Factions of Greyhawk – The Scarlet Brotherhood

The Harpers

One of the new elements in the upcoming 5th Edition D&D rules are factions. Specifically, there are rules for factions in the Forgotten Realms as part of the D&D Adventurers League, which is the new organized play thing (is it replacing the RPGA? I’ve not seen anything one way or the other). They are, quite coincidentally, much like I had envisioned factions in my own Adventures Great and Glorious; player characters can belong to a faction and gain levels within that faction, and there are certain benefits from doing so. Basically, each time you do something that benefits your faction, you get one or two “renown points” that eventually take you up the ladder within the faction.

In the Forgotten Realms, the factions are the Harpers, the Order of the Gauntlet, the Emerald Enclave, the Lords’ Alliance, and the Zhentarim. As far as I know, only the Harpers and the Zhentarim were present in the Realms before the latest incarnation, but I could very well be wrong as I’ve not kept up with it.

Now, naturally, my thoughts turn to the Greyhawk setting when I see something like this. First and foremost, I don’t see any reason the faction mechanism can’t work outside of organized play. In a home campaign, there are going to be shadowy and out-in-the-open groups, and having a nice set of mechanics to regulate how the PCs interact with these organizations could be beneficial to a lot of DMs.

The Zhentarim

Factions are of course optional, and not every member of a party need belong to a faction (or the same one!). A PC might go through an entire campaign without ever even encountering a faction, although another PC might find their interactions with a given faction to be central to their experience. It all depends on how the DM has set up the game.

Greyhawk is replete with such factions, that could be used to both support and oppose the activities of the PCs over the years. The Scarlet Brotherhood is an obvious choice, as is the Circle of Eight. I’d throw in Iuz, as he has agents across the Flanaess in various guises and positions. A campaign set in and around the City of Greyhawk might include the Rangers of the Gnarley Forest, and perhaps the Greyhawk Thieves’ Guild. I’m not sure if the Old Faith would count as a faction in this sense of the word, but there’s definitely some group of Druids in the Flanaess operating in a coherent fashion (the “Oaken Concatenation” perhaps?).

There are still some details yet to come about the mechanics of the various levels work (mentoring at level 2/4, downtime at level 3), but there’s enough there to at least get an idea. Let’s see how this works.

The Scarlet Brotherhood

Faction Overview

The Scarlet Brotherhood (also known as the Brothers of the Scarlet Sign) can trace its lineage all the way back to the vanished Suel Imperium. Although the hierarchy of the Brotherhood places its highly trained monks at the top, followed by assassins and thieves, it has agents and operatives of all sorts pursing its subtle and dangerous ends. Those who operate openly offer sage counsel and seemingly wise advice; those who are less open about their ties to the Brotherhood are ruthless in their obedience to the orders of their superiors, to further the end of one day seeing the Suel dominate the Flanaess, as is their destiny owing to the innate superiority.


  • The Suel race is inherently superior to all others, and the Suel are the natural rulers of the world
  • Evil is the only philosophy that will achieve our goals
  • Influence is preferable to control, control is preferable to force, force is preferable to failure


  • Protect the purity of the Suel race
  • Infiltrate the centers of power in the Flanaess
  • Establish a new order with the Suel people at its apex

Member Traits

Members of the Scarlet Brotherhood can be of any class, but must be of evil alignment. Most agents of the Scarlet Brotherhood will have been raised in the Tilvanot Peninsula itself and sent out into the world, but some few people of pure Suel blood are recruited from outside. All believe in the inherent superiority of the Suel race and its destiny to rule the world, although they are wise enough to hide that belief from outsiders, who might misinterpret it (or interfere with the Brotherhood’s plan to see that destiny come to pass).


  • Friend (rank 1) – faction insignia is a tattoo bearing the Scarlet Sign
  • Cousin (rank 2)
  • Nephew (rank 3)
  • Brother (rank 4)
  • Elder Brother (rank 5)

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

11 thoughts on “Factions of Greyhawk – The Scarlet Brotherhood

  1. Good catch Joe. Factions were bandied about in 3.5 era (maybe Living Greyhawk too) and I had varying success in using them. I hope 5e factions catch on, because this is a good area to explore for characters.

  2. Pathfinder also uses a form of factions, related to nationality, for their organized play.

    Greyhawk could probably also do something similar: Agents of the Great Kingdom, Syndicate operatives of the Bandit Kingdoms, Elf friends of Ulek.

    Perhaps somebody who knows the setting better could come up with something better along those lines?

  3. The Emerald Enclave is definitely at least a 2nd Ed product, but the Gauntlet is one I’ve not heard about before and I’ve been very curious to see who and what they are.

  4. I like the concept, but hate the name. I realize that's not your fault, but WotC's. Factions are more properly defined as rival political or ideological groups within a larger entity such as a nation or church. They are rarely international in scope.

    Something like the Scarlet Brotherhood is much larger and would probably have at least attempted to insinuate agents into every faction within any given organization.

    It sounds like what they're calling factions here were called "Power Groups" in the 3.5e Living Greyhawk Gazetteer.

  5. Great idea, some of the old LG meta-orgs could be used as factions. We are currently developing groups in Greyhawk Reborn, which may end up being similar to factions. Can't wait to see the 5E PHB and DMG to start adding more meat to our concepts!

  6. Or you could go a step deeper and research the many hooks we've been given over the past 40 years to devise a broad range of factions.

    For example, the well known ideological split in the Church of Pholtus: much detail is given about the LN faction in module I8 – Fate of Istus, but what of the LG members of the church hierarchy who want to rectify this perversion of thier faith?

    Likewise, a wealth of intra-organizational & intra-national conflicts are hinted at in the LGG and WoG. Most of the NPC's detailed in CoG:FFF and Greyhawk Adventures are members or leaders of factions.

    Study the modules: Vault of the Drow is a treasury of factional conflicts, and while the players most likely won't be members of any of these factions, the G1-3 and A1-4 modules demonstrate how they can be affected by them. T1-4 mentions a number of NPCs who are spies for or agents of various increasingly shadowy organizations.

    "Wheels within wheels, Bendreth."

  7. That's an excellent point about the sub-factions. Bear in mind that all the final rules about factions aren't public yet; perhaps there will be something to cover that very thing when we get the DMG.

    There are indeed a vast number of factions in Greyhawk, as I alluded to in the post. As the rules for factions get more fleshed out, I'm planning on putting some more Greyhawk-specific meat on the bone. Keep an eye on the blog for more!

  8. That's why I hate the way they seem to be misusing the word. Pretty much any dictionary you consult will say that it is inherent in the definition of "faction" that it is a subgroup, seeking its own ends, within a larger organization. For example: 1. A group of persons forming a cohesive, usually contentious minority within a larger group.

    And to add to the list, all of the ancient Suel & Aerdi noble houses, and all of the Flan & Baklunish tribes, clans and families are factions waiting to happen…

  9. The Savage Tide adventure path from 3.5 Dungeon Magazine had factions rules in it. The Scarlett Brotherhood was even a faction you could join in the city the AP started out in.

    Each faction had a list of things your PC could do to gain prestige points within the particular organization, and certain amounts of prestige points would gain you ranks or other benefits within the faction.

    For example with the Scarlett Brotherhood if you brought them intel on a rival faction you would get 2 points, or if you made the city government view the SB more favorably you would get 4. After gaining 5 points you would be an initiate, 10 gets you access to safe houses. 40 allows you the use of a SB assassin, and so on.

    I like this better than just being a member of an organization and having the PC's being told what to do, it allows the PC's to be more proactive.

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