Hey, Jim here! Before Frankie gets started, I wanted to remind you that High Level Games is bringing you game content and commentary absolutely free, as well as providing a home and launching point for a slew of great creators! If you want to support our endeavors, we'd love it if you stopped by our Patreon to show your support. Of course, if you'd like a little something for your hard earned money, you could always pick up one of our fine game products as well.
It’s no secret that adventurers stick out like a sore thumb in the Core. Heavy armor and ostentatious magic draw all manner of unwanted attention, and the wisest heroes learn quickly to travel incognito if they want to avoid overt hostility from the worst of the abominations that stalk the realms of men.
Early in our correspondence, I gave you some advice on how a spellcaster might ply their trade without arousing too much suspicion. I thought we might revisit a similar topic and discuss those of a more surreptitious bent.
Rogues (better known by their more honest sobriquet: thieves) are a staple of the adventuring party. Mundane skills of legerdemain, acrobatics, and ambush attacks make them indispensable to the travelling hero, but this sort of champion has a tendency to run afoul of the law, and with the exception of the ever-rare paladin, they top the Darklords Most Wanted lists in most domains. Fortunately, there are a number of guises the enterprising footpad can operate under if they want to avoid the watchful eye of the Core’s dark masters. Or just the local constabulary.
1) The Butler
Great warriors often travel with a retinue. Fortunately, when faced with a wrathful cavalier, very few intelligent monsters will turn their back on the most visible threat to attack the help. Wealthy merchants, priests, diplomats: really, anyone with money can have a valet with them without arousing suspicion. In matters of espionage, the butler can often go places, especially in more medieval settings, where a notable hero might be noticed.
Pulling off the role of the butler requires a bit of skill as a valet. Knowledge of how to prepare a meal, how to ready a horse or suit of armor, and how to craft or repair articles of clothing go a long way to selling the ruse, in addition to ingratiating you with your group, since these amenities can be welcoming comforts on the road. The best valets also double as barbers, of course, keeping their lords’ hair and faces immaculately trimmed and shaved. This provides a useful excuse for carrying a straight razor. Letter openers and small tack hammers can also be included without disrupting the image.
2) The Fur Trapper
The quests of adventurers can sometimes take them far into the wilderness, and many groups take to hiring guides familiar with the lands they’re traversing. If your group isn’t fortunate enough to have such a guide, you might make your own fortune by disguising yourself as one. Providing you speak the local language, you may find rugged ‘working poor’ types more amenable to discussing current events with a fellow peasant.
Knowledge in how to make, set, and disarm traps is one of the most quintessential thief skills, so it’s something you probably won’t have to go out of your way to learn. The profession gives you a reasonable excuse to carry a small selection of snares, wires, and jaw traps wherever you go as well as tools with which to work on them, and despite the name a skinning knife is still perfectly capable of slitting a throat when required. Of course, the large, shaggy furs that are common with these frontiersfolk are wonderfully useful for hiding any tools or items you wouldn’t want local law enforcement to find.
3) The Clown
What better way to justify your acrobatics than by being an actual acrobat? The Skurra have long been aware that performers of all types are often allowed to get much closer to targets than a wandering sell-sword might be, and given more leeway in breaking social mores. While denizens of the more buttoned-up domains like Lamordia or Mordent may give such a performer the cold shoulder, many places see a street performer as a welcome break from their daily monotony, and may be more forthcoming with information (or just easy access to their coinpurses).
Skill at performance is a must for this role, requiring the thief not only be a skilled gymnast, but that she have the ability to captivate an audience as well. Mimes, jugglers, or prestidigitators can help distract guards or crowds while their parties engage in clandestine activities, and the trappings of the clown can include a number of items that can be turned to lethal purpose, including juggling pins or knives, as well as potions or smokepowders for more dramatic effects. Oversized ruffs, shoes, and prosthetics can offer an easy place to hide smuggled goods, or as a decoy to keep eagle-eyed guards from noticing more cleverly concealed items.
4) The Bureaucrat
Kingdoms aren’t built on swords and soldiers. Real kingdoms are built on paperwork. A thief who understands the machinations of seal and signet can be a much more dangerous threat than one who works with daggers and lockpicks. Diplomats, tax collectors, and lawyers can gain access to storerooms, prisons, and state halls with ease, and a balding, ink-stained clerical worker is rarely considered a threat by the fiends adventurers make a business of confronting.
Pulling off this role requires either a wealth of knowledge in the field being infiltrated, or a phenomenal ability to bluff. Knowledge of local and international laws helps, as does being a dab hand at forgery. While the accoutrements of this disguise aren’t as useful for concealing deadly implements, wealthy or important bureaucrats can easily justify hiring professional muscle (read: the rest of the party) to keep them safe, cloaking the entire heroic venture in a veneer of legitimacy.
Every domain is accepting of at least some form of medical professional, with the more developed nations boasting a wide variety of physicians, alienists, and naturalists. The biggest benefit of adventuring as such an intellectual is the status it affords: the wealthy and the educated are often more open with someone they view as a social peer. The curiosity of these professions serves as a plausible excuse for the nosiness of the typical adventurer, and many people who balk at the idea of turning to barbarians with swords to address their needs are more willing to talk to someone they see as being able to solve their problems with reason and science.
Investigative adventurers may love this role: it encourages them to carry a number of inspector's tools, such as magnifying lenses, sample vials, and chemistry kits. The surgical tools that many medical professionals keep on their person make efficient (and at times extremely gruesome) weapons, but also provide a lucrative, if visceral, source of income, since many monster body parts can fetch a high value from the arcane crowd.
At the end of the day
Any thief is better than no thief at all. Although they don't have the martial prowess of the fighter or the eldritch knowledge of the mage, their utilitarian skillset is too valuable for any party to be without.
Still, whether you're looking to duck the wrath of Azalin Rex or just Constable Bob, a little subtlety never hurts.
Good luck, and happy hunting.
Frankie Drakeson, Lord Mayor of Carinford-Halldon
Frankie Drakeson is a retired rifleman and the current mayor of Carinford-Halldon in Mordent. He is married to Gwendolyn Drakeson, the granddaughter of Nathan Timothy.
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: https://www.deviantart.com/gandolf67/art/Rogues-Den-375845519
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.