Live factions have risen to prominence in the Forgotten Realms, and some are more heroic than others. Factions are power groups that seek to further their own aims, while still opposing the destructive forces that threaten the land. Each faction has its own motivations, goals, and philosophies, and each one calls to the heart of a different kind of hero.
This old organization has risen, been shattered, and risen again several times. It uses ‘cells’ and lone operatives throughout Faerûn, and its longevity and resilience are largely due to this decentralized, grassroots and secretive set-up. The Harpers oppose tyranny and seek fairness and equality for all.
Many paladins and clerics of Tyr, Helm, Torm, and Hoar view this organization as a way of joining forces against the evils in the world. The Order of the Gauntlet believes in acting swiftly and is ready to lash out the moment evil acts, without waiting for the blessings of distant temples or the permission of rulers.
This group opposes anything that threatens the natural world. Its members know how to survive, and more importantly, they want to help others do the same. They are not opposed to civilization or progress, but they strive to prevent civilization and the wilderness from destroying one another.
This coalition of city rulers collectively agrees that some level of solidarity is needed to keep evil at bay. However, every lord in the Alliance works for the fate and fortune of his or her own settlement above all others. The rulers of Waterdeep, Silverymoon, Neverwinter, and other free cities in the region dominate the Alliance.
The Zhentarim believe that everyone should fear to cross them. The public face of the organization appears to be benign, offering the best mercenaries money can buy. Yet their true aim is to amass wealth, power, and influence to become omnipresent, inescapable, and untouchable.
D&D Adventurer's League
Factions truly shine when you encounter them within the D&D Adventurers League experience. Belonging to a faction sometimes means having responsibilities, but it also brings support and rewards for service.
A character allied with a faction earns ‘renown’ by accomplishing tasks that match that faction’s goals. The renown points awarded at the end of an episode or adventure help them gain ranks within a faction and bring additional benefits and aid. Unfortunately, should you ever leave a faction, you lose all benefits and renown associated with your former faction, and must start at rank one with zero renown in any new faction. The factions aren’t kind to traitors or deserters.
Still, being a member of a faction could be lifesaving for lower-level player characters. Should the worst happen and a character of level one to four is killed while adventuring, their body can be returned to civilization and a patron from the faction ensures they receive a raise dead spell. Invoking this act, which is known as Faction Charity, removes all XP and rewards from that session (even those earned prior to death during that session), and the character cannot replay that episode again. Once a character reaches 5th level, this option is no longer available.
When a threat to the Sword Coast becomes great enough, factions who may normally oppose each other are forced to work together. As the Elemental Evil storyline unfolds and devastation rains down on Faerûn, so these five factions band together.
Yet despite the obvious danger these elementalists represent, not all of those who seek to thwart them have noble intentions. Some factions selfishly wish to protect their own interests, while others crave the power the cultists wield for themselves.
Most similar in their outlooks are The Harpers, The Order of the Gauntlet and The Emerald Enclave, who all fear the wider danger the cults present to the Sword Coast. In particular, Emerald Enclave members recognize that the cults threaten the wilderness, making them their natural enemies. Gauntlet members, meanwhile, hate the evil abominations the cultists worship and the havoc they wreak wherever they go.
The remaining two factions – The Lords’ Alliance and The Zhentarim – have more self-centered interests at heart. Alliance members feel the elemental cults are operating dangerously close to a number of their key cities, including Yartar, Waterdeep, Neverwinter and Silverymoon. Individual members of the Lords’ Alliance also view victory over these cults as a path to prestige and glory.
Similarly, the Zhentarim have made impressive inroads in the North and along the Sword Coast, establishing important assets throughout the region. Zhents would seek to protect those local interests against the rise of the cults.
The aims of the five factions also differ when it comes to how they would deal with the cults’ power. The Harpers merely plan to deprive the cults of their magic weapons, thereby ending their access to the elemental planes. The Order of the Gauntlet would go even further, wiping out the cults completely and destroying their vile magic items. Members of the Enclave would also destroy the four elemental weapons, as well as razing the elemental nodes to break the connections to the elemental planes. However, the more mercenary Zhentarim would look to acquire as much elemental power as they can get their hands on.
The cults themselves also offer interesting learning opportunities for certain factions. While keen to destroy them, Order of the Gauntlet members are keener still to learn where the four elemental weapons came from. The Harpers, meanwhile, look beyond the Princes of the Apocalypse to learn as much as they can about the enigmatic Elder Elemental Eye – a watchful and hateful entity that represents the union of the four elements into one evil force and may not, in fact, exist.
Pick A Side
Access to factions will differ depending on where you encounter them. In the Temple of Elemental Evil board game, each of the five playable heroes is automatically assigned a different faction. In the Neverwinter MMO RPG, players will often be assigned quests by faction members which benefit their organization (these in-game collaborations also helped explain the groups’ new roles when the previously feared Zhentarim became an organization people would work with).
Joining a player faction in the tabletop roleplaying game, meanwhile, is usually optional, so a group of adventurers may have no affiliations at all. However, signing up to one of these organizations delivers a richer player experience, as each faction has operatives that will interact with adventurers. Not confined to towns and villages, these hardy agents will show up almost anywhere, allowing the player characters to interact with them and further their aims no matter where the adventure has taken them.