IT’S NOT A UNION! 6 Alternatives to “The Thieves’ Guild” with Group-Specific Thieves’ Cant.

The thieves’ guild isn’t a franchise any more than the black market is an event that happens in a local temple’s parking lot on Saturday mornings. There is no single guild that all thieves join to get union wages. 

There are many small groups and businesses that interact with (or purposefully avoid) one another, each one with their own twist on thieves’ cant.


They’re names aren’t obvious like Thieves’ Guild or Pickpockets United or the Disassociation Association. Instead, they have subtle, sometimes forgettable names. Or if they’re daring, they have a name that hints at their true purpose, like a fuel company meant for shuffling money to other companies called “Shell.”


Here are some alternative groups and businesses that are cover ups for local thieves, along with a few examples of their specific brand of thieves’ cant.


This project was a group effort among myself (u/RexiconJesse), u/PantherophisNiger, and u/Mimir-ion. If you like it, check out their posts and profiles as well.


  • Smith, Potter, & Smelter Union – A union formed to ensure fair wages for workers that doubles as a front for a ring of counterfeiters and smugglers. There’s constant discourse around which group should be listed first, and that’s by design.Their thieves’ cant primarily revolves around the order of smith, potter, and smelter when speaking. Smith means you, potter means me (the speaker), and smelter means work.
    • “Smelter, potter, smith” means “Work for you and me. I’m in charge.”
    • “Smelter, smith, potter” means “Work for you and me. You’re in charge.”
    • “Potter, smelter, smith,” means “I have work for you.”
    • “The union smiths aren’t going to like that.” means “Bad news for you.”


  • Velcena’s Care – A collection of healthcare enthusiasts offering potions, elixirs, and care to those in need. With no central location, they make house calls and help who they find. They also work with alchemists to distribute illegal potions, the raw materials to make them, and poisons.
    • “Here’s something if the pain gets worse.” means “This item will kill.”
    • “It should last you a week.” means “It will be done in a week.”
    • The troubled organ in their diagnosis signifies the severity of the conversation. From most to least important is brain, heart, stomach, liver, kidneys, spleen.


  • The Watched Hand – A group of information brokers which masquerade as all manner of scam artists, magicians, and other performers. They get paid for information that was not known yet, once that information has been sold. While payouts can take years sometimes the coin is a significant addition to their daily scams. Their code is extensive, and most can hide an entire story in a conversation.
    • “Last [performance], support your entertainer.” signals auctions for information are to start, those partaking should throw in an entrance fee.
    • Clandestine meetings start with any greeting that involves a request for a drink. During this exchange their hands are the tell, left hand visible means “we can talk”, right means “Can’t talk now”, both hands visible means “Nothing fishy, we are being watched.”
    • “You’ve got me figured out.” means “No information to sell”.


  • Spooks – A rough-cut collection of armed muscle. The group is set up as bouncers and mercenaries, muscle for hire. They operate openly gang-like in certain places, “protecting” neighborhoods, while in others they blend in, for example as brothel bouncers or bodyguards. Respect is based on violent histories.
    • “Long nights this week.” signals that there is news about opposition, and they should sharpen their guard and expect trouble.
    • “Your [family member] is in trouble [with..]” means that you are requested to reassign as some job has come up. Closeness of the family member chosen shows priority.
    • Picking a fight with them directly, with a coin in your hand, at their place of business ensures a meeting in a secluded place, where business can be done. You might get roughed up a bit on the way.



  • The Inner Circle – A collection of inns across the country. They all have different names and appear to be standalone, small inns owned by locals. However, all of the owners are actually members of the Inner Circle. They house members free of charge, have secret meeting rooms for clients in the know, and exchange much information in plain view around the unsuspecting patrons.


    • “Slept rough last night.” means “Job’s taken care of.”
    • “I need a new mattress.” means “Not safe to talk.”
    • When someone offers to buy someone else a drink, that means they have a job for them.


  • The Choir of the Lost Angels – A traveling group of a capella singers famous for their captivating stage presence. Their songs are known for having boisterous and loud stretches, accentuated by round singing. These moments are meant specifically to draw attention to them and mask the sounds of the audience, allowing audience members who do not wish to be heard by others time to speak.
    • Words that convey enjoyment in the context of their songs have specific meanings. For example, love means “work,” like means “money,” relish means “danger.” “I relish this song” means “I am in danger,” while “You like this song?” means “You need/have/want money?” (depending on context)
    • Reactions to their music is another form of thieves cant. Standing while applauding after a song means no one should approach you about business.  Shouting after a song informs others you are approachable for business. Throwing a flower on stage is a signal to another patron that a scheme previously discussed has started.

I hope this resource inspires you or is useful in some way. There’s always more stuff at and my website

I’m intractable on

  • Reddit (Praising others, Dark Souls theories, and posting my own goodies)
  • Discord (RexiconJesse#2068)
  • Twitter (Bite-sized RPG shenanigans)
  • Instagram (Mostly pictures of costumes)

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