Golgari Swarm

A small crowd of pale elves and humans stepped into the light. Bits of bone and detritus woven into their matted hair clicked lightly. Their chitinous armor swarmed with tiny, riotous insects that moved in and out of the sheen of moss growing on their shoulders — a bed for sprouting fungi. Whether it was the Golgari themselves who had made the chittering sound or their bugs, Ral could not be sure.

— Doug Beyer, Return to Ravnica: The Secretist

The teeming masses that compose the Golgari Swarm see themselves as pragmatic above all else, uncowed by the simple fact that death is part of the cycle of life. They believe the idea of life and death as opposing forces to be nothing more than naive sentimentality. They know everything crumbles and rots in the end, and then new life springs from that rot. Time inevitably passes, bringing both destruction and new creation to all things.

The original mandate of the Golgari Swarm under the leadership of Svogthir, its Devkarin founder, was to maintain Ravnica’s agriculture and manage its waste. But Svogthir’s interest in necromancy, and his eventual transformation into a lich, shaped the course of the guild’s activities and gave birth to its philosophy of embracing death as part of nature’s cycle.

Inside the Swarm

The leadership of the Golgari has undergone several major changes, but the nature of the swarm makes it easily adaptable to the churn of continuous cycles. Being alive isn’t a prerequisite for leadership, as demonstrated by the rule of the current guildmaster, the elf lich Jarad Vod Savo. Assassination is seen as a perfectly valid means of effecting political change, which is how Jarad’s sister, Savra, took control of the guild before him. Various groups of people and monsters coexist within the swarm, their relative power waxing and waning with the years, and through it all, the guild goes on.

The three most important power groups within the Golgari are the Devkarin elves, the medusas (also called gorgons in Ravnica), and the insectile kraul. Jarad is an undead representative of the Devkarin, so the elves claim a privileged position within the guild for the moment.

Members of the Golgari Swarm live in the shadow of Jarad and the leaders of the individual factions. The machinations among elves, medusas, kraul, and other creatures rarely bring any significant improvement to the lives of the swarm’s countless members, but often cause disruption and occasionally disaster. Most guild members believe it’s best to keep their heads down and stay out of the political conflict and to avoid attracting the disfavor of the Ochran, the guild’s order of assassins. More adventurous members might enjoy intrigue and politics, or might unwittingly become tangled up in the schemes of the guild’s leaders.

Jarad maintains a council of shamans and rogues to serve as a combination of advisory parliament and spy agency. These high chancellors rarely convene publicly, preferring to disperse themselves throughout the swarm to keep information flowing from the nucleus to every part of theorganism.

Goals of the Golgari

The Golgari Swarm celebrates the growth and vibrancy of the natural world, but gives equal attention to nature’s facets of destruction, decay, and death. It finds allies and agents in the form of fungi, oozes, insects, diseases, and other unsavory aspects of nature, and it uses the power of nature actively toward the goal of advancing its own place in the world. But the Golgari have also learned patience from nature; they are content to work from the shadows, harnessing the energy that comes from decay while the civilization of Ravnica slowly erodes and destroys itself.

The teeming hordes of the Golgari Swarm believe it is finally their time to shine. They have dwelled under the streets and under the sway of the other guilds for too long. They are convinced that Ravnica’s institutions are now on the verge of collapse and that the absence of the Living Guildpact proves it. However, the Golgari are neither surprised nor panicked by this, for they believe that all things eventually rot and die, and from this decay, new life blooms. As such, the Golgari see the looming interguild conflict as a necessary final push to bring about a new era — their era.

The Golgari are preparing for upheaval. They have sealed many of the passages leading into the undercity, making their territory seem like an impregnable subterranean fortress. Within it, the Golgari domain retains its grandeur, a mysterious and wondrous kingdom. The rare visitors who stumble into it are awed by its beauty and its aura of ancient power. Palatial architecture fills cavernous sewer chambers, and luminescent spores float through the air to shed an otherworldly light on the moss-covered masonry. Entering Golgari territory feels like stepping into a secret world of dangerous beauty.

