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Brewing potions have been a staple for witches for hundreds of years. These potions are cooked up within cauldrons, large pots specifically built to hold the magic from these concoctions. Older cauldrons are specifically prized, as they contain leftover mana from previous concoctions, and are able to make the resulting potion stronger. However, they have led to some danger within society. This market for potion making is unregulated, as they can be brewed by any aspiring witch, some of whom are unscrupulous. Any witch willing to make a quick buck may sell a potion that does not do as advertised. Some can be potentially dangerous, being made in an improper way, or made with ingredients that were hidden from the buyer. Customers may not know if they are purchasing the intended item, or snake oil.

To combat this, certain individuals intend to put a central guild together, which will regulate the market for potions. Customers will buy from this guild, which will create a set of standard requirements that would be used for brewing. However, there are several issues with the plan. Witches are independent creatures, and would resent any attempt to exert control over their affairs, as many of them are rivals and compete with each other. In addition, this guild is fairly new, unable to project any real force on independent witches who resist, as society is decentralized. Also, many of the supplies meant for brewing are relatively mundane, and can be easily obtained. This central government would lack control of supply or production, making any attempt to regulate this market useless.

How can this guild come together under these conditions?

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    $\begingroup$ It looks like your world has already been created and you're asking for us to tell a story in your world about how a specific guild came to be. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Jul 20 at 3:03
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings I have a very similar question related to my own fictional world which is vastly different from the OP's. IMO, the question is not really about the story of a particular guild, but about methods of establishing various regulations and quality control. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jul 20 at 4:23
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    $\begingroup$ What is the tech level and societal organisation? Answers are very different depending on whether this is set in conditions equivalent to ancient Egypt, Julius Caesar's Rome, Ming Dynasty China, Renaissance Italy, modern United States or 2100 Mars. $\endgroup$ Jul 20 at 4:26
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    $\begingroup$ Minor comment, and I think I may have raised something similar in the past: the last time you accepted an answer to a question was in December last year, and you have opened 35 new questions since then. Not sure if this might be an indication that your questions are too broad or poorly scoped, if no one is producing answers that you find satisfactory… $\endgroup$ Jul 20 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ What's wrong with what you have described, you make quality potions or you get thrown out of the guild, which will quickly lead to the guild stamp being a mark of potions that are both safe and work. its how standard oil got started. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 22 at 13:25

12 Answers 12

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What you describe is nothing different than regular. Take beer or wine, for example. It's relatively easy for the first wannabe brewer to make one, but to make a good one it takes skills. And customers trust more well established makers. Who trusts the newcomer Jimmy McScammy, when Merlin has a solid reputation in his art?

Moreover, even in a competitive market, players can agree on something protecting them from those wannabe, which in the long run can harm the entire market. Take the Reinheitsgebot

The Reinheitsgebot (German pronunciation: [ˈʁaɪnhaɪtsɡəboːt] (About this soundlisten), literally "purity order") is a series of regulations limiting the ingredients in beer in Germany and the states of the former Holy Roman Empire. The best known version of the law was adopted in Bavaria in 1516, but similar regulations predate the Bavarian order, and modern regulations also significantly differ from the 1516 Bavarian version. Although today, the Reinheitsgebot is mentioned in various texts about the history of beer, historically it was only applied in the duchy of Bavaria and from 1906 in Germany as a whole, and it had little or no impact in other countries or regions.

The Bavarian order of 1516 was introduced in part to prevent price competition with bakers for wheat and rye. The restriction of grains to barley was meant to ensure the availability of affordable bread, as wheat and rye were reserved for use by bakers. The rule may have also had a protectionist role, as beers from Northern Germany often contained additives that could not be grown in Bavaria.

Religious conservatism may have also played a role in adoption of the rule in Bavaria, to suppress the use of plants that were allegedly used in pagan rituals, such as gruit, henbane, belladonna, or wormwood.:410–411 The rule also excluded problematic methods of preserving beer, such as soot, stinging nettle and henbane.

