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Factions are the different groups within Ascii Sector. They can be allied with you, hostile towards you or neutral. Hostile ships attack you on sight unless they're busy fighting someone else. The two main factions are Confeds and Pirates; only those two have control over a number of star systems each and are continuously battling for dominance, so system ownership may change several times during the game. If a system is controlled by a hostile faction you will still be able to land and walk around on any base normally, but you may meet several hostile ships in the system on your way there.

What a faction thinks about you is influenced by your actions, for example taking down Pirate ships will make the Pirates more hostile, while it will increase your standing with the Confeds, if they witness it. It also increases your standing with a given non-hostile faction to pick up their members using a Cargo Scoop after their ship was destroyed, and then dropping them off at the next base. (They also give you "thank you" credits equivalent to the rewards of an early mission.) Ownership is indicated on the map by the system's color. If you are equipped with a B&S type radar, ships will be colored accordingly in flight, the cheap Iris radar you start with draws them all gray. Uncontrolled systems will also be shown gray, even though that's the color Merchants use, too.

Faction Color Initial standings Initial systems
Pirates red hostile 3
Kilrathi yellow hostile -
Confeds blue neutral 15
Merchants gray neutral -
Retros purple hostile -
Hunters cyan neutral -
Militia white neutral -
(none) gray - 14