DARK ELVES OF THE GOLGARI

Also called the elves of shadow, the Devkarin are one of the three branches of Ravnica’s elf race. Like other elves, the Devkarin are adept spellcasters, counting most of the Golgari’s shamans among their number.
After being cast out of the nascent Selesnya Conclave millennia ago, the Devkarin found a home amid the corrupted and overgrown places of Ravnica, and the Devkarin necromancer Svogthir became the founder of the Golgari Swarm. Since then, the Devkarin have been a major influence in the guild, even during the times when they didn’t hold absolute power. Regardless of who rules the guild, the Devkarin follow the guidance of a high priest, called the matka. The matka’s spiritual leadership usually aligns with the guildmaster’s temporal commands, but during times when the guild is ruled by a non-elf faction, the matka can be a significant dissenting voice.

Golgari Characters

Alignment: Usually neutral, often evil

Suggested Races: Human, elf (dark)

Suggested Classes: Druid, fighter, ranger, rogue, wizard

The Golgari Swarm might suit your character if one or more of the following statements are true:

  • You’re drawn to the darker side of nature or the greener side of necromancy.
  • You are drawn to sinister, creepy, or grim characters.
  • You like elves and druids but want to explore an unusual direction.

Joining the Golgari Swarm

Similar to a swarm of insects, the Golgari collectively behave more like a single organism than a scattering of individuals. New members aren’t recruited or initiated into the Golgari Swarm; you have been absorbed and incorporated, and the biological system of the swarm funneled you to where your talents are most needed to contribute to the health of the guild. Your position within the guild is defined by your capabilities.

You might act as a shaman of the Golgari if you are a spellcaster — perhaps a wizard specialized in the School of Necromancy, a druid of the Circle of the Land, or a druid of the Circle of Spores (described in chapter 1). In this revered position, you teach and advise other members of the swarm, keeping them attuned to the natural cycle of death and regrowth. You might manipulate that natural cycle by wielding the magic of death, snuffing out life and reanimating the dead. Or you might wield your magic to spread fungal rot and noxious gases, preparing parts of the city for annexation.

If you aren’t adept at magic, the swarm still needs you. Golgari warriors both defend the guild’s territory and, when necessary, take offensive action. If you are a fighter (typically of the Champion archetype), you can serve as a shock trooper, perhaps fighting alongside kraul and trolls on behalf of the swarm. If you are a ranger (likely of the Beast Master archetype) or a rogue (of the Thief or Assassin archetype), you are more of a skirmisher. Golgari rangers favor insects and reptiles as companions.

Background: Golgari Agent

You are a member of a teeming horde — one small part of a sprawling organism. Just as you are part of the swarm, the swarm is part of a larger ecosystem, a never-ending cycle of life, death, rot, and rebirth. You have spent your life in the slow churn of that ecosystem, in the dark places of the city where the messy parts of existence are on display. There is little squeamishness among the Golgari, no fear of death or taboo about the dead, just a fierce affirmation of the cycle.

Skill Proficiencies: Nature, Survival

Tool Proficiencies: Poisoner’s kit

Languages: Choose one of Elvish, Giant, or Kraul

Equipment: A Golgari insignia, a poisoner’s kit, a pet beetle or spider, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp worth of mixed coins

Feature: Undercity Paths

You know hidden, underground pathways that you can use to bypass crowds, obstacles, and observation as you move through the city. When you aren’t in combat, you and companions you lead can travel between any two locations in the city twice as fast as your speed would normally allow. The paths of the undercity are haunted by dangers that rarely brave the light of the surface world, so your journey isn’t guaranteed to be safe.

Golgari Guild Spells

Prerequisite: Spellcasting or Pact Magic class feature

For you, the spells on the Golgari Guild Spells table are added to the spell list of your spellcasting class. (If you are a multiclass character with multiple spell lists, these spells are added to all of them.)

Golgari Guild Spells

Spell LevelSpells
Cantripdancing lights, spare the dying
1stentangle, ray of sickness
2ndprotection from poison, ray of enfeeblement, spider climb
3rdanimate dead, plant growth
4thgiant insect, grasping vine
5thcloudkill, insect plague

Golgari magic is often accompanied by a sickly green glow and a rotting stench.

