The Syndicate

They say there is no honor among thieves, and this may indeed be true. But when a criminal organization becomes powerful enough, it often takes on a structure that is very similar to that of the chivalrous orders that disdain the ones they call gutter trash, or to the merchant guilds that try so hard to protect their wares from the grasping fingers of thieves.

The Syndicate is organized crime, taken to its logical extreme. At the top are the kings and queens, and at the bottom are the troops, all of them ordered together into a tight-knit organization devoted to acquiring wealth and establishing territory, by any means possible. As an organization, the Syndicate thrives off of secrecy, and, in fact, most law enforcement officials the world over will claim that there is no such thing as the Syndicate, either because of fear, corruption, or genuine ignorance.

Originally hailing from Crescent before being driven out in a dispute with the Assaram a few short centuries past, the Syndicate was called the Great Secret, or Mahan, and was a band of raiding nomads who made their living solely by stealing from others. It is said that their first origins came from the earliest days of the sentient races, when their first founder discovered that it was possible to get gain through murder - the Great Secret upon which they were founded, a secret that, if the stories are the be believed, was passed on to them by infernal beings, or perhaps the Dark One himself. Once exposed to the rush of commerce and press of people in Avalon City, their leaders, called "Master Mahans," quickly formed into an even more tightly-knit organization, still arranged along the militaristic tribal structure that they had once used before, and still sacrilegiously taking the most solemn and holy oaths to bind them to their most unholy practices.

Entry Requirements: Anyone who has engaged in illegal activities with any degree of seriousness quickly learns about the Syndicate. While the officials in charge of nations might not know much about this shadowy organization, the word on the street is filled with horrible tales of what the Syndicate can do to you…as well as what it can for you. There are active recruiters for the Syndicate working at all levels of society in all major cities on Therafim, and each member of the Syndicate can most easily gain some prestige by bringing in another new recruit - the more skilled or well-placed the new recruit, the better the boost in prestige and perhaps even rank. However, the Syndicate is always on the lookout for snitches and leaks in their organization, and one rite of passage which all members must undertake if they want to become a full-fledged member of the Syndicate is an illegal activity of some sort. Murder is preferred, but some exceptions are made from time to time, if the applicant is especially skilled at some other illegal activity or especially well-connected. This illegal activity not only serves as a form of comraderie with the other members of the organization, but also serves as a source of blackmail should a member ever try to escape the clutches of the Syndicate.

Benefits: As a criminal organization that extends from the highest to the lowest strata of society in cities all over Therafim, though centering in Avalon City, the Syndicate can offer many benefits to its members. However, most rank-and-file street thugs and second-story workers never get more than the most basic assistance, though those at the higher levels might receive great assistance indeed.
Economic: First and foremost, the Syndicate is devoted to profit by any means. Because of this, all members of the Syndicate are expected to pay a tithe of 10% of all their monthly profits to the organization. However, because of the profitability of the fencing operations of the Syndicate, the organization buys items sold to it at 60% of their market cost, rather than the normal 50%, and will sell most items at 90% of their listed cost to members. This includes prostitution services, as the Syndicate likes to make sure that its field agents are kept happy. If a member of the Syndicate is called upon to fight, then they also receive rewards based upon the risks involved and their rank in the organization. Higher-level members of the Syndicate also receive a salary.
Services: Members of the Syndicate can get experts on a variety of skills in a relatively short period of time, with access to skills such as alchemy, appraisal, forgery, magic item identification, trapmaking and trap disabling, locksmithing, disguise, and interrogation, as well as a variety of other services. Experts with +15 in various skill modifiers can be made available within hours, while experts with +20 or better can be available within days. Members are expected to pay for these services as normal, though the 90% of normal costs benefit still applies if the expert contacted by the Syndicate is also a member.
Information: In the Syndicate, most captains and lieutenants at the neighborhood level can be expected to have +10 to Gather Information and Knowledge (local) when determining what sorts of information they might know. Answers can be expected in about 1d4+1 hours.
Access: Low-ranking members, from sergeants on down, can be expected to know the most basic series of passwords and secret signs to identify other members of the Syndicate, as well as to have great knowledge of the extensive sewers of various cities (especially Avalon City) and a variety of different bolt holes and crooked organizations that act as fronts. Higher-ranking members will know even more secret signs and passwords, as well as ever-increasing amounts of information about other parts of the organization. Since the Syndicate does not have a central base of operations (its headquarters in Avalon City being the closest it has to a central, vital location, though even in that city the authority is spread out), but rather has its authority reside in its Captains and Kings, finding the top parts of the organization is a difficult matter, depending on who you know, rather than what you know.

Combat: Most low-ranking members of the Syndicate are simple street thugs, petty criminals, and low-ranking nobility who may engage in the occasional housebreaking, rape, or robbery, while relying on the Syndicate to cover their trail for them, but these are hardly suited for serious engagements in combat. However, the Syndicate is organized along military lines for a reason, and if a serious threat appears, the organization can call upon steadily higher levels of force to deal with these threats. Soldiers are distinguished from members by their ability to engage in real combat, and from their demonstrated loyalty to the organization even at risk to life and limb, and they often have class levels in rogue and fighter. Some higher-ranking lieutenants and captains often have magical or psionic ability as well, though these special forces are generally kept in reserve, to better build up the dark reputations of the organization when they do appear in action.

Advancement: Among the lower levels of the Syndicate, advancement is based upon merit, with the more skilled thieves and soldiers given more responsibility, better information, and correspondingly greater pay for services rendered, some even drawing a salary once they reach the level of lieutenant and higher. Advancing in the leadership of the Syndicate is difficult, and generally requires blood relation to one of the original members of the Mahan tribe that first founded the Syndicate. There are exceptions to this rule, but this generally requires extensive demonstrations of value to the organization, subtlety in operations, success in profit, and ruthlessness in crushing any dissenting voices in the upper ranks.

