Publisher: Bastion Press
Review Dated: 1st, November 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
Guilds. Those fantasy stalwarts. Stalwart and yet usually so annoying that they’re not worth the bother. In my experience Guilds have been deployed as a poor way to keep in check character’s level advancements, as impromptu and unrelated plot twists, as half hearted references to what the author thought should be there. I mean, if you’re heroes engage on an epic adventure which lasts seventeen years and has them cross the great sulphur flats of the Deadlands, scale the spine of the world and travel beyond the edge… then who cares that they’re a rank two novice in the wizard’s guild back in their home town?
Guildcraft is Bastion Press’s attempt to convince me that Guilds are worthwhile – or, at least, if I want to use guilds how to get the most out of them. The book has mixed success.
There’s a quick note about “world neutral” right at the start and that makes for a good beginning. Guildcraft is written so that it can be used in any fantasy world or as many different fantasy worlds as normal. This rounds off the bell a little, drawing everything closer to the average but does mean that you’re likely to be able to fit at least one of the guilds in the book into your campaign if you wanted to.
Just a few pages in and Guildcraft totally wrong foots me. What’s your idea of a typical Guild? The over-present Thieves Guild (and are thieves across the D&D universe the most organised people ever?) or perhaps a Mages Guild? Does your list of organised professionals working together for a better tomorrow include barbarian hordes? No? Me neither. Yet, barbarian horde is the first example guild in Guildcraft. Putting the boot into your expectation that guilds are inherently civilised and an urban phenomena is the Druid’s Cabal. Thankfully, after those two the guilds come more recognisable as such and continue the character class correlation. Golden Blades is the name of the fighter guild, One Reed for the monks, Paladin Orders for the Bards – oh, okay – it’s for the Paladins, Rogue’s Gallery and Sacred Light for the goodie-goodie clerics. Seekers reserves as sort of catch all for wizards, bards but it seems best suited for sorcerers and is placed in line for such as we run through the class to guild list, the Wizard’s Academies come next and Ye Fools is the guild suggest to organise Bards.
There’s more than just names to these guilds though. In fact, there are some decent game mechanic suggestions in Guildcraft that make the book worthwhile. The book’s most concerned with running through these suggested guilds though, that’s where most of the pages go. After taking the obvious but probably helpful character class approach to building guilds the book picks on some suitable or interesting skills and weaves guilds from them.
Neric’s Avengers are a bunch of organised vigilantes and so they’re probably a suitable guild for many d20 heroes out there. Despite Neric and company being the lead entry into the skill-based guild chapter there isn’t actually a skill requirement to join, you just need to be second level. There’s a nice use of a traders’ guild in the Roshanta Trading Guild that seems to be the slightly less than perfect evolution of an elder and less successful merchants’ association. The Shondak are the name given to the guild of weaponsmiths and historically such a profession makes for an ideal choice of guild.
Chapter three is home to the collection of guilds with least description for each. The theme here that links the guilds together is that above any other reason they’re just groups of people with a common cause who have gotten together. Chapter four, on the other hand, has only a single guild in it but it’s the one with largest number of pages spent on it. The Collective is the adventurer’s guild. It’s there to deal with those annoyingly mundane things like accommodation and food but also looks to employ adventurers and even help out from time to time.
Really. There’s nothing very special in the example guilds in terms of fresh ideas, detailed history or cunning ambitions. Many of the guilds are detailed through several pages though and that’s probably good enough for plug-and-play in most campaigns. There are plot hooks as well as NPC stats, suggested variations and notes on the size and scope of the guild.
The success in Guildcraft comes from the game mechanics on progression within the guilds. Membership as feat like prerequisites and then on in each different rank in some guilds also have prerequisites and all new ranks have an XP cost. It’s not a huge XP cost but you’ll certainly notice spending them. The cost is balanced by tangible game mechanic benefits. If you’re a barbarian of the barbarian horde and you’re out on, er, barbarian horde business and everyone round about you is caught up in the rage of battle then even if you might otherwise be all raged-out you might find another dose of furry inside you. If you have a mage’s guild supporting your studies then scrolls and supplies will be cheaper. In short; there are real costs that your players will feel and there are real benefits that your players will feel as well. I think this makes the guilds in Guildcraft rather more real than the might otherwise have been and this is a good thing.
The book ends with a small but sufficient chapter on how to design and build your own guild so that they fit into the outline used by Guildcraft. This is another of the book’s successes and for me it’s what makes the purchase worthwhile. Technically the book ends with some prestige classes and feats but I suspect most people who’ve had Guildcraft for a while will pick it up, flip to the back and use it for the creating your own guilds.
I don’t think Guildcraft has managed to persuade me that anything other than nation wide guilds are worthwhile. Guildcraft certainly has persuaded me that if I am using guilds that I’ll want to do them in the Guildcraft way.