Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guilds, Class Warfare and Alien Settings

Some quick thoughts as a follow-up to my recent post on guilds:

– I've been thinking more about the difference between hirelings and henchmen. Hirelings, despite the fact that they have been presented as having guilds, are not compatible with guilds because they only represent Labor, not Capital. Hirelings are wage-slaves, dependent upon a wage and usually unskilled, with no prospects for advancement.

– This leads to class warfare in well-run games. Things like Telecanter's Five Fingers and Joesky's unhappy hirelings table. This can be fun, especially when the dice tell you to have a hireling stab a PC or push them into lava, but players often have just as much a sense of humor about this sort of thing as employers do about their employees striking. Depending on what kind of game you want to run, you may want to offer another, less anachronistic and troublesome option, or you may want to totally replace hirelings with henchmen, especially when it comes to institutions. (That is, having a henchman could be a "thing" that people recognize, that allows legal inheritance, lets the henchman speak for the PC, etc., while hirelings could still happen, but would just be hired in an ad hoc way and wouldn't be anything special.)

– Dovetailing with this line of thinking, I assume that most readers are interested in ways to make their game settings seem "different" to their players. Things that make players feel like they are in a different world add to immersion and the escape that is a part of roleplaying. Guilds are something that is very foreign to most people raised in the West, so instituting some guilds that the PCs encounter would be very easy ways to communicate "this isn't the 21st century dressed up like a ren fair."

– A guild that would have a lot of contact with PCs would be a guild for adventurers. The guild would be a supplier of henchmen, who would basically be apprentices, but would have regulations against using hirelings, among other things. The guild would both jar the players from their assumptions and provide the benefits and restrictions that are what guilds are about. Adventurers guilds can be customized according to alignment, whether they are optional, whether the guild will be OK with adventurers opting out and whether the guild is particularly active in hatching and executing schemes or if it just takes care of the basics and doesn't involve itself in the plot.

– I should write up an adventurer's guild.


  1. Sounds good - I consider guilds the "near abroad", closer to modern capitalism than the patronage/big man tradition that I've always imagined henchmen to be part of. I have just one quibble: how would dissatisfied hirelings be anachronistic? Assuming you're running some kind of pseudo-medieval Europe (sorry if this is wrong - I'd love to know if you're not) then mercenaries work for hire, and reaching back or south, Rome and Islamdom have slave labor, respectively (and Europe has indenture and debt slavery). I don't see any problem woth introducing disgruntled disenfranchised workers...

  2. Your assumption is correct; I'm running a pseudo-medieval European/vanilla fantasy setting. What I think is anachronistic (and there isn't anything necessarily wrong with anachronism, even aesthetically- the blunderbuss in Farmer Giles of Ham, for example, is just great- but working against it can yield some good results- see my third point) is not that workers that get ripped off or treated unfairly would be disgruntled, but that there would be workers that "free-floating" the way hirelings have to be in order to be hired.

    In Medieval Europe, generally, in my understanding (and I'm no expert), unskilled workers were usually tied to the land or were vassals to someone- feudalism or patronage. Skilled workers were usually either vassals- still feudal- or they were usually in cities and joined guilds. Most workers, unskilled or not, would be "plugged in" to the system in a way that they either couldn't or wouldn't want to escape. They couldn't, generally, just traipse off if an adventuring party decided to hire them; they would either have obligations that would be legally enforced if they tried to break loose, or they would have a great job that made poking around in a dungeon look awfully unappealing.

    Of course there are going to be people who get pushed to the fringes of society and don't get plugged into the system (kind of like adventurers) that will be available as hirelings, but they're going to be rarer and certainly not an established institution like a hireling union/guild would indicate. Large numbers of workers that weren't tied to the land only came about during the transition to Capitalism in Europe in the last few hundred years. (Because of industry making farming possible with fewer people involved, globalism and the privatization of public land by wealthy elites… but there I go writing a paper for a class or something; sorry)

    So, to wrap all that up, I'm arguing not that disgruntled low-class workers are anachronistic- good counterarguments for that would be the various peasant revolts during the Middle Ages- but that a large pool of unskilled labor without strong ties to either guild, land or lord- basically what hirelings are- is anachronistic.