With all their complexities and room for narrative exploration, Guilds are often a staple of the fantasy roleplay world. Using guilds in your DnD games makes a ton of sense given the nature of the game, its rules, and how stories are generally set up and presented. In DnD 5e there are already some great starting points available for guild-centric adventures, but today we’d like to present a few simple and straightforward additions to the guild system that anyone can use with minimal preparation and effort.
What is a Guild?
Simply put, a guild is a group of professionals banded together along common types of work. In real life guilds are an important part of many skilled labor industries. In fantasy worlds, in addition to being a gathering and learning mechanism for professionals, they also serve as their own miniature governments, quest givers, and major players in world events.
Guilds as Organizations in DnD 5e
At its core, a guild is simply a type of organization. DnD 5e has optional rules for handling organizations laid out in the Dungeon Master’s Guide on pages 21-23. While it does a good job of explaining that any organization should have some core values, goals, and types of quests they give out, the only other bit of rules presented here are for the renown system.
DnD 5e Renown System
The renown system is simply a points counter where players gain renown with any organization by completing missions or advancing that organization’s interests and lose renown by doing the opposite. Each organization will have ranks, rewards, and perks for individuals who gain enough renown. These can come with titles, faction benefits, or monetary entitlements. No matter how you dish out renown perks, the simple system is very flexible and works for most games without additional fuss.
Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica: Renown on Steroids
If you think the two or so pages the DMG gives to the renown system is shameful, then take a look at the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica for more detailed renown style factions. While the book offers more rules and a deeper look at the renown system, its additions actually boil down to lore, character customization, and additional monsters more than anything else. If you want a greater level of detail or examples for your game, you can find it there. On the other hand, if you were looking for an alternative to the renown system you’re not going to find it in these pages. Overall it’s a great book and worth the read, especially if you’re a Magic the Gathering fan.
Simple Homebrew Alterations to the Guild System
Instead of relying on renown as the sole base for a guild system in DnD, we recommend a few tweaks to make your guilds a bit more functional and easy to run as a DM. Let’s look at what we’re keeping: optionally, everything.
What? Everything? Why yes, here’s why.
The simple setup for organizations in DnD works great for guilds and we actually need all these things. For any guild you create you’ll need at least the following:
- A guild name
- Their trade
- Their core values/beliefs
- Their goals
These are all things you get when creating an organization as described in the DMG. Optionally, you can create a renown chart with a few ranks and perks, but these are not necessary for every guild and can sometimes be a hassle to track. Also optional is the motto; it adds a bit of character and flavor, but mechanically it doesn’t really do much.
Additions to the Organizations System
We recommend that in addition to the information you use to create a guild you also create a few additional pieces of information. These items are as follows:
- A favorability scale
- An NPC roster
- Guild services
- Quest board
- Membership system
You can get a lot of plot relevant items set up very quickly by creating a guild sheet by supplementing the items in the DMG with the above information.
With favorability you are creating a sliding scale for the guild that goes from friendly to hostile. This matches up with the DC charts in the DMG (pg 245) and provides you a mechanical system to roll on for the guild’s willingness to help your party out in any particular situation. Just like gaining or losing renown, favorability is a number line that your players move along. The number of steps to move in any direction is up to you, but we typically recommend -5 to 5, with your party starting at 0. Aligning themselves with the guild can move them towards positive favorability and angering the guild can move them away from it.
So why add the favorability system? Simply put, the favorability of an individual does not have to track with renown and renown does not provide a DC system for making guild requests. It is possible to have a lot of renown and also be despised by the guild you work for. It is also possible for a group to have 0 renown and be loved by the guild. Think of a group that does terribly in encounters but always tries their best.
By adding the favorability system you’ve prepared a clear mechanic that is easy to use and simple to grasp. This simplifies complex roleplay scenarios and helps you keep on top how the guild will act. This is not to say you should use this in place of roleplay scenarios, but it can be used in tandem to help keep mechanics present for requests made of an organization.
Requests your party might make of a guild can vary, but it could be for funds for a quest, assistance with current quests, access to rare spells or items, or help persuading others. No matter what it is, the favorability system adds that little extra layer to smooth guild management out in your game.
