Imagine if the Catholic Church was a scam being run by the mafia. Who were also necromancers. That's the Orzhov Syndicate in a nutshell. Despite being the most "religious" of the Guilds, they are arguably the least spiritual Guild on Ravnica, as their religious aspects usually take a backseat to their debt collection racket. If you find yourself needing some cash, these are the guys you go to, but they will almost always try and screw you over because you didn't read the fine print. Not even death is enough to free you of your debt, as they are happy to conjure your ghost to work until your debt is fulfilled.
The Orzhov dates all the way back to the signing of the Guildpact, back when they may have actually been a true religious organization. Though they are not the oldest or the only religion on Ravnica, they were the ones to get legitimized. Over time, the religion stuff took a backseat, as they began to worship power and money more and more, to the point that they are known as the church without any gods. Despite this, many are attracted to the promises of longevity and profits, which is why they continue to this day, despite being seen as a corrupt guild.
At the highest rung of the Syndicate was the Obzedat, who ruled over their empire of debt with a cold, ghostly grasp. Unfortunately for them, Kaya came in and ended their rule during the third Ravnica block, where she became the head honcho, releasing all of the ghosts that had outstanding debts. This caused no end of instability immediately afterward, and the guild found itself increasingly under the influence of Nicol Bolas. After the events of War of the Spark, Tomik gained leadership over the Syndicate. Under the highest rung were the olicharchs, families with old money running through their blood. This was followed by the pontiffs, followed by the ministrants, the knights, and the syndics. At the very bottom rung are the borrowers, poor saps whose debts are still outstanding. Of note is that the higher you are in the guild, the more you use magic to extend your livelihood, eventually turning to a ghostly form. This usually has the side effect of making your offspring more susceptible to birth defects.
The Karlov family shows up in the fluff plenty of times when you read about the Orzhov, and for good reason. The Karlovs are some of the most respected families in the Syndicate, having rubbed shoulders with pretty much every other family. Their founder, Grandfather Karlov, was even part of the Obzedat! As the most respected family of the Syndicate, they have plenty of ambition to enact upon, with Teysa Karlov, the current matriarch of the family, spending much of her time trying to stage coups so she ends up as the leader of the Orzhov.
For the longest time, the Obzedat were the defacto leaders of the Orzhov, and all of their orders were as good as law. After their demise, Kaya unwittingly assumed the role of Guild Master, due to a loophole in the Guildpact that caused every debt the Orzhov had outstanding to fall upon her. She tried her best to do the right thing for the guild, which ends up making things a bit worse, and she eventually has to call upon Tomik to help fix things. Tomik eventually becomes the official ruler of the Syndicate when Kaya is put under penance by the now Guildpact empowered Niv-Mizzet. Teysa does eventually get her wish, and pulls the strings in the background for Tomik alongside a council of three called the Triumverate.
The Orzhov Syndicate was ruled by a council of powerful ghosts. Each were the rulers of their house in the Orzhov, and they're basically the richest of the rich. One of them was probably the parun of the Guild and passed away, but the Orzhov don't let stuff like Death get in the way of PROFITS. Some do have human descendants or agents. But they would sell their grandchildren for the right price. Both of the the card forms involve your opponent losing life and you gaining life. The new version is pretty ridiculous since they can disappear on your opponent's turn and then come back and steal life from them, and give it to you.
Teysa Karlov was chosen as their guild champion during the running of the Implicit Maze, and eventually became the official speaker for the Obezdat. Karlov being Karlov, it wasn't enough and what would follow would be several attempts to undermine and take over the Obzedat.
Thrulls are living creatures made from dead, decomposing flesh and raised by Orzhov necromancers. They serve as the muscle of the guild, doing simple tasks like guard work and transport. All of them wear fancy masks to hide their more... undesirable faces.
When a card with haunt is put into a graveyard in a certain way (from play in the case of the permanents, during resolution after casting in the case of instants and sorceries), instead you exile it and have it "haunt" another creature, much like an aura. When that haunted creature dies, it triggers another effect.
The Extort mechanic is the Orzhov's ability from the Return to Ravnica block. Essentially when you cast a spell when you have a permanent on your board with the Extort ability you can pay one black or one white mana to have each opponent lose one life which you then gain. You can't Extort a spell with the same permanent multiple times but if you have multiple permanents with the Extort ability out when you go to cast a spell you can Extort once for each of them.
