If you have never played “Thief” but want to try my kickin’ game out, here’s a synopsis to get a sense of the major factions and the feel of the game.
The City sprawls, built over the course of centuries. Now it is an independent city state, ruled by a Baron, casually at war with a neighbor. In this Baroque and Dickensian urban sprawl, the chasm between the rich and the poor is vast. Life is cheap, the wealthy are bored and greedy, and corruption is prevalent.
The other notable spectrum is religious. The Hammerite Order is powerful; a conservative, bearded patriarchy worshiping the Master Builder, ruled by the Architect and his Masons. This conservative, rigid, merciless church is harsh to those who follow its tenants, and cruel to those who trespass against them. They use hammers to combat foes, and also build with hammers to combat chaos. The Builder gives them what they need to do for themselves, with a very Protestant Puritan work ethic. The Builder gives them trials to purify them. Their speech is cadenced with King James Bible conventions. Mercy is a flaw, for a lapse in vigilance can destroy everything they’ve built. For most of them, life is spare, rough, dark, lonely, and strict. For those at the top, the temptation of riches can be too much to bear. The beauty they cherish is workmanship, worship, and a life tested but pure.
In the shadows of the city’s stonework, and beyond the walls in the overflowing darkness of the forest, the pagan gods lurk. Before the Hammers and civilization, there was another religion here; a religion with much more tangible, local gods. They have the gifts of elemental magic, the favor of the dark things in the woods, and a burning hate of the order that imposes itself by crushing the lush chaos of nature. Those who give themselves to this alien worship usually find the price higher than they expected, when it is too late to back out. Still, it’s easy rebellion, beckoning the jaded and wealthy as well as those so poor they think they have nothing left to lose. Only when they leave civilization’s laws do they realize that the alternative is joining the food chain. Their speech has the silliness over cruelty typifying the heartless games of children. They cherish the beauty of energy, wild uncontained life, and crumbling constraints built to pen up or break the natural order.
Behind those shadows, below the religious disputes and secular power struggles, the Keepers watch. No one knows of this secretive order. They have mystical powers of stealth. Their focus is on the Balance, keeping supernatural and mortal powers arranged to check each other so no one gains too much influence. They revere glyphs, a semi-sentient writing system that is bound up in magic, in prophecy, and in fate. Selfless to the point of being alien, the Keepers cling to their role because they give up all other identity. They recopy books through centuries, marking the signs of the times and feeling a strange helpless desperation as they are paralyzed by indecision; when and how can they act to affect the Balance without being drawn into its struggles?
This game is ideal for picaresque and Gothic fantasy, with a dash of anachronistic elemental/gearwork tech like street lights and steam-powered robots. No gunpowder, but otherwise somewhere in the transition between medieval and renaissance. This setting is twisted for anti-heroes, who appear heroic in that they oppose forces worse than themselves. Now, you are invited to join in the fun.