Illicit activities in the Last Age
This is the art of taking things from the others, using intimidation or violence.
Who: this method is liberally used in the occupied lands, as violence is a common sight and there is no authority to which report those crimes.
Orc marauders in the counrtyside or orc patrols in cities are notorious for their ability to “help themselves”, taking whatever they want from the communities they are occupying. After all, they always can justify their acts to their superiors by saying this is for the “war effort”.
Human militias in occupied cities are also likely to act this way, especially those that serve particularly corrupt traitor princes or false sussars. The poorer the guards, the more likely they are to take what they want at sword point.
Finally, human bandits plague the countryside, taking foodstuffs from isolated villages. This is a common sight in the Last Age, as rare are those who still carry a weapon. Most villagers don’t dare report such attacks, as it would draw the local legate’s attention on their village. Usually, brigands only target rural communities that produce more than they report to the Shadow “tithe takers” and thus have production excedents.
Where: most of the time, such activities happen in the occupied lands, especially in the Dorn lands. Some bandits have also specialized in attacking defenseless gnome barges, effectively acting as “river pirates”.
Some bandit groups have also begun forming in fey lands, especially in the Kaladruns, preying the few human refugees or isolated kurgun villages. Bandits are still unheard of in the Erethor, but a few human refugees are preparing attacks on other refugee communities to take from them whatever foodstuff they might have.
This is the art of getting paid as the price of one’s silence.
Who: this method is very rarely used, since it targets powerful individuals, most likely serving the Shadow. It takes a lot of efforts to find the target’s dark secrets, and once this is done, a lot of diplomacy is involved when contacting the target and trading the silence for payment. This is usually done by groups that are able to gather information through spying networks, which is a rare feat in Eredane. Most likely, such groups could be Aradil’s eyes, the Baden resistance or other organized, large-scale resistance group. Another possibility is the rare surviving thieve’s guild, usually acting on purpose of its “benefactor”, or as an “insurance” against the local legate. Typically, they threaten to let word slip of the local legate’s “weaknesses” to his hierarchy or competitors, in exchange for being allowed to carry on their activities unmolested. This is a dangerous game indeed, but most legates or traitor princes are too afraid to let their competitors know about their weaknesses, so they usually accept the proposition.
Where: such activities can only be performed in large cities, because of the huge resources needed to spy upon the target. In the countryside, it is usually not worth dwasting such precious resources when criminal activities, as long as they are kept to a minimal degree, are usually accepted by the local Shadow forces.
How: the methods used are usually a lot of spying of the target, involving theft of compromising documents or items, keeping witnesses alive and hidden, or any other method that guarantees that evidence is being kept by the blackmailer in case the target refuses the deal. Of course, only organized groups can perform this.
This is the art of selling forbidden but needed wares, at exorbitant prices, to those in the know.
Where: such activities are performed, either in secret places in cities, accessed only to those who where to find them and know the right passwords, or in remote areas, difficult of access. There are no constant markets, as they change places os often as possible, in order to reduce the risk of being caught by Shadow troops.
Who: In the south, there is one known moving black market, held by freeriders who sell wares they’ve stolen from Shadow caravans or false sussars. It is usually only accessible to other freerider bands.
Jaden’s pirates also trade their stolen wares in a secret grotto, in the Corbron isles. Of course, only other shady sailors know of this place, and they usually have some connection with the resistance.
In the cities, those who sell illicit wares are usually either gnomes, acting through the Hidden Hand, or goblins or orcs who want to make some profit.
Finally, some enterprising goblins have set up some illegal trade, selling their wares (usually stolen from humans or taken from dead bodies, but also, more rarely, stolen from the Shadow) to other rogues. Their customers are usually other Shadow troops, but they are also known to sell to human bandits or unsavory individuals. Their meeting point is White Cliff, and they gather each full moon. Unsurprisingly, gnomes know of this and sometimes bring supplies or buy rare and precious goods. They also are used as cargo ships for such activities, and take a share of the profits of this black market.
