The successful thief is usually the descendant of past generations of dishonest, but less successful ancestors. You may not be a successful thief, but if you are quiet, observant, and clever, perhaps some day a niece or grandson might distinguish him or herself. You may wish to keep a secret journal of useful information to pass down. This is my journal for those who may come after me. Alas, I fear my line is lost, so I hope you will consider me your adoptive ancestor.
Make your Mark's exctinct.
"Honor among thieves." Live by this principle, but never expect your colleagues to do the same. Never betray a fellow thief, even if they rob you blind. Consider it a free lesson. Steal from them if you dare, but don't get caught.
Deal not with thieves who are beholden to any house or group, as their honor is most suspect. Don't put yourself in that position unless it's the fastest way to gain access to the treasure you're intending to steal.
Never admit to being a thief. Never be caught with the tools of the trade. Do not frequent the halls of Thieves' Guilds in population centers, or you might as well have "kill me" tattooed on your forehead. Do not associate with anyone foolish enough to do any of the above.
You don't need any of that fancy big city guildhall stuff to perfect your skills. That sort of practice will only make you lazy and careless.
Perpetuate the farce. Never admit knowing of the existence of a guildhall. Never show anyone a thief hole. Keep watch, when you can without drawing suspicion, and see whether your thief holes are compromised, frequented by brethren, or in fact the hunting ground of the enemies of thieves.
If you intend to succeed as a thief, be prepared to make great sacrifices. Your friends will be few, your enemies may be many.
The safest mark, of course, is the one who's not even there when you're relieving him of his stuff. The poor, the young, and the defenseless also make nice safe marks, as they are accustomed to abuse as befits their station in life. But you will not soon get rich if you base your career off these folks. Better to use them for easy practice, and return what you may take, so that someone poorer than you and the mark both might have an opportunity to steal it.
The gambler is the mark of your dreams. If you find a gambler on a winning streak, milk it for all it's worth. They're so often drunk and confused that they'll never miss a few chips. The croupiers are usually brethren, who'll distract your mark if you give them the wink and treat them to a shot at the tavern with your take.
Healers of the old school could easily be made to part with their earnings, as they were slow and lazy, and often kept plenty of cash on hand. Since they quit charging for healing, it's hardly worth the risk, since they seem to subsist on what farthings they find in the beanbags at the end of the day. Better to stay in good graces with that Guild, and smile nicely when they say, 'No charge.'
Nobles may have cash on hand if you catch them at the right moment, or perhaps a bejewelled dagger could be coaxed from its scabbard, but remember that they didn't get to be nobles by being noble - so the tables may be turned if you think they are your mark. Your best bet is to catch the humble castellan at tax time. Weddings and such will provide a target rich environment of castle dwellers who know how to accessorize. Get yourself on the guest list.
Stealth is the most important trait of a thief, but it must be used sparingly and wisely for best effect. Never let the marks see you being stealthy. A furtive appearance puts them on their guard. Sneaking for sneakings sake brands you as a thief. Sneak and hide only when necessary. You may depend on these skills for your life, so do not waste them in frolic. Beware the lighted mage. Familiarize yourself with the phases of the moons, and they will be your best friends. If you are light of foot and agile, in some towns you may traverse the rooftops and case your intended mark from a position of safety.
Knowledge is power, and an overheard conversation may lead you to riches, or save you from death, so make it a point to overhear whatever you can. If you can do this without benefit of your stealth, so much the better. Then the blabbermouths will have no one to blame but themselves.
It's not just for money bags anymore. You can probably sell that nice dagger for a lot more than what the mark has in loose change. That mage will have a hard time casting fire bolts with a pack full of rocks. Don't forget the famous rat trick.
Get yourself a cut purse and laugh all the way to the bank, but don't leave it kicking around in an inn room with your name on the register. If you are fortunate(?) enough to live in a castle village... you know your landlord goes through your stuff, right? If you were one, wouldn't you?
Again, avoid the population centers when practicing sleight of hand. Start on yourself. You must be able to move the largest object you can palm from pack to hand to floor and back without being noticed before you attempt to filch even a farthing from the hoku shi of a sleeping fuzzy.
Then, find some poor mark of one of the nearsighted races. This will give you an added challenge without putting you at risk. Work your way up until you can successfully distract even the most alert dwarf mine guard.
Some thieves find it useful or lucrative to be versed in the arts of assassination. Be wary of these folks. As peaceable as they may seem, they are always watching for a target. If you choose this path, the caveats are the same. If you intend to kill someone, never miss your first shot. If you do miss, don't rest until you have tracked them down and finished the job.
December 2001 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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