The Thieves Guild is a professional organization regulating Cyrodiil's underworld society of thieves, burglars, and muggers. Much like the other guilds, the Thieves Guild serves to encourage and regulate their trade, provide services and training, protect its monopoly and its members. Unlike the other guilds, the Thieves Guild is strictly speaking an illegal organization. Whereas in Morrowind, the guild was an underdog fighting against powerful native interests, the Cyrodiil Thieves Guild is an ancient institution embedded within the power structures of the Empire, with its own lore, rules and traditions, based on an ancient fraternal value system.
The Thieves Guild has a long and muddled history, dating back from the mock-oaths of the Second Empire bandit-princes meant to ridicule Potentate Versidue-Shaie's new guild system (which was partly meant to protect the trades from theft and extortion). Though at first little more than a joke, the advantages of unionizing quickly became apparent: members belonging to different gangs could more easily evade the law and ply their trade across greater territories. The first Gray Fox, who appeared in the criminal underworld some 300 years ago, further united the Cyrodiilic gangs into an organized crime empire.
The Thieves Guild operates on the premise that crime in moderation is good for the economy and the Empire as a whole. Though illegal, the Guild considers itself a distinctly Imperial institution, reasoning that both its freedom of operation and lavish opportunities are only possible under the auspices of a unified, peaceful Empire.
The guild imposes three major rules on its members:
- Never steal from fellow guild members
- Never kill anyone on the job
- Never steal from the poor
Growing profit margins and apparent immunity to the law have led many successful thieves to start imitating the opulent style of the legitimate upper class. Guild leaders maintain lavishly decorated dens hidden in sewers and underneath seedy taverns, dine with the finest silverware in the rotting remains of abandoned mansions, and are dressed in the latest stolen fashion. While normal members still steal and pickpocket, the upper ranks have branched out into money-lending, extortion, and gambling: lucrative endeavors with a veneer of legitimacy. Old-fashioned thieves grumble that the new ways require little finesse and turn honest thieves into little more than corrupt merchants, though not even they can argue with the profitable results.
While the Gray Fox is the unchallenged Emperor of Thieves, his organization consists of many smaller gangs and clans, ruled over by the Master Thieves. Elusive and cunning, these criminal leaders emulate the Gray Fox by occluding their identity under masks and false names. They rule over a motley collection of smaller gangs, operations, and thieves of independent means. The guild does not maintain official guildhalls, but congregates in taverns, inns, abandoned buildings, private homes, and anywhere else they can make themselves welcome.
While the guild consists of many minor groups, there are 6-7 major gangs active in the cities. Every large town usually has a safe house somewhere, though only a couple actually have guild headquarters (and major questlines). Headquarters are ruled by a Master Thief, who rarely shows his face, and his lieutenants who act as his hands and mouths.
Both the public and the Imperial authorities ignore most of the guild's activities. Many believe that the guild is to be encouraged, as it keeps criminal activity within reasonable bounds. Guild thieves play an important role in Cyrodiilic mercantile and political culture: lawful citizens often rely on them in their legal and illegal dealings. The guild is particularly friendly with many Imperial magistrates, who have made special arrangements to remove or diminish bounties and jail sentences for members. The guild has neutral to slightly positive relations with most Imperial factions, excepting the Legion and the guards. They have bad relations with most “foreign” factions, like the Kali Mes, Renrijra Krin, etc.
Thieves Guild questlines focus on the following storylines:
- The class conflict between working-class thieves and the elite upper ranks
- Conflict between different regional gangs and their territories
- Foreign threats to their monopoly
- Charm- and persuasion-based theft
The Gray Fox is somewhat peripheral to the questlines: he rarely appears in public, apparently busy with his own schemes and heists. He will mainly serve as the questgiver for several exceptional challenges late in the game. Since the player does not become the leader of the guild, we have to offer them something else as an end-game reward: becoming the thief-king of the Imperial City. The leader of the guild there has been murdered, and in his absence the guild has fractured in a violet gang war. The player has to take over each guild in turn to pacify the city, becoming the undisputed ruler of the Imperial City's underground.
The most immediate questline, in Anvil, has two storylines: the mysteries of the Abecette gambling palace, and the Kali Mes in Sutch. The guild is run by a figure known only as the Arenthian, a mysterious thief of Bosmer origin. He has made a secret alliance with Raco Derrissa, the owner of the Abecette gambling palace, allowing Thieves Guild members free reign over the common halls to fleece the patrons of the gambling house. In return, the guild offers special services for the exclusive inner halls of the Abecette. What exactly happens behind the gilded doors of the inner palace is a closely guarded secret, but rumors speak of illegal pit fighting, drugs, and high-stakes gambling that can result in death. The player must unravel the secrets of the Abecette, and figure out the secret that tie the leader of the guild to the Master of the Abecette.
The Kali Mes questline is less important, and will only come into play once we can send the player to Sutch.