How: to gain access to a black market, one has to be trusted. Connections to the underworld are thus indispensable.
What can be found in a black market: - drugs (everywhere) - alcohol (only through the Hidden Hand, since the gnomes have a monopoly on production and trade of alcoholic beverages in Eredane) - weapons (almost only in remote areas, since entering a city with those is way too risky, even when bribing guards) - greater crafted items (such items grant minor +1 or +2 bonuses, and don’t radiate magic; they can be found through underworld connections that somehow “protect” the last heirs to surviving artisans) - herbs and poisons (almost only in the countryside for fresh products; “crafted” products, that are specially treated for later use, can rarely be found in cities, at exorbitant prices) - thieves’ tools (only in cities; in the Last Age, those are very rar, since both materials, knowledge to produce them and potential customers are so rare) - forged documents, counterfeit money (those can only be found in one or two southern cities, under special restrictions) - books and lore (cities only: either the result of the pillaging of long-lost libraries, or through the work of hiding scribes)
Theft & Fencing:
This is the art of stealing things and making it a profitable activity.
Where: in the Last Age, cities are the only places where there are still actually unencumbering and valuable things to be stolen.
How: there are still different methods for stealing items.
Pickpocketing: this only works suitably in crowds, and only for specific items, since only in a rare few places do people still carry with them valuable items (coins in southern cities of Steel Hill, tokens of authority, etc). The only remaining “targets” that are worth stealing from are usually legates or Shadow nobles, and these are actually under heavy protection. This explains why pickpocketing is almost completely avoided in the Last Age.
Burglary: there are still some specialized burglars in the Last Age, although they are few and the risks are high. Targets are usually legates’ homes, orc garrisons, corrupted nobles’ mansions. Such operations are carefully crafted, after thorough reconnaissance, planning every detail beforehand. Usually, such endeavours are only attempted when ordered to by the guild’s sponsor, the target being a competitor of some sort. Given the risks, only the chance of a huge reward could motivate individuals to get involved in this. It usually takes at least a few weeks to cover every facet of the plan, involving many people to act as gathering information, reconnaissance, diversion and to cover the thieves’ tracks.
Fencing: only three categories of people will actually be able and willing to trade for stolen items: the Hidden Hand, some cities’ loan sharks (who themselves are usually connected to a Shadow faction), and a guild’s sponsor.
The art of bringing concealed illicit items to a customer.
Who: smugglers are usually affiliated to an underworld organization, which procures them the goods they are to deliver. This involves knowing people willing to fence stolen goods (thieves’ guilds or such), or the underworld (black markets). Such people can be the Hidden Hand (although this organization will only cal to other people’s services when it thinks its members are watched), the southern alliance, the orcish mafia… among other possibilities.
Where: anywhere, especially in the occupied lands, where many illicit goods are needed. There are also secret caravans joining elven land dwarven lands in the south, but these are more and more rare, given the ongoing war both in elven and dwarven lands. The smuglging is usually made by river boats, which gives gnomes an almost complete monopoly on this activity.
How: there are multiple methods for carrying concealed items. The most popular is using gnome barges, in secret compartiments. More rarely, land caravans are used, exclusively in wilderness areas, where they can more difficultly be spotted. Some rogues even conceal their secret cargo in a Shadow caravan, making sure the wares will be safely carried to their destination. This method involves either complicities in the Shadow troops, or confidence that another team will be able to “steal” the concealed cargo when it arrives. The compartiments are usually marked in a special way so that the “receiving team” knows exactly where to search. This method is mostly used by the orcish mafia, since this organization is the least likely to see its operations discovered.
What: the smuggled goods are either stolen items, items only usable by the resistance (weapons, magic items, herbs, etc), or illicit items even for the Shadow forces (especially drugs or alcohol for orc troopers).