Suggested Characteristics

Members of the Golgari Swarm are unmistakably products of the undercity, ill at ease amid the comforts of civilization. They bring about the same discomfort in others by reminding them of death’s inevitable approach.

Personality Traits

d8Personality Trait
1Remember, I could kill you in your sleep. Or put centipedes in your bedroll.
2I like to remind people of their inevitable demise.
3Sometimes I give voice to the whispers of the rot, which I hear but no one else does.
4I do my best to discourage anyone from approaching or talking to me.
5I have accepted my death. Hence, I don’t fear it.
6Like roots growing through stone, I am relentless and determined in my action.
7I put my knowledge of anatomy to use by narrating the injuries my enemies suffer in grisly detail.
8Like a wild animal, I lash out viciously when I’m provoked — and I’m easily provoked.

Ideals

d6Ideal
1Guild. My guild is all that really matters. (Any)
2Stoicism. All of us are part of the cyclical march of nature, which will continue with or without us. (Neutral)
3Nature. The natural world is more important than the edifices of the city and civilization. (Neutral)
4Interdependence. We are all part of nature’s web. (Lawful)
5Ambition. The time of Golgari ascendance is at hand, and I intend to have a prominent place in the new world order. (Evil)
6Live and Let Live. Meddling in the affairs of other guilds is a great way to get squashed like a bug. (Neutral)

Bonds

d6Bond
1I cherish the finger of a family member who was petrified by a medusa.
2I have an identical twin who is as different from me as any person could be.
3I want to lead one faction of the guild to a new position of dominance.
4I love spending time in the moss-covered building where I took part in my first reclamation mission.
5I found something in the sewer that must never come to light.
6I am forever grateful to the reclaimer who found me floating facedown in the sewer, moments from death.

Flaws

d6Flaw
1Death comes for us all, so you can’t expect me to take care of someone who can’t fight it off.
2I assume that anyone outside the Golgari looks down on me.
3I feel a need for revenge against those who enjoy the privilege of living above ground.
4I don’t bother to couch my opinions in flattering words.
5I can’t help but pocket any trinket or coin I come across, no matter how worthless.
6I’m convinced that I’m better and stronger than members of other guilds, isolated as they are from the realities of life and death.

Contacts

To the extent that the Golgari Swarm acts like a single organism, you are connected to every other member in some way or another. Convinced that the rest of the world is out to get you, you find it easy to form close bonds with your guild mates, and harder to make meaningful connections with others.

Roll twice on the Golgari Contacts table (for an ally and a rival) and once on the Non-Golgari Contacts table.

Golgari Contacts

d8Contact
1One of my parents is an elite assassin, a member of the Ochran.
2I learned combat from a kraul.
3I know a medusa who is stationed in the guildhall.
4I had a torrid romance with a spore druid responsible for a large rot farm.
5There’s a troll in a remote area of the undercity who seems to find me interesting — and who knows more than you’d think.
6An elf lich is determined to see me become a lich someday, too.
7A medusa decided it would be more fun to recruit me into the guild than to kill me.
8I know a findbroker who can locate just about anything, for the right price.

Non-Golgari Contacts

d10Contact
1An Azorius arrester I literally pulled out of the gutter will do anything for me.
2Someone joined the Gruul in a battle against the Boros once, and the sergeant of that Boros squad would love to prove that it was me.
3I had a romance with a Dimir agent whom I still feed secrets to.
4Roll an additional Golgari contact; you can decide if the contact is an ally or a rival.
5I joined the Gruul in a battle against the Boros once, and the chief of that small clan thanks me for turning the tide.
6An Izzet scientist resents that I sold a scrapped invention I found in the sewer.
7My undercity explorations led me into an Orzhov vault, and a spirit thinks I stole something valuable.
8I found a baby beast and sold it to a Rakdos wrangler who remains grateful to me.
9A Selesnya druid and I share an interest in the same garden, and we have enjoyable arguments there.
10I regularly pick up refuse from beneath a Simic laboratory, and sometimes I talk to the researcher who dumps it there.

How Do I Fit In?

