When Murder Hobos Liquidate a Dragon’s Hoard…

dragon-head Let’s pretend our band of murder hobos exist in a world with real money instead of the nice, clean, decimal-based and universally exchangeable currency of gold pieces, silver pieces, electrum pieces, etc. etc.  Rational, decimal-based currency with a coherent, internal logic is a mid-19th construction at best – the pound sterling wasn’t decimalized until 1971. A universal one-world currency still isn’t a thing; the Euro is the world’s only real cross-state medium of exchange.   Don’t believe me?  Go to Windsor and get some Canadian quarters and try to put them into an American coke machine.  

Money is a shared hallucination and takes many forms – from debt to coin to paper to electronic to giant stone disks.  So let’s do a little thought experiment and think about coinage as was for most of history: an imaginary debt construct between two people, localized statehood expressed, in fun circumstances a physical representation of class, and a moderately inconvenient lump of metal.  Got it?  Great!

Just before we can ask two questions – hey wait! – the murder hobos go under the mountain and kill the dragon.

Question #1: What is worth more: a gold coin hoard or a silver coin hoard?

Given two dragons – a red dragon on a hoard of gold coins and a blue dragon on a hoard of silver coins – and real historical coinage, without melting the hoard down into ingots, which hoard is worth more?  Throw out the gold coins are worth 10 silver coins construct and go for the history books. 

Answer? It depends.

1. They are roughly equal with the current exchange rates

What is worth more in a medium of 15th century international exchange, the gold Florence florin or the silver English pound sterling?  Answer – it depends on the season and where one is geographically in Europe and what the gatekeepers to exchange rates believe that day.  Money is an illusion and a mental abstraction; the silver hoard and the gold hoard are equivalent if the coins can be roughly exchanged for each other in an international monetary exchange market or goods of equivalent value.  So theoretically they’re equivalent.

How about an extreme edge case. What if the hoard entirely contains the heavily debased kind-of sort-of gold late Byzantine hyperpyron (the dragon took out a city on the Greek coast) and circulating through the murder hobo fantasy Kingdom are Sicilian silver ducats?  No shopkeeper in Sicily will accept a hyperpyron but he will greedily take all those ducats.  The gold hoard is essentially worthless but the silver ducats are money.  The silver hoard is worth spectacularly more than the gold.  Sure our murder hobos can melt down the hyperpyron hoard, extract the gold from the lead or nickel, convert it to ingots, and then convert the ingots to silver ducats through a gold seller – or they can have the immediately spendable silver hoard.

Which is worth more?  Answer is: it depends on what the coinage is, who is accepting it, and what is the going exchange rate between silver and gold coins. 

2. Neither: They are Both Worthless

The dragon slept on the hoard of coins for a thousand years and, in that time, the coins reverted to their base state as lumps of metal.  Not physically – the coins are still physically round and roughly coin shaped.  However, the coins are no longer in circulation and cannot be exchanged for goods and services.  They are not money.  To be money, someone else has to price objects for sale in ancient dragon hoard coins. 

Imagine this for a moment: you (the reader) unearth in your backyard across a giant chest full of gold doubloons.  Two hundred years ago Templar Pirates stumbled into your not-yet neighborhood while being pursued by the Church for their heresies and decided to bury their chest of doubloons (why doubloons?  because they are Templar pirates).  Now you have a chest full of doubloons.  Congratulations!  They are round. They are gold.  They have portraits of Ferdinand and Isabella.  Now, go to Five Guys and exchange a doubloon for a bacon double cheeseburger with the works and a side of cheesy fries.

Yep.

You are the proud owner of a big chest full of inert metal.  You have some fascinating options: call in the archeologists to dig up your backyard, melt it down into gold bars (where without questions?), sell it to some dubious goldbug with a commercial on late night TV, find a wealthy and discerning buyer for the doubloons to mystically convert useless metal into money, or rebury the chest.  To exchange doubloons to money means finding a buyer.  Finding a buyer means a donation, heavy government taxes or sleazy characters and very possibly a high speed car chase. 

You know what?  Here’s a shovel.

Back to the dragon’s hoard: spending ancient non-circulating coins in gold or silver is like buying a burger with a doubloon – not an acceptable currency for that time or place.  Without a forge, a mint, and a way to convert those ancient coins into passable currency or a hoard of dwarven archeologists to take it for a small reward (wait the dwarves have archeologists?), the murder hobos are the proud owners of a large pile of very heavy metal.

3. Neither++: They are Worth Much Worse than Nothing

The murder hobos hire a minor army to pack the coins into cases and cart them out of the cave.  And let’s say for the sake of argument that ancient gold coins of dubious denomination still circulate.  Great!  The murder-hobos are now fabulously wealthy!  They spend their coins.  They affix coins to hats and walk around with real, physical money sombreros.  They hand the local shopkeepers sacks of coins for onions. 

Soon, so does everyone else.  And by soon, “really quite soon indeed.”

Our murder hobos are engaging in what we will generously call a little quantitative easing. They dump immense sacks of hard cash on to an economy with little coinage in circulation.  Now everyone has money!  Sacks and sacks of money!  So shopkeepers can charge sacks of cash for their goods to make bigger sacks of cash which they now give to others for their rapidly increasing prices! 

And soon it’s all worthless.

Too much unexpected money washes around in the monetary supply.  Prices hike.  People buy bread with wheelbarrows full of gold dragon coins.  Hyper-inflation soars.  Economies crash.  Poverty prevails.  The kingdom collapses.  Nearby kingdoms invade.  Vicious barbarians behead Good and Wise Kings.  Empires disappear to never reappear again.  The Age ends and turns to darkness! 

Society reverts to a crushing dystopian Mad Max-like existence full of roving bands of murders.  Good news for the murder hobos: XP!  XP!

Later another dragon collects all the forgotten coins together, stuffs it into the cave, and sits on it. 

As a historical reference: after a 1100 year period of hardly any good minting metals except what societies imported from overseas (fall of Rome – 1550AD), Spain enslaved the Native Indians of Peru and forced them to mine vast supplies of gold and silver.  The Conquistadors sent it home on giant ships heavy with ingots. The Spanish mint promptly minted this stuff into doubloons, dumped it into the economy and caused Europe-wide 300% inflation.  Western Europe went into a depression.  Templar Pirates buried cases of it in your backyard.

And so it goes.

Now that we’ve established that perhaps taking cases of gold out of a dragon’s hoard out of a cave and dumping it whole scale on an economy might not be wise…

Question #2: How do the murder hobos liquidate all this filthy lucre?

