In Thief, every room could tell a story, and as a thief in the shadows, you enjoy the experience of learning those stories from various objects and characters in the environment. Some of the most compelling stories can be found within the sacred halls of the very first Thief game: in Lord Bafford’s Manor, for example, wherein the player finds dark hallways, moody overtones, and the stillness of a mansion whose master has left for a get-away.
The time is ripe for a new Dark Narrative entry.
Scene 1: A Throne Room!
One of the first lines you hear in Thief, during “Lord Bafford’s Manor,” is Garrett’s wry, “It’s a throne room! How pretentious can you get?” This line confounded me when I played the game as a child – I did not know what “pretentious” meant. I also thought, “Bafford’s a lord. Why is it strange for him to have a throne room?”
But I was young and dumb. So too Bafford must have a heart like a child. Can he have really grown up, asking for a throne room to be installed in his home, as if the lavishness of it weren’t enough? Is he really mature, sitting in a throne, waving his scepter at his guards as if they are his royal subjects, issuing orders, all the while playing monarch? Hardly – Bafford’s a kid.
This is what eluded me when I was so young: Bafford is a rich nobleman, but hardly a king. He is an egomaniac. Why wouldn’t he be happy with the fancy bathtubs and ornate tapestries? Is the extravagant square footage not enough? Is having his own private guard staff inadequate?
The answers to all those queries must be in the negative. For, on top of all his wealth, he can’t be content – not without a throne.
You can see this obsession with power throughout the rest of Bafford’s manor. In a note he left for the cook, he makes no niceties in demanding the freshest foods. He will allow for no excuses, either. You see this monarch-complex, too, in the very centerpiece of the mission: the scepter. You’re not out to nab a gemstone from Bafford, nor a coin purse, nor a sword. Bafford’s precious treasure – what he holds closest to his heart – is a scepter, a symbol of power.
And that is what this scene communicates. No other manorlord possesses such décor. In no other manor do you see such a straightforward assertion of power. Each manor, and each lord, have their own quirks, and Bafford’s is embodied in the throne. He may not be a king, but he certainly thinks like one. And Garrett, already ill with the nobility, can’t believe it, and smirks at this show of power. Bafford’s throne only served to confirm Garrett’s worst thoughts about the nobility.
And that’s what I missed as a kid. Maybe if I had been exploring a modern suburbia mansion and saw a desk and chair setup like the oval office, I would have gotten the point. Now I understand better. Bafford’s throne room is a perfectly subtle illustration of his bratty monarch complex. Likely as a kid he sat in a chair and ruled over a kingdom of stuffed toys. He never had to grow out of that.
Scene 2: The Secluded Chapel
Break from Cragscleft Prison is one of the finest missions in Thief because it has three distinct environs that center on a theme, and the transition between each of them is brilliant. The theme here is an introduction to the Hammerites, Thief’s grand religious order. As you find out, their leaders live richly, their prisoners live harshly, and their dead refuse to rest.
You begin the mission in abandoned, haunted mines, then proceed upward to a prison complex, and then from there to the priests’ living quarters and chapel. A separate Dark Narrative entry could explore this mission on its own – this entry will focus on one scene.
Deep in the haunted mines, the undead moan from the distance as creepy crawlies – some of them giant – brood in the shadows or scurry about. It’s dark, it’s empty, and it’s where you come up for breath after taking a short swim in from the sunny outside. When I was young, this is where I started pressing the Escape key quite often. I was terrified. If the zombies didn’t petrify me, the giant spider sent me screaming and crying.
Even the oldest adult could be shaken by the horrors within these mines. I bet even Garrett, chiseled as he is, felt some amount of dread when first creeping through these hallowed tunnels.
There is, though, a respite from the horrors. It is an old abandoned chapel, now ruined, tucked away in the haunted depths. You walk down a hallway to enter it, and then, once inside, are surrounded by a calming hum and sense of detachment from the dangers surrounding you. You feel safe from the undead and monsters, even though they can follow you in. (That’s what the Holy Water font is for.)
This abandoned room stands for what these mines used to be. It tells the story of a place of worship, now lost. It also tells a common story of the Hammerites: losing ground to the undead.
This contrast of the Hammerites and the undead is a major theme of Thief. One stands for order, the other for chaos; one comes of technology and civilization, the other of dark sorcery and evil; they are always together, it seems, in constant conflict.
But in the midst of this conflict, I found peace. On the one side was a chapel the Hammerites used to own, on the other side were the undead that now surrounded it, and in between was me, in my little haven, comforted by the calming hum and readying some Holy Water arrows.
Now bring it, zombies. My water arrows are sanctified and have your names on them.
Scene 3: Two Dead Thieves
Do you like gigantic catacombs filled with the undead and other monsters? Thief’s classic “Down in the Bonehoard” mission is your delectable gaming treat. Filled with savory details for many more Dark Narrative entries, I will focus here on one of them: the remains of two poor thieves.
Each of these thieves met some terrible end in their search for treasures. Their remains represent what may befall Garrett if he isn’t careful!
The first thief, Sutter, met his unfortunate end near the entry of the tombs. His eternal resting place isn’t too bad: a secluded, alterior room, just off of a grand tomb area. Were it not for his fate you’d think this nook would be perfectly safe. The poor guy even had a bedroll with him – very cozy. The remains of a campfire suggest he stayed here for some time. Perhaps his need for warmth is what gave him away.
From his diary, you learn that he was at odds with another of his company, Felix. The two apparently parted ways, Sutter wanting to abandon the tombs, Felix obsessed with finding the tomb’s legendary Horn of Quintus. Sutter thinks Felix is on a suicide mission. He also thinks he himself will be safe from the zombies where he is. Clearly, he thought wrong.
The second thief corpse you will (likely) find is indeed of Felix, in the “Halls of Echoing Repose”, the section of the tombs where the vastness of the mission fully opens. The most determined of the three thieves who ventured into these tombs, Felix made it the furthest. From his diary, you learn that he could taste the tomb’s legendary treasure, the Horn of Quintus, and thought Sutter a coward for abandoning the quest. Sutter was partly wrong – Felix was onto something.
But he nonetheless met the same fate as Sutter. Unlike Sutter, who at least tried to evade the zombies by finding an out-the-way area to rest in, Felix had set up camp smack dab in the middle of one of the large tombs. There are zombies walking everywhere! The campfire remains suggest he indeed saw this wide-open and vulnerable area as a perfect resting spot. Perhaps the droning of the horn and his obsession with finding it drove him out of his senses.
What these two thieves didn’t learn, Garrett did, and so he is able to nab the Horn of Quintus and get out of the tomb in one piece. Garrett has the superior sneaking skills – and he didn’t take a nap.
Dark Narrative | Conclusion
I hope you enjoyed my little journey through three more of Thief’s rich and timeless narrative scenes. If you have any thoughts on Thief, the scenes I described above, or environmental storytelling in games, please share them in the comments below. Thank you for reading!