Dove-tail this with my own real-life interest in a third-way economic system called Distributism which advocates a return to a guild system. I mention this not to turn this blog into a political soapbox, but to explain how I came upon this article. The article is worth a read, but I'll break down the main characteristics of guilds according to the article here so those who don't want to won't have to:
- The goal of the guild is to maintain the livelihood of its members, so that guild members who work hard will be guaranteed to be able to make a living at their trade.
- Guilds receive charters from the State that gives them the legal authority to regulate their trade.
- Anyone can join a guild, but they have to go through a process before they become members of the guild. This keeps the ranks of the guild from swelling to the point where there is too much supply.
- No one who isn't a member of a guild may legally practice the guild's trade.
- Rules are put in place that keep competition from driving hard-working guild members out of business. In practice, this means that certain forms of competition are not allowed. (Like doctors not being allowed to advertise, from the example in the article.)
- Rules are also put in place to maintain the quality of the trade. From reading books on the Middle Ages when I was in middle school, I remember that wine guilds would ban watering down wine, for example.
The best example from Western Capitalist society today probably is the practice of medicine, with the various boards that certify doctors standing in the place of guilds, but basically filling the same function. I'll assume that if you want more information on non-gaming guilds, though, that you'll read the article, so I'll stop explaining here.
So how do we apply this to gaming? The obvious answer seems to be that guilds prevent PCs from running roughshod over other characters. That'll mean that, at least in a relatively settled or civilized area, like a city or town, characters don't get to just set up shop and run a business while they rest for a week between dungeon expeditions. Instead, if they want to engage in a trade, they'll have to join a guild and go through the apprenticeship process. The article I've cited says that guild membership has to be free to anyone who can pass muster, but if you want to make your setting more frustrating and corrupt your PCs may have to have connections or buy their way into an apprenticeship. I don't particularly like this, since it makes guilds frustrating to players, and I like guilds, but it's a possibility and so I mention it.
Another possibility is to have guilds employ the adventurers. Maybe they need the PCs to investigate a member who is suspected of breaking some guild rules. Maybe someone is practicing their trade outside of the guild but hasn't been shut down by the authorities yet and the guild wants the PCs to find out why. Maybe the guild is required by it's charter to do its own enforcement, so the PCs are hired to enforce compliance with guild rules. Maybe the guild has heard about some opportunity for trade or some location of raw materials for its trade and wants the PCs to investigate for them. Having guilds as patrons in this way, I think, adds flavor and makes guilds an integral part of the setting in the players' minds.
Another possibility is having the PCs be part of an adventurers' guild. Telecanter has already kind of started this with his Five Fingers, where hirelings have rules that protect themselves from wanton PCs, but also have to hold up their end of the five protections as well. This isn't exactly a guild, though, since there's a kind of management/labor split in the relationship, but it's close. If hirelings were apprentice adventurers and the PCs and their hirelings were part of the same guild, then we'd have a true guild situation. Another possibility is that each class gets its own guild, much like my Order of the Green Hand.