From the early Shadow War for Absalom to the introduction of factions in Season 3 to the transition to non-national factions in Season 6 to the removal of faction missions to Faction Journal Cards and Season 9's many storylines, we've seen factions grow and change so much over the years. And that's with good reason—factions are one of the unique elements that distinguish the Pathfinder Society campaign from the core rules, and they're consistently a big part of what inspires and shapes character concepts. There was no doubt in our mind that Pathfinder Society's second edition campaign would include factions, too.
And we've had a lot of inspiration to draw from. Not only have we learned a lot of lessons from past Pathfinder Society seasons, but we also had the benefit of seeing how Starfinder Society's different approach to factions fared. The latter's worked out really well. Not only does it give PCs the opportunity represent multiple factions (earning Reputation that determines your status within the faction and Fame that lets you buy perks), but it also presents factions as interest groups within the Society rather than ambitious power brokers beyond the Society, boosting the sense of camaraderie rather than highlighting irreconcilable differences.
Yet there's one big factor that Starfinder Society had that Pathfinder Society doesn't: a clean slate. When Thurston Hillman was taking point on Starfinder Society's foundational lore, we were inventing new factions from the ground up (and created some pretty great characters). For those of us handling Pathfinder Society's transition, we have roughly 11 years of history, experience, and emotional connection to consider. How do we balance old loyalties with new possibilities?
The short answer? Through many passionate discussions.
The longer answer? We sussed out that although there were some first edition factions whose stories were wrapping up and others that seem to have many years of fresh stories to tell, the notion of transferring only some of the factions or faction leaders into the second edition campaign would give a sense of winners and losers. What's more, the current factions are very much the products of a decade-long campaign in which they've evolved rather organically—trying to fill particular niches so as not to overlap too heavily with other factions' goals or pivot too strongly from those factions' original goals and character types. So even those factions we thought could do well in the new campaign received closer scrutiny and a verdict of "Good, but not quite what we need."
The end result? The second edition Pathfinder Society campaign features six factions, most of which have familiar faces leading them. These factions are all new and include four major factions and two minor factions.
Nice! Six factions! That should... uh... wait, what? Major and minor factions? (Okay, some of you who have followed a little experiment in Starfinder Society might know where this is going.)
Major and Minor Factions
Narrative, stability, and options. We're going to come back to those words.
Let's start with a bit of history. In Season 3, the org play team doubled the number of playable factions from 5 to 10. It was kinda nice. There were tons of options, there was, at last, a "good guys" faction that didn't occasionally send assassins after people, the Shadow Lodge developed an early following and more. But within a year, the opportunity cost of maintaining all of these factions was already taking its toll (those faction missions didn't write themselves). There were already plans to trim the factions down to 8 by the time I joined in Season 4, and later to 7 factions. Ambitious storyteller that I was, I wanted to tell more faction-facing stories, and the more factions there were to juggle, the more scenarios they needed to tell their stories and the fewer non-faction scenarios we saw. As an added complication, some season storylines were ideal fits for any given faction's main story, whereas others struggled at times to be relevant.
In short, the more factions we had, the harder it was to give each of them the screen time we felt they deserved. And as I mentioned earlier, factions had gone through a lot of changes over the years, and stories sometimes had to focus on how a faction had changed rather than fulfilling that faction's goals. In many cases, it worked out nicely, and at other times, it didn't meet our lofty expectations. Basically, we were having to balance narrative and stability with numerous other factors.
To address these issues, we created major and minor factions. At their core, major and minor factions are about narrative, stability, and options. They aim to give players lots of options while maximizing our storytelling possibilities and affording us the flexibility to present a wide range of adventures.
A major faction is one of the Pathfinder Society's philosophical pillars, promoting values that are central to what the organization's about. When we create each year's storyline and scenario list, we endeavor to include several scenarios that play to each major faction's strengths or advance their own narratives. And because the major factions are fundamentally tied to the Society's goals in different ways, these factions are very unlikely to change.
A minor faction represents a group of like-minded individuals within the Society that's recognized as a significant force and commands its own substantial resources. The faction's goals are not part of the Society's charter, per se, yet the objectives are ones that commonly appeal to Pathfinders or are an excellent fit for adventurers already traveling the world. Minor factions are also an excellent fit for region-based factions that would feature heavily for a specific year's storyline before stepping back from the spotlight, much as the Lantern Lodge was central to Season 3'story. Likewise, although we'll certainly feature stories tied to minor factions every so often, a minor faction isn't guaranteed a particular amount of story content each season. In terms of stability, we're unlikely to remove a minor faction from play (such as when the Shadow Lodge retired), and we'll likely introduce more minor factions slowly throughout the campaign.
