Orzhov Syndicate

Representing the Orzhov was a tall, well-dressed noblewoman Jace didn’t recognize. The identities of the Orzhov knights around her were concealed by full helmets; instead of faces they bore only the Orzhov’s black sunburst symbol. Small, ugly, gray-skinned servant creatures attended to their black capes.

— Doug Beyer, Return to Ravnica: The Secretist

Wealth is power, and you absolutely can take it with you if you’re an undying spirit living in decadent luxury on the ruling council of the Orzhov Syndicate. Built on the crushed dreams and broken bodies of citizens deeply indebted to the syndicate’s banks and loan sharks, Orzhov’s elaborate hierarchy of syndics, priests, and oligarchs exists for the single purpose of funneling wealth to the top. Beneath the twin facades of religious hierarchy and banking operation, Orzhov is an organized crime syndicate with its fingers in businesses across the city.

The Orzhov’s original function was both religious and financial, with the two functions closely related. As Ravnica’s dominant church, the Orzhov continues to preach an oppressive message that equates sin with debt and promises forgiveness to those who make tithes and donations. As Ravnica’s principal bank, it stores and secures the riches of the city, collecting interest at high rates to expand its own wealth. Its members truly believe that their work is necessary to the proper functioning of Ravnica. Although most other Ravnicans see the Orzhov for the corrupt organization it is, many people are still dazzled by the syndicate’s promises of wealth, prestige, and longevity.

The Ghost Council, also called the Obzedat, that leads the Orzhov founded the guild and signed the Guildpact, but it isn’t clear which members of the original Obzedat might have faded from existence since then and which current members have joined since.

Inside the Syndicate

The Orzhov are ruled by the iron-fisted Obzedat, a council consisting of the oldest and most powerful undead oligarchs. A vast hierarchy stretches out beneath them, so most of your interactions with the leadership of the guild are with people (or spirits) who occupy the rank just above yours. This hierarchy has corruption in it at every level, and at any time your superiors might be passing instructions down from on high or just using you to pursue their own agendas of greed and ambition.

Orzhov churches and basilicas are scattered across the city, each one led by a ministrant with a staff of knights and syndics. These sites are centers of commerce clothed in the trappings of religion, where lowly borrowers come to seek atonement for their sins — atonement that is given in the form of debt and obligation.

Orzhov attorneys and advokists maintain offices near New Prahv and other Azorius courts. Despite their proximity to law enforcement, these offices are centers of operation for Orzhov protection rackets and other criminal activities.

Goals of the Orzhov

The Orzhov Syndicate is dedicated to the quest for power. It sees the value in an organized, structured, law-abiding community, because it is adept at exploiting laws and structures for its own gain. It sees itself, in a perfect world, as the arbiter and enforcer of a social order that keeps everyone in their place and the Orzhov in the highest place.

Increasing tensions in Ravnica have led to an atmosphere of instability, and to counter this, the Orzhov Syndicate promises the trappings of a stable, ordered life amid the chaos — for a price. The Orzhov believe that adherence to hierarchy is the key to success, and they find great comfort in the rigid structure of their guild.

To boost their declining profits in a vacillating economy, the Orzhov have begun offering protection services, promising to shield their “customers” from both physical harm and fiscal disaster. These operations amount to racketeering, bringing with them the underlying threat that those who refuse to pay for protection become targets of the Orzhov’s thugs and enforcers.

The Azorius are the greatest threat to Orzhov’s operations. In times past, the Orzhov danced along the edges of the law and presented an appearance of legality, but the combination of an ever-expanding legal code and the guild’s move into racketeering and other explicitly illegal activities has made it vulnerable to Azorius enforcement. So far, the Azorius have demonstrated more interest in cracking down on the chaotic activity of the Gruul and the Rakdos, but Azorius arresters also routinely shut down Orzhov protection rackets and take enforcers into custody. To make matters worse, the Azorius Senate’s increasing use of precognitive magic is proving difficult for the Orzhov to work around.

