Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Designing a setting: part 4 - faction differences

Something that cropped up in the recording of an upcoming Meeples podcast: the difference between factions in settings.

There's kind of a scale: at one end we have most any war on Earth, to a greater or lesser extent. The factions are all fundamentally identical (like, duh, human!), and for the most part their technologies are identical or close to it. Sure, we can find counter-examples, such as (say) German tanks vs Polish cavalry, English longbows, but, to be fair, most of those are simply one side not catching up with the other, rather than anything deeper. At the other end, Spartan's Planetfall is a great example (and so, to a lesser extent, is 40K), where the factions are technologically vastly different to the point of having gone down completely divergent development lines (and races), and the core factions pretty much do not share any tech within the context of the game.

It's another design decision, I guess. How 'alien' are your factions to each other, both in terms of species, and almost as interestingly, technology? And you're not restricted to the endpoints of the line: for example, let's imagine a humanocentric setting where the raw materials to do anti-gravity and Battletech-like are artificial muscles ('myomer') are both rare. Divide the humans into two: one faction controls most of the AG raw material, one the myomer, and has for long enough that their technologies have evolved to match - one side uses grav-tanks, the other 'mech walkers.

Personally (and this is very much a personal opinion), I like to stray towards the 'same but different' end. This may be something to do with the fact that I'm fond of subtlety: I like the idea of being characterised by difference, rather than defined by it.

Anyway. That's today's pondering, brought on by running out of podcasts on the train back from London. Enjoy :D


  1. Same-but-different is sensible for different factions of the same race (assuming SF) and similar technology levels. The major differences will be in doctrine, determined by culture, wealth, technology and population.

    For instance in the Full Thrust universe shows different emphases on spaceship design. The Neu Swabian League favours armour and heavy beam weaponry over manoeuvrability; the Federal States Europa favour fighters, missiles and high manoeuvrability. For both factions ships are designed for specific roles, whereas the New Anglian confederation ships are very much designed for multiple roles.

    Then you get the smaller nations that are wealthy and high tech, like the New Israelis and the Japanese whose doctrines are as different from each other as they are from the larger nations.

  2. Tamsin: the key point in the original factions being that they're all working off the same list of tech, they just have different priorities. (I'm sure you know this, just think it worth mentioning for people who don't know FT.) The later factions have tended to go along with nifty new tech so it gets a bit more fiddly. What I suspect is really needed is a new Fleet Book with everyone starting on the same tech base again.

    Chain of Command is an excellent example of portraying forces using basically the same tech but wildly differing in equipment and tactics. If you try to run a German platoon like a British one, you will lose.

  3. And I think that the the trick is how to replicate CoCs trick within a SFnal setting.

    1. With something like Q13 that should be possible at company level - two forces with different company organisations/locations of support weapons etc should fight very differently.

  4. Interesting that Infinity , that I used to play a while back, started out with nigh-identical human factions that eventually became much more distinct over the years (though with the same broad tech level.) I'm not so aware of the alien factions though and their impact.


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