In which I risk my life by revealing the mysteries of the guilds

The guild is an important part of medieval life that doesn’t translate well to d&d’s faux-medieval XPocracy (apart from the thieves and adventurers guilds). After all, what is gameable about, say, the glaziers’ guild?

One thing to remember is that there was no such thing as the ignorant country bumpkins’ guild. Medieval guilds were mostly composed of educated professionals. Scientists. Seekers after knowledge. In D&D terms: magic users.

Furthermore, medieval guilds were shrouded by layers of ritual mystery. Think of the esoteric ceremonies of the Masons. Now let’s D&D it up. Imagine that each guild’s closely guarded secret is actually of world-shattering importance. Everything about a campaign’s cosmology could be informed or subverted by some guild secret.

I’m running a guild-heavy city game right now, so I prepared this handy chart. For each guild, roll d6 to learn the unspeakable secret it guards. Every time you roll up a new set of guilds, your campaign will have new alliances, villains, threats, and planar secrets.

Alchemists guild. The alchemists make anything you can stir, from potions and poisons to beer and wine. They’re the comic relief of the guilds, since they’re always blowing up their own laboratories, but honestly, don’t wizards do that too? And the elders of the guild know secrets that are anything but comic.

What is their closely guarded mystery? Roll d6:
1 nitrogen fertilizer. Their secret agricultural compound could triple the civilized population, but they know that a higher population leads to more psionic energy which leads to visits from hungry Others.
2 Potion of inevitable success. A secret brew concocted from waters from the Lake of Illumination gives Fortune’s wheel just the push to spin its drinker to the top. Even a buffoon may lead conquering armies or rule kingdoms. Its effects wear off quite suddenly when the drinker’s ambition is achieved.
3 Gunpowder. The secrets of p 268 of the Fifth Edition DMG could transform warfare. The blacksmiths guild desperately wants to bury this secret.
4 Elixir of immortality. The guild has learned that old age can be bested, but at terrible sacrifice of innocent lives. A series of disappearances can be traced to surprisingly young guild elders.
5 By combining research with the jewelers guild, the alchemists are close to an economy-destroying breakthrough allowing them to turn lead into gold, silver into mithril, or gold into an even more marvelous metal, sungold.
6 Roll d6 twice more on this table.

Beggars guild. Besides beggars, the guild includes actors, musicians, prostitutes, and performers.

What is their closely guarded mystery? Roll d6:
1 Gateway glyphs. Beggars mark every public doorway with secret glyphs. The reader of this code knows secrets about each building’s inhabitant.
2 Ads. The beggars are close to a breakthrough in the sinister science of advertising, which makes the worse appear better, enriches the knave, and lets the few control the many.
3 Mechanical foes. There are those hidden among us, initiates of the jewelers guild, who have replaced their hearts with clockwork and have given up every emotion except greed. They are locked in an eternal war with the beggars guild.
4. Actors in high places. Many of the world’s rulers have been replaced with beggars guild duplicates. They will give patronage to their own.
5. Tribute game. The thieves guild demands yearly tribute of the beggars guild. The beggars guild thinks it is great fun to cheat them of the tribute in a different way each year.
6. Roll twice more on this table.

Blacksmith guild. This guild includes many adventurers and soldiers in its ranks. Besides smithing, they study personal combat and war tactics.

What is their closely guarded mystery? Roll d6:
1. Metallurgy. If they chose, the guild could use its metallurgical magic to arm legions with +1 armor and melee weapons, giant mecha, and animated swords.
2. Fallen devils. According to the devil that the smiths secretly worship, devils are not fallen angels. Rather, angels are devils who fell when they became toadies of the gods. The smiths are forging black metal rings which will “free” the angels.
3. Manual of Conquest. The last few conquerors of the world were guild members who understood the secret blacksmith book, the Manual of Conquest. There are chapters by many founders of bygone empires, including Dar the Shining, Timord the Conqueror and Vorik the Lion. The book has been stolen by the scriveners guild.
4. Glassteel. Members of the glazers guild and blacksmiths guild working together can produce glassteel, strong as steel, clear as glass, and light as mithril.
5. Fire walking. To Guild initiates, every fire is a doorway to every other fire.
6. Roll twice more on this table.

The guild of Carpenters and weavers. The practitioners of these two arts work under one guild to combine their efforts on ship-making, archery, and weaving.

What is their closely guarded mystery? Roll d6:
1 The clothes make the man. The weavers can imbue a suit of clothes with magic so that its wearer can take on the appearance and voice of anyone who previously wore those clothes. They are infiltrating the alchemists guild, looking for the secret of gunpowder so that their ships may rule the seas.
2 Men of war. There are plans on the High Carpenter’s desk for a new class of (flying?) ship called the Man of War. It can hold a thousand men and is virtually unsinkable (or the flying equivalent).
3. The seven winds. The corpses of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa are the sources of the 7 winds. If you survive a journey to one of the corpses, you can forever summon that wind. You can speed your own ships and hinder your rivals.
4 The Princess Ark. The guild has pooled its knowledge with the scriveners guild to produce a great ship, the Princess Ark, that can fly to the stars. The ship was lost on its maiden voyage. The guilds are building scout ships to explore the stars and find the Ark.
5 The Loom of Life. There is a huge loom in the Guildhall of the Winds. Cut a thread and someone, somewhere, will die. Initiates know what thread goes to what life.
6 Roll twice more on this table.

Glaziers guild. The glaziers don’t just make window panes: they grind telescope lenses, and peer through them, and learn much that is forbidden.

What is their closely guarded mystery? Roll d6:
1. Hostile takeover. One or more of the gods are dead and prayers are being answered by an alien entity with big plans. Step 1: going public.
2. Through the looking glass. A mirror can be made which traps people in a dimension unknown to cosmologists.
3. Secret whispers. Point your telescope at a certain empty point in the night and you will hear whispered nonsense rhymes. Whisper them in someone’s ear and they will die. Whisper them again in the corpses ear and it will live again but follow your commands…
4. Paranoia. The beggars guild inner circle are shapechangers from a distant star. They are replacing rulers and generals with their own.
5. The walls have eyes. To Guild initiates, every piece of glass is a window to every other piece of glass.
6. Roll twice more on this table.

5 Responses to “In which I risk my life by revealing the mysteries of the guilds”

  1. Brett Slocum says:

    These are truly splendid. I love that they all have powerful secrets.

  2. Chawunky says:

    Very cool. Nabbing it forthwith.

  3. 1d30 says:

    This is great! Will definitely do something like this for the big city campaign I’ve been contemplating.

  4. Maelstin says:

    Following.

  5. Rhenium says:

    Bravo well spoken Bruce!

    Might I point out the only issue as I see it in this marvellous list. All the mostly closely guarded secrets are “real”. The Masons as we know them and the alchemists too followed all sorts of ridiculous blind and dead-end paths. I would therefore expand the list to 10 items of which four are follies.

    For example for the alchemists guild:

    7) Approaching a ground breaking discovery that transmutes copper to slightly redder coloured copper.

    8) A few more years of research into high temperature reactions will give us a previously unobserved metallic phase of iron. This is 30% weaker than existing iron.

    9) The guild is on the pathway to discovering how mercury strengthens the bones and constitution of those who imbibe it. No luck yet, but perhaps with more sulphur…

    10) Ancient texts from the far distant lands of Leng may as yet reveal unheard of secrets! Sadly the texts are in the language of Leng, which is now unknown. (Plot twist: The books are king lists and contain no alchemical knowledge at all. The books may be worth 100 gold each to interested sages once this fact is discovered).

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