The Twilight of the Known Worlds
The Charioteers are probably the most respected guild (if not beloved) since they control space travel. Although other groups may have trained space pilots (limited, basic pilot training can be commissioned from the guild, carefully leaving out most of the tricks initiated pilots know) the Charioteers maintain a ruthless monopoly on the production of Jumpkeys, which are essential for interstellar travel.
Charioteers form the face of the Merchant League, they are congenial and extremely extrovert. The division between the face they put on as a performance to sell their goods and their own personalities are often blurred at best. They are the primary traders of goods (and sometimes information) of the Known Worlds and almost every merchant who trades is either a subsidiary or pays a commission to the Guild.
The Charioteers are also the masters of the transport industry, whether it is Beastcraft, Landcraft or Aircraft the Charioteers Guild can ride, drive or fly it. Most importantly the Charioteers own a monopoly on spacetravel. Not only are they the best starship pilots but they own the production of jumpengines (shared with the Supreme Order of Engineers) and jumpkeys and charge all factions for jumping between systems.
Charioteers run a dichotomous life of merchant and star pilot. They trade, they jest, they are outrageous show-offs to a man, they are often seen as bizarre travelling shows whenever they come to town. Of course this is merely their way of attracting potential customers.
The guild is dominated by merchant families called hongs, with the Galbraiths, Cartashes, and DeVatha the most powerful of the families.
The Charioteers prominence comes from their control of the Jumpweb, and they employ several (heavy handed) tactics to maintain their monopoly.
1. They do not tolerate betrayal.
Like joining a criminal organisation, every Charioteer swears upon initiation to uphold the guilds secrets and submit to guild dictates. While people in power can purchase the use of JumpKeys (and the guild discourages even that), not everyone can pilot a starship; that knowledge is the purview of the Charioteers. The guild allows VERY few outsiders to attendclasses at their Flight Academy such as hand-picked pilots for Noble, Patriarchal and Imperial fleets, but the Charioteers keep these numbers purposefully low, and of course, they do not teach the would-be pilots everything they know. Charioteers prefer to not pilot ships against fellow Charioteers in times of war, so they do train a few pilots for such fleet uses.
Outsiders, having completed the training, stubbornly refuse to reveal what they have learned, leading to charges of conflict of interest; others suspect some form of mind control. Once as a favour to Archbishop Dolmen, the Charioteers trained an Avestite priest. He secretly, as part of a plan to circumvent the guild, began to train others on Pyre. The next time the priest ventured off-world, he suffered an unfortunate (and terminal) accident. Though they suspected much, Temple Avesti could do nothing to prove their allegations against the Charioteers.
2. They do not tolerate rivals.
Though difficult to do so, it is possible to copy the information on a JumpKey. To help protect their monopoly, the Charioteers build every key with a fail-safe device which detonates in case of tampering, destroying both key and intruder. The coordinates are heavily encrypted, requiring a think machine expert to crack. Because the Scravers have a hand in practically every underworld scheme and the engineers have the sophisticated technology required to do the job, Charioteers suspect both of these groups of involvement with counterfeiting. The Charioteers seek out and destroy such operations. Likewise anyone caught using a counterfeit JumpKey is subject to severe (and often lethal) penalties.
May pirates don’t bother with bootleg JumpKeys; they store Jump coordinates on a central navigation think machine (making them easier to purge in case of capture).
Not all rivals are criminals. House Keddah (a minor house) discovered ancient equipment on their lands which was designed to manufacture JumpKeys – Including a think machine with a database of Jump coordinates. The family saw its chance for greatness and prepared to secretly enter the JumpKey business; ~Prince Yacob Keddah hoped to boost his family’s position by challenging the guild. Word of the plan leaked out and the Charioteers entered into negotiations with House Keddah to purchase the facility. The negotiations came to an abrupt end when House Decados made a competing bid. The fledgling JumpKey factory blew up not long afterwards, and no trace of the jumpcode think machine was ever found. House Keddah was later absorbed by House Decados.
3. They remain neutral.
The church and nobility need the Charioteers, but there’s no sense in antagonising them. Taking sides against a Royal House or refusing employment from a Church Sect is a sure way to bring trouble. Too much antagonism and they might try seizing JumpCodes for themselves. What keeps the two sides from challenging the Charioteers is the guild’s neutrality. Anyone, no matter their politics or faith, can hire a Charioteer. Both House Hawkwood and House Decados employ Charioteers, for example, and the guild faces no reprisals. Local officials and priests however have used this policy against Charioteers as justification for arrests, confiscations, high tariffs and even imprisonment. The Charioteers have had to walk a fine line. Even when the guild acts against someone, such as imposing an embargo on a Li Halan lord, it is careful to not implicate everyone and often offers favours to others in the House.
Guild Behavioural Traits
a. Preserve the guild’s secrets.
The guilds monopoly over the JumpWeb must be protected. Proprietary Information allows the guild to do what it does. Charioteers are Proscribed from teaching outsiders how to fly a ship. Only thoswe rare few granted a professional contract learn to pilot, and even then, only the basics. Some Noble Houses, like the Hawkwoods, have even tried letting Charioteers marry into their ranks, in the hopes of acquiring guild secrets; these efforts have failed. Those who break this cardinal rule tend to end up ‘swimming the dark’.
b. All JumpKeys are guild property.
All JumpKeys, regardless of who “owns” them, no matter where they are, belong to the guild. The Charioteers simply loan them to individual members; they can be taken away at any time. Certainly ‘outsiders’ possess JumpKeys and the biggest buyers of Black Market JumpKeys are Charioteers, but this rule encourages members to treat their keys with care, as well as reinforcing the idea that the guild owns the JumpWeb. The Charioteers refrain (with effort) from simply seizing JumpKeys from non-members, but neither do they sell them easily.
c. Uphold all contracts.
Meant to protect the guilds reputation, this rule enshrines a basic of business ethics. An agreement is an agreement. If a Charioteer agrees to pilot a ship to a particular world, they are expected to uphold their end of the bargain. A merchant hired to transport merchandise is expected to arrive, cargo intact, by the appointed date. Few Charioteers break their contracts, though they do sometimes interpret them creatively. While the Nobility and Church hold guildsmen in low esteem, they know they can count on a Charioteer in their employ.
d. Caveat Emptor.
Curiously, rules are missing which ensure consumer protection and prevent fraud. Nothing proscribes a merchant from cheating a customer; technically a merchant who sells counterfeit goods, charges an unfair price or offers substandard merchandise isn’t violating any guild laws.
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