Guilds seem to be a part of many RPG settings. Most are based on the medieval European craftsmens' trade associations. This is all well and good as long as we don't push the model too far. Guilds like this work fine on a local, city, regional or even kingdom level, but beyond that a strain starts to set in. The only organization in medieval Europe that operated above and beyond the kingdom level was the Roman Catholic Church, and even that was not a monolithic homogenous entity.
In my games I usually have two types or levels of guild. The first is the local crafts guilds. These are trade associations of blacksmiths, potters, weavers, carters, and so on. Most of these guilds have no formal organization beyond the local or regional level. They usually recognize members of similar guilds in other areas as associate members, offering them hospitality. There are some rivalries between guilds however.
The second type of guild are those which span the world. These are a combination of trade association, religious cult, and secret society.
The best known of these is the Wizards Guild. This is a vast sprawling guild whith control over magic, wizardry and not a little politics.
Often whispered of, but not well known, are the Theives Guild and the Assassins Guild. These two organizations, along with the Beggars Guild, control most organized crime, death for hire, spying, adult entertainment, gambling and other ilicit activities. These Guilds have Rouges and the occasional Guild Wizard in their employ to provide magical aid as needed. They often do not take well to infringement on their turf.
The Warriors Guild, also known as the Blades Guild provides weapons training, maintains mercenary companies, and provides body guards and hired muscle.
The Merchants Guild are nominally in control of all commerce, the smaller crafts guilds paying a fee to the Merchants Guild. In practice this system is rife with corruption.
The Temples are devoted to a host of cults, philosophies, gods and godlings. These have among their memberships all Types and Kin.
A word should be said about guilds with conflicting oroverlapping spheres of influence. Depending on the local situation relations between guilds can range from friendly cooperation to outright hostility. Many times relations between guilds are spelled out in Guild memberships and Hiring contracts. Thus a Warrior hired through the Blades Guild as a bodyguard may in the course of his duties kill a hitman hired through a contract with the Assassins Guild and not have to worry about incurring the wrath of the Assassins as a result. The killing would be seen aspart of the job for both parties. If the same Warrior was to kill the Assassin in a street brawl he might well spark a vendetta against him.
In future posts I will explore some of the more prominent or interesting guilds in more detail.