Shadowspeak Language in The Library of Dulūn | World Anvil
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This document has been contributed by: Kit Seaglade

Shadowspeak is a "language" known by scoundrels and thieves, as well as members of thieves' guilds, across the nation of Vehasi. It is not truly a language, but rather a set of phrases and jargon that allow its members to speak to one another without the true meaning of their words being revealed.
Shadowspeak is an ever-evolving language, like all languages are, with terms moving in and out of the common use as required to keep the language exclusive to those in the trade. It is meant to be indecipherable from normal speech to those listening and unaware of the language. As such, one does not use Shadowspeak unless it has been confirmed that the person they are speaking to also knows and is speaking Shadowspeak, something that is confirmed at the beginning of a conversation. Alternatively, it can be used between two theives who know each other well, slipped between words of a conversation - though this is generally accompanied my some sort of visual signal to tell the other that they are switching into Shadowspeak. All of this is done to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications, in a language particularly prone to them.

Example of Shadowspeak

Hey! Wow, time's flied! Oh, it's been, what? At least a decade since I've seen you.Translation
Hey, I'm looking to hire you for a job. It's urgent.
Oh, hi, yeah, it sure has! What brings you here?Translation
I'm the right person to talk to. Go on.
Oh, I'm just out on some errands. I actually just spoke to your aunt, funnily enough.Translation
It's from a government official.
Oh? I haven't seen her in a while. How's she doing?Translation
Do I know them?
She's been getting better!Translation
You've worked for them before.
That's great to hear!Translation
So what's the job?
Yeah, I was glad too. Hey, there's a birthday party coming up for my little brother, are you planning on coming?Translation
It's an assassination of a civilian.
Oh, I hadn't heard! Do you know any of the other guests?Translation
How many targets?
Just one RSVP, but it's a family gathering. There's party favours, too; the party's going to be at night. You can bring a plus one!Translation
Just one, it's a small job. You'll need proof of identity. Avoid collateral damage, and frame someone else.
Sounds fun! How old is he getting, anyways?Translation
I'm interested. What's the pay?
He's 7!Translation
7 Viodium.
7? Wow, I though he was 12.Translation
How about 12?
Well, he'll be turning 8 soon.Translation
I'll do 8.
Yeah. I bet he can't wait 'till he hits 11.Translation
True! But I know he'll be getting some really nice gifts when he turns 9.Translation
That is true.Translation
Ok, that's fine.
So, do you think you'll be coming? It's next weekend.Translation
The employer wants the job done by next weekend. Can you do that?
Next weekend? I'm not sure I'll be able to get there in time.Translation
I'm not sure that's enough time.
Would it help if I said I had some gossip for you?Translation
The information regarding the job has already been gathered.
It would. I'll see you thereTranslation
I'll take the job.
In the meantime, wanna catch up over a game of cards? I'll be at the Unsteady Tavern this evening.Translation
I'll give you the information over a game of cards. I'll be at the Unsteady Tavern this evening.
Of course!Translation
Ok. I will meet you there.
Well, it was nice to catch up. See you soon!Translation

Using Shadowspeak

There are a variety of different terms and methods of communication that fall under the realm of shadowspeak - not all of them spoken. There are different identifiers, written symbols, hand signs, and code phrases that thieves cant comprises. A conversation using shadowspeak involves many of these different aspects.


