I will be doing a series of lore posts going over some of the secret society’s in the Old World. Most of these will be canon, derived from official sources. I will make mention whether or not a spotlight is canon (official) or not. The purpose of this as well is to educate that not all secret societies are chaos worshiping cults. Some pursue noble agendas, others much darker desires.
First up, the Bootstrapper’s Guild.
Canon Status: Official (derived from WFRP 3rd Ed, Liber Ecstatica) –
In the Empire, class is everything – or at least it is to the upper classes. In nearly all cases, a man born a peasant will die a peasant. A man born to a cobbler will die a cobbler. Upward mobility is a dream or a myth, and to those on the bottom it can seem that every law, rule, or social stricture is designed to keep them there. Enter the Bootstrappers’ Guild, a loose confederation of criminals,
confidence men, and ne’er-do-wells devoted to bettering the plight of the lower classes. The Guild approaches promising (mostly young) men and women who dream of something better and of
the impossible: a new life, a better life, in a better class of society. In short, the Guild offers to help the lower classes pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
Prospective bootstrappers are often suspicious, and they’re wise to be so. However, and incredibly, the Bootstrappers’ Guild can often deliver on its promises. Trained actors are employed as dialect coaches. Gifted forgers invent credentials of birth and even ennoblement. Disgraced and impoverished nobles offer lessons in etiquette and fashion. Previous bootstrapper success stories offer their assistance, invitations, and connections to society. Through hard work and an able mind, some lowborn people are able to transform themselves with the Guild’s assistance into something indistinguishable from the real thing – a well-off burgher or even a minor noble.
Once the transformation is complete and the bootstrapper has become settled in his or her new elevated position, the Guild pays another visit…this time looking for payment. Everything the Guild has given, they can take away. The bootstrappers find themselves indebted for life to the criminals and blackmailers of the Guild, passing money, privileges, and information to their handlers. Still, the clever ones (and many of them are clever, to be successful) have likely already figured out that this is the cost of doing business, and the improvements offered by the Bootstrappers’ Guild to a poor person’s quality of life are not to be underestimated. Many find it a fair trade. What few suspect is that the Guild is not just a gang of cutthroats and con men, but is planning a far grander crime than any yet seen. The Guild is the brainchild of Johann Heck, a one-legged, threetoothed vagabond of the worst sort. But Heck, in truth, was born a noble’s natural son and had every advantage in his youth. The stark difference between how Heck was treated and his trueborn brothers convinced the young man that birth, class, and station were falsehoods. He went to university, fell in with the wrong crowd, took to a life of crime, and eventually became a committed anarchist. Heck wants to tear down the fundamentals of Imperial life and society, to replace the Empire with an egalitarian utopia with no laws. A goal he keeps to himself, and to those closest to him.
There is no law against being a member of this society; but that means nothing in the Old World. In truth, it takes very little for authorities to declare a society ‘morally corrupt’ or heretical in nature or acting against the interests of law and country; before you can scream “I want my lawyer!” you are already tied to a stake or worse. Witch Hunters need no excuse if they get a whiff of heresy or don’t even like the look of your jib; lawmen need no excuse if they think there might be profit in ensuring the society in question doesn’t operate here again, or, if it does, then a few bribes might go a long way.
So the Bootstrappers, like many other societies, conduct their illicit business in secret. Whenever a peasant is feeling the urge to replace their wooden spoon with a silver one, a bootstrapper will come knocking.