Villainous Lures, Part One
By Ed Greenwood
Full accounts of the tall tales and deceptions practiced by swindlers across the Realms could fill a library larger than Waterdeep itself. Here follows a "grab bag" (or in Realms terminology, a "chance snatch") of some current lures various villains are using right now to draw victims into their clutches.
- "Thy aunt is sick and lies ailing in the care of the temple of X; give to me, priest of X, coins or goods in lieu enough for me to send to the temple, to pay for her healing."
This tale, much practiced in Sword Coast cities on young workers who have distant rural kin, requires knowledge of the name, location, and faith of the supposedly ailing family member, and of relevant temple and shrine locations. The intent is to falsely represent a faith not too different in alignment and outlook from the supposed sick person's, but not precisely the same (to avoid having the dupe say: "But my Aunt Tharra has given hundreds in gold to the House of Hands these past six seasons; they'd NEVER demand more from her!"). A plausible tale is concocted for why the supposed sick person was away from home when stricken, or out of favor with their own temple, and so on. Unfrocked, "fallen" priests are sometimes involved in such schemes, but they're usually played out by glib actors falsely portraying clergy.
- "I've a chance to make a LOT of coins, friend, if I can smuggle Y into the city, but lack all the coins I need to buy a wagonload of turnips (or whatever) to hide it in. I need another 6 (or 10, or 14) gold to swing it, and if we can manage this, and sell the Y, I'll make sure you get your coins back AND another 50 gp (or a larger impressive amount) out of it. We daren't record this anywhere, of course, for your protection, but to prove I'm sincere about this, I'm prepared to give you this as surety (collateral)."
"Y" is of course a scarce, highly taxed, or illicit good, and "this" is a gilded or silver-plated bowl or trinket that looks far more valuable than it really is, or is a stolen item too "hot" to be fenced or even retained. The supply of Y is fictitious, and so is the wagonload; only the lost loan of the 6 to 14 gp is all too real.
Sometimes this ruse is combined with the next one.
- "Please, friend, hide this valuable whatzit of mine; thieves have twice tried to steal it and I've been openly threatened/beat up/taunted that they WILL take it. I need you to keep it safe-hidden for just three (or whatever) nights, and then I'll be by to claim it."
Sometimes coins are even offered in payment for the hiding.
In all cases, the "whatzit" is stolen goods (usually taken from someone locally rich and powerful), and the hider will be framed for its theft.
Sometimes a trade rival of the hider has hired the swindlers to ruin the victim (who might be imprisoned, run out of town, fined heavily, or just run afoul of local persons of power, and lose all trade).
More often, this ruse is worked on an ambitious merchant, who's then "informed upon" to local authorities as the stealer of the "whatzit." If the authorities arrest the merchant, the swindlers drop by to plunder his residence or shop while he's in detention. In at least one case in Athkatla, when many law officers were mustered for a raid, bold thieves joined their ranks and stole goods during the law officers' search and seizure.
- "See this? I found a wounded elf dying in the backlands, and tended him. 'Twas too late to save him, poor longears, but I saved him some pain and stayed with him, and he thanked me -- and gave me this."
The "this" is either a treasure map or a suitably elven-looking trinket that's claimed to be a ward- or portal-key allowing entrance to a treasure cache (which the informant will give the location of, plus a juicy hint or two, such as: "Look high, not low, and beware blades of lightning!"). The swindler gives some plausible reason why she can't personally pursue the treasure (fake wounds and tales of curses are favorites) and offers to sell it to the victim.
Either the map and tale are entirely fictitious, or they lead the victim (and any buddies or hirelings brought along, whom the swindler can often increase in numbers with fanciful tales of defenses to be overcome) into a killing trap or ambush, so the swindler will gain all their worn and carried goods.
Villains can come in more subtle versions. Find out more about the possibilities for evil deeds in next week's article.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, sf, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .