[Where I read] The Complete Bard's Handbook and The Complete Thief's Handbook


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Of course Elves can be thieves. And the best thieves around, obviously. Because Elves.
No, Elves are Spellfinders who steal magical items from races who can't use them properly because Not-Elves.

Also, "Elven Tricksters" who take property from other races because they need to learn materialism is bad.



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Social Background

After you have chosen a setting for your character, you should decide his social
background. At the start this need only be done in a general way: select a poor (or
unknown), middle, wealthy or noble class background. This background will have
important effects on what resources are available to the character. Also be sure to
consider how it relates to the thief's motivation (below).
Pretty much this next part is going to be what you expect--describing what sort of background your thief comes from in terms of rich, poor, and middle-class. As in fiction, the differences are immense but none really make much difference in the long-run--you're all after THE LOOT.

Poor/unknown: Most thieves are from a poor background. Most people would just as well make an honest living, if they can. For some in the lower classes, however, there is simply no such opportunity, and so crime becomes a means of survival. The vast majority of such criminals spend their lives as petty thieves, picking pockets, mugging people foolish enough to walk the streets at night alone, perhaps even planning and executing a burglary. These poverty-born thieves form the backbone of most thieves' guilds. The guild regulates their activities as well as it can, and uses it as a pool, from which are drawn the most talented and promising. Because skill and cunning are the ultimate determining factors, many a famous thief—whether in esteem or power among guild comrades, or outside of the underworld—rose from the most humble beginnings.
Generic Thief Background Generator

-1 to originality if you're a prostitute's child.
-1 to origiinality if you're an orphan.
-2 to originality if you literally grew up on the streets.
+1 if your family did not include some form of emotional or physical abuse.
-1 if drug or alcoholism was involved with family.
-/+ 0 if there's a sibling or family member who you are looking after.

An "unknown" background usually fits in with the poorer classes. This means the character was an orphan, and does not know his ancestry; his parents may have been criminals, middle-class artisans, or even wealthy merchants or nobles. Dickens' Oliver Twist is a classic example of a thief of unknown ancestry. For all practical purposes, the character is one of the poor people, like everyone with whom he grew up. However, a hook in the campaign may be the search for, or accidental discovery of, a character's ancestry.
I hate this plot and wonder how it's supposed to work in the age before paternity tests. Obviously, though, "conceived by the midi-clorians" is the best possible use you can make of it.

Player characters from a poor background may, at the DM's option, have a smaller amount of starting money than they would otherwise (perhaps 2d4 x 10 gp). If a player character is part of a guild, however, he has probably been accepted as someone who shows promise, and the guild may provide standard equipment and money for its apprentice—the equivalent of the usual 2d6 x 10 gp.
Or, shock, he could have just stolen the gold he has.

Middle: A few thieves may hail from the middle classes, perhaps from families of
artisans and petty merchants. Such characters are less likely to be stealing for survival,
though desperate financial straits may bring people to seek illegal solutions, which could
tie into a whole net of crime.
My present thief was a clockmaker's son.

Of course, he was ORPHANED.

"I am an Orphan Boy": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpM1XUDqv14

Imagine, for instance, a locksmith who needs money to support his ailing mother. The landlord threatens eviction, and so forth; in desperation, the locksmith turns to the thieves' guild for a quick, easy, high-interest loan. As the family gets more and more entangled by their debts, the guild decides to accept as partial payment the locksmith's daughter (and apprentice), to become an apprentice thief. But greed is a more typical motivation. Many swindlers come from the middle class; they decided that there are better profits to be made through dishonesty than hard work. Thieves of middle-class origin usually have standard initial funds.


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Why is the thief what he is? You can ask this question even before you know specifically what his area of expertise or technical interest is. A person primarily
motivated by greed could be a troubleshooter or a cat burglar, for instance, provided the job pays well.
There's some good motivations here, though plenty of obvious ones are missed.

Fame/Infamy: The fabled charm of a thief's life attracts many an adventurer in search of glory. In our own real world, many thieves have achieved great fame, and in literature even more such figures abound. Infamy surely accompanies the career of many a successful thief; for some it may even be their ultimate goal. If this is the case with your character, you must be certain to bring it out while role-playing. Every action should be considered in terms of how it may increase the world's knowledge of the thief's amazing exploits

Actual quote from my game: "Famous thieves are doing it wrong."

Greed: The simplest and perhaps most stereotypical motive behind the thief's life is greed. Combining greed with sloth, the thief shuns "real" work, and lightens his load by lightening others' purses. Or, the character simply loves wealth, but is unable to get it through acceptable channels.
Lines stolen from the Tick repeated in game: "What's your fiendish plan!?"
"To make a lot of money stealing stuff, so we'll never have to work again!"

Characters with greed as their primary motivation surely would not be of good
alignment. Although even good thieves may have a certain element of greed, it would not
be the biggest factor shaping their lives.
Haley Starshine: I'm Chaotic Good-ish!

Justice: This is a rare and peculiar motivation, since thieves are generally considered to be anything but good. The classic example of the thief motivated by justice is Robin Hood—at least as popularly portrayed, if not in historical reality. Such a character must arise in a region or nation where injustice rules, though it need not do so officially. For instance, in one town the rulers may be blatantly evil and corrupt; a thief motivated by justice may devote himself to fighting those rulers.

Characters motivated by justice will probably be of good, lawful neutral, or true neutral alignments. Remember that each alignment has its own idea of what constitutes "justice"; to a true neutral thief, for instance, justice means maintaining the balances between good and evil, law and chaos.
There's also the darker side of justice--REVENGE!

Loyalty: Some connection in the character's past has drawn him onto the road of the thief, and he follows it faithfully out of loyalty or debt to that past. For instance, one character might have been born into a family of crimelords; he became a thief as a matter of family loyalty. Another thief may have been an orphan, sheltered and raised by the thieves' guild. Even though his moral sensibilities may lead him to question his benefactors' and even his own behavior, his loyalty and gratitude for the life and opportunity they gave him may (at least for the moment) outweigh his doubts. Loyalty is most appropriate as the primary motivation of lawful characters. The conflicts of loyalty versus moral imperatives may lead to some very interesting roleplaying.
Ah yes, the Yakuza motivation.

Survival: Many thieves from the lower strata of society engage in theft and the like for the simple purpose of survival. Player-character adventurers are prone to garner more wealth than they need for mere survival, so (unless the Dungeon Master works diligently to keep them poor) they might need a new motivation after a few successful adventures. Probably a secondary motivation (such as greed, or even justice) would come to the fore and become primary. Thieves who steal for survival usually don't have lawful alignments, though lawful evil is possible.
I did, actually, have some thieves who were so paranoid about things going belly-up they acted as crazed survivalists trying to accumulate as much as possible.

Whim: Some thieves engage in their activities for the sheer thrill of it. They can survive (materially) without it, they don't need or desire the money as such, and they are indifferent to fame. They simply desire to steal, to deceive people, to pull off the most impossible heist or scam—this grants them supreme pleasure. Whim-motivated thieves range from the ennui-stricken rich man's son to the compulsive shoplifter whose desire to steal may push him to the very edge of sanity. This motivation is most appropriate for chaotic alignments.
Also known as the Catwoman motivation.
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DoctorDogGirl said:
I admit, the issue becomes muddled in the Middle Ages when taxes really were more or less, "give us a portion of the loot or we'll stab you." However, even then, there was the implicit social contract that the knights and militia-men involved were there to protect you from OTHER knights and militia-men who would rape and kill you.
Really? Most of the cities and the nation states of modern Europe derive from the middle ages and you're going to claim taxes were merely extortion with no public works or services? If I may use some understatement, you would be wrong. At the close of the Roman Empire Western Europe was a pretty empty, non-urbanized place. The middle ages are what changed that.

The wealth and knowledge of Rome came from the East and Northern Africa, while the west was largely for food production and raw materials. After Rome in the West fell, North Africa and the Near East continued to be what it was under Rome, wealthy and intellectually advanced, only under Islamic rulers and the Byzantine Empire. The peoples of the west continued to be for those people what they had been for Rome... bumpkins who are good for raw materials and slaves.

