In the game of Dungeons & Dragons, a character’s background represents their upbringing and what they used to do with their life before becoming an adventurer. Every character is unique and spent their time differently before setting out to find fame and fortune slaying monsters and saving lives. This can make choosing a background difficult at times. If you are new to the game or would like to know more about how backgrounds function, you can check out my article What Is A Background & How To Use It.
What is a Guild Artisan?
Simply put, a guild artisan is a craftsman or tradesman. It’s someone who has dedicated themselves to the mastery of a specific craft or trade and receives work through their affiliation with the appropriate guild associated with that profession. You can think of a guild almost like a union. The guild manages the workers and regulations associated with a specific occupation, there are normally dues paid to be a part of the guild, and membership comes with benefits like steady work and access to resources that help you thrive as a member of the workforce. A guild artisan may be dedicated to one specific type of craft or trade while another may practice several skills all falling under the umbrella of a single guild. These skilled laborers are at the heart of any industry in large towns and cities and don’t take kindly to those providing their skills in the trade for compensation without paying their membership fees.
Guild Artisans in D&D
In large cities, there are guilds for just about anything you can think of. This makes the Guild Artisan background very easy to work into just about any character build. If they excel in a certain skill, there’s probably a guild for it. If there isn’t, it won’t be too difficult to develop a guild or a club of people practicing the same skill set. You don’t have to belong to an officially sanctioned guild to be a guild artisan. Even the most uncouth of thieves’ guilds need skilled workers too.
A dwarven stone mason, a lockpicking thief for hire, and a group of bards performing as a house band are all examples of guild artisans. Many guilds represent many different occupations and these guilds can branch out and have roots in multiple cities or they can be specific to a certain area. Some guilds are more prestigious and harder to get into than others, but most represent the everyday working member of society. As a guild artisan, you pride yourself on your work, which shows through the quality of service you exemplify. The guild is your livelihood, the guild is your home away from home, and the guild is your family.
The Art of the Guild
By now you know that guilds can encompass a wide variety of occupations and that some guilds can encompass a variety of occupations all within the same field. An artisan has dedicated themselves to a specific craft or various crafts that fall under the same skill set. When creating a character that uses this background, your profession is represented by the guild business that you have chosen to make your living through.
There is a guild for just about any kind of profession you can think of and within each one are different levels of skilled workers. You would have begun training as an apprentice working under another master until you gained the skills to become a master yourself. Guilds can cover every profession from plumbing, roofing, masonry, music, magic, and even dung sweeping. That’s right, in bigger cities like Waterdeep there is a guild just for workers who sweep horse shit out of the streets. The Player’s Handbook offers a generous list of different guilds for your character to represent based on their particular skill set. If there isn’t a guild that matches the specific talents you have in mind for your character, you can always work with your dungeon master to create a guild that would make sense for your character to study with.
Guild Artisan Feature: Guild Membership
The guild artisan background feature covers the benefits that you get from being an active member of a guild. These benefits include things like having a place to go for food and lodging, as long as your guild has an enclave in the area, providing opportunities to meet other professionals within the guild or related ones, and access to workers and resources for help on projects. They’ll even cover your funeral expenses in the event of your untimely demise! This feature can be fun for anyone who wants to dive in and get into the aspects of their character’s professional life.
Being part of a recognized guild can also come with some political perks as well. If you are taken into court and/or custody for a crime, the guild will back you up and fight for you as long as a good case can be made for you. Guild members can also be used to gain an audience with a governmental or political figure if they are in good standing. However, utilizing this perk may also require the donation of coins or even magic items to the guild. Speaking with a powerful political figure like a king or another lord will come with a heftier price than a local mayor. Remember, it’s not always about how good you are at your craft, sometimes knowing the right person is much more beneficial.
Customize Your Guild Artisan
When you decide to live the life of an artisan by choosing this background, you gain proficiency in two skills, Insight and Persuasion. You also gain proficiency in one Artisan’s Tool of your choice and one language of your choice. Giving you the chance to choose your tool and language proficiency is very fitting for this background. It allows you to select the best tool to go with the trade you’ve chosen for your character and establish if your career had you working more closely with a specific group of individuals. The skill proficiencies are good for anyone who has become a master artisan, but maybe your character is still learning the tricks of the trade. If your character is better with their hands than with their words then you may consider changing out the Persuasion skill proficiency for Sleight of Hand, or if you’re a member of a crooked guild that’s better at scaring people than reading them, you might want Intimidation over Insight. Work with your DM to make your artisan good at what they should be good at for their occupation.
