Thieves & Kings
Argoth’s “Thieves’ Guild” does not have official recognition anywhere on Argoth and is not directly represented in or by the the Mangai (the united force of merchant’s and craft guilds). A representative of another guild is often tacitly understood to speak for it. The Lia-Kavair controls a host of illicit activities such as purse-cutting (anything carried on a person is considered fair game), protection (especially of secular beggars and non-guild persons), drug running, smuggling and burglary (mostly from the middle class, not the nobility). The Lia-Kavair does receive tacit support from many powerful groups because it tends to keep crime under control and will provide the services of skilled assassins (for a stiff fee) with few questions asked.
The Lia-Kavair is hardly revolutionary. It is as much in their interest to maintain the status-quo as it is for any other guild or government. Strict, but unwritten rules, prevent any segment of society from being over-victimized. Quite often an individual will be robbed of only a few items even though circumstances would allow them to be picked clean. The Lia-Kavair will rarely intervene to free or defend a member who has been caught, nor would such intervention be effective in most governments. The cardinal rule is simply to never get caught. Troublesome criminals will either quietly disappear, or be betrayed to the authorities for an appropriate punishment.
The organization always operates covertly; the general public will never be aware of the location of its “guildhalls”, nor the names of the individuals who run it. Regional authority is weak, but a single chapter or gang tends to dominate any given town, though larger communities (such as in Mornhaven ), might be divided into sections, with several guild-masters controlling separate parts of the town, and the various gangs that support their efforts.
The Nature of a Thieves’ Guild
A thieves’ guild is a group of career criminals banded together in order to operate more effectively. While the exact details of the guild depend on its origins and on the individuals that comprise it, several basic properties exist that are shared between nearly all guilds.
Thieves’ guilds exist to make money for those who control it. Any activity that interferes with this goal is likely to draw the ire of the guild. Likewise, any activity that generates a large amount of money will draw guild attention.
Thieves’ guilds form in large towns and cities, drawing the bulk of its membership from the lower classes. This community includes, among others; peasant farmers, who upon moving to the city couldn’t find work; poor students at the various colleges; vagabonds, gamblers, and sharpers unwilling to work at common labor for a living; wanderers; middle or upper class families impoverished by illness or business ruin; gangs of street toughs and abandoned street urchins; individuals suffering under addictions or crippled by accidents; and social outcasts such as poor foreigners, rag-pickers, and dung-sweepers. Many are reduced to petty crime and occasional violence to survive.
A group of a dozen or so thieves is not large enough to form a guild, and are more commonly known as a gang. Several such gangs might band together under a strong leader and become a guild of several dozen members, and often have a permanent base from which to operate.
The Life Cycle of a Thieves’ Guild
Thieves’ guilds arise in towns where trade based on coinage is well established. Wealth is not only portable in such communities, but also virtually untraceable. Credit drafts, also known as letters of trade, are used by only the wealthy merchant costers, the most educated nobles, and the royal treasuries.
Small local gangs operating in one or more city blocks often quarrel over territory and profits. A thief with a talent for organizing may set up a large, stable gang. Smaller gangs are either absorbed or driven out. Protection from the city watch is set up through bribery or noble patronage. Eventually, if not broken up, the guild will infiltrate the local political power structure of the city, perhaps becoming a shadow government of the town underworld itself.
These activities often draw the attention of those who control the real money and power. If the guild oversteps its bounds, murders too freely, assassinates the wrong individuals, or makes any number of such fatal mistakes, the authorities will respond with crushing force. The guild will be shattered, and its leadership either slain or exiled. Then the process starts up once more.
Thieves’ guilds only develop naturally in sizable population centers. Less than 5% of a town’s population will rely on criminal activity for their livelihood, and no more than a third of these will be actual guild members. Where a smaller town has a guild, they are usually a local gang absorbed by the arm of a guild from a larger community, and formed to take advantage of some local resource that supports the aims of the master guild in the larger community. Membership of a guild is therefore roughly 50-200 members in a typical city.
Thieves’ guild members number far fewer than the local constabulary can muster. Once guild activities become the target of local authorities, the guild will nearly always be dispersed or destroyed. Long-term survival depends on a combination of stealth, bribery and, if possible, some sort of understanding or ongoing relationship with the authorities.
The guild will always have a headquarters, or a central gathering place from which it can conduct its dealings. Typically a tavern, inn, warehouse or other structure, it provides a place to hire new members, store illicit cargoes and provide a safehouse for wanted members to remain out of sight for a time, or recover from injuries.
Guild member relationships tend to be founded on an informal web of personal contacts, rather than a formal bureaucratic organization. The question of trust versus greed is ongoing; most guilds of any size soon become a hotbed of conflicting agendas, petty jealousies, and small plots.
Most guilds have a Guildmaster who runs the operation. It has Enforcers to keep guild members in line, often henchmen of the mater thief, they also operate as “cleaners” resolving any outstanding issues against the guild. There is always a core of accomplished Rogues and their apprentices who are sponsored and trained by the guild members.
