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I have a fantasy setting where groups of characters, let's call this groups "guilds", compete to gain the favor of the king by doing missions for him. I wonder if there is a plausible reason that can be used to explain why this groups rarely go past the 8 members or so.

What I could come up with is that the world could be lacking resources, still, it would make more sense to band more people together to be stronger, imo. I am also unsure about using the term "guilds" to identify such groups.

Thank you

edit: I will wait a few hours in case of a better answer, as of now @Nepene Nep gave me something I feel like I can work with.

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    $\begingroup$ Guild is the wrong name, that would be a much larger umbrella organisation representing the interests of smaller groups. Consider company/team/squad/unit instead. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Sep 2, 2021 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, guild is the wrong name. Group is perhaps the best fit, but it sounds a bit generic. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ What sort of "mission" are you talking about. Trivial example - a small army of say 100 people (plus supplies, baggage animals, etc) traveling through the country, and most likely doing a bit of freelance looting and pillaging on the way, is not exactly "a secret." But eight individual people traveling independently from A to B may well slip "under the radar" of whoever wants to stop them. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Sep 2, 2021 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @alephzero I am thinking about the latter. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ Are these random groups of people (recruited for each specific task) or stable groups that work together on multiple missions? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:13

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Betrayal is routine.

The missions generally involve extremely fungible resources like rare ores, or exotic magical materials that are easily carried away by people.

As such, if you have too many people involved it's common for the others to either steal the resources or warn another group so they can take the resource after the first group defeats all the enemies guarding it.

Small groups are optimal for minimizing the risk of betrayal.

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  • $\begingroup$ This could make sense in a context of secrecy or discretion. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah. You could justify it by having several large organizations which fail due to a lack of secrecy and discretion, and the main characters mocking them for being so foolish as to have such a large organization. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Sep 2, 2021 at 18:52
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Based on my experience with complex organization, the size of a team which can be effectively managed by a single person is about 10 individuals. More than that and you need to start adding intermediate layers.

Translating this in your world it means that the chief/manager of the guild would need to add subchiefs/intermediate managers to effectively manage the guild. But, since they are competing for the king's favor, it increases the chances of betrayal.

Therefore what happens is that larger guilds do exists, but not for long times: they soon break up in a fight for power.

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  • $\begingroup$ So D&D got it right again huh, sergeants (lowest unit commander type) command 10 troops in the game // I don't think that's what the @the_camel_of_lies is asking though? // I think the question was more about why send so few to get the job done every time regardless of the size of opposition or difficulty of the task, that it was a comment on the 'that doesn't make sense' aspect of small groups being sent to do things small groups couldn't reasonably be expected to succeed at? // but I could be projecting there :) $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 2, 2021 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore you got that right more or less, i.e. I am looking for an excuse of having organizations with few people when you could do more tasks if you scale up to more people. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 16:57
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The reward for the completion of each mission is fixed, not per member or per hour, so every person who joins the group reduces the final payout for each member in the event of success. Adding more people to a group can increase the odds of success or the speed of completion, but only up to a point. Adding more people can do things like expand the versatility of a group, increase its ability to perform manual labor, and improve their rate of success in combat, but things like travel cannot be sped up by adding more people (and in the case of travel time, since you travel at the speed of your slowest party member, adding more people could slow you down), and tasks that can only be performed by certain experts within the group are not sped up by having a larger audience.

You can think of this in terms of marginal utility. Starting with one person, each person you add to the group increases the expected returns for each member (the rate of success multiplied by the expected reward, but divided by the number of members), but by slightly less than the person before, until (at around 8 people at most in this case, but varying depending on the group) the expected returns start to decline.