We’re not going to stop the murder hobos from killing dragons.  It’s already happened.  It’s the past.  There was a quest!  And honor!  And evil to vanquish! 

So how do the murder hobos get rid of this huge pile of likely worthless, possibly dangerous, and certainly gold-colored coinage?  After all, the dragon is dead. The money is all theirs if they can do something with it.  Some ideas…

1. Go colonize the locals like the Conquistadors and establish a kingdom

If the band of friendly murder hobos can get the coins out of the cave, avoid spending the money like wild monkeys on a bender (no the wizard cannot buy that tower just because), cart it thousands of miles until they find the last reclaimed area of their world – assuming such a thing exists – fight off endless bandits and attacks, level a bunch of times, find a place on some wind beaten mountainous frontier, murderize the locals, and build a stronghold, they can establish a frontier kingdom with the dragon hoard as their base currency. Of course, this new frontier kingdom – missing all the amenities of home like identify kiosks and fairs to trade magic items and bathrooms – are on the ancient dragon hoard standard.  Unless the murder hobos want to contend with a highly restricted monetary supply limited by their hoard, never have enough money to pay for an army to go to war to defend their kingdom from the peaceful ork society they kicked off their ancestral holy land, or be able to expand, they’re going to need gold mines.  They are going to need to build a mint. 

So the murder-hobos use the old dragon hoard to make a newer hoard by forcing the locals to build their infrastructure. They slowly phase out the old dragon hoard base until their new kingdom is on their own currency. The old dragon hoard reverts back to uselessness.  Then they stash the old useless coins in a cave near their kingdom.  A dragon comes along and sits on it. A new group in the far off future find it and begin the cycle anew.  Thus the infinite cycle of murder hoboing marches onward.

Meanwhile, the murder hobos have a kingdom to build and rule on their dangerous frontier with an unshakable Lawful Evil iron fist.  They need trade routes and a standing military and a way to purge the land of the locals while establishing their own farming communities and impressing their own serfs into feudalistic service.  They need stability.  Each takes a piece to control for themselves.  The murder hobos have no time to adventure anymore because now they are busy playing a game of highly morally dubious Age of Empires. 

2. Liquidate it through mercenaries

One group of people will take that dragon hoard off the murder hobo hands: mercenaries. Sure they’re evil and scum and villainy. And maybe the Paladin complains a little like she does whenever the party starts waltzing down the neutral evil path.  But mercenaries don’t care.  They will take any hoard in any denomination from any country and turn that money magically from metal into whole scale killing. Mercenaries practice their own version of alchemy.

Sure the mercenaries will take the money off the murder hobo’s hands for free no questions asked but that is such a waste.  The murder hobos worked hard for this hoard. A dragon, a thinking, reasoning, intelligent being with opinions and family and hobbies and quite possibly a voting record, died so murder hobos could hire these mercenaries.  And that dragon cave hanging over that peaceful peasant village is central to a big, peaceful fantasy kingdom with a complete functional infrastructure including roads and villages and peasants and farms and gold mines and mints and bathrooms.  No one needs to travel anywhere.  No orks need to be kicked off their ancestral homeland.  Nothing needs building.  The Paladin can avoid the bigger moral questions. Property really is the best way to liquidate a dragon’s hoard and turn metal into a thing. Possessing the Kingdom wholesale is the quickest way to turn these remaining dragon hoard coins into money

At this point we inform the Paladin that Lawful Evil is a perfectly valid Paladin alignment.  It’s okay.  Hugs?

After the murder-hobos obliterate the Kingdom’s army (they never saw it coming from their trusted heroes), imprison the old King, and ennoble several sleazier Mercenary Captains for their service, they must figure out who is going to rule and over what.  Someone has to rule their Peaceful Fantasy Kingdom now they’ve gone and conquered it.

– The Fighter sees this as an opportunity to continue the old traditions and crown himself King. 

– The Cleric wants to establish a Theocracy under the Gods of Goodness and Light – what could be better than a Kingdom ruled by the One Good Church? 

– The Sorceress suggests a charismatic dictatorship under her as a Dark and Beautiful Queen. 

– The Wizard, sensibly, suggests a dark oligarchy Star Chamber where they rule as equals in complete secret. 

– The Bard, pleading for sanity, starts writing a Constitution and suggests a Republic – which means breaking feudalism, of course, and dismantling the guilds, and rewiring the political philosophy of the Kingdom and he promises a small, hardly noticeable Revolution.  Teeny. 

The Paladin climbs out the window as the stabbing begins.

Hey, at least the murder hobos liquidated the dragon hoard into a Kingdom, power, land, and loyal ex-mercenary lords!

3. Find a new dragon

Maybe the murder hobos, playing these scenarios out in their head, realize the hoard is not worth it.  There is such a thing as too much money.  Instead, they go on a quest to find a new dragon, lure him back to the cave, get him to sit on the gold and, occasionally, very occasionally, terrorize the local peaceful peasant village.  Having one village terrorized is a smaller evil than the entire collapse of the Kingdom, right?  The Kingdom must persevere in the face of… them.  Finding a new dragon is a good choice.

This could have been easy, though.  It’s just too bad that, last week, the murder hobos capped Slim Jimmy and put Slim Jimmy’s Obviously Evil Dragon Raising and Breeding Ranch Emporium to the torch.   Slim Jimmy was evil! He was evil breeding dragons.  He was going to unleash them on the Kingdom!  Or maybe he was selling them to murder hobos in sudden need of dragons to sit on hoards.  In the fantasy universe, where there’s a business model there’s a business man.

If the murder hobos are lucky, Obviously Evils is a dragon raising chain across the Kingdom with outlets in all the Major Metropolitan Areas.  But their price list – wow.  High.  Raising dragons to sit on hoards for adventuring parties is not cheap.  Someone has to cover those feeding and muckraking costs.  Even a small dragon costs almost a dragon hoard. The murder hobos will need cash to dispose of their cash.  Surely there’s a slaughter-able Arch Lich or a Beholder Lord on their way out there, and that can’t possibly cause any problems…  

A Conclusion of Sorts

There’s a fourth option, establish a bank, but that went to a whole dissertation on monetary exchange rants, debt financing for kings, and slowly purchasing the empire.  Completely feasible but it ends in party stabbing. Someone has to be in charge.  Also it was an entire blog post in itself – maybe next week.  So let’s just say that ends with all but one member of the party dead, the last one a neutral evil paranoid, and an extensive crime family. So it’s the Rogue that wins that one.  Good going evil!

