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D&D Ideas — Guilds

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Welcome once again to the weekly newsletter. This week’s topic is guilds, which we discussed in our weekly live chat. We hangout every Monday evening at 8 p.m. EST on Nerdarchy Live to talk about D&D, RPGs, gaming, life and whatever nerdy stuff comes up. Speaking of guilds in Phoba’s Bet a guild or other organization dispatches a very special kind of bounty hunter to track down an adventurer who did them wrong. A rogue medusa leverages heroes into paying for her dark services or simply hunts them while seeking a cure for her curse along with 54 other dynamic scenarios in Out of the Box. Find out more about it here. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy plus snag a FREE GIFT by signing up here.

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Delving Dave’s Dungeon

Politics, quest givers, enemies, friends, connections to back stories and a place to acquire resources all spring to mind when I think of guilds in RPGs and especially fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Let me throw out some ideas for using guilds in your 5E D&D games.

Adventurers in your world might all belong to guilds or face the consequences if they don’t. Membership might also have perks like offering a place to buy gear — even rare and unusual stuff. The guild is always willing to buy, sell and trade magic items. Being a part of the Adventurers Guild might mean never being without an adventure to go on. The Adventurers Guild Halls may offer the best training available and always have a cleric on stand by to cast remove curse when you need it.

A guild war as a backdrop of a campaign could be fun and flavorful. Thieves’ guild versus versus assassins’ guilds versus beggars’ guild would be an all out underworld drag out fight in a city. But even mundane guilds like the dock workers’ and porters’ guilds going at it equals instant chaos and civil unrest in a city. A simple dispute over who loads or unloads what could be something to spark a powder keg of unrest.

You might think these might not be so exciting for a 5E D&D game but let’s explore it a bit. Here are a few scenarios:

Dockworkers Guild Vs. Porters Guild

  • The above dispute breaks out, violence ensues and the adventurers are hired to put an end to it.
  • A porter or dock worker goes missing. One side accuses the other side of foul play. If the adventurers can’t discover who did what the streets will run red with the blood of dockworkers and porters alike with other citizens caught up in the crosshairs.
  • What if neither side is responsible for the murders? Who is and why? How does the violence benefit this mystery villain?

Thieves Versus Assassins Versus Beggars

  • The players belong to one of the guilds and are fighting for it.
  • Things are beyond what the watch can handle so they bring in outsiders to try to resolve this Guild War.
  • One of the guilds seeks to hire outside muscle.

City of Guilds

  • The city is ruled by guilds instead of a monarchy. This creates a lot of politicking between these guilds always jockeying for power and influence.
  • If the characters have tool proficiencies there is a good chance they have ties to one or more of the guilds. Do they still have contacts? Do they still pay dues?
  • Are there more exotic guilds in this city? (Artifice, Alchemy, Necromancers, Tinkers, Mages, Adventurers, etc.)
  • Characters find themselves caught up in a dispute between the Grave Diggers Guild and the Necromancer’s Guild. The Grave Diggers accuse the Necromancers of stealing their charges. One of the players is contacted by the Grave Diggers Guild because one of their relatives is one of the missing corpses.
  • A dispute between the Brewers Guild and the Alchemists Guild. An aspiring young brewer has come up with a new beer that has unusual properties. The Alchemists Guild claims this is clearly their purview and this new discovery should be turned over to them at once. The only problem is the recipe and brewer have gone missing. The Brewers Guild accuse the Alchemists Guild of kidnapping and theft. Can the players get to the bottom of what happened before things get ugly?
  • The more unusual guilds present more opportunities for things to go awry and in turn they might need to rely on adventurers fix these problems.

From Ted’s Head

Guilds are one of those things that once created make for a great addition to a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons world. But something to consider is guilds are not the sole territory of the Dungeon Master. A player can create their own guild should they desire. I once ran a one shot that wound up being down a couple of players . The characters were not keen on an end fight against the rakshasha villain of the adventure so they engaged it in conversation and so was born the Tigris Brotherhood. 

