Friday, June 25, 2021

Thieves Guild Activities (Rackets)

Yesterday, I posted about working on a B/X reference about thieves guilds. This is a draft of the section on "Thieves Guild Activities (Rackets).

Thieves Guild Activities (Rackets)

A thieves’ guild may operate a number of activities as a source of secondary income for the guild. The number of “rackets” which a guild operates will vary based on the size of the guild and the size of the city or town in which they operate. Generally 4-5 rackets will sufffice for providing the guild the income it needs.

Street Crimes (Pickpocketing/Mugging/Cutpursing). These crimes against pedestrian victims are the responsibility of the lowest level thieves in the guild. They are expected to bring in a certain amount of revenue each week, from which they receive a cut/percentage. 

Protection. This racket is so named because the racketeers often phrase their demands as payment for "protection" from real or hypothetical threats. Homeowners and/or shopkeepers pay a weekly or monthly fee to prevent their homes, businesses, or selves from being destroyed/robbed/beaten up. Making the collection rounds is the duty of low-level thieves with the high Strength scores. These thieves are paid a fee based on the number of places from which they collect.

Blackmail. Blackmail is the extortion of money from people in exchange for not revealing or publicizing either substantially true or false information about them. Making blackmail arrangements is the duty of low-level thieves with high Charisma scores. These thieves are paid a percentage of the amount they are able to collect.

Robbery & Burglary. Robbery is the taking of property from the person or presence of the owner by force or the threat of force. Burglary is the illegal entering a building or other area for the purposes of theft, robbery, violence, or murder. Robberies and burglaries are typically planned ahead of time and executed by a crew of low level thieves led by a thief of 4th or 5th level. Crew members are paid based on their level, with violent crimes paying a flat fee, and theft paid as a cut of the take.

Fencing. Fences are individuals who knowingly buys stolen goods in order to later resell them for profit, acting as a middleman between thieves and the eventual buyers of stolen goods who may not be aware that the goods are stolen. Fences are specialists who may or may not be Thieves who patronize a fence must be willing to accept a low profit margin in order to reduce their risks by instantly "washing their hands" of the loot and the criminal activity that procured it. These services are often provided to non-guild members at an even lower profit margin. The fence gives a percentage of their profits to the guild.

Smuggling. Smugglers specialize in moving contraband from one area to another while avoiding detection by authorities. Sometimes a smuggler’s cargo is illegal goods, like narcotics. Other times, a smuggler hides legal goods to avoid paying duties or taxes. The most common contraband are: narcotics, potions, exotic creatures, discounted wares (tax dodging), and antiquities. Smuggling is often set up as an ongoing activity executed by a regular/established crew of thieves of varying levels. Given the subterfuge involved, this will often be under the direction of a thief of approximately 5th to 7th level. The fees for smuggling vary greatly by the type of cargo and the risks involved. Lower level crew members are paid a per diem, as is the crew leader. However, the crew leader will often be paid a bonus for particularly lucrative jobs. 

Cons/Scams. A con (short for “confidence trick”) is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust. These may be executed one-to-one (by a single thief) or by a crew of thieves, and most often are orchestrated under the direction of sharpers and pilferers (6th and 7th level thieves), even if executed by others. Crew members are paid as a percentage of the take, with the guild receiving a percentage off the top. 

Fraud (Forgery/Counterfeiting/Coin Clipping). Forgery is the creation of false documents (identification papers, licenses, forms, etc.). Counterfeiting is the creation of an unauthorized imitation of a genuine article (e.g., a work of art, or a false magic item—an item with no actual powers but enchanted to appear has them). Clipping is the act of shaving off a small portion of a precious metal coin for profit. Over time, the precious metal clippings can be saved up and melted into bullion or used to make new coins. These are specialized activities beyond the ability of normal thieves (regardless of level). Specialists in these skills are hired as retainers at a weekly rate. If the guild has access to these resources, guild members will be referred to these specialists without having to pay the guild a commission or finder’s fee.

Gambling. Gambling activities may occur at a moveable location (e.g., shooting dice in an alley), a general location (e.g., a cock fighting ring), or a fixed location (like an underground casino). The types of gambling that is legal or illegal in any location will be set by community standards. The guild will usually have a monopoly on illegal gambling, but will often attempt to control legal activities as well, even resorting to violence against legal gambling operations to do so. The odds are always in favor of the house, especially when the games are rigged.

Kidnapping. Kidnapping is the capture, imprisonment, and transport of a person against their will as a show of force or for the purpose of exchanging them for money, information, or other concerns. Kidnappings for ransom will usually be orchestrated by a crew of guild members with pay based on a fee for each thief based on their level. Kidnapping for other reasons will usually be executed on contract for parties from outside the guild for a negotiated fee.

Assassination/Murder-for-hire. Assassination is one of most lucrative activities of a thieves guild, with prices for contract on a high level character by a high-level assassin reaching as much as 250,000gp! When executed on a contract by the guild for a third party, the guild may take as much as 50% of the fee (with the remainder going to the assassin). Assassination is a specialized skill with the utmost concern for secrecy, so assassination contracts are never given to standard thieves to execute.  

Prostitution (Brothels/Streetwalkers/Call-outs). Prostitution is the exchange of sexual services for money. Brothels are a fixed location for the sale of sexual services. Brothels may be run independently or under the direct oversight of a guild. Independent brothels pay a fixed tribute based on their size. Streetwalkers (prostitutes who work publicly in or a around a certain location) and call-outs (prostitutes who work privately, going to a pre-determined location for service) may work directly for a guild or independently, but pay a percentage of their income to the guild either way.  

Alchemy/Poisons. While alchemy isn't necessarily an illegal activity, the production of potions that cause (including poison) may be. Additionally, the guild may be involved in the manufacturer of potions for sale to its members, and possibly non-members. Poisons, however, will rarely be sold to non-guild members. 

Narcotics. The guild may be involved at one level or another with the manufacturing, distribution, and/or sale of narcotics. The greatest risk is with distribution, but when sold directly provide a higher rate of return for the guild.

Next up... the "Services" section.


  1. What about begging/information collection?

  2. This assumes that the beggars guild operates separately (information on relationships with other guilds coming). And knowledge/information is coming in “services” content.