Using and Designing Guilds, Secret Societies, and Cults
by Andy Collins, Dragon #296
This article lays out a framework to help you build organizations for your DUNGEONS & DRAGONS campaign. Using a system similar to the DUNGEON MASTER'S Guide's town generator, you can craft anything from a tiny boating partnership in the local village to a sprawling thieves' guild in your favorite metropolis, including the organization type and size, dominant alignment, resources available, leadership, racial demographics, and class and level makeup of the entire group.
Step 1: Type
If you haven't already decided on the type of organization you want to create, use Table 1: Organization Types to randomly generate this information.
Step 2: Alignment
The alignment of an organization need not match the dominant alignment of its community, although many do. If you haven't already selected your organization's alignment, roll randomly on Table 2 Organization Alignment. Most organizations tend to be lawful (the most stable of alignments). Some alignments might not match well with certain organization types (see Table 1: Organization Types for typical alignments), but that doesn't mean you can't creatively mix these two elements to form a unique organization.
Lawful Good: A lawful good organization strives to help others, but tempers its kindness with a devotion to the letter of the law and an attention to detail and policies. Many centers of learning are lawful good.
Neutral Good: These organizations seek to help those in need, with little regard toward influencing a community's power structure. Many charitable organizations are neutral good.
Chaotic Good: An organization of this alignment works tirelessly to protect people from tyranny. Chaotic good organizations are always trying to do the right thing, but a lack of communication and forethought often causes plans to fail or members of the group to work at cross-purposes. Such a group might serve as anything from peaceful protesters to freedom fighters.
Lawful Neutral: Most lawful neutral organizations exist for their own purposes as much as for their members. They tend toward bureaucracy and codified regulations, and they stress the need for order above all else. Many trade guilds are lawful neutral.
True Neutral: Truly neutral organizations care little for the surrounding community, instead spending their time furthering their own goals. They tend to be the most welcoming of differing viewpoints. Many arcane guilds are true neutral, respecting each wizard's right to her own beliefs.
Chaotic Neutral: While most chaotic neutral organizations claim to fight for personal freedoms and against the encroachment of governmental power, many simply exist to fight for the sake of creating contention. Chaotic neutral organizations might be groups of vandals, anarchists, or revolutionaries.
Lawful Evil: A lawful evil organization uses the community's laws and regulations to their best benefit, furthering their goals at the expense of those less able to exploit such rules. Perhaps ironically, lawful evil organizations can (and do) exist quite well in otherwise lawful good societies, simply because they are willing to follow the laws (unless they can get away with breaking them). Expansionist or monopolistic trade guilds might be lawful evil.
Neutral Evil: A neutral evil organization looks out for the needs of its members above all else. Most thieves' guilds are neutral evil.
Chaotic Evil: Such an organization exists solely to help its individual members spread hatred, destruction, and mayhem. A murder cult is one example of a chaotic evil organization.
Step 3: Size
Determine how large the organization is and where it is based. If you haven't already chosen a size based on your campaign needs, roll on Table 3: Organization Size. The size (Minor, Medium, or Major) will help you determine the organization's member population.
Step 4: Member Population
After determining the relative size of your organization, use the appropriate column on Table 4: Organization Membership by Town Size to determine the population of your organization. If you've already decided on the membership size and population, you can skip this step.
Step 5: Resources
Just like a community, every organization has a gold piece limit to its resources based on its size and population. The gold piece limit is an indicator of the maximum amount of money the organization can afford to spend in any given week, on any one item, or in pursuit of any given objective.
The gold piece limit noted in Table 4 is for a medium organization. A minor organization has a gold piece limit of one-half the indicated value, while a major organization has a gold piece limit of twice the indicated value.
Step 6: Demographics
To effectively use an organization in play, you must know the composition of the organization. The following guidelines allow you to determine the most common classes and races represented and the levels of the various members belonging to the group, from the leader down to the lowest-ranking associates.
The mix of classes represented in any given organization depends on whether that group is exclusive (limiting its membership to a single occupation), mixed (with a dominant class and a small representation of other classes), or integrated (including members from a wide variety of classes).
You should be able to decide on a primary class based on the type, alignment, and location of your organization. For instance, most trade-based organizations count experts as their primary class, while religious organizations number adepts, clerics, and other divine spellcasters in the majority. Most thieves' guilds are mixed, with the majority of their members being rogues but with a fair number of experts, warriors, fighters, bards, and other characters. A typical wizards' academy might be exclusive (limiting its membership to pure wizards) or mixed (with sorcerers and other arcane casters joining the assemblage). An adventurer's guild is likely to be highly integrated, with members of all walks of life. Don't forget to include one or more NPC classes in your demographics, particularly warriors and experts.
Use Table 6 and Table 7 to determine the highest-level character in the primary class of your organization. Roll the dice indicated for the class that you have determined is primary, and apply the modifier based on the size of the community found in Table 9.
For secondary and following classes, use Table 8 to determine the highest-level character based on the town size. For instance, in a small city, the highest-level character ot the organization's secondary class will be one-half the result derived from Table 6 or 7, while the highest-level character of the organization's tertiary classes will be one-fourth the normal result. Characters of other classes will be 1st level.
