the gray mouser

anonymous asked:

I have a character who is a thief, and for squeezing-in reasons she can't have anything but leather armor. So, what weapon would she carry around in case she gets caught by any full-armor-wearing enemy? I was thinking a Misericord? Thank you!!! *hug*

I feel like we’ve covered this before. A dagger isn’t going to do much when you’re fighting against an armed and armored guard. For that matter, neither is the leather.

If your character’s going to be going up against guards who are armed with sidearms (maces, swords, whatever), going after them with a dagger in a straight up fight is suicide. A knife fighter needs to get much closer to the target than a swordsman. This means they need to get past the sword. Against any competent, or even semi-competent combatant, trying to rush past the sword will end with your character impaled.

The obvious solution to carry a sword of your own, isn’t necessarily an option either, because 99% of the time, it’s just going to get in your character’s way. It will hit things, get snagged, make noise, and this will draw the attention of those same guards your character is trying to avoid.

If they wanted to make good on killing people with the dagger, then their best bet would be coming in from behind, when the guard doesn’t see them, and slitting their throat. However, this will cause other problems.

Your character is a thief, they’re already a part of the underworld that can easily draw the ire of the people who run their world simply by stealing something too prominent or important. This is a classic genre hook for a reason.

If you have a thief slipping off with a few gems or baubles and getting out undetected, that’s just a thing that happens. It could have been the servants, it could have been a mistake, or it could be any number of other possible scenarios.

However, if you have a thief slipping into homes and killing people, that will make the setting’s elites feel unsafe, which will lead to them pushing the city guard to crack down on the underworld. At that point, your character will put her allies in danger. Remember that old cliche? “No honor among thieves.” When the city guard is kicking down doors, and kneecapping fences, it’s not going to take long for someone to offer up your character’s name, if only because they hope it will let them walk out of their cell with one or two functioning limbs.

It’s worth remembering, if anyone in the setting’s underworld, knows she’s the one who started this, they will hold her directly responsible for bringing the guard knocking through their door, and ruining their livelihood.

As I mentioned earlier, a classic genre hook is a thief accidentally stealing something ridiculously valuable. It may be an ornate artifact with ties to some eldritch power, it may be documents that implicate their victim in some conspiracy, it may simply be a piece of absurdly valuable jewelry. In any of those cases, it can result in a similar crackdown, no dead bodies necessary.

Any competent thief is going to know they should avoid drawing too much attention to themselves. They can still get into messes like this unintentionally, but if a guard spots them, it is far safer for them to run, and escape, rather than stand and fight.

If your character was an assassin, then, yes. I’d say taking a few daggers, a garrote, and maybe a few other fun little party favors is a good idea. The basic thought with fighting guards would be the same, take them out without giving them any opportunity to fight back, or avoid them entirely. That said, assassins are an entirely different animal, they don’t rely on persistent contact with the setting’s underworld the same way thieves do. They just need to get paid, they don’t need to fence what they’ve stolen, or keep appraised of what the City Watch is doing, or stay coordinated enough to avoid tripping over each other on jobs. An assassin just needs a client (who isn’t necessarily part of the underworld) and tools (which they may be buying through legitimate channels and modifying on their own). They may still bring heat down on the underworld, and make life miserable for the city’s thieves, but they’re much more insulated from that world than your character would be.

I mentioned earlier that leather armor might not be a good choice for your character. It won’t do much to protect your character from a guard, but that’s not the real problem. The big issue is that it will announce that your character isn’t just part of the background. Under the best circumstances, a thief needs to be able to blend into the crowd and disappear. If they’ve got a cloak, a dagger hidden away, and a few deep pockets, that’s going to be much harder to spot in a crowd than someone wearing armor.

Beyond that, if your character is climbing or squeezing into places, the leather will just be more weight to move around, and more bulk to pull through tight spaces. Granted, it’s not a lot of weight or bulk, but if her goal is to remain undetected, then it’s not doing her any favors.

Carrying a dagger is a good idea, but not to use as a weapon. Knives are very useful utility items, and that’s no different for your character. It can be used as a weapon, but it’s something your character would probably want to avoid unless they were desperate.

So, stab them in the neck and run like hell, I guess. Or, you know, don’t bring a knife to a swordfight.

-Starke

On the subject of writing about thieves, or a criminal underworld, in a fantasy setting, the first thing that comes to mind are the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber. If you’ve never heard those names before, they’re really worth taking a look at.

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The Mouser sighed. The moment had come, he knew, as it always did, when outward circumstances and inner urges commanded an act, when curiosity and fascination tipped the scale of caution, when the lure of a vision and an adventure became so great and deep-hooking that he must respond to it or have his inmost self-respect eaten away.
— 

Fritz Leiber, Swords in the Mist

Lately, I’ve been jonesing to run a pulp fantasy campaign. I’ve been reading a lot of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, and an all-human, low-magic dungeon crawl sounds like a scream. Normally I don’t impose those types of limitations on players, but if everyone’s in agreement about the kind of game we’re playing, it could be amazing. Much like settings such as Nehwon and the Hyborian Age, the PHB provides many fictional human ethnicities (Calishite, Illuskan, etc.) to choose from. I also feel like something vital is lost when everyone and their dwarven mother has darkvision. In an all-human, sword-and-sorcery campaign, the party must fear the dark again. They’ll creep down dank dungeon corridors, huddled around the light of their flickering torches. They’ll brave the gaping void before them and quail at bumps in the night! They’ll also probably cast light a lot, which is more fun than just having darkvision.

Easter Egg Reference Alert:  The Ratway’s Drahff and Hewnon Black-Skeever (the first guys you meet down there) are tributes to Fritz Leiber’s Fantasy novels’ characters, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Drahff is an anagram of Fafhrd, Gray Mouser is similar to Black Skeever, and Hewnon is an anagram of Nehwon, the world that Fafhrd and Gray Mousey live in. If you like fantasy books this is a really good series and pretty easy-to-read too. Humourous and fun.