Along with stealth and exploration, discussing things with others is the meat and potatoes of the game. Can it get you into trouble ? Yes. Can it get you out of trouble ? Yes. Can it help you learn certain things and details that would otherwise evade you ? Of course ! Is asking something from a stranger usually for free ? Yes, mostly yes. Mostly… Talking to others is not only important, it's a crucial part of life in Aporue.
Being a professional thief is not all about what you can achieve with physical prowess alone. Even if you are a burglar-freelancer, you'll have to learn at least basic communication craftiness if you're ever going to make it anywhere in your unusual livelihood. The same thing applies to you if you're a member of a fellowship or guild.
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Virtually every city and town that has a substantial grouping of professional thieves, also has its own secret “dialects”, used by said thieves. Argot (or popularly, “cant”) can technically use any existing local dialect or colloquial speech as its basis, but the key to its success lies in its vocabulary. Common words or words that could easily reveal criminal/illegal intent are (usually cleverly) replaced by completely different terms - though ones that have been derived with at least some intuitive, logical, metonymical or just punny connection to the original word/expression.
Naturally, a thieving argot (or any argot) develops over time, having a general tendency to reshape, renew and reinvent itself due to the hazards dogging its users: Once an argotic expression becomes too well known to the commoners who weren't supposed to understand it, old expressions are jettisoned and replaced with new ones. Argots have a very vibrant and dynamic existence when it comes to their vocabulary, to the point that it sometimes borders on the ephemeral.
At this particular point in Aporuean history, Melza has several prevailing argot conventions among professional thieves. There are some relatively universal expressions and idioms in place throughout the whole City, but many guilds and fellowships also develop their own argot, for the sake of greater safety and discretion, and also greater ease of use. The table that follows includes some of the more universal expressions from the Melzan thieving twang.
Examples of Melzan thief argot (cant)
|burr, gap, board||house, dwelling, flat|
|fiss, bug, cranny, loo||safehouse, hideout|
|bread, piss, pissgrub||inn, alehouse, pub|
|cratch, chute, gull||street|
|sore, shiner||alley, back alley|
|plate, tray||yard, courtyard|
|skid, slide, sole, slink||to go, to walk (somewhere)|
|trash, tidy, tuck||to fence loot, sell off loot|
|egg in a basket, eggbasket, tooth||loot cache|
|boiled egg, cracked egg, toothache||damaged loot, damaged goods|
|thistle, nettle, rag, hag||dagger or stabbing weapon|
|strand, lord, lard||sword (usually straight)|
|scythe, shank, shin||sabre or curved sword|
|branch, knot, silk||bow (weapon)|
|snapper, nutmeg, hurdy-gurdy||crossbow|
|skewer, splinter, splint||arrow|
|jolt, peg, pin||(crossbow) bolt|
|finch, inch, pale||fence, middleman, receiver|
|tit, sparrow, fly||squealer, informant|
|threepee||from “purse-and-pocket-pilferer” - pickpocket, cutpurse|
|dross, floss, toss||a thieves's guild boss|
|baldric, boot||ally from a guild, usually armed (e.g. Guard, Brigand)|
|toe, sob, swift, ratcatcher||(common) policeman or patrolman of The Watch|
|flask, flasker, swigger||guard or watchman of The Watch or the Melzan army|
|mutt, pot, clank||Flying Squad or Unrest Quellers member of the Watch|
|forage, porridge||beer or other alcohol|
|cabbage, cabbage soup||coffee or chicory|
|rot, fester, blight||food or meals|
Even with the advance of technology, neither the cultures of Aporue, or any other cultures anywhere in the world for that matter, have invented devices capable of transfering people's voices in an audible fashion. Forget portable radios, even oversized stationary telephones and radios are still being worked. They remain a pipe dream even for the wealthiest reputable folk, so what's a poor professional thief to do ?
Use simple substitutes that have been around for ages, of course. Visual signals, involving flashing signals with tiny mirrors or polished pieces of metal, can prove practical at greater distances and in certain situations. Sadly, unless the conditions are right, these are generally too risky an option to be used stealthily. Audible signals, often involving the use of birdcalls (or very good natural sounds imitation) are also an option, and somewhat of a stealthier one than visual signals. But only if they are done right. An inappropriate use of sounds can still give one away…
Well, if even these simple substitutes are not all that secure, what to use then ? Perhaps some of the oldest communication in the book, of course: Gestures and facial expressions. Silent, not flashy, cost nothing. And unless you run to a distance where no one can make heads or tails of what you're gesturing, they are a very clear and unambiguous communcation methods. Well… Unambiguous only as long as people agree upon a secret code to go with each gesture.
