The Convention of Thieves is a wandering affair, never in the same city from one year to the next. It is held once a year, generally during the fall, and under the aegis of autumn festivals such as the Feast of the Harvest, the Autumnal Equinox, or the Saints Parade. Each of the thieves guilds across the Haracon Empire choose their best and brightest to send to the convention to represent their interests and ideas. In dark backrooms, away from the hustle and bustle of the Black Market the guildmasters wrangle out deals with one another over turf and status, leveling the playing field for the coming year. Now it may seem odd to some that the thieves and burglars, smugglers and illicit goods dealers would come together each year for such a convention. There is certainly the risk of key members being apprehended by the local law enforcement, bounty hunters, or even the doughty knights of the King. But after the violence and death of the Guild war twenty years ago, both the surviving guilds and the locals were more than willing to accept the convention in lieu of more violence.
Origins of the Convention
Twenty years ago in the Year of Leaves-Not-Falling, a great war raged between two of the most nefarious thieves guilds in the empire of Haracon. A bloodier affair could not have been waged on a field of battle than the one fought on the streets, rooftops, and sewers of Marsuth. Blood flowed freely, only to be washed away by the rains. The common folk and even the law enforcement wisely stayed clear of the chaos that ensued. It all began when the upstart Dodgy Brotherhood, led by the ambitious Hoel Spaca began to encroach on the business interests of the venerable and established Soft Wall House, led by its charismatic guild master "Sil". Up to that time, the Dodgy Brotherhood was an up and coming guild, specializing in petty street crimes, and not much else. It was when Spaca decided to advance into the lucrative extortion racket that he crossed into one of The Soft Walls House specialties. Merchants and shopkeepers were devastated when they began to have to pay for "protection" twice, once to the Soft Walls House’s enforcers and again to Spaca’s thugs. The necessary dynamic was in place for conflict. Sil was furious at the gall of the Dodgy Brotherhood, and had four of Spaca’s men captured, executed, and had their corpses dumped in the main plaza in broad daylight for everyone to see. A brutal but effective lesson Sil had thought. What he did not consider was that Spaca was a proud, willful man, and was enraged not humbled. What Spaca did in retaliation, lived on in infamy for a long time afterwards among the thieves of Marsuth. Spaca had the wives of seven of Sil’s men, raped and killed, dumping their corpses in turn, in front of the of the very gates of the Soft Walls House mansion. This was the spark that lit the powder keg.
For the next year and a half, a ruthless, brutal and unrelenting war raged, until Spaca was left with only a handful of men, and even the great Soft Walls House suffered severe casualties. Law enforcement officials were bribed to turn a blind eye, and those that didn’t were murdered along with the thieves of the respective guilds. Assassins and mercenaries were hired by both guilds, in an ever-escalating campaign of terror. It almost goes without saying that the business of making money suffered greatly for both guilds as well. Finally, as the festival known as the "Monsters Ball" approached, one enterprising priest of the One True Faith decided he would intervene and attempt to end the murderous conflict, which was now spilling over to include the innocents. Father Jarry by name, this priest sought to mock both guilds. The "Monsters Ball" was a celebration not unlike a combination of our present Halloween and Carnival. People would don intricately designed costumes depicting monsters of lore and legend (dragons, giants, demons) and paraded the main thoroughfare, trying to outdo their neighbors in their pageantry and fearsome appearances. Father Jarry made two of his followers dress up as huge, exaggerated costume versions of Sil and Hoel Spaca, despite the fears of these priests, and had them put in giant hangman’s nooses, tied together with another rope. He then sent the great float rolling through the streets for all to witness. As a breeze, or a turn in the street, sent either Sil’s or Spaca’s giant head lolling to one side or the other, the rope would tighten, choking both men simultaneously. What a spectacle this was for the people of Marsuth, who had lived through the fearsome guild war over the past year and a half. But not just to the common people. Sil and Spaca also witnessed their caricatures and the thinly veiled parody of Father Jarry. It was Sil, who at that very moment in time, finally came to his senses. He approached Spaca personally in the street, as the latter stared agape at his own and his enemies heads, "strangling each other" with every bend of the road. The two men went to the nearest inn, and unnoticed by the drunken festival goers, retired to a dark corner of the establishment. They then proceeded to talk, and talk some more. They talked all night and the better part of the following morning.