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    $\begingroup$ Combining your two points: the established players would probably prefer regulation as they have more to lose if the whole market takes a hit and regulation can help them fend off competition (as long as most established players can somewhat easily meet the regulatory requirements). Reminds me of modern internet giants (e.g. Facebook) now calling for internet regulation. $\endgroup$ Jul 22 at 16:23
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I think this should be approached from 3 angles:

  • the witches;
  • the consumers;
  • the government.

1. How to attract witches

The guild can do the following to become of value for witches:

  • accept apprentices and train them (this is especially valuable if the core members of the guild are powerful and well-known witches);
  • give discounts on ingredients (the guild can buy in bulk quantities or it can even establish its own ingredient production);
  • help with the acquisition of rare ingredients (this is a very effective method if your world has very rare ingredients that can be only found or bartered, but almost never sold);
  • provide facilities and equipment for witches that need them (poor, destitute, travelling, etc.);
  • provide opportunities for professional growth and exchange (assuming that every witch wants to increase her power, this can be a very big benefit);
  • give members status (this is not very valuable in the beginning but as the guild grows status will get higher, too);
  • create and maintain a positive image for witches as a class;
  • damage control when witches are accused of something (this and the previous point may prevent witch hunts).

In addition, the guild can buy a specified number of potions every month to provide witches with a stable income. This can be a very effective method of recruiting poor or young witches that do not have a reputation of their own.

Depending on your setting, there can be more benefits that a guild, even a small one, can provide to witches. The most important part is making benefits more attractive than full freedom and independence. Most people are willing to compromise if they see tangible gains.

2. How to attract consumers

The price of potions does not really matter. Potions can be cheaper or more expensive than the average market price. What makes guild-sold potions attractive to consumers is that their effects are guaranteed.

The guild should guarantee the quality and all effects of any potion sold by it or any of its members. The guild should also have means to deal with unsatisfied customers: Return the money, replace potions, provide potions to treat unannounced side-effects, etc. The guild should also guarantee that witches who produced low-quality potions will be sanctioned.

The guild also can introduce a system of witch qualification exams. This will increase consumer confidence and help them to find witches with qualifications most suitable to customer needs.

The guild also can be a place where consumers with unusual needs can leave a recruitment notice. As the guild grows bigger, increases membership, and establishes social networks, the effectiveness of this kind of notices will greatly increase.

3. The government

From the very beginning, the guild should think about its place within the existing system of power distribution. It does not matter how the guild plans to position itself in relation to government (fully independent, cooperating, antagonising, or something else). The main benefit of the guild is the collective power of its members.

One witch can be easily prosecuted unless she/he is very powerful (or have powerful backers). Only when witches come together, they will have the power to defend themselves. The guild helps to achieve this.

It is also easier for the government to deal with the guild than with individual witches, especially if the government wants to have a productive relationship with them.


The guild can start using its own standards from the moment of its establishment. Initially, new members can be allowed some freedom when it comes to brewing methods and standards. However, potions that do not meet the requirements will not be bought as a part of the witch-assistance programme (see 1.). Non-standard potions should also be assessed individually (for a fee) and bought below market price.

As the guild grows and gains reputation, the standards should be enforced more. Non-standard potions will no longer be bought. Although, guild stores may have a section where these potions can be sold (with the disclaimer).

Eventually, the guild can completely refuse to deal with non-standard potions. It will also have members who were trained by the guild members and who are accustomed to following standards.

This standardisation process may take a long time. It may take dozens or even hundreds of years if witches live very long lives, training takes decades, and witches are very rare. If new witches can be trained fast, cheap, and in sufficient numbers, it will take less time.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Prosecuting a witch" is a high risk strategy, unless you want all your crops to fail and all your cattle to die of some incurable disease - and possibly all your children as well. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Jul 20 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero We do not know what witches are capable of except for brewing potions. The OP did not specify this. Therefore, it is impossible to calculate risks. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jul 20 at 20:40
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What you need is a signature spell. A spell that gives an object a (practically) unforgeable mark unique to the caster. Once you have that, have the guild master mass oroduce labels. Only guild members can label their potions with it.

