Extortion and backroom dealings are all in a day's work for the Orzhov Syndicate, where everything has a price and strings are always attached.
The Orzhov Syndicate once followed a genuine religion, but these days, their gods are power and wealth. They only keep up vestiges of their old faith because of the entrenched power structure, not to mention the control it gives them over the masses. The Orzhov thrive on business, the buying and selling of everything from spells to land to slaves. They founded the Moon Market, a shadowy bazaar where literally anything can be bought for the right price. Thanks to their skill at deals, not to mention a well-placed bribe or three, Orzhov influence is felt everywhere, from the highest Azorius court to the lowest street gutter.
To find the Orzhov, the saying went, follow the gold. The so-called Guild of Deals was a rigid hierarchy with the wealthy ghost-patriarchs ruling from the top and countless indentured servants forming the base. Holding this fragile social order in place was a veneer of religious pomp and ritual, though few believed the Orzhov worship any god other than coin. The Orzhov elite love to talk about guilt and sin - not as a way to correct behavior but as a way to justify extorting from and otherwise punishing the guilt-ridden meek. And yet they are careful to maintain the perception of holiness, or else the meek might get impure ideas.
Orzhov faithful file past to have their minds purged of "impure" desires. There, the guiltwardens eliminate any thoughts of hope or self-sufficiency.
The Orzhov guild is founded on the beliefs that wealth is power, that structure breeds wealth, and that guilt creates structure. The guild is run like a combination religion, credit-lending agency, and crime syndicate. An ostentatious hierarchy of priests, enforcers, and ghostly councilors rules over a congregation of guilt-bound loyalists, indebted undead, and thrull servants. Many Orzhov guild members truly believe that their rule is necessary for making Ravnica the best it can be, and they are unscrupulous in their methods of seizing power. Most Ravnicans see the Orzhov for the corrupt organization they are, but many are lured in by their promises of wealth, prestige, and longevity.
The Orzhov guild is ruled by the Obzedat, the Ghost Council. It is a council of ghostly autocrats who have maintained their wealth and power even as they’ve shed their mortal forms. Members of the Obzedat have managed to cheat mortality, maintaining their consciousness (and their greed) beyond the threshold of death. They are paranoid and spiteful dictators, often going out of their way to thwart ambitious underlings, crush rumormongers, and spy on potential enemies. The Obzedat rarely speak directly with those outside the guild; instead they communicate through their official envoy, Teysa Karlov.
Their servitors include animated gargoyles and thrulls, which are created from corpses, often the dead bodies of lesser Orzhov leaders. When the most wealthy and powerful Orzhov die, complex necromantic rites resurrect them as ghosts, unbound by whatever dark forces limit the common shade. Thus the Ghost Council holds only the greediest, sneakiest, most intelligent minds, dating back from the founding of the guild. Their centuries of experience, along with their legions of lawyers, have made the Orzhov the most adept guild at twisting the Guildpact to their advantage. Though they may lack in martial might, they more than make up for it in wealth and cunning.
Reporting to the Obzedat is a web of cartels, which are the individually operating units of the Orzhov Syndicate. Each cartel claims different territories and markets across Ravnica, and each has its own internal hierarchy of priests, lawmages, enforcers, and others. Each cartel is ruled by a cardinal or kingpin whose role is somewhere between gang leader, bank manager, and high priest. Cartels quarrel among themselves over resources and markets and how best to curry favor with Teysa and the Obzedat.
The Orzhov Syndicate may cloak themselves in a veneer of religion, but it's all a sham. This false piety is only a smokescreen, and a means of control. Their real business is business: there's no financial dealing or trade that the Orzhov do not know about, if not outright manipulate. The Ghost Council, made up of the immortal spirits of past Orzhov leaders, make sure that nothing stands in the way of the Syndicate ruling Ravnica through gold and greed.
The Orzhov Syndicate scoffs at legitimacy - power belongs to those who possess it. While every merchant enjoys the protection of the syndicate enforcers, while every citizen pays blind obedience (and tithes actual money) to the syndics at the church of deals, and while its army of lawyers profitably mediate nearly every contract dispute, one would be hard-pressed convincing the citizens of Ravnica that any other guild held nearly the same sway over their daily lives.
It might seem surprising that a guild led by a practically immortal ghost council made up of retired paragons would take such a strong (and strong-arming) interest in the day-to-day mundane. But the guild's profiteering banality is actually a direct result of its focus on the interminable, inevitable long game. Owing to impatient brilliance or frustrating marginalization, guilds like the Izzet League or the Gruul Clans are prone to fixating on the next big score. For the Orzhov, on the other hand, over a thousand centuries and through one thousand lashes, the pursuit of guild supremacy centers on a relatively straightforward game plan—it's all about the grind.