Finally after countless lives and coins were lost, the Dodgy Brotherhood and the Soft Walls House ended their war. Not only ended the war, but declared a permanent truce, as well as some rather fair (for thieves) divvying of turf and profit, along with settling on future roles of their respective guilds. The more they talked the more they realized that they could learn from each other, and another idea, a grand one, was born. Sil suggested a thief’s festival. A week long party, between the men of the two guilds, to try and erase the hatred, jealousies, and overall ill-will which ensued between the two guilds during their war. The gala was a big success, and the two guild masters agreed to stage an annual event! Throughout the following year, inspiration struck Sil, and with Spaca’s agreement, the two men decided to invite another guild to the following year’s event. This third guild was secretive, unassuming, and even older than the Soft Walls House in its heritage and traditions. It was also extremely wealthy. It operated in the docks and warehouse districts of Marsuth. Pororn Wesovi, the guildmaster, was amused by, and accepted this invitation, effectively squelching any designs the now aligned Sil and Spaca, might have had on HIS business. And so, The Esteemed Brotherhood of Cargo Masters joined the party. The next invited guild was from nearby Powlgraff the Fowl City. The precocious Cocks and Peckers, led by the beautiful and wise Ossidra, were making quite a name for them selves, and accepted the invitation, figuring they had finally "hit the big time". And so it went…more guilds were invited and soon the event evolved into an extravaganza
Hosting the Convention
The event is a major undertaking and one of the last events of each Convention is the election of the next site to host. The potentials volunteer their home towns for the honor, so preparations for the convention actually run a minimum of one year before the convention. Some of this is procuring the hall space to host events like the roast, cant off, and a venue to host the Black Market. In this aspect, the Convention is run in a manner similar to the modern Olympics. There is one advantage, in that a hosting city already has the home turf advantage and only tradition of the wandering convention has prevented the event from becoming fixed in one location. Once a city has served as host, its chances of hosting again drastically increase.
Another aspect is greasing the palms of the city administrators and officials who need to look the other way, as well as getting the guardsmen on the guild’s payroll to police the area that is serving as the site of the convention. That way no vigilantism takes place with a do-gooder looking for promotion tries to run in Yoshi of the Thousand Fingers. None of the generally older guild masters want to be caught up in the entanglements of the law system should a trusted associate be apprehended, nor do the younger members want to face such a hassle. It is considered a mark of shame and inability to be taken into custody by the city guard of a host city.
The Final aspect is presenting the city as a place that the thieves will want to visit. Despite the Black Market and thievery awards, another aspect is to draw attention to their city and their pride, be it the exceptional quality of Powlgraff’s prostitutes, Cilagros’ canal-cruising, singing, rogues or the more elitist artistic realm of Vandergraff and its counterfeiters and forgers.
Flow of Events
Opening Ceremony - laying out the bounds of the convention, commemoration of the Guild wars and the cost in gold and lives, opening feast and Thieves Ball in the evening. The opening rounds of the Cant Off begin, with younger streetwise thieves competing for the accolade of their peers.
Black market opens, and stays open for the rest of the Convention, peddling their illegal and illicit wares. The Guildmaster’s Roast commences with the evening dinner (An invitational event, akin to brandy and cigars rather than ale and dice) The second evening Gala, devoid of the esteemed leaders of the guilds is a more raucous affair of boozing, gambling, carousing and a general celebration of all things roguish. The Prize is revealed to be stolen, and the list for the scavenger hunt is released.
Guildmaster’s Summit - with the frivolity out of the way, the guildmasters, many nursing hangovers, get into the business of turf disputes and grievances. Regular thieves enjoy the city, as well as participating in the scavenger hunt. Third evening gala consists of sneaking into Royal affairs during the fall festival, or crashing commoner affairs if security is too tight.
