Rules light factions

So I am running a Star Wars campaign for my regular group these days. They are in a remote sector of the Outer Rim, looking for a spaceship that holds the secrets of the Jedi Archives. They are not alone in this sector, however. There are other factions at large. New Republic patrols, Bounty hunters, Imperial remnants, local hegemons, etc. 

One faction planning an attack on another faction.

So what I could do, is to just get the free version of Stars Without Number and check out the Factions chapter. I usually recommend it to others. I have used it in several games, including the more recent Revenant Sector game I am running. 

However, for this new campaign, I want to try something different. I want to Free Kriegsspiel it a bit. I’ve talked about Free Kriegsspiel in the context of roleplaying, but in this case, it will be about factions. So I am making a factions game to supplement your roleplaying game. The game is inspired by Free Kriegsspiel, Kriegsspiel Chess, Stars Without Numbers’ Factions, and the board game Diplomacy. 

The Idea

This is a game about factions or organizations that are operating in a sector. How they relate to each other may depend on starting attitudes. Some are at war, while others may be at friendlier terms. It will handle actions and operations ranging from diplomacy to insurgencies to blockades. 

As a player, you are given control of an organization, which may consist of many types of units and resources. You do not know where the other players’ units are unless you find them through your own or others’ actions. You have an 8 by 10  sector map available to you, but it will work as a common reference point, not as a map in a board game. 

Play is handled in turns. For each turn, you write orders for your units and organization, which are handled by a Referee. The results of your orders are relayed back to you in narrative form, so there will be imperfect information at all times. Units will report back what they see, not exactly what happens in the game. 

For example, if you send a spy to gather information on a shipyard, and unfortunately, the spy is killed in an unrelated sabotage action. In this case, the order report may be blank or it may contain a desperate distress signal. It will not be clear to the player what happened. To find out more, the player must investigate by sending more personnel. 

So I refer to players and referees. This is because I’m planning to run this and inviting some friends to take the role of leaders in these factions. You don’t need to involve other players, however. Like with SWN’s factions, you can simply step into the shoes of these leaders yourself.  

How it works

So you have two concepts to deal with in a faction: Assets and Resources. Assets can be anything from a spy to a fleet of warships.  Here are some examples:

  • Fleet
    • Squadron, Attack Wing, Battle Group
  • Ground
    • Squad, Platoon, Army.
  • Transport
    • Courier, Freighter, Convoy.
  • Intel
    • Spy, Outfit, Network. 
  • Base
    • Camp, Outpost, Compound.

Assets have a general rating I call Quality. It can be one of three values: 1, 2, or 4. In general, if two assets of an equal Quality act against each other, they will have a standoff. However, if you support one asset against the other, you count the quality of the supporting and acting assets. So, if a Q2 Army is supported by a Q1 Artillery, then the opposing Q2 Army will suffer 1 impact. Assets are disabled if they receive impact equal to their quality. This principle is inspired by Diplomacy, where land armies need support to defeat other armies. 

The other concept is basically resources. I chose some vague resource names. They are:

  • Influence
  • Materials
  • Supplies
  • Research

You can gather these resources by issuing orders to assets that semantically make sense as resource gathering assets. For example, a mining facility could generate Materials, while a tuxedo-clad spy could gather Influence or Research. The yields could be keyed to the asset’s quality, so a Q2 salvage ship could get you 2 Materials. 

Orders usually require resources or assets. Consult the following table to gauge how much resources are required:

Resource CostImpact / QualityRarityRangeScaleDuration
0MinimalCommonSolar SystemIndividualSame turn
1Minor (1, d4)Uncommon1 hexTeam2 turns
2Moderate (2, d6)Rare2 hexPlatoon3 turns
3Major (4, d8)Epic3 hexCompany5 turns
5Spectacular (6, d10)Legendary5 hexRegiment8 turns
9Legendary (10, d12)Artifact6 hexes or moreLegionPermanent

The table above takes inspiration from Freebooters of the Frontier, where a similar table is used as a foundation for spell effects. Orders can be relatively simple, such as “move Fleet A  from 0406 to 0506”. They can also be more extensive and abstract, like “Infiltrate Imperial Facility on Sullust”.  

I like to think of orders as a “catch-all” type mechanism, so if a leader wants to upgrade a squadron of Y-Wings, then you can estimate the resource cost using the table. If the squadron is considered Q1, then upgrading it to Q2 would require at least 4 resources of a type that makes sense to you. In this case, I arrived at the resource cost based on the Impact and Scale columns. If the Y-Wings were supposed to have some rare upgrades, then consider multiplying the final cost with the Rarity column. 

Some general actions can be move, patrol, support, attack, and search. If you are in doubt about an action succeeding, consider rolling a die based on the asset’s Quality (see the Impact / Quality column). On 1 - 2, the attempt is a disaster. On 3 - 4, the attempt results in a setback. On 5 or more, the action succeeds. 

This faction game still has to be tested. I think the format is ideal for play by post. Since my campaign is played twice a month, I think it’s manageable to scale the number of turns based on the time that passes in the session. 

Other sources of inspiration

While I am thinking of applying these ideas to Star Wars, I imagine these are applicable to other types of settings. For example, Map Kriegsspiel uses relatively simple rules to represent Napoleonic-era warfare. 

A baseline inspiration for the game is Diplomacy, which Matt Colville has employed extensively in his campaigns. He talks about it in this video

Into the Odd also features lightweight rules for running large organizations. 

Comments