An NPC roster for a guild is a simple list of NPC characters you spin up beforehand. They don’t have to be super unique, but they should all fill a role in the guild. A guild will typically have a guildmaster, various internal officers like a treasurer, and a handful of member NPCs that your party might interact with. These NPCs are notable characters for plot related items. If there is always the same staff member at the desk assigning quests, your party will get to know them and will develop a rapport. If you have a smaller group, other guild members may rotate in as recurring NPCs who help with quests.
These NPCs are going to be around for a while and keeping a simple list of who they are and what they do will help you with any guild related planning for the whole campaign. Initially, you don’t need to go overboard in preparing them either. As your campaign progresses, the characters can get more detailed and you can take notes about their actions and who they are. Often it’s best to only prepare the bare minimum information for the characters, such as their names and general personalities. Reserve making full character sheets for NPCs that might join your party in a quest, but again, keep the customizations to a minimum to make your life easier.
Guilds exist for a reason, typically it is because they provide a service of some sort. A mages guild might provide access to spells necessary for wizards to level up. A thieves guild provides a place for individuals to fence stolen goods. An adventurer’s guild functions as a home base and quest repository for those seeking that sort of work. No matter what the purpose, you will save yourself a lot of time if you take a moment to list out what a guild might offer to your players or to others in the campaign.
As an example, let’s look at an adventurer’s guild. This guild will have primarily quest handling services. They ensure that people who post jobs pay the adventurers, and they ensure adventurers complete quests. Acting as a middleman for these things provides stability for both parties and costs them very little.
Additionally, a guild might provide guild members item shops, handle the sale of exotic goods, provide cheap lodgings and training grounds, banking services, and a lot more. For non-guild members the adventurers guild might be an active part of providing work, civil defense, and labor to meet demand, or even political leverage in tense situations.
A guild’s services are almost never free, but they’re also not always listed out on a menu. And don’t forget, your players may be guild members, but they might also be in a position to work with a guild as a quest poster too. So understanding both sides of the equation will be helpful in your game.
Providing quests is a service that most guilds handle, but for this preparation step you’re not outlining the service, you’re thinking ahead about the quests. It helps to design quests ahead of time that fit into the general formulas you would expect and get 5-10 or so noted out in a basic framework. You never know what quest your players will try and take, so don’t over prepare or under prepare for any. Get the simple notes you need to be able to handle each one ahead of time so that you can turn the story easily towards the direction your players are heading.
Guild Membership Systems
Membership in a guild is not always as straightforward as one might think. There can be fees and dues to be a member, but you might also need to meet certain requirements to even be considered. These rules can be as complex as you want to make them, but you should at least consider what they are for each guild you create.
This process of gaining membership and keeping up with it can be a sort of grounding experience for the group. The guild connects them to the world by having set interactions they need to maintain to hold on to membership. This keeps your group moving forward.
If you don’t establish any rules for membership then your group might just walk away from a guild at any time. This can lessen guild importance and also decrease obligation, which only serves to make your game harder to steer.
Guild lore is not something to skip. While DnD 5e’s DMG shows examples of write ups for different organizations, you may want to consider the deeper implication of a guild in the first place. The easiest way to establish this lore and figure out how your guild is able to work in your world is to ask yourself why the guild was formed.
Ask yourself what the problem was that people were solving when they banded together to form the group. This provides understanding and context that you can use in future storytelling.
If we think about why a farmers guild would be created, it might be something along the lines of setting the price of crops. Since the kingdom demands a certain amount of crop yields as taxes, the guild formed to codify what crops were worth and provide a barrier between the kingdom and the farmers. This allows towns to ensure they are keeping enough food to feed their people and stops farmers from competing with each other in a race to the bottom for prices. If farmers lower their prices too much then the kingdom could take a larger portion of their crops and cause shortages in towns, subsequently driving prices too high and causing famine.
In this example the guild acts as a group protecting people from themselves and the kingdom. They provide a valuable service to the kingdom by helping to prevent economic based famines and ensure a good balance of work is maintained among farming individuals who are a backbone of a land’s economy. The kingdom may not like the guild because they reduce their power, but they understand that without the guild they take on risks that weaken the kingdom overall. These are powerful points for the storytelling in your game. Imagine the head of the farmers guild negotiating with the kingdom. Think about the tension in that discussion. It can be both fun and dramatic, and it can easily be twisted up with a bad actor on either side of the equation.