However, taxes have always been an irritant to people in this world. As far back as the Bible, my ministers highlighted how much they were despised and could easily be likened to DRUG DEALERS (Who were worse than rapists in the 1980s). I remember a particularly funny discussion on the In-Nomine list when someone made the "Angel of Taxes" and there was a FREAK-OUT by at least some of the posters who maintained that no such thing could exist.
Tax collectors in the Bible are a special case, because in the lifetime of Jesus the taxes collected were for the Romans. The Romans didn't collect taxes from the provinces themselves, but instead had private individuals put in a tender to squeeze out the required amount of taxes for the lowest prices. The profits of the tax collectors were therefore what they squeezed out of the citizens above and beyond the official taxes, which would already be high because the proconsul wanted to enrich himself above and beyond what he paid in bribes to achieve that post.

So you could see why tax collectors in Judea in the days of the Roman Empire would be thought of as being particularly scummy individuals, since the Romans collected taxes in much the same way as the mafia collected protection money.


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Really? Most of the cities and the nation states of modern Europe derive from the middle ages and you're going to claim taxes were merely extortion with no public works or services?
Mostly, I'm going to say it was a funny joke and leave at that.

Thanks for the Roman factoid.


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No, Elves are Spellfinders who steal magical items from races who can't use them properly because Not-Elves.

Also, "Elven Tricksters" who take property from other races because they need to learn materialism is bad.

You're getting the hang of this very well.

However, the elf thief I'm running while my friend is away is one step from being lynched from the party. He accidentally shot the fighter in the back when firing into melee, insisted on being the party 'treasurer', and kill-stealed his way through a group of skeletons in the antechambers of Greyhawk, much to the annoyance of the party dwarf. Luckily he went on dwarf's subsequent pub crawls, and they bonded a little better as a result.

He's allegedly a 'spy', just like the mage/thief in my other game is allegedly a 'druid' (good actor). I once wrote up an elf thief who'd been raised by an abusive father and hired out to his mates because she was a good, ahem, locksmith. A reverse one. She got out of being hanged by signing up with the army as a scout, and was then seconded to a group of special ops investigating disturbances in town.

I really wanted to run her in my friend's Pathfinder game but he'd got bored of elves - and elf thieves in particular - and made me run a human barbarian. Actually, when running a thief, there's just too much temptation to be a right git, so...maybe I'll try one myself next :D.


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Sample Archetypes
I actually really like this section so they'll be less snark than usual.

By combining assorted settings, social backgrounds and motivations, you can create a worldful of distinct thieves. Another way of making a character is to start with a whole concept of what sort of thief he is, rather than building him from the individual blocks we described above.
Star Wars: The RPG (the WEG) version was always very good with archetypes--no wonder given the source material.

But where do you get such a concept? History, folklore and literature all provide colorful examples of thieves. From these you can abstract a model, an archetype, on which you base your beginning character. Like the elements we described above, these archetypes are rough and general. Through effective role-playing you will expand your thief into a more detailed, interesting, and believable character.
History really is full of thieves, bandits, and burglars lionized by the public. Anyway, it explains what archetypes are more than really is necessary so I'll skip all of that.

The Artist: This thief is searching for "the perfect crime." He chooses jobs for their challenge and aesthetic pleasure, not strictly for their payoff in wealth. A drunken duke who is stumbling down an alley late at night, heavily laden with jewels and gold, would be of little interest as a target for the Artist. In fact, the Artist would be offended if someone were to suggest that he perform such a ludicrously easy theft, since it would be so far "below" the Artist's caliber.

However, the Artist might take advantage of the situation if it might play into a bigger, grander scheme. For instance, he might play the part of a "Good Samaritan," escorting the foolish noble to his residence, and thereby gaining the duke's confidence. This gives the Artist special privileges, not the least of which is the duke's unquestioning trust. (After all, how could the Artist have been a thief if he escorted the duke safely home, rather than mugging him?) From this position, then, the Artist may plan a truly exceptional theft, the sort that would stir up an extraordinary amount of public interest, but could go unsolved for decades.

