Thieves of Every Flavor

Aladdin and Flynn from Disney

Aladdin and Flynn from Disney
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One of the most common and popular character types in fantasy is the thief.  Now, you normally see these as comic relief, the betrayer, the criminal with a heart of gold, and other roles.  Honestly, it’s difficult to make a thief still be a criminal while being a true hero.  So, they stumble and fall in the moral department rather often.  All that being said, I’m here to mention something else.

Many times you see a generic thief.  They have no specialties and seem to be masters of every aspect of the trade.  There’s no favorite crime or skill weakness for these guys.  Other times they’re a pickpocket and that’s just about it.  Picking a lock always falls in there too.  Yet, what if you want to make a specialized thief for your story?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Pickpocket–  Let’s get this guy out of the way.  These thieves are snatchers who can take items off a person with ease.  It doesn’t have to be out of a pocket, but they use crowds and diversions to help get their goal.  They can also run and hide very well.
  2. Trap Master–  One thing I always found strange was when a thief with a lifelong history of robbing people in a city has in-depth trap knowledge.  Why?  I can understand a hobby, but if they’ve never focused on finding and disarming traps then they shouldn’t be able to handle this.  A mistake carried over from D&D games?  So, use this type of character as an adventurer and make sure he or she has experience with traps instead of merely reading a book on them.  Unless you want them to fail a lot, which can be done.
  3. Burglar–  This isn’t just for sneaking into a dragon’s treasure horde.  Burglars are useful in breaking in and out of places.  They can get away with a variety of skills because they work with planned heists instead of spontaneous crimes.  Disguises, stealth, lock picking, expert climbing, trap knowledge, and other skills are great for these well-rounded thieves. Still, they’re typically not much use in a fight, so making them expert swordsmen might be pushing it for some people.
  4. Goon–  Not used very often outside of the minion category, but the leg breaker thug of a crime syndicate is a type of thief.  They do have their uses, so don’t discount them.  You’re looking at brute force and intimidation here along with a possible knowledge of how to cause pain without death.  These thieves can evolve into fighters, but you might have fun using such an overlooked thief type.
  5. Disguised Grifter–  While having basic thief skills, the ability to merge into a situation and manipulate others is the specialty here.  When using this type, it’s all about their confidence and the alterations to their persona.  You can have this character act out any personality to pull off a scam.  The trick here is to develop a believably charming character and keep their fake identities different from their true one.  Otherwise, you have a grifter who isn’t really fooling anyone.
  6. Charmer–  Basically, a grifter who utilizes his or her true persona to commit crimes instead of false identities.  You have to be careful with this because too many failed crimes means their true identity is boned.
  7. Information Gatherer–  These would be your hackers in tech-using stories and street smart info gatherers in non-tech stories.  Rarely a main character, these thieves tend to be approached by heroes and villains for plot-essential information.  Again, this is a type that is not combat oriented and will be more stealthy than aggressive.  Guild bosses fall into this category too and they’ll have muscle to protect them.  I’d say this also covers thieves who can get you things ‘for a price’.  This type is typically a plot device more than a main character.
  8. Assassin–  A thief who specializes in killing people.  Stealth, combat, disguise, poisons, and any nasty skills you can think of.
  9. Blackmailer–  Slightly related to the information gatherer, this type of thief will use the information to get money or favors.  I have seen one or two people play out this type on a hero team and it gets iffy.  They’re the worst people to hold secrets because you don’t know if you can really trust them.  Personally, I find these better in the secondary or villain arenas.
  10. Pirate–  Do I really need to explain a pirate?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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27 Responses to Thieves of Every Flavor

  1. I liked this recap of the dastardly types.

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  2. sknicholls says:

    Interesting posts on perceptions of the “bad guys”…and at times, the very “good guys”. I am fond of burglars both as good and bad guys.

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    • It’s funny how some people always put thieves in as the bad guys at times. With characters like Aladdin, Robin Hood, the Oceans movies, and more, it seems the heroic thief is a lot more popular. Wonder if it stems from people loving anti-heroes or the bad boys.

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      • sknicholls says:

        Even in real life good girls are often attracted to bad boys. My hubby says it is because good boys don’t have time to give girls the attention they need. I think some girls are just attracted to the dark, “sinister” image. I am.