In old D&D 1st Edition, at 10th level, player characters build their Stronghold as a sink for their filthy lucre.  But that was an earlier, more innocent time when the game abstracted less of the real world.  Clearly when the game ended the party members were Kings and Queens and Lords and Dukes and such and suchlike. A better time. An easier time.  A time when TSR published splatbooks with monetary exchange rates.

The moral of the story: leave the dragon on his coins. Let him sleep.  It’s better that way.

Icon made by Lorc and available on game-icons.net.

The D&D5e Alchemical Con Men

His Majesty is interested only in wizards, alchemists, Cabalists and the like, sparing no expense to find all kinds of treasures, learn secrets and use scandalous ways of harming his enemies …He also has a whole library of magic books.  He strives all the time to eliminate God completely so he may in future serve a different master …

– Propositions to the Archdukes in VIenna (1606)

True it is,” the Court Alchemist says to the King, “without falsehood, certain, and most true.  That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing…”

“When will your laboratory provide me gold?” the King asks.

“Soon, my Great King,” says the Alchemist. “We are close to understanding the secrets of the Philosopher’s Stone.  Simply a few more weeks of research and a few thousand more gold.  It is delicate.  One cannot rush enlightenment…”

The Great Alchemical Scams

Now since the principal part of our work consists in knowledge of our hermaphrodite, that is to say Mercury, guard well that you take it not for the leprous, common and vulgar mercury, in no wise proper to this subject.  But where will you then – you ask – that I seek and find it?  I answer that he is imprisoned and bound by many chains, and that there be none but the Philosopher can deliver him and set him free.

– Concerning the Material of the Stone, Anonymous

Alchemists claim Alchemy is the oldest science in the world with a theoretical history stretching into the mists of forgotten time. They say, by manipulating the elements, alchemy advocates inner awakening, enlightens the soul and grants greater insight into the universal magickal workings.  These pseudo-scientists weave a tapestry of Hermetic Magic, mystical languages, astrology, numerology and chemistry to build an emotionally charged narrative opposing the traditional schools of magic with equally powerful effects.  Why pay for a wizard when an alchemist does the same – and so much more!  All their alternative magic needs is some seed money, a place to work, and a patron.  

The Alchemists are running a con.  The con uses three core scams separately or in combination:  

The Quest for the Philosopher’s Stone: The core quest for any Alchemist is the manufacture of the Philosopher’s Stone. The Holy Grail fusion of art and alchemical science, this physical substance could turn lead into gold or silver, prolong life indefinitely, act as a universal panacea, and be the very key to the riddles of the universe.  The Philosopher’s Stone promised infinite riches and ultimate knowledge.  Alchemists believed (or claimed) the search for the Philosopher’s Stone was an internal and external journey. Only the most pure find the Philosopher’s Stone.  Its manifestation is the outward sign of complete hermetic enlightenment. 

Outside of the Alchemist’s lab, actual wizards of the school of transmutation keep quiet about the Philosopher’s Stone.  Sure, they know how to turn things into other things with magic but an ultra-powerful substance?  What is this crazy talk.  And no, they don’t know a thing about the overly successful but murdered Alchemist found dead in the street with no witnesses or the Alchemists turned to stone.  Not a thing.  

The Elixir of Life: An immortality potion, the Elixir of Life is sometimes equated with a specific manifestation of the Philosopher’s Stone.  Universally sought, stories tell of great Alchemists who drank “the white drops” (liquid gold) and achieved immortality without resorting to necromancy or eternal undeath. One only needs the slightest taste on the tongue of the Elixir of Life to extend mortal existence for hundreds to thousands of years. 

Some Alchemists claim to have tasted the Elixir of Life and are already hundreds of years old – outliving the oldest of the Elves themselves.  But there’s no proof.

The Sovereign Remedy: The ultimate cure-all – not just for disease (easily supplied by Clerics) but for all ills and difficulties.  The sovereign remedy is the solution to thorny political problems, the inability to see into the future, for old age, for infirmity, for mental illness and disease.  It slices, it dices, it’s a salve, when applied, that will bring the dead back to life.  The Sovereign Remedy is an infinitely refilling healing potion for no cost – curing all possible maladies, created in the laboratory with alchemical equipment, and made without Clerics or Gods.  The Clerics warn these are scams but that doesn’t stop Kings and Emperors for buying fantasy cure alls with mountains of gold.

And so far, while the Alchemists write libraries full of Hermetic tracts and books on astrology, they have produced no real tangible results – that anyone acknowledges.

Why Do The Patrons Hire Alchemists?

Why would Emperors, Lords and Kings turn to Alchemists in a world full of wizards who cast actual fireballs and clerics who commune with real Gods out on the Planes?  Why would these guys with advisors, education, money and power turn to alternative magi in their search for enlightenment?

– Wizards are expensive.  Wizarding guilds set high and inflexible prices for their services.  Sure a wizard potion will always do precisely what it says on the tin – wizards are proud of their workmanship and offer a high quality of product – but that potion costs 300gp. The Alchemist claims she can brew the same potion for only 100gp!  Or cheaper! In a more attractive bottle!

– Wizards with any good reputation will not turn over their secrets to some Grand Duke for money.  Some things are worth more than a bit of scratch; and while wizards love cash they won’t say, “Oh, the Philosopher’s Stone?  I have it here in my pocket.  Here, my Lord, take a bit!  Gratis!”  If a Lord wants to turn lead into gold and achieve immortality he’ll need to ask around.

Worse, some wizards are quite excited to part with their secrets for a steep price.  The Necromancer happily offers his Lord the secrets of the universe and turn the Great and Magnificent Emperor into the Great and Magnificent Lich King Lord. Why, yes, he can Grant Eternal Life… wait, why is the King running away?

– The Lord cannot turn to scab wizards. Once a Lord hires a non-guild wizard, the wizarding guild blackballs the Lord for life.  The Guilds have standards and they don’t need the Higher Classes. The first wizard guild rule is: customers only hire guild member wizards.  Need to go to war? Need a phalanx of fireball throwers?  Too bad you hired Bob the Scab on your quest for immortality. We cast him out for stealing our secrets and selling them on the street. Guess you’ll need to lose that war. 

Wizards are petty like that.

– Wizards are loyal to other wizards.  Their loyalty lies with their Order/University/Guild/Family.  Even the sleaziest wizard’s absolute loyalty cannot be bought or bargained.  Why would someone who can teleport and throw a fireball grant loyalty to a Lord whose best move is to call the Guard? 

