The Monster Slayers' Guild

(Who are they, what are they, and where do they get the classy black threads from?)

(An article which first appeared in The Last Province, issue 2, December 1992.)


This article describes an organisation that could be used in many fantasy role playing campaigns. It provides a framework for the creation of characters who study both combat and magic, and who are also interested in adventuring and heroic battles with monstrous enemies. Some players might wish their characters to be members of the Guild because of the aid it gives to brave (and violent) battlers with evil; others might be interested in the high, often self sacrificing attitudes involved; others again may wish to role play grim, competent warriors whose motivations may be complex. As an NPC organisation, the Guild can provide an interesting force to be reckoned with, able to plunge in as deus ex machina when the heroes look set to be overwhelmed by dark forces, but also sometimes unpleasantly single minded in its detestation of "the dark".

For convenience, this article assumes a "traditional" fantasy world; quasi medieval, feudal, frequently sexist, and cautious but tolerant of magic. If your world is otherwise, some changes may have to be made, depending where the differences lie; for example, a world with extensive sexual equality would probably have a strong female presence in the Guild, while a tribal setting would require that the Guild be transformed into a supra-tribal semi-secret society, in uneasy co existence with the authority of chiefs. I would like to thank the players in my old New World campaign, especially Jon "The Grim One" Marshall Potter, without whom the Guild could not have developed.

The Guild

The Monster Slayers' Guild is many things to many people. Some see it as a club for mercenaries with a taste for stylish armour and a record of goblin bashing; others look on it as a secretive alliance of paranoid psychopaths, dedicated to dubious sorcery and the annihilation of all save "pure" humanity. Those are the extremes within the Guild; the public outside have more mixed opinions. In fact, the Guild is the logical product of a society which contains magic, mercenaries, weak (feudal) central government and powerful monsters. There is, inevitably, a call for skilled specialists to fight the last; human nature being what it is, some of those specialists see their job less as a career than as a calling. The Guild is not a unified, monolithic body; it is a collection of Guild Houses, a system of rules, and an image in the public mind. To understand more, one must look to the past.


The Monster Slayer's Guild was formed about three hundred years ago, by the unification of a multitude of older bodies, some of them of some considerable age. Although much of its initial strength came from a number of mercenary bands, its creation was very much the work of a number of dedicated individuals, and its power came, partly from careful study of the various types of dangerous monster, but largely from its adoption of specific magical techniques. In the face of certain types of opposition, some warriors had found it desirable to learn an assortment of hedge magic spells; the founders of the Guild gathered together these techniques, codifying the teaching systems used. Being highly motivated (some might say fanatical), these founders built a system which would perpetuate not only their skills, but also their attitudes. In its early days, the Guild had to convince the world that it was more than a band of professional killers, and so it deliberately adopted a style in armour, weapons, and behaviour which marked out its members as something different. This policy was a success; to this day, the Guild has an image and a reputation. In those times, many Guildsmen made the name of their organisation at the cost of their lives (which all helped the image building); others faced the dangers, less of monsters than of suspicious lords, some of whom naturally distrusted this powerful, masterless group. However, by deliberately adopting the name and style of a guild, the Monster Slayers were able to borrow some of the associated status; like merchants and seafarers, they could be seen as outside the feudal system but not directly threatening to it. Today, the Guild has a solid structure through many parts of the world, and Guild houses exist very far from its city of founding. How much further the guild may spread, and how well it can adapt to the increasing stability of its lands of origin, remains to be seen.

Guild Ideology

Guild Members are sworn to defend humanity from dark forces; they are permitted to earn fair payment in the process. Interpretations of this code can vary. Some Guildsmen see themselves as mercenary guards with a business code; some are fanatical xenophobes; many are fanatical in their enthusiasm, but accept that it serves no purpose to attack creatures that pose no threat to human life, limb or property.

Guild Membership

There are four categories of membership in the Guild; Apprentice, Journeyman, Master, and Sorcerer. The first three are ranked in order of authority; the status of Sorcerer is outside the hierarchy. In fact, it is possible to be both a Sorcerer and a member of one of the other categories. (In practice, there are no Apprentices with Sorcerer status, although there are trainees of that rank who aspire to become Sorcerers one day.) The theoretical role of the Sorcerer is to teach, advise, and study, and therefore he or she receives great respect but little power to command; that said, a Sorcerer Master is inevitably a power to be reckoned with in the Guild. Within the ranks of the Journeyman and Masters, there is a hierarchy, important in battle, mostly based on length of service. A Guild house must contain at least one Master; the most senior of these is Guild Master of that area. In addition to all this, honorary Guild memberships are, rarely, awarded, but these have purely ceremonial meaning.