When a person greets another using shadowspeak, one of two things happens. The first is that the speaker knows for sure that the person they are speaking to is a member of the criminal underworld, but the person they are speaking to is not necessarily aware of this fact. In this situation, the speaker will use an identifying phrase to both let the other person know that they are also a criminal, as well as informing them of their specialty; the person approached will then confirm their own knowledge of Shadowspeak with a specific response, feigning familiarity.
The second situation is that the speaker does not know if who they are talking to is a criminal or not, and wants to check before proceeding. If neither of these situations are true, and both speakers know of each other, and know that they will be speaking in Shadowspeak, than the greeting can be skipped.
GreetingResponseInitiator's identity
Lookin' good, old friend.Glad you think so!Assassin
Well aren't you a sight for sore eyes.Hey, haven't seen you in a while!Thief
Verbal greeting and a large, friendly hug*Hey, now!Pickpocket (*when greeted by a pickpocket, the pickpocket will move one belonging to a new pocket.)
Howdy, ho!Well I'll be!Pirate
Woah, long time no see!Hey, great to see ya!Fence
Hey there, mate.Hey there, friend.Bookie
Greetings, friend.Greetings, indeed.Con artist
Hey beautiful/handsome/prettyIs that who I think it is?Hustler
Well look what the cat dragged in.No different than usual.Smuggler
Well, you're a piece of work.No more than you!Forger
Hey, how've you been?No worse than usual.Torturer
Well, would you look at that - [Name]?At your service!Enforcer
Hey! Wow, the time has flied!It sure has!Job irrelevant; looking to hire.
Hey, nice to see a friendly face around here!Those sure can be rare.Job irrelevant; I need you to help hide me.
By the gods, [Name], is that you?In the flesh!I am speaking to you in Shadowspeak.
When a greeting involves a name, the name can be the listener's name, if the speaker knows it, or a made up name otherwise. Either way, the listener is expected to go along with it, and explain the strange "nickname" to listeners if need be.

Following this greeting, it is also common to continue with a phrase conveying one's urgency. This is typically done with a phrase indicating how long ago since you've last seen the person - whether or not the speaker and the listener have ever met before is irrelevant, as both will pretend to be old friends.
Length of timeMeaning
Anywhere under a yearNot urgent
Between a year and a decadeLow urgency
Over 10 yearsHigh urgency
Since we were kidsExtreme urgency
A lifetime ago/forever agoImmense urgency; needs immediate response
When determining the identity of a person one has initiated contact with, these greetings do not work, as the person you are speaking to has lost the opportunity to start the conversation. Instead, it is typical to greet an approacher with "Hey there. Fine weather we're having." (or, alternatively, "Nasty weather we're having" when in bad weather). Then, their response will indicate their purpose.
Yeah, I wish it'd rain more.Looking for a job
Well, I can't spend all day outside.Meeting a client
I can't remember the last time I've seen the sun out.Looking to hire
Khisteus' blessings upon us!Giving proof of completion
Well, you know how Khisteus is. Wouldn't expect it to stay for long.Meeting with a patron

