A Guild is a brotherhood of craftsmen banded together to control economic activity in specific trades or professions. Throughout the Shimmering Kingdoms and the Kingdom of the Lake, virtually all significant commercial and professional activities are within the monopolies of powerful international guilds whose rights are protected by law. Towns are dominated by the activities of the guilds.
Guilds have one prime purpose: to provide economic security for their members. To achieve this objective they employ their legal monopolies to limit competition. This is done mainly by restricting the number of franchises in a specific market. A franchise is a license granted by a guild to own and operate a business within a specific area.
Most guilds are urban; some are rural, some are both. Guilds may be weak, with loosely defined monopolies, but most are strong. In Cael, Norlund, parts of Waelund, and among the Dragon Reaches, the functions of guilds are performed by clans, equally monopolistic, but simpler in organization. The traditional guilds are strongest in The Kingdom of the Lake, Le Fleur, and Rötbaum.
There are three ranks within most guilds: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master.
Apprenticeship is a privilege, most often granted to the eldest son of a Master. The guild may also permit (or sell) additional apprenticeships to the younger offspring of Masters, or to non-guildsmen able to pay the most. An apprenticeship lasts from four to seven years, depending on the guild. To ensure strict discipline, apprentices are rarely permitted to serve under their own fathers. Typically, two masters in nearby settlements exchange their apprentice children. Wealthy guildsmen often try and place their sons with highly skilled masters, paying such mentors a fee for this privilege. The treatment received by apprentices varies; frequent beatings and long hours of menial labour are normal. Apprentices receive only room and board; some get pocket money from generous masters.
The rules governing promotion from apprentice to journeyman vary from guild to guild. The candidate may have to pass a practical and/or oral examination before the guild’s Board of Syndics, but the simple vouching of his master is generally sufficient. The professional guilds have the most stringent requirements. Some masters intentionally deny advancement to their apprentices because of the cheap labour they represent, but the guild usually prevents this from going on too long. A few guilds do not have the rank of journeyman.
Journeymen, in addition to room and board, are entitled to a small wage, ranging from one third to two thirds of the Bonded Master rate depending on experience. They are expected to travel from one location to another, working for different masters of their guild. After a prescribed period (3-5 years) the jouneyman may apply to any Board of Syndics for promotion to the rank of master. This requires the recommendations of at least three masters under whom the journeyman has served, and often some kind of oral/written examination.
There are two kinds of master within most guilds, Freemaster and Bonded Master. A Freemaster is one who holds a franchise, which is simply a license granted by the guild to operate a business in a particular location. A Bonded Master works under contract for a wealthy person or institution. Unemployed masters who do not hold franchises are called simply masters. All masters tithe 10% of their incomes to the guild as dues.
Newly created masters are not automatically granted a franchise; these must be inherited or purchased. Many new masters return home to work alongside their fathers until they inherit the family franchise, while others seek employment as bonded masters until they can afford to purchase a new franchise. The fees to purchase a new franchise are stiff, ranging from two to ten years’ income of a master, plus the customary bribes. Some masters, by choice or poverty, never obtain a franchise.
Most guilds seek to preserve the security of their Masters by limiting the number of franchisees and establishing “fair price” guidelines for wares of specific qualities. A master who sells high quality wares cheap, or low quality wares dear, will receive a visit from guild officials. They will, politely at first, remind him that fines can be imposed, and ultimately, a franchise can be revoked.
Guildmasters and Syndics
All masters are members of the local guild chapter with one vote. They elect from among their number a Board of Syndics who then appoint a Guildmaster from among themselves. These officers are responsible for the day to day administration of the chapter and, except in the case of very wealthy guilds, continue to be practicing masters. They usually receive a stipend for their administrative role. The Guildmaster also represents the guild in the local chapter of the Master’s Guild and at any regional conventions the guild may hold. The way in which a specific guild chapter is actually run depends mostly on the personalities involved.
The Master’s Guild is the association of all guilds. It is, essentially, the Guild of Guilds which regulates and oversees the guilds, settling disputes between different guilds and organizing markets and fairs. The Master’s Guild also work with the local government concerning matters of guild rights and privileges. However, the Master’s Guild generally resists using their enormous power to influence politics, while the government generally reciprocates by limiting their involvement with guilds to taxation and the enforcement of the Charter of the Master’s Guild, a law which protects the guilds’ monopolies.
A Master’s Guild chapter includes at least one representative of each local guild who elect an executive council to run the day to day operations. Questions concerning guild memberships, complaints against guild members, and other matters for the Master’s Guild can be addressed to the Master’s Guild Council Chairman. One may also find listings of local jobs that are available, a good place for newcomers to look if they are in need of coin.
The Master’s Guild principal function is to regulate guilds, settle disputes between them, organize and regulate town markets and fairs, and lobby with governments concerning guild rights and privileges. The Mangai operates under the Charter of the Master’s Guild, a law enacted by most civilized governments, which fosters and protects the monopolies of guilds. This charter was implemented as an indirect result of the Pact of Derindur, and many of the guilds guidelines follows those set out by the Dwarven Guilds example.