The Crooked Rooks

The shadowy organisation commonly referred to as the Crooked Rooks, or just the Rooks, by those who have heard of their existence are sometimes said to have been inspired by stories of the Marijah assassins of the Ta'ashim lands - an organisation able to exist with total security in their massive fortress of Alaflak and venture forth at will to commit assassinations and other diverse criminal acts. This may be true and may be why they have taken as their symbol, a device that resembles a watchtower fortress, although it has been pointed out that a similar device is also seen on the heraldic arms of the Duchy of Lavasse and rumours suggest the Rooks may have their origin there.

Whatever the truth of this, the Rooks seem to be an organisation of criminal communities, found in some of the towns and cities of western Legend. They are believed to operate in Ongus (where they have given rise to the idea among the populace that there is a 'Guild of Thieves' in existence), Quadrille (where they may control a neighbourhood of slums referred to, ironically, as the Glories), Vantery, and Achtan, but these may just be the places where they have become enough of a presence to make total secrecy impossible. It is quite likely they operate in at least some other cities and towns. It is believed that a recent war in the substantial criminal underworld of Ferromaine may be the result of attempts by the Rooks to gain a foothold in that city over the objections of more local factions.

The Rooks are probably nowhere near as organised as terms like 'Guild of Thieves' imply, although they may hope to achieve such organisation someday. Their modus operandi typically involves setting up a base in a poor area of a town or city, and setting about to make the surrounding area secure and safe for themselves. They will police this area and prevent crime within it on the combined principles that the poor have little worth stealing to begin with, but also that if you make such a community safe, it will provide you with protection. It may only be one or two streets, or perhaps a small cluster of slums but if the people there will not provide the town authorities with information or support, it can be very easy to hide.

It is important to note that most members of the Rooks are normal people, not members of any adventuring professions. Anybody can turn to crime, and membership of the Rooks is dominated by petty thieves and pickpockets (many of whom may still be children), footpads, and similar. Some Rooks may have the skills of the Assassin profession, but they are not a community of Assassin's in the sense of the Marijah or Clan of Harbingers, and if a Rook is prepared to kill for money on occasion, it is merely part of their overall willingness to do what it takes to make a profit without qualms of conscience, rather than a common part of their lifestyle. Occasionally Rooks may also be members of other professions - a warrior or a wizard may choose to embrace a criminal lifestyle as any other person might, and their skills can be valuable in making such a living.

The head of a local community of Rooks is generally referred to as 'the Bishop'. How this person achieves this eminence probably differs from place to place - in some cases, they may be the choice of their peers, in others they may simply be strong enough and ruthless enough to enforce their will on those around them. A Bishop will regard himself or herself as being responsible for a particular domain - often the entire city or town in which they operate - and may attempt to impose some control on all criminal activity within that area if they feel they are strong enough to do so, or they may tolerate and accept freelance activity and instead focus on making membership of the Rooks attractive enough that people will seek them out. Making arrangements with local fences to only deal with Rooks may achieve this aim, as may having good 'unofficial' financial relationships with local guards, militia or watchmen that allow a blind eye to be turned to certain activities. In Ongus, they are widely believed to have an arrangement with the local Church authorities that allows a person to claim 'benefit of clergy' (the right to be tried before an ecclesiastical court for secular crimes, which normally leads to far less severe penalties) for a donation of thirty pieces of silver for any crime short of rape, murder, or treason although this can normally only work once for any individual.

Most, if not all, communities of Rooks will have an ordained Priest of the True Faith among their number, offering confession to those who seek it - in a world where most people believe sincerely in the fires of hell, this is a welcome service. Some of these Priests are men who have fallen into criminal activities themselves, but others are sincere and honest men who believe they are doing God's work in ministering to criminals. As well as offering the sacraments, they may also attempt to turn a person away from a life of crime - and they represent one of the only ways a Rook can seek to leave the Rooks. Leaving the Rooks is normally not tolerated, but if the Priest speaks up on a person's behalf, he will be allowed to go unmolested as long as he never betrays the Rooks.

The Rooks believe that the purpose of criminal activity is to turn a profit. For this reason, they do not generally tolerate crimes such as rape, or arson or murders where the motive was unrelated to making money (unless they can somehow turn a profit themselves). Necessary violence in the course of criminal activity is accepted, although it is generally desirable to avoid it if reasonably possible. Unnecessary violence is another matter. They also expect that a Rook will never betray his comrades by giving evidence against another, and in exchange, will do what they can to help their fellows. They will generally not commit crimes against Priests, athough wealthy Bishops and churches may be another matter.

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