Talking About People

Often, people using Shadowspeak want to refer to specific people, without others being able to tell who they are talking about. They get around this by using terms for family members instead; while this loses some specificity, context can be used, and questions can also be asked.
Family MemberIndividual being referred to
Father/Mother/ParentA direct superior, usually in a thieves' guild.
Stepfather/Stepmother/Step-parentA leader of/in a rival guild.
Grandmother/Grandfather/GrandparentLeader of the guild
Aunt/Uncle/PiblingPolitician or government official
Brother/Sister/SiblingA fellow criminal
Stepbrother/Stepsister/StepsiblingA sender unknown to the listener, generally a rich person seeking a criminal
Little Brother/Sister/SiblingA non-criminal
Older Brother/Sister/SiblingA guid official
CousinA member of a rival guild
Any petActual family members (or close friends) of the listener
Following a reference to a person, the listener can respond with some questions, to determine more information about the person in question. The most common question is "Oh, how is/are he/she/they doing? I haven't seen her/him/them in a while." This question is a general question asking for more details or context, and can be responded to as follows - these sentences can be combined for more specificity. These sentences can be used to describe people that the listener has never met, as well as people that they know.
They're doing well!You haven't met them.
Oh, they've seen better days.It's someone you just spoke to.
They've been getting better!You've done a job for them before.
They just need some X and they'll be alrightTheir name starts with the first letter of the word used for X.
They just got a new (colour) (item)Their hair colour is this.
I'm so sorry, but they just passed.This person wants to kill you.
They've been pretty social recently.This person is looking to hire (for illicit activities).
They came into an inheritance.This person is wealthy.
They've taken up knitting.They're an assassin.
They've taken up crochet.They're a thief.
They've started learning some magic.They're a pickpocket.
They've got a new job as a janitor.They're a pirate.
They've opened a pawn shop.They're a fence.
They've taken up dance.They're a spellcaster.
They've started reading lately.They're a bookie.
They've been bouncing around some taverns.They're a con artist.
They've always liked to chat.They're a hustler.
They've been travelling a lot.They're a smuggler.
They've been getting into art lately.They're a forger.
They've been getting into acupuncture.They're a torturer.
They've been sticking to what they're good at.They're an enforcer.
They're keeping a flock of crowsThey are in danger. More crows signifies higher/more grave danger; typically on a scale of 5 to 10.
They're keeping a flock of ravensThey are known to work for/with multiple different guilds.
They're keeping a flock of larksThey are known to not be able to keep quiet about jobs/information; not necessarily a snitch.
They're keeping a flock of pigeonsThey are in bed with the local law enforcement.
They're keeping a flock of parrotsThey have lots of information/rumours/knowledge on jobs.
They're keeping a flock of chickensThey are close with the nobility or government.
They're keeping a flock of ducksThey are wealthy.
They're keeping a flock of finchesThey are charismatic.
They're keeping a flock of eaglesThey are well-armed, or backed by a millitary or guard force.
Lost their flockNone of the bird codes apply to them (response to a direct question).
A person can also ask specific questions, to get answers to direct questions. They can be responded to as above.
Oh, what's their latest find?What colour is their hair?
How's their birdkeeping going?Tell me more information.
Is there anything I could get for them?What is the first letter of their name?
What's their newest hobby?What is their criminal job?
(Follow-up to hobby) They any good at it?How good are they at their job? (Can be answered normally)