Put another way, one person, if they could complete the mission solo, would be able to take the entire reward for themselves, however they would be very unlikely to succeed on their own so the expected rate of return would be low (and the rate of mortality would probably be high). Give them a partner and now their potential reward is halved, but they are much more than twice as likely to succeed, so overall this benefits both of them. Add a third member and now each gets a third of the payout, but again their odds of success increase by more than enough to compensate for the decline in the size of each payout. However, at some point (which will vary for each group, and in your scenario seldom goes beyond 8 people) adding a new member will not increase the chance of success by enough to justify the reduction in the size of each payout. Groups may even "feel" this out for themselves, with success attracting new members until the old members realize they aren't making as much as they used to, and leave the group for other, more profitable groups, until those groups get too large and the cycle repeats.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer was probably mislead by my bad writing. A guild with more people could do more missions. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ I think the bad writing was on my end. My response assumed that teams would take on multiple missions, but I didn't clearly distinguish between the expected payout for each mission, and the expected returns (the sum of all rewards for all successfully completed missions) for a given time period. What I was trying to get at was that each person added to a team offered diminishing returns that would eventually drop below 0. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ For instance the members of a 3 person team would typically make more individually than the members of a 2 person team, due to their ability to successfully complete more missions, and the members of a 4 person team would, in turn, tend to make more individually than the members of the 3 person team. However, the improvement in going from 3 members to 4 members is smaller than the improvement in going from 2 members to 3 members. Eventually adding members would not improve the payout at all and if the group were to grow beyond that, each member's payout may start to decrease. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 23:45
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    $\begingroup$ Well known saying "A project manager is a person who believes that if one woman can give birth to a child in 9 months then 9 women can give birth every month." . Basically, at some point benefits to bring and train for teamwork another team member are outweighed by the bad things. Also, have you tried to run a project with 9 other people?! More people = more complicated interpersonal relationships = more drama $\endgroup$
    – jo1storm
    Sep 3, 2021 at 10:00
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Many kingdoms are setup in a sort of Fiefdom with other rulers under the king. This kingdom in particular has had a rocky past with lords and ladies assembling standing armies that have tried to overthrow the king. So, the wise people got together and decided that any group numbering over 8 people would be considered an army and no lord may keep a standing army.

The king still maintains an army, but he can't send them around fulfilling missions without making the lords and ladies nervous that they have somehow run afoul of the king. Groups of adventurers rose to the occasion to fill this niche. Their services are often called on by the lords and ladies, who can hire their services without drawing the watchful eye of the king.

These groups are often at odds with each other since those in power are generally repeat customers, only dealing directly with the groups leader and relying on the groups continued discretion. It has been rumored that the king has appointed particularly successful group leaders as lords and ladies, resulting in most groups trying to build up their own name with the hope that they too can rise in class.

There have been times when several of these groups have worked together to accomplish an especially difficult goal, but without the king's direct oversight they were quickly viewed as an invading force and had the kings army dispatched to disband the group.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer, welcome to the worldbuilding jrose, enjoy the site. (Don't forget to take our tour and refer to the help center as and when for guidance as to our odd ways ;) {From review.} $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 21:05
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adding more doesnt necessarily mean it done faster or better, if what i understand right, considering the typical fantasy D&D kind of mission or RPG in general, the task/mission given is likely something like exploring dungeon or cave, or being a courier or messenger, or something shady like stealing some artifact/precious items to assassinate someone, or capturing someone that cant be touched by laws or the king force due to political consequence of it or something like that.

that kind of task is more suitable for small number where subterfuge/secrecy or the environment require so, otherwise you can end up wasting precious time in completing the mission, like the problem to provide provision to the team in the mission, too many and you likely need wagon or animal of burden to carry it not consider the time require to travel will likely be slower due to the number and that cost time. more problem with team member drama, more harder in helping the members trouble during the mission, for example one of them goes missing or stuck in the dungeon due to the high number or the healing treatment needed.

since you say this is for king favour i doubt they get paid or at least their provisions is paid by the king so your main focus is to do the job/mission faster and better to gain the king favour, but if it not then you need to consider the income and outcome of the team too, otherwise you likely get outcompete by smaller and experienced group in that field, basically you need quality over quantity.

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The king said so.

If the groups are vying for the favour of their overlord they have to play by his rules, if he makes it widely known that he doesn't think the larger guilds are really trying or that he considers them beneath his notice then smaller groups are going to be the norm. Yes it would make sense for guilds to be much larger and incorporate more specialist craftsmen etc... but the king's patronage pays less of the bills with every member added. This results in guilds being so large they are slef contained and quite small and hiring a lot of their work done by outside specialists and very little in between.It doesn't necessarily stop informal groups of guilds banding together through mutual aid pacts as long as nothing is made official and they can conduct business privately.

