As noted in “The Gygax 75 Challenge Part 1” I’m fond of the TTRPG and JRPG trope of “adventurers’ guilds”: a meeting place and clearing house for all fetch quests and monster hunts in a kingdom. However, stereotypical “Adventurers’ Guilds” bear little relation to medieval guilds. While little in a fantasy RPG bears any resemblance to historical medieval norms, it might behoove us to borrow from the origin, purpose, and structure of medieval guilds.
Merchants and craftsmen of the High Middle Ages spontaneously came together into guilds for mutual protection against thieves, noblemen, and other predators. Each craftsman’s guild had authority over all who practiced that craft over a particular town; merchants’ guilds sometimes sometimes had similar monopolies over a single town, and sometimes competed over the same town or local area.
How, then, do we explain a kingdom-wide Adventurers’ Guild?
- Perhaps the king or a similar high noble created the Adventurers’ Guild as a way to corral and control mercenaries, bounty hunters, monster hunters, and other armed maniacs in the kingdom.
- The creators of the Adventurers’ Guild wanted to ensure that “adventurers” could not flout the law simply by moving to a more lawless town. Thus nearly every town has an Adventurers’ Guild, and each has a virtually identical charter in line with the king’s (or emperor’s?) laws.
- Furthermore, as adventurers are ultimately wanderers, all Guilds form a kingdom-wide (or empire-wide) federation where reputation, good and bad, carries over from one town to the next.
The only comparable structure in medieval history are the banks of the late medieval and Renaissance periods. Medieval banks, including those run by the Templars and similar formerly religious orders, regularly sent messengers and personnel between branches both to keep the books in sync and to ward against fraud; each branch manager, often a relative of the bank’s owning family or order, knew the signatures of all the other managers. As an institution funded by the government, our Adventurers’ Guild would have the organization and deep pockets to shuffle personnel between chapters.
Medieval craft guilds held a legal monopoly on all practice of their respective crafts. Any non-members practicing that craft faced not merely opposition from the guild but from the civil authorities.
The Adventurers’ Guilds have a similar monopoly, but extending across the Kingdom or Empire and encompassing related “crafts” like mercenary work, bounty hunting, monster hunting, and assorted gathering “quests” in the wilderness. While presented as a safety measure, the true motive is to prevent armed veterans from turning to banditry or insurrection. Of course if adventuring without a license is a crime, only criminals will flout the Adventurers’ Guild. Fortunately the wardens of the Adventurers' Guild are also armed veterans.
Medieval guilds required that apprentices either be sons (not daughters) of guild members or be sponsored by a guild member. It was in the guild’s interests as a monopoly not to accept just anybody, as too many members – and too many guild masters especially – would end up competing with each other and lowering prices for everyone.
Our Adventurers’ Guild holds a monopoly not to keep competition down but to regulate the individual members lest they turn their swords and spells against the Kingdom or Empire. Thus it merely requires that prospective members be able to handle themselves in a practice fight against a master of the Guild. Those who can graduate immediately to licensed adventurers. Those who can’t but show promise start as apprentices.
Medieval guilds had rules for members, sometimes many rules. Those who break the rules might lose money, privileges, their livelihood, or their freedom.
The Adventurers’ Guild also has many rules: some local, some universal, some picayune, some important. The most important are these:
Only the Advenurer’s Guild may assign commissions (“quests”) for the following services:
- exterminating monsters.
- exploring areas unknown to, or deemed unsafe by, the Guild.
- gathering resources in areas deemed unsafe by the Guild.
- escorting non-combatants through areas deemed unsafe by the Guild.
- pursuing bounties through areas deemed unsafe by the Guild.
- initiating armed conflict through areas deemed unsafe by the Guild.
- sending combatants into an independent principality, kingdom, or empire without royal or imperial authority.1
Only registered and ranked Guild Members may perform these services, and only those commissions (“quests”) rated at or below their Rank. All other commissions for these services or providers of these services are unlawful by Guild Law and (royal/imperial) decree.
The Guild reserves the right to assess fines or other punitive measures against members in breach of Guild Rules. Failure to pay fines or submit to other punitive measures in a timely manner may result in suspension or expulsion, depending on the number and severity of offenses.
A Guild Member suspended from the Guild may not accept any commissions (“quests”) for the duration of their suspension.
A Guild Member expelled from the Guild may not accept any commissions (“quests”) for their lifetime. They lose all Guild rank, honors, and privileges.
Only a conclave of Guild Masters may reverse expulsion.
No adventurer in civilization may murder2, or rob through violence, or commit similar heinous acts in defiance of civilization itself.3 The penalty for such acts is expulsion from the Guild and the surrender to the jurisdiction where the acts were committed.