The guild should then enforce pricing and quality. Anyone who foes not meet standards loses labelling rights.

People will prefer to buy the labelled potions because it's usually worth it to pay 10% more on a potion if you can be sure it will do what it is supposed to do rather than, say, grow a penis on your forehead.

Also introduce in the market some unlabelled potions that make you grow a penis on your forehead. Have them be sold in the kind of store that disappears after a day leaving just a wall where a façade once was. Also sell these cheap to snake oil mongers. In this way you profit from gullible cheapskates while increasing the value of your main, labelled product.

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    $\begingroup$ The "gullible cheapskates" being both the snake-oil mongers, and the snake-oil mongers' customers, of course $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Jul 21 at 12:41
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The new guild uses a centralized facility that produces potions on an industrial scale. This gives:

  • Lower priced potions because it costs less for bulk purchases of supplies and it also costs less for potion brewing on a large scale (e.g. larger cauldrons, less witches to supervise the process, etc.) Also, apprenticeships for new witches let them practice their craft by brewing these potions in bulk under the tutelage of the master brewer and provides the guild with a lower cost workforce. These apprenticed witches, having been trained to use the processes and quality standards of the guild, also serve to disseminate these standards even if they decide to move to independent practice later.
  • Consistent good quality because one expert master brewer monitors all production to ensure that the potions being created are up to the required quality standard. It may not be as good as the best specialty witches' potions but it's good enough and you know what you're getting every time.
  • Reliable availability of potions since having large batches of potions on hand means that any order can be satisfied immediately instead of having to wait for the local witch to get to your order whenever they feel like it.

These benefits will ensure many customers purchasing from the guild and, eventually, establish the guild as a supplier that can be trusted. The standards the guild uses will, of course, be open to all so that any independent witch that wants to sell potions of the same type will need to be at least as high quality or their potions will be rejected by customers. Over time, the guild can revise these standards upwards, which effectively regulates the market without exerting direct control over independent witches.

The independent witches can be sold on this as well. Who wants to be pestered by the locals constantly for commonplace potions that muck up your cauldron and require hours and hours of cleaning and repurification when you'd really rather be working on your magnum opus potion instead? The guild can work with local witches to resell guild potions for the kinds the local witch would rather not do themselves (offering "a small fraternal discount to them to let them profit" or, more baldly, a bribe to support the guild) and let them focus on their specialties instead, making it a win-win situation for everyone.

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Mutual Back Scratching

A possibility is that a guild can come together because each witch is an independent person.

A witch might have a rival in the magical arts, but even they could admit when somebody is better at something than they are. As long as their own field of superiority is acknowledged of course. A rivalry also does not have to be hostile -- it could be two witches spurning each other on to be the best they can be like some anime protagonist.

One day, two witches make a deal. Witch Hazel is better at potions that transmute things -- Just ask her about her Desert Transmogrification Elixir someday. Witch White is better at restorative potions and elixirs. Sure, they are capable of each other's potions, but why bother when it will not advance their craft? But they are rivals, and as such they involve a neutral third party specifically so they do not sleight each other -- by accident or on purpose.

At this point, it's a guild of two with a third running interference on requests so as to get them to the right witch. People that use this service notice that their potions are of a better quality. Not only do they get the better witch for the job, but their cauldrons are also better suited for those potions.

Perhaps next year, Witch Ivy with her penchant for potent plant potions approaches the budding collective, tired with getting requests for basic healing potions when she'd rather work on potions that aid in plant growth.

And so it begins ...

The Premise

The idea overall is that how it starts may be different than how it ends up. In the beginning, it's a deal of convenience -- give witches the work that best aligns with their particular specialties for better results. It might take a bit of extra time to get results due to the extra step, but the results will be well with it.

There isn't control over their affairs in so many words. They are taking requests that they want to do -- things that interest them or they are good at. Also keeps witches from stepping on each other's toes in some ways possibly keeping destructive rivalries down. Maybe.

