The worship of Branderback is based on the local thieves' guilds. Generally, the House will meld with whatever local guild that follows the ideals of Branderback most closely or is the most powerful. The addition of a house to a guild is sought after because clerics make a powerful difference in members' successes and longevity. For each region, there is a High Silent Shadow, which is a powerful cleric who determines the Wary Shadow's will for that area. There is no central House; though, several guilds have become so powerful that they might be considered such.
Elections and Organizations
The houses of Branderback share a loose but consistent structure of four major organizations.
These are the men and women who ensure that orders are carried out. In polite society, they would be called thugs; but in a house, they are Enforcers. No self-respecting guild leader would be without at least a few of them around to dissuade Promotion by Knife, a common election scheme in any organization of professional acquirers of goods. Enforcers come in all shapes, sizes, and areas of expertise' from huge half-giant goons, to halfling assassins, and perhaps brownies. The majority of this branch consists of goon squads and muscle. However, because the more finesse-oriented tend to group together, some houses will split them into two branches based on their capacities.Thugs may not need great intelligence but not all are stupid club-wielding fleshy shields. A good deal of the people who protect the interests of the House of Branderback have decent to fine minds; they simply enjoy dealing pain to others.
When you travel in the quiet back alleys of the economic world, information is not a nicety; rather, it's a necessity and a commodity. There are those that specialize in digging in the skeleton- filled closets of other people's lives and ferreting out folks who are broad-minded in the movement of goods and services. Nothing passes the lips of these men and women that does not carry a cost, monetary or otherwise. Information gained from a Fink will run anything from lots to vast amounts of gold, but it is almost always for sale. A Fink is hard to find, hard to talk to, and hard to see. They can sneak and hide in the long, dusky shadows, moving no louder than field mice from place to place. They can blend in so well you would not give them a second thought while having your conversation about overthrowing that government, such as a bent fieldhand straining to pull a cart full of potatoes or a young fresh-faced washerwoman scrubbing her lady's clothes in the public fountain. Their memories are like perfect still-life paintings with every detail of the moment captured. Their loyalties are usually first to themselves, second to Branderback, and third to their house. Rarely, is there a fourth.
The meat and milk of any house, the Acquisitions Department, gets the goods. From straight-up, knife-point mugging to slick, highly-detailed bank thefts, these are the people who bring home the bacon, the ham, the backstrap, and anything else they can carve off. Houses of Branderback usually integrate their thieves with guild thieves to be sure the house gets its cut of stolen loot.
The clerics devoted to the Greedy Hound represent the lone wolves of the house. Usually there are not more than a handful per house, and they generally don't work together. Most of the spellcasters are also accomplished rogues; this, along with their spells, makes them formidable opponents. Aside from fixing up injured house members, Docs usually keep the house and guild on the path of Branderback and take care of any special items that come into the house's possession.
If there is an official House of Branderback, this is it. Anyone having dealings with all but the most secluded guilds will at some point brush up against the Ivory Hounds. Their teeth are long and sunk deep into three continents and two island nations. Headed by High Silent Shadow Hirum, the Ivory Hounds have come a long way in a short time.
The Ivory Hounds were started by Hirum after the death of their infamous leader, a halfling woman named Sharina Shadowfang. She began a house early in her career as a spy and assassin of Branderback, and for seventy years she built her house to an unprecedented level of power and involvement in all things belonging within the shadows. It is said, however, that her grasp reached so far and she took on so much that she fell under the weight of her own schemes. She became difficult and unpredictable before her death at the hands of adventurers. Though, other whispers say she was betrayed by her finest. While her guild arose under her leadership, she also gave her Enforcers leeway for acts of violence against perceived enemies (and often their families) that, among other things, makes her name a conversation stopper to this day.
Hirum absorbed the shambles of her House immediately after her demise. He eliminated the drug-running portion of the operation (and anyone protesting that move) and cut back on the prostitution and the number of assassinations. He moved the financial base of the house to smuggling, black market goods, forgery, and information gathering. He also expanded the role of the Finks and contined to dip into some politics from afar. He renamed the entire house the Ivory Hounds. Though not so feared and widespread as it once was, its new incarnation has since become nearly omnipresent in the Deep, with Hirum's steady hand at the helm.
High Silent Shadow Hirum, Merchant -He is handsome with strong, even features and sparkling white teeth. His black hair is caught up in a thick ponytail, and his voice is well modulated and disarmingly deep for a halfling. If you were to meet him, he'd insist he was a legitimate merchant and speak the language of goods and services like the pro he is. But Hirum is not your typical merchant. Raised by a halfling mother and by a smuggler father, he was steeped in the traditions of the rogue lifestyle from a small child. His skills in illegal ways are almost unmatchable, and he is both feared and respected by his Ivory Hounds.