This is the art of making a profit out of lies.
Who: most charlatans or conmen are humans, either in the countryside or in cities, and gnomes. This activity supposes the ability to travel incognito, and to leave as quickly as desired.
Where: in the countryside, crooks sell false herbal potions for curing the sick and wounded, false safeconducts for those who want to flee, or needed but illegal items or favors (false magical items, false legate favors, false travel tokens). They can take various guises, including: - a travelling legate, who pretends to be corrupted and can sell “Shadow indulgences” (usually a sign that a village is to be spared from tithe gathering) - a travelling minion of a Shadow lord, who lets people think that he can be bribed, so that he reports that a given village has nothing to be taken as a tithe, due to poor harvest (or, conversely, who lets people think that he’s come to collect the yearly tithe in the name of his lord) - a traveling merchant selling “news” (mostly wild tales) of the outside world ot isolated communities - a wandering trader, selling “exotic” (fey) wares: “elven” exotic wares or luckbringers, “dwarven” tools (sickles, etc). Such goods are presented as exceptionally efficient and valuable. Sometimes the crook denounces his customers to the local legate, for the right fee of course - a “resistance recruiter”, acting on behalf of a well-liked insurgent band, on the behalf of which he takes food and supplies from villagers; he sometimes denounces them afterwards to the local legate, in exchange for a share of the loot and the right to carry on his activities unmolested.
Such activities explain the lack of trust to strangers in the Last Age.
In the cities, a crook: - would trade favors from a distant cousin of his, who happens to work for a powerful Shadow minion - would pretend to secretly act on behalf of a distant legate / Night King/ traitor prince, who will “reward” the target later if the target “helps” the agent - would sell “needed” wares (pseudo-magical items, false books, false Shadow favors, etc)
Hitman / Bounty hunter:
In the Last Age, this is an almost honorable profession, although few are those who can afford their services. They mostly work for: - traitor princes willing to eliminate their rivals, or people who “know too much” - legates who discreetly want to remove reluctant pawns or competitors, or “expandable” agents once their job is done - the underworld: crime bosses seeking to eliminate their rivals, or ambitious underlings seeking to take their place - aging orc commanders, who could not handle a duel by themselves, who want to remove an ambitious younger rival.
Most of the time, they also work as bounty hunters, thus sparing precious troops the time and effort to seek a band of bandits or insurgents in the wilderlands of Eredane. This tends to take most of their time, as assassination jobs are not that commonplace. And bounty hunting pays well, too.
Who: many different people can do such jobs, including: - orc “special forces”, or members of the orcish mafia, who are good fighters specialized in tracking, ambush tactics, and given special authorization to act as irregular troops - human mercenaries, but these need a special authorization (under the form of a black ring worn on the right index, given only by legates, usually after having performed a “detect alignment” spell); they are also restricted to a specific area - a special legate order known as the Trackers, working with goblin sniffers and astirax-possessed hawks and owls
Where: such activities are known to take place in all occupied lands. Elves and dwarves have their hands full with the current war, so they don’t bother hiring bounty hunters in their lands. Such activities, although very rare, are not unknown in Asmadar, but in a more gentle fashion: bounty hunters are sometimes hired to bring back a wayward daughter who fell in love with the son of a rival clan, or to bring back stolen horses (and make sure the horse thieves are given the right treatment).
How: “wanted posters” are very rare in Eredane, given the scarcity of able painters, and the lack of printing technology. In the southern lands, false sussars use the talents of the few remaining artists, who draw portraits from the witnesses’ descriptions. This usually creates widespread paranoia, since the descriptions are so vague that the portraits could actually picture anyone. Another, more widespread method, is to have a “newscrier” go through every village and, by the sound of drums, read a description of the wanted persons, listing their dirty deeds and the bounty on their heads. Cooperation is not only welcome, it is also expected, as doing otherwise may spell doom upon a village. Villagers, being forbidden to carry weapons, are not allowed to catch the criminals, unless using ruse. The catching is especially devoted to Shadow troops or sanctioned bounty hunters. When catching a prey, it is not uncommon for a bounty hunter to torture him until he confesses his “faults” to the nearest legate.