This kind of thinking works for all sorts of guilds. The thieves guild might be able to get away with “legal” robbery so long as they guarantee that only licensed thieves are allowed to steal. This seems weird, but it lets the guild enforce anti-crime policy without taking extra resources from guards or the kingdom, and it might lead to lower overall crime rates.
An adventurer’s guild might exist simply to keep employment up and mercenaries busy, two things that help stabilize a kingdom’s power. A mages guild might help control access to dangerous magic or serve to highlight high level spell casters that could be dangerous if left unchecked for too long. There’s all sorts of reasons that guilds should exist in your game.
Noting this history and reasoning seems like a simple enough step, but this isn’t really part of the description you give your players. This is something that helps you identify the machinations of the guild and play out how the world turns over after certain events happen. Even if these are notes just for you, this little bit of extra thought can provide you a huge amount of guidance.
Introducing a Guild
When your players first come across a guild you’ll need a hook to bring them in. While it is sometimes appropriate to start your characters as members of a guild, other times you want them to interact with a guild more naturally.
When you start a game with everyone as part of guild, there is a clear reason they are starting the story together. It ties up disparate backstories and merges campaign plot lines into a solid through line with lots of direction. This is a fantastic start for a more mechanics driven game with newer players and the easiest way to introduce information about your world and the guild.
On the other hand, if you party comes upon the guilds later, you need to do a bit more work to introduce them. If they’re all in the kingdom that they are originally from, your party should know about the guilds a bit. You’ll have to provide some background that is not considered new information to your players. You can compare this to having them travel to a new area and the guild needing to be explained to them by a friendly NPC who can inform them that they need to register as adventurers in order to take jobs.
In either case you will need to give your players a basic rundown of what the guild is about, how they interact with it, and present everything as either basic knowledge they already have or something to be learned via NPC dialogues. Lucky for you, you’ve prepared all of these items ahead of time and have a nice, neat set of notes to work off of!
Running a Guild
The nice thing about guilds is that they pretty much run themselves. The guild doesn’t need a lot of management to tick forward in time while your players are away doing quests. In the meantime, you can change out jobs on the job board; if you’ve prepared enough you can just shuffle the ones that are available and reset them as the group goes through them.
If you have a more present and active group of NPCs you can work out some stories and gossip for when you party returns. But guilds are stable and well managed and should appear mostly frozen in time.
If you are running a guild that is an active part of the story line, you should have a mapping of the major plot points lined up ahead of time. If your party advances, you simply move the background plot points up, leak information about that through NPC interactions as necessary, and continue on.
While we wish there was more constructive advice to give about this, the actual guild exists fixed in place, so plot points about it tick along tied to the location. You don’t need to keep track of a lot of characters moving about, and you often don’t even need to simulate much in even more complicated scenarios. Just advance the story with your party and everything will run smoothly.
As you run a guild the thing that will need the most attention is the NPC that the players interact with the most. This could be the head of the guild or someone who works the front desk. No matter who it is, the players will get to know them and you’ll likely end up giving them a lot more personality and backstory just by roleplaying them a lot.
Even if they don’t interact much with the actual story line of the game, this face of the guild may become valuable to the party. They can often be used as a mechanism for dramatic tension. If this figurehead character goes missing or is threatened, the party will care and you can leverage their familiarity with the character to build up engagement with your story. Or you can keep them behind a desk all game. Either way, you’ve got options.
Use Guilds More in your DnD 5e Settings!
Guilds are a great way to provide some structure to your DnD campaigns. They’re simple to set up, require minimal maintenance, and offer ample jumping off points for both story and game play. While the rules as written are great, adding just a few items to fill in the backgrounds makes them so much better.
If you’re not up for making your own guilds, using the ones in the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica can give you the foundation you need, even if you change the names and outward appearance of things. Building up guild lore, weaving your partying into guilds, and running a campaign that centers around one can be really fun for a classic adventure. Try them out in your campaign and see just how much versatility they can offer you.