Thursday, April 11, 2013

Music Guild: An Overview

by Matt Bennett

The corruption of the Music Guild plays a four-part harmony. The “bass line” is the fact the Music Guild is also the thieves’guild. Every musician on the payroll can’t be a cutpurse too, but the highest level of the Music Guild is a front for organized crime. Whether a caravan of balladeers side-by-side with a pair of cautious pickpockets, or a massive concert to keep ears from a merchant’s treasury, the fusion of plainsong and pilfering is always about. Two things have protected the Music Guild from discovery: one, what members call the Refrain; and two, a closed application process. A fully pledged member of the Music Guild swears the usual oath of secrecy and loyalty, but also an oath to refrain from stealing more than a “semitone” of any one person's wealth. The smallest of all musical intervals, a semitone translates as one-twelfth. The penalty for failing to “play the Refrain” is serious and swift—it can mean losing your hands, your vocal chords, or even your life. The Refrain ensures the Guild’s activities stay unnoticed. 

The Music Guild's rather snobbish standard of admittance also protects them. Unlike the other great guilds, they never accept applicants; rather, the Guild sends talent scouts across the countryside. While the public assumes they are seeking musical prodigies, in reality they enlist thieves, street urchins and seasoned con men. Should a thief possess musical talent, all the better, but usually a new recruit is rigorously schooled in some instrument—away from the public—while he is simultaneously prepared to fill the Guild coffers with the wealth of others.

The “baritone” of the Music Guild is a spy network, run primarily by the house bards and the common entertainers in rundown dives. Hired musicians, especially on staff, is able to glean all the gossip of a manor or city quarter. Traditionally, and philosophically, the Guild looks upon spying as a sort of theft, and thus applies the “ethic” of Refrain to their divulgence of secrets. To protect themselves from being discovered, a Guild spy chooses what twelfth of his information he will sell—the piece least likely to harm him or the Guild. When a piece of information is sold outside the Guild, it can only happen with the permission of a local overseer, usually a house bard. Worth noting, however, is that they do not apply the rule of Refrain when sharing information up the Guild hierarchy, and they never sell information to other guilds. For the most part, they steal information to serve themselves and future schemes, particularly anything which  grants leverage over the Workman’s and Merchant’s Guilds. 

As the Music Guild runs an array of theatres, concert halls, taverns and even brothels, in Hub and elsewhere, they forever haggle with the other guilds over prices. Although they soft-pedal, the Music Guild isn’t beyond blackmailing foremen in order to bring down brick prices or ply a Master Smith at a Guild brothel. To be sure, whenever the Mages Guild tries to kidnap or woo a rising star of the Bardic world which the Music Guild wants, they use their intelligence network to hit back with as much damage as possible. For decades, the Music Guild has been inflaming various Schools within the Mage’s Guild, funding and arming whomever pleases them.   

The “countertenor” of the Music Guild is a stable of superstars. These musical elite, many of them Orkhan and Krishtog Frogmen, are widely referred to as the Prodigies. They are what seems, to casual observation, to sustain the Guild. The Prodigies attract enormous adoring throngs and the deep pockets of wealthy patrons. Any sheepherder child with a harp dreams of becoming a Prodigy of the Guild, and her dream may come true regardless of her aspirations to be a thief. Often the Prodigies are kept in a cloud of ignorance concerning the true nature of the Guild, used only for their talent and ability to distract the right people. During the concerts of Prodigies, the biggest burglaries are done. To be safe, the Guild never robs the house of a host, and rarely do they rob more than one special guest of a performance. Through subtlety, patience and the honor of thieves they have survived the centuries.

The “tenor” of the Music Guild is the renowned Prodigy Vocalist and Fiddler, Jax Jover, purported to be the descendent of Romar the Rhymer. He bears a botched Orcmark. When he was marked with the customary hot chain, his vocal chords were partially melted, giving him a distinctive, brooding growl. Before the mark his voice was clear as a cloudless day, but he refused any healing. Almost born with a fiddle in hand, Jax also became a master thief by age 10. One of few to sneak in and back out of the Great Library at Salastria, Jax became an instant superstar in the Guild. With his musical talent and heritage, he was destined to become the Guild's figurehead, as Jax attracts a crowd like a lantern attracts moths. 

A deft manipulator and trained Orkhan, Jax has successfully seeded rumors that he serves as a mere lapdog of the Music Guild, or for those in the know, a patsy of the Thieves’ Guild. In actuality he has a finger in everything the Guild does or thinks of doing. When a member hits a wrong note, they may be punished personally by the wrath of temperamental Jax Jover. Rumor has it he even employs a Master Smith just to supply magical tools of torture. If you aren’t a spy yourself, Jax Jover seems nothing but Jax Jover: an empty-headed crooning puppet loved by Workmen’s daughters. 

When it comes to the Music Guild, people hear what they want.