Sometimes, legates perform a specific ritual known as “scrying”, using the zordrafin coriths as divination basins. Such rituals are only made after the desecration of a temple of Shadow or an aggression against a legate. The corith then reveals the faces of the perpetrators, as blood ripples form the faces of the culprits. Clothes are then applied on the surface, thus effectively printing the criminals’ faces on the cloth. There are as many clothes printed as necessary to show to the populace. Of course, this method is only used to track high-ranking insurgents.
Kidnapping / slaving:
Sometimes, bandits abduct a villager or the bleoved village’s hetman’s daughter, for a ransom. This is actually a form of Extorsion. If a ransom is not paid, the prisoner is sold to goblins as a slave or executed outright. Human life has not much value in the Last Age.
For more info about slavery, read the “How one becomes a slave” article.
This is the activity of selling illicit drugs for a huge profit.
Where: for those who can afford, drugs are sometimes sold in cities. In the Last Age, many people are willing to take anything to forget, at least temporarily, the harsh life they have. Orcs are also good potential customers, since many garrisons in occupied cities have not much to do, and long for the frontlines. Boredom often drives to drug-taking. Of course, such an activity is harshly punished, as the Shadow does not take lightly any activity that might lead to troop indiscipline.
Who: most drug dealers are either humans, gnomes or orcs. Whatever their race, all of them are part of an organized crime network. Otherwise, they would not have access to such a highly illicit merchandise.
What: most customers take opiates, inducing a dream-state that helps them forget their miserable lives. Orcs, on the other hand, rather take a special drug which they call “freedom”. Its main effect is to suppress the dreams sent to them by Izrador, thus creating far more gentle and civilized orcs. Such orcs, being given their own free will, often start doubting their orders or serving the dark god. Some people whisper that the drug is actually the White Mother sect, all addicts being part of it. Others pretend it was brewed by Aradil herself, to cripple the orcish army’s morale. Whatever the truth, this drug sees more and more widespread use, effectively threatening the Shadow army’s discipline. If used correctly, it could be a great boon to the resistance’s efforts.
How: selling drugs to Shadow troops could give many blackmail opportunities to the “dealer”, as the addiction gives an edge to extract critical informations from an addicted Shadow minion. There is also the possibility, to some extent, to use the drugs to “control” an addict (forcing him to perform some acts such as spying, in exchange for his precious drug). Of course, this would most be useful to resistance groups, but underworld organizations currently use this as a means of high indirect profit.
This is the art of selling (illicit) alcoholic beverages for a profit.
Who: although gnomes don’t have a monopoly on production, they have it on the distribution of alcohol, all across Eredane. Given the scarcity of gnomish liquor, it often is used for bribery or to trade favors.
Where: such trade happens everywhere in the occupied lands, and even as far as north of the Pellurian sea. More “exotic” spirits are locally produced, usually in small quantities given the lack of resources, and can fetch quite high prices.
What: Halfling nomads are known for their spiced root liquor, while some of the remaining agrarian halflingclans still produce high-quality wines. Clan dwarves produce mushroom alcohol, which is usually consumed before a battle to give a warrior strength and courage. Some kurgun and dorns still produce small amounts of beer, some of which are secretly convoyed for a few traitor princes. Near the Kasmael coast, some Sarcosan villages still produce honey-mixed wines.
In the Last Age, because of the “tithes”, few villages can produce something to be turned into an alcoholic beverage, except for the enjoyment of the local legate or traitor princes, as very little quantities can be produced. Instead, the people gathered other, less edible materials (berries, acorns, etc) found in the wilderness, which they used to produce “booze”.