– A Lord can turn to the Church for magic and enlightenment… if the Lord wants entanglement in Church politics.  Any Cleric will peer at the towers full of alembics and furnaces, the racks of dubious books, the magic circles drawn on the floor and the Neoplatonic sigils on the wall and ask probing questions. Questions like: what the hell are you doing? And, have you properly contributed to the Church this week?  Clerics are serious hermetic buzz kill.

– Alchemists dazzle.  They toil in huge laboratories of bubbling tubes and flaming furnaces with dozens – sometimes hundreds – of assistants.  They speak and write in glorious, compelling code that tantalizes with a hint of higher truths.  They make their Lords feel important. And Alchemists have impeccable fashion sense.

– Alchemists hook their Lord on the con.  Their King is an enlightened Monarch who, with Alchemical Truths, leads his people into a great and golden future!  Unlike the haughty closed-door wizards or the judgmental clerics, the Alchemist invites his great Patron along on a journey into philosophy, history, arcane knowledge, astrology, pseudo-mystical religion, and inner spiritual growth. It’s art!  It’s magic!  It’s the theater of the world!

It is, amortized over time, more expensive than paying a wizard.

Who Are the Alchemists (in a Fantasy Setting)?

The bulk of alchemists are straight up grifters and con-men – high charisma Rogues and a handful of Arcane Tricksters.  To manage the con, they require fast talk, a glib mastery of alchemical terms, knowledge in handling alchemical tools to make small but impressive results (magnesium flash-bombs and the like), slight-of-hand and an excellent sense of fashion.  They also need an underground contact to float them a supply of small gold nuggets to show “progress” in their “search for the Philosopher’s Stone.” These rogue alchemists are actual chemists – they can work a bench – but their expertise lies in true transmutation: turning words into gold.  

These rogues have a standard modus operandi.  They lay hands on a letter of invitation or hook themselves up with another Alchemist of solid reputation as an assistant and ingratiate themselves into a Court with high promises and theatrics.  Then they ditch their Alchemist buddy, run a savage burn on their patron, publish a few pamphlets full of garbage, and make a big show of building a laboratory with tiny incremental results. They soak the Court for cash until their Patron gets exasperated.  Then, just as the heat picks up, the Alchemist packs up his bags and wheels across town to run the same savage burn on the next Lord.  With their freshly written pamphlets in hand and a growing reputation as an Internationally Renowned Alchemist, they can keep the con going for years.   (See: history’s great charlatan, Edward Kelley.)

The second group of Alchemists are the real deal: the charismatic Sorcerers and Warlocks.  Unable to become normal socially accepted wizards in the cities through standard means, hunted to near-extinction by the wizarding guilds as competition and scabs, these truly magickal Alchemists use the endless parade of con-men as their cover.  Con-men to the Courts throw metaphysical flak into faces of would-be witch hunters while the Warlock and Sorcerer Alchemists use their (real) magic to keep their positions with the courts solid.  Dressing well, impeccable manners and producing for their Lords, they hide behind the courtiers and their Kings.

These are the Alchemists of solid academic reputation: the real “magic” scientists. Unable to communicate in the carefully articulated language of wizard arcana but possessing high charisma and real magic, these Alchemists use the coded and hermetic language of alchemy to cover, and explain, their actual abilities. Like the con-man rogue, the Warlock and Sorcerer Alchemists are truly chemists and doctors – they perfect skills at the bench and in a laboratory in the service of their patron while writing books on their findings to further “the sciences.”  The difference between them and the con-men: they get dangerously good results.  They walk a fine line between con and discovery.

While the payoff is high, the Lord takes risk for keeping the Sorcerer and Warlock Alchemist on staff.  The wild-magic Sorcerer may, randomly, explode the tower dedicated for alchemical research.  And the Alchemist Warlock might slowly infect the heads of the entire Court with Cthulhu. But, who says the search for greater hermetic enlightenment is without a little peril?  (See: Ramon Llull, Arnold of Villanova

The final group of Alchemists are those who use alchemy to a different end: the Spy Bards.  Espionage and Occultism: the perfect pairing. These alchemists can rattle off the language of alchemy with the best of the con-men.  They have contributed to the greater body of alchemical knowledge as a carefully cultivated cover over many years.  And they often come paired with one of the con-men grifter alchemists to help get ingratiated into a foreign Court – the bard as the front and the grifter as the “assistant.”  While they can make flash-paper and palm a gold nugget or two, the spy bard’s expertise is in encryption, ciphers, codes, mis-direction and information gathering – useful in both espionage and alchemy. 

Welcomed with open arms into the Courts all over the world for their celebrated knowledge, these bards talk their way into the closed boudoirs of the rich and famous.  They use a little bit of alchemical fast-talk to make friends and cultivate moles. Then they are off sending back encrypted messages to their home Courts.  Once the Lords are on to them – or bored with them when they don’t get results – the bard takes her leave and exits stage left, to head to the next Court down the road and do it all over again. (See: Dr. John Dee)

To Wrap This Up

Even in a world of insane market controls the free market will find a way.  It’s cunning like that.  Building high inaccessible walls around access to standard wizardly-magic creates a perfect opening for all sorts of con-men, grifters, proto-scientists, thinkers, and spies to waltz their way into the parlors of the rich and not-so-magicked.  They take advantage of inaccessibility to magic – there, but never cheap – to give themselves an opening.  If the money cannot flow into the pockets of the wizards it will flow elsewhere.  Where the gate keepers build gates, the con-men build scams around the side and to the left and offer it all for cheap.

In fantasy, Alchemists make great backgrounds for player characters, NPCs in court, an entrance to stories about the Planes (what if all of this crazy talk is right?), a tension between wizards and non-wizards, spy stories, and ridiculous scene-chewing villains.  Imagine for a moment the con-man grifter who now has two hundred assistants, a tower full of bombs, and is running all sorts of heinous murder plots from his protected position.  Who needs an Arch Lich when one is dealing with a high level, high charisma gnomish Rogue and her legions of fanatical minions who hides in a tower full of glass and fire?  Evil bomb-throwing alchemists!  Fun times!

Note: none of these Alchemists presented here actually want to do science. That’s a variant – the actual scientist Alchemist.  Or the hybrid based on Paracelsus: an effective surgeon and chemist who carried the Elixir of Life in the pommel of his broadsword.  But there’s no science here.  Just a series of rogues, their cons, and taking advantage of some well-meaning Great Emperors of Empire.

Writer’s Note: When I was writing this, I kept thinking the Bard-Rogue duo as the Mullet Espionage Team: business in the front, party in the back. 

