About Minor Factions in Total War Warhammer
In the development of Total War Warhammer, we quickly discovered that to best reflect the diversity and variety that each race brings to the tabletop game, we’d have to design unique campaign and battle mechanics, styles of play, and ultimately flavour. It was almost like working on a bunch of historical eras simultaneously. In short, we found ourselves being pretty choosy about which races we would concentrate on making playable.
Nothing exists in isolation though. Take the Dwarfs – there are a bunch of factions in the lore such as Karak Norn, Karak Hirn and even the lost clan of Kraka Drak, surrounded by chaotic marauder tribes way up in the wilds of Norsca. So we built many minor factions for each race, gave them personalities of their own, and while the playables are the stars of the show, this supporting cast, whether noble, capricious or downright bloodthirsty, brings a lot of texture and colour to your campaign.
Start a campaign as the Empire and one of your main victory conditions is to control a specific set of regions, through ownership, alliance or vassalage. So your first order of business will be to figure out which of the non-playable Elector Counts is friendly towards you, and which aren’t. Confederation is the ultimate diplomatic solution to controlling territory, but you need to be super-buddies with a minor faction to achieve this, and some of the Elector Counts just aren’t your-way-inclined. At which point you’ll turn to diplomacy by other means, as they say. Dealing with other factions of your own kind is part of the picture for each of the four core races, and brings both challenge and opportunity, fist-bump moments, and turns of terror where you realise someone has an agenda you didn’t know about.
As you might expect, not all non-playable factions are alike, and that can be especially true when you meet factions outside of the usual same-race distinction. Your carefully-woven web of apparent diplomatic stability can be quite upset by the arrival of a third party. Savage Orcs are a fine example. They don’t dwell in towns – eschewing even the comfortably Orc-y surroundings of their Greenskin cousins – and simply rove the world in bands looking for stuff to smash up.
When you’ve achieved a delicate diplomatic balance between a number of local factions and a tribe such as the Skull Takerz tears into your collective back-yard with a couple of doom-stacks, things can change rapidly. A weakened faction in your network of pals may be set upon by another ally looking to exploit the situation, and you may be called upon to make a difficult choice between them. Affront may be taken and allegiances may shift. Or you may make a friend for life in the struggle against a common threat.
When it came to choosing which non-playable factions to include for each race, it was really a balance of factors. Open any Army Book and you can disappear down a rabbit-hole of minor tribes and clans. Some are too important to the history of the world to miss out, while others may not be as important, but may be more notorious, or interesting in other ways; some are little more than a footnote.
Click image to enlarge
There are a wealth of design reasons for including a particular minor faction over another, and any one or more combination could come into play. Certainly, some of the more recent discussions have centred around adding more factions than we originally intended as we found the map and playthrough tests supported it. It could be that particular areas felt ‘contested’ enough already, or that a major faction needed a little more pressure or support in the early game to deliver the right level of challenge or selection of options. We feel we’ve struck a good balance in our choice.
It’s certainly worth saying while we’re on the subject, that when we talk about ‘balancing’, it’s natural to assume that means that all things are being made equal and ‘fair’. Frankly that would make the game pretty dull and there would be a lot less variation between playable races. Certainly some will be harder to play than others. Minor factions are a great way of populating and influencing the world around each race and help contribute to that overall feel and level of challenge that will fluctuate depending on which you choose. We certainly don’t want to have each race start with exactly the same set of concerns and be faced throughout with the same choice of paths.
For example, playing as the Empire, there’s a strong possibility you’ll start feeling some mid-campaign pressure from the north. The Norscan tribes will likely spend the early part of the game vying with each other for supremacy, but once that battle for dominance is settled (or perhaps reaches some sort of uneasy stalemate), they’ll turn their maddened gaze south to richer pickings, sharpen their axes and launch their longships.
I mentioned the Savage Orc tribe, the Skull Takerz, earlier. They are a great example of faction behaviour you won’t have seen in a Total War game before. Currently, they start with a small number of independent slavering hordes scattered through a region of the Badlands. They actively seek each other out in the opening stages of the game, drawn together by the lust for battle. If successfully united they will set out together, rampaging across the Old World in defiance of all borders (and common sense). How you deal with such a disruption (or nip it in the bud), is part of the range of strategic dilemmas you might face.
Every faction, playable or not, occupies a unique starting position that to some degree affects the flow of their game and the challenges they face. Kislev, for example, is a dangerous place for humans to live (though no winged bears in this game, sorry). With Norsca to the north, the Vamps to the south and the Chaos Wastes to the northeast, they really are a buffer state. This brings interesting choices to the Empire player. Will you keep them at arms’ length and treat them as a shield against these forces? Or will you work overtime diplomacy in an attempt to confederate, gain a toehold in risky territory, and effectively become that buffer yourself?
In short then, minor factions are a crucial part of the whole tapestry. They bring you challenge and intrigue, opportunity and danger, and many now enjoy the tactical and strategic depth, variety and flavour they bring to the game.