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Is there any reason why the Criminal background in 5th edition D&D does not give you the bonus language of Thieves' Cant? With an admittedly limited understanding of the criminal world, I still know that thieves are not the only members of a criminal organization. Though the Rogue does have three different paths, none of them are the equivalent of a fighter or barbarian in terms of "muscle" for a thieves guild.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It feels like the answer to your question involves postulating why Thieve's Cant is a language at all, which I don't think has a clear answer. It would be like asking why Druids can shapeshift, but not other classes. It's part of how the class was designed. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Oct 8 '15 at 2:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing that I'd point out is that not every member of a criminal organization is really "in" the organization. For instance, you could have muscle that doesn't really know the lingo used for doing deals because they are muscle, and they don't do deals. \$\endgroup\$ – Kyle Willey Oct 8 '15 at 3:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've always understood Thieves' Cant to be a cultural thing associated with certain criminal underworlds and especially organized crime. Consider that in our world, there are many many people with criminal records that have very little knowledge of and no experience with major organized crime groups like the Sicilian Mafia. If you are a drug runner in Newark, you might have some in with the Mafia. If you are a bank teller stealing from your employer in Memphis, you probably don't know anyone who knows anyone in the Mafia, let alone have a connection yourself. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Columbia Jul 4 '17 at 16:04
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Thieves' cant is a fluff ability that will rarely if ever have a significant impact.* If you believe Criminal background should grant it, you won't break anything by modifying it. If you're really concerned with balancing the changes, consider that all basic backgrounds give a total of two tool proficiencies and languages, in any combination. Replace one of the tool proficiencies criminal background grants, and you're set.

There is no particular reason for the way it's written. While it's possible to speculate on the designers' intent, we're unlikely to ever know without their direct input.

* it's not just my speculation, here's a quote from Unearthed Arcana:

On the R&D team, any ability meant to convey flavor rather than a mechanical advantage is referred to as a ribbon—a thing that’s mostly for show. Thieves’ Cant is a great example of a ribbon ability, and Storm Guide also falls into this category.  

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent; that quote matches my expectations exactly and I’m thrilled they bothered to explicitly explain it (since that sort of thing can cause very annoying arguments). Also, that second paragraph can be applied to very nearly all questions asking “why” a rule is the way it is. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 8 '15 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Being "meant to" convey flavor rather than a mechanical advantage is not equivalent to actually working like that. I can imagine lots of situations where Thieves' Cant actually matters, although, granted, for most of these situations it needs to be known by at least 2 party members. \$\endgroup\$ – Egor Hans Aug 17 '19 at 8:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ This looks like an incorrect answer, or a partly incorrect answer. On page 125 of the PHB a background can be customized by RAW. Subbing in a language (THieve's Cant) for a skill would look to be AL legal also. This would make Criminal background offer up: Deception, Stealth (Two skills) Thieve's Cant, Thieve's Tools. Which is what Criminal background should have been in the first place, if we take the OP at face value. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 17 '19 at 17:29
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It's not automatic because it's an unwarranted assumption that all criminals would automatically be thieves or have knowledge of the Cant.

Examples: A druid assassin could have the criminal background in that he uses wildshape to infiltrate areas so that he can get close to his targets. There is no need for a thieves cant there, and no real back story to support his having it, thus the criminal background automatically granting it doesn't make sense.

Second example: You're a monk with a criminal background who specializes in knocking out humanoid targets and then selling them. So you're a slaver. Again, no substantiation for knowing or having the Thieves Cant.

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    \$\begingroup\$ By that logic, thieves not associated with a guild would themselves have little reason to know the Cant, yet they do. \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Jun 13 '16 at 12:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed, but then again in my games a thief who was never associated with the thieves guild would not know the cant. Much the same as an elf who was raised by dwarves would speak dwarven instead of elvish as their native tongue. It comes down to logical consistency with the character's backstory. But more to the point, and as I addressed, a criminal is not solely a thief which is what the question is asking about. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Jun 13 '16 at 15:08
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Backgrounds give you small bonuses. Having Thieves' Cant, Druidic, or other secret languages is a big deal. Secret languages don't come from backgrounds because the designers want to make sure that the game remains close to the game-balance they want, even if doing so causes the game to move further away from the setting they want. Thieves' Cant isn't worth much, as far as class features go, but it's still worth much, much more than a regular language.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've been trying not to comment on this, but how is Thieves' Cant worth more than a regular language? It only lets you speak to someone you could already speak to, and if you really wanted privacy there are heaps of ways you could get it. At best, Thieves' Cant is worth a cantrip (Message) whereas a regular language is worth a 3rd-level spell (Tongues). \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Oct 8 '15 at 10:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Miniman Exclusivity has worth in and of itself. Not only that, but Thieve's Cant can be sent to someone in particular, like Message, or NO ONE in particular (as in a hidden stash for fellow rogues). Not only that, but it can't be deciphered except by those that know TC, even if they could understand the language it was written in (ie, Warlocks Eyes of the Runekeeper cannot allow him to understand the message). This makes it a very powerful storytelling tool for DMs and players, especially when you want to do something special for each party member. Additionally, it is non-magical. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Oct 8 '15 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since it's campaign, player and DM specific, arguing the merits of viability is purely subjective point that's based on the value and play style of the people at any particular table. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Oct 9 '15 at 0:08
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Create a new background that justifies thieve's cant following the play balance of the current ones and ask your DM if you can use it in the game. The backgrounds are just example ones and obviously don't cover every possible one. However your DM should reject one that is to specific and could not be shared by other characters. Anything that specific should be gained by having to make difficult character choices about class etc. to add a bit of flavour - the most character defining traits in rpgs tend to be those caused by adversity.

Being a criminal does not mean that you have ever been under the tutelage of someone who would teach you thieve's cant, which is most often associated with ties to the Thieve's Guild(s) or other organised crime rings of the area (depending on setting etc). You might have been an enforcer for a criminal ring not of sufficient status to learn the "inner secrets", you might be a loner con artist, petty thug etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you down vote something it is polite and informative to say why \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Oct 8 '15 at 11:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Though I'm not the down-voter, I'll say that this doesn't strike me as actually answering the question asked: "why doesn't the criminal...?" It's perhaps a good answer to "how can I get TC without being a rogue?" But that wasn't the question. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Oct 8 '15 at 12:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 is this question a designer reasons question and thus OT now? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 17 '19 at 17:35

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