So here are a few of more Thieves Guilds archetypes. Clearly, I have a problem. This is my cow bell to be sure. I think the Thieves Guild is an interesting element and can be used to serve a lot of functions. Sometimes they are just vehicle for the thief in a party to get things. Sometimes they are plot hook providers. You can use them as the premise for a group of PC’s or you can use them as antagonists in your campaign.
With all of that in mind, here are an extra set of guild ideas. They could easily fit in a number of campaigns. I also have my previous post listing some World Guilds. Between these I hope I have given enough fodder to help spice up your underworld.
Say you are on the run. You are a thief and a successful one. Your success has attracted the wrong kind of attention. You are not worried. The guard has no one who can keep up with you. You can scale walls like some people walk. You can fade into shadows. You can open any door. Who could catch you?
Sadly, you are not alone. Sometimes, if you are enough of a problem, they don’t send a guardsman. Sometimes they send a thief.
Takers are a relatively recent addition to the civilized lands. Call it the product of growing trade routes, or the rise of some small hamlets to being proper cities. Whatever the cause, for the last century or so the Takers have been a force to recon with.
They have local companies in different regions, usually not much above the size of a squad, but regions with particularly large cities might have as many as 30 or 40 Takers working. Each Company is led by a Captain. The Captain will usually have one Lieutenant (two if a particularly large company) and a couple of Sergeants who maintain training and discipline in the Takers.
The company will be hired by a noble or wealthy merchant to seek out thieves the normal guards can’t find or capture. The fee for a warrant is either a large flat rate or a percentage of the returned property. Contrary to their reputation among other thieves, the Takers very rarely take death warrants. The target has to be particularly unpleasant and harmful for them be allowed a death warrant. Those are only given to the most senior Takers. The Takers do have a prison, the legendary Jade Cells, and they will hold someone prisoner for a fee. That doesn’t come up often as they usually hand over their prisoners to the one who commissioned the warrant, but sometimes killing a criminal is inconvenient and leaving them free in the city is not an option either. In those cases it is sometimes worth it for a noble to pay for the Takers to hold a prisoner.
The Takers are careful who they accept. Would be candidates are tested not only for their skills, but for their character. This is not to say all Takers are moral, per se, but they don’t want rabid dogs, nor do they want people whose morals will interfere with the work. To the Takers a Warrant is sacrosanct. Once a Warrant is taken the Takers will follow it to the end. The local Captain decides what warrants to accept, but the organization as a whole are not all that picky. They are not in the business of deciding guilt or innocence. It is rumored that the guilds founder, Mica Torino may have had different views but she disappeared over a hundred years ago.
The Jade Cells
The Jade Cells is where the Thief Takers take the worst of the worst criminals. It was originally a temple to a forgotten god. The walls are made of Jade and block certain kinds of magic inside the structure, like teleportation and inter-dimensional travel. It was once the lair of a Lich named Strictus. It was cleared and re-purposed by Mica Torino, the founder of the Takers. She rebuilt many traps, and made a few others of her own design. Now the prison has a well-earned reputation for being nearly inescapable. At any given time there are a dozen prisoners. The place is maintained by the Warden, a mysterious figure with penchant for building golems as his guards. No one knows why the Warden stays there or why they follow the orders of the Takers. The figure is rarely seen and when they are they are draped in robes that obscure details about their nature.
So, this guild serves a couple of purposes. First, this is a great unifying premise for a group of bounty hunting PC’s. I did borrow heavily from the SyFy show Killjoy’s as inspiration, and a band of heroes hunting down criminals has its appeal. The Jade Cells makes a great story hook. The knowledge your pc’s is only known to a prisoner in the Jade Cells. The Takers can also be excellent adversaries. Your PC’s managed to steal from the local noble. Imagine how much fun they will have trying to dodge people who are just as skilled as them coming to arrest are heroes. They are not usually a deadly threat so it offers a middle level threat and a moral choice for the pc’s. Do you kill people who are not really trying to kill you and are only doing their job? How do you get a warrant rescinded? I should add this is a solid group to use the Vigilante rogue archetype I wrote up in a previous post.
The Bleeding Shadow
There are some people who want to see the world burn. There are some criminals for whom the point is chaos, to remove the illusion of safety and security. There are a group of them. They are called the Bleeding Shadow and they are rightfully feared.
The Bleeding Shadow are not actually a guild. They are more like an infectious idea. There are a few things in common. They seem to have embraced a peculiar form of nihilistic anarchy. They also use a spiral image in their crimes. That spiral image is often the first sign that the Bleeding Shadow is involved.