As part of the Golgari Swarm, you are a specialized instrument of the greater body. Your orders, when you have such, come from the guildmaster by way of his chancellors, who carry his messages throughout the guild. The swarm relies on you to advance the greater good by protecting some part, however small, of its teeming existence. That responsibility doesn’t mean you’re indispensable; your eventual death is part of your purpose and function, too, and you’ll be replaced even as your body provides nutrients to further the swarm’s growth.

A classic adventuring role for a member of the Golgari involves crawling through dungeon-like environments — the sewers and ancient vaults of the undercity — in search of treasures left behind by the dead. Sometimes you might be sent to find a specific item believed lost in a dangerous part of the undercity. At other times, you could be asked to collect samples of a specific fungus, retrieve a body floating in the muck of the sewers, or bring back whatever booty you can to help fill the swarm’s coffers.

You might gain enough renown to become a member of the Ochran, assigned to a variety of tasks concerning thievery, assassination, or the protection of important figures in your guild. You might steal something because the guild needs it, or because its loss will bring harm to another guild, hastening that group’s decline. You could be assigned to kill an outspoken and active enemy of the Golgari, such as an overzealous Boros captain whose raids into the undercity have approached dangerously close to the swarm’s inner sanctum. Or you could serve as a bodyguard to one of Guildmaster Jarad’s high chancellors, escorting this figure through the undercity while being ready to intervene at a moment’s notice if things go wrong.

The shamans of the Golgari use their magic to accelerate the cycle of decay and regrowth. You might be sent to spread spores throughout an area that the Golgari want to claim as their territory or to convince the inhabitants of such a territory to abandon it. You might also contend with the ever-present threat of hostile monsters encroaching into Golgari-controlled regions.

A Golgari Party

An adventuring party drawn from the teeming ranks of the Golgari Swarm might focus on traversing the undercity or on stealthy missions in the streets above. A pair of shamans (a druid and a wizard) would form the core leadership of the group, supported by a warrior (fighter or ranger) and a stealthy member of the Ochran (rogue).

Rank and Renown

Every member of the Golgari Swarm has its place, and every role is important to the proper functioning of the guild. Aside from a few leadership positions, the swarm doesn’t consider different functions to be more or less important than others. The idea of progressing up the ranks is foreign to the Golgari way of thinking. That said, your renown within the Golgari is a direct measure of the guildmaster’s knowledge of you, his confidence in your abilities, and his interest in your activities.

At the start of your career with the Golgari, the guildmaster and his chancellors have no way to distinguish you from the masses of others who perform a similar function. If you receive instructions from the high chancellors, the orders are directed toward you as part of a larger group: for example, “Reclaimers, keep your eyes open for an Izzet keyrune believed to be lost in this sector of the sewers.”

Agent

Prerequisite: Renown 3 or higher in the Golgari Swarm

You have distinguished yourself from the mass of your peers. Guildmaster Jarad might not know your name, but he knows that a member of your group is reliable and effective, and his high chancellors single you out for specific missions. The guild provides you with supplies you need to complete those missions (within reason).

Monstrous Favors

Prerequisite: Renown 10 or higher in the Golgari Swarm

When you reach this level of renown in the Golgari Swarm, Jarad knows your name and appreciates that you can be relied on to help fulfill the guild’s objectives. Thanks to this prominence, you can get away with begging a favor from the guild’s more monstrous members. You can ask an undercity medusa, a troll, or a kraul death priest to help you with a task that benefits the Golgari Swarm. The creature is not obligated to help you, but it holds you in enough esteem to at least consider it — in exchange for the promise of a favor in return.

In addition, you receive a Golgari charm (described in chapter 5) at the start of each mission you undertake on the guild’s behalf.

Ochran (Special Role)

Prerequisite: Renown 10 or higher in the Golgari Swarm

Having achieved considerable renown within the guild, you can choose to become a member of the Ochran. The Ochran often serve as stealthy bodyguards, lurking out of sight until some danger threatens their wards. The Ochran are also sent out as assassins or burglars to further the guild’s goals.

Advisor

Prerequisite: Renown 25 or higher in the Golgari Swarm

Although you aren’t yet one of Jarad’s personal counselors, your value to the guild is clear. The high chancellors regularly call on you to perform tasks for the guild and to share your insights. You can be sure that anything you say to a high chancellor will pass quickly to the ears of the guildmaster.

