This week we'll be looking at guilds. Guilds were first established in the early middle ages (10th-12th Century) as a protection against the unfair treatment and over taxation rampant throughout the feudal system. They continued to exist within the medieval world as a strange mix of trade unions, training schools, cartels, and civic-minded secret societies until well into the Industrial Age. As a matter of fact, over 100 modern corporations within the city of London have descended from the medieval guilds they once were to become livery companies, still partially responsible to the British crown for maintaining the history of the city of London. The word guild derives from a Saxon word "gilden" meaning to pay. Guilds were professional organizations that merchants and tradesmen paid an annual fee to join and maintain their membership. There were two major types of guilds: merchant guilds and trade guilds. Both performed much of the same basic functions, just for different classes of people.
Merchant guilds were the first types of guild founded. Initially, these were loose partnerships formed between different types of merchants for the purposes of the mutual protection of their lives, horses, wagons, and goods when travelling for business or transporting wares. Merchant guilds established charters (or contracts) with the nobility to form towns for the purposes of trade. Often times, these charters gave the guild nearly complete control over how the city would be run. Guild members ran every aspect of these cities from the city guard to the town council itself. Individual members within the merchant guild became prominent bankers, jewelers, lawyers, scribes, etc. within the community. As the towns and the guilds grew, so did trade. As trade grew, the members of the guild got richer and new members flocked to join their ranks. New rules had to be established as to how a person became a member of the guild and how that person then rose through the guild ranks. Additionally, newer restrictions on certain trade goods and resources started to see the richest and most powerful guild members consolidating power over the common tradesmen, whose goods they had sold to consumers to become rich in the first place. It was this trend that led to the development of the trade guilds.
Trade guilds were developed by the coming together of common craftsmen for mutual protection from both the over taxation by the nobility and the unfair regulations being created by the merchant guilds. By the 1300's, nearly every trade had a guild to protect the rights and interests of those practicing it. There were guilds for armorers, bakers, carpenters, glassblowers, leather workers, and wheel-wrights, just to name a few. A more complete list of guilds, as applies to D&D 5e, can be found in the 5th Edition Player's Handbook on page 132. Trade guilds didn't just protect their members; they also improved their quality of life both by financially enriching them and by providing them and their families access to many more resources than were available to the common citizen in the middle ages. For their benefits, the guilds demanded a lifetime of service.
The structure within both merchant guilds and trade guilds was the same. The lowest ranking members of a guild were called apprentices. In most guilds, apprentices serve as clerks, scribes, and general go-fers; they may attend meetings, at the whim of the direct master that they serve, but have no voting rights within the guild. Apprentices were often children. They would study the craft of the master that they were assigned to, and perform menial labor for him and his family, until they reached young adulthood and were confirmed as journeymen. As journeymen, guild members sometimes received more rights, but this truly depended upon the structure and rules of the individual guilds. Journeymen performed much of the day-to-day work of the Master that they served. They honed their craft over years, creating piece after piece, with correction as necessary from their master. Once a journeyman completed a piece of work that his master could pass off to other masters as his own work, the journeyman would be invited to join the masters and gain the full rights of the guild. This is where the concept of the "masterpiece" came from. Only masters were allowed to set up their own shops and only masters were allowed to market their own goods.
The Syndics of the Draper's Guild by Rembrandt 1662
Guilds played an important role in the development of commerce and trade throughout the middle ages and even into our modern age. How much guilds influence your own world only you can decide, but keep in mind some key facts if you are going to play with them.
Guilds are all about the gold. Gold equals power in a fixed-market (which all guild-controlled towns are). If you have more gold than the guilds do, then you are an enemy.
Guilds require a lifetime of dedicated service. There are NO part-time guild members.
Guilds within a city might squabble and feud with one another, but they will almost always unite against an outside threat.
Guilds are only found in towns and cities. A retired master might be found in a remote village, but he won't be actively associated with a guild.
Guilds might contract adventurers to perform out-of-town services for them, but they would certainly send at least one of their own membership to oversee the task.
As promised, below are the 20 Perks of Being a Guild Member. I hope that you can find a way to use the information provided to enrich your own RPG's. Tomorrow's post will include a quarterly events table for guilds and businesses. Until next time, Happy Gaming!
You can get lodging at either the guild hall or within the house of a master of the guild.
You have specialty training in the arcane secrets and mysteries of your business or craft.
You possess or can get custom tools and the knowledge of how to use them.
You have a mastery of the special language or jargon of your trade.
You receive invitations to guild-hosted social events within the city.
You can easily get a commission in the town guard or a commission for "special services".
You enjoy increased social status within the town.
You possess a cloak, tabard, shield, ring, or insignia showing membership in the guild.
You may use guild items, both magic and not, when performing tasks for the good of the guild.
You have an increased likelihood of finding side work or a patron.
With the good, comes the bad. You are assigned to a 6 month public works project.
You get the opportunity to spend 3 days as mourners and pallbearers for an important guild master's funeral.
You have access to healing and restoration spells, as well as a place to rest while you recuperate from injuries.
You have workers rights. No one can make you work at night or in an unsafe place.
You are guaranteed a fixed price for your goods by law. No haggling for you.
Your children have access to education that is also day care for them.
You have a discount on hiring workers and laborers because you can get them at the guild.
If you are a piece worker, then you are guaranteed a fair wage for a fair day's work.
You have the fraternity of the guild for your entire life.
You have connections and can easily get things done in your town.