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Fantasy Worldbuilding – Build a Guild

Guild Hall by ikanarjaIn worldbuilding, there are many pieces that are outlined and developed before being incorporated into the big picture. Maps are drawn, nations are sectioned out, and the culture and overall way of life is designed. A lot of consideration is given to religion, government, technological advancement, and militaries. But economies are usually glossed over in many worlds, particularly in fantasy. It is understandable, since trade and currency does little for a plot other than to allow a character to buy food and a suitable weapon. However, there is one economic institution that can be found in many fantasy worlds, yet is rarely used for economic reasons. This institution is the good old guild.

A Little Bit About Guilds

The concept of guilds has existed since Roman times, and possibly even earlier. A guild is an association of craftsmen or artisans who share a common skill or profession. The guilds that emerged out of medieval Europe helped shape the feudal system that was in place at the time by creating a skilled working class which consisted of free men with expertise in a specialized trade. These groups also gave commoners enough clout to thrive in a society where knights and the noble class held most of the power. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker of that famous nursery rhyme were undoubtedly all guild members.

Apprentice Collar by boscopencillerA very significant aspect of medieval guilds is the apprenticeship system that was set in place during these times. A master craftsman would agree to take on a child as an apprentice. The child would live with the master, and the child’s parents were expected to pay for this training. The new apprentice would work for the master, unpaid, and this apprenticeship could last for ten years or more. Once the apprenticeship was over, the apprentice became a journeyman and could now work for a wage. A journeyman would then save up to buy or set up a shop and work to complete the guild requirements to become a master craftsman.

Membership in a guild was usually required in order for a person to do business in a region. The guilds set prices and standards for their member’s products, thus promoting quality. A guild would also work to protect any secrets of their particular trade. Guilds also took upon civic duties, such as taking care of widows and sick members. As society progressed and economic systems changed, many guilds also evolved to advocate for wage earners and service providers as well as craftsmen and artisans. There are still many guilds in existence today, and many of them operate in a similar way to their middle age antecedents. There are numerous guild websites and Facebook pages where anyone who is interested can visit and learn more about these organizations. Here is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers website as an example.

How Guilds Can Influence and Benefit Your Fantasy World

I believe guilds are so prominent in fantasy because most epic and sword and sorcery magic is set in the same cultural timeframe that witnessed the rise of the power and influence of pre-industrial guilds. They were an integral part of medieval society, and played a big part in its economy. But even if you are not basing your world on medieval times, you should not overlook the possibility of including guilds.

Tin Street Market by noahbradleyGuilds have had an enormous impact on the economy of the territory it covered. However, whether this impact was beneficial remains in heated debate even today. Nevertheless, in a fantasy world, guilds can provide so much more than a healthy economy and a prosperous working class. These are the organizations that can offer experience and resources to a storyline or character. They can be a benevolent ally, a training ground, or a client. They can also be a competitor or adversary to a central character. A guild can even be the ultimate bad guy, the source of evil ideology that threatens the future of humankind (or any other kind you have in your world). Or a guild can even be a simple group of thugs who love to make life difficult for our characters.

Ideas For Developing A Guild’s Structure

Economists and historians have likened various guilds to unions, cartels, and even corporations. You can have a bureaucratic setup, or a decentralized network of local associations. The guild can be led by a single president or a group of board members. There is no right or wrong way to organize a guild. So if you do decide to flesh out a guild or two for your fantasy world, just have fun with it!

TDM by danesh

However you decide to design a guild, make sure it contains at least the following:

– A charter, which is essentially a list of rules or values outlining the guild’s purpose and mission.
– An emblem or sigil, a symbol that represents the guild and what it stands for.
– A list of requirements for admission and/or initiation.

While these items might not be essential, you should also consider these details:

– A guildhall or central base of operations.
– A code of ethics. This can address the overall behavior of a member, business practices, product quality, or all three.
– The guild’s reputation and standing in the community.
– An educational system provided for apprentices, or a college founded by the guild as either a civic service or to further research and development of their craft.

That is about it. The rest is up to the imagination of the worldbuilder.

Docks Of Valura by FrankAtt

Fantasy Guild Ideas

Lastly, here are some ideas for fantasy-based guilds. These are just a few sketchy concepts for prompts. Feel free to build on any of these, or tear them apart in the comments section.

Guild of the Fey
An organization formed by a group of physician monks and scholars to research and preserve animals and endangered races of the supernatural bent. Members raise funds by donating a portion of their earnings, but membership in this guild provides powerful, albeit secret, benefits and perks.

Staffcrafter’s Guild
An association of craftsmen who specialize in creating staffs that can be enchanted by priests, magic-users, or both. The guild provides extensive training and ensures that only qualified, competent crafters can sell their wares to protect the quality and pricing of their staffs. Members are only allowed to sell to qualified magic-users.

Griffinbasher’s Lodge
A group of hunters who specialize in hunting down wild griffins join together for socializing, networking for hunting parties, and to bolster their image and reputation in a region threatened by these savage killers.

Guild of Soulsifters
This particular assassin’s guild is especially concerned with discretion and a silent acceptance by society. This guild trains assassins to use top-secret methods that leave even the most experienced investigators stumped. Understanding the demand – and occasional need – for assassinations, this guild’s mission is not only to provide an elite group of trained assassins that leave no trace, but also to actually help eradicate violent crime and murders from influential cities. The goal is to give the public a sense of safety so that these guild members are viewed with respect rather than fear. Unsanctioned killings are investigated and the killers are brought to justice in the courts rather than eliminated as revenge. This would make a contracted hit more appealing and less risky than murder.

The Safe Travels Club
A widespread merchant’s guild, which owns scores of small roadside buildings and toll bridges used for rest stops and patrol bases. Countries and kingdoms have granted permission to the guild to collect tolls in exchange for road security. The guild is responsible or policing the roads and ensuring that travelers and merchant caravans can travel safely.

Also, here is a Wikipedia link to a list of guilds from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork.

References

“Medieval Guilds” – HistoryLearningSite.co.uk
“Guilds in the Middle Ages” – thefinertimes.com
Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe by Steven A. Epstein

Title image by ikanarja.

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2 Comments

  1. Great article. I’ll be referring to this in the near future!

  2. I like that SOMEONE out there is taking the time to give consideration to the economic aspects of fantasy settings. As you stated in the article, it’s often OVERLOOKED entirely. Fantasy economies tend to be too advanced and prosperous for what their level of technology and productivity would realistically allow (magic, notwithstanding).

    Excellent article! I’m bookmarking this page right now!

    —Vic S.—

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