As an example, Reandra of the village Nolan’s Ford one day became a member of the Bleeding Shadow. Perhaps she met another member traveling the road, or heard the tales which struck the right cord. When she sneaked into the local blacksmiths home, she left his entrails spiraled on the floor. The rest of him was nowhere to be found. His family never heard a sound. For a months she would commit random acts of vandalism, or killing animals and sometimes people. All of these were blamed on a local goblin tribe. The townsfolk were terrified.
Adventurers were called to the town to deal with the goblin threat. If not for an attentive mage, the goblin tribe would have died for these crimes, but the adventurers discovered the truth. When Reandra was captured and placed on trial before the town, she lavished details of all the crimes she did. With smiles and laughs she told how she entered unseen into peoples homes. She told secrets of other she had observed. Her description of her crimes made some faint. When they executed her, Reandra laughed till the rope snapped tight.
There are stories like this that stretch through the centuries and in many lands. Not every member of the Bleeding Shadow kills, but they seemed intent on spreading madness with every crime. Chaos is the goal. Terror is their method.
This group has no traditions, no unifying body. There are no leaders. Those who have studied the Bleeding Shadow have proposed different explanations. Some think the group is somehow tied to a demonic possession, but there are no actual signs of infernal involvement beyond the extremes that some crimes reach. Others think it is due to the influence of a god of madness, though there doesn’t appear to be a priesthood. Most members tend to prefer stealth and trickery to any kind of direct confrontation. The more they confuse and terrify their victims the better.
This guild is pretty much mainly intended as a story element with capital N in NPC rogues. This is a little bit inspired by the Joker. It also borrows some from Ghost In the Shell Stand Alone Complex. The idea here is a villain who is not a single person, or nationality, but an idea. This could be an extreme form of meme that drives men mad. It could also be some form of demon or other supernatural effect. You should use the explanation that works best in your game world.
The Fox’s Legion
In the woods, in the dark, it can be dangerous to travel. Highwaymen are known through out most lands for robbing and leaving their victims bleeding in a ditch. In some lands,, this is not true. The commoner travels unaccosted. In the Geistwood, the poor and downtrodden are safe. The oppressive nobles are the ones who need to fear the wood, for the Fox and her merry band are always watching.
The Geistwood has been under the oppressive hand of foreign nobles for nearly a century. A war resulted in the occupation of the lands by a warlike set of nobles with a disdain for the locals. Homes are burned for not paying taxes. Resistance is met with brutal executions.
Calling on an old Yeoman tradition, a small group has recently begun to resist. They are still small in number, only about 100 or so, but they grow as time goes on. Fox, is obviously not the name the leader was born with, but one she has earned. Some say she was a noble herself, or even the child of a deposed king. Whatever her origin, she is well loved by the men and women who follow her. She is a folk hero to the people of the Geistwood and her band gets support from every village.
The small numbers and the location help guide their tactics. While they could amass in one spot and attack a group of soldiers, this would increase the chance of them eventually getting caught by a much larger force. It also increases the chance that the innocent villagers through out the wood could pay the price. Instead, Fox and her Band prefer to rob by trickery, or embarrass an official into running away. They can and will kill if they have too, but to rob and fade into the woods. Stealth and knowing the terrain aids them.
Fox picks the members of her band. She long ago decided to put any would be member of her band to three tests. The Test of Arms measures your skill with a bow. If you can’t hit three targets at 50 yards in a minute, you are not ready. The Test of Skill involves stealing something without being seen. The Test of Wit involves beating Fox’s riddles. A member who passes is declared a Yeoman and given a single silver tipped arrow.
If you can’t see ROBIN HOOD as the example here, then you are not trying too hard. Fox was an NPC at Dust to Dust, an Atlanta area larp I helped with. She was a lost heir to the kingdom who had her merry band of rebels and thieves. She was absolutely intended to call to the Robin Hood story archetype. If you want a swashbuckling archery rogue, this is a good guild to go with. Alternatively, you could be a member of the oppressive nobility sent to bring her down. It all depends on how you want to use them.
So, like I said above, Thieves Guilds can serve a range of functions. They don’t always have be obviously Thieves Guilds. A pirate crew, depending on how they operate, can be very thieves guild like. You can go a different direction and make a group of smugglers. That is not great for every campaign, but if your city has a contraband, then smugglers are likely. You put them in science fiction settings and you can have them in modern day ones.
What do you think? Should I do more of these? Is there an interest?