Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Cant do Paranoia

Outside my home I saw a little triangular rock, all shiny and glisteny if you looked at from just the right angle, that made me think of thief and tramp markings, which lead me on to contemplating Thieves Cant.

What are you doing with Thieves Cant in your game? Probably not much, and that’s understandable. Since you likely only have one (if that many) PCs in the game who understand it, they’re not going to be using it to pass messages between each other. Usually when I see it, if I see it at all, it’s a handy way to get the PC rogue in touch with the local thieves guild.

Still, Thieves Cant is a thing in the game, you might have a PC who knows it, so it’s not a bad idea to see what use we, as DMs, can make of it. I treat it as an additional way to give the players information, almost parenthetically so. It’s a bit like riffing in the dungeon; the whole place is mysterious and dangerous, but some joker who was in here fifty years ago has left what amount to footnotes in the place explaining what they saw here back then.

A dungeon I made recently was a little proving-ground test maze. Rogues, of course, cheat, so there were clues left here and there in Thieves Cant, some even pointing the way to hidden tools to make the challenges easier.

The most well-known real-world version of Thieves Cant (at least before Guy Ritchie taught us all Cockney Rhyming Slang) were the Hobo Signs. These are simple and informative, but can be playfully enigmatic as well. For instance, early in the game, the PCs are heading into your traditional haunted house, and as part of the history of the place there’s a Thieves Cant symbol hidden out front that basically says, “BEWARE: this place has been marked for destruction by dangerous powers.” The idea here is that a group with a rogue in it will know that, whatever happened at this place, it wasn’t an accident. Somebody came and inflicted tragedy here (and righting this wrong could be central to putting to rest the vengeful spirits of the place).

All well-and-good, and more than a little useful. But imagine how the players would react if later they encountered the same sign outside the home of a beloved ally, or even their own residence. Now you’re cooking with gas.


Anonymous said...

Thieves' Cant is a lot of fun, when one remembers to use it. In one of our campaigns, the two roguish characters have been creating (and thus canonizing) their own version of Cant as the official one of their home city.

I like the idea of using a variant on hobo signs though, that is very neat.

trollsmyth said...

seaofstarsrpg: When you say "creating" do you mean the characters are creating a regional "dialect" of Cant, or that the players are actually creating it? If the latter, what's it like?

JB said...

"Now you're cooking with gas" is a phrase my three year old is using all the time these days...something she picked up from her grandmother (my mom).

Despite the fact that neither I, nor my mother have ever owned a gas oven (to my knowledge).

Magus said...

Just finished as a player in a party with three rogues and a mage, haha. We spent a lot of time communicating secretly with each other during social interactions - but whether we LISTENED to each other was another matter. :)