Gambling / Betting:
This is the art of making money as a bookmaker or a casino owner.
What: in the Last Age, there is little entertainment left, but it is human nature to seek it. The grim perspectives faced by humans in cities incite them to gamble what little they have, in the hope that they will be lucky enough to improve their lot in life. Of course, such is rarely the case but the underworld lets it be widely known when someone manages to win an important prize through sheer luck. Of course, such tales are just as likely to be mere propaganda. Such gmabling activities include card games, dice games and betting on races or combats. Most gambling dens are actually held by gnomes, members of the Hidden Hand. There are also special gamblers found in the powerful individuals of occupied Erenland: some legates, orc officers, human mercenaries or traitor princes. For these people, gambling is more a question of prestige and power rather than wealth: it allows them to meet other important people whom they couldn’t officially have access to, more importantly away from indiscrete ears. Moreover, the “money” won while gambling can discreetly pay the gambler’s other vices (prostitution, drugs, alcohol, etc). Gamblers are most often desperate people, looking for a way to get quick and easy “money”, all in a discreete fashion.
Where: the orcish mafia secretly houses gambling dens in orc garrisons. Of course, only those affiliated or in the know are allowed access. Orcs don’t play for money, but rather for status: sometimes a crafty orc manages to “pull” an undeserved officer rank as a gambling debt extracted from a higher ranking officer. Such practices are of course forbidden, as they favor the more corrupt elements in the Shadow army and, more importantly, it favors the least militarily efficient orcs in the chain of command.
In occupied cities, gambling dens are usually held in the basement of a seedy tavern, whom the owner agreed to “rent” to the local Hidden Hand counters. Such places are run either by gnomes or the human underworld. It is limited to card or dice games, however. Running races or pit fights would draw the attention of the local Shadow troops.
In the countryside, some very wealthy gambers are taken to isolated places, where they can watcg secret horse races (in sarcosan lands) or dog races (in dornish lands).
Finally, it is possible to bet on gladiatorial matches in the Hallisport Arena (see “Steel & Shadow”).
Who: the Shadow knows too well how weak individuals can become slaves to the gambling addiction. While this is a good way to keep the populace busy and under control, it is unacceptable for its minions to take part in it. So it is that, in most cities, there are “official” shows, where people can bet on the victor of a race or pit fioght. Those are run bu human collaborators, and the benefits are split between the local traitor prince, the local orc garrison and the local Temple of Shadow. Such games are notoriously cheated to allow fot the winning of the competitor on whom the local authorities have themselves (secretly) bet.
This explains the popularity of “underground” gambling, which has addicted even Shadow officials, at first out of boredom, then bcause of the excitement it procures them (not to mention that it’s an easy way to finance other illicit and costly vices).
How: You don’t enter an underground gambling den that easily, of course. You have to be introduced first. Either you know “someone” wo trusts you enough to allow you in. Shadow minions usually allow bookmakers to blackmail them, in exchange for the right to participate. As they’re the most likely to have something valuable to bet, they are potential good customers. If the bookmakers think that a person has the “profile”, they propose him a secret meeting. This is of course a test: if the intermediary is caught or the meeting point is invaded by the local troops, then they search for another “customer”.
It is also possible, if one knows the proper hand gestures of the local underground, to pass a “test of trust” (ie, a secret mission for the bookmakers). This is usually a risky recruiting job (see above), as the candidate is expandable (and does not know the bookmaker’s true identity). If the candidate is successful, then he is allowed access to the gambling den.
Such facilities are of course often used by various insurgent groups as a good way to gather information or even obtain secret Shadow plans (through blackmail, spying ot other “indiscretion”), as such places are often visited by Shadow officials “in the know”. Gnomes are known to sell such information to resistance groups.