So far, the syndicate’s most effective tactic has been to increase the layers of separation between the day-to-day criminal operations of the guild and the leadership, ensuring that no matter how many street-level thugs and syndics are apprehended to fill the Azorius prisons, the guild’s leadership remains intact. Contact between the oligarchs and lower-ranking members of the guild is increasingly rare in this situation, and even the pontiffs find it ever more difficult to arrange a hearing with their superiors.

Orzhov Characters

Alignment: Usually lawful, often evil

Suggested Races: Human

Suggested Classes: Cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard

You might enjoy playing a character who belongs to the Orzhov Syndicate if any of the following sentences are true:

  • You want to move through the corrupt underbelly of society and make respectable people squirm in your presence.
  • You enjoy playing fearsome or decadent characters.
  • You want to strive for wealth, lavish beauty, or both.

Joining the Orzhov Syndicate

At the beginning of your association with the Orzhov, you are regarded as a borrower. Whether you are the wealthy scion of an oligarch family or a penniless citizen deep in debt to the guild, your status is functionally equivalent: you owe everything you have, even your life, to the Orzhov. Your only hope of improving your status is through your service to the guild. As you acquire renown, you can rise above this debased position in the guild hierarchy. Choose one of three parallel tracks of advancement, depending on your capabilities: advokist, enforcer, or priest.

Advokist

If you are a spellcaster (perhaps a wizard specialized in the School of Abjuration, Divination, or Enchantment), you can aspire to be an advokist — one of the syndicate’s lawyers, with duties that include overseeing contracts, representing clients in Azorius courts, and prosecuting those who fail to pay their debts. Some clerics of the Order Domain also choose to pursue this path.

Many advokists draw on the power of law magic to enforce regulations and contracts to the advantage of the guild. They use their magic to draw out the truth from debtors and those who dare to break their contracts with the guild, to ensure that petitioners approach with the proper humility, and to punish those who offend them or violate their contracts. Some advokists (particularly specialists in the School of Abjuration) also deal in encrypting texts, warding vaults and secret meeting rooms, fortifying structures, and cloaking important personages in magical protections.

Enforcer

Enforcers guard Orzhov property and protect the guild’s bureaucrats, administrators, and aristocrats. You might be the muscle who collects protection money and debt payments from the syndicate’s clients, or an assassin (euphemistically called a euthanist) who brings speedy ends to lives deemed to have gone on too long. Most Orzhov enforcers are fighters. Rogue enforcers typically emulate the Thief or Assassin archetype.

Priest

If you are cleric (most likely of the Order Domain), you can aspire to serve an important function in the Orzhov Syndicate, which continues to maintain the outward appearance of a religious institution. Once you earn a position of respect in the syndicate, you will hear confessions and dole out penance (which is always of a financial nature). Your “calling” centers on collecting monetary tithes and offerings in a wide range of forms. Your spellcasting ability comes from the collective power of the spirits that rule the guild, not from a god.

You might even be a most unusual priest for the syndicate — one who thinks the guild’s wealth should be used to ease the suffering of the downtrodden. You might also believe in the inspiration and delight that beautiful pageantry can offer to the world. If you seek to distribute wealth and share beauty, rather than hoard them, you must do so discreetly to avoid the ire of the Obzedat.

Background: Orzhov Representative

The prospect of immense wealth is the promise of membership in the Orzhov Syndicate. All of the guild’s endeavors channel wealth from Ravnican society into the ranks of the Orzhov — and concentrates the spoils at the top of the hierarchy. As a functionary in that system, your best hope is to claim as much as possible of the money that passes through your hands on its way up, so that you can work your way into a more prominent position.

Regardless of your past and the wealth of your family, your initial status with the guild is near the bottom, until you have proven your value.