No adventurer in the wilderness4 may kill without lawful cause, nor steal from a living person, nor perform outrages upon another’s person. The penalty for such acts is expulsion from the Guild and the surrender to the jurisdiction nearest where the acts were committed.
No adventurer may draw weapons or loose magic in a host city or town, nor in its domain, nor in the kingdom, save in self-defense or when lawful by local ordinance.3 The penalty for such acts is suspension from the Guild for a period determined by the Wardens or the Guild Master, in addition to penalties according to local ordinance.
No adventurer may claim the bounty or deeds of another adventurer. The penalty for such acts is the return of said bounty, a fine of a tenth of the bounty paid to the Guild, a demotion in rank, and the permanent loss of all Guild offices and honors.
An adventurer may claim sanctuary in the Guild to escape unreasonable threats to life and property, including those from civil or religious authority. The Guild Master will adjudicate whether sanctuary is warranted. If sanctuary be denied, the adventurer will be suspended from the Guild until such time as they resolve the matter themselves.
By the command of lawful authority, all adventurers must rally to the defense of a host city or town, its domain, or its kingdom. Those who refuse to rally for any reason save illness or infirmity shall be expelled from the Guild.
The advantage of a kingdom-wide Guild is that they can enforce their rules across all their chapters. Censure, supension, or expulsion becomes not merely an inconvenience one can escape in the next town but a black mark that pursues an adventurer as far as the Guild extends.
Promising young warriors, rogues, and spellcasters often join as apprentices to train under one of the guild’s masters. It’s a necessary step to ensure that a prospective guild member won’t get themselves killed on their first mission.
Unlike craft guilds, youths don’t necessarily serve as apprentices for seven years; depending on their abilities and sense of responsibility, they may only spend a few months as an apprentice. Like craft guilds, however, apprentices spend more of their time doing errands and unpaid grunt work than learning how to wield a sword, disarm a trap, or cast spells under duress.
In craft guilds, those who graduated from their apprenticeship became journeymen, full fledged members who did not have the freedom of masters. Mostly they provided skilled assistance to masters.
In our Adventurers’ Guilds, the bulk of the membership fill this role, but we’ll call this rank Adventurer or Licensed Adventurer. They can practice their trade but only on Guild-given missions, becoming “journeymen” in another sense: journeying out of civilization into a wilderness filled with monsters and mysterious ruins.
This is also where the ranking system – letters, metals, whatever – comes into play. Rather than assessing the quality of a finished work, the Adventurers’ Guild assess how quickly and competently an adventurer or adventuring team can complete their missions – “quests” – and how much collateral damage they do. (Damages come out of their reward.)
In a craft guild, journeymen who create a “masterwork” – one the other Masters consider worthy – become “masters” themselves.
In our Adventurers’ Guild, high-ranking adventurers, particularly those still in their prime but semi-retired, may gain the rank of Master. While mainly honorary, the title confers the authority to guide each chapter, train apprentices, and otherwise act as exemplars for the rank and file.
In both craft guilds and our Adventuers’ Guild, masters have a vested interest in keeping the number of masters low, perhaps even a fixed number per chapter. Craft guilds want to reduce competition; the Adventurers’ Guilds want to protect the reputation of each chapter and ensure compliance to the land’s laws pertaining to adventurers.
In craft guilds “wardens” were senior masters who ensured the quality of all work from guild members and otherwise policed guild members.
Wardens of the Adventurers’ Guild have a different mandate, since what happens in the wilderness (mostly) stays in the wilderness. These Wardens actively investigate and punish unlicensed adventurers and Guild members who break the rules. As such they are the most experienced and deadly masters of the Guild, relieved of their usual duties as teachers and examples to pursue lawbreakers.
We can posit a single Master running each chapter, in consultation with Wardens and other Masters. This is the Grand Master of each chapter, and he or she has the unenviable task of liasing with royal or imperial authorities, other guilds, angry townsfolk, angry guild members, and anyone else who has a conflict with either adventurers or the way the Guild runs.
Medieval guilds had a close relationship with the medieval Church. Chandlers tithed candles, vintners provided communion wine, and other specialties provided similar resources or, failing that, gold. (Apparently this close relationship contributed to the demise of the guild system after the Protestant Reformation.)
The world of Eordh has multiple religions: the Church of Law (traditional and evangelical sects), the many Cults of Chaos, the Way(s?) of Balance, and a few polytheistic religions, including the syncretic Imperial Pantheon. Demi-humans, humanoids, and other non-humans have their own belief systems. In this environment the Adventurers’ Guild remains mainly agnostic, although it will pay for the services of Church and Imperial healers and, when necessary, the funerary services of clerics, priests6, teachers7, or masters8 of a member’s professed religion.