Debt collectors and leg breakers are used against “common” gamblers who don’t want or can’t pay their losses. If they are sent by “official” gambling dens, then they have free reign to take whatever they want as “payment”. Sometimes they will even take some members of the gambler’s family to be sold as slaves. These debt collectors can be local human thugs or mercenaries, or ven orc soldiers.
The underground gambling dens usually hire “muscle” to collect debts from “common” gamblers”. These can be human thugs or even orc soldiers who use such services as payment of their own debts.
More powerful individuals are blackmailed or allowed a certain amount of “losses”, in exchange of favors (letting the gambling den keep its activities unmolested, liberating imprisoned members of the organization, etc).
This is the art of producing and selling forbidden wares.
Masterwork items: a few rare artisan guild masters managed to escape the Shadow purges after the conquest of Erenland. Hpoing to save their traditions with them, they transmitted them secretly to apprentices. Some were hidden by local underground crimebosses, and began to produce their wares for illegal organizations. This meant either crafting normal, but illegal to carry, items (weapons, armor, thieves’ tools, tools for special, restrcited, activities), or crafting tools specifically designed for the needs of a thieves’ guild: climbing harness, climbing daggers, masterful disguise, periscope, concealable items, foldable items, hollow boots, etc (these are kept by the guild or sold by the guild to its members).
Herbalism or poisoncraft: there are still herbalists in hiding in cities, some of whom work for the underground in exchange for the organization’s protection and hiding. They can prove quite invaluable, since they can produce a wide array of wares, from drugs to medicine to poisons (either disabling, sleeping or killing poisons), to evasion tools (slippery powder to trap pursuers, pepper powder to disable pursuing dogs or sniffer goblins).
Lorekeepers: a very few surviving channeler scribes transmitted their knowledge to chose apprentices, who can produce scrolls or potions, but also forge convincing Shadow documents.
Charm-makers: the secrets of charm-making were protected and hidden when Erenland fell, usually transmitted from father to son. Some organizations managed to gain their wares in exchange for their protection and hiding.
Where: in the countryside, a few artisans still hide and, in exchange for their services, their fellow villagers keep the silence about their secret activities.
In the occupied cities, some artisans are hidden by local underground garrisons, they usually work for them.
There is a blacksmith in Hallisport, who crafts weapons, armor, thieves’ tools, or counterfeit coins for the southern cities.
There is a carpenter in Alvedara, able to craft false compartiments for ships, false barrels, false compartiments for wooden buildings, special tools (foldable ladder, hollow pole).
There is a leatherworker in Sharuun, who can craft leather armor, climing harnesses, special boots, gloves with secret compartiments…
Some rumours are whispered about a scribe in Bastion, who can forge papers and can copy rare books.
One remote village hosts a master herbalist, who can also create special makeup for disguises. He is even rumoured to have knowledge of alchemy, a prodigy unheard of in Eredane.
Another village hides a master weaver, who crafts disguises, reversible clothes, clothes with undetectable pockets…
Somewhere in southern Erenland, a master sculptor duplicates Shadow tokens used as travel permissions, crafts caltrops used to evade pursuers, and special sling bullets. He is rumoured to be an exiled dwarf who knows some secret rune magic.
Prostitution / Proxenetism:
This is the art of gaining wealth through prostitution or the organization of prostitution.
In the Last Age, many poor women have no other choice but to sell themselves in order to survive. Given the harsh circumstances, it did not take long for “protectors” to make sure they could “work” undisturbed, for a huge share of the profit. Sometimes a husband sells his wife or even his daughters, and this feeds the whole family. More often, the women are forced into such activities through violence or threats, by brutal thugs.
Such activities are not only tolerated by the Shadow, but encouraged. It is thought that such a vile enterprise can only result in further crushing the Erenlander’s morale and morality, thus making them ever less likely to resist the Shadow.
Of course, a Shadow minion would be showing weakness if he were to benefit from such activities, but it is often tolerated.
Many secret plans were extracted on a pillow from a sleeping legate, or even from an enamored or blackmailed one.