In larger communities, there is a chance that the highest-level character in the secondary class will use the normal result from Table 6 or 7, and a chance that the highest-level character in the tertiary class will be determined just as for the secondary class. The highest-level character in all other classes will be half the result derived for the tertiary class (which might be one-fourth, one-half, or even equal to the result derived from Table 6 or 7). Round fractional results down, but treat any result of less than 1st level as 1st level.
Note that in any organization, there is a 5% chance that a single member who doesn't belong to the organization's primary, secondary, or tertiary classes will have a level equal to (or maybe even higher than) the highest-level character in your organization's primary class. This character might represent a "wild card" in the organization, a unique member, or might simply be a fish out of water.
Total Characters of Each Class
Use the following method to determine the levels of all the characters in an organization of any given class.
If the highest-level character of a given class indicated is 4th level or above, assume there is one additional character of that class of half that level. If this results in a character who is 4th level or higher, assume that there are two characters of half that character's level. Continue until the number of 2nd- or 3rd-level characters is generated - do not generate 1st-level members in this manner.
After you have determined the number of 2nd- and 3rd-level characters of each class, divide the remaining population so that it matches the class demographics of the organization. For instance, if 37% of an organization are rogues, then 37% of the leftover membership are 1st-level rogues. Repeat for each class present in the organization.
You can also round out any organization with a few characters of classes not represented in the organization's typical mix. For instance, even if your thieves' guild doesn't have a listing for wizards, you can still add one to the membership. Don't forget to include multiclassed or prestige-classed characters as appropriate.
Note that your final membership numbers - particularly the 1st-level characters of PC classes - might not match up well with the expected quantity of that class in the community (as per Chapter 4 DMG). Don't worry too much about this - ultimately, the DUNGEON MASTER'S Guide's method of determining the number of characters with PC class levels might be too conservative for your campaign, particularly if you have many cities and metropolises (which are likely to have large, powerful organizations). If you need a rationalization, consider the possibility that the organization has drawn a great number of members from outlying towns and villages. Also, remember that many low-level characters might belong to more than one organization!
Leader of Organization
The leader of an organization is usually the highest-level character of the primary class. Roll on Table 10: Organization Leader or select an appropriate character to lead the group.
Most organizations mirror the local racial mix, though exceptions are not uncommon. Use Table 11: Racial Demographics or select an appropriate racial mix for your organization.
Step 7: Flesh Out the Details
At this point, all that's left is to breathe life into the framework you've created. Provide the organization with a name, turn your NPCs into full-fledged characters (with personalities and backgrounds as appropriate), and link the organization to your campaign history.
Now's the time to determine other crucial details about the group you've created. Is it a secretive organization whose existence is known only to its members? Even a craft guild might pride itself on secrecy and mystery. How hard or easy is it to join the group? What kind of insignias, code words, pass-phrases, or secret hand-hakes does the group use? Does the group enjoy support (whether public or private) from local authorities, or is it a renegade assembly? Is the organization well-respected by the populace, or are its members social pariahs?
These and other unique facets are what will turn your organization from a boring collection of numbers into a full-fledged part of your campaign.
Step 8: Finish the Stat Block
Once you've designed your society, you can use this example to create a society statistics block for your group:
Name (size): AL [alignment abbreviation]; # gp resource limit; Membership # [Racial mix: Isolated, Mixed, or Integrated] [(race #, race #, race #, race #, race #, race #, race #, and so on).] *Note: The number following each race name is a percentage of the entire membership, not the exact number of individuals of that race.
Authority Figure(s): [Name, gender, race, class, and level.]
Important Characters: [Name, gender, race, class, and level (title or position); Name, gender, race, class, and level (title or position); Name, gender, race, class, and level (title or position).]
Others: [Class mix: Exclusive, Mixed, or Integrated]; [class and level (#), class and level (#), and so on] *Note: The numbers in this entry are the exact numbers of residents of each class.
Notes: Place any special notes about the organization here.
For Your Campaign
The guidelines presented in this article offer a strategy for quick generation of societies, guilds, and cults in your game. The society statistics block can also help you pare down and organize your notes about societies and organizations that already exist in your campaign. You can also get more mileage from this article by trying something new:
Consider allowing your players to create their own organization of adventurers that all their PCs belong to. This gives them a personal stake in the campaign world you create and gives their PCs a good reason to adventure together.
Use the organization generation process to generate the statistics for the town guard or militia. Just calculate it as a major organization, double the size of its membership, and presto - you have the city's police force.
For Your Character
Creating organizations for the campaign might seem like something for just your DM, but creating an organization can be a great way to generate a background for your character. Ask for approval from your DM, and then use this article to create an organization that gives your character extra interest:
- Perhaps your character belonged to an evil cult or secret society because your character's parents belonged to the organization. Now your character is on the run, having escaped the clutches of hereditary obligation but ever fearful that the family tradition will seek her out and drag her back.
- Your character might belong to a secret organization already, and because it's secret, you can add this history to a character you're already playing.
- If your DM allows you to create prestige classes for the campaign, she might allow you to create the organization that trains characters for that prestige class.