There are some things in this world that would be considered common knowledge. The existence of Guilds and to a lesser extant, Companies, is known around the world.
The most publicly powerful guild would be the Merchants guild. They protect trade routes, fix prices in major cities, and generally look after mercantile interests. The Merchants Guild has members on advisory and ruling councils, thy have a hand in the production of almost every good and the tendering of almost ever service. They are everywhere. As a member of the Merchant’s guild, one could be a merchant or an employee of a merchant and the business doesn’t matter. A baker may be a member of the Cooks and Bakers Guild, but the owner of a bakery or a traveling merchant who sells baked goods for a baker would probably have membership in the Merchants Guild. It’s not unheard of for a person to have multiple guild affiliations. The Merchants guild is but one of many. We have Armorers, Blacksmiths, Cartographers and Cobblers, Glaziers and Gem-cutters… most professions have a guild representing them. Even the oldest profession is represented by the Companions Guild.
Guild membership is not mandatory for someone to be in business or to have a profession. A tinkerer gnome might open up a ship fixing clocks and never be in the Tinker and Finesmith Guild. His materials may cost more and so then too would his products. A common “dock chicken” might turn tricks nightly, but never be a member of the Companions Guild and so never fall under its protections. A small town fixit might swing hammers and hang roof tiles with the best of them but he’ll never have the job security of a member of the Thatcher and Roofers guild. There are those who are staunch opponents of the guild structure and those who feel guilds don’t go far enough and would rather see Unions. It can be a source of political discord.
A final note on guilds… there are unofficial ones that are more loosely structured and usually refereed to in less than lawful circles. For instance, the “Thieves’ Guild” is not a true guild. There are thieves in positions of authority and there is communication between thieves in cities, but the guild is not organized in any strict way. Older thieves with more power have more respect. Think crime families. The “Assassins’ Guild” if there really is one would also a loose association but it would not be made up of individual members, but brotherhoods. The Brotherhood of the Shadow for instance would be considered a member, not the individual members of the Brotherhood of the Shadow themselves.
Companies are lesser known to the common folk. Someone who grows up in a small town may know about their kingdoms military, but they may not know that military is often supplemented with mercenary Companies. A Company knows no borders and owes no loyalty unless it is purchased by contract. Usually made up of former guards, retired sailors, and retired or deserted / retired common soldiery, Companies take their orders from the Company Master, General, or Chief… a less formal title. Each member of a company tithes a percentage of the spoils of their battles with the company and each company has a book keeper who keeps track of the tithes. While there are non-combat companies, mercenary artisans who have banded together to thumb their noses at the guild structure, but these are few and far between. Combat companies are plentiful. Here are a few more well known Companies.
Blackmire – A black tree on a white field – Known as “those men from the swamp” (no one can remember which swamp or where) the Blackmire company has become something of a legend. They’ve fought in countless wars over the preceding three hundred or more years and on all sides of every conflict at one time or another. They exist for profit alone.
Sharptooth – A golden fang on a red field – Vicious in battle and unfamiliar with the concept of Honor. They’re uniformity, however, lends some respectability on a battlefield. They look much like any other regiment, flying colors and wearing sharp uniforms of red and gold with white trim and polished high black boots. They could, at a distance, almost be mistaken for troops from Tilandsia, also red and gold, but there is no association.
Windhollow – Per bend sinister, Black and White, in Chief sinister, a White bird wing. Founded by a dishonored prince of Usterid more than a hundred years ago as a way to pass the time and play toy soldiers, the Windhollow company has become a highly sought after group. They are small in number, never more than twenty in their company, but they are precise and tenacious.
Grand Wyrm – A silver serpent on a black field – Some would call them pirates for hire, operating solely on the waters of the shallow sea and preying on the enemies of whatever kingdom has hired them. They are renowned for their efficiency and they’re ironwood hulled ships purpose built by the Silverhand shipyards.
Grimbear – Blue, a chevron gold, in base a dancing bear in gold – Specializing in mountain and woodland warfare, the Grimbear Company or “The Bear Clan” is made up mostly of half-orc and are the least professional professional killers out of any other company. They will also fight for less plus spoils and this makes them more vicious than the others.