Declaration of the winner of the Cant Off, the Scavenger Hunt (who was actually able to lift a chicken’s tooth off of the wizard AND a pair of the princess’ garters?) The final ball and dance as well as the election of the next site of the convention. The closing ceremonies are quite short as most of the participants are either dead tired from being up all night, hung over from too much ale, and all are ready to go home to spread the tales of the convention, and their own accomplishments.
Competitions and Attractions
The Scavenger Hunt
On the second evening, the list is released, being 3D6 items in length. Some of the items are quite common, such as a pair of ladies slippers, though a thief who lifts the pink silk slippers of the princess is going to get more kudos than the thief who nabs a pair of plain woolen slippers of a midwife. On the end of the list are a small number of very rare, and difficult to find items. These can include keys to the stockade, the Steward’s sword, or an explicit pillow book from the local mage. Those who seriously competed in the hunt present their trophies on the closing day to see who has won. The winner generally receives not only respect but a valuable magic item of some sort. This is also a chance for the local guild to show off its wealth and prosperity.
A new competition, this runs the full length of the event, with the younger thieves and rogues using the skill as fast-talking and using the cant, or thieves lingo, compete with one another. Some sue musical instruments to pace their cant, others simply "keep it real" and show respect to their roots on the hard and dirty streets. The winner of the Cant Off is guaranteed to return next year, as well as getting much respect for his skills.
This tradition came about on the fifth year of the convention when Phinneas Baerd of Vandergraff declared that the thieves of his city were so good that he could lay a gold hilted dagger in the middle of a convention table and none could take it without being caught. Fifteen minutes later the dagger was gone and the Prize came about. Each year, a item is declared the prize and it is the duty of the hosting guild to protect the prize (hang it from a chain in the middle of the room, place it in a strong box, anything except standing armed watch over it. It takes a master thief to filch the prize, and doing so gains respect for that thief’s guild, as well as netting the thief quite a prize in the item taken.
The elders of the Guilds are made men, each having gained their position by wit, skill, cunning and charisma. As such, they are a very diverse and ‘interesting’ lot of men and no few women. At the Roast, the most prominent Guildmaster is the subject of the roast. Most often, it is a retiring member who has decided to pass his seat on and retire to that villa in the countryside. Other times its a Guildmaster who has seriously flubbed up, or one who has proved himself or herself exceptional. No matter the circumstances, the Roastee must accept the roasting in good humor, though only those being roasted for ineptitude are sorely tested on their temper. The roast consists of a recounting of the Roastee’s most memorable, embarrassing and revealing anecdotes, to which the Roastee is allowed to respond, but it is considered bad form to try to hard to refute an anecdote.
Overheard at the Roast
"A moment of silence for Kijik the Sparrow. He finally flew to high, but what a little bird he was! Take his wife for instance, no really, TAKE her!" (with apologies to Henny Youngman)
"How about a big round of applause for "The Gnat", finally hangin’ it up after all these years. Get it boys? Hangin’ it up!" (a few laughs, a few boos)
"They tell me Black Ronnel is retiring to his wife and garden. Well, if that doesn’t convince you to never retire, nothing will!" (Black Ronnel’s wife tosses a tomato, Black Ronnel is napping throughout the speech)
"And last but not least, ‘Baby-Face Ilmar’ is calling it a career, ladies and gentlemen. Look at his face now…not quite smooth as a babies anymore is it? That acid splash certainly didn’t help!" (Ilmar winces)
"Oh and I almost forgot, lets give the Silver Spurs award to Loppy Binderbrook. Most horses stolen last year in the entire Empire! A horse is a horse of course of course..lalala (severe booing and disagreements ring out from other horse-thieves!)
The Black Market
One of the largest draws of the Convention is the Black Market. Taking its name from the underground illegal market, the Black Market deals almost exclusively in illegal goods. Thieves picks, housebreaking harnesses, weapon black, and easily concealed weapons can all be found here, as well as some unorthodox items. The Market is open each day of the convention, save for the first. On the first day, some are setting up shop in their secured location, while the rest attend the opening ceremonies and the like.