As the budding guild grows, likely by word of mouth, more witches may want in on this if only to stop being bothered by requests that they don't want to do by have to if they want to eat.

Depending on the nature of the world, it might be possible for the guild house to sell some of the less powerful potions to the people -- again so the witches themselves won't be bothered by petty requests while they pursue their projects. The neutral party gets a small cut to keep the place running, but otherwise makes sure each witch gets their rightful share. Failure to do so may invite creative revenges.

This is predicated on witches having area of specialty and not like a general education like Hogwarts where they learn a lot of random things.

As a side benefit, if the neutral part is aware of the Cauldron Effect, they may be able to give a head's up to witches when it looks like their cauldrons are reaching a contamination threshold.

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I am unsure how familiar you are with farmer cooperatives (coops). These were quite popular in socialist countries and persist to this day. Some were/are in non-socialist countries as well, for example Italian Valfrutta. To me it seems the easiest way to do it, but I believe these are more modern invention than middle age guilds, so it might not fit. To me, the main apparent difference is that customer buys from coop and not from individual farmers, while you buy from a guild member - so, coop could be thought like a "guild store" (note that I am not too familiar with either guilds or coops, there could be other even larger differences between the two).

So, this "guild" is buying witches' stock and selling them on with markup - after quality control of course. You get all potions that are supposed to cure warts. Grab a sample from each witch's brew. Mix all potions, then test the resulting potion. Any issues = you test witches' samples to see who screwed up (or you do it in 2 steps by taking two samples per witch, mixing one and testing sample mix. Less ruined potion in case something went wrong, more hassle to balance individual witch quantities for testing batch, as opposed to simply dumping everything together). The one that screwed up needs to pay for all ruined potion and is possibly kicked out of guild. Or burned. New non-established witch gets her potions tested before mixing and possibly ruining other potion. If you can't test potions without actually using them, guild would "employ" expendable folks and "volunteer" them to do the testing. You don't actually need to test ALL potions, every now and then works well enough to keep witches on their toes.

Guild gets profits from selling with markup. Customers gain by getting QC and by having a single stop shopping. New witches get higher sales because they don't need to get established and liked before someone would buy their potions, plus all other side benefits they might get in such guild (eg training in new potion kinds, renting some rarely used tools instead of buying them and so on). So they join straight away. Powerful witches that start this guild limit upstart competition. Everyone would remember "these 3 are the top witches that started the guild, I need super strength potion so I will buy it from them directly". Numbers 4-10? Irrelevant, facing a very difficult battle to get recognized as among the top for some potions.

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    $\begingroup$ Good layout of how a guild like this can and does work! Maybe good to have some independent operators selling their potions on the sly for cheap. These occasionally would have very unexpected side effects that get a lot of publicity. Of course these independent operators are confederates of the guild and their actions sabotage the reputations of independents generally. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jul 20 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ For the testing, it'd be best to just demand one or two "large" samples... then you can test a small portion of each individual sample to ensure they're equivalent, mix the remainder, test a small portion of that, and then put into the "master" mix. This also provides for a consistency check (if the two samples don't test out the same individually, the witch may not be following best brewing practices such as measuring, incantations, etc) $\endgroup$
    – Doktor J
    Jul 21 at 17:05
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Dont leave it to the witches, but to the consumers.

In the old days guilds were often local and they exerted power over their "domain". For example the cloth market in my city was a guild that was reknown for it's quality, so much so that its sails and other cloth was prized if it had received a special seal.

The power of guilds has varied but can be immense. A simple local guild would demand everyone in their trade to be a member and pay contributions/guild taxes. These contributions would be used to pay for guild things like hiring people to check the quality of wares, checking if people followed the local rules like not being allowed to have both their shop and a stall open but also for someone to check incoming merchants. Anyone not of the guild had to pay a fee to be allowed to sell their wares in the city. These wares could be quality checked, and disobeying these rules could be disastrous. The guild would naturally give a monthly contribution to the local watch or whatever security they had. This ensured that offending merchants could get a visit from the watch, which could result in anything from a fine to confiscation of (a portion of) their goods to public shaming, banishment or jail time. Naturally such offenses could be messaged to other guilds nearby to ensure anyone not of the guild could get in a lot of trouble.