Code words/phrases

There are a few terms that thieves and criminals will use in their speech to mean other things. Typically, they will only use these terms when they already know that the person they are speaking to knows Shadowspeak. These terms are often used in more freeform conversation, to pass information between thieves' guild members. As such, they are short words or phrases meant to be able to be hidden in regular conversation. Some of these terms can be conjugated to refer to different contexts, while others are simply inserted into a sentence wherever, and the word itself is the only thing that matters.
WeedA snitch or spy
WeedingGetting rid of snitches/spies in an operation
GlassmakerAn easy mark
Setting the tablePreparing a mark/job
Pawn shopPlace to fence stolen items
HotDescribes an item; recently stolen goods
DancerTerm for spellcasters (mildly derogatory)
Honest (wo)manA dishonourable thief, one who lies to and steals from other thieves
Being honestLying or cheating
To be honest,Precedes a sentence that the speaker knows to be false
CandymakerA person who specialises in the collection and trading of secrets
CandyInformation or secrets
Haunting/hauntedA location that has been cased out
GraveyardThe speaker's family (i.e. "I'm visiting the graveyard": I'm visiting family)
Card tableMeetingplace, generally in a public location
Sweetening a cup/mealPoisoning someone's drink/food
Taking out the trashLeaving an item in a dead drop location
Paid in ironJailed
Dance floorAn area with magical guards/traps (i.e. "It's popular in that shop - might as well be a dance floor": That shop is littered with magical wards)
LibraryCan't say the details of a job - because you can't speak in a library. (i.e. "I met him, then I went to the library": I met with this person, but can't elaborate.)
PaintingLeaving marks/glyphs in Shadowspeak (see "Shadowspeak Glyphs" section)
Ally's friendAn alchemist who specialises in illicit substances, such as drugs or poisons
Birds are outGuild officials will be evaluating your performance; don't mess up
(Knitting) needlesKnives or daggers
Crochet hookLockpicks
Paintbrush(es)Forgery equipment; broad, unspecific
Perched (typically spoken of birds)Someone referred to previously is hiding out, staying on the down low; not taking jobs
Maybe I'll forget you.I trust you; "forgetting" someone is to not talk about them to a guard by "forgetting" their name/face, and is considered a show of trust.
I forget their name.I trust them.
They've got lots of edigan.A person who tends to be very cheap/frugal.
(Always) on timeProfessional
Making small talkSlipping a tail
The ol' (place)This place is a front operation; due to this term, modern front establishments avoid names like "The Old X"
PristineLeaving as little evidence behind as possible
WhisperTelepathic communication (i.e. "She can whisper": She can speak telepathically)
LeakA secret entrance
I owe you X lionis, don't I?A proposal to meet in X number of days. Response can change the value, conversation can modify it as well.
Wear/put on a hatTo change or put on a disguise; "top hat" can be specified to be magical
Making moneyLiterally making counterfeit currency
SunriseA compromised mission or a blown cover (i.e. "The birthday party went all the way 'til sunrise": the assassination attempt failed.)
The fieldsA profitable area for criminal activity
CornfieldsAn area good for pickpocketing; crowded areas
Wheat fieldsAn area good for armed robbery; areas where few are armed or know how to fight
Rice fieldsAn area with few or lazy guards, good for
Cotton fieldsAn area good for cons/scams; an area with a lot of gullible people
RiverTrustworthy source of information (can be used to describe a person: "He fishes from the river" or "She sits by the river")
Lake/pondUntrustworthy source of information (similar to above)
RatsGeneral threats to criminals; guards, monsters, snitches, etc. Broad term
BrightSomething conspicuous
Sharp eyeA guard who can be easily bribed
Tenth HellAn incredibly dangerous location (not really a code word, more like an idiom)
Fairy/PixieA scout or lookout
WorkingCommitting a crime; doing something illegal
Stonework/masonryWetwork (derived from "making gravestones")
Bloody noseSomeone to be hanged (shortened from "noose")
Cranberry juiceA truth serum
Gold jewellerySomething or someone able to remove or otherwise affect magic (i.e. "She wears gold jewellery" or "I've got some gold jewellery")
Did you hear about X?A cue to stop using Shadowspeak; someone who knows too much may be listening
Crows taking flightTo scatter or dispand
Don't need to danceSomething that requires no magic
Cloak/capeSomeone who's disappeared (i.e. "She got a new cloak":She's disappeared; "You'll find him wearing a cape":You won't find him)

Hiring for a Job

When approaching someone to hire them for a job, this is often done under the guise of inviting them to a party. The hiree has the option to ask questions about the party, and then accept or deny the invitation. These terms can also be used to simply discuss prior jobs, work experience, or jobs that someone else has done. In those cases, rather than inviting the listener to a party, the speaker simply talks about a party that they or someone else has attended.
PartyIllegal activity
Birthday partyAssassination job
Tea partyForgery
Cocktail partyCon
Garden partyThievery/burglary
Dinner partyTorture
Estate saleAuction
Sending postcardsKidnapping/ransom
Playing cardsSmuggling contraband
Farewell partySmuggling live cargo (people, generally)
GossipInformation gathering
Marriage proposalIntimidation or blackmail
Bring a dateProvide your own team; do not inform them of any details.
Bring your dateProvide your own team; inform them of as few details as possible, but they can know some information.
It's during the dayKill all witnesses; witnesses will be inevitable.
It's at nightAct quickly and quiety, avoid collateral damage.
You can bring a plus-one.Frame someone else for the crime.
I'm sure [family member] would love to come.Frame a specific person for the crime. (Can be followed up with questions inquiring as to how the person is doing)
Some weeds need to be trimmed.A snitch or spy is involved.
Family gatheringSmall/short job
City gatheringHigh-stakes operation
Village gatheringLong-term job/operation
Party favoursProof of victim's identity
HostPerson on the inside
On good termsLook like an accident
Formal gatheringMust follow employer's instructions
Informal gatheringMethod up to hiree's discretion
Pet friendlyFine to bring non-criminal companions to the job