Missions: Most low-level members of the Syndicate are allowed to operate more-or-less independently, as long as they provide their cut to the Syndicate, and inform their local Captains of their activities, so as to allow coordination of efforts, and keep other Syndicate members from interfering with each others' plans, as well as to keep these lower-level members from stealing from those who the Syndicate does not want robbed. Once a member of the Syndicate becomes a fully-fledged soldier, however, then they will start to receive missions directly from the Syndicate itself. This is most often the case with those that the higher echelons of the Syndicate want to groom for positions as Captains, the highest rank that can be attained by most members who are not of the Mahan tribe.

Responsibilities: Retaining basic membership in the Syndicate is simply a matter of paying the expected tithe, which may (and often does) take the form of services rendered. Members who become soldiers are generally required to perform missions when called upon, though this usually does not occur more than once a month. Soldiers and those up to the rank of captain are also expected to not leave their home city except with permission from the higher ranks of the Syndicate. This permission is fairly easy to obtain, so long as a member is not needed on active duty in the current city. Because of this, it is not uncommon for members of the Syndicate to do some adventuring on the side.

Structure: The Syndicate has a very structured ranking system for its members. At the top are the kings and queens, or "Master Mahans," there being one to a given city, and below them are princes/princesses, dukes/duchesses, counts/countesses, and barons/baronesses, in order from greatest to least in power and authority. Almost all of these persons have married or bought their way into the nobility of whatever area they live in, but most especially Avalon City. Each of these higher ranks are generally gradations of 'more of the same,' with the lower ranks taking responsibility for smaller areas, and under the control of higher ranks. Syndicate members at these ranks are also initiates into its darkest secrets, and almost all of them draw freely from the dark prestige classes, feats, spells, and other things found in the Book of Vile Darkness, with a preference for dealings with devils, rather than the less predictable demons. This, however, is not known to most members, though there are a number of very frightening stories that circulate which help to ensure loyalty and fear.

The 'street level' ranks of the Syndicate are, from highest to lowest: captains, lieutenants, enforcers, soldiers, and members. Especially among the young of Avalon City society, as well as several other cities, it is considered a mark of daring and bravery to be a member of the Syndicate, a trend that is present at both the poorest and the richest levels, though it is less present in the middle classes. Captains are generally given charge of a neighborhood, and are expected to answer directly to the Syndicate barons. Particularly successful captains may gain control of more territory, as their supervisors see fit, and this can often lead to controlled gang warfare, as various captains work to undermine the efforts of their fellow officers.

Of special note in this hierarchy are the 'special forces' of the Sydicate. These are especially skilled agents - assassins, blackguards, and users of psionics or magic, as well as high-level members of many different classes - who are brought in by the higher ranking members to deal with special problems, or to take charge of the most difficult criminal assignments. These members of the Syndicate are generally given the rank of baron if they are descended from the Mahan tribe, or captain if they are not. However, despite this honorary rank, these agents are not expected to fit into the standard Syndicate structure, and are mostly allowed to act as they see fit once they are given a set of mission parameters.

NPC Reactions: Simply dropping the name of the Syndicate can earn a member of the organization an Unfriendly reaction from law-abiding citizens and uncorrupted officials, a Friendly reaction from those who are open to corruption and potential fun or profit from the Syndicate, and a +2 circumstantial bonus to Intimidation checks with just about everybody who knows about the Syndicate. However, since the Syndicate takes pains to keep itself from being noticed by those in positions of authority who might otherwise act against it, dropping the name of the Syndicate a little too freely around the wrong sort of people can also earn a member a knife in the back in some dark alley.

Lore: Knowledge (local) or Gather Information can be used to find out more about the Syndicate.
DC 10: The Syndicate is arguably the largest and most powerful organized crime element in Avalon City and several other large cities. It offers very generous benefits to its members, and is considered rather glamorous in some circles.
DC 15: Black market sales are a major part of the Syndicate's profits, and they run several smuggling operations, including ties with a few pirate crews. In Avalon City they almost have a monopoly on the sale of stolen goods, barring a few small-time fences that have stayed below their sights, as well as providing various illegal services, including drugs, prostitution, and assassination. Anyone who tries to freelance on Syndicate territory gets a warning, then a severe beating, then death if they're lucky.
DC 20: There is no single leader of the Syndicate, and this is where its strength comes from. Instead, it is run by a series of leaders with noble and military titles, the highest of whom almost exclusively belong to an extended family or tribe, called the Mahan.
DC 25: The Mahan are devil worshipers, and draw their power from a number of dark deals with evil extraplanar creatures, as well as their skill in murder and deception. They have infiltrated to the highest levels of society, and will be almost impossible to root out, requiring massive social change. Your life and perhaps even your soul are in peril should it ever be known that you know this.
Note: A DC 15 Gather Information or Knowledge (local) check can lead any searchers to a Syndicate black market site for the sale or purchase of illicit goods.

Encounters: Like most criminal organizations, the Syndicate works largely by hiding in plain sight. Members of the Syndicate live in a world of intrigue, murder, and intimidation, and much of their effectiveness depends upon their ruthless reputations. Because of this, encounters with members of the Syndicate generally start with threats of what could happen if someone doesn't cooperate. Outright violence is considered distasteful and low-class, and soldiers of the Syndicate feel very strongly that they have become a part of something much bigger than themselves, and so try to avoid the appearance of being low-class, despite their potentially very humble beginnings. However, once the violence starts, members of the Syndicate fight even dirtier than most, doing their best to really hurt their opponents, preferring the opportunity to cripple their foes for life to killing them, because those left alive can better pass on the story of what happens to those who cross the Syndicate.