Every guild tries to make itself unique in one way or another, and yet much of the time it's hard to tell many guilds apart. Most guilds say something like "we are a group of friends" who "focus on casual play" or "on raiding progression" or something which can make clear its priorities in the game, whether in PvP, PvE, or RP.
Roleplaying guilds have a special opportunity to distinguish themselves with all these elements and then some. In addition to raiding schedules, loot distribution rules, and whatnot, they also have a story -- some idea of where the people in this guild come from, and what binds them together. The story theme that binds them may be something as simple as striving to fight against all evil threats to their homeland, or it could be as involved as running a weekly faire, full of trading, performance, and all manner of festivities.
Most roleplayers seem to just drift into an RP guild based on who they happen to meet in the course of their travels and what sorts of friendships they are able to develop. I worked this way for a long time, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, and in the end I gave up, feeling increasingly frustrated that I wasn't drifting into guilds that could really meet my needs. Finally I decided to steer my own ship and I realized that the theme of any particular guild could make a big difference as to whether or not I enjoyed being in it.
The guild theme of my dreams
The guild I eventually chose is called "The Bearers of Light" on the Moon Guard server, and I chose it because its members pledge to be kind to others. It was the first and only guild I've ever seen in World of Warcraft that is explicitly founded around the spirit of benevolence and charity. I felt that it was a perfect match for me personally -- if you've seen movies like Pay It Forward, or read about ideas such as "random kindness and senseless acts of beauty," then you will have seen the kind of impact this theme can have on a group of people: once kindness itself is a goal, it makes life so much more livable.
This was not only important for me, but also for my main character, a religious draenei, who yearns to heal the world to the utmost of her ability, and strives to be positive in the face of adversity. There are many types of characters who might not fit as well into such a guild, but for me this confluence of what both my character and I want has been a real blessing.
Other players and other characters might desire something else from their guild. For example, there are many big achievers out there, who always want to "get things done" whenever they log into the game -- these would also say that kindness is good, of course, but they want to focus on making the most of their limited time online, rather than just chatting or doing nice things. Others would feel that a sense of adventure is the most important thing, and would want to join a guild based on clandestine intrigue. Another guild could focus on running their own special event -- anything from a restaurant to a player-run city, complete with organizing all the people to work there at specified times, creating an environment where other roleplayers can get together too.
Some common themes
By far the most popular guild theme is that of a traveling band of mercenaries or an elite group of soldiers in either the Alliance or the Horde, who make their living by going around and fighting the various evils that threaten Azeroth. Many good guilds grow so large that they find it difficult to encompass all their members various interests unless they stick to a generalized theme like this. Other guilds, however, especially smaller ones, find that they enjoy more focused themes.
A quick look at one Moon Guard guild listing shows a number of other roleplaying themes guilds may organize themselves around:
- "Allied Brewers" is, as you might guess, a guild based on promoting different kinds of beer. This is a classic example of a guild where players come together and share things that they like in real life, but they do it in a roleplaying fashion. Such a guild needn't be very large, very accomplished in PvE or PVP, nor even last for a very long time. As long as its members come together for a while, and have a good time before they move on to other things, in my book that guild is a success.
- "Tinker Town Special Ops" is a guild that recruits mostly gnomes, focuses on protecting the gnomish settlements, and of course, seeks to retake Gnomeregan. Gnomes have a very strong theme already built into their race, so some people finds it works well to form a whole guild around those issues. This guild in particular also has a spy theme, which is also successful -- many guilds enjoy thinking of themselves as a secret branch of elite secret soldiers in their respective factions.
- "The Stormwind Guard," as you might imagine, guards Stormwind. They don't seem all that different from the typical "protect the Alliance and defeat the bad guys" type of guild, but their "official" sets of Stormwind-themed RP armor can go a long way to creating a real sense that they really are guards in Stormwind, with a real sense of belonging to that specific place in the game.
- On the Horde side, "Dark Market" is one of a very few "evil" guilds, which "spread both doom and fear." They are based in Silvermoon City and seem to be something like an elven mafia. "Evil" guilds like this can appeal to people who want to play the bad guy now and then, as well as those who would like to offer other "good guy" guilds some sort of adversary to work against for roleplaying sake.
- "Emeraldwing Academy" is a school, with classes, professors and everything. Granted, it obviously can't be as involved as a real life school would be, but it provides a university-like atmosphere for your characters to roleplay in.
- "House Silvacce" is an example of a popular trend around the time that Burning Crusade came out, where blood elves in Silvermoon City split themselves up into various "noble houses" and then started all manner of intrigue and scheming with one another. This was not only a theme of one guild, but of many, and it worked well when a number of guilds played along.
- The "Brightmoon Faire" on Wyrmrest Accord actually puts together regular events, like a player-run version of the Darkmoon Faire, with everything from bargaining to storytelling and all manner of performances for all who wish to come see.
Some things to remember
Some guild themes work out well in the long run, while others don't. I once founded a guild that tried to promote peace all over the world of Azeroth. We actually tried to get people to stop fighting in PvP battles! This was a long time back of course, before the Honor system, but especially as proper battlegrounds and such started to appear, we realized that promoting "peace" in the World of "Warcraft" didn't really work, because the game isn't about making peace, it's about making war! If there were a Civilization MMO of some sort, maybe a world peace guild would work out. But now I realize that "The Bearers of Light" idea is much more in harmony with this game and this setting: be kind to everyone, even members of the opposite faction, but when push comes to shove (i.e. when you enter a battleground or arena), then trust that you have just reasons to fight too!
Whatever guild theme you choose, it should agree as much as possible with the basic mechanics of the game. There should be some reason for certain types of violence, as well as various sorts of social interaction. Remember that some kinds of violence (such as fighting against your own faction) or socialization (such as talking to members of the opposite faction) just aren't going to work very well. If you're making up a new theme for your own guild, keep in mind how practical it's going to be before you commit yourself to it. Even if you decide to do something other guilds (like the Brightmoon Faire) have done successfully, be sure that you have the time and resources to do it right.