Here's an overview of fairly standardised gesture and facial expressions code in thieving underworld of Melza (some of them come in more than one variation):
|putting a finger to one's lips||N/A||“Quietly…”|
|putting a finger to one's lips, raising a finger priggishly||N/A||“As quietly as possible…”|
|putting a finger to one's lips||slight nod||“Right, keep going quietly.”|
|tapping the nose with an index finger||N/A||“Don't worry. I know…”|
|waving closely towards oneself, pointing at one's foot||frowning, shaking of head||“Slower !” / “Don't rush ahead !”|
|raising a finger, pointing at the floor||frowning||“Caution, a loud floor.”|
|shaking one's foot in place, pointing at the floor||grinning sourly||“Caution, a creaky wooden floor.”|
|clenching one's fist horizontally, pointing at the floor||frowning||“Caution, a loud stone/cobbled floor.”|
|holding one's hand horizontally, pointing at the floor||frowning||“Caution, a loud tiled floor.”|
|nod to an object, “bagging” gesture||N/A||“Nab that.” / “Nick it.”|
|nod to an object, “raking” or “rummaging” gesture||N/A||“Check it.” / “Search it through.”|
|mimicing a spyglass around the eye||N/A||“Have a look.” / “Look around.”|
|mimicing a spyglass around the eye, pointing||N/A||“Take a look in that direction.”|
|mimicing a spyglass around the eye, pointing at a door||N/A||“Go and have a peek through the keyhole.”|
|palm placed behind ear, pointing at a door||N/A||“Eavesdrop behind that door.”|
|“pulling down a door handle” gesture, pointing at a door||N/A||“Open that door carefully.”|
|brief swing of clenched fist, pointing at a guard||N/A||“Knock him out.”|
|brief swing of clenched fist, pointing at a guard||clear wink||“Knock him out, but make sure it's possible.”|
|wave-like gesture with a hand, optional pointing||N/A||“Flowing water…” / “River. / Stream.”|
|waving hand as if against smoke, brief “throwing” gesture||N/A||“Throw a smokebomb.”|
|brief “throwing” gesture||frantic, exaggerated blinking||“Throw a flashbomb.”|
|backhanded wipe in front of eyes, brief “throwing” gesture||N/A||“Throw a flashbomb.”|
|covering mouth with palm, brief “throwing” gesture||N/A||“Throw a gasbomb.”|
|quickly flipping wrist upward, brief “throwing” gesture||N/A||“Throw a grenade.”|
|waving hand as if against smoke, brief palm downward gesture||N/A||“Place a smokemine.”|
|brief palm downward gesture||frantic, exaggerated blinking||“Place a flashmine.”|
|backhanded wipe in front of eyes, brief palm downward gesture||N/A||“Place a flashmine.”|
|covering mouth with palm, brief palm downward gesture||N/A||“Place a gasmine.”|
|quickly flipping wrist upward, brief palm downward gesture||N/A||“Place a mine.”|
|brief palm downward gesture, “turning a dial” gesture *||N/A||“Set the timer on the mine.”|
(* - the amount of time for the timer is indicated by also showing a certain number of fingers. Each finger represents a different shorter Aporuean time unit. One finger usually refers to a thanker, two fingers to a blesser. Holding a finger (or fingers) in a crooked, 90° bent position, means half the amount of that time unit.)
So, let's imagine you and maybe one or two of your fellow burglars are already taking part in some heist or proverbial catacomb-crawl. Let's imagine a situation occurs where you can't rely on gestures and facial expressions. You need to get verbal. Is it too risky or not ? Well, that depends. The answer is context-sensitive.
If you feel or think someone (or, heaven forbid, something) could hear you very easily, with your cover getting blown or at least compromised quickly, try to avoid verbal communication. If you feel or think that someone (or something) doesn't have much of a chance to hear you if you speak up in what amounts to careful whispers… then speak up to your companions in said careful whispers. It's all a matter of common sense, knowing your current surroundings and staying vigilant, and being willing to sometimes sacrifice utmost sneakiness for effective communication and leadership.
Obviously, if you start running around and hollering in an already hostile or potentially dangerous environment, expect bad stuff to come your way, sooner or later.