Using Guilds and Corporations in Dungeons and Dragons
Today I would like to talk about the differences between Guilds and Corporations, and which one is best to use in a Dungeons and Dragons game.
If you’re like me then you’ve probably used guilds in your games without giving much thought to their exact nature and only giving lip service to their vaguely imagined purposes. Luckily, Ed Greenwood has been thinking about them for years.
“. . . Many cities and city-states . . . have guilds, which are collectives of craft workers or merchants who seek to control local trade in their fields of endeavor. Guilds typically set standards (such as units of measurement, from sizes of garments to how much firewood is in a "cord" and what volume a particular sort of keg holds). They also seek to control or at least influence supplies of goods and services, both by restricting guild membership and seeking to control who can (typically guild members) and can't (usually non-members) engage in a trade, and by controlling imports and exports or influencing governments into doing so (by outright ban or stiff tariffs). Guilds are concerned first and foremost with the welfare of their members, so they tend to try to set prices, either formally or through their control over supply (scarcity driving "what the market will bear" prices up), and their presence results in higher—but more stable—prices."Guilds are inherently useful to a Dungeon Master running a campaign because they can serve as an opposing force to government, and their members aren't necessarily identified by bloodright (as nobles and rival royal families are) and thus easily imprisoned or trained or both. Guilds also can more easily make contacts with outlanders and folk of all walks of life. They are also useful to anyone . . . trying to change any society, because their obvious interests and needs make them easy to manipulate or anticipate. It doesn't take bright wits to figure out how most guilds will react to, say, a scarcity of this raw material or an attempt to change that law governing what the guild does . . .” (Greenwood, The Feather Guilds)
Guilds, then, are essentially unions on steroids. That gives us a lot of material to work with because now there is an attitude that we can draw on and a real life mindset that can be incorporated into our games without some imaginary framework that requires a preposterous amount of effort on our parts. We can look at films like Hoffa and Norma Rae for inspiration and can research actual modern unions such as the Teamsters Union and the AFL-CIO Union.
I like this more complete view of guilds. Prior to this recent understanding of the guilds I had always treated them as trade businesses that were essentially meaningless in my games. As a result they were rarely a focus – hell, until the last couple of years my players hadn’t even asked about local guilds. But with this new understanding of guilds and how they behave I can now use them to my advantage pushing back against other non-player groups’ interests and my players’ interests.
Corporations are defined by their organized approach to business and their ability to circumvent our individual ownership of the moral consequences of our actions by allow each individual in the corporation to blame their actions on the corporation as a whole; as though it were a living, sentient thing. That's a remarkably terrifying accomplishment for an institution that exists only because we have collectively agreed to believe that it's legitimately there.
It's rare that corporations make an appearance in Dungeons and Dragons as they're usually associated with games like Paranoia and Shadowrun. However, in doing so many Dungeon Masters are dismissing a powerful tool in their arsenal. Corporations allow for the players to create an associated experience with a powerful non-player organization that will have a major impact on their characters’ financial lives. Corporations provide modern players – who have grown up with a deep seated, and well founded, mistrust of corporations – with a readily identifiable enemy. Non-player Adventuring Groups in league with the Corporation are immediately recognized as evil. The Corporation’s employees are often seen as either the down trodden little guy or as willing participants in an evil plot to undermine the government. And the Corporation’s upper echelon of employees are seen as vile overlords.
It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed over simply because they are a modern concept.
Which Do I Use
When it comes to determining which organization to use, guilds or corporations, the answer will depend more on the situation involved in your current setting and on the purpose you need for the organization to accomplish. If you’re looking for the organization to provide a foil to the most powerful non-player characters in the game and to become a relevant source of information for your players then you need to use the guild. By treating the guild as a modern union you’re more likely to provide the players with the sort of interactions that will elicit the sort of emotional investment in the well-being and plight of the non-player characters that is so difficult to create in game. On the other hand, if your goal is to provide the players with an organization that can be used to confront them and counter their own movements, without involving either a government or religious cult, then you’re going to want to use the corporation.
That’s all for today, but later I’m going to be writing about the difference between a Complex Corporation and a Simple Corporation in your Dungeons and Dragons game. Hope to see you then.