The Tigris Brotherhood is run by a fiend and cares about a number of things. First and foremost they care about intelligence and gathering information the organization can use to exploit others. The leader does his very best to hide the fact at he is a fiend. His top generals are weretigers and those who prove their worth to the organization are bitten and given the form of the tiger. Those gifted are taught how to control the gift of lycanthropy. 

But not all the Tigris Brotherhood does can be done with conversation, stealth and intimidation. Sometimes the claws need to come out and violence is the means to their ends. In those times the claws literally come out. The organization is broken up into three sections — Blood, Claws and Spirit. (Technically there are four if you count the initiates who are still attempting to prove themselves.)

The Blood are those who are low tier and willing to be sacrificed for the greater organization if need be. Once you have gained enough prestige in the group you can be promoted to the Claw or the Spirit. The Claw are the warriors and the rogues able to do missions of stealth and thievery or just outright brutality. The Spirit are those gifted with conversation skills to bully, persuade and lie as well as those gifted with spellcasting ability. 

There is a guild you can add to your game if you so desire. As you climb up a guild there should be ranks, insignias and rewards for doing so. They should reflect the nature of the guild, their mission and the individuals involved. A brooch functioning like a ring or protection is always a good reward.

From the Nerditor’s desk

During the live chat about guilds we touched on the idea of these organizations representing new money in a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons setting in contrast to established wealth in the form of nobility. This dynamic mirrors our own world’s history and their ties to the emergent money economy and urbanization. This looks like a terrific space for tension and drama for a 5E D&D game.

Adventurers come from all walks of life and this is reflected in character backgrounds from noble to urchin. There’s even the guild artisan background explicitly linked to the concept we’re focused on this week. The relationship between guilds and social classes like nobility, royalty and aristocracy in general provides fertile ground for a campaign setting. Considering how these various components interact doesn’t necessarily have to be the thrust for a campaign but can certainly provide context.

Regardless of an adventurer’s background when they choose to walk this different path they may inadvertently put themselves in the middle of the push and pull between guilds and other strata of society while at the same time placing themselves outside of these circumstances. A small group of independent operators practicing their trade and accumulating potentially vast wealth might become enmeshed in this tension despite having no interest or desire.

Guilds can take an avid interest in adventurer activity and seek to entice these folks to join, form a partnership or come to some kind of arrangement. Adventurers bring a lot to the table and a guild’s status can rise with prominent and powerful heroes involved. This can give these characters an opportunity to interact with a variety of organizations and perhaps even leverage guilds’ interest for their own benefit.

Here’s some scenarios to consider when it comes to guilds and their relationship with adventurers:

  • Multiple adventuring guilds vie for the party’s membership
  • Negotiating with a guild in a quid pro quo situation for mutual benefit
  • A guild under threat from some other force seeks to recruit adventurers as a deterrent
  • Nobles, royals and other aristocrats try to dissuade adventurers from joining a guild to protect their own status from these rising economic organizations
  • Adventurers create their own guild and discover running and growing an organization like this is complicated and time consuming but also greatly beneficial
  • Adventurers become members of a very small guild and their actions carry tremendous impact on the growth and direction

This last one is something I often go to in my own 5E D&D games. Adventurers of Adventure is a very small (and somewhat sketchy) guild open to basically anyone they can get. They provide guild spells like those in Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica except these spells are whatever ones they could license for the lowest investment. Members also receive a special badge, which pings when adventure is near and gains additional features as a member’s rank increases. And of course there’s a poorly produced handbook.

Whether your 5E D&D game incorporates the idea of guilds on any scale these organizations are so intriguing and worth consideration. They might only be touchstones to contextualize society or adventurers can discover a complex and nuanced relationship by inserting themselves into the mix. Guilds offer a great way to show and not tell players things about the setting and social dynamics and if they express greater interest can flourish and become centerpieces for entire campaigns.

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