Numbers in Shadowspeak

When referring to things with numbers, such as the number of targets, number of guards, or number of crew on a job, it is difficult to avoid saying actual numbers. Instead, these numbers are disguised as other things. When discussing anything related to numbers, topics are chosen that allow these numbers to be brought up. Some of these situations require changing or negotiations of numbers, so topics are chosen that allow for this. Some topics refer to the same things, to allow for conversations that make sense to any outside listeners.
AgesPay for a job (in viodium)
How many candles should I bring?Pay for a job (in viodium specific to assassinations
PartygoersNumber of crew/people hired for a job
Guests (separate from partygoers)(When discussing assassination) number of targets; (When discussing other jobs) pay for a job (in viodium)


Cardspeak is a form of Shadowspeak where conversation occurs while the participants are taking part in a card game. The card game itself is fake, with no actual rules to it. Rather, the cards serve as a method of communicating information overlayed on regular conversation. Typically, this is accompanied by contributing of money into a pool, if one person is providing information to another.
The deck of cards used in cardspeak is a simple 6-suit 90-card deck, with the suits being Rings, Hearts, Shields, Stars, Blades, and Crowns. The card values are numbered 1-10, along with "royals" of the Jack, Queen, King, Angel, and Deity. Multiple cards can be played at once to convey mutliple meanings.
Cardspeak allows for more clandestine conversation that can't fully be understood even by those versed in Shadowspeak, unless they get close enough to read the cards being placed on the table. It also allows theives to meet in public places, to ensure the safety of both parties when there is no trust between them.
Cards can have a few different meanings, depending on the context when they are placed. They can be commentary on the safety of a location, qualities of an individual, or an indicator of numbers.

Location Commentary

Any ringAn area with a lot of valuable items
Any heartA safe place for thieves/scoundrels
Any shieldAn area that is not well-guarded, and is an easy target
Any starAn area full of other thieves and competition
Any bladeA dangerous place for illicit activity or wanted individuals
Any crownA good place to find dishonest work

Person Commentary

Any ringA wealthy person
Any heartSomeone who can provide help
Any shieldAn easy mark
Any starAnother criminal
Any bladeA snitch
Any crownSomeone known to hire for dishonest work

Item Commentary

Any ringWorth a lot of money
Any heartA forgery
Any shieldNot very well guarded
Any starA magical item
Any bladeA well-guarded item
Any crownRecently stolen

Royal Cards

The royal cards of the deck have special meanings, outside of the conversation at hand. These can be played at any point, to indicate the desired meaining.
JackWe are being watched/listened to
QueenI'm not interested in the job being offerred.
KingToo risky.
AngelStop talking; feign regular conversation.
DeityA person of interest is here.