He is the High Silent Shadow for Dregar and bases his House in Prantz. The fall of the Waylend line and the invasion by Lord Rael was a mere rut in the road. Hirum moved the house into the sewers under the city. When Hirum was asked why he did not leave Prantz altogether, he smiled and said there was no better place to hide than under your enemies' noses. He is also the only High Silent Shadow whose identity is known; there are two others, but they remain secretive. If Hirum knows who they are, he isn't saying. He has never married and has no known family. It is rumored that he is under some sort of curse. The details of the curse, if true, are unknown. Beyond mention of a little black angel, no woman has been known to share his life'despite his shameless and often extravagant flirting with women of virtually any race.
The Enforcers went through the largest structural change after the fall of Sharina. Quite a few of her handpicked sadists disappeared after her demise and the group is now headed by Big Berk, a grossly fat gnome whose given name is long lost. The current lean is toward psychological warfare rather than open violence. Big Berk was the head of Hirum's personal security detachment before Hirum took control of Sharina's organization. He is very patient with a honed sense of when he is being lied to. He uses violence sparingly. He prefers to bring resolution to problems through more creative means. For example, stripping a defiant gambling debtor of her cascading tresses, gown, jewelry, pet dog, undergarments, carriage, and horses right in front of the play she was going to see. When Big Berk intends to teach a lesson, he gets his point across.
The Finks have greatly expanded under Hirum. They have a widespread network and better cooperation than perhaps Branderback himself would like, but the Merchant knows that knowledge is king. Only seven people are allowed to see the complete information gathered by the Finks: Hirum, Evard Kostcous, his lieutenant Milgam, Big Berk, Shortshanks, Trillia Thistleflower, and her chosen successor Nana Ama.
Evand Kostcous (Vandy) -Evand is not what you would expect as the head of the group that cherishes anonymity and sneakiness as tools in trade. He is a tall human, he dresses outlandishly, uses duel rapiers to deadly effect, and favors hats with griffonsized plumes. He is often called Vandy the Dandy behind his back, and he does not mind; in fact, he counts on it. He gathers less information than anyone else in the Ivory Finks and that suits him. With him sashaying around, dipping and bowing, and asking pointedly stupid questions, the folks chattering in the sidelines are much less likely to notice the tiny halfling blended into the brick, ears quivering. Evand's greatest strength is his ability to put snippets and pieces of data together to form cohesive plots and linking threads together to show the weave of deceit they represent. He could not sneak through a moonless night if you stripped him naked and painted him black. Skulking is for his underlings.
Milgam is a female halfling, closest friend to Vandy, and the best weapon in his arsenal. Tiny enough to squeeze in almost anywhere, Milgam usually travels to the high-society parties that Vandy does, and she is the fly on the wall while Vandy performs his inept spy routine. Very few people know she exists.
The Finks, in addition to more standard methods of information gathering, sponsor an underground pamphlet. Ostensibly to allow for communication in the widely spread world of thieves, it is actually to trace communications, get a thumb into a vast number of pies, and keep a handle on rogue thieves and splinter groups. The pamphlet is called the Hound's Tooth, which is set up and printed by a front guild called the Mama's Boys in Katherian and distributed via messenger bird. All one has to do to get a notice printed is note what it should say and pay a 10 True donation to the guild and specify to whom it is to be delivered. Probably 98% of what gets printed is useless information, but the Ivory Finks live for the 2% that is not. In exchange for covering the costs of printing and distributing the letter, the Mama's Boys keep half the profit and have first access to the information gained. The Tooth is printed at the beginning of each month.
Pretty Polly wants his cracker or heads are gonna roll. You got till the next Tooth comes to make good Shiney Berk Boy and don't try to run.
Headed by Shortshanks, the Ivory Hounds have a robust Acquisitions Department. The wealth of the house is said to be enough to make kings jealous, and its collection of artifacts rivals that of the Mistone Archeological Foundation. Under Hirum, activities have shifted from open muggings to more complex operations, involving art and artifact reproductions and the sale of illegal and forged goods.
Shortshanks is one of the tallest halflings in Layonara. Born to normal-looking, halfling parents, he hit 3 feet before his 15th birthday, and by full adulthood was just over 4 feet tall. He is stocky and strong and often mistaken for a human youth. He motivates his thieves by high expectations and occasional bonuses rather than fear and anger. He is the only high-ranking Ivory Hound to have the affection as well as the respect of those under him.