They're guilds if the king says they're guilds, a fact that is probably worth mentioning within the narrative, yes it's odd, yes Empire X has guilds numbering in the hundreds but here a guild is no more than 7 or 8 strong, by royal prerogative.

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    $\begingroup$ I think that this would lead to the question why did the king said so. $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2021 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @the_camel_of_lies You misunderstand my point, he's the King, he said it was so, therefore it is. Kings may have unlimited power (very much depends on the exact set up that) but they're people and people make personal choices and act on whims. Royal whims can, and do, shape the world, even today the US inch, foot, and yard are exactly as standardised by decree of King Henry VII because he had heard, largely baseless, rumours of confusion on worksites he was ultimately funding caused by differences in the units being used by different foremen. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 2, 2021 at 22:04
  • $\begingroup$ If the king is so capricious that he says you can only bring eight people on this mission, why do they not suspect he might be so capricious that he executes everyone who completes a mission in the seventh year? $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Sep 3, 2021 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary No the King makes it known that he sets the bounties for his missions based on fair payment for eight people. Further, since the King doesn't think you're a serious guild of competent people if you think you need more than 8 people on a mission he finds you unworthy of direct patronage, so you only hear about royal bounties secondhand. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 3, 2021 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ That doesn't sound like a whim. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Sep 3, 2021 at 2:32
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The missions are not such that you can solve them by throwing more and more bodies at them. In fact, the larger the group, the more likely that it will attract attention.

The only real use of a large force would be to distract from the actual team that goes and does the thing during the time of the distraction, and that only works if the thing distracted is not clever enough to deduce that it has to be a distraction.

Additionally, the people who can actually carry out the task are few and far between. You can not pick a complex lock by throwing thirty locksmiths at it. You can not defend a corridor against a swarm of goblins (which dissolve on death, letting more in) with a dozen warriors who would not have room to swing their swords. You need highly skilled people, and a small team of those is hard enough.

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Building on @LDutch answer:

It is all about Team Leading and profit.

Given that the team that may be efficiently managed by a single person may consist of no more than 10 individuals, this means that adding more people, as LDutch pointed out, means adding some intermediate management. This, in turn, means that the expected profit of that additional manager will be higher than of the "rank&file", thus the growth of rewards for larger task (that the 8 member group is unable to complete) needs to be larger than linear growth (otherwise you loose money), but it is not. Moreover, most of the tasks are small enough that a group of 8 people is capable of fulfilling them.

Additionally number 8 may have some religious, magical or mystical connotations, especially in that line of work.

And when a big and lucrative task presents itself multiple groups may cooperate in a join venue in order to complete that one task and then each groups goes its own way.

I hope that you will find some of those ideas helpful.

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In addition to others' answers mentioning division of reward with more members in a group, another plausible reason can be - requirement of highly specialized skills. Some people possess theses skills inherently (can be hereditary too). For those who do not possess these skills, it would require a long time of training by existing group members, something not feasible for the group to do.

Any single group (of 8) may be formed by members of the same 3 or 4 families through many generations. This would be consistent with the restriction of the skill being inherited only by those few particular families' members. So the group size is limited to 8. Even if there are >8 family members with the skills, the group size is limited by mutual consent to 8 (say 8 eldest members between ages 20 to 45) to accomplish the required secrecy. Such mutual consent by a fixed rule is easier to achieve within a family.

When someone in the group is injured or becomes too aged, he/she is replaced by the next in their family.

Additionally, it can be reasonably expected that the degree of trust is higher (reducing chances of betrayal) amongst families that have been long-standing allies.

You can even introduce a rare event where an outsider enters the group after extensive training by someone who has the skill but hasn't joined the group yet. This admission of non-family members, however, is highly discouraged by the societal norms or the king's guidelines to the group, so isn't a regular occurrence.

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Broadly no, there is not a plausible reason that could explain why your groups rarely go past eight members.

How could your world lacking resources matter?

In many situations it would indeed make sense to band together, and so what?

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really answer the question. And since it doesn't, it should be better brought as a comment, detailing why precisely you think it shouldn't be the case :). $\endgroup$ Sep 3, 2021 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ Removed my comments and copied automagically this flow into this chatroom (Thanks the pop-up!). If you wish to continue, go in there ;). $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2021 at 3:23

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