This is pretty short – I could write forever on Alchemical con men and rogues.

On the Great Divination Wizards Guild and the Black Chamber

Guilds are urban creatures.  They cannot survive without cities.  They are parasites on the fantasy body politic, reaching their spider-like legs into the deepest recesses of civic culture.  Although membership is nominally voluntary everyone in town belongs to a guild: the doctors, the barbers, the bakers, the carters, the shoemakers and even the wizards. Especially the wizards. 

Once enrolled one does not lightly leave.

The political powerful and wealthy Greater Guilds represent professions requiring rare and expensive educations.  These powerful civic bodies wield true local power in their trade oriented Free Cities where the Masters of the Guild rule in tiny oligarchic republics without the meddling of Lords.  Between them they divide and rule the Free Cities controlling war, conquest, trade, and industry.  The Free Cities dance in their vice grip.

Within the Free Cities, the wealthiest of the Greater Guilds, Greater Divination Wizard Guild, is an autonomous moral and legal person. It possesses wealth in lands, houses, and money.  It contracts, bargains, binds itself, and a proctor represents it in court.  It built a vast University decorated with Coats-of-Arms. It has seals, banners and archives.  It makes its own internal rules which supersede many local laws for its members and all members of associated, lower Guilds. Within the Free Cities’ jurisdiction, the Greater Divination Wizard Guild is self-governing.  In a pyramid of city power, local lesser local craft guilds swear allegiance to the Greater Divination Wizard Guild for their own benefit and wealth: the wizard reagent reseller guild, the wizard jeweler’s guild, the wizard parchment makers guild who sell watermarked parchment for scrolls, and the wizard’s haberdasheries for highest qualities in wizarding robes and excellent wizarding hats.

Anyone with money, wealth or ambition schemes to join the guild and the easiest way is at the bottom: with apprenticeship.

A wIzard starts as a lowly guild apprentice. All entrants to guilds, greater or lower, mercantile or craft, world-spanning or local, starts with parents offering their precious children at age 10 to Masters on a contractual agreement.  Some contracts result in cash, some in goods in kind, and some in promises around the care of the child. After signing, the child leaves home with precious few personal belongings and enters the world of the Master’s workshop where they learn a trade while doing the Master’s unending bidding.   Some of the Masters of the Guild are kind, but most not; they have to uphold their reputation for turning children into wizards and only eight years for each child.  Eight years are barely time to learn the basics of the wizard’s craft and not enough time for kindness.  Long hours, constant work, uncomfortable conditions, and rote memorization is the norm.  Wizard workshops are brutal places to matriculate.

Not all children have the magic spark. Some lack the talent and the mental agility. The weeding practice is merciless. Master Wizards trade children who fail to quickly display magic to Masters of the lesser craft guilds for anything: goods, money, servants, other apprentices.  Society bars these failed children from the higher strata of their city’s class structure and doom them to a life of labor pressing paper in the wizard guild’s parchment mills or tailoring proper wizard cufflinks.  Failure in the Master’s workshop means a life toiling in service to wizards, never quite belonging to them, knowing you could be one of them, but on the outside forever looking in.  Once in as an apprentice to a Wizard Master – don’t fail.

Those who master enough “passable” cantrips may call themselves wizards and graduate from their Master’s workshop after eight years.  On that day, these new wizards are full dues-paying members of their fraternity for life.  While some newly minted journeyman wizards migrate to the next Free City over in search of work, few ever progress further in their mastery.  Instead they find themselves in lifetime mediocre salaried service to their Greater Divination Wizard Guild in its voracious need for cheap and easy labor: writing detect magic and identify scrolls marked with the watermark of the guild for pay, tied to benches in magic item factories crafting for sale, or offering their clerical services cheaply to the city.  Being a member of the vaunted Great Divination Wizard Guild does not guarantee success: many young wizards exiting the workshops of the Divination Masters find themselves bound for life to identify spell kiosks just outside popular dungeon and monster caves, identifying items and collecting data for unknown Guild Masters.  If they just work harder… 

But it’s good being a loyal guildsman.  The journeymen who do choose to stay journeymen for life exercise a number of perks for membership in a wealthy, powerful guild.  The guild is fraternity of educated men and women.  It’s warm.  It’s welcoming.  For those who quietly toil for their brothers and sisters, the guild provides them with a salary, gives them access to lower craft guild services, throws them banquets on holidays, pays for Church help when they or any of their family are ill, buy rounds of drinks and bails them out of jail when they get into a drunken bar fight, shelters them if they are homeless, gives them a stipend when they are old and pays for their funeral at their end of life.  Members can wear the coat of arms on their wizard robes.  The Great Divination Wizard Guild provides.  Sure, it takes a large cut of whatever the wizard makes but look what a member gets in return! 

Most of these journeyman wizards never progress past First Level. But who would ever want to leave the city or the comfort of the guild?

The Guild Masters encourage those few young journeyman wizards with strong enterprising spirit to go out into the world. Leave the Free Cities. Band with murder-hobos.  Discover mystery and excitement.  Gain a few levels.  “And bring us back what you learn,” say the Guild Masters. Pointy hat on head, staff in hand, shocking grasp cantrip in mind, the orks will take care of these optimistic few.  Dead in caves, on dungeon floors, in wilderness, and on the bitter end of jagged rotten iron hobgoblin swords, the great yearning for adventure solves the Guild Masters’ future wizard problems.  The few survivors are a more manageable long term problem. 

The Masters can deal with five high level wizards.  They have uses for the five high level wizards. The rest is what Bugbears are for.

Because the Guild Masters desire control and the status quo.  They brook no challenged.  The guild has internal laws and the members must obey the laws if they wish to continue reaping perks.  Shops must not sell what the Masters say they cannot sell.  Wizards must not scribe spells on non-guild approved parchment. Wizards must not wear non-guild approved robes.  Wizards must not use competing guild’s magic items.  They cannot learn or cast non-guild approved spells.  No one in the Free Cities may hire a “foreign” wizard – and “foreign” has wide connotations.  The Masters maintain a complete iron monopoly grip on their domain.  

To maintain control, without any forewarning, the Guild Masters sends out bands of Searchers – the Guild’s own Black Internal Affairs Squad – to Wizard workshops, mills, and storefronts to ensure complete compliance with the laws of the guild. Discovering reagents purchased from non-guild storefronts and hats made by non-guild approved milliners is grounds for censure. Spellbooks found with non-guild-approved scrolls or, worse, scab scrolls results in Searchers confiscating the workshop and member banishment from the guild.  The Searchers are on the spot judge, jury and executioner.  There is no appeal.  And the Guild Masters always know.  