There are a few more in the Ivory Hounds than most Houses due to Trillia Thistleflower's influence. While Ivory Docs follow solitary paths in their worship of the Wary Shadow, Trillia encourages the exchange of information. She is the only organizational head to carry over from Sharina Shadowfang's house and is quite old for a halfling. Ivory Docs preach the virtue of self-reliance. It has been said part of Sharina's eventual death was brought on by a reliance on something other than herself. What, though, is not known.
Trillia Thistleflower -An aged, silver-haired halfling woman of great conviction in her god. She is not shy of telling the story of her years of virtual slavery to her husband and the thieving she had to do to feed her children when he took the household money for drink. She will tell of seeing Branderback in the guise of a huge black dog leading her to safety after nearly getting caught one day. Plus, how after another beating for spending some of their money on new shoes for the children, her prayers were answered by the Wary Shadow when her brute of a husband was found dead and robbed. She is steadfast and unbreakable now having been through the worst in life.
Nana Ama -A half-elven woman who has lived on the streets since early childhood, Nana has grown up around Branderbackians. It was now a defunct house in Arnax that helped her survive, exchanging food and shelter for her acting as lookout. She is an average-looking woman for one with elven blood, plainfaced and plump with brown hair and eyes. Her clerical skills are growing fast, and she fully intends to be ready to take over the Ivory Docs when Trillia passes away.
Mama's Boys started out as Crime Lordess Mama (first name unknown) Kovastola, a cleric of Branderback, using her five sons to help her run scams like petty theft and some fencing in Katherian. After making contact with Evard Kostcous, a mutual arrangement was made for Mama and company to produce and sell a pamphlet with Evard fronting the startup money and half the profits going to Mama and the boys. She expanded her operation after that by pulling in two more clerics and absorbing many of the smaller guilds. The Mama's Boys are not in the same league as the Ivory Hounds and have brushes with the Vine from time to time; nevertheless, they are up and coming still.
"If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
-Often heard from the Boys
Mama Kovastola -A mid-60's human female with white hair in a tight bun. A matronly figure, she has huge but soft hands for a woman. You might see her from a distance and think she is someone's sweet grandmother until you look into her flinty gray eyes and see the utter lack of mercy there. She has five sons working for her in the Boys, and it is known she had six originally and a daughter. The whereabouts of the oldest boy and the girl are unknown as is the identity and location of the father. Mama isn't telling.
Thugs and assassins make up a small part of Mama's House. Her youngest son, Baernard, is in charge of the Enforcers, and he enjoys his job thoroughly after a lifetime of getting whomped on by his big brothers. Baernard is shifting his Enforcers to more clandestine operations and taking contracts for hits and training assassins.
Baernard Kovastola -An angry young man with a number of angry young people under his command. He is highly adept at poison-making and has almost unerring accuracy with thrown weapons and blowguns. He is the shortest of the Kovastola boys and thin, but he can run like a cheetah and is deceptively difficult to grapple or hold on to. His life wrestling with his older, stronger brothers was good practice. He has straw blond hair and blue eyes.
With Reginald Kovastola, the second oldest, in charge, Mama's Finks are in good hands. The Finks officially put out the Hound's Tooth, and most of their information gathering comes from that; while Reginald is not in Hirum's league when it comes to putting two and two together, he is accomplished enough. The third youngest boy, Henrie, assists his brother and does the legwork for Katherian and close by locales in gathering notices to be printed.
Reginald Kovastola is over 6 feet with dirty blond hair and gray eyes and would be handsome but for a face full of acne scars. He spent a portion of his life apprenticed to a wizard and has strong magical training that he continues on his own. He is the only one of the sons who merely gives Branderback lip service; his love is magic first and the information he is privy to second.
Henrie Kovastola is about 6 feet and looks much like his brothers, blond and blue. He has trouble focusing on just one job and has finally found a niche in collecting the advertisements for the Tooth. He travels quite often and is soft-spoken and likeable.
The Acquisitions portion of the Boys is run by the third oldest Kovastola, Percival, and the second youngest, Julian. Given the town they are based in, the competition is fierce, but Julian in particular is constantly coming up with inspired ideas on how to nab more goods. Because Mama has been gobbling up smaller guilds to feed her house, the bulk of the Boys are here.
Percival Kovastola is hefty and dark-haired with the Kovastola blue eyes. He's not the sharpest blade in the drawer, and he has largely given over the running of Aquisitions to Julian. He is shifting toward wanting to be a cleric and is the most devout of the five boys to Branderback.
