23 October 2016

The Thieves' Guild: A Guild Full of Thieves!

As far as I can tell, the only examples of a thieves' guild that predate Dungeons & Dragons are in two stories, one by Fritz Leiber and one by Miguel de Cervantes. My guess is that D&D only has them because of Leiber (and only has "Read Magic" as a skill for thieves because of Leiber's Grey Mouser, which is odd because his spellcasting ability was clearly due to his early apprenticeship to a hedge wizard and quick abandonment of that profession).

At any rate, I think it's interesting that an idea presented in fiction (and probably intended as an isolated or rare example) was adapted to be not just a common feature to all cities in a given game setting, but all cities in the game regardless of setting. Thieves' guilds, to my mind, should be an anomaly, limited to very unusual cities. Perhaps limited to one city per continent, if not one per world. Far more common, I think, would be cities full of gangs and rival criminal networks. These are better fodder for standard adventure plot hooks and random entanglements. A thieves' guild should be what it was intended to be by the writers who invented it: an exotic social structure that is almost a world unto itself. It should be an alternative to the player characters' typical experiences with the criminal element, something that puts them off balance, like a subculture or alien culture encountered for the first time.

I'll be house-ruling thieves' guilds out of existence in my own campaigns (except for isolated cases) and replacing them with gangs. Thieves' guilds should be unique, not ubiquitous.

(Thieves' Guild, the game of thieves and their guilds by Gamelords Ltd., is a topic for another day.)

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