Thieve's Tools
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Basic Information

Thieve's tools is a generalism used (mainly in RPGs) to describe those tools which are useful for breaking and entering, opening or forcing locks and disarming traps and other security devices. The most basic of these is probably the lock-pick (also known as a picklock).

The low tech - usually fantasy - version of these will generally consist of a series of bizarrely shaped metal probes and picks designed to aid in bypassing the levers of locks. More advanced sets may include magnifying glasses, mirrors to reflect light into a mechanism and more destructive items such as acids, files, drills, saws and pry-bars. An extremely comprehensive set of tools may be required to get the full benefit of a high skill in lock picking, although most thieves may well be able to improvise a tool from virtually anything. Where appropriate one or more skeleton keys may also be included.

This sort of thing is - unsurprisingly - quite hard to lay hands on. A locksmith may have the same (or at least similar) tools but the only other source is probably the Thieve's Guild1. A master with the right craft skills may perhaps be able to make his own.

Higher tech tools might include diamond tipped compasses for cutting glass (in real life these only work from the "wrong" side of the glass as far as a thief is concerned), stethoscopes (to listen for lock tumblers moving) and flashlights for illumination. Into the modern era, the primary concern is likely to be devices, often attached to a computer, that can "pick" an electronic lock although the "lockpick gun" - a mechanical lock-picking device capable of bouncing open the tumblers of a lock - is also a common tool in the "right" hands. Truly advanced kits may include "smart" lockpicks which reconfigure themselves into the correct shape, but this tends to drift into the category of super-science.

Fantasy also includes at least the outside chance of enchanted thieves' tools … although these seem to be rarer than might be expected.

The dark lantern probably also counts as a thief's tool, given that it's primary purpose is to provide an easily concealed light source … although with the creation of the flashlight, this becomes less of an issue.

According to the account of Mayhew and Binny's The Criminal Prisons of London (1862)2 a well equipped Victorian "cracksman"3 might be equipped with the following:

  • A stout knife or chisel
  • A "jemmy" (crowbar)
  • An "America auger" (a brace and bit cutter) with an assortment of blades and drills
  • Rope
  • A jack - ideally a rack and pinion type.
  • A dark lantern4
  • A set of "bettys" (picklocks)
  • An "outsider" (fine nosed pliers modified to grip and turn a key in a lock)

Sources

The Victorian Underworld Kellow Chesney - source of the Mayhew and Binny reference above.

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • The Thief probably needs these to use his skills to full potential.
  • A high spec, or even enchanted set of these is likely to make good treasure in a fantasy campaign.
  • Possession of thieves' tools is quite frequently a crime in and of itself, unless you are a locksmith or something else similar.
    • This can make buying or replacing such things interesting.
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