There are two practical routes into the Guild; Apprenticeship and Sorcery. The former is by far the more usual, but Sorcery is an important part of the Guild's way of life, and so any spell user who demonstrates substantial power, usefulness to the Guild, and sufficient dedication to its ideals, may be inducted into the ranks of the Sorcerers. However, an untrained individual wishing to become a Guild Sorcerer would usually seek out someone already in that position, and become an Apprentice under that Sorcerer's personal tuition. The Guild will accept female members of sufficient talent and enthusiasm, but in practice the rather stereotyped, conservative attitudes of many members acts as a disincentive to this; independent female warriors are considered, in society as a whole, something of an oddity. In principle, the Guild may even include members of non-hostile non-human peoples, although many Guildsmen have doubts about the reality of such "non-hostility"; such a member would face an uphill struggle for acceptance.

Apprenticeships in the Guild are not hard to come by, but then, many are content to stay in that role for a few years or until retirement, then leave; these are accepted as useful soldiers for the organisation, and not usually criticised. Apprentices are usually subordinate to a specific Master, and have little status within the organisation. Advancement to Journeyman rank is a fairly demanding proposition, requiring not only skill and study, but also proven enthusiasm; a minimum of two years of apprenticeship, followed by an examination by a panel of Masters, is the basis. During the examination, psychic magic may well be used on the applicant, as the Guild has no wish to grant access to its Guild houses to self serving or hostile interlopers. Not all Journeymen study magic not all have the talent but any Guildsmen who have the desire and the ability may only be taught spells of any substantial power when they attain this level.

It is widely believed outside the Guild that advancement to Mastery among the Monster Slayers depends on killing a dragon (or some other large monster). Consideration of practicality should show this to be untrue, but there is no doubt that such an achievement would help progress tremendously. In fact, to become a Master requires several years of Journeyman experience, demonstrable skill in more than one area including battle tactics, and the approval of the Prime House of the Guild.

To be a Guild Master, one must be the most senior Master in a house; by custom and for politeness, a Master moving into an area where he outranks the current Guild Master will often disavow this status. If a house finds itself Masterless, nearby houses will discuss the problem and send one or more of their members to take charge; this is rarely difficult, as ambitious Masters will rarely refuse a Guild Master post, and all Masters tend to have strong senses of duty anyway.

The financial rules of Guild membership vary slightly between houses, depending on circumstance, local laws governing guilds generally, and so on, but the following is a working guide.

Apprentices pay the Guild a nominal fee (usually 1 silver piece) on joining, but subsequently work for their place by direct service to a Master. In theory they are indentured to one Master, receiving only their keep and training, and probably paying a fee for their places under a private contract, but in practice many older apprentices have a loose arrangement with the Masters of a house, serving any who need them in exchange for their keep plus a silver or so a month, and taking odd jobs outside the Guild between times and paying 10-20% of such outside earnings to the Guild to maintain their "indenture". (After all, a known association with the Guild can sometimes increase one's employment prospects.)

Journeymen usually pay 10% of their cash earnings and cash plunder to the Guild, but may politely haggle this down (if their employment doesn't include board and expenses) or be asked, equally politely, to pay a little more if their non cash benefits are obviously running high (new armour, run of the employer's harem, whatever). Non-cash donations to house resources (usable equipment, crystals useful in sorcery, etc.) or especially good work for Guild ends may substitute for cash.

Masters pay only 5% of cash income to the Guild, but they either earn more, as mercenary captains or advisors, or do a lot more for the Guild in terms of administration. (Anyway, they make the rules, and while they aren't corruptible, they are fully aware of how hard they worked in their time...)

The Guild has certain benefits for members. Apprentices and Journeymen can have space to sleep in any Guild House, and basic sustenance if times are hard. (Many would rather starve, which says something about Guild pride, and even more about Guild cooking.) Masters can get rather better quarters and rations, but must make themselves available to handle Guild business while taking advantage of this. Most Houses provide a cut-rate armouring and smithying service for members, similar medical facilities (similar in more ways than one, some would say), a small library of useful notes and books, and a place for sorcerers to teach magic to those who pay the standard rate (approximately half a silver piece per point cost of spell). Lastly, although the Guild does not undertake to protect its members from bad luck, lawyers, or private enemies, its reputation always stands behind any Guildsman, and its members sometimes choose to consider harm to one to be harm to all...