Fear in the name of inner harmony, city peace, and civic brotherhood togetherness.  But why worry about the Searchers if the wizard has nothing to hide?  We’re all brothers and sisters.

Some wizards banished from the guild flee the Free Cities guild jurisdictions to craft their own, new spells on their own pressed parchment.  Spells the world has never seen.  Spells that may, if popularized, change everyone’s life.  The Guild Masters cannot abide rogue wizards and spells they do not control.  They are inherently ultra-conservative; change cannot permeate the membrane of their carefully designed guild fabric.  If someone outside mounted a charge to their authority, the Guild Masters could lose a small sliver of power.

The Masters send out teams of witch-hunters into the black swamps or desolate, forgotten wizard towers where the apostates hide. “Find these evil wizards and bring them to justice,” the Guild Masters implore adventurers (which include one of their own), “as they are destroying our way of life.  Keep the magic items in those dungeons and towers you find. For greater glory!  And bring us back the secret spell the evil wizard was working on, will you? Along with his head.” 

The guild promise of progression from apprenticeship to journeyman to master is a lie.  Theoretically, entrance to Mastery in the Wizards Guild is a meritocracy.  Purchase a workshop from years of back-breaking labor and adventuring and accept apprentices.  Take a place at the table of Masters.  Enjoy the money and power.  The old wizard earned it. 

Wizards chase this carrot on a stick their entire lives.  Work hard enough, pay enough dues, play the game, show enough unwavering loyalty, do the dirty work of the guild and be admitted to the higher ranks.  Claw into middle-management.

Yet, the licenses for Mastery in any of the Wizarding Guilds are few and jealously guarded behind a web of examinations, payments, and complex secret mystical rituals.  The Guild Masters goad potential would-be Masters to throw them another grand banquet, kill another guild apostate, and give another vast donation. The Masters promise to place the candidate’s name into the bag for possible election to the Masters when an Old Master dies.  Pinky swear.  And when an Old Master does die, the Guild Masters confers their one available master license to their own progeny to perpetuate hereditary line of families controlling the Guild.  Bloodlines, they argue, are the best proof of future mastery over the difficult, higher-level Magickal Arts and the difficulties of navigating city politics.   Who else to bring into the top ranks of Mastery than those who were born and raised into it?  Fair?  No. What is fair?  Surely there’s another adventure to go on, another dragon to slay, another Plane to map, instead of getting dragged into the mundanity of politics of civil city life?  This is a place for diplomats, not battle-hardened soldiers.

Hiding behind the Guild Masters of the Great Divination Wizard Guild, protected by this hereditary cult of Guild Masters, perpetuated by carefully cultivated nepotism, coils a layer of black secrets.

The Secret Masters of Divination are masters of information.  They know all, see all, understand all.  In times forgotten they built their guild on a core of wizard-based sensors armed with divination spells – information gatherers.  They run the Searchers.  They choose who to hunted and who to ignore.  They declare wizards apostate who climb too high into their ranks.  They sit on masses of data, sift through it and divine who to promote and who to destroy.  Some whisper the Secret Masters of Divination are an Arch Lich, a Mind Flayer and a Beholder who steer the Great Diviniation Wizard Guild toward acts of unspeakable evil. Others claim the Secret Masters are seven 20th level gnome wizards bent on Gnomish World Domination.

In the bowels of the Free Cities, under the streets and deep in wealth-bedecked guildhalls, protected behind layers of mundane journeymen wizards and their legions of servants, the Secret Masters run a massive intelligence operation: a Black Chamber. Within, the Secret Masters filter all the information gleaned for their member’s spells, they read mail, they crack the most powerful codes, and they know all about Lords, the Kings, opposing Wizards, and Great Families.  They run a world-spanning operation and sell their information only to the highest bidders when it suits their purposes.  The entire guild operation – the city government, the greater guilds, the lesser guilds, the mills, the scrolls, the magic item factories, the workers, the apprenticeships – are designed to fund this massive, expensive secret operation.  For whom? No one knows. 

The Secret Masters employ special wizard agents in the Black Chamber to analyze the data and concoct new advanced ways to spy on the enemies of the Free Cities.  They recruit from within the guild: promising journeymen wizards matriculating from the best Master’s workshops are “encouraged”  to go on adventure and, if they live, come to work for the Secret Masters. Here, they perfect their Divination spells and ascend to the highest levels of wizard mastery.  Beyond the control of the Guild Master front, these black agents move among their guild mates and perform the hands-on bidding of the Secret Masters – information collection, murder, mayhem, ant-spy deflection, whatever actions the data dictates.  Outside the Black Chamber, these agents look just like another journeyman wizard.

Anyone might be black agent of the Secret Masters.  Anyone

Or say those who can’t climb into the ranks of the Masters. Who knows? It’s probably all a crazy rumor.  Guild membership and mastery might just be about temporal City-wide power, money, monopolies, trade, wars and control.  Maybe the Guild Masters are a front for run of the mill every day evil.  Funny thing about Masters of Divination – they are also masters of countering divination spells. 

 guild-circlesWriter’s Notes:

I had this idea in my head for the Diviners running a sort of horrible Medieval post-WWI intelligence agency – the forerunner of modern intelligence operations. The Divination spells in D&D5e strongly correlate to information collection, data mining, and sifting. Then I came across the “Cabinet noir.”  And found other references to other Black Chambers, including the American Black Chamber

The free city is Bruges. 

Most of this comes from “Guilds in the Middle Ages” by Georges Renard, 1918.

The Black Chamber is from “The Code Book” by Simon Singh

Anything else is from “Medieval Guilds” on EH.net on the article by Gary Richardson

Picture made in Inkscape.

Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy: the Bard as a Spy, Cryptography and the Fantasy Espionage Team

The party stands before the Duke and he gives them a charge: march up the mountain to a nearby kingdom and slay the Arch-Lich who lurks there.  The Duke provides the party with maps to the mountain, a summary overview of what they might find (high level henchmen, nasty guards, a dragon chained in the basement) and offers useful magical equipment for the adventure. And God Speed, the Duke tells the party: the Kingdom and its people depend on you.  Defeat the Arch-Lich and forever be written into the annals of history!

Off they go into the mists of tale.  But this is not a story about the party heading off to grand heroics.

This is the story about the intrepid spies who stole the maps.