Your guild artisan will start with a short list of equipment that is provided to them from this background. This list includes items like a set of Artisan’s Tools, a letter of introduction from your guild, a set of traveler’s clothes, and a pouch with 15 gold coins. The Artisan’s Tools are given to you so that you have the tools that you are proficient with, but you can always choose something different to start with if you feel the need to. After the tools, the Guild Artisan background doesn’t provide much starting equipment so there isn’t much of a need to swap anything out. However, if you feel that there is some sort of item that you feel like your character should have as a part of the guild they represent, bring that up to your dungeon master and see if they will allow you to have it or see if you can work out a similar item you can use to give your character the flair you are looking for!
Guild Artisan Variant: Guild Merchant
Don’t see your character as someone who crafts things but more as someone who buys, sells, and trades things instead. Then the Guild Merchant variant is just for you! Instead of being the one who works on crafting things, you buy the things people produce and sell them. Did you sell things in a shop in your hometown, or did you transport goods from city to city distributing your wares far and wide? Using this variant your guild could be a caravan you travel with regularly, a shipping company you worked for, or even a family business you’ve been roped into since a young age.
Like many of the other background variants in the Player’s Handbook, this one lacks giving you a new background feature but does suggest selecting Navigator’s Tools as your Artisan’s Tools if you are a merchant that traveled a lot. The most interesting part about this background is that it offers you the chance to forgo the Artisan’s Tools you get in your starting equipment to start with a mule and a cart. These are expensive items for a character to start with and can be insanely helpful to a party of adventurers as they need somewhere to keep the piles of loot they’re going to acquire. This and a clear difference in flavor make it one of the better variants in the PHB, but it could become its background with a little more effort.
The PHB has a decent list of options for guilds your character can represent. I want to take that list a step further though. With this list, I’m going to get a little creative and give you a few guild names that are specialized for each character class.
- Guild of Clockworks and Constructs
- Division of Arcane Demolition and Destruction
- Magical Maker’s, Crafter’s, and Tinkerer’s Guild
- Bouncer’s, Bruiser’s, and Blocker’s Guild
- Professional Monster Wrestlers League
- Federation of Lawful Repossession Enforcers
- League of Live Entertainers
- Masters of Music and Movements
- Society of Strippers and Sex Workers
- Professional Purges and Purifiers
- Order of Ordained Ministers
- Doctors Across Dominions
- Guild of Glamorous Groomers
- Planter’s, Pruner’s, and Landscaper’s Guild
- Wildlife Preservation Society
- Guild of Gladiators and Pit Fighters
- Society of Soldiers and Guards
- Fight Club
- Conclave of Contortionists
- Guild of Many Martial Arts
- The Order of Oracles
- Knights of Needless Pontification
- The Holy Avengers
- Company of Mounted Combatants
- Archers, Arrow smiths, Bowyers, and Fletchers Guild
- Guild of Navigators, Guides, and Scouts
- Coalition of Hunters and Gatherers
- Rot Bottom Society of Sneaks and Thieves
- Lockpickers, Locksmiths, and Safecrackers Club
- Assassins League
- Alliance of Arcane Arts
- Menagerie of Magicians
- Special Effects, Illusions, and Pyrotechnics Union
- Order of Otherworldly Influence
- Fraternity of Fate and Fortune
- Fellowship of Fiendish Followers
- Secret Society of Spellcasters
- Diviners Guild
- Order of Mages and Spellscribes
- Guild Artisans are people who have dedicated their lives to a trade or craft and honed their skills by studying under the supervision of a guild.
- Each Guild Artisan represents a guild that oversees their branch of industry which can at times encompass multiple skills or trades.
- The Guild Membership feature gets you several perks including food, lodging, and legal representation but it requires you to pay monthly dues.
- The proficiencies you get from this background are already pretty flexible, but for the parts that aren’t you can work with your dungeon master to come up with something that suits your character.
- The Guild Merchant variant can be used for a character that sells or trades goods or services rather than being the one that provides them.
- Have fun when coming up with the perfect guild to fit your character’s skills and lifestyle!
If you would like the full details of this background for use in your games, you can find it in the Player’s Handbook.