Honor Among Thieves
Each DM’s home realm is going to be different, but a thieves post like this would be incomplete without offering some sample thieves guilds from across the Kingdom. Aside from the guilds listed, some good ideas for guilds could be creating them along the lines of a certain skill (beggars, cutpurses, smugglers, etc) or by geographical location (Old Quarter, West Bank, Marketplace) A small city will generally only have one guild that loosely presides over general roguery while a large city can have as many as three or four guilds that can overlapping territories, both in terms of their larcenous skill, but also physical turf. A metropolis, or major city can have as many as a dozen guilds, some no more than street gangs, others organized like the Mafia or Yakuza.
Soft Walls House - The guild that others get judged by. The "Cream". Led by the charismatic "Sil". This guild is located in the capital of Haracon, Marsuth. Sil is the proverbial ‘gentlemen thief’, well read, aware of the best wine vintages, and tending towards magnanimity to the "innocents" of the city, despite his guilds business. It was Sil’s idea to use invisible ravens to communicate with the other guild masters in preparation for any given year’s event. It was also Sil’s brainchild, to include a toast to ‘Saint Jarry’, Patron of Thieves, during every years Roast.
Dodgy Brotherhood - A mid-sized guild with some prestige, which has recuperated quite nicely from the war that started it all. Known to employ countless middlemen and other ‘pigeons’ in its dealings. Still led by the irascible but slightly mellowed Hoel Spaca, the Dodgers still concentrate on "street work", picking pockets, cutting purse strings, and the like.
Esteemed Brotherhood of Cargomasters- Most people don’t know a cargomaster from a ship captain, and for that much, most sailors cant tell the difference either. The normal Cargomaster’s Guild governs the rates of shippage, and decides what will be moved to where and by whom. By virtue of their control over all non-military shipping, the Cargomasters are both weathy and influential. Within this perfectly respectable if sometimes shady guild is the Esteemed Brotherhood of Cargomasters, each and every one a smuggler, privateer, slaver, and pirate. This guild commands ships and their mercenary crews. Some carry contraband cargos of illicit drugs, illegal weapons, and even innocents in chains to be sold on the slave market. They are as powerful and influential as their legit guildmates, but far less scrupulous. Based out of any port on a contiginous body of water (sea or ocean) this is one of the few guilds that is able to extend its reach beyond the single boundary of a lone city. Pororn Wesovi, a distinguished, goateed, middle-aged man leads this guild with the proverbial iron hand and a soft touch at the same time. He is highly respected among the other guild masters.
The Palmers - Proud and haughty self-styled specialists hailing form the mud-caked streets of Old Olmesh. They have a strange way of picking their leaders. A guildmaster is voted on every year, and replaced the following year by another. "Palm work" though not an original concept, is their forte. This year’s leader is one, Handless Henno.
Cryphus Gang - These are bad apples. Employing little organization, and featuring many hoodlums, the thieves here are all relations of the original Cryphus, a fecund hood of the first order, who is now thankfully long dead. Cousins, brothers, sisters and the like, unsurprisingly they all tend to look alike or at least share physical characteristics. Invited grudgingly, the Cryphus gang doesn’t ‘do it pretty’ but they get the job done.
The Roofers - The rooftop brigade! Led by Yazzard the Younger, son of Yazzard the Older, who was blasted off a roof when he was struck by a lightning bolt! Junior has an uncontrollable phobia of lightning unsurprisingly, bordering on lunacy. As by proxy, and due to their particular forte, so do most Roofers. "Chimney-Sweeps", is another appellation they are known by in Josters Lance, the town from which they hail.
