Factions are groups within a fictional world, each with its own identity and goals, and often competing with one another. Depending on the fictional world, factions could be waring kingdoms fighting over territory, different fictional gods each trying to usurp the others, or megacorporations vying for dominance in a cyberpunk dystopia. Even smaller scale groups – different cliques of performers vying for control of a traveling circus – could also be used as factions within a fictional world. Factions add depth, intrigue, and complexity to a setting. But perhaps most importantly, they can be used to add conflict. Factions, and the potential strife between factions with opposing goals, can drive a narrative, inspire historical events (wars, assassinations, etc.), or create compelling and interesting settings and stories.
Designing Factions for a Fictional World
The factions present within a fictional world will depend on that world’s genre, era, tone, and other elements/factors. A worldbuilder designing a magical school, for example, may wish to coopt the stereotypical and trope cliques of a high school as factions (witch goths, emo necromancers, illusionist theater kids) while a worldbuilder designing an entire fictional world may wish to use countries or political forces as their dominant factions. For large-scale projects, consider political groups, religious groups, magical/occult groups, rebellions, economic groups (traders, bankers, etc), criminal groups (pirates, crime families), and/or manufacturers (corporations, guilds).
For any powerful group that exists in your world, consider if there is one or more internal or external forces acting in opposition. Fracturing large groups is one way of generating factions and increasing the complexity of a fictional world.
Cultural and Historical Influences
Leadership and Hierarchies
Leaders play a pivotal role in any faction. Define the leaders of your factions, whether they are charismatic visionaries, ruthless warlords, or enigmatic mystics. Understanding the faction’s hierarchy and how leadership is obtained and maintained will add depth to your characters and their dynamics. The internal strife within a faction can also provide areas to explore.
Symbols and Iconography
Visual elements can help make factions memorable and are often used in fictional worlds. Consider creating distinctive symbols, flags, or logos for each faction. These symbols can represent the faction’s ideals, goals, or history. In worlds with an audience, faction symbols should be easily recognizable (the use of different colors, shapes, or symbols can help with this).
Factions often have their own unique symbols and iconography.
Allies and Enemies
Factions rarely exist in isolation. They interact with one another, forming alliances, rivalries, and conflicts. Think about how the different factions in your world relate to one another. Some may be natural allies, while others are bitter enemies. These relationships and how they evolve over time can drive a plot and add intrigue.
Consider uneasy alliances, quests for vengeance, and betrayal.
Factions in Game Worlds
In game-oriented worlds, players are often given the opportunity to join forces with a faction, becoming enemies of its’ enemies and furthering the factions’ own goals by completing missions or quests provided by that faction. The addition of multiple factions, all of which a player may join, increases player agency, game replayability (if applicable), and tailors a game more towards a player’s individual playstyle and preferences.