A couple of years ago, I sat down with the players in my ongoing hard sci-fi Fate game Ferrymen, and agreed on a direction that we wanted to take the campaign going forwards. The players all agreed that after thirty-odd sessions of building contacts and making a name for themselves, it was time for their actions to start counting on a galactic political stage. I put together a ruleset for controlling galactic factions and waging political conflicts, which can still be reviewed here.
Since then, we’ve played enough games with those rules in play that I have a good understanding of their limitations. I’ve made a number of tweaks along the way, but the number of exceptions and contradictions to main rules have gotten a little confusing. So I’m writing it up as a complete ruleset, a second edition of the faction mini-game. Hopefully it will be as useful to other space opera Fate GMs as it will be to my players!
Factions in Fate Core operate in the same way as characters – they have aspects, skills, stunts, an institutional stress track and consequences. Faction aspects can be invoked by a faction in much the same way that a character invokes their own aspects (this a major deviation from the last edition, where faction aspects had more in common with situation aspects).
Only 10 of the 20 Ferrymen skills are relevant for factions. These skills and their effects are detailed below:
- 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 (Astronomical) or even +10 (Unparalleled). 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. Institutional stress and consequence slots are used in factional conflicts – this is detailed below, but broadly they work in the same way as character stress tracks and consequences, albeit with a longer healing time.
Factions can be controlled, allegiant, or hostile. Hostile factions are constructed and played by the GM as any other NPC – they spend fate points from the GM’s supply. Allegiant factions are factions broadly inclined to help out the players, but that still have enough agency to firmly fall under the GM’s control. They don’t have their own refresh, but players can spend their own fate points on behalf of the allegiant faction if they wish, even if their PC isn’t involved in the scene. Doing so still results in the GM’s fate point supply for the scene increasing as though they were involved, however.
Controlled factions are organisations that the PCs are effectively in charge of. Typically, if the PCs are operating at a factional scale, they will typically have one controlled faction that operates as an extra PC, albeit one that the group controls together. They have their own refresh score – by default, this is zero, but any PC can sacrifice their own refresh to increase a faction’s refresh by the same amount.
If a controlled faction is invoking aspects on a skill check, or wants to assist another character’s skill check with its aspects, then the fate points to invoke those aspects are spent from the faction’s own supply. Conversely, any compels that are directed towards the faction result in a fate point being added to the faction’s own supply. Finally, a controlled faction’s presence in a scene adds one fate point to the GM’s allotment for the scene, exactly like player characters.
Unless the GM instructs otherwise, controlled factions are built with three aspects, 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. Like with a faction’s refresh, PCs can also sacrifice their own refresh to give more stunts to a faction they control, on a one-for-one basis.
In the event that a controlled faction ceases to be controlled, PCs may “withdraw support” and reclaim any unspent refresh they invested in the faction as an immediate windfall in fate points. This should be regarded as an action with narrative consequences though, not just a backup source of fate points if your personal stash is exhausted.
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 days, weeks or months). Typically, to preserve the agency and primacy of player characters, controlled factions can only choose to enter conflicts when the PCs in charge of them having taken action that can justify an attempted institutional attack.
Factions never target individual characters, neither with attacks or with any other kind of action. 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. The length of stress tracks and the number of 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. Initiative order in factional conflict is determined by Bureaucracy, with ties broken by Investigate, and then by Rapport.
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 out temporarily rather than permanently, or to rescue enough from a failed faction to go and build another one, factions should consider concession.
HEALING INSTITUTIONAL STRESS AND CONSEQUENCES
There is a downside to a faction’s ability to sustain much greater amounts of stress – the PR damage and loss of morale caused by these massive attacks take that much longer to heal.
Institutional stress boxes do not clear at the end of a scene. Instead, a faction clears their highest used stress box at the next minor milestone.
Consequences can be healed and renamed with successful overcome actions, using whatever skill is appropriate for that consequences. The difficulty is +6 for mild consequences, +8 for moderate consequences, and +10 for severe consequences. Factions cannot heal their own institutional consequences, unless they have a stunt that permits them to do so.
Alternatively, mild consequences automatically heal and are renamed at the next significant milestone, and moderate consequences heal at the next major milestone. Severe consequences never auto-heal in this way.
Once a consequence has been renamed, you have to wait the requisite healing time before the consequence is removed from the character sheet entirely. This is one session for mild consequences, one scenario for moderate consequences, and one arc for severe consequences.
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 swap out an aspect OR replace a stunt. Player characters can use their own minor milestones to invest refresh into a controlled faction as a stunt or faction fate point.
- 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 aspect, up to a maximum of five. You also gain all the benefits of a significant milestone.
The tools of a star-cluster-spanning organisation are now at your command. Go forth and conquer the universe!