The Artist is usually found in an urban setting or, less frequently, wandering. His
family was surely above the poverty level, and probably even wealthy; theft for the Artist is chiefly a pastime, though it may have also become a source of livelihood. He is egotistical, motivated by whim or a desire for fame—if not fame for himself, than for his crimes, since he probably will remain anonymous.
The Arsene Lupin archetype. I'd do the "World's Greatest Criminal Mind" theme again but I don't repeat jokes.

Desperado: For some reason or another, this character is running from the law—or, perhaps even worse, the unwritten law of the underworld. In any case, he is ready and willing to do whatever is necessary, however drastic, to preserve his life—he knows all too well how soon its end may be. Delicacy and rational forethought are not the forte of the Desperado. This is the sort of character that, when discovered pickpocketing, might knife his target, lest his face be identified.

The Desperado character may be of any social background, although poor is most likely. His motivation is simple survival, and he may be found in any setting. You must be certain that you know what circumstances have led to his desperation. Desperadoes are often short-lived; either whatever's chasing them catches up and gets them, or (rarely)
they eliminate the threat and are able to shift to a less high-strung lifestyle. The Desperado either dies or changes to something else . . . though surely his old habits die hard.
The Murder-Hobo archetype.

Folk Hero: When the system itself is unjust, those labeled "criminals" are sometimes in fact the good guys. The Folk Hero will not sit idly by while tyrants rule. He musters all his charisma and roguish skills, and leads the fight to right wrongs and, if he can, topple the evil regime. Robin Hood is a Folk Hero of great fame. According to legend he stole from the wealthy nobles and clergy, and gave the money to the poor, overtaxed peasants. Robin Hood was of noble lineage, and his band did their work in the countryside, but a Folk Hero could operate in any setting and be of any social background. Imagine, for instance, a thief from the lower classes who lives in a city ruled by an evil tyrant. He and his compatriots devote themselves to the freeing of maltreated slaves and falsely convicted prisoners, smuggling them to safety beyond the evil kingdom's borders. The chief motivation of the Folk Hero is, of course, justice (or at least so it must appear to the public eye).
Interesting fact: John Dillinger deliberately cultivated this image for himself, going out of his way to avoid murdering people. Then, during a heist, was shot and returned fire to kill a police officer--ruining said reputation forever as well as leading to his very public assassination.

Kleptomaniac: The kleptomaniac is a character with a compulsion, perhaps entirely uncontrollable, to steal. This compulsion might be at odds with the rest of the character's personality; interesting role-playing may arise as the character has an internal conflict between his driving desire to steal and a guilty conscience that never stops telling him how wrong and evil his actions are. This character may be of any background and setting. His motivation might be classified (very loosely) as whim, since it lacks a rational reason.
The Kender archetype has ruined this forever.

BTW, I always went with the idea kender were accutely aware people considered them childlike and the entirety of them not knowing they were thieves via "borrowing" was built on bullshit. Races just naturally assumed kender were THAT stupid because of their appearances.

Mobster: This character was literally raised in crime. Perhaps he hails from a family of elite criminals, leaders of organized crime. Over the years they have developed their own codes of behavior and a twisted sense of honor. A mobster is found in the city, and may be of any background. (Crime families may have considerable wealth, but if their illegal activities are well known, or at least the topic for common rumors, they may haveconsiderably lower esteem in the eyes of good citizens than those of comparable yet honestly-earned wealth.) His primary motivation is usually greed or loyalty, and his alignment is most often lawful neutral or lawful evil. Characters of this sort often make up the backbone of the more powerful thieves' guilds.
I'd like to take this moment to recommend the Vlad Taltos books, which are appearing precisely because of the Elvish mafia element. Sadly, RL circumstances of a tragic nature soured the author on the role of Vlad as an elvish hitman (or hitman of elves for elves by a very disgruntled human). I don't blame him for moving Vlad out of organized crime at all because of it but I do think the series lost some of its flavor.
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The Professional: Thievery is simply a job for this character. He is often aloof from other, "lesser" thieves: He has little tolerance for flamboyant fools, like the Artist and Trickster; Desperadoes and Kleptomaniacs, desperate and obsessed, are sloppy and crude in comparison to his refined talents and balanced temperament; Folk Heroes are just silly. The Vigilante is a dangerous foe for the Professional, in part because he is incomprehensible to him. The Mobster would seem to be the Professional's kindred spirit, but they are too tightly bound (in the Professional's opinion) by honor and family loyalty and such trash. The Professional is bound to no absolute codes, except perhaps a contract and a clean, efficient theft. He has honor and honesty inasmuch as it is necessary to maintain his reputation for dependability.