Skill Proficiencies: Intimidation, Religion

Languages: Two of your choice

Equipment: An Orzhov insignia, a foot-long chain made of ten gold coins, vestments, a set of fine clothes, and a belt pouch containing 1 pp (an Orzhov-minted 10-zino coin)

Feature: Leverage

You can exert leverage over one or more individuals below you in the guild’s hierarchy and demand their help as needs warrant. For example, you can have a message carried across a neighborhood, procure a short carriage ride without paying, or have others clean up a bloody mess you left in an alley. The DM decides if your demands are reasonable and if there are subordinates available to fulfill them. As your status in the guild improves, you gain influence over more people, including ones in greater positions of power.

Orzhov Guild Spells

Prerequisite: Spellcasting or Pact Magic class feature

For you, the spells on the Orzhov 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.)

Orzhov Guild Spells

Spell LevelSpells
Cantripfriends, guidance
1stcommand, illusory script
2ndenthrall, ray of enfeeblement, zone of truth
3rdbestow curse, speak with dead, spirit guardians
4thblight, death ward, Leomund’s secret chest
5thgeas

Your magic tends to manifest as swirling shadows, brilliant light, or sometimes the momentary appearance of shadowy spirit forms. Your spells might draw the blood of your enemies, or even directly touch their souls.

Suggested Characteristics

Members of the Orzhov Syndicate range from the decadent nobility at the top of the oligarchy to the debt-ridden wretches at the bottom. You fall somewhere between those extremes, so you might behave with the arrogance of the very rich or the humility of the impoverished.

Personality Traits

d8Personality Trait
1I am always willing to act in accordance with the financial incentive offered.
2Debts are never meant to be forgiven.
3I am accustomed to enjoying the finest pleasures money can buy.
4No one could doubt that I am a cut above the masses of pitiful peasants that infest the city.
5I can’t stand to spend a zib more than necessary to purchase what I need.
6I hate it when people try to make light of a serious situation.
7I want to make sure everyone is aware of how wealthy, powerful, and important I am.
8I can’t think of anything to look forward to.

Ideals

d6Ideal
1Guild. My guild is all that really matters. (Any)
2Wealth. I will do whatever it takes to become as rich as the oligarchs. (Evil)
3Power. One day, I will be the one giving orders. (Evil)
4Prestige. I want to be admired, respected, feared, or even hated for my position and wealth. (Evil)
5Stability. The economy functions best when chaos is kept under control and everyone knows their place. (Lawful)
6Eternity. I want to live forever — in the flesh as long as possible, and as a spirit afterward. (Any)

Bonds

d6Bond
1The unbearable weight of my debt has driven me to desperation.
2I’m duty-bound to obey the dictates of an ancestor on the Ghost Council.
3I value my worldly goods more highly than my mortal life.
4An oligarch publicly humiliated me, and I will exact revenge on that whole family.
5My faith in the Obzedat never wavers.
6I want to prove myself more worthy than an older sibling and thereby ensure that I inherit a greater share of my parents’ wealth.

Flaws

d6Flaw
1I hold a scandalous secret that could ruin my family forever — but could also earn me the favor of the Ghost Council.
2I’m convinced that everyone I know is plotting against me.
3I’ll brave any risk if the monetary reward is great enough.
4I am convinced that I am far more important than anyone else is willing to acknowledge.
5I have little respect for anyone who isn’t wealthy.
6I’ll take any opportunity to steal from wealthier people, even for worthless trinkets.

Contacts

The Orzhov Syndicate operates according to a strict hierarchy built on a network of connections among old, wealthy families. Your family might provide important contacts, while your family’s activities in crime, banking, or debt collection could tie you to members of other guilds.

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

Orzhov Contacts

d8Contact
1The spirit of an ancestor has taken an interest in me.
2An older cousin has the ear of a powerful oligarch.
3I know a knight who is responsible for collecting debts from powerful people.
4A vampire pontiff tried to use me as a pawn in past schemes.
5A silent spirit follows me around.
6A sibling has keys to parts of Vizkopa Bank.
7A giant thinks I’m adorable.
8I regularly offer tribute to an angel, and the angel has been kind to me in turn.