Witches are individuals, but it is the consumers who are screwed when they buy a potion from a witch and get screwed. So it is the consumers and possibly the local form of government that could band together and force the witches into guilds. After all no one wants to buy a bad potion, especially not the mayor or a rich merchant as it means both losing reputation and having to deal with the effects of a bad potion.

Some witches might join early on to mess with their rivals. If Zarah the witch is selling less than Melanie the witch because Melanie delutes her potions so she can sell more at a time then Zarah might want that quality check to deal with her. So she joins the guild and uses it to get at Melanie... only its hard to stop a guild.

That is how it's set up. Your guild knows that witches might not voluntarily join, but if they can get the citizenry and local government to create and maintain the guilds they can get the regulation they want.

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  • $\begingroup$ If Zarah gets in on the "ground floor" of the guild when they're still establishing their quality policies, she just has to lobby for a potency/strength test as part of the quality check... and push for a number she knows Melanie's potions will fail. It should be easy to argue, after all a diluted potion is going to have weaker effects, and no one wants to buy a weak potion. Maybe even argue for potion strength grades! Some consumers might be willing to take a weaker potion that's more affordable, while others will insist on quality, and the premium it commands. $\endgroup$
    – Doktor J
    Jul 21 at 17:03
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This seems like a fairly simple question of economics... ok, simple for economics at least.

Your Potion Guild is trying to place themselves as the primary supplier of useful potions: healing, mana and stamina potions at least, maybe some more interesting utility potions like invisibility or ability buffs. They're using modern alchemical techniques to produce potions that, while not necessarily of peak potency, are at least consistent and safe. They found that good alchemical hygiene practices - like cleaning your tools not just physically but magically - result not just in more consistent results but much higher potion purity, vastly reducing the side effects and toxicity of their potions.

In other words they've got a good product, they just need to get the production costs down to the point where they can make a reasonable profit.

Depending on how alchemy actually works in your setting the mass production of potions may be as simple as scaling up the process. Can you run off a thousand doses in a huge vat or must each potion be crafted in a small cauldron? Do you have to infuse magic into the brew, and if so can teams of alchemists provide a steady stream or does it have to be a single person? How much of the process can be handled by apprentices and how much requires the skills of a master alchemist?

I'm going to assume that you've got all that covered and move on to the fun stuff: building demand.

This moves a little out of economics and more into marketing. You've got a good product, you just need to make people aware of it. Sure, you can sell it in markets and so forth, rent a shop in the merchant district, all that fun stuff. But that's far too slow.

During the initial phases you'll need to capture the attention of your target market as quickly and as solidly as possible. You need a brand, something that stands out amongst the crowd of inferior products. You need to get that brand in front of your potential purchasers and show them how your product is going to improve their existence. And hey, that's not even a lie!

You'll want to invest in distinctive, single-use potion containers that can't just be refilled with inferior product. Something that is partially destroyed on use would be fantastic, especially if it's cheap and easy to stamp a colorful logo on. These containers will be the symbol of your product wherever they're seen, standing out from the haphazard collection of bottles, jars and pouches other potions come in.

Getting them in front of the target market could be a simple as handing out some testers to the adventuring guild, promising them a small discount on the potions when they buy in bulk. Once the guild sees how good your product is they're going to want those potions anyway.

But let me pitch you a classic marketing ploy: endorsements! Go out and find the most powerful, most charismatic adventurers in the area and promise them discounts, preferential treatment and outright payment (as a last resort of course) if they'll openly carry your potions on their person. They get a good deal on life-preserving potions, you get even greater brand recognition. And you have potent adventurers who are now keen on preserving your business against overt aggression from disgruntled witches. Bonus!

