The Pathfinder Society is essentially a globe-spanning adventurers guild. All characters must be members because that’s the way all these scenarios are written. (It stems from them being originally used in convention settings.) The Pathfinders are led by the Decemvirate: ten secret leaders, each a great adventurer in their own right.
Groups that large are rarely that simple, though. There are countless factions within the Society that seek to subvert dominance, and steer the very course of history. Characters should also choose a faction; they don’t need to I suppose, but you get increased rewards and shopping options depending on which you choose. Many of the factions are based around specific Earth cultures, but you do not need to hail from these countries to work for them. All faction leaders are wily, and all have an eye for talent. You might not even agree with yours, but merely think the pay or rewards are good. (Though you can get kicked out for unbecoming behavior.)
Every scenario you survive gives you 1 experience point, but you can also earn 0-2 “prestige” points. This is a sort of fame-based currency that you can use to buy amazing things: not just services like resurrection, but also stores to generate income or statues in your honor. Each scenario, your faction gives you a letter describing what must be done to earn their favor. Think of these as side objectives that can only be done before the main quest is completed.
A final note on Factions: I’d suggest not to read about them too deeply elsewhere. In Society play they are added and removed constantly, based on the actions of the community that year. So what you read on other sites either won’t make the most sense, or it will spoil scenario surprises yet to come. So I’d suggest that you stick to their descriptions in this wiki unless one really grabs you.
Click on any faction’s name for their sub-page, including all the prestige rewards and traits that they can provide to their members. Underneath some names you might notice a few more, not in bold. These are placeholders for if we add additional factions from Golarion to the mix. Most of their links are broken until we decide if we’re going to add them. If any interest you from their blurb, be sure to pick their “governing” faction for now.
Members of this faction are the most dedicated members of the Pathfinder Society, embodying the key tenets of the organization above all else. Focused on exploring ruins as well as securing artifacts from those who don’t appreciate them, these Pathfinders have an insatiable sense of curiosity. Grand Lodge Pathfinders make excellent teammates for larger expeditions, and have filled the tomes of the Pathfinder Chronicles since the earliest volumes. They often take inspiration from the exploits of the early Pathfinder Durvin Gest, aspiring to become as famous as that legendary adventurer. (If you’re having trouble picking a faction, this generalized one is the most common choice. It focuses on the adventure with much less of the Game of Thrones political scheming.)
For decades, a growing segment of the Pathfinder Society’s membership has become disillusioned with the Grand Lodge. They represent dissenters and traitors to the Society and its causes, though they do not view themselves as evil: the Shadow Lodge holds the Decemvirate accountable for its treatment of field agents and the consequences of its missions. (If you remember The Rock, Ed Harris played a disillusioned veteran who was tired of the government not taking responsibilty for the damage they left in their wake. If you like spies or want to see the Grand Lodge become more serious, this is the faction.)
This faction seeks to be more than just adventurers doing the bidding of the Decemvirate and the venture-captains. While other factions may use the Society for personal gain, the Silver Crusade attempts to transform the Society into an organization that aids the weak, destroys evil, and makes the world a better place. (These are the holy rollers: their main goal is to turn the Society from adventuring archaeologists into noble fighters of undead and demons. They’re all paladin-like in some way and do good for the sake of doing good, though they’re seen as rigid and proselytizing as you’d expect.)
Members of the Andoran faction seek to topple tyrannies from within, aiding dissidents and freedom fighters with equipment, funds, or intelligence. They are fierce foes of slavery and can take extreme measures against those who buy and sell people. (Andoran is a country visually based around the Revolutionary War… if you totally whitewash American slavery. Many cities in the world – including your home base, Absalom – have legal slavery, and it’s Andoran’s mission to end the practice. They also dislike monarchies, prefering democratic voting even in the smallest of groups.)
The promise of power and riches lures many to the Cheliax faction, which seeks to spread the faith and order of Asmodeus across the Inner Sea and beyond. (Cheliax is essentially a country of demons, and demon worshippers, that have an actual politcal boundry and political power. They’re a go-to country for evil shenanigans. They also have a slutty leader, so there’s that.)
Many have written off the desert nation of Osirion as a land lost to history, no longer a force to be reckoned with. The Ruby Prince Khemet III, personal sponsor of this faction, seeks to reacquire secrets and artifacts of Osirion’s lost glory in an effort to reclaim his nation’s destiny. (Osirian is Egypt. It has one of the oldest languages in the world, meaning that even those only fluent in its modern tongue can often still partially make out many ancient writings around the world. Great choice for treasure hunters, though there’s always an Egyptian bent.)
The mighty Taldan empire once spanned a significant portion of the Inner Sea, but its glory days are long over. The Taldor faction seeks to reclaim this preeminence—not through conquest as their ancestors did, but by turning their enemies against one another. Misdirection and psychological warfare are the orders of the day. Taldan missions might involve sparking old enmities or rekindling old wars. “Sick the wolf on the tiger and the hunter’s work is done” is an old Talda saying. (While the most Game of Thrones group, Taldor is also the most foppish. Countless and pointless titles are bandied about, and many of their quests involve gathering frivolous trinkets for pagents and balls. Still, if you want access to politcally themed boons, this is the best choice for it.)
The Qadira faction seeks to control the commerce of the entire Inner Sea, breaking its enemies’ monopolies and enforcing its own. In the pursuit of this goal, faction members display a ruthlessness that can put the Chelaxians to shame. (Qadira is the Middle East and the best merchants tend to come from there. They’re not shy about illegal activity if secretive, but prefer legal bullying and strong trade deals.)
Not all Pathfinders serve the Society with pure hearts; members of this faction are not above using their missions for a bit of personal gain. (The Sczarni are the smugglers faction. They are in direct competition with Qadira: while not as large or powerful, they’re more of a mob syndicate and excel at moving product.)
Representing the interests of the distant Dragon Empires, this faction sponsors expeditions around the world in search of arcane and cultural riches. (The Asian lands of Tian Xa have a pretty large influence here in the west, even in ways you wouldn’t realize at first. Their goals are simple enough: to make sure that the far east still has a political voice in global affairs, and to share their knowledge and treasures in return for those from the west. If you like learning about cultures or being seen as exotic even in a crazy fantasy world, they’re a good choice.)
Most of the prestige rewards aren’t actually tied to a specific faction. They represent either the city of Absalom (your base of operations in-between, and occassionally in, scenarios) or general advantages from the Pathfinder Society and the Decemvirate.