Non-Orzhov Contacts

d10Contact
1An Azorius arrester is always snooping into my family’s business transactions.
2A Boros paladin saved my life, to my everlasting shame.
3I know a shopkeeper who is secretly a Dimir agent and tries to make sure that I keep that secret hidden.
4I’m fascinated by the culture of the Golgari kraul, and I have formed a friendship with one of their death priests.
5A Gruul druid hates me but would never dare to touch me.
6I know an Izzet engineer who is desperate to pay off a debt accrued by a deceased relative.
7Roll an additional Orzhov contact; you can decide if the contact is an ally or a rival.
8My childhood friend is now a Rakdos torturer. We still meet for drinks occasionally.
9I have the key to a vault where a Selesnya druid is hiding an item of secret shame.
10I was married to a Simic bioengineer.

How Do I Fit In?

The structure of the Orzhov Syndicate means that you are always doing the bidding of someone higher up the ladder than you are. Ultimately, your role in the guild is defined by whatever the people (and spirits) above you decide for you.

For most of your career, you can expect to engage in some aspect of the day-to-day criminal operations of the guild. That can mean throwing your weight around to enforce the will of the guild or using religious authority to extort offerings from the people. But it can also mean doing various errands for your superiors, from bearing messages to carrying out assassinations.

An Orzhov Party

An Orzhov adventuring party might be assembled in one of two ways. If its primary purpose is the application of brute force, some number of hulking enforcers (fighters) form the core of the ground, perhaps supported by a stealthy “euthanist” (rogue) and a knight (paladin). A priest (cleric) could provide additional magical support.

If the group is more focused on the political scheming of the Orzhov, involving the use of persuasion and coercion rather than outright force, a priest (cleric) and an advokist (wizard) will probably lead the group, accompanied by more sophisticated bodyguards (fighters or rogues).

Rank and Renown

The Orzhov adhere to a very strict power structure. Positions open only at the bottom of the organization, and rising through the ranks requires utmost devotion. With increasing rank comes a greater degree of leverage over those who occupy the ranks below you.

Rank 1: Syndic

Prerequisite: Renown 3 or higher in the Orzhov Syndicate

Syndics are low-ranking functionaries. At this level of the hierarchy, you can expect deference from borrowers, who will perform small favors that require no significant risk, effort, or cost. The bulk of your work for the guild, in turn, involves doing favors for those above you.

As a priest of this rank, you can perform minor tasks in an Orzhov church: collecting tithes at the door, scheduling appointments for the senior priests, keeping ledgers, and the like. As an advokist, you copy documents, research legal precedent, depose witnesses, and otherwise assist more senior guild members. As an enforcer, you flex your muscle to collect minor debts that are of little importance to the guild as a whole.

Rank 2: Knight

Prerequisite: Rank 1 and renown 10 or higher in the Orzhov Syndicate

Each knight carries a title that expresses a quality of character, such as Knight of Penance or Knight of Despair. As a knight, you have authority over syndics, and you are trusted — so far as anyone in the Orzhov Syndicate trusts anyone else — to transport large sums of money. You also have access to sufficient funds to maintain a comfortable lifestyle between adventures.

As a priest of this rank, you hear confessions and collect penance, lead rites (and take offerings), perform ceremonies, and offer counsel to your superiors when asked. As an advokist, you represent clients in court, draw up contracts, and put your magic to use in a variety of ways. As an enforcer, you are entrusted with collecting larger sums and interacting with powerful clients.

When you’re sent on a mission that poses a potential threat, your superior bestows on you an Orzhov charm (described in chapter 5). In addition, you have the authority to demand service from borrowers, including indentured spirits (see chapter 6 for the stat block). But that’s an authority you must use sparingly, since their service counts as credit to their debt, and it’s in the guild’s interest to keep borrowers in debt.

