The Ur-Thief

Image by Sidney Sime, found HERE

One of the fun things about exploring old D&D is the search for the origins of its many elements. Rangers are Aragorns, rust monsters came in a pack of Japanese dinosaur toys, etc. The thief has often been linked to the Leiber’s Grey Mouser and Vance’s Cugel, but I would propose a different Ur-Thief … Thangobrind the Jeweller.

I’ve been boning up on my Dunsany lately, to help me apply the finishing touches to Bloody Basic – Weird Fantasy Edition, and last night read through the “Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller” in his Book of Wonder. I draw your attention to the following passages, which seem very thiefy to me:

HIDE IN SHADOWS

“O, but he loved shadows! Once the moon peeping out unexpectedly from a tempest had betrayed an ordinary jeweller; not so did it undo Thangobrind: the watchman only saw a crouching shape that snarled and laughed: “‘Tis but a hyena,” they said.”

MOVE SILENTLY

“Once in the city of Ag one of the guardians seized him, but Thangobrind was oiled and slipped from his hand; you scarcely heard his bare feet patter away.”

“At night they shoot by the sound of the strangers’ feet. O, Thangobrind, Thangobrind, was ever a jeweller like you! He dragged two stones behind him by long cords, and at these the archers shot.”

FIND TRAPS

“… but Thangobrind discerned the golden cord that climbed the wall from each [of the emeralds] and the weights that would topple upon him if he touched one …”

LISTEN AT DOORS

“Though when a soft pittering as of velvet feet arose behind him he refused to acknowledge that it might be what he feared …”

Okay, not at a door, but keen listening nonetheless.

OTHER SKILLS

“… – now like a botanist, scrutinising the ground; now like a dancer, leaping from crumbling edges.”

“Oh, he was cunning! When the priests stole out of the darkness to lap up the honey they were stretched senseless on the temple floor, for there was a drug in the honey that was offered to Hlo-Hlo.”

Which, of course, means the Thief needs to be reintroduced as a class in its own right into the Weird Fantasy edition, sending the vagabond back to the “subclass” category. This thief will likely have a couple different skills to bring to the table, though.

4 thoughts on “The Ur-Thief

  1. Thangobrind is one of the best thief characters ever: the Mouser in the Swords of Lankhmar recounts a tale very similar in which he survives the spider idol. This I think is in the first chapter. Haven't read that in 10years.

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  2. I've always loved Clarke Ashton Smith's and Lord Dunsany's thief stories, especially how they almost always die at the end.

    Howard has his Conan stoires, Leiber has Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but Smith and Dunsany never reuse their thieves, because by the end of the story, they've been torn to shreds by a god-idol, or run off the edge of the Flat Earth, or something.

    Two thoughts: First, Thangobrind and Nuth, at a minimum, present themselves as respectable businessmen, possibly making this a subclass, variant class, or just the way lawful-aligned thieves present themselves. Second, Thangobrind's flight from Hlo-Hlo and Satampra Zeiro's flight from Tsathoggua, among others, suggest that player characters should be able to run away from monsters, run miles and hexes away, but still have the chance of the monsters catching up.

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  3. Good thoughts. The first is probably more up to players, although I have thought about suggesting that all the characters have come into the fantasy world via the real world, and might bring their skills from their real lives into the fantasy world with them. The second should be easy to implement … maybe give the monster a “range” commensurate with its hit dice, so the tougher it is, the further it will stalk you.

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