AD&D 2e, Dungeons & Dragons, Greyhawk, Greyhawk Wars, Greyhawk Wars Research

Money and Power, Part 2: Guilds and Unions

One of the things that I think many of us struggle with is whether to use “guilds” or “unions” in our games. So as we’re dealing with the financial juggernaut that is the City of Greyhawk we need to take a minute to talk about the difference between the two and to explain when one should be used over the other.

First let’s define each term:

  • A Guild is a group of independent contractors who have formed an organization to help establish the standards for their profession.
  • A Union is a group of employees who have formed together to collectively bargain with their employers.

So a Guild is an organization that holds, as its goal, the establishment of a level of professionalism for all its members. There are requirements to joins, such as a number of years operating in the field or a display of skilled craftsmanship, and a standard that must be met for all guild members in good standing. Much like seeing the Better Business Bureau’s grade on a business[1] seeing the emblem of the Stonemason’s Guild displayed on your stone mason’s door should give you some confidence that they are capable of good work that will last you generations.

The Union, by contrast, is an organization whose goal is to ensure better conditions for the employees in an industry. For example, the meat packers of Greyhawk could create a union for the purposes of ensuring that their employers provide better benefits, safer work conditions, and pensions for retired workers. Unions require that their members work in the industry they operate in.

Now that we understand what each term means it’s important that we look at the way that the City of Greyhawk is set up according to the text (see pages 30-46 in Book II for more):

Guilds

  • Architects
  • Assassins
  • Stonemasons
  • Carpenters
  • Performing Artistes
  • Leatherworkers, Tanners, Smiths, Weavers, and Tailors
  • Mercenaries
  • Sages
  • Moneychangers
  • Cartographers
  • Translators
  • Nightwatchmen
  • Thieves
  • Merchants and Traders
  • Pawnbroker’s
  • Beggars
  • Adventurers
  • Apothecaries and Herbalists
  • Bakers and Cooks
  • Barbers and Dentists
  • Butchers
  • Embalmers and Gravediggers
  • Jewelers and Gemcutters
  • Lamplighters
  • Lawyers and Scribes
  • Ostlers and Brewers
  • Sages and Academics
  • Sewermen and Streetclearners

Unions

  • Dockworkers and Warfmen’s
  • Laborers

The use of the term “guild” in the text largely ignores the definition of a guild as we understand it in modern terminology.[2] So we have a choice as Game Masters: we can either leave the game as it is, or create a new list using unions where appropriate. I’m choosing to create a new list as I find unions a solid addition to my games. They provide me with better role-play opportunities as I’ve known a lot of union members over the years and I tend to enjoy them greatly.

Feel free to ignore this reset if you prefer the original.

You’re welcome to download a pdf copy of this page if you would like at the following link.

Notes

[1] Never trust the BBB’s grade as the business can buy their score.

[2] It could be that this difference is a modern one as there is a 32 years since the publication of the City of Greyhawk boxed set (1989) and today (2021). However, I think it’s far more likely that the term “guild” held a firmer place in the narrative of the setting and so saw greater use even though the term “union” would have been a better term in many situations.

4 thoughts on “Money and Power, Part 2: Guilds and Unions”

  1. Nice. But what about the Hirelings? Is there a union for porters, linkboys, lantern-bearers, and potion-testers? If anyone is in sore need of workplace protections and Memoranda of Understanding regarding trap-finding and arrow-catching, it is they!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting article as always. To me unions represent a force for the improvement of working conditions so I’d split the types of businesses and callings based on how likely personal risk (of injury,death,illness ,disability or being cursed etc) was for members of that profession with the most vulnerable professionals forming unions instead or in addition to guilds.

    Medieval and early modern European guilds were also often about personal status and recognition from your peers and from the state. I think membership and plots about guild members could reflect that as well : could the characters be involved in setting up or disrupting a courtship between the children of influent guild members planning for advancement within the guild ? Could they seek to help or hinder a friendly or unfriendly guild by disrupting or providing supplies or magical/technological improvements ? Could and should they seek benefits for the guilds or unions they belong to as a result of their succesful adventuring (royal patents,monopolies, privileges such as being able to wear certain colors or fabrics,avoid taxes or service…?) Is an NPC a member of a guild or expected to join one because of tradition or circumstance rather than free will (this could be especially interesting for the mages’or scholars’guilds if the person cannot or does not want to work magic or do research but it could work with any trade) ? There are lots of exciting possibilities and books by historians like Michel Pastoureau who spent years looking at dyers’guilds in medieval and early modern France could be rich sources of information (I can also highly recommend “The medieval underworld” whose author escapes me to liven up your thieves’guilds and cities’ nightlife.

    Liked by 1 person

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