Sunday, April 28, 2019

V is for Veiled Society

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard its B/X roots. I got behind by a couple days because of the Easter weekend, but I'm trying to catch up as quickly as possible]

V is for Veiled Society, "the most powerful criminal organization in Specularum." GAZ1 states that thief characters can choose to belong to one of three thieves' guilds in Karameikos, and identifies The Veiled Society as one of these (the other two being "The Kingdom of the Thieves" headed by Flameflicker, and "The Iron Ring" slaver organization).

I was trying to remember when I first heard of such a concept as a "guild" of thieves. I didn't read any Leiber "Lankhmar" tales till (probably) high school, certainly not before I was years' deep in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (back in those "pre-internet days," if you were looking for some long out-of-print pulp fiction, you'd only find it at a library with a decent selection...pretty sure my first Leiber, Moorcock, and Zelazny books were pulled off the Seattle Prep SciFi shelf). I probably had some idea of guilds (from history class, encyclopedias, and/or watching Dickens' Christmas Carol on a yearly basis), and there IS mention of "thieves guilds" in the Cook/Marsh Expert set, in exactly two places:

"At this point, a player character thief may want to consider setting up a Thieves Guild (the details of this are left to the DM)."  [page X8, discussing high level thieves building hideouts and attracting apprentice thieves]

"The base town should be large enough to support the services the players will need these include:

  • Inns and townhouses where the players stay between adventures, where notices are posted, and where rumors are found.
  • Churches, shrines or temples for the clerical orders, including at least one NPC cleric powerful enough to cast a raise dead spell.
  • A Thieves' Guild for thief class characters that can provide information, markets for treasure, smuggling, spies, and hireling thieves -- for a price.
  • Town militia to keep an eye on the town -- and the players!

"The DM should also decide who is running the town..." [page X54, on building a base town for the campaign, emphasis added (regarding the thieves guild) by Yours Truly]

[man, just to digress for a much to digest and infer from that little bit of world building. What a great place for a new DM to start! Everything that's really pertinent...including a cleric that can raise dead! on that list, save perhaps the blacksmith and "general store" that any town large enough to support the rest should be able to provide. Note, this is the outline for a "home base" for adventurers, not any old village, which could be lacking most, if not all of these components. But for a place that adventurers (i.e. the player characters) come from, YES, it should have all these things...not only for their services but (probably) for the PCs' origins as well: fighters were trained in the militia, clerics at one of the churches, etc. And, NO, it does not NEED to have a wizard or "magicians guild" because, of course, PC magic-users can learn their own spells through spell research (helping to suck off excess treasure in the process)...magic need not be commonplace!]

[ha! Raise dead! Always available at the home base, so why O why was there ever whining about getting killed on an adventure? Sheesh!]

*AHEM* The presence of a thieves guild, given the description in the Expert set provides a number of practical services for player characters (a place to sell treasure! a place to procure thief hirelings!) as well as giving the thief a way to shine that may be welcome indeed (keeping in mind that the low-level thief in B/X is a pretty paltry character, both skill-wise and combat-wise!)...since, presumably, one must BE a thief (and one in good guild standing) in order to interact with the "thieves guild."

[the alternative I suppose would be difficulty in finding places to fence loot, poor exchange rates on treasure, and wild chance if an adventuring thief was available for hire at the local tavern...assuming a thief would be willing to publicly announce her profession in the first place!]

Members in the Veiled Society (briefly mentioned in this previous post) is described in GAZ1 as follows:

"The Veiled Society is appropriate to characters with a grim, Mafia-like outlook on their criminal activities. If this character likes hurting people as much as he likes robbing them, the Veiled Society is for him.
"The Veiled Society demands 15% of all the character's earnings (other than those earnings for Veiled Society activities). It does provide a reliable fence for that fee. It helps the character by trying to spring him from jail or beating or killing those who've done him wrong -- the Society is loyal to its members.
"However, it often makes demands of the characters -- such as "Go to the House of Silks near the Street of Dreams. Break in. Kill the old man and his daughter and then set the place afire." This isn'e a thieves' guild for characters with morals."

Allston states that only Neutrals and Chaotics may join the Veiled Society, but PCs of any alignment...and of any class!...can be asked to join during the course of adventure module where they first appear: Dave Cook's B6: The Veiled Society. In fact, very few of the Veiled Society men (yes, they are all men) in the adventure are thieves...a total of three out of 51 NPCs. For a "thieves guild," they're pretty light on thieves! Cook also includes this little "initiation" ritual:

"You are now on of us," says the man. "If they catch you, they kill you. If you betray us, we kill you. Act in our name but without our blessing, we kill you. Work hard for us and you will prosper. Once with us you cannot leave us."

This is said after donning the Veiled Society hood, which both protects their identities and is the symbol of their allegiance. It should be obvious that the Society does not suffer betrayal lightly (or at all).

The Society's hideout appears to be an ancient, subterranean complex (I'm making it sound more exciting than it is: it consists of all of three chambers and a handful of straight passages). There's something very mystical about the place, and the Society in general. Their meeting hall feels like an ancient pagan temple (though there is no idol, only a gong...which I can't see them using since the members only meet at appointed time and there are no rooms from which to call folks to gather). There are as many high level spell-casters as "thieves" among their members (two clerics, one magic-user) all of which are in leadership positions (unlike the thieves). There are their masking rituals and their oaths of secrecy and commitment, the headdress of their hidden leader. More than a fantasy Cosa Nostra, the trappings of the Society feels like that of a secret society, one with religious overtones, and one that's been operating in the depths beneath Specularum for generations...certainly before the Thyatia conquest.

Personally, I dig it. I've loved the feel of this module ever since I saw it's Roslof-illustrated cover, many years ago...and despite the overall weakness of the adventure design I've held onto it.  A hooded, murderous secret society knifing people in the dark alleys of Specularum after sundown? That's cool...probably should be kidnapping the odd virgin to sacrifice to some shadowy goddess every new moon as well (a ritual leftover from ancient times, blood of the innocent used to "resurrect" the moon). It doesn't have to be ultra-weird and Cthulhu-y...murderous fanaticism hidden behind the facade of "normal" friends and neighbors can be just as creepy.

Okay...I'll end the post here. Man, I am far behind this month. I had wanted to talk about the other thieves guilds as well (including the one located in Threshold...a town of 500...and how preposterous that is), and especially the Iron Ring slavers. But that'll have to wait till another day.


  1. B6 had those awesome building cut outs you could use to construct streets.

  2. This sounds like something I could base my Guild of Mute Assassins off of. ;)