Tactical applications of narrative control

I was asking about activating factions; luke weighed in that having a faction gives you lots of narrative control. Paul B said this was such an expansive topic it deserved its own thread.

I’d love to hear more!


Okay, so some thoughts from my current BE Invasion-phase game:

To start, the Factions ball starts way back at worldburning, right? Each player can nominate a Faction…but everyone has to agree to have them included at all (which is a Vaylen advantage IIRC). So there’s a two-stage buy-in element to Factions.

I feel like Factions are a somewhat-more-abstract version of Relationships. You include them, even at your own “disadvantage,” because it gives you some authorship over stuff you want to focus on during the game. Practically speaking, they’re ready-made Belief hooks. In our own game, every PC has a Belief hooked into their favorite Faction. That means they want to spend time chasing them around because doing so earns them Artha. It’s a built-in motivation. That in turn gives the GM easier opposing Beliefs for the GMFONs. It’s all pretty great.

In practical terms, stuff I’ve seen done once the players have Taken Action against a Faction:

  • Remove the story element from play. That’s rough! Like…we had a Military Junta as one of the factions. The Imperial Steward’s player called out the Junta and then built his Belief around crushing it. Was that tactically sound, Infection-wise? Maybe. It did cost 2 Maneuvers to Assess (all the factions) and then Take Action against them. But doing so won the humans +5 dispo. Very nice. Lengthening the game has a slightly different impact than shortening it IMO – gives you more shots at going to ground and conserving, for example.

But in narrative terms, removing the Junta meant that an NPC of mine that was defined as “leader of the Junta” had his legs cut out from under him. Now instead of being able to Circle up Junta supporters, well…the Junta’s gone, baby! The army’s back in control of the Imperial Steward.

So like the rest of BW, the fiction always drives the mechanics, right?

  • Taking control of the story element. This one’s a little looser, and everyone has to agree that they’re not making dick moves. But here’s an example: The Forged Lord PCFON has a Belief about evacuating the Circle of 10,000 offworld before the Invasion destroys them all. Well, if they Take Action against the Psychological Foundations faction, I would say they no longer need to spend Circles rolls Circling up 10k leadership. It’s like taking a Relationship with the entire faction – total (reasonable) narrative access to its membership and assets. IE when it’s time to evacuate the Circle of 10,000, they can just color that up and it’ll be on me, as GM, to spend rolls to keep that from happening.

In my own head, the short version is that, prior to Taking Action against a faction, either side can make color statements about a Faction’s activities and color trumps color, yadda yadda. But after a Take Action, only the winner can make color statements, and only Builders by the oppo can trump that color. There may be a logical flaw with that position but I haven’t bumped into it yet.

  • Physical assets are tough, because that starts to interfere with the Resources and Tech Burner rules. What I DO allow is that any tech that’s been mentioned at any point in the past related to a Faction counts as having been pre-colored (recalling the requirement that new tech be mentioned in a color scene prior to the Builder roll).

It hasn’t come up yet, but I think I’d also allow the players to bypass the requirement to first make a Circles check to Resource up the faction’s stuff during the Invasion phase. (NB A Circles check is required before every resource check during Invasion; I have to admit I’m not clear if that extends to Tech Burner rolls).

So there’s some places to start. I think the bulk of the good stuff has to do with the Artha engine and the scene economy, rather than a long list of specific mechanical benefits (other than what I mention above re. resource/tech burner rolls).

Thanks, Paul, that’s very helpful.

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics, but you’re right - it’s not a boardgame, the fiction is always there determining what’s plausible, what you should Say Yes to and what’s difficult, etc.

I’m playing in the 1920s, so I’ve completely de-emphasized tech and tech color, but what you’ve said about controlling faction color seems sound.

The most important reason for factions is the additional native settings. Almost every faction brings another native setting in.

That means factions add character diversity. To the game and the narrative.

Above and beyond this is the effect on the disposition of the side… and upon the narrative of the sides coercing and/or destroying the side. (one’s as good as the other mechanically… but not narratively.)

I think the way to get the most narrative juice out of the factions is to really engage with them prior to Taking Action against them. That means writing Beliefs about them, Circling up leaders from them, making the story “about” them here and there. Then, when you Take Action, you’ve already established all that nice fiction – either you get to remove all of it in one swoop, or take control of all of it in one swoop.

So things like color scenes where you meet with, say, a mob boss from organized crime: you describe his warehouse filled with … something useful. Guns? Drugs? Battlebots? Whatever. Or the competent mooks surrounding the mob boss. Or his lavish, well-secured mansion. Or the fact that the cops are dirty, and many of them owe the mob boss favors. It’s all color so it’s all fair game, right? So when you Take Action, all that color that was “ours” is now YOURS. Now it’s on the loser to oppose everything we’ve both agreed is true inside the game fiction.

IMO Circling up Faction leaders in advance of a Take Action is a smart move. If I were GMing, I’d let the TA winner use those previously established leaders without having to make a new Circles check.

Just more stuff off the top of my head.

If I were GMing, I’d let the TA winner use those previously established leaders without having to make a new Circles check.

I’ve found that conflicts with PCs/FON in the faction, interacting with the faction NPCs, or using the faction as backdrop prior to the Take Action creates a lot more coherent fiction linking the micro-level play to the macro-level maneuver rolls. It’s a lot easier to come up with a sensible description of what success or failure of the Take Action roll means to the characters at the microlevel, something that everyone around the table is likely to nod their head in agreement of.

I think Paul’s comment above is just another manifestation of that. Involving the faction first before Take Action is good form in your play that naturally leads to rewards.