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GM Tips: Running Guilds

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

"Newsboard" by Dean Spencer

Guilds are an essential part of not just tabletop roleplaying games but of the entire fantasy and science fiction genre. Whether we're talking the Jedi Order, Dragon Age's the Gray Wardens, or D&D's Harpers, guilds play 4not just a crucial role in worldbuilding but can be the framework and jumping-off point for some killer adventures. For instance, our Adventurer's Agency uses Adventuring guilds as a tool for mitigating disruptions in player attendance.

However, guilds are often overlooked or even forgotten. Wizards of the Coasts' Dungeon Master's Guide only devotes two pages to the topic. So how do you make interesting guilds that your players will be excited to engage? Here on my top four tips for making the most of guilds.

Start With Why - While not directly related to tabletop RPGs, Simon Sinek's TED talk is fantastic and I highly encourage you to watch it. I'll wait. Okay, did you watch it? I know, right? Okay, so what in the infernal plane does this have to do with guilds? Before you do anything, think about why your guild exists. Not just what kind of guild it is (thieves' guild, mercenary guild, merchant guild, etc.) or even how they operate, but why. What does the guild believe in? For instance, an Adventuring Guild that believes in helping those who aren't strong enough to help themselves is very different than an Adventuring Guild that values strength above all else and no contract is too unscrupulous as long as the benefactor has the coin. Another way to think about this is if your guild had an alignment, what would it be? What your guild believes will influence everything about it and there is just no better way to enhance your world's verisimilitude than by applying the lessons of "Start with Why" to your worldbuilding,

Quick Aside

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Know Thy Guild Members - Come up with at least three guild member NPCs who the players might interact with. Nothing much, just a brief description of each, a quirk, and a secret motivation is plenty. NPCs can fill any number of roles in the guild but I recommend making at least a leader, quest-giver, and peer. The leader is the person who runs the organization. The quest-giver is a higher rank than the players, offers adventure hooks, and also provides guidance on guild perks and advancement. And finally the peer is a member who is similar rank to the party and may occasionally join the party on adventures or can grow into a rival. Aside from filling out the basic roles of NPCs the party is likely to want to interact with, these characters can also be used to create political intrigue within the guild. Perhaps the leader and quest giver have conflicting views on the guild's principals. How does the party fit in with this conflict? Seeing how they respond can help you think of ways to engage the party within the guild and make them care more about the organization. If you want to learn more about NPCs, check out our posts on Easy NPCs and Masterclass NPCs.

Roleplay Progression - As a player, one of the most enjoyable parts of guilds is advancing within its ranks from a lowly peon to a respectable regional peon commander. You can amplify this experience by showing how other guildmembers react to the party over time. In the beginning, new member are likely to get little respect from other members but as they earn renown, complete contracts, and gain ranks, member will slowly give them more respect and reverence. This roleplaying can be extremely rewarding for players making them even more invested in the guild.

Show Me the Bennies - Rank hath its privileges and many of them are intuitive - gear discounts, better contracts, hirelings, etc. - but thinking about what kind of guild you have and what it believes, you can come up with some unique benefits that players will love and that can make a more interesting roleplaying experience. For instance, if you have a lawful good Adventuring guild, they may have ties to nobility. Perhaps higher ranks can grant audiences with military commanders and settlement leaders. Thieves guilds might have scouts who report to high ranking members information about wealthy residences ripe for larceny. These custom-tailored benefits for guild members - especially ones for higher-ranking members - can really make your guild feel special and unique.

What your top tip for running a guild in your favorite roleplaying game? Let me know in the comments below!

-Shane Collins

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