High Chancellor

Prerequisite: Renown 50 or higher in the Golgari Swarm

Jarad seeks out the most powerful, effective, and loyal members of the Golgari Swarm to serve as his high chancellors. At this point, you certainly qualify. The amorphous nature of Jarad’s council means that you don’t need to wait for a vacancy to open up; Jarad summons you to his presence, and you are expected to appear and accept the new position offered to you.

As a high chancellor, you advise Jarad in his decision-making, keep him informed of happenings throughout the guild, and convey his instructions to the various parts of the guild’s “body.”

Matka (Special Role)

Prerequisite: Renown 50 or higher in the Golgari Swarm, elf (dark), spellcasting ability

You are eligible to fill the role of matka, the high priest of the Golgari elves. You can attain this position only if the previous matka has died or stepped down. Becoming matka requires you to claim the position and maintain your title against any challengers. It isn’t unusual for competing claims among would-be matkas to be resolved by combat … or assassination.

As matka, your status among the Devkarin is comparable to that of the guildmaster’s. Even high chancellors who are Devkarin attempt to balance their loyalty to Jarad with their loyalty to you.

Enemies and Allies

The Golgari Swarm shares a general philosophical approach with the other nature-oriented guilds — Simic, Gruul, and Selesnya — in its concern for the forces of life and growth. Under the right circumstances, a member of the Golgari can work well with agents of those organizations. But the Golgari’s emphasis on death as part of the life cycle is foreign to those other guilds.

The Golgari prefer to erode their enemies’ strength through a process of attrition rather than by launching frontal attacks. If you are called on to take direct action against another guild, it is probably a matter of self-preservation against a guild that is threatening the life and livelihood of the Golgari. You might oppose the Azorius as they attempt to extend their jurisdiction into the undercity or strike back at the Boros to dissuade them from launching more attacks into Golgari territory. Occasionally, you might be assigned to assault the enemies of the Golgari more directly, especially if you are a member of the Ochran. If the death of a particular person or the theft of a key treasure will contribute to the decline and downfall of an enemy guild, even the typically patient Golgari will try to seize that opportunity.

You might ally with members of another guild if they are working — even unwittingly — toward goals you share. The Gruul, for example, are adept at hastening the decay of both humanoid populations and physical structures, even if they remain unaware of their full role in the natural cycle. If some event threatens to upset the balance of nature, such as a necromantic blight that kills all growth or a magical wildfire rampaging through the city, you might join other nature-oriented guilds in an attempt to curtail it and preserve the balance.

THE GOLGARI VIEW ON OTHER GUILDS

To the Golgari, the other guilds of Ravnica are shortsighted and inevitably doomed to collapse.

Azorius. “Such hubris! As if all their laws could shore up this crumbling society. Their regulations and institutions are just detritus in the making.”

Boros. “The Boros speak a language we will never understand. Their militant dedication to empty concepts like ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ is both confusing and disturbing.”

Dimir. “They collect information like trinkets, so how can they ever grasp the deeper truths we possess? But their presence in the undercity is an all-too-real threat to our dominion beneath the streets.”

Gruul. “The clans serve as effective instruments of the natural cycle, though in their anger, they are blind to the extent of the role they play.”

Izzet. “Perplexing. They are attracted to whatever flashes brightest and booms loudest. Their fascination with their toys will only hasten their own end.”

Orzhov. “They flout the natural order and use their knowledge of death to resist its pull. While their bodies rot, their spirits persist, clinging to the fiction of material wealth.”

Rakdos. “They understand the inevitability of death but seek to hasten its arrival for their petty ends. What the demon destroys, we nurse back to life again.”

Selesnya. “Their reverence for nature is the mark of immaturity and naiveté. They fear death, so they can’t understand life. They can be dangerous when they fervently cling to their narrow-minded and inadequate view of life.”

Simic. “They seek patterns in the natural world, which is commendable enough, but they believe the search will lead them to find perfection through all of its flaws. They strive to move forward but fail to see that the path they tread is cyclical.”