Representing how the Orzhov don't recognize death as the end of one's obligations. Creatures with afterlife N leave behind N 1/1 flying spirit tokens, which are presumably the hapless creature along with any other ghosts in their service.
Dungeons & Dragons
Like all of the ten guilds, the Orzhov Syndicate appeared in the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, a splatbook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Here, it was handled as a combination of Background and Faction, with the player choosing the "Orzhov Representative" background to certify they have membership, and being able to earn Renown. This is a new system to 5e, and basically is a kind of abstractified experience; you start off as a general worker (Renown 1), and as you complete missions for the Guild or do things that get you noticed, your Renown increases, giving you increased abilities. Of course, if you publicly screw things up for your guild, your esteem will drop and you can lose Renown.
Characters from the Orzhov Syndicate are most likely to be Humans. The most iconic classes associated with this guild are the Cleric (Order), Fighter (Battlemaster and Champion), Paladin (Oath of Conquest), Rogue (Assassin, Thief), and Wizard (Abjurer, Diviner, Enchanter, Necromancer)
Orzhov Representative Background
Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Religion
Languages: Two of your choice
Equipment: An Orzhov insignia, a foot-long chain made of ten gold coins, vestments, a set of fine clothes, and a belt pouch containing 1 pp (an Orzhov-minted 10-zino coin)
- You can exert leverage over one or more individuals below you in the guild's hierarchy and demand their help as needs warrant. For example, you can have a message carried across a neighborhood, procure a short carriage ride without paying, or have others clean up a bloody mess you left in an alley. The DM decides if your demands are reasonable and if there are subordinates available to fulfill them. As your status in the guild improves, you gain influence over more people, including ones in greater positions of power.
To further represent the Guild's training and philosophical impact, spellcasters (that is, anyone with the Spellcasting or Pact Magic class feature) gain bonus spells to their spell list based on the guild. For the Orzhov, that's the following:
- Spell Level Spells
- Cantrip friends, guidance
- 1st command, illusory script
- 2nd enthrall, ray of enfeeblement, zone of truth
- 3rd bestow curse, speak with dead, spirit guardians
- 4th blight, death ward, Leomund's secret chest
- 5th geas
Your magic tends to manifest as swirling shadows, brilliant light, or sometimes the momentary appearance of shadowy spirit forms. Your spells might draw the blood of your enemies, or even directly touch their souls.
Orzhov Syndicate Renown
To rise in the ranks of the Orzhov Syndicate requires devotion, dedication and deviousness. Whilst your precise responsibilities depend on whether you are a Priest (cleric), Advokist (wizard) or Enforcer (fighter or rogue), everybody starts at the bottom; working your way up requires knowing when to take orders and when to take blackmail notes. Leverage is the currency that the internal Syndicate runs on.
Rank 1: Syndic (Renown 3)
- You are a low-ranking functionary; borrowers will defer to you and perform small favors that require no significant risk, effort or cost, whilst the bulk of your work entails performing similar tasks for your superiors.
Rank 2: Knight (Rank 1 and Renown 10)
- At this rank, you earn a unique title, gain authority over syndics, and are trusted to transport large sums of money. You earn a salary that provides you with a comfortable lifestyle between adventures, and when sent on a mission that poses a potential threat, you receive an Orzhov Charm. You have the authority to demand service from borrowers, even indentured spirits, but doing this counts as credit against their debt, so be careful about doing this. Your superiors will take note of largesse and chastise you accordingly.
Rank 3: Ministrant (Rank 2 and Renown 25)
- This is the highest position that you can normally attain without being born into the Syndicate itself. Your salary increases to gran a wealthy lifestyle, and you are given a personal servitor thrull (which will be replaced in 1d4 weeks if you get it killed, so long as your superiors judge you aren't abusing it), as well as a staff of 2d4 knights and 4d8 syndics. This personal staff will obey you, but you will be punished for using them to carry out work other than that which you have been assigned by your pontiff.
Rank 4: Pontiff (Rank 3 and Renown 50)
- The highest possible rank in the Syndicate, you have become one of the executive managers who enact the will of the Ghost Council. You have authority over a staff of 2d6 ministrants, each with their own staff of 2d4 knights and 4d8 syndics. You now command a personal staff of 2d4 servitor thrulls and winged thrulls, can maintain an aristocratic lifestyle on your salary, and are even privileged to occasionally speak to members of the Obzedat.
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