We can’t finish our fourth in the “10 Weeks of Ravnica” without talking about another guild. In this opportunity, we’ll introduce the Golgari Swarm. The Golgari believe you can’t truly liver until you die. For them, death gives life mening, and from death comes new life. They operate in Ravnica’s undercity, slowly taking over abandoned areas in order to extract organic resources. Its main value is “Power through growth”: They grow by folding the dead into their ranks, as well as through occasional minor incursions into new territory. Their necromantic magic has made the Golgari the largest Ravnican guild.
History of the Guild
Founded by parun Svogthir, a human necromancer-turned-lich, the Golgari Swarm functions as the agricultural sector of Ravnican society. Following his mortal death, Svogthir reanimated his own corpse. He also modified his body by incorporating body parts from others, even the chest of the Gruul parun Cisarzim.
His leadership of the Golgari has been constantly contested time and again, in large part due to the numerous factions vying for control of the guild. The most prominent among these were the Devkarin (dark elves), of which Savra was the head, and the Teratogens, which was predominantly composed of plant–zombie hybrids as well as, albeit to lesser extents, giant bats, gorgons, harpies, and other monstrous creatures. Up until the events of the Decamillennial, the Teratogens maintained hegemony over the Golgari Swarm.
Less than a millennium prior to the Decamillennial, the Sisters of Stone Death, originally a quintet of gorgons, attempted to overthrow parun Svogthir. Although two of the sisters died, they were successful in their coup and were able to destroy, and rot away, all but Svogthir’s head, which his necromantic magic kept intact. The remaining three sisters (Ludmilla, Lexya, and Lydya) kept Svogthir under arrest in a tomb in Grigor Canyon.
At the turn of the Decamillennial, the Devkarin, led by matka (high priestess) Savra, who, with the help of the House Dimir parun and guildmaster Szadek, overtook control of the guild. Savra resurrected Svogthir, whom she used to overthrow the Sisters of Stone Death, and then used ancient, powerful matka magic to liberate his spirit from his head, so that she could add it to her scepter. Subsequent to this, Savra proclaimed herself as the new Golgari guildmaster. Power-hungry as always, Savra then attempted to infiltrate the Selesnya Conclave with her quietmen and tried to subtly sieze control of the Conclave; but, she was double-crossed by Szadek, who snapped her neck so as to weaken the Conclave.
During the events of the Dissension novel, Szadek is defeated with the help of Savra’s brother, Jarad, who assumes control of the Golgari Swarm. He was later sacrificed by Izolda (Lyzolda, the Blood Witch) as part of a ritual to arouse Rakdos, the parun of the Cult of Rakdos. Jarad, however, “survives”, by using necromancy to become a zombie/lich, and retains his mantle of leadership over the Golgari.
After the dissolution of the guilds during Return to Ravnica, the Golgari had stayed more or less as they were. For 10,000 years, they had been the silent machine that kept the unsavory but essential parts of Ravnica running and knew no other life apart from the dank tunnels of the undercity. Jarad maintained his power, quelling without mercy any rumblings of mutiny or dissent from the Teratogens. He bided his time, knowing that the surface world was suffering without the structure and support of the guilds, and it was only a matter of time before things returned to business as usual. Recently, Jarad has been taken captive in a sparsely populated corner of the city. With some extraplanar help, the gorgon Vraska vowed to bring justice to Jarad and replace him with a worthier guild leader. She took Jarad out and became the new leader herself.
Factions inside the Guild
The Golgari Swarm, just like a predatory organism with many predators within it, consists of many sub-factions, each with its own purpose and agenda, struggling for control.
- The Cilia is a council of shamans and rogues acting as a combination of advisory parliament and spy agency, rarely convening publicly or together at once.
- The Devkarin are a brooding, winsome, and often ambitious race of elves. Of all of Golgari’s factions, the Devkarin press most for the expansion of Golgari territory.
- The Lotleth are the Golgari’s irregular faction of undead, necromancers, fungus-binders, and other members associated with the restless dead. Although most Golgari undead are mindless fungal constructions maintained by necromantic magic, the Lotleth do have some more or less intelligent undead among them, plus a few higher-ranked necromancers who speak for the faction. Generally, the Lotleth serve as a labor force for the Golgari’s constant program of reclamation and expansion. The current leader of the Lotleth is Wratislav, a skilled but conceited human necromancer.
- The Street Swarm form Golgari’s labor class. This faction includes corpse scavengers, low-ranking street shamans, rot farmers, tunnel trolls, various elementals and fungal horrors, and most of the kraul. Each neighborhood of Ravnica tends to have its own chapter of the Street Swarm, and each chapter is led by a local swarm-boss.
- The Ochran, even if discounted by many as nothing else but an urban legend, are a Golgari cult of mercenaries and assassins operating out from the Undercity and specializing in vengeance killings. The cult was led by Vraska, before she became the guild leader.
And about that Guildmaster’s Guide…
We need to start saying that the Golgari Swarm is an ideal guild for druids, rangers and rogues of neutral and evil alignment. The things we’d like to see in the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica are:
- A background: something related to corpse gathering.
- A subclass: a Circle of Life and Death for druids that gives them access to powerful necromancy spells.
- A feat or a spell: Dredge and Scavenge may not easily translated into a D&D ability, since they are related to the reuse of cards in and out the graveyard, but we can imagine them along with Undergrowth as some sort of metamagic for druid spells related to necromancy.
- A location: The original guildhall is Svogthos, the Restless Tomb, a semi-living structure in which the detached head of Svogthir is housed, and is claimed to move as the center of Golgari territory shifts. Korozda, the Maze of Decay, is sometimes named as the new Golgari guildhall, but it actually is an immense circular maze of overgrown, fungus-encrusted ruins surrounding the arched Svogthos cathedral. Korozda was the lair of guildmaster Jarad and the place where he met with his irregular court of attendants.
- NPCs: Svogthir, the Lich; Ludmilla, Lexya, and Lydya, the Sisters of Stone Death; Jarad, Lich Lord; Varolz, the Scar-Striped; and Vraska.
- A monster: maybe a fungi elemental or a corpse ooze.
- An artifact: the Plague Boiler.
If these are not included when the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica hits shelves in November, we may have some extra work here at Codex Anathema. What else would you like to see from the Golgari Swarm to play in D&D?