On the Rogue to Nowhere
A short tale set during the evening hours in a world where November is followed immediately by April, wherein a young rogue discovers her place in the world, a powerful wizard is unmasked, and the true purpose of single class rogues is uncovered.
"10 Across, 5-letter word, starts with X, name of a powerful wizard," he said to himself. Xerxes? No, he was a king. Maybe--
A faint sound echoed through the recruitment office. Distracted, Smith dropped his Glowpen (a gift from a powerful wizard he'd once found a job for) and looked up from his crossword, rolling up the rest of Ye Daily Times so he could properly swat the bug. But the insect eluded him, and it was only after he'd set the paper down again that he noticed the small figure in the doorway, looking at him.
The sound repeated itself, and he realized it was not a bug; it was the gnome, politely clearing its throat.
"Err, can I help you?" he asked.
"Yes," said the gnome. "I'm here for a job."
Great, he thought. This ought to be good. But it had been a slow day, and coin was coin.
"Please, come in, Mis... Mist..."
"Miss. Cherrrybomb Smallthistle." She did a little curtsey and then scampered across the floor, pulling herself up onto the chair across from his. Her brow barely cleared the top of the desk, and he struggled to make eye contact with her.
"Miss, yes." He pretended to write this down.
"You couldn't tell?" she asked.
"Ah, no," he said. "It's just that we can't ask, you know, questions about gender, or race. It's discriminatory. Particularly against dwarves. Beards and all."
"I see," she said. "Well, I'm a gnome, if it makes any difference."
"It might," he said. "It just so happens that I have a job opening for an illusionist here, and..."
She cleared her throat gently.
"Is that a problem?" he asked.
"I'm not an illusionist," she said, ignoring the thinly veiled racism in his assumption. "I'm a rogue."
"I see," he replied. "Well, what skills do you have?"
She shuffled nervously in her seat.
"Well, I can pick pockets really well. I'm an excellent shadow-hider, and I can move silently like nobody's business. Plus I can pick locks and set traps, you know, the basics."
"Err..." He frowned, took off his glasses and massaged the tip of his nose.
"I have a good Reflex save," she added.
"Is that a problem?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, I mean, no, I mean... I meant can you describe your OTHER skills."
There was a moment of silence, and then...
"I don't understand," she said, in a meek little voice.
"Well, like fighting. Can you fight?"
"I can backstab. Is that what you mean?" She pulled out a tiny little dagger and waved it around. His letter opener was deadlier by comparison. He nearly chuckled aloud, but instead stifled it behind a half-grin and plunged onward.
"No, like swords, shields. Pikes. Maybe clubs? A mace? Anything?"
"Well, no. Daggers. Maybe darts."
"I guess if I HAD to..." For a moment there was the faintest hint of aggression in her voice, and he decided to move on. He'd never be able to explain THAT one to his wife.
"OK, let's forget weapons. What about spells. Can you cast spells?"
"Well I already said I'm no illusionist. But there's the racial stuff. I can talk to badgers."
"Or any burrowing creature, really."
"I see. But nothing like magic missiles? Balls of fire? Maybe a web?"
"No. I don't unders--"
"What about healing. Can you cure light wounds?" He plunged on, losing his patience. That crossword was waiting.
"What? No. I'm not a cleric. Or a wizard, or a fighter. I'm a rog--"
"Tracking? Can you track? Maybe a good raging berserk. Can you go berserk? If you can, I have this great job down at--"
She shrieked. Being a gnome, it came out sort of ferretlike.
"That's not very berserk, I'm afraid." He shook his head.
"Are you telling me there are NO jobs for rogues?" she asked.
"Look Miss Thistlebum," he said, switching to his I AM BEING VERY PATIENT WITH YOU voice, "everyone takes a level of rogue nowadays. Everyone. Usually at first level, just to get the extra skill points. Hell, my mother has a level of rogue, and she's a dishwasher. There's just no jobs out there for a non-multiclass rogue. They're not needed."
"Uh, hello, locked chests?"
"Any warrior worth his salt can bash through a chest in a few seconds. And are we forgetting the Knock spell? That's why it was invented."
"What about traps? Let's see your multiclass rogue handle a Deadly DC 30 trap."
"Yes, but Miss Cherrybottom, that first level rogue is also probably a 10th level barbarian, and he can just wander right through that trap. The damage is inconsequential, maybe a mild sunburn, unless you're talking about someone without lots of hit points, like, say..."
"A single class rogue," she spat.
"What about a wizard? Or sorcerer? Tell me their d4-rolling asses can survive a DC35 acid trap."
"Well, frankly, most spellcasters can either teleport past the trap, or summon something to set it off, such as an elemental, or a small mammal. Granted, PETA has some problems with that, but it's not my place to worry about what happens when a dire weasel sets off a fire tr--"
Cherrybomb raised a small hand, grimacing.
"OK, OK, I get the picture."
"I'm sorry Miss Thistlewander, but I just have noth-- Wait, can you sing and play the lute? Because I've got...."
"I. Am. Not. A. Bard." Clenched teeth, like a tiny string of pearls.
"Oh," he said.
They stared at each other for a while. Or, more accurately, he stared over her head, and she stared at the front of his desk, kicking her legs.
"Well, I'm sorry, but it appears I've got nothing for you." He closed his folder, and folded his hands atop it, the finality of this gesture somewhat lessened by the fact that she could see none of it. He tried a different tactic.
"If you'd like," he went on, "I can recommend several career counseling services, or perhaps a trade school, where you could pick up a few levels as a warrior. Assuming you have the experience, of course. And there's the matter of a small fee..."
"No, that's OK," she said, sighing. She jumped off the chair, walked around his desk, and stuck up a small hand. How cute. He accepted the handshake, his own beefy hand devouring hers, and nearly shook her arm off as he pumped it up and down. It felt like pulling a weed, and he let go before he dislocated her shoulder.
"Good luck, Miss Cherrybustle."
She smiled angrily, and without another word, turned and left the room. Behind her back, he rolled his eyes and shook his head, collapsing into his chair. Why did he always get the hard cases?
Where was he?
"10 Across, 5-letter word, starts with X, name of a powerful wizard."
"Xagyg," said Cherrybomb.
"Of course," said Mufflethump Berryweather. He propped the paper against the wall of the alley and filled in the answer in delicate, glowing script.
"Where'd you get this cool pen?" he added.
Cherrybomb shrugged nonchalantly, taking it from his thin fingers and dropping it into her bag, where it rattled past a paperweight, stapler and letter opener before coming to rest against a small coffer full of coins.
"At my last job," she said.