects.
  • Technology. Invention of new, exciting tech.  The right invention at the right time can create an excellent new faction aspect.
  • Will. Faction morale and internal cohesion.  Used to defend against institutional attacks with Provoke.

Because factions have vastly more power, influence and supporting infrastructure than individuals do, most faction skills run within the range of +5 to +8. Some very powerful factions might have faction skills rated at +9 or even +10. All factions count as having the ten skills above rated at +4, even if they’re not explicitly stated on the faction’s sheet. A faction can never take actions using the other ten skills in Ferrymen (recounted here).

Stunts are stunts. They usually operate on a different scale than character stunts do, but mechanically they are constructed in the same way.

A starting factions begins with three skills at +5, two skills at +6 and one skill at +7. Their other four skills would be rated at +4 as normal. A starting faction also starts with one stunt. Characters so inclined can also sacrifice their own refresh to give more stunts to a faction they’re aligned with, on a one-for-one basis.

FACTIONAL CONFLICT

Factional conflict is resolved the same as any other, but typically only plays out for a turn or two (a “turn” in a factional conflict covering not seconds but weeks or months). Remember that factions can rewrite each other’s aspects as part of a conflict, as explained above.

Factions don’t attack individual characters. No single person is worth dedicating the attention of a whole faction to – they have individuals within their faction do that for them. Characters CAN attack factions, but with their lower skills, they’re not very good at it! They’re usually better off creating advantages to help a friendly faction attack for them.

To determine their ability to survive factional conflicts, factions have an institutional stress track and consequences. Stress and consequences are calculated in a way that seems proportionate to a faction’s sphere of influence and institutional backing – it is not determined by a skill. Institutional consequences are healed at milestones as normal – they cannot be otherwise healed except by characters or factions that have stunts that allow them to do so. The difficulty to heal institutional consequences is 4 higher than for mental or physical stress: +6 for mild, +8 for moderate, and +10 for severe.

Start-up factions are very fragile, with one 1-stress box, one 2-stress box and one 3-stress box, and only a mild consequence slot. They usually begin the campaign avoiding direct confrontation, or building a wall to help them survive one. Established powers like planetary governments have all three consequence slots in play and very long institutional stress tracks.

If a faction is taken out, then it collapses. Mutinees, bankruptcies, jail sentences. Perhaps the victor might spare the loser from total annihilation, and just rewrite the faction’s aspects to be something more to their liking. To be taken temporarily rather than permanently, or to rescue enough from a failed faction to go and build another one, factions should consider concession.

FACTION MILESTONES

The growth of a faction over time is generally tied to narrative positioning – they don’t always have the same smooth, natural growth that characters do. However, if you do want to tie faction expansion to the same milestone system as player characters, consider this as a guide.

  • Factions do not change at minor milestones, except to swap around two adjacent skills OR replace a stunt, and to begin the healing process for mild and moderate consequences (if appropriate).
  • At a significant milestone, factions can increase one of their skills by 1. You must maintain the integrity of your skill pyramid as normal, except skills lower than +5 do not count – you are allowed to have more skills rated at +5 than +4 without penalty. You also gain all the benefits of a minor milestone.
  • At a major milestone, gain a stunt. Alternatively, you can forgo a stunt to increase your institutional durability. Your 1st such milestones gains you a moderate consequence; the second, a 4-stress box; the third, a severe consequence; the fourth, a 5-stress box. In addition to your stunt or increased durability, you gain a new faction aspect slot, up to a maximum of five aspect slots; this starts play as blank. You also gain all the benefits of a significant milestone.

EXAMPLES?

Unlike my rules for spaceship combat, these are completely untested, which is why there are no suggested examples for faction aspects or stunts. If you have any ideas, feel free to suggest them in the comments!

4 thoughts on “Ferrymen: Factions and Factional Conflicts

  1. What are you doing about Diaspora’s Resources system? How much of the stress track from that are you using? Or are PCs just using Resources as-is from Fate Core? If there’s a home brew mechanic for trading and such, I know I’d love to see what you did with it.

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    • We just use the Resources skill. It’s not perfect, but nor was Diaspora’s stress track (which in our experience made frequent expenditure trivially easy). Money in roleplaying is just really hard to do well, and since it had never been a huge part of our game beforehand (if only because it had been so easy), we just chose the option of least resistance.