If you participate in Starfinder Society, you might have seen one of these minor factions in action: the Manifold Host. The Starfinder Society isn't strictly about recruiting as many strange aliens agents as possible, but it sure is something that tends to happen when you send explorers out to inspect unfamiliar worlds. The Manifold Host delights in expanding the Society's diversity in this way. The minor faction offers a mix of boons, including some borrowed from existing factions and a few that are entirely unique. The "Faction (Manifold Host)" tag hasn't appeared on any scenarios, yet it's nonetheless just the right fit in terms of flavor and rewards for many characters. It's doing what we'd hope a minor faction would do.
Okay, we're already 1,100 or so words in, and I haven't even introduced any of our factions yet! Let's correct that by showing off two of the six new factions, including both a major faction and a minor faction.
Horizon Hunters (Major Faction)
Since its first day when adventurers gathered in Absalom to share drinks and swap stories, the Pathfinder Society has been an organization of explorers. The Horizon Hunters is home to those who carry on the proud tradition of ascending the highest peaks, plumbing the darkest depths, and seeing what lies over the next hill. And as sweet as it is to discover a lost ruin or unknown vista, it's all the better to tell wild tales about the experience and revel in the admiration of peers—particularly if an agent's deeds might be immortalized in the Pathfinder Chronicles, a widely distributed record of the greatest Pathfinders' achievements and discoveries.
Faction Leader: Hailing from the Sodden Lands, Calisro Benarry (N female half-orc) is a pirate-turned-Pathfinder who made her name as venture-captain of the Arcadian Mariner's Lodge, a ship-borne Pathfinder lodge aboard the Grinning Pixie passed between venture-captains every few years. Bucking tradition, Benarry commanded the wheel for a decade, oversaw exploration of the dreaded Gloomspires, and traveled widely before recently being ordered to surrender the ship. That's no excuse for her to settle down, and she's poured her energy into inspiring curiosity, tenacity, and wanderlust in the Society as a whole, spearheading the Horizon Hunters faction.
Objectives: The more untouched, unfamiliar, or unknown a site or treasure, the more exhilarating it is to reach it. The Horizon Hunters encourage exploration for its own sake, yet it's also dedicated to enhancing the reputation of its members—anything from publication in the Pathfinder Chronicles to being the subject of the latest tall tale to circulate the taverns. Iconic objectives include uncovering mythical lost cities, blazing the trail through uncharted territory, and reaching foreboding realms. And if the PCs can look good while doing so, that's all the better.
Radiant Oath (Minor Faction)
The Society's mission doesn't intrinsically involve acts of altruism, heroism, and sacrifice, yet the Pathfinders have a track record for thwarting evil, lending a helping hand, and presenting the Pathfinders as upstanding folk wherever they go. For the Radiant Oath, this benevolence extends beyond incidental assistance. Instead, the faction sees the Society's broad reach as an excellent vector for assisting others the world over. Those who join the Radiant Oath swear simple vows to assist others, expanding on these promises the more they serve the faction.
Faction Leader: No stranger to peril, Valais Durant (LG female aasimar) set out for Numeria after earning her wayfinder and distinguished herself in covert operations there and in Ustalav. When the Society needed agents to investigate the possible misdeeds of Venture-Captain Thurl, she volunteered, directing her practiced senses to uncover his crimes. Unfortunately, she fell prey to his guardians and magic, ultimately being transformed into an amalgam of demonflesh. She fought off her new form's abyssal influence long enough to return to the Society, and there she sought to restore her mortal form. Her journey took her as far away as Heaven, where with other Pathfinders, she uncovered a ritual to remove the demonic corruption safely. The ritual exceeded her greatest expectations. Rather than be restored to her human body, Heaven itself granted her a celestial form.
Even though she's still adjusting to her new body and celestial connection, Valais is committed to helping others as the Society helped her. Rather than crushing her spirit, her exposure to dark rituals and demonic whispers has taught her what's at stake if evil prevails, granting her the strength to defeat fiends and assist the vulnerable in equal measure. Her supernatural powers don't blind her to her own biases, though. Valais knows that her own perspective of justice and benevolence is but one of many the world over, so she recruits faction members of diverse backgrounds to spread good in their own ways while respecting the desires of unfamiliar cultures.
Objectives: Unlike its spiritual predecessor, the Silver Crusade, which threw itself forcefully at the most significant threats and villains, the Radiant Oath emphasizes acts of kindness, compassion, and redemption. However, when dire evils threaten the world, the oathsworn are ready to combat it. By consistently promoting the cause of good and building the faction's reputation, the Radiant Oath strives for greater influence in the Society to direct its resources toward just causes.
Did you catch yesterday's blog about more of the decisions for the continuation of the Pathfinder Society campaign? If not, we encourage you to check it out. Otherwise, join us next week as we preview May's scenario offerings.
Organized Play Lead Developer