As production ramps up, enter into some supply deals with the local guards, the nobility and eventually the army. The higher you can reach the more product you can move, and the higher you profits become. And when you're supplying product to the top layers of society you can use that to encourage more sales at the mid and lower levels. In much the same way as endorsements will have lower-ranked adventurers flocking to buy your product, a simple "as used by Lord Bob's elite troops" sign will do wonders for your sales. Trust me.


None of the above is even revolutionary these days, and there are a ton of other things that a half-baked marketing exec would throw in for a product launch. The fact that you have an actually good product would have half of the marketing professionals of today begging to work with you.

In a high fantasy environment however a lot of this is new. There should already be examples of most of it - except maybe the celebrity endorsements - in the day-to-day operation of large merchant houses. All it takes is a little vision... and the prospect of making a lot of profit will invoke a lot of visions in any merchant worth the title.

While the economic stuff is important to solidifying your guild's position, having powerful protection is going to be even more important in the early days. Building relationships with people and groups who can help protect you from retaliation is a must. Get the local adventurers on-side, then the guards, then the military. Let them decide for themselves that your business is too important to them for anyone else to interfere. Hell, bribe some officials if you have to. Build some less public relationships with the seedy side as well, just in case. It's hard to hire assassins to destroy the source of their favorite potions after all... and having some specialist negotiators to 'dissuade' the competition might come in handy.

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In the economy you've set up, there will always be (some) desire for cheap un-regulated potions or cauldrons.

Maybe this guild can start "white market" and force those unregulated deals into the "black market" of brew making.

Some people are just going to want to know what they are buying, and should be willing to pay a small membership fee or premium for the guild. This will give them sway they can use to carry out their agenda. The system could be simple - have a 3rd party witch observe a brew, take a log, and attach the log with a guild stamp to the purchasing ticket. (This would bring up some tension about "my precious recipe" its the same for packaged foods today! It won't include process, order or amount of ingredients - so their craft is still protected while the consumer (can) know if they are taking a risk.)

This way, no witches have to move, they can still compete with each other, and there is no need to regulate materials. IF there is an economic pull in the market for these verifications, and IF it builds a positive reputation - eventually no one (with scruples) will buy unregulated potions. Also a great way to track suppliers. With the validation system you could sell your potions anywhere and still build a reputation. If you were a new witch, you could sell your master's potions (for a higher price, but a higher reputation) and sell your own for a discount (they might even have the same ingredients). Everyone wins.

How it all turns out is up to your narrative.

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You don't go after the old, powerful witches to bring them into the guild. You start fresh.

You gather young witches into your guild collective by offering benefits like collective bargaining power, resource distribution, and buying their potions for later sale. Your new guild spends a lot of time taking the mundane out of the supernatural. Supply chain management, marketing, sales, etc.

The young witches get more time to work on their craft. They get steady materials and income. The quality of materials goes up due to dedicated gatherers. Potion quality increases quickly as they spend more time making them and less time wandering the countryside for ingredients.

The old individualistic witches eventually join or die off and most young witches that would replace them join the guild. The guild then provides a singular regulated marketplace.

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Coming at it from another tack to most of the other answers, and depending on the vibe you want to give; the guild happens to control a large supply of an important reagent for the potions. Many of the supplies are readily available, but the guild controls most of the market for the phlebotinum. It might mean that guild potions are more stable, or more effective, or taste better, but whatever it does means that the guild has a very large carrot. Witches who join the guild benefit from guild rates on this material, but for anyone else it's harder to come by or they have to make do with lower quality brews.

The guild can then take a somewhat strong-arm approach - "If you want our phlebotinum, you have to toe the line".

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The problem is understanding which question to answer. Do you just want to justify your centralized government? Or do you genuinely want a solution for the quality problem?

Assuming the latter: the guild does not have to monopolize the market by force. As long as they are providing consistently better quality, customers will choose them.

Assuming the former: the power hungry wannabe rulers just hire demagogues to demonize the previously mentioned non-violent solution, and the unsophisticated population believes them.

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