The Rogue pauses, noticing something written on the side of a nondescript building. On closer inspection, the thieves’ cant is readily noticeable, although only her trained eye can make sense of the crude scratchings in the wood. Mouthing to herself, she nods abruptly and turns to her party, ready to relay the information about their quarry.
Thieves’ cant can be conveyed in both written and verbal form and hides a variety of secrets. Rogues use it to let others in the seedy underbelly know valuable information about people who pass through, safe houses, locations of treasure, or other bits of knowledge that people would pay a pretty penny for.
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As the Basic Rules text states: During your Rogue training, you learned thieves’ cant, a secret mix of dialect, jargon, and code that allows you to hide messages in seemingly normal conversation. Only another creature that knows thieves’ cant understands such messages. It takes four times longer to convey such a message than it does to speak the same idea plainly.
In addition, you understand a set of secret signs and symbols used to convey short, simple messages, such as whether an area is dangerous or the territory of a thieves’ guild, whether loot is nearby, or whether the people in an area are easy marks or will provide a safe house for thieves on the run.
As our article on languages noted, thieves’ cant is listed under language, although it isn’t technically its own language. The closest real-life comparison is pidgin French or Creole, or Cockney Rhyming Slang. A combination of enough slang terms, obscure memes, and hand signs that add up to something distinct enough from Common that the average Common-speaker wouldn’t understand.
Despite not being a fully-fledged language, casting spells like comprehend languages or tongues should, theoretically, allow the caster to understand the messages. However, the text doesn’t explicitly say whether spells can allow someone to understand the messages, so DMs could rule either way.
A similar example to thieves’ cant in D&D is druidic, the secret language of Druids. Unlike thieves’ cant, which is undetectable to those who can’t speak it, anyone who succeeds on a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check can see a message in druidic, but they wouldn’t be able to decipher it without using magic. Unlike thieves’ cant, which could be interpreted either way, casting a spell like comprehend languages or tongues would automatically allow a non-Druid to understand the message.