The Thieves Guild Must Die!

The Thieves' Guild Must Die!

One of the common memes throughout roleplaying was the “Thieves’ Guild.” Much like the Wizards’ Guild, it was supposed to be some big mysterious organization, where thieves learned their trade, made contacts and generally did illegal stuff. I hate that concept, and here’s why.

The Thieves’ Guild is Not Realistic

Yes, TFT:ITL explicitly says that the Thieves’ Guild is not necessarily a single organization, but a catch all phrase, but a lot of games and players treat it as such–and that is just not right. All the way back to AD&D, the Thieves’ Guild was written and treated as a single organization. In reality, thieves are not grouped together in a guild–they work as gangs or crews, stealing from everyone and fighting among themselves. In gaming, they should work the same.

Even using the term “Thieves’ Guild” makes me cringe. It gives a false impression of a single organization. And I hate that. It is an old concept, one that needs to just be done away with. Maybe everyone has already moved in that direction, and I am just reading archaic rulesets and articles. If not–we need to kill the Thieve’s Guild!

Factions Are Better

What do we do in their place? I use factions as groups that have similar or conflicting goals to simulate the underworld in my campaigns. Using factions is much more realistic–and useful. Whether you are looking at historical cases or even movies like the Godfather or Goodfellas, or series like the Sapranos, there are different groups that are always vying for control.

If you want an example, the game Blades in the Dark got things right. It is a game specifically designed around thieves and gangs. Even the local government organizations and city guard are set up as factions (and corrupt ones at that). They have a set of rules for playing the factions and how they interact, but that is a different story…

My point is, using factions to be “the Thieves’ Guild” just works so much better than having one single group.

Factions Make Better Roleplaying

The use of factions for criminal gangs also makes for much better gaming, too. You have so many more opportunities for roleplaying because you can have so many more adventure hooks. Rival gangs leads to hooks for gang wars, bribes to officials to take action against rivals, assassinations, thefts from one faction by another… You can write an entire game from that alone (wait–someone did that already…)

I even do the same thing with wizards in my campaign–each school is a faction that has a subset of spells. They have their own background, their own philosophies, leadership, goals… you name it. The same goes for any other group or “guild” that could be broken into different factions. It just tells better tales.

The obvious next question is how to create underworld factions and use them in The Fantasy Trip… Sorry, that will have to wait for a future article!

OK, what do you think? Do you use one single Thieves’ Guild in your campaigns, or do you split them up into factions? Which do you think works better? Let me know!

Marko ∞

(Artwork copyright Daniel Comerci,

One comment

  1. A couple of things.

    First: THIS! This is exactly right! Seeing thieves (or any criminal organization, even the Mafia) as a universal group is just insane. In America, by far the bulk of the deaths inflicted on Mafia members were inflicted by other members of the Mafia! I am VERY interested in seeing what specific advice on factions you have to offer in TFT terms…

    Second. LOVE the new artwork you are displaying. You’ve clearly made a real effort to pick things that are in the same style and spirit as the original work from ITL, AW, and AM. Great choices!

    Third, I’m working on that thing you sent me even as we speak. I hope to have something back your way tonight or tomorrow.

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