Even guards in evil kingdoms need to eat.  It’s a funny thing about the bard driving the food cart.  She spent her life learning to play all the roles for the stage and the role of her life is selling a bag of apples and a barrel of beer to an evil guard quartermaster in charge of feeding the rest of the evil underlings and cultists who surround the Arch Lich.  She must build trust.  She’s all about the confidence game – a natural-born grifter.

This is the core of a bard.  Yes, the bard can sing songs to buff up a team and work support, but what the Knowledge Bard, a graduate of the Bardic College is good at are skills: the languages, the persuasion, the investigation, the perception, the stealth and the performance.  She can carry out a role.  She can track down a mystery.  This knowledge-based bard is a master of languages.  She has no communication barrier, not even with the evil races.  She knows funny stories about everyone.  She can sing a couple of songs.  She is the master of selling roles to her audience of one and persuading them to trust her.  She can run a con like no one’s business.

Outside in the courtyard of the Arch Lich’s compound, the bard and the evil quartermaster get along like lifelong friends.  Next thing she knows, the quartermaster is inviting her in for tea.  Then she bribes guards on the inside with treats.  Evil guards are treat-deprived because they serve an evil Arch Lich and evil Arch Liches don’t go in for tiny sweet cakes.  It’s not a sweet-positive atmosphere.  Who is going to turn down a muffin?  Are you that evil?  Gratis, you know, between us.  And don’t mind my two friends over there – they help to unload the cart.

Then, she has her team in.  The bard schmoozes and builds up her network.  She gets a few people to talk, and they introduce her to bigger people who will know more information.  This is a long con.  Be the role, sell the roll, and don’t get caught.  After a while she’s one of them, part of the trusted inside. She’s always been there.  She’s the one who brings the muffins. Getting caught means jeopardizing the job and blowing cover and possibly getting killed.  Now she needs her team to steal information about the fortress and the Arch Lich’s plans.

This is a high risk, high reward sort of job.

The spy bard works her wits, her skills and her spells. While the bard spell list looks nearly unusable for standard dungeon-crawl murder-hobing, it’s fantastic for gathering human (or in-human) intelligence. She doesn’t have the big boom fireball or lightning bolts but her bardic spell list allows her to survive in the hostile environment beyond enemy lines where compromise is a constant risk. 

The best of the best on the bard spell list:

  • Message – The ultimate spy cantrip, Message’s singular ability is its ability to travel through a ceiling to the next floor or around corners.  It’s bounded by 120 feet (12 floors assuming 8 foot ceilings) or 3 feet of wood (about 6 floors, total, assuming joists).  Working with a team, Message can get alerts – I’ve been nabbed! – through a building, a palace or a decent sized compound instantly.
  • Illusory Script– Essentially short term “cryptography by magic,” Illusory Script will encode one message that only decodes for the target. Highly useful for making copies of documents before they’re properly encrypted.  This spell assumes the message will not pass through the hands of any creatures with True Seeing like, say, an Arch Lich, so use judiciously.
  • Unseen Servant – An easy way to perform a lengthy, repetitive task, like encrypting a message by hand; see below.
  • Magic Mouth –  For passing along cryptographic keys, locations of dead drops, names of contacts and warnings, Magic Mouth is the perfect spell for communicating information between team members securely in a close and dangerous locale.
  • Non-Detection – Non-Detection is the diviner-busting spell.  For 10 minutes, the target of non-detection can get through any magical scrying or divination defenses.  The perfect spell for that high risk break-in, highly sensitive conversation or that Mission Impossible theft.  Essential for pulling off a job.
  • Zone of Truth – Need to get absolutely accurate information out of a contact?  The downside of Zone of Truth is the target knows they’re in a Zone of Truth.  Using the spell will burn a contact, but if the information is critical to the safety of the Kingdom and all those innocent people…
  • Sending – More powerful than Message but less easily cast (as it is 3rd level), Sending gets 25 words anywhere, to anyone.  25 words is enough to transmit a key to a much longer bit of ciphertext to a receiver or reveal emergency information.  25 words is a tweet! It’s the SMS of spells.
  • Clairvoyance – Clairvoyance is an alarm system.  For 10 minutes, the bard gets a sensor on a door that detects intrusion.  That’s how long she has to meet with her network contact to get information, or commit a quick murder, or perform a little larceny.  10 minutes to get in and get out with a reliable watch. 

Spells aren’t enough to infiltrate and share information about a high risk target.  A good run against a target requires spells and skills – mostly involving data.  Encrypting information by hand has a few strong advantages over the spell Illusory Script or a Sending: it is longer than 25 words, it lasts longer than 10 days, it cannot be detected by a Detect Magic, cannot disappear with Dispel and cannot be instantly broken by a creature with True Sight – which, well, Arch Lich.  Or a high level Diviner in the Lich’s employ. 

The bard is a cryptographer and an a cryptanalyst.  The Linguist feat enables the bard to master most languages and cryptography is manipulating language to make it indecipherable with a secret key – or crack the enemy’s codes. 

This is the essential tension between the game of intrigue and the spy bard. The spy bard’s network needs information to effectively deploy military resources and those being spied on must intercept and break codes to further their interests. It’s information and intelligence providing internal security and external offense against the enemy.  Bards have the skills, the motives, and the creativity to keep one step ahead of the enemy’s current technology. 

The stronger the key, the stronger the algorithm, the more unbreakable the code.  The bard needs unbreakable codes – her life and the lives of others hang in the balance. As the spy bard lacks a computer (it’s fantasy), she has two classes of ciphers she can roll by hand at her disposal: alphabetic ciphers and one-time pads.

Alphabetic ciphers include the classes of substitution ciphers.  The spy bard knows enemy bards on the other side who intercept her messages can trivially crack simple monoalphabetic ciphers with frequency analysis.  She has to assume her messages can – and will – be intercepted by fate or by violence. If the enemy catches and deciphers her messages, the intelligence is lost and she’s probably one dead, or undead, spy bard.  They can’t be deciphered. 

She employs a whole bag of techniques that come with her Linguist feat to slow and befuddle her enemies and increase the difficulty of her ciphers: she can insert random characters, she can encode spaces and ‘nulls,’ she can encode syllables instead of single letters, she can use codes inside her encoded text, and she can layer the cracking process with nasty little traps.  She can get very clever and use variations on the monoalphabetic cipher by using multiple alphabets to encode the message.  If she has time or tools, she can even use the Vigenere Cipher, a nasty polyalphabetic cipher extremely difficult to break by hand without time and a good way to guess the key.  Breakable, yes, but perhaps not before the spy bard and her team can get away.

