Buying Friends and Associates in GURPS

by Christopher Hammock

A faction is a new advantage for GURPS. It can be viewed as a cross between the Wealth advantage and an Ally Group. A faction provides its controlling character with paid, loyal employees or followers, and the equipment and facilities required for them to use their skills. Members of a faction are all considered to be normal 25 to 50 point characters. A faction is designed using a point system analagous to that used to create GURPS characters. To design a faction, the controlling player decides what point value he wants. The cost for the character is 10 character points plus one-half the value of the faction in faction points. The faction is then created by choosing attributes, advantages, disadvantages and skills. These describe the NPC hirelings and equipment that make up the faction.

Faction Attributes

As for a character, attributes are the fundamental description of a faction. Each attribute has a default value of 10. Higher or lower values may be taken for a point cost or bonus according to the table on p. B13. It is suggested that a cap be placed on the number of points spent on attributes. A reasonable value would be 100 points or the total point value of the faction, whichever is less. The four faction attributes are:

Manpower (MP): This governs the number of individuals in the faction, according to this table:




1 person


2 people


3 people


4 people


5 people


8 people


12 people


20 people


30 people


50 people


80 people


125 people


200 people


300 people


500 people


800 people


1250 people


2000 people


3000 people


5000 people

Should members of a faction be lost, replacements may be recruited and trained over time. The details of this must be determined by the GM.

Training (TR): This represents the faction's ability to perform skilled tasks. Expertise in specific areas is acquired by putting points into a particular skill. Physical skills are based upon this attribute.

Knowledge (KN): This attribute represents the knowledge base and world experience contained within the faction. This governs the scientific, technical, artistic and commercial activities of the faction. Expertise in specific areas is bought up as a specific skill. Mental skills are based upon this attribute.

Loyalty (LY): This represents the degree of commitment faction members feel for the faction and the leader. It is identical to the loyalty attribute for traditional hirelings (p. B195) except that it cannot increase spontaneously. The only way to increase Loyalty is to invest faction points in the attribute. Loyalty can drop spontaneously, lowering the point value of the faction and thus the point value of the character controlling the faction. This would normally only result from selfish actions on the part of the controlling character.

Faction Advantages and Disadantages

Any advantage or disadvantage taken for a faction applies to all members of the faction, so normally only Social or Mental advantages and disadvantages are available. These will typically reflect the nature of the faction; for example, a religious faction may have Clerical Investment and a religious Intolerance. Most Physical, Racial, Occult and other advantages and disadvantages will be inappropriate unless the composition of the faction is very homogeneous. At the GM's discretion, any advantage that applies only to some specific faction members may be purchased for full price. Advantages that can be learned by an individual (like Literacy or Combat Reflexes) can also be acquired by a faction during play.

Any advantage or disadvantage taken by a faction has the same value in faction points as it would normally in character points. A faction should be limited to -40 points in disadvantages (or some other value if the GM prefers). A faction may also take up to 5 quirks at -1 point apiece.

One additional advantage for a faction is Facilities. This is a variable cost, "catch-all" advantage akin to an Unusual Background for a character. The GM may require the faction to purchase this to cover the cost of specialized equipment and real estate. For example, many Scientific Skills are of little use without a properly furnished laboratory. The GM can set the exact point cost for Facilities. Note that Facilities are only intended to cover special or big-ticket items. The base 10 character point cost for taking a faction covers all the basic goods and equipment that the faction would require.


Skills are the specific areas of expertise in which faction members are trained. All skills available to characters are available to factions. A player buys a skill for his character's faction by allotting faction points to that skill. The tables on p. B44 are used to determine the level that members of the faction will have with that skill. Physical skills are based on the faction's Training attribute and Mental skills are based on the Knowledge attribute.

Assembling and Using a Faction

Once attributes, advantages, disadvantages and skills have been purchased, the exact composition of the faction must be specified. In particular, skills must be assigned to specific hirelings within the faction. Bear in mind that the hirelings are still only 25-50 point normal characters, so each will only have a few skills. Most hirelings should only have one skill, particularly those that are highly specialized, such as Scientific and Artistic skills. Skills which complement one another -- such as Broadsword, Shield and Knife; or Stealth, Lockpicking and Climbing -- can be assigned together to create combat specialists or burglary specialists; however, such skill groupings should be authorized by the GM first. Regardless, no hireling should have more than three skills. Some members of the faction may have no skill assigned to them so that they may learn new skills aquired by the faction in the future.