Food/Drink Orders

Many thieves guilds prefer to operate out of front restaurants. This opens up a few more opportunities for discreet communication, in the form of food and drink orders. The manner in which the food or drink is ordered does not matter as much as the actual food or drink itself - though, it is cutomary to tip the bartender, at risk of them turning you away. In addition, asking for multiple drinks, of the same kind or different, means asking for multiple people of the same or different skillsets. A bartender will then respond to these orders by directing them to a table, to match them up with someone to talk to; A bartender might direct an assassin asking for a job to a patron that came in earlier looking for an assassin. If directed to an empty table, that is a promise to send the next person their way. Alternatively, if the bartender says "We don't have/serve that here.", they are turning the patron away.
Typically, when a thieves' guild operates out of a bar, tavern, or restaurant, they will post a "greeter" at the door. This greeter will comment on the weather to each person that they don't recognise entering, and display a hand signal towards the bartender if the customer indicates that they are not a criminal - the specific hand signal varies depending on the guild and location. Typically, patrons of the establishment will also keep an eye out for this hand sign, as it is a sign to quiet down their conversations, switch to Shadowspeak, or be wary of their words until they know for sure that the visitor is not a member of law enforcement.
I'll have the daily special.I'm looking for a job, and I don't care about specifics.
What drinks do you have available?What jobs are people looking for? (Response is with the associated drinks)
What meals/foods do you have available?What types of people are looking for jobs? (Response is with the associated foods)
I'll have a tea.I'm looking to hire an assassin.
I'm in the mood for some wine.I'm looking to hire a burglar
Could I get some juice?I'm looking to hire a pickpocket
Got any ale on tap?I'm looking to hire a pirate.
You have any exotic drinks?I'm looking for a fence.
How about some rum?I'm looking for a bookie.
I'll have a glass of champagne.I'm looking for a con artist.
Just water, please.I'm looking for a hustler.
I'll have (drink), on the rocks.I'm looking to hire a smuggler.
I'll have some coffee.I'm looking to hire a forger.
I'd like a shot of vodka.I'm looking to hire a torturer.
I'll take whatever you have on tap.I'm looking to buy information.
I'll have a stew.I'm looking to sell information.
Do you have steak?I'm an assassin looking for work.
I'd like some baked potatoes.I'm a burglar looking for work.
Got any warm meals?I'm a pickpocket looking for work.
I'll take some seafood.I'm a pirate looking for work.
I'd prefer a bitter meal.I'm a fence looking for clients.
How 'bout some pork?I'm a bookie looking for clients.
It's been a while since I've had some snail.I'm a con artist looking for work/information.
I'll have some bread.I'm a hustler looking for work/information.
I'm in the mood for some stew.I'm a smuggler looking for work.
I think I'll have some chips.I'm a forger looking for work.
I'd like a plate of mashed potatoes.I'm a torturer looking for work.

Shadowspeak Glyphs

In addition to spoken code phrases, Shadowspeak also encompasses a set of glyphs that can be easily painted to convey information about a location to other thieves. These are typically designed to just look like graffiti, and tend to be placed in locations that are unobtrusive and require the eye of someone who is specifically looking for them to spot; a thief might place a glyph in an alleyway next to an extablishment, or on the underside of the overhang of a roof. While the exact glyphs vary depending on region, and there can be more for other or more specific meanings, the following seven are fairly standard and understood across the continent.
Area is safeArea has guards/guard lives hereDangerous areaPoor house/areaRich house/areaBuilding owner is armedThis area is claimed territory
Symbols made by notahumanhand


Please Login in order to comment!
Dec 28, 2023 05:10 by Chase

The scariest thing about this article is that it could actually be used in real life now. There's enough information here that I could decently understand a conversation held between two Shadowspeakers. I doubt that I could converse with them, without practice, but this documentation is quite spooky. If the guards got a hold of this...

Jan 3, 2024 01:25 by spleen

as long as no one snitches... xD

Have a wonderful day!
Jan 1, 2024 06:37 by Zannazook læ Gnom

A perfectly designed and operational coded language. Maybe too much to keep being a good secret/initiate language as law enforcers would probably easily learn the subtleties of its uses ? Great and easy to read article !

Jan 1, 2024 13:59 by spleen

Thank you! The concept was that what terms are in the common use would change over time, to keep law enforcement unaware - but this only can really happen in a limited capacity, meaning criminals do still have to be somewhat wary of the strangers they talk around. I'm glad you enjoyed the article!

Have a wonderful day!
Jan 3, 2024 01:21 by Scarlet Spitfire

I really like this article! Plus you’ve added some more since I was last here! It would also be interesting to see more on cardspeak, its such a cool concept!

Jan 3, 2024 01:25 by spleen

hmm... I'll do some thinking on it, and see if there's anything I can come up with to add in this regard. Thanks for the comment :)

Have a wonderful day!
Jan 8, 2024 19:30 by Barb

I love this so much! Having languages in a game or story makes things interesting, but great examples of how the language works makes it even better! I could easily see this as an ever-evolving language used at the corner table in a tavern where certain deals are made. Very well done and the layout is great, too!

Jan 8, 2024 21:19 by spleen

thank you! its a language im already planning on using with the rogue in my game :D

Have a wonderful day!