Guild costume is traditional rather than compulsory, and it varies from house to house, but many Guildsmen take pride in it, and it helps impress the general public. It usually involves a lot of black, including dyed linen cloaks and enamelled or soot-darkened armour. Face-covering helmets are popular for both protection and dramatic effect. Sorcerer masters favour simple black robes with white silk trim and silver-tipped oak staves.

Guild Magic

The founders and sorcerers of the Monster Slayers' Guild have achieved one remarkable thing; the creation of a style of magic that can be taught to individuals of only moderate intellect, ability, and education, using rote learning and careful mental conditioning. The latter has a particular additional benefit for the Guild; in the course of learning the magic, the pupil is convinced that it only works for the Guild. The usefulness of this is obvious. Not only does it limit the possibilities for treachery, it allows the Guild to maintain a degree of economic monopoly. (The Guild is not by any means the sole source of combat oriented magic in the world, but it is one of the most useful.) Even Guildsmen who resign on cordial terms find that they cannot use their spells, unless they agree or honestly resolve to pay a proportion of some financial reward (usually 25%) to the Guild, or unless they are fighting monsters or black magic and are seriously pressed (as they are then working for the Guild's higher non monetary ends).

However, it is possible for an ex Guildsman to work around or break such conditioning; it just takes time, effort, and study. One small but sometimes crucial point about this limit on Guild sorcery should be noted here; unlike the similar constraint on most deity-given magic, it is purely a matter of the spell caster's mind. Thus, if a Guildsman, say, attacks a harmless creature in the honestly mistaken belief that it is a monster, any spells he (or she) uses will work. A priest in a comparable situation will tend to find their deity simply cancelling their spells to avoid injury to the deity's interests or code.

Guild-taught spells tend to fall into two loose categories; "rituals" and "battle magic". "Rituals" take time, effort, and concentration, and so tend to be limited to matters over which the Guildsman can afford to take some time and effort; spells for locating foes, healing magics, and so on. "Battle magic" is generally much simpler, demanding only moments and minimal skill to cast, but accordingly releasing less raw power, albeit in directly useful forms such as damage to opponents, or personal defences. Examples include the use of crystals to focus magical blasts against targets, and mystical chants which shield the mind against magical assault. However, the distinction between these two categories is really quite loose, and a Monster Slayer will quite frequently begin by learning how to, say, heal injuries by use of lengthy rituals, before eventually refining his skills so as to achieve the same result with a few seconds of casting.

Leaving the Guild

"When did you last see an ex-Monster Slayer?"

Actually, that's a silly question. There are a fair number of former Guildsmen around journeymen as well as apprentices; the fact is, however, that they either look like Guildsmen (in which case they are taken for current Guildsmen), or they don't (in which case no one may guess that they were Guildsmen). Few Guildsmen are widely known for their faces (as opposed to their names or deeds), few people would challenge someone who might be a Guildsman about his status, and ex-Guildsmen may be deterred from boasting about their history by natural reticence, possible disbelief, or the danger of trouble from fools trying to prove themselves or dark cultists with a dislike for the Guild.

The Guild would hardly wish to force a member to remain against his (or her) will; it lacks the authority of an army, and enthusiasm in members is too much a part of its ethos. However, it has two basic reasons for controlling departures. First, there is a danger of members "going rogue", betraying Guild secrets or abusing Guild training and damaging the Guild's good name. (This isn't as odd an idea as it sounds; some Guildsmen derive their enthusiasm from something close to insanity, and insanity can lead to strange inversions of ethics.) Second, the Guild has some traditional guild functions, controlling hiring rates and otherwise taking care of its members' commercial interests; a cynical ex-Guildsman might trade on the Guild image without paying Guild dues, or undercut Guild members' fees, or harm the Guild's status by dishonest dealing.

Therefore, the Guild tends to examine the motives of members who resign quite carefully, and may watch their subsequent activities for a while. Resignations are customarily presented to a Guild Master, and some time, effort, and payment of fees "in respect of honour due to one's mentors" may be required. The Guild has little liking for those who endanger it in any way, and tends to be as deadly as the law permits it to be in pursuit of vengeance (and sometimes more).

