So, one of the “hidden pillars” of 5e is that the characters are all supposed to be recruited by various and sundry factions – the particular ones dependent upon their class, alignment, and general attitude. Now, for the Forgotten Realms this means the obvious ones – the Harpers, the Zhentarim, etc. Some of these are open organizations, others are secret societies, some are in-between. These factions are not, to be clear, specifically professional guilds – they are more all-encompassing than that.
Basically, as the characters gain renown, they have the opportunity to rise in rank within these organizations, gaining more influence and resources as they go. The “standard model” has five ranks, staring with zero renown, topping out at around fifty renown – with some level minimums, and some requirement for specific “faction missions” as well. There is even the suggestion or the possibility that individuals could belong to two or more factions. The whole thing reminds me of the Luminous Order and the Ebon Cabal from Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde which I actually started to use a couple of campaigns back with Keep on the Borderlands.
Now, the interesting part to this is that I’ve always had these sorts of organizations in my campaign world – but also often made up of multiple smaller organizations in an often confusing mess until enough rank was gained to get “the big picture”. Now, we’re also in a very different era than my previous games, but I think that it’s time to detail out a series of these factions so that I can start including this aspect of play. The party is headed to “big (little) city” and is certainly ripe for recruitment.
The Circle is an old organization that has had many lives and has strong ties to the Old Faith, the Elven Court, and the Heptarchy. They are currently focused on thwarting the machinations of groups like the Horned Society and tyrants both petty and great that rules through fear and intimidation as well as nurturing the beauty in various and sundry forms – natural as well as created. They are headquartered in Silverveil but maintain small cells and individual agents across the Heartlands and beyond.
The Cartel is focused on the financial prosperity of it’s members as well as the overall flow of trade across the Heartlands. It is a loose but ruthless conglomeration of the various Merchant Houses (large and small) along with the various artisan guilds, it maintains it’s own network of banks that operate both in competition and cooperation with the Dwimmervolk.
The Wardens draw their inspiration from their namesake organization from Old Albion. They are a martial organization, dedicated to fighting against goblins, trolls, giants and other threats to the civilized lands of the Heartlands. They are just as equally dedicated to protecting common people from the ravengers of the Blight, the slavers of the Shadowlands, and banditry and lawlessness in general.
The Quiet Council is a loose alliance of rulers from the Heartlands who work to insure safety and prosperity for each other and the common people. They do this quietly, from behind the scenes, believing that a soft word in the right ear accomplishes more than shouts made in anger. While they see the greatest threats to peace and prosperity often coming from outside the Heartlands, they are not ignorant of the dangers that already exist within it’s boundaries.
The Society of Light is commonly thought to be synonymous with the Church of the Lords of Light, but it actually covers the whole of creatures that serve Powers that stand for justice, beauty, and freedom. They are an open and often martial order for the most part, though they have those who “quietly cultivate light in the darkest of places” as well. They are found through not just the Heartlands but the entirety of the Mortal Realms and are respected or reviled as the witness is wont to be.
Smaller, more focused Factions
The Black Watch is the eyes, ears, and often hands of the both the High Lord of the Shadowlands and the Ebon Council when He is not present. Ultimately concerned with the War Without End against the Dearth, they are often willing to investigate rumors and rumors of rumors in the effort to insure victory. Headquartered in the Great City of Harrow, guarding the Vault of Tears, they have a well-earned reputation for ruthlessness and a willingness to associate with all sorts of unsavory (by the standards of the Heartlands) individuals and groups.
The Imperial Eye is the intelligence service of the High King of Aquitaine in Navarre. It is a small organization, but focused on the safety of both the High King and Aquitaine as a whole – in addition to working with the Imperial Legions and the Imperial Marshals. They maintain spies and agents across the Heartlands, focusing primarily on the Northern Heartlands, who engage in both spying as well as more direct action (sabotage, blackmail, theft, assassination, etc.)
The Horned Society is nominally made up of individuals who serve the Fallen, knowingly or unknowingly. Rarely are they the rot, instead being a beautiful fruit who taste is poisoned. They have an iron fist wrapped a velvet glove for they are invariably hidden, looking to secrecy for safety, and generally prefer to be the trusted advisor rather then the outright ruler.
The Ashen Covenant was founded in the Coming of the Blight to insure the safety of its members – mainly wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks. Headquartered behind the wards of the city of Vaile in the Blight, they seek arcane secrets and eldritch might at all times, seeing these as the guarantor of their own safety and success. They often find themselves at odds with other factions due to this often single-minded focus, and they are ruthless in it’s pursuit.
The El’hherin are semi-secret group within the Elven Court that works to further the ends and interests of the Fae in the War Without End. Consisting of the Wise and their agents, they are often focused on the “long view” in a way that the short lived races barely understand. This perspective often leads to misunderstandings and the belief that the Fae are both haughty and uncaring of the mortal races – a perception complicated when it is so often true for many of the elves.