      I meant to go back to my Firefly hack at some point to write about “Pressures” – special game aspects like “Trouble with Money”, “Trouble with the Underworld” or “Trouble with The Law” that prohibited some actions and rewarded others. Never came to fruition, though you’ve inspired me to have another look at it. In the meantime, Ryan Macklin has some interesting ideas for the Resources skill to play with:

      http://ryanmacklin.com/2014/02/one-rethinking-resources/

      The other thing we played with for a while was giving the party’s business (as opposed to an individual character) it’s own Resources skill, which went up and down depending on what jobs you were doing, and could be rolled for business expenditures. We gave up on it because it was seldom used, and because the campaign moved far far away from the minutiae of running the business, and into political activism. These days, the party’s Resources will most likely be managed by the Resources score of their faction, but the rise and fall of the skill’s value will be more mechanically defined rather than narratively variable.

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  2. Why make the faction skills so high if they are effectively only using them against other factions? Couldn’t the same be accomplished by having a +4 passive opposition whenever a single character attempts to harm a faction?

    The opposition I have comes from two points, gameplay and roleplay. Gameplay wise, It feels like the rules make it easy to bring in the faction and throw them at a trouble. Is there any difficulty to bringing the faction to bear on some issue? The rules imply that a faction can find a motivated and skilled individual(and often team) for any action if called in, making calling them in either rare or totally messing any balance for those skills. It’s not specifically mentioned how the players or GM can use faction skills for their benefit other than to harm other factions.

    The roleplay side of me is irked by the +4 base skill and up to +10 again because it implies that a faction can find a motivated and skilled individual(and often team) for any action. Remember that a fate character (who is extraordinary by definition) has one skill at +4, and the rest lower. I find it hard to believe that UPS for example would have great Will and Technology as a base line. Or in the case of smaller factions that they would always find someone exceptional at every skill, all the time. Maybe something like a faction being able to concentrate over time on something?

    I just realized that it also lowers the impact of fate points and advantages, if that is the goal then my apologies. However I also don’t like that aspect of it personally, as it takes away player agency.

    It seems having allied factions is a very powerful thing to have under these rules, such that having two mediocre factions is a vast improvement on having one strong faction due to them being able to heal each others aspects while dishing out attacks. Is this intended? What are your views on splitting up factions, ie instead of Carthage Military, having Carthage Navy, Carthage Army, Carthage Intelligence forces as allied factions?

    I like the idea of changing aspects, but does it lead to factions changing too quickly? Why have consequences if a faction can explicitly change another factions aspects? Is there a difference between changing a faction’s high concept or any other aspect? It seems like with a decent ally you can change “Highly disciplined fighters” to “demoralized deserters” within one turn. Is there any way for a faction to protect any of its aspects?

    Lastly, if can a character take his refresh back after spending it on a faction? If a faction can be completely rewritten by another faction to be nothing like what the player wanted it to be, can he choose to take back the fate point, or is it lost forever?

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    • Lots of questions! My first reply is to advise you to check out the most recent iteration of these rules, after a year and a half of playtesting and refining, because it addresses many of your concerns.

      https://michaelduxbury.com/2017/03/10/ferrymen-galactic-factions-redux/

      Specifically…

      * Factions cannot target individuals – not just with attacks, but with actions of any kind – so having a faction with super high abilities is not an effective replacement for individual action by PCs.
      * But factions CAN interact with characters, because PCs can attack them, overcome them etc. You could just say that characters roll against a passive opposition to do so, but only if you don’t mind all factions being the same when attacked by a PC. There are other edge cases where factions having higher skills are useful (stunts, for example) and appropriate (factions have more power than characters do).
      * All the fiddly rewriting of faction aspects bullshit is gone, for the two reasons you mentioned – it gave too much power to combo-factions, and consequences do the same thing anyway.
      * Investing fate points into a faction is now a much more significant tactical choice, but also a narrative one. You can withdraw fate points later, but that indicates you are (on some level) withdrawing support from the faction.

      One thing that hasn’t changed between iterations is the level of skill that factions operate at. Factions don’t have high skills due to expertise, but due to economies of scale. Think of it as a blown up example of the “teamwork bonus” action. Your super-smart charismatic mayoral candidate might have great Rapport, better than anyone else on your opponent’s staff – but if they have 40 people going door-to-door, and you don’t, then they are going to be better at swaying an electorate (as a whole, rather than as individuals) than you are.

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