Julian Kovastola shares coloration and frame with his youngest brother Baernard and is light and quick. He has a swift mind and a talent for spotting profit where others might miss it. He has learned from the halflings in the house how to move through tight spaces. He is almost a contortionist in his ability to squeeze though the smallest tunnels, pipes, and doors.
Mama's Docs =====
Mama Kovastola leads her House and her Docs. Their focus has shifted a bit from Branderback's philosophy of self-reliance after her agreement with the Ivory Hounds; their contact, though, is still minimal. Mama has not chosen which of the two clerics in the house might succeed her when she dies, assuming she does not choose one of her sons. Mama's Docs do not exist to patch up stupid thieves. Often heard is, "Shake it off, it's only a flesh wound."
Roibert Blacklocks was exposed to the God of Thieves as a teen dabbing in larceny around Hurm and felt immediately at home with the message and the god. He went from working with his father's merchant sailors to joining the Dread Pirates after a falling out with his family regarding an arranged marriage to a slow-witted but wealthy young halfing girl. It was in the Dread Pirates that Roibert honed his pirate craft, learned ways of boarding a vessel, the art of bluffing, and the balance needed to fight on a slippery deck. But while his captain worshiped Mist, Roibert continued to say his prayers to the Wary Shadow. Roibert stayed with the Dread Pirates several years and would be there now but for fate that washed a battered but seaworthy brigantine up onto Hangman's Rock one autumn day. He maintains to this day that the Hound helped him win that ship in a cutthroat game of cards against his former captain and quartermaster.
He named the ship the Penumbra and set out from Hurm with a skeleton crew of men and women willing to throw in with him. A ship's wizard named Morgan Millsson was acquired from Spellguard and a cleric named Doddie Nimblefingers took on from Mariner's Hold. More crew came from every port with most following Branderback already. Those of the crew who did not worship the Wary Shadow were converted (or said they were) and a small altar was put in aft decks. After settling on several islands for safe ports, stashing consumables and extra ship parts, and painting the ship, they sailed to make their mark. The Penumbra is an 80-foot brigantine with the traditional combination of square and fore/aft rigging that allows for great maneuverability. She masses 130 tons and would easily carry 100 regular men; however, her crew complement stands at 122 due to the large number of halfling crewmates. She is striking in daylight, painted jet black from bow to stern. No part is left unpainted, including the deck. Plus, all the ropes and rigging are treated with coal tar to darken them. The sails are black canvas with no distinguishing marks. Because of this, she is rarely visible at night; in moonlight there is nothing to reflect. She is outfitted with 20 oars on each side, retracted until needed, for even more pinpoint accuracy during tight sailing or when boarding.
The modus operandi of the Penumbra is to attack at night as silently as possible. The crew working the deck of the victim ship are stunned by Doddie, and the sleeping crew and passengers are treated with sleeping dust or enspelled by Morgan. The victim ship is then robbed swiftly by swarms of welltrained thieves and left to drift until her crew wakes. Outright slaughter is not Roibert's way, not because he won't kill but because leaving people alive means less fervent law enforcement. So far, only two witnesses have remembered enough to give a description of the ship. No flag is displayed on the Penumbra.
Captain Roibert Blacklocks is a halfling from Hurm bourgeoisie stock but the life of a merchant is not nearly as interesting to him as the life of stealing from a merchant. Roibert craves thrills. Sailing and plundering feed his need for stimulation like nothing else in the world. This being said, he is not reckless. In fact, he prefers a clean, quiet operation and eschews displays of frippery or flamboyancy. His manner is calm and focused, and he allows a smile when an attack goes without a hitch. He is in top physical condition with hazel eyes and hair so bright blond it requires him to wear a headscarf at night to avoid catching light.
First Mate "Jumpin"? Jamie Driftcomber is a halfling from a village by the ocean near Mariner's Hold. He cut his teeth inside a boat and is known for being able to jump from rigging to rigging without harm. He worked for Roibert's father before abandoning that life for the life of a pirate. His wife Brimba has accepted the life of a raider and accompanies him along with their two children.
Ship's Wizard Morgan Millsson is a male human wizard still growing into his powers. He worships Corath secretly and Branderback openly, but he loves the rush of the hunt and the theft. He did not tell Roibert, but he is under investigation in both Spellguard and Leringard for the disappearances of several women. He has been married at least six times.
Ship's Cleric Doddie Nimblefingers moves and speaks as fast as a gnome and resembles one with short, brown hair and brown eyes. As a halfling girl, she was taught about Prunilla and was once a cleric of the Lady of the Harvest, but she was continually bored stiff with the slow measured ways of her goddess. She abandoned Prunilla for Branderback in one sweeping day that she alludes to but does not talk about and has followed the Wary Shadow ever since. She is still young.