Roles within Orzhov
- Clerics: practitioners of the hollow religion. Many of the middle tiers of the Orzhov hold some sort of official religious rank in the guild, from lowly ministrants to high-ranking pontiffs. Orzhov clerics may seem faithless compared to religious practitioners of other planes; they follow their beliefs, but their beliefs center around the distribution of power rather than a divine figure. Clerics are named by their duty. Sinstrikers castigate those who don't follow Orzhov doctrine. Absolvers release followers from their sin, usually in exchange for some lavish gift or favor.
- Enders: professional life-takers. Being a killer for the Orzhov can be a complex duty and can come with many labels. Some are executioners—giants who carry out the righteous judgments of the pontiffs. Some are spectral assassins who "sever business relationships" with snitches and other untrustworthy partners. Others are honorable soldiers who protect the public by eliminating threats. Should the Orzhov decide to end someone—either an Orzhovan or someone outside the guild—the Orzhov like to use the termination to send a message to others. Orzhov killings are often signed with some sort of calling card, or even advertised proudly with a complicated ceremony.
- Knights: paragons of virtue and vice. Knighthood is an honorable status bestowed on Orzhov members who have proven their loyalty and skill in some way. Each time a person is knighted, he or she is becomes associated with a title that expresses some quality of character. This quality need not be a traditionally positive virtue. For example, a Knight of Penance might be a knight who stands for the virtue of atoning for one's past mistakes, while a Knight of Despair might be one who brings woe to the enemies of the Syndicate.
- Syndics: maintainers of the fine print. The Orzhov employ a small army of attorneys, advisors, directors, accountants, counselors, and couriers who manage the business and administrative activities of the guild. Generally, these guild members are called syndics, although they bear a variety of names. Some are powerful lawmages, sometimes called advokists, who are capable of enforcing contracts and creating "verity circles" to encourage associates to speak the truth. Some are coiners, who lend money and keep accounting of the debts of various Ravnican citizens. Some syndics are traffic merchants who coordinate the flow of resources (legitimate and otherwise) and schedule transactions with outside parties. Others, such as fences, hide stashes or carry goods through checkpoints. Although they are not as ostentatious as pontiffs or members of the Obzedat, syndics wield substantial power in the guild, as they often control how the guild interfaces with powerful forces beyond its own membership.
- Thrulls: Constructed from flesh, with mask-like faceplates made from devalued coinage, thrulls occupy the bottom rung of the Orzhov status hierarchy. They are magically created to work as servants; they can be found waiting on their masters, fetching messages, or guarding basilica entrances. Skilled death-priests and thrull-fashioners can create larger thrulls outfitted for even stranger purposes—as flying mounts, palanquin-hauler beasts, or walking armored vaults. Some of the Orzhov elite treat thrulls as fashion accessories, parading them around on chains of linked coins like pampered pets.
- Angels: unfettered powers. Angels are rare among the Orzhov. Angels are traditionally manifestations of faith and community, and so most angels are loath to associate with the guild of wealth and greed. But occasionally an angel becomes disillusioned by the simplistic principles and military strictures of the Boros and desires a place where she can find proper respect. An angel who can aspire to be only a foot soldier among the Boros has the chance to wield the power of an icon among the Orzhov. Orzhov angels can act as executioners, commanders, pontiffs, or other high-ranking officials, but more often they tend to forge their own job descriptions. Angels fly by their own personal codes of order and execute them efficiently and mercilessly.
- Spirits: undead debtors. When an Orzhov guild member dies, his or her debt to the guild is usually not paid. Servitude that persists into undeath is often a condition of membership, allowing the Orzhov to command hundreds of spirit servants at any one time. Note that these spirit-debtors are in a much different plight than the ghost councilors of the Obzedat, who have achieved a state of deathless, autocratic power.
Breaking of the Guildpact
The Obzedat remains at the top of the Orzhov hierarchy but the Orzhov advokist Teysa Karlov openly defies the Ghost Council and breaks her oath of loyalty with it. There exists a shaky and uneasy relationship between the two. Though the Ghost Council still leads the Orzhov Syndicate, there are some who say that Teysa Karlov is the real power behind the Obzedat.
Not long after its signing, Teysa's covenant proved to be too weak and the guilds fell apart. This resulted in the guilds seeking new opportunities for themselves as best they could. The Orzhov continue doing what they do best, from thuggery and swindling to art patronage and self-serving philanthropy.
Only when the Izzet began to reform and seek out large areas for new research facilities did Teysa begin to call for the Orzhov to re-unify, using the powerful symbol of the Obzedat. She does this to legally maintain Orzhov's grip on the ancient land rights set up so long ago and profit from Niv-Mizzet's plans for expansion.
|Karlov||of the Ghost Council||Ghost|
|Teysa Karlov||Orzhov Scion|
Envoy of Ghosts
Sites controlled by Orzhov Syndicate