There were some questions about factions last session, so I figured a small essay on them might be helpful, especially since some of you are faction members.
The five major known factions in the sword coast are The Emerald Enclave, The Harpers, The Order of the Gauntlet, The Lords’ Alliance, and The Zhentarim.
First off, in Faerun there’s no shortage of corrupt statesmen, scumbag gods, and vice versa. The gods aren’t omniscient either. They’re more like competing politicians who want your votes (worship) because their success is tied to how many people follow them. “Go kill that little old lady down the street” doesn’t become less morally questionable if King Pope the Good Natured, High Priest of Hyoomor Ingothers, is telling you to do it. However, faith is built trust in the gods. If you accept the gods as moral authority, then you accept that, yes, an action is good because this god says it is. The states are less clearcut, after all they are usually monarchies (Neverwinter, Waterdeep), some weird oligarchies like Baldur’s Gate, or Theocracies like we see in Elturel. But we can still accept that these states are some form of social contract, and thus the government does have the monopoly of force.
So, in the worst light:
The Emerald Enclave are not “nature loving hippies.” Their goal is balance. They keep civilization from taking over nature just as much as they fight against nature overtaking civilization. They will advocate killing entire cities if “balance” would be maintained. They are open about not being on mankind’s side.
The Harpers are vigilantes who believe they can kill people because they figured it out. They are neither a state nor do they have the blessings of a specific god vouching for them. They simply believe they are so right that their actions are justified. The Harpers are like the Illuminati, always rumored to exist, but who knows who they are. They are isolationists and borderline cowards who are worried they’ll be wiped out like they almost once were, so they wait until the stack of evidence is so overwhelming that they’re almost forced to act. They can be quite extreme in their belief about powerful magic (no one should have it if everyone can’t).
The Order of the Gauntlet is filled with a bunch of bullies who want to crush anything they see as a threat Minority Report style before it gets a chance to actually prove itself as dangerous. They operate and in rule Elturel, a new country to the south-east of the Sword Coast, in a theocratic state that accepts no rebellious thought. They will do whatever their gods tell them to, disregarding the feelings of the mortals whose lives they impact.
Lord’s alliance has the monopoly on “lawful” use of force, because they are the state. Lords Alliance want whatever is good for their specific kingdom far more than they crave “order.” They’ll throw everyone’s mom under the bus and stab them in the back if it means their King, Lord, territory, etc gain any kind of benefit. They want control and advantage under the guise of order. They are essentially a bunch of One-Percenters who want to maintain their power and status, easily swayed by forces that wish to manipulate them so long as the Lords Alliance believes they are gaining power and control. They are lawful yes, but as a group they are mainly focused on maintaining their own power and the status quo, so they vary from good-neutral-evil depending on what an individual lord is willing to do. They can just as easily have tyrants in the Alliance as well as benevolent kings.
The Zhentarim are out to work for the Zhentarim. They want more influence, more power, and more control over the world. The Zhentarim want you to be dependent on them. That’s their ultimate goal. Take over small operations and grow. Like the mafia. They want to conceal their influence, while controlling as much as possible from behind the scenes. Provide the cheapest, but highest quality mercenary services. Gather information from the shadows. Control trade. They don’t care about anyone who is not in their organization, and feel no compunctions about using illegal or immoral methods to obtain their goals. The Zhentarim do not care if their acts are good or evil, as long as they further their own cause ie gain influence and power.
In the best light:
The Emerald Enclave ensure nature is not overrun by civilization, and that undue threats to civilization are nipped in the bud. They also provide aid to travelers lost out of their element in the wilderness. They want everyone to achieve the best they can be in accordance with their place in the world.
The Harpers, more than almost any other faction, genuinely care about the good of others. They defend the weak against the strong, usurp tyrants, and provide aid to righteous rebellions. They collect information to ensure that any threat to the nations of Faerun will be challenged, and any forbidden knowledge remains under lock and key away from those who would misuse it.
The Order of the Gauntlet fights against evil in all forms, defending the just against the unjust. They will boldly go into unspeakable danger if there’s a chance their sacrifice could save an innocent. They ensure the will of their gods is felt across the nations, making the world safe for the common man.
The Lord’s Alliance maintains peace between nations and ensure no nation attempts to wage war on others. They are devoted to making sure their countries are strong, independent, and successful, while still connected to other nations for the good of all. The strive to maintain law across their rule, and make sure that nations are defended, supplied with food and resources, and defend their neighbors against intrusions. They embody the status quo and mutual security between nations.
The Zhentarim are a family who support each other. They want their family members to succeed, and they will do what it takes to support their members. They want Faerun to be peaceful and have good relations between nations. They do not want any other agency to gain power or control over the nations of the world, and will assist with bringing down tyrants/conquerors who attempt to wage war on other nations. They make sure trade flows to all corners of the land, supplying goods to rural areas that, without Zhentarim influence, would see a peddler maybe once every two years. They are open and honest about what their goals are, as opposed to other factions who might send you on missions you don’t understand.
There’s evil and good in all factions, depending on how you look at it. Always remember that evil alignment doesn’t mean you’re a jerk who dropkicks kittens, steals candy from babies, and insults your allies. It just means you consider yourself and your goals to be above the needs of others… and are willing to step on a few people along the way to get what you want.