Supporters of a guild include Contacts, or tipsters, who provide word on the street for where missions can be formed and spread guild information as messengers. Street Toughs, often little more than thugs, who control guild territory, and often becoming future members of the guild once they have proven themselves. Fences and Fixers who operate to liquidate guild property, and to run interference with local authorities on behalf of the guild. In addition, there are often special agents in a guild’s employ; namely assassins, wizards, priests and other agents (like sea captains for smuggling operations), who are not traditional thieves, but are closely associated with the guild.
Lia-Kavair are also closely protected by clergy of the church of the Lord of Shadows. Most guilds have a shrine (at the very least) dedicated to this dark god, and the priests of the Lord of Shadows operate as advisers to the guild on matters of religion and the outer planes. Some larger guilds might have one or more priests from other faiths attached to it as well, such as priests of the Lady of the Mists, or the Mistress of the Night.
Wizards, usually renegade members of the Shek-Pvar often find respite in the guilds of the Lia-Kavair, operating as enchanters and diviners, and generally assisting in matters of arcane lore and artifacts. Lower level mages will sometimes accompany high profile missions to provide Sleep spells or other support in a mission.
Fighters also play an important role in the thieves’ guilds, giving it the muscle it needs to enforce its protection rackets or thugs to rough up other guilds pushing in on its territory. Mercenaries, often hired for missions on a case-by-case basis find good employment in these gangs, protecting the mission “assets” from guards and monsters placed as protection of valuable marks and goods.
The Entrenched Guild
Once a guild has survived some years and become well-entrenched in local society, they begin to operate a number of “front” operations; legitimate businesses operated to provide income and act as cover for other unsavory activities. Most are low-grade taverns that are also minor gang hangouts, chandler’s shops for fencing goods, jewel merchants, merchant’s costers for import/export of illicit goods, and gambling dens.
A guild is considered entrenched once it has acquired control over a “quarter” or defined region of a town. Local city patrols in this sector of town are usually on the pay-roll of the guild, or they are aware of the control the guild possesses and travel only in large groups or only during the day, allowing the guild to “police” its own streets at night.
Control over a number of minor nobles and merchant groups , including their political influence on the town’s council is another mark of a guild’s success.
What a Thieves’ Guild Does
Like any official guild in the Mangai, thieves’ guilds exist to benefit its membership. It provides training, protection, resolves disputes, acts as a source of information and work, and makes rare resources, such as magic, available. Some guilds try to regulate crime in their own territories, preventing or punishing freelance operatives who conduct business in their area without paying appropriate dues to the guild.
Overall, however, the purpose of a guild is to enrich those who control them, with lesser rewards paid to its lesser members. Thieves’ guilds are run on profit, and many times their wrath can be turned aside with suitable offerings in tribute or services.
Still, even a well-organized guild cannot escape the consequence of its actions. If too much money is taken, small businesses will wither. If a powerful or popular city official is attacked, the resulting outcry could hurt recruitment or be met with a disastrous backlash. In most cases, important individuals usually have escape plans, and guild business and profits will take a sudden dive when under the attentions of a vengeful city watch. Greed, tempered with caution, is the watchword among the highest levels of any guild.
The Guild and Freelance Thieves
Guilds take a dim view of freelancers. Their random actions can stir up trouble with the authorities, bringing trouble to guild agents. Freelancers might rob those under guild protection, thus causing the guild to lose the confidence of its members and its profits. Occasionally, freelancers mark the same targets as members, and thus can interfere in guild operations.
On the other hand, freelancers may have their own specialties and superior skills, making them desirable for certain delicate missions. Their very existence makes for a viable cover should matters go wrong, and the guild not wish a trail back to itself. Freelancers can be hired like mercenaries, messengers and go-between couriers, and can be “expended” if needed for the operation to succeed.
Thus the guilds operate in an uneasy truce with most freelancers. Those who don’t make trouble for themselves are tolerated. Most professional gamblers operating in guild territory will usually donate 10% of their profits to the local guild and confine their activities to visiting foreigners and other easy marks, or concentrate on low-wager honest games of chance in reputable fest-halls.
Adventurer thieves usually attract a lot of attention to themselves, unless they take extra care to disguise their identities in town. Most major financial transactions also come to their notice (like selling a magic blade to a noble clan, or selling a large number of gemstones to the local Jewellers’ Guild ), and adventurers are easy to identify with their flashy magic equipment and clothing, and their usually high level of expenditure in lodgings, food and entertainment.
When such an unaffiliated rogue enters the realm of a strong guild, a visit by one of their members is due to occur. This is both a combination fishing expedition to learn of the adventurer’s intentions, a possible invitation to join, and a general sizing up of their allies and companions. The traditional custom is “a question-for-a-question”, to be answered as truthfully as the parties deem appropriate.
If an adventurer crosses a member of the local guild and becomes known to the guild membership, whether or not the guild seeks revenge is a matter of some dispute. An adventurer’s own contacts and influence can have long-reaching effects on how or when, or even if there is any action taken against a such a rogue.
The expenditure of guild resources is also a guiding factor. If the personal revenge against an adventurer cuts significantly into guild profits, then the guild may decide to order a stop to any revenge activities against the individual. If the adventurer sets themselves directly against guild activities, however, the full bore of the guild may wash down on the individual, both legal and illegal in nature, and often fatally so, as an example must be made.