Sunday, 4 July 2021

5 Point Star Faction System

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 Just haven't the focus to post that much, but I got like 3 posts in draft and had some of a afternoon to full one out.

So I've been playing a bit of Magic: The Gathering , mainly Area, to try and learn it well enough to explore its Cube Format , a format that addresses a lot of what deters me about Magic.

Won't be getting into that today, instead talking about using one particular element from Magic in D&D.

(And not the card art , though that is a deep and heady well )

The Colour Pie . That's the 5 dots thing, or more specifically the assignation of traits ,elements, abilities , themes, mechanics , and psychologies, to the 5 colours of magic.

 Actually it's even more specific , its the "allies" and "enemies" concept that came along with it.

This that the two colours directly opposite a colour on the star are its enemies , and the colours clockwise and counterclockwise to it are its allies.

So Red magic has Green and Black magic as allies, and White and Blue magic as enemies.


A Diagram

While White has Red and Black as enemies and Green and Blue as enemies. Hopefully you get the picture. If you don't, there's a considerable amount written elsewhere about it.

Anyway I don't really care about these specific groupings of stuff and how they framed towards each other as I do this particular framework as a default model for putting together factions in D&D.

I think it's fucking neat in that regard because it makes everyone just one degree of separation from their enemies which is the type of "extreme volatile yet currently stable" setup that makes for good d&d potential in your world building.

 You wouldn't have to slavishly apply it , but its a nice default to work towards.

 Think of a faction, think of two enemies for that faction then think of two allies . Then pick an enemy and an ally to also be allied. The remaining ally and enemy will then be grouped up by default.

Patron of The Nezumi by Kev Walker

Here's a example of this be used to array the following fellows:

Picture a swamp , dense with bald cypress, festooned with spanish moss, with a wide slow river winding through it. Somewhere in the green is a haunted stone city, its only remnants the upper stories , the bulk of it swallowed by the mire.

In this swamp is a Dragon , Talking Eels, Frog People , Ruin Shadows and the River Nomads.

The Swamp Dragon is more sly than he is greedy but more lazy than he is sly. If Crocodiles exalted anything other than hungry and sloth, they would exalt this dragon as their rightful king.

The Ruin Shadows are ghosts of little power but reasonable number. The were the most useful servants in life but weren't prized enough to be included into the afterlives of their rulers unlike the musicians and concubines.

The Frog People have migrated from many other swamps. They lost their swamps to the expansions of civilizations and the depredations of monsters. The are an inharmonious blend of a dozen or so different tribes but all agree on that there is no-where else left to go. They have been here long enough for the River Nomads to respect their laws and the Eels to resent their appetites.

The Eels or "The Talking Eels" are Eels that can talk. The Ruin Shadows believe they are descended from the peasants of their city , cursed for their disloyalty. The Eels however consider the sinking of the city a gift from their Eel gods.

The River Nomads could be said to be less "Nomadic" and more that they have a river for a home. Some constantly move up and down the river in small trade, others stay put ,  and hunt or fish. They all bound by a custom to make no home but a home on water.

As to their relations:

 The Swamp Dragon is allied with the Eels. They give him information and gossip while waiting for tasty giblets of meat to fall from his maw as he devours a cow or four.

The dragon was believed to be an agent of their gods and the still make ritual offerings to him so he will keep intruders and looters from their necropolis.

The Frog People are an enemy of the Swamp Dragon, he eats their youngest , oldest and bravest alike.

The River Nomads also plot against the Swamp Dragon, as the toll he demands for passing through the flooded forest is steep.

The Eels trade with the River Nomads too, but have long grievances against the Ruin Shadows and Frog People who both eat them (or have eaten them)

The River Nomads are nomads only because in times passed the ancestors of the Ruin Shadows destroyed their lands and drove them to be ever moving on the rivers and seas of the world.

This shaping event makes ever cautious about the creation of new enemies , and their way of life forces them to treat lightly on the many lands they pass through, so their relationships with the Frog tribes and Eels is careful and considered.


  1. I had a bit I wanted to include about how the Mtg colour system breaks down for me when it gets to referring to actual elements and landscapes.
    Which sure makes sense that human concepts can be grouped in ways that make sense to humans easier than the forces around it.
    But still , like A Swamp is just a wet forest, forests aren't really that harmonious, what the ocean has to do with the intellect+ reason and self improvement is beyond me and volcanos do a lot of fire sometimes but very little freedom or creativity.
    I guess Plains are plausibly a monoculture though.