It should also be noted that the Training and Knowledge attributes of the faction do not correspond to the Dexterity and IQ attributes of the faction members. If it becomes necessary to know the attributes of a hireling, assume they are all 10 except for the one on which his skill is based; assume that attribute is 12. If the hireling has both Mental and Physical skills, assume that both Dexterity and IQ are 11. In the case of combat specialists, it may be assumed that Strength and Dexterity are both 11 (particularly for the purpose of figuring combat damage). Derived attributes such as Move and Hit Points are calculated normally.

The characteristics of a faction need not necessarily be reflected in the character who controls it. For example, if the members of a faction all adhere to a specific Code of Honor, the character needn't also have that Code of Honor as a disadvantage. However, the character should respect that Code before his followers (or at the very least pretend to), otherwise he may lose their favor.

So now that you've created a faction, what exactly do you have? A collection of loyal NPC employees, followers, or disciples who have skills that they can use to assist you. They may also have whatever equipment and facilities are required for them to exercise their skills. The character points that you have invested in your faction have bought their loyalty (much like the Ally Group advantage does) and their equipment, training and upkeep costs (much like the Wealth advantage).

The faction can be improved during play simply by investing more character points in it. From the cost formula, each additional character point added increases the faction's value by 2 faction points. As an optional rule, the GM may require that a faction be improved only at half efficiency (as character attributes are) to prevent rapid inflation. As another optional rule, the GM may allow a player to shuffle faction points around mid-game, such as moving points from one skill into another (firing some employees to hire others) or one attribute to another -- for example, cutting employee benefits (Loyalty) to hire more employees (Manpower). If allowed, this also should occur at half efficiency (for every point removed from one location only a half-point may be added elsewhere).

Here is an example faction to help illustrate:

Lorn Bullhelm's Highlander Mercenaries (80 points)

Manpower: 8, 20 people [-15]
Training: 13 [+30]
Knowledge: 12 [+20]
Loyalty: 12 [+20]

Facilities: Inn [+5]
Warrior's Code of Honor [-10]
Always wear clan tartan kilts in combat [-1]

Axe/Mace (PA): 14 [+4]
Shield (PE): 15 [+4]
Crossbow (PE): 15 [+4]
Fast-Draw, bolt (PE): 13 [+1]
Survival, forest (MA): 12 [+2]
Cooking (ME): 13 [+2]
Beverage Making (ME): 14 [+4]
Professional Skill, Inn Management (MA): 14 [+6]
Professional Skill, Chambermaid (ME): 13 [+2]
Professional Skill, Waiting Tables (ME): 13 [+2]

Lorn Bullhelm is a mercenary leader from the barbarian highlands of any medieval setting. All his followers are from his clan and share the peculiarities of that clan. There is a fierce warrior ethic that even the non-combatants share. Like all clans in the highlands, Lorn and his people will only wear a kilt in his clan's tartan. They will wear other clothes, but in combat they will only wear this kilt (with armor, of course).

Lorn is a successful mercenary captain. He has managed to amass a small squad of 14 men: 3 crossbowmen (Crossbow, Fast-Draw, Survival) and 11 axemen (Axe/Mace, Shield, Survival). He has earned enough to set up an inn in his home village, which lies across an important trading route and so sees a great deal of traffic. The inn is staffed by 6 people: the manager (Inn Management, Beverage Making), the cook (Cooking) and four young women who serve tables and prepare bedrooms (Waiting Tables, Chambermaid). The inn provides a steady income for Lorn as well as a convenient place for he and his men to stay when they are home. This 80 point faction costs Lorn 50 character points.

Faction Games

These rules can also be used so that the faction, and not the character, becomes the primary play entity. In this case, each player still has a character, but that character needn't be drawn up in the GURPS model. Instead, each player is given a certain number of points with which to build the faction that their character leads. Because the factions rules needn't be calibrated to fit within the GURPS system, game play may be modified in many ways for such a game.


The GM may wish to slide the Manpower scale up or down, depending on what sort of game he wishes to have. For example, in a military game the GM may decide that MP:10 is 200 individuals, and adjust other Manpower levels accordingly. Or, in an espionage campaign, the GM may slide the scale downwards so the players will have fewer agents working for them.


Several additional advantages are available that only operate properly under a factions game:


10 points

Very little is publically known about your faction. The location of your base(s) is not common knowledge, nor is anything about your faction's goals, agendas, or policies. Another faction that wants information regarding you will have to use Diplomacy, Streetwise, or some other skill, possibly at a penalty. Information regarding you will not be available through the Area Knowledge skill (unless you really screw up).



Your player character is an expert in some field represented by a skill. Whenever your character is personally involved in the exercise of that skill, you get a +1 bonus on the skill roll. An Expertise costs one-half the cost to raise the skill it modifies from (attr.+1) to (attr.+2). There is no limit to the number of Expertises your character can have, but your character can only work on one project at a time. There is also the risk of injury or death to your character if he gets directly involved in dangerous activities (however, see "Lieutenant" below).



