Organizations are extremely important in any setting. Governments, companies, religions… they’re the ones who rule over your world. They set things in motion. They DO things! And more importantly, they’re utterly memorable for your players and readers, and give character to your worldbuilding. However, creating a whole organization can feel a bit daunting, right? Well, in this post, I’ll make worldbuilding factions much easier for you! We’ll talk about how your organization works, but also how it looks from the outside and how it relates to other factions. Let’s unpack that!
All organizations have goals and ideals
An organization is a group of people that come together to do something —that’s the faction’s goal. To avoid generic factions, try picking specific goals for your faction. But don’t go overboard – make sure that the goal’s still open enough that people with slightly different opinions can join it!
For example, “overthrowing the current government” is pretty generic and doesn’t really imply which kinds of ideals they defend. But you just need to narrow it down to “becoming the new ruling faction through any means so that there can be equality” and you’ll have a much better faction goal. Not only does it sum up what the faction wants, but it’ll also help you easily figure out the other elements we’ll talk about in this post!
Worldbuilding factions with rituals
Rituals and traditions are an obvious element of organizations like religions and cults. However, you can find them in any other kind of organization too. For example, politicians in a congress session will follow a specific protocol —and if they don’t it’s normally because they’re choosing to express something through their actions.
You can think of rituals and traditions as the way your faction tries to reach its goal. But it’s also a way for a faction to control how others see it. A kind of Public Relations, if like you. For example, a faction that celebrates the new day with songs and dances will probably have a higher reputation than the one with blood magic and necromancy rituals. Of course, that’s a great way to subvert expectations too! Maybe the people of this world don’t mind necromancy, but hate music. Or what if the happy songs are just a facade to cover up a shady guild? Your choice!
Rivals and allies
Relations between organizations are an essential part of worldbuilding factions. Make a list of all known organizations in your world and decide what kind of relationship they’ve got with the faction you’re creating. These decisions will have an important impact on the world. For example, what does it mean if two rival factions are suddenly allied against a third faction? Think about power vacuums too! They’re a great source of conflict between competing factions.
If you have many factions in your world, relationships between them could become difficult to remember. But World Anvil can help you with this! Use the diplomacy webs feature to have a visual and interactive representation of your organizations. It’s a great way to track diplomacy in your worldbuilding! Here’s how it looks in action:
Give your factions a personality
Personality isn’t just for characters. Guess how you can make your faction feel more alive? Give it personality! For a faction, this is mostly how their members might look or sound like. Think about how they dress, which social class they come from, what kind of training they have (if any), and their general outlook on life. A great example of this is Pratchett’s Assassin’s Guild – all the members are aristocrats, and so sound a certain way. But they also all have a certain outlook on life (and death!) because of their training. For another example, a faction with militaristic goals will use uniforms, while members of a criminal faction might move with subtlety, always looking out for dangers and trying to blend in. Lost for ideas? Make sure to use goals, rituals, and traditions as inspiration!
When writing about faction personality, think about how your faction behaves in general terms, too. Let’s look at Avatar: The Last Airbender for an example! There are four main factions (called nations) and you can easily identify where a character is —and not only thanks to their character designs!
- The Fire Nation is ambitious and hot-headed (heh), always striving for innovation. And that’s why they’ve got the most advanced technology.
- The Earth Kingdom takes on problems head-on and is known for its persistence and endurance. No wonder they’d been fending off the Fire Nation for so long!
- The Water Tribes easily adapt to new situations and have strong community bonds, which is why they give so much importance to their traditions.
- The Air Nomads have a strong spiritual connection and believe in freedom and pacifism. Their more spiritual personality makes so much sense when you learn they were all monks!
See? These are not complex definitions, but they are distinct and have direct consequences on the world.
…but avoid character stereotypes!
Now, it’s critical to avoid character stereotypes. If you’ve watched Avatar, you’ll know that there are several characters from a single nation but they all have distinct personalities —and they still don’t feel disconnected from their home nation!
This means that the personality of a faction should be generic enough that it could be developed in many different directions. For example, a character from a community-first faction (like the Water Tribe) could be a caretaker, a warrior that defends their village, or they could even have xenophobic opinions (“anyone outside my community sucks”)! Use the faction as a foundation for the personalities of its members, but make sure to go beyond that!
Use symbols for worldbuilding factions
All factions want to be known in a certain way, that’s where symbology comes in. Symbols have two goals: to create a sense of unity within the organization, but also to influence how other people see them. Think of the feeling you want other people to have when they see the faction’s symbol, and then pick an element related to the faction that carries this feeling.
For example, the symbol of House Dimir from the Ravnica setting is a dark eye with spider legs. This quickly suggests what this guild is all about: a network (or “web”) of spies that are always watching. But you don’t need to be as subtle: the capital of Gondor, from The Lord of the Rings, has a very important white tree —so the kingdom’s symbol is a white tree.
Of course, symbology is not just the logo of the faction! Other elements such as mottos and anthems are equally important. After all, one of the most iconic lines of Game of Thrones is “Winter is coming” —House Stark’s motto. Want even more symbols? Think about guild tools, holy relics, and royal regalia. Needless to say, some symbols can’t be applied to any kind of faction!
All in all, worldbuilding factions is a crucial part of any story —both for writers and GMs! But once you have these 5 tips in mind, you’ll have a faction that not only is well integrated with the world, but also has a memorable personality. Remember to connect your faction with the rest of your world; this will automatically make the world feel more alive! And if you use the Organisation template on World Anvil, you’ll have a myriad of prompts and questions to inspire even deeper factions. So sign up for an account and get writing!
Got an idea for a faction? The Alliance Challenge is still open for submissions! If you want to enter, you still have time. So, grab your hammer and go worldbuild!