The other option, and a favorite of spy bards, is one-time pads.  One-time pads are virtually uncrackable without the key because they are completely random – the ciphertext gives no footholds in the sheer, icy cliffs of cryptography for enemy bards to crack with frequency analysis.  It works like so:

  1. The bard takes a highly sensitive message and one of her favorite plays or songs. 
  2. She works through the work of art and gives every word a number. 
  3. She replaces the letters of her message with numbers, each number corresponding to the first letter of a word in the work. 
  4. She delivers a big list of numbers on a page.
  5. Using Sending or Magic Mouth, she drops a message about the work of art to her teammate or a bag man – in effect exchanging the key in 25 words or less at a time delay.

No Diviner, no enemy secret agent, and no magic spell will crack that code if it’s intercepted.  However, this technique has two major weaknesses: 

  1. The bard somehow give the key to the intended target of the ciphertext.  If she cannot cast spells, or is not high enough level to use messaging spells, she will need to rely on a back channel.
  2. This work can never be used in another one-time pad so the bard needs a nearly inexhaustible supply of plays and songs.  Luckily, she is still a bard.

As a quick bard hack — Cryptography is a labor-intensive and slow process by hand unless one has unseen servant.  Much of the task of enciphering and deciphering is rote – look up the chart, look up the key, look up the ciphertext, write the ciphertext down. Repeat.  Unseen Servant is a short duration programmable spell which performs a task a human servant can do – like writing down letters or looking up charts.  As difficult as it is, the bard can automate much of the labor for efficient communication and gain critical minutes using magic. 

The bard cannot pull off the entire savage burn on the evil Arch Lich without an infiltration team.  She’s a fantastic cryptographer, she speaks all the languages of evil, she can make friends with the Arch Lich’s closest henchmen and get them to spill their plans.  But she cannot get into the Arch Lich’s inner sanctum to steal the Lich’s phylactery alone.  She cannot get herself out if she gets into a fight.  She’s a Grifter.  She needs an Infiltrator.  She needs a Hitter.  She needs her crew. 

The Infiltrator is a Trickster Rogue.  Fast and intelligent, the trickster rogue is a master of the three finger discount.  The bard is the face of the operation; the trickster rogue is the action.  Her job is to break into bedrooms and steal plans, hide in ducts to overhear conversations, sneak into the dungeons to release high value prisoners, execute a couple of targets with backstab (and True Strike), get in, get out, and get away with the maps in her underwear.  She employs a subset of the Bard’s spy spell list –  she has Message to keep in contact with her party members – “Guard patrol on level 5,”- Disguise Self to meld in with the guards or the servants, a little Charm Person (“These are not the orks you are looking for,”) and, when detected, Sleep.  The Infiltrator uses Illusory Script as the microfilm camera of spells to copy plans and leave the originals behind. 

The Hitter is an Eldritch Knight.  A retrieval expert, her job is to protect the Bard and the Rogue when they get themselves into trouble.  She’s not a hired killer, but she will kill to get her teammates out of a rough situation. Having enough social skills to pass as almost anything, the Eldritch Knight can double up as a Grifter to back up the Spy Bard.  Her Mage Armor and Eldritch Sword means never having to carry weapons into a possible combat zone – she has them when she needs them.  One the job goes bad, the Infiltrator is on the run and the Spy Bard is talking her way out of being hung from the nearest rafter, the Hitter can reach out for her sword and start going to town. Hope the Bard has encrypted all the documents sufficiently when they get spotted while running away…

The three methodically plan out their the savage burn on the Arch Lich because that guy has to go down. He’s bad news.  The bard provides a cover for the team (“I’m a bard and these are my roadies!”), builds up her network of contacts, works a the human side of the intelligence chain, defeats the diviners the Arch Lich may have on his staff, and encrypts the data to smuggle out.  The thief lifts the plans about the Arch Lich’s army, his dragon in the basement, his phylactery, and makes off with the Arch Lich’s inexplicable pair of Boots of Striding and Springing.  The thief also performs a little covert ork and hobgoblin murder.  The Eldritch Knight smacks people in the face when it all goes bad because it always all goes bad.   Getting out is difficult; sometimes she stabs some former ‘friends.’ 

They are a highly trained team.  They work on hire.  They answer to no master – that anyone publicly knows about.  They coordinate on a job through well-placed Message, Sending, Magic Mouth, dead drops, and signals.  The job is to get in and get out.  Preferably without getting caught or setting the Arch Lich’s castle on fire. 

When a Kingdom needs help to deliver them from evil, these are who they call first.

In this particular example, we can assume the run went smoothly. The bard talked the team in under the nose of the Arch Lich and made some friends. The team set up dead drops in secure locations inside the Arch Lich’s compound. The thief bloodily murdered a few orks with death from above.  The team discovered the Arch Lich’s horrible plan. They snuck out by cart — “You’re out of beer!” – in the night.  The Eldritch Knight cleared out patrols on the way home. They smuggled their encrypted information to the Duke, who handed it to his cipher secretary for decryption.

Then the Duke called in the main hitters, the fireball wielders, the combat team and handed them the decrypted intelligence.  Here you go, a ready-made adventure for heroes to go roll an Arch Lich for the good of us all…  

Pre-Build Team:

The focus was mostly on the bard but the bard needs a posse.  To express the complex idea of how to build an infiltration team and how the spy bard works in practice, we put together some example characters. This pre-built 5th level infiltration team is a group of highly trained women operatives and mostly ready for play.  I didn’t write these – all credit for these character sheets goes to my research assistant (and husband!) by Eric Thornber.  

These PDFs are free for download.

Writer’s Note: This started as a discussion on twitter about D&D/Shadowrun cross-over.  This is less socio-economics and more world-building but gets at a long standing issue: the Bard – what good is she good for?  It turns out in D&D5e, she’s the lynchpin in a slightly different class of stories than the standard smash-and-grab murder hoboing.  Then I really enjoyed the idea.  Unfortunately, I ran out of words, so I may continue into a major Crypto Bard vs Diviner Underground War write-up next week.  This is less intrigue than I would have liked.

The team at the latter half of the article is based on Leverage’s Hitter/Grifter/Hacker/Thief combo with the Bard filling the role of the Grifter and the Hacker.  The Bard and Rogue are essential.  The Hitter can be swapped out for a Warlock and a Sorcerer, but the Eldritch Knight was the most fun.

While writing this I came across the Chevalier d’Eon, the best example history could give me of a transgender spy bard because awesomeness.