Rank 3: Ministrant

Prerequisite: Rank 2 and renown 25 or higher in the Orzhov Syndicate

The rank of ministrant is the highest position anyone can hope to attain without being born into the guild. As a ministrant, you study finance, while managing the syndics and knights under your control. Between adventures, you can now maintain a wealthy lifestyle.

You are given a servitor thrull (see chapter 6 for the stat block) that is yours to command. If it is killed, your pontiff gives you a new one at their discretion, possibly up to 1d4 weeks later. You also have a staff of 2d4 knights and 4d8 syndics under your command. You can order them only to carry out tasks that contribute to the work your pontiff assigns to you. The duty of protecting you from physical harm is always appropriate service for your knights, however. Your knights can be knights or priests, and your syndics are either nobles or acolytes (stat blocks for them appear in the Monster Manual).

Rank 4: Pontiff

Prerequisite: Rank 3 and renown 50 or higher in the Orzhov Syndicate, Orzhov birth

As a pontiff, you are one of the executive managers in charge of enacting the will of the Ghost Council. For that purpose, you have a staff of 2d6 ministrants (use the mage or priest stat blocks from the Monster Manual to represent them), with their attendant knights and syndics as described for rank 3. You have access to 2d4 servitor thrulls and winged thrulls (see chapter 6 for these stat blocks) at any given time, to carry messages and perform menial tasks for you. You also gain the occasional privilege of speaking with members of the Obzedat. Between adventures, you can maintain an aristocratic lifestyle.

Enemies and Allies

A syndicate built on a foundation of exploitation and extortion can’t rely on alliances. The Orzhov appreciate certain aspects of other guilds’ work and missions, but they treat other guilds as resources to be plundered. In general, the Orzhov view guilds that promote order and stability (Azorius, Boros, and Selesnya) more kindly than guilds that sow chaos and destruction (such as Golgari and Rakdos).

Sometimes adherence to order can get in the way of an efficient crime operation, though, and that’s when the Orzhov part ways with the other law-and-order guilds — especially the Azorius. Any guild that obstructs the Orzhov from amassing more wealth is an enemy, whether the disruption comes from horning in on Orzhov operations or enforcing laws against racketeering.

The best way to secure individual allies from other guilds is to make them owe you something. Borrowers seldom make friendly or especially loyal allies, but they can be useful pawns. You might form a genuine alliance with members of other guilds if you share a common enemy: the overreaching Azorius or Boros, the spies of the Dimir or assassins of the Golgari, or the rampages and excesses of the Gruul and Rakdos. Alternatively, you might team up with members of a chaotic guild to bring down an opponent that is causing too much trouble for Orzhov operations.

THE ORZHOV VIEW ON OTHER GUILDS

In the eyes of the Orzhov Syndicate, the other guilds primarily represent either opportunities for exploitation or dangerous threats to its way of life.

Azorius. “Their new laws challenge everything we know Ravnica stands for. If they will not protect the people, then we will do it for them.”

Boros. “Though their structure is reasonable, they are naive in their outlook on justice. What glory is there in risking one’s life when work continues in the afterlife?”

Dimir. “It’s hard to begrudge them their love of secrets. As long as they stay out of our business, we will leave them be.”

Golgari. “Admirably resourceful and elegant, but tragically unhygienic. The swarmers may persist, as long as they don’t try to force their aesthetic sensibilities on us.”

Gruul. “They know nothing of order and dignity, and therefore they serve little purpose as an organization.”

Izzet. “Combative and obnoxious. Their allegiance lies with no one, and their naiveté isn’t worth our time.”

Rakdos. “A necessary source of creativity and satire. Wit is a dangerous weapon, and their critiques speak to the people more than fear and surveillance ever will.”

Selesnya. “The Selesnya are idealistic fools. Looking toward nature ignores the problems at hand in the civilized world.”

Simic. “Their preoccupation with life disregards the might that death can provide.”