The Adventurers’ Guild buys adventuring supplies in bulk and resells them to adventurers for a modest profit. The most popular offering is the ubiquitous Adventurer’s Pack or Adventurer’s Kit, a backpack that includes rope, torches, flint and tinder, rations, etc. … everything a starting adventurer needs to not die for a stupid reason on their first outing.
For an unreasonable fee the Guild provides a “printed”9 area map, courtesy of the Scribes’ Guild and Stationers’ Guild. This map identifies previously located points of interest but not details about their inhabitants (if any) or dangers. Distances may be wildly inaccurate. Most maps have large blank spots for areas not yet explored. Veteran adventurers prefer a blank sheet of “paper”5 and a stick of charcoal.
The Guild has one or more mundane healers on call to tend to members wounds. This includes a clinic for extended care.
Magical healing is officially the responsibility of the injured or their party. Unofficially local Clerics will perform healing for a contribution to their temple.
The Adventurers’ Guild partners with the local merchants’ guild (itself possibly a multi-town concern) for the following services:
- Accounts for all members to store their gold and silver. (No pennies.) Gold and silver in the vaults is guaranteed up to a reasonable limit, or with cheap theft insurance.
- Vaults to hold less liquid loot like weapons, gems, and other mundane items.
- Money-changing services at reasonable rates.
- Investment and property services to use all that gold wisely.
The Adventurers’ Guild, in turn, provides trustworthy guards and, where safe, magical countermeasures against theft.
The Adventurers’ Guild may provide “protection money” to prevent local thieves from pilfering adventurers’ possessions and to quash any assassination contracts. “Thieves’ guilds” often accept these arrangements because it’s (mostly) free money and because nobody wants angry adventurers raiding their headquarters.
In some locales a separate “Warriors’ Guild”, when not simply a cover for a mercenary company, may train up novices into effective and disciplined soldiers. These mainly exist in worlds where only a minority cannot use some form of magic, and this minority therefore learns martial arts as an equalizer.
Where a separate Warriors’ Guild still exists, the Adventurers’ Guild may contract out combat training. Otherwise the Guild takes responsibility for basic combat training even for typical non-combatants (thieves, clerics, wizards, scholars, and accidental adventurers).
In locations with a wizards’ “guild” or at least a friendly wizard or two, the Adventurers’ Guild can also provide the following services:
- Safe storage of magic items.10
- Appraisal of magic items for a small fee.
- Purchase of magic items, or exchange for comparable mundane items11, for a price to be negotiated.
- Potions and scrolls for purchase at not too extravagant fees.
- A marketplace for other minor magic items based on availability.
The Wizards’ Guild, if it exist, may also regulate all use of magic within the town. As a rule of thumb, wizards shouldn’t use magic in town unless their lives or the lives of others are in danger, as magic can be a life-threatening proposition in and of itself. Protecting one’s own property is not sufficient reason, especially with merchants’ and wizards’ vaults readily available.
The Adventurers’ Guild reserves this right at the behest of kings and emperors who resent armed ne’er-do-wells “adventuring” in their domains. ↩︎
Understood to be the legal definition of murder, i.e. unlawful killing without a justification like self-defense or spirit possession. ↩︎
The Guild wants to ensure the safety of civilians, true, but it also wants to reverse the stereotype of adventurers as barbarians with a dog tag. Thus it insists on adherence to local laws and customs, at least in public. ↩︎ ↩︎
Defined as unsettled areas, whether considered hazardous or not. Most adventurers assume what happens in the wilderness stays in the wilderness, but the Guild does not want to lose members because one psychopath chooses to commit crimes against other adventurers or civilians away from civilization. ↩︎
I assume most clergy in a religion are not D&D-style “Clerics”. (Priests of Chaos are often Sorcerers, Warlocks, or ritual spellcasters.) They conduct ceremonies, including magical rituals, but cannot cast divine spells outside a consecrated temple and without the help of acolytes. They handle the more mundane concerns of their congregation, including funerals and consoling the bereaved. ↩︎
Traditional Church of Law priests are called “teachers” because they instruct the lay members on proper behavior according to the Books of Law and their many commentaries. Dwarves have a similar but less formal “teacher” caste, all of whom perform regular jobs in addition to their mastery of Dwarf customs and lore. ↩︎
Masters of Balance, those who teach its principles (sometimes percussively), have no specific funerary customs and believe in no afterlife. Rather, they will lead the bereaved in celebrating the deceased’s life, and indirectly life itself. Alcohol may be involved. ↩︎
I assume magic items beyond one-use consumables are comparatively rare in this world, otherwise magical conveniences would perturb the generally medieval assumptions of the setting. ↩︎
I assume that the system will also support +1 or +2 “masterwork” items that aren’t magical, just very well crafted by humans, Dwarves, Antediluvians, etc. ↩︎