Has anyone tried to explain the ahistorical features of the standard fantasy setting in-universe?

Thieves guilds make more sense if you treat them more like the mafia.
Not at all. In an economy of durable, artisan-made goods, very limited personal belongings, tremendous self- and local- sufficiency, and limited legal interference, there simply isn't enough income to justify any sort of criminal organization larger than a group of road-bandits.

In a period where men risked hanging to poach a deer, or to rob a traveler of five silver coins and enough food to feed one man for three days, the idea of a thieves guild is laughable.
 

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Voadam

Legend
Not at all. In an economy of durable, artisan-made goods, very limited personal belongings, tremendous self- and local- sufficiency, and limited legal interference, there simply isn't enough income to justify any sort of criminal organization larger than a group of road-bandits.

In a period where men risked hanging to poach a deer, or to rob a traveler of five silver coins and enough food to feed one man for three days, the idea of a thieves guild is laughable.
Robin Hood and his Merry Men is a decent model for the poaching and road bandit thieving group model.

I am not sure that guilds in an urban population center are necessarily on a different scale though. I don't know how many blacksmiths would be in a smithing guild at the time of Robin Hood for instance.

Most thieves guilds in RPGs that I have seen are pretty vague on numbers, often enough to man a base if they are part of an adventure site though and to have a pack of thieves do stuff or be an encounter.
 

LordBP

Villager
Not at all. In an economy of durable, artisan-made goods, very limited personal belongings, tremendous self- and local- sufficiency, and limited legal interference, there simply isn't enough income to justify any sort of criminal organization larger than a group of road-bandits.

In a period where men risked hanging to poach a deer, or to rob a traveler of five silver coins and enough food to feed one man for three days, the idea of a thieves guild is laughable.
I wouldn't think that a Thieves guild would be outside of large cities unless it was to do a heist, sell the items at another city, and return to the main one.

Also, it would depend if you are running a low fantasy or high fantasy world.
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
A thieves guild doesnt even have to be a formal organisation - I tend to use the ‘Fagin’ model (Oliver Twist) where the guild is one person who acts as a ‘receiver of stolen goods’. The guild ‘headquaters’ is a dosshouse above a corner tavern in a narrow street where harlots ply their trade. The alehouse is frequented by smugglers and thieves and a small gang of ’street urchins’ who survive by picking pockets and robbing houses, which they then take to the nearby pawnbroker who is willing to trade, no questions asked
 

I wouldn't think that a Thieves guild would be outside of large cities unless it was to do a heist, sell the items at another city, and return to the main one.

Also, it would depend if you are running a low fantasy or high fantasy world.
Did you read the first post you quoted?

In later periods, when the rise of the artisan and merchant classes broke up the feudal system, it still took at least a thousand citizens to support a single, hungry, thief.
 

A thieves guild doesnt even have to be a formal organisation - I tend to use the ‘Fagin’ model (Oliver Twist) where the guild is one person who acts as a ‘receiver of stolen goods’. The guild ‘headquaters’ is a dosshouse above a corner tavern in a narrow street where harlots ply their trade. The alehouse is frequented by smugglers and thieves and a small gang of ’street urchins’ who survive by picking pockets and robbing houses, which they then take to the nearby pawnbroker who is willing to trade, no questions asked
Except that model was based in the Industrial Revolution, where personal property and trade, plus manufactured goods, made it possible.

In a period of hand-crafted goods, it does not work at all.

You could go back to the crossroads temples of Rome, but that still involved only part-time criminals who were more a protection racket/private security than thieves, and that in an epic trade center whose like was seldom seen again for centuries.

In the feudal period, the bulk of the population worked for sustenance, and seldom saw physical money, or had anything worth stealing. And you could be hanged for stealing a loaf of bread. Which, given the times, was not all that unreasonable of a punishment.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Not at all. In an economy of durable, artisan-made goods, very limited personal belongings, tremendous self- and local- sufficiency, and limited legal interference, there simply isn't enough income to justify any sort of criminal organization larger than a group of road-bandits.

In a period where men risked hanging to poach a deer, or to rob a traveler of five silver coins and enough food to feed one man for three days, the idea of a thieves guild is laughable.

Well, the point is to try to explain the ahistorical elements common to our fantasies, not to dismiss them.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
The Book of Charlatans is a 13th century treastie by Jamal al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Jawbari (from Syria) that details the range of scams practiced in the empire by alchemist, burglars, theives, moneychangers and dentist.
Al-Jawbari talks of tunneling theives (who break through walls) and grabbing thieves (who grab whatevers available). he also details use of trained animals including monkeys and tortoises.

Anyway while peasants in early medieval times may have been too poor to support thieves, there was still theft and criminality in the era. Equally the DnD game takes inspiratiom a very broad swath of history and isnt all north west europe..
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Well, the point is to try to explain the ahistorical elements common to our fantasies, not to dismiss them.
When a player asks me about an ahistorical Dungeon Fantasy (D&D) element, I put forth an honest attempt to make the strange things fit. But once I make eye contact with the Dragonborn PC, I just give up.

That being said, one can explain most of it with "because: gods," or "because: magic." (Because: Gygax?)
 


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