A guild is a brotherhood of craftsmen who have banded together to control economic activity in specific or related trades. Throughout Hârn and western Lythia, virtually all significant commercial and professional activities are within the control of powerful international guilds whose monopolistic rights are protected by law. Unlike the countryside, towns are dominated by the activities of the guilds; it is their activities that justify a town’s very existence.
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 primarily by restricting the number of franchises in a specific market. A franchise is a license granted by a guild to a qualified master to own and operate a business within a specific area. Although the custom varies, there are usually three ranks within each guild: apprentice, journeyman, and master.
Apprenticeship is deemed a privilege, usually granted to the eldest son of an existing master. The guild may also permit or sell additional apprenticeships, mostly to the younger offspring of masters or to non-guildsmen able to pay the most. An apprenticeship generally lasts from four to seven years, depending on the guild. Apprentices receive only room and board, although 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 (see below) or the simple vouching of his master may suffice. Some masters will intentionally deny advancement to their apprentices because of the cheap labor they represent but the guild will usually step in to prevent this from going on too long. In addition to room and board, journeymen are entitled to a small wage, typically between one third and two thirds of the bonded master rate, depending on experience. After a prescribed period (usually 3–5 years) the journeyman may apply to any Board of Syndics for promotion to the rank of master.
Most guilds have two kinds of masters: freemaster and bonded master. A freemaster is one who holds a franchise, which is simply a license granted by the guild to own and 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 pay 10 percent of their income to the guild as dues. Franchises must be inherited or purchased; they are not automatically granted to new masters. Many masters 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.
Guildmasters and Syndics
All masters are members of the local guild chapter with one vote. They elect a board of syndics from among their number 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.