You have an officer whom your underlings admire and respect; this officer counts towards the Manpower tally of the faction. The character must be given a name and a story. Whenever you send him to lead a mission or carry out an action, others will take it more seriously. A Lieutenant can provide a +1 to a specific skill whenever he is involved in its execution. Each Lieutenant can only have one such skill, however, and the skill must be chosen when the Lieutenant begins play. There is no limit to the number of Lieutenants a faction may have other than that set by the GM. Lieutenants may be acquired after play has begun. A Lieutenant costs 1 point plus one-half the cost to raise the skill he modifies (if any) from (attr.+1) to (attr.+2). If a Lieutenant is killed or lost, the points invested in him are also lost.


1, 3, or 5 points/level

This is identical to the Reputation advantage in GURPS and represents how renowned (for better or possibly for worse) the faction, its leader and his representatives are within society. This advantage is purchased in increments. The size of the increment is determined by the size of the affected group. The 5 point increment is for all people; 3 points is for a large group; 1 point is for a small group. For every increment purchased, the affected group will react to your faction at +1. A faction can also take a negative Reputation (invoking a Reaction penalty) as a disadvantage.


5 points/level

This is identical to the Status advantage in GURPS and represents the social standing of the faction, its leader and his representatives. It determines who will defer to whom and may affect how well people will react to a faction. (See p. B18 and p. B191 for more details.) Among other things, your level of Status determines the quality and luxury of the real estate (buildings and property) that your faction possesses and occupies (as opposed to Facilities, which determines their function), the quality of the material your uniforms are made of, the quality of the cafeteria food, etc.


10 points/level

This represents the amount of liquid cashflow controlled by your faction. It is available in increments of 10 points per level (example: Wealth:3 would cost 30 points) until Wealth:5 and then 25 points per level after that. Normally, there is no running tally kept of a factionís holdings and assets. These are all assumed to be represented by the points a faction has invested in its attributes, advantages and skills. The Wealth advantage simply quantifies the liquid cash flow that the faction has on top of its fixed assets.

Your faction can use this cash to further its activities. Every level of Wealth allows a temporary +1 skill bonus to be applied to a single activity the faction is currently undertaking. For example, a faction with Wealth:3 could add +1 to its Forensics skill to investigate a crime scene and +2 to its Diplomacy skill for a negotiation that crops up shortly afterwards. However, until either the investigation or the negotiation ends, no new activity that begins can be given a skill bonus.

If the faction requires the use of a skill that it does not possess, appropriate workers can be hired temporarily using Wealth. Treat the first level of Wealth assigned to it as 1 point in the skill (using the attributes of the faction). Every subsequent level of Wealth adds the usual +1 bonus.

The GM may disallow any use of Wealth that he feels is abusive or unrealistic.


Skills are purchased for the faction and assigned to hirelings as normal. The GM may allow up to five or six skills to be assigned to each hireling in this type of game, since the hirelings are now the focus of the game and not the player character.

Assembling and Using a Faction

Activities of factions are carried out as tasks assigned by the character to his underlings. These tasks are resolved using attribute checks, skill checks, skill contests, reaction rolls and the GM's judgement just as under the conventional GURPS rules. The amount of activity that can be carried out is technically only limited by Manpower, although trying to do too much may just make life difficult for the player and the GM.

When you want to do something, simply tell the GM that you are dispatching one or more of your people to perform a certain task. It is important that the exact composition of the party be specified. You may deliberately mix the group (for example if you want a stealthy party to sneak one of your geneticists into a lab to study the equipment there). The resolution of feats and conflicts is carried out on a broad level. In traditional GURPS play, a die roll roll is used to describe every swing of the sword and every silent step taken. On the scale of faction play, activities must be resolved on a larger scale. For example, the GM may roll against the a party's Lockpicking skill and Stealth skill simultaneously to determine if they successfully break into a building. Combat must also be abstracted; the GURPS mass combat rules may be used for this purpose (p.CII112).

Unless you, the PC, accompany a party on its mission, you won't get a play-by-play of the action unless and until someone returns to tell the tale. If your party is ambushed and killed ten minutes after they leave, you will never know it. You can give the party instructions on how they should handle unexpected situations. Otherwise, the GM will improvise their reaction and resolve the situation accordingly.

These rules work particularly well as a play-by-e-mail game. This allows the GM to take time to resolve players' actions and to determine the responses of NPCs. It also allows multiple players to play in the same game and interact through the GM without even realizing it. This can add a great deal of excitement as players try to guess which other factions in the game are NPC factions and which belong to their friends.

Article publication date: June 21, 2002

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