Yoshi’s Thousand Fingers - the oldest known guild, from the dilapidated, ruined city of Unercropft. Nowhere near ‘the best’ however, much to Yoshi’s resentment, mostly due to countless wars and lawful persecutions. Their name is quite lofty, since there are only about thirty five or so fingers left today. As always, but particularly so this year, Yoshi is looking to make a splash at the gala, come hell or high water. He particularly dislikes Sil and Ossidra, the ‘blind fox’ and the ‘upstart trollop’ as he calls them. Also, being nearly one hundred years of age, Yoshi has challenged his Fingers to find him the ways and means to achieve eternal life and immortality, and he is dead (hehe) serious on this matter! How this may go is anyone’s guess.
Cocks and Peckers - These precocious thieves hail from Powlgraff, the Fowl City. They are led by Ossidra, a beautiful and wise guildmistress. She is a forward thinker and quite the political animal. Very protective of her ‘birds’, Ossidra is always on the look out for trouble during these events. Unknown to anyone, except Ossidra, Sil of the Soft Walls House has a fierce crush on the gorgeous, flame-haired guildmistress. The Guild gets its peculiar name, from the fact that the killing and eating of poultry is forbidden in Powlgraff. This stems from a long ago incident when both the archduke of Powlgraff and his duchess choked on chicken bones two minutes apart, during a celebratory feast. Thousands of roosters and hens wander the plazas and streets unfettered in Powlgraff, ‘pecking’ and ‘preening’. And the guild has adopted their bizarre guild name in their honor. The guilds particular expertise is running the prostitution racket. Every streetwalker or brothel doyenne in the city, pays homage (and coin) to Ossidra’s collectors and protectors.
The Golden Rule
There is a certain honor among thieves, but the laws they hold as their own are draconian. Any thief caught in the act of stealing at the convention (stealing from a vendor, guild master, hosting party, as opposed to pulling a heist against a local non-protection paying merchant) can be punished by death. But the golden rule comes into play, in that If the thief is not caught, there was no crime.
The Daring Raid - The Convention is a congregation of the wealthy, and some guildmasters like to demonstrate their success by dripping themselves with gold and jewels. For whatever reason (Cuz they can, coercion and blackmail, or get the McGuffin) the PC thieves have decided to rob one of the attending guild masters, or vendors. Can the PCs pull off the heist, and escape without being branded as thieves among thieves?
Oceans Reversed - Rather than steal something, the PC’s have the unenviable task of protecting a valuable item or person. This could be the Prize mentioned above or it could be something that is just really, really valuable. The PC’s have to see the other side of robbery. Can they refuse bribes or brow beatings?
Hot to Trot - The King is really annoyed that someone managed to off with his jewel encrusted scepter, and the PC’s have it in their hot little hands, the problem is that being caught with it is a worse than death sentence, and no one is will to buy it, no matter the discount. Can the PC’s find a fence in the Convention before the law catches up with them?
Do you Have it in Dragonhide? - a lot of thief items are less than easy to come by. The more exotic the item, the harder it is to find. The Black Market is the perfect place to find that wonderful toy the PC wants so badly. The catch, the vendor isn’t willing to part with the item easily. Perhaps the PC’s have to do a task, provide something in barter rather than plain old gold, or have to find a way to steal it and get away.
Thief games - Can the PC’s resist a chance to compete in the Cant Off? Do they want to nab the Prize? The PC’s are drawn into the thief games by happenstance or by bet, or even by the order of their stodgy old guild master.
Knife in the Back - tensions are high, some conflict has not entirely quieted during the Convention and a guildmaster fears that a rival is going to have him killed. What will if be, an assassin, a friend bought with Judas silver? An arrow from a dark alley. Paranoid, but unable to avoid the convention the guildmaster attends. 1. The PCs have to serve as bodyguards and protect the old coot, or 2. The PCs have to sneak into a Thieves gathering to assassinate one of its leading members for an unknown party.
The Long Kiss - A well known thief (likely female for a predominantly male group and vice versa for a female group) has been framed for a major crime in the Convention. It is up to the PCs to help the victim escape, as well as uncovering the parties involved in the frame-up and defeating the main villian. The goal? distract everyone from a McGuffin, or to assassinate an important personage. Mayhem ensues.