The Professional's motivation is hard to pinpoint. Clearly it is neither justice nor loyalty; and he knows that greed, whim and the lust for fame can cloud judgement and lead to fatal sloppiness. Perhaps then "survival" would be the best description of the Professional's motive; though any Professional worth his salt does better than merely survive. Of all the archetypes, he is perhaps most likely to have a businesslike, middleclass background, though any of the others is possible. The Professional is usually based in a city, or wanders, and his services are usually for hire. He may be associated with a guild, but would prefer to be as independent as possible—other people's involvement in his work is more often hindrance than help.
I think this one could have been combined with Artist without too much trouble. I actually decided to play a character who was a professional thief devoted to the biggest payoffs, the least amount of trouble, and the highest quality of ability---only to find the character was extremely boring with nothing to play off of. I eventually added an immense artistic and Renassiance Man bent which ANNOYED THE PISS out of his fellow thieves.

Also, Layer Cake is a great film for showing how consummate professionals have no place in organized crime. You really have to applaud Daniel Craig's performance as he slowly becomes unraveled by how STUPID his fellow thieves are and how being smarter isn't an advantage since intelligence can't compensate for brute force in this world.

Street Urchin/Victim of Circumstances: This thief grew up in an impoverished, harsh environment. There he learned that if you need something you have to take it, because no one will give it to you. People may tell him that stealing is wrong, but he cannot believe it—to him, stealing has always meant survival. He long ago lost any sense of regret for his actions. He was driven to a life of crime so long ago that it seems to him the only life possible.

This character invariably knows his setting (typically a city) inside and out, and probably has many useful connections. His social background is always lower class or unknown. Street Urchins that continue the thief's life may develop into a different archetype as they grow older; the Professional, for instance, may blossom from such a solitary young thief.
I'm not sure, aside from tragic background, what sort of role this would play with characters.

Trickster: This is a thrillseeker, a character who delights in pulling off the most outrageous and amazing scams. Deception and pranks are his food and drink; flirting with danger grants him an incomparable thrill. Thieves, such as Reynard the Fox, are often portrayed this way in fairy and folk tales.

In role-playing, you may wish to make a Trickster thief more complicated. Why does he seem so light and frivolous? Does he hide something beneath it all? Is he in fact driven, obsessed with proving himself the most clever of all? Such a character could even become dangerous to those around him if his insecurities were brought out and played upon. What if people are impressed by his antics? What if they manage to outwit his pranks, or don't find them amusing? Does he need attention, or is the thrill alone enough to satisfy him? Might the trickster be cowed into quiet humility, or pushed into rage or frustration?
Tricksters are very-very fun if you have a cooperative DM. If not, not so much.

Vigilante: The Vigilante is a loner, a curious sort of thief whose life is preoccupied with defeating the schemes of criminals. He finds the law too restrictive, or unenforced, and so he goes outside it to bring about his vision of justice. Ironically, the Vigilante trains himself in the very skills of the thieves he opposes; he comes to know their ways and their minds as though he were one of them.
Hey, I was kidding about the vigilante!

There's some more but this part is hilarious.

Some comic books do a great job of illustrating the complex psychologies found in characters of the Vigilante archetype. They make excellent inspirational reading.
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I suspect the explanation for that is fairly simple. The people writing about gypsies, Roma, in games weren't particularly thinking about real, living people at all.

They were going from old Hollywood and fiction presentations of gypsies that were themselves based on old stereotypes going back more to the 1800s.

Throw on top of that the fact that the writers were very likely Americans receiving those stereotypes from European sources second/third/fourth-hand, and the concept of "gypsy" was about as real to those writers as the concept "gnome".
For myself, I didn't realize that "Gypsies" still existed in the modern world until sometime in the mid 90's. Up until college, I had no conception that they continued to exist outside of old movies and ren-faire shtick.
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