An ex-Guildsman who is believed to have "gone rogue" is, of course, seen as a danger, and may or may not be pursued with force, depending on circumstances but not all ex-Guildsmen are seen as rogues. Ex-Guildsmen with magical training do not forget their knowledge, but the conditioning involved in their teaching imposes a serious limitation; spells which only work in pursuit of Guild objectives are only useful if the ex-Guildsman is entirely convinced that he (or she) is somehow still working for Guild ends. Given time, effort, and research, such abilities may be adapted for less constrained use, but not easily.

The Guild in Games

The Guild was originally invented for a first edition Fantasy Hero campaign, but it can be adapted to most other systems. However, it works best under systems that allow PCs to pick up a bit of magic, a bit of weapon skill, a bit of scholarship, and so on. Fantasy Hero and GURPS are ideal, Runequest should be fine, but D&D maybe makes the job a little harder.

Many Guildsmen are almost indistinguishable from "standard" fighters under most rules, and Guild sorcerers often look like standard magic workers with a specialisation in "battle magic". However, in games which give extra "character points" for personal disadvantages, Guildsmen get a lot based on things like "Hates Monsters", "Guild Reputation", "Looks Dangerous", and so on. Renegades get even more for things like "Enemy: The Guild".

One way of handling the Guild under some systems is to treat it much like a religion or cult. It isn't really religious, but it does demand some of the same dedication from its members!

Typical Guild Spells

The following spells may be considered the kind of thing that a Guild Journeyman with reasonable talent and training would wield. Many Guildsmen will know different magic, and some may produce some highly exotic and unusual effects at times. GMs should adapt such ideas to fit their own campaigns and chosen rule systems.

Spell Seek: This spell is virtually compulsory. The effect is to detect magic at range. It tends to require a "focus", such as a specially cut crystal pendant.

Purifying Light: A typical "battle magic" spell, this hurls a bolt of pure white light to create a "dazzle" effect, possibly over a small area. It also requires a crystal pendant.

Healingwork: A "heal" effect, this can have limitations such as needing a preparation of rare herbs.

Ward Chant: A low power, multi purpose defence, this spell is noteworthy for involving incantations throughout its use.

Use of the Guild

In a campaign, the simplest use of the Monster Slayers' Guild is as a background for one or more player characters. Its training and resources make it useful for its members, while its rules, and the loyalty it demands of its Guildsmen, give the GM a useful "handle" on the PC. This should not be over used a Guildsman continually being told to involve himself in desperate battles with hordes of demonic monsters will eventually lead to a bored player, and probably a dead character, although some players may not mind where the idea for their next fight scene comes from.

However, the Guild puts a price on its facilities, and player characters should see that debt called in on occasion. An additional complication can come if the character grows to dislike some aspects of the Guild, such as the fanaticism; after a few sessions in which NPC "Guild brothers" have been seen slaughtering goblin babies ("they grow up into goblins!"), putting whole forests to the torch ("full of bl**dy monsters!"), and generally acting like self-righteous psychopaths, some sensitive players may start working towards resignation.

This mixture of usefulness and viciousness can also appear when Guildsmen are used as NPCs. No one minds being rescued from the goblin slaver gang, but when the party's elf is treated with disdain, the priestess of an honoured cult of the Goddess of the Night has been cross-examined for a few hours about her code (with the implied assumption that she sacrifices babies), and the honest hard-working mercenary has been told not to poach work from Guild members, gratitude can run short.

The actual task of incorporating the Guild into a campaign world requires that a set of questions be answered for each geographical area. How strong is the Guild there? (A few journeyman wanderers? One house? A house in every town? The nearest thing to law in the locality?) What is the attitude of the population? (Awed admiration for the brave? Acceptance of the competent? Contempt for the social outsider?) How do other power groups regard the Guild? (Fear or acceptance from the rulers? Contempt or fraternal tolerance from the magi? Admiration of competence or annoyance at high prices from the merchants?) And lastly, what is the Guild's place in past and future campaign history? (Standing alongside the royal army in war with the Black Lord, or pressing for peace with the king's enemies because they aren't monsters? Aloof from or entangled with political intrigue? A crucial element in the growth of civilisation, or a recent development?) For the Guild is in many ways a logical development, and frequently a useful one, but like much else, its presence could have a definite effect on the world. GMs and players alike should find it interesting.