  2. The Ocean also seems like a great example of ramping to increasingly bigger creatures

  3. I fucked up and managed to delete 2 comments but they were:
    The five-colour split in Magic works for gameplay reasons (because of the 'two allies and two enemies' arrangement you discuss), but it's never really made much sense conceptually, and I'm afraid the problem is green. White and black work as a clear dyad: community vs. individualism, healing vs. harm, selflessness vs. selfishness. Red and blue work as a clear dyad: instinct vs. reason, hot vs. cold, violence vs. study. They even map onto the core D&D classes: red fighter, white cleric, blue magic-user, black thief. Green, though, is a conceptual hodgepodge vaguely unified around trees and animals, linked more to white and red than blue and black only due to under-examined assumptions about niceness and instinct being somehow more 'natural' than nastiness or reason. It's basically the colour of 1990s pop environmentalism. (Perhaps not totally surprising, given that the game came out in 1993.)

    I played the online card game Eternal for a while, and they had a five-colour wheel with a different split. White, Black, and Red were basically the same (as Justice, Shadow, and Flame), but the ice and sea elements of blue were merged with green to become Primal, while the thought and scholarship aspects of blue split off to become their own faction, Time.

    Ruin Shadows and talking eels are great and will be added to my campaign hexmap post haste!
    -Joseph Manola

    Its a good concept


    1. What if class-wise the green could be that concept of 'Adventurer' class, which is jack of all trades class, taking bits from all other core classes? Might sort of represent the mishmash that green is.

  4. Yeah Green is kinda a mess. It's the big dinosaur colour but "savage instinct" is Red. It's life but not in healing way (that's White) , it's trees and destiny??

    1. It could work if it was 'the nature colour' but it's not even that. Agriculture and domesticated animals are white. Poisonous animals and scavengers are black. Fish and birds and arctic creatures are blue. Angry animals, and animals that live in caves or mountains, are red. Green is pretty much left as the colour of 'the bits of nature that urban people like' - bears, wolves, flowers, forests - which is a bit of a rubbish niche.

    2. it does get dinosaurs and aggressive looking semi-reptiles though and I find myself naturally gravitating to Green as I just want to bury my opponent under a stream of behemoths

  5. Agreed that the mythical resonance of green is fairly superficial, but I'd argue that because of that it's had to develop a lot of retrofitted philosophy. So sometimes green is like Arnold's druids, but other times it's apparently mathematicians trying to discover the underlying principles of the universe, and the umbrella philosophy built around natural order encompasses both of those

  6. The ally of my ally is my enemy. Checks out, I'm frequently my own biggest obstacle.
    Yeah, green is kinda weird. It's like the parts of nature we don't map any ethical component onto. The generic bits. The other colors intrude on the borders of its elemental aspects. On the psychological side it's basically conservatism (the old way= natural= the best way)- but forest critters tend towards the apolitical so green's aspects don't jive 100%.

  7. A lot of people are tying this very tightly to the Magic The Gathering system.
    I really think an Antagonist Pentagram works better the fewer elements you bring into it. North clashes with Northeast and Northwest because they're adjacent, whether or not there's any big philosophical or ideological dimension to the conflict. North has better relations with Southeast and Southwest because--they don't border each other. It can be just that simple.

    Once you drop the idea that the Antagonist Pentagram has to be a philosophy of life, it works a lot better. Past the Kingdom, you can have your Queen of Fire, Faerie Queen, Lord Boomstick (shameless plagiarism of Army of Darkness), Serpent King and The Necromancer. Or the Troll Lord, hag coven, hobgoblin warband, xenophobic centaurs, and myconid grove. Or whatever five medium-to-big-bads you want to have.

    1. I don't think one has to have all the factions represent deep archetype schisms (and don't think anyone is really saying that?) but having all your factions have different goals and values gives you a lot of game value without having to go that deep.
      As opposed to say every faction wanting to destroy all its immediate neighbors because they hate them. There's not a lot to work with other than "hey we are going to fight the guys you hate, we cool?"
      Instead you make one faction looking for a new home , another faction wanting its old home back, one wanting the easiest source of protein they can get, one wanting knowledge for knowledge sake, and the last one wanting glory in conflict.
      The players would be able to find out what each one wanted and then offer different things to different factions.

    2. I think the key is divide the factions by their stances on a particular issue. The MTG color pie maps out the relationships between different philosophies fairly well, but when it tries to pull double duty with elements or critter types too the conflicts don't always line up perfectly.
      You could do a faction pie that's just local groups that love or hate each other, but it would only work in a particular scenario. If you're looking for something to replace alignment you have to get much broader with your factions.