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      • Maybe it’s a sense of adventure and excitement. Most ‘good’ boys have that aura of boring and tame. There’s that whole challenge of tempering a bad boy too.

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  3. Why not throw a pirate in there for the heck of it, pirates are generally fun. 🙂

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  4. Nina Kaytel says:

    Just in time! One of the character’s in my WIP is a thief (or more accurately, an-apprentice) and it’s all new turf for me.

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    • They’re tough characters to work with. Researching various thief skills can help in giving you the terminology. It really helps if you’re using an apprentice because you can put your own curiosity and lack of knowledge into that character. Then you and the character grow into the field, which is fun unless you put stuff into practice and get arrested. 🙂

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  5. tjtherien says:

    Scrolls of Sion has only delved into two class of thieves, assassins and spies (Information gatherers) and I have a Master of Assassins and a Master of Spies in the service of the Drow Queen and both were central in the story… in fact the Master of Spies (Drow) ran away with an Wood Elven princess for my little romantic note to the story… I stayed away from the thieving for thieving’s sake… no pick pockets or anything of the like…

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    • They’re a hard thing to stay away from because every society has a criminal part. I’m never surprised when low level thieves like pick pockets and burglars are shown in a book. Do they exist in your world or is there a reason nobody commits those crimes?

      By the way, I recently read that the Drow are an actual mythological race. More commonly called the Trow, they’re small troll-like fairies from the Orkney and Shetland Islands folklore. Nothing like D&D drows though.

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      • tjtherien says:

        the reason I haven’t dealt with the thieving and burglary in my world mostly because the story so far has been Drow central, Drow society in my world is where males are soldier/spies, or assassins, all are masters of many poisons, Females run the religious sect in the Cult of Lolth… oh by the way I made Lolth a regular Drow elevated to goddess stature… Drows are fanatics of the Cult of the Spider… figured in a society of trained killers thievery would be at a minimum, also I think there is some religious rule that probably comes into play… most Drow as I said are devout in their belief…

        I saw that about Trows when I was researching for NaNo…

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      • Good point. If everyone is a trained killer then picking their pockets might not be a smart move.

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      • tjtherien says:

        you’ll be in a fight to the death if caught… no police all men are in military service… and then there is always Dwyryd the Queens Master of Tortures and her dungeons where punishments are meted out…

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      • Curious though. What about someone who trains in the assassin arts and then turns to a life of thievery? Though Dwyryd sounds like she’d be a pretty good reason not to even try.

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      • tjtherien says:

        the story begins and none of the races live with each other… they all have their own cities and societies… I can see the thievery as a Human trait in my world… Orcs have a shaman/chieftan culture similar to aboriginal people Kobold have a pact structure, Dwarves have a King structure and perhaps as they have a similar lust for old might be prone to thievery but they have a complex honor system and wouldn’t want to have their beard shorn or worse… and elves have a complex hierarchy with all kinds of stupid rules… such is my world… lol… my story ended with the Elves having to seek asylum with the humans and the Dwarves besieged in their mountain… and the first union between the races… and the first inter-racial pregnancy (a human raped by an Orc) next story will be from less of a Drow perspective because there are some ideas I want to develop with the other races of the world…

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      • So the first story centers more on the Drow than the other races? Are they the big conquering race? I think it would be interesting to have more of a perspective from such a people than the ones they’re attacking.

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      • tjtherien says:

        about 70% of the story is from the Drow perspective, the other 30% the perspective of the other races… The Drow are victorious at the end of the book they’ve won the war, but they are not conquerors… they prefer extermination and genocide over absorbing the defeated populations….most of the characters in the first book are of Nobility or ruling classes of their races… all the common folk of the story have done so far is die… maybe now you see why the last words of the book are The Beginning…

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      • Yeah. I can see why it would end that way.

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  6. tyroper says:

    Great information. How is a rogue different from a thief?

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    • Rogue was played by Anna Paquin.

      Seriously though, I think rogue is a fancier name and is used to denote a level of charm or suaveness. A thief would be your street level goon or pick pocket. A rogue travels and gets into major heists while being charming to all who meet him or her. That’s my definition at least.

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