Usually, my factions are made up of groups. But a faction can also be encapsulated in an individual, someone who may have incidental followers and hangers-on but remains the central threat. Many video game villains serve this role: yes, they may command troops, but even if they acted on their own they'd still cause serious problems.
Telos is a young elf who found success as a warrior. Born with an unusually fierce temperament, he left the small elven enclave in which he was raised early (by elf standards). While most elves serenely appreciate beauty, Telos desires strong emotional experiences, a hunger he feeds in battle as a sword-for-hire.
Between wars, he traveled the world as a sword-for-hire, though he picked at least as many fights as the ones forced on him as a sellsword. Telos wanted to improve as a fighter, and kept challenging strong warriors to intense duels (though typically to the blood).
That lasted until about 50 years ago. Telos's behavior changed; he grew interested in politics and pledged his service to the queen of a respected country. He rose through the ranks rapidly; he's been a general for over 30 years. During that time, he's built relationships with a wide variety of influential individuals in the kingdom.
As a friendly faction, Telos had a simple change of heart 50 years ago. He'd grown so strong he couldn't find a worthy opponent, and decided to improve the strength of something greater than himself: a nation. Realizing the importance of gossip and intelligence, he pushed himself to be better at cultivating relationships, so that he now learns of dangers to the kingdom early through his large network of both legitimate friends and spies.
As a foe faction, 50 years ago Telos found humanoid challengers boring. He decided to set his sights much higher: he would defeat a nation.
Telos picked a strong target, a wealthy and effectively managed kingdom, and worked his way up the ranks. He's been biding his time for 50 years, building a remarkably efficient network of spies and informants. But he will use these to rip the country apart.
- (Friend) When the PCs return to a town after completing a particularly difficult challenge, an older man approaches them. He used to serve under Telos, and still operates as part of his information network. He offers to introduce the PCs to Telos and recommend them to him, saying he's sure to offer them well-paid work.
- (Foe) After the PCs defeat a particularly nasty gang of thieves, they discover a cache of letters between the recently defeated villain and a person known only as "Carbuncle," addressed to an inn at a nearby city. "Carbuncle" is the pseudonym for a shadowy woman who works for Telos as a go-between, surreptitiously funding various criminal organizations that will all be called on in the near future to throw the city into chaos.
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