A master craftsman (or, for that matter, a master merchant) was a guildsman who, having served a term as a journeyman, had managed to persuade a chapter of his guild that he was competent enough to set up in business in his own right. This usually required a demonstration of professional skill, the approval of the chapter (usually involving the payment of a fee) and (in the guild's opinion) sufficient room in the local market for another business (known as a franchise). The man could also inherit a franchise (although he would still need to be confirmed in the grade of master) or obtain one by marrying a widow with the right to her late husband's franchise (again, subject to confirmation). Standards would vary depending on the aspirant master's political connections and the amount of competition for the franchise, but could not be set too low for the sake of the guild's reputation (and, ultimately its monopoly if it demonstrated a continual failure to maintain standards).
Once confirmed, a master could take on apprentices and hire journeymen, could buy and sell items and materials within the remit of his guild at both trade and retail and was considered a full, voting member of his guild. Where applicable he was also eligible to be elected as a guild syndic and, having also had his social status confirmed, was a candidate for other public offices as well. There was also something of a hierarchy between guilds, with merchant guilds at least unofficially outranking craft guilds and craft guilds stratifying by some degree as to the prestige of their craft. Social guilds could lie pretty much anywhere, dependant on their reputation.
Besides trading in his own right (as a free master), a master could also run a franchise that catered exclusively to a single customer (a bonded master) - this did not make him unfree (as the name might suggest), but did mean that all or most of his business was dependant on a single client.
Game and Story Use
- Likely to form much of the upper middle class and de-facto leadership in a medieval town or city, and therefore likely employers or patrons for PCs.
- Not a great job for a PC unless you're dealing in an urban campaign with a fixed location, given that having a franchise involves working it unless you want the guild to re-assign it to someone else.
- Intriguing for a franchise can be plot worthy, especially if the current holder has no heir and a desirable wife.
- As can the revenge of someone who feels they have been unjustly denied promotion by their guild.