Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Still Don't Like Thieves

I'm on record as a certified "hater" of the class, because I think it steps on the toes of too many other classes and because I think Thief abilities open the door to a more generalized skill system, which I see as a large nail in the coffin of old school play. For the past few weeks, I've been trying to re-evaluate my stance to determine if I'm being reasonable. A big part of me thinks I should just cut the poor Thief some slack, since the class has been around since 1975 -- long enough to have entered into the traditional canon of the game and thus become, by my usual criteria, sacrosanct. After all, if 4e had cut the Thief/Rogue from the game, I'd be screaming bloody murder about it, wouldn't I?

Actually, no. The more I think about it, the more it becomes clear to me that the Thief is a self-justifying class. Prior to its introduction in Greyhawk, pretty much every "thief ability" was something a character of any class might attempt. Listening at doors? Check. Moving silently? Check. Locating and disarming traps? Check. The list goes on. I've noted before that "thief" is an occupation that could describe characters of any class. If you consider the pulp fantasy antecedents of OD&D, you soon realize that many, if not most, of the protagonists of such tales could be rightly called "thieves" even if none is at all similar to the Thief class. That suggests to me that being a thief is more a question of what you do as opposed to who you are -- and "who you are" is exactly what a character class represents (which is why I object strenuously to the conflation of class with profession).

What's also interesting is that, as D&D has developed, the Thief class has moved more and more away from being the dungeon trap-removal specialist he was in OD&D and AD&D. He's now, for wont of a better word, a ninja -- the stealthy, high damage-dealing class. Now, I think there's a place for such a class in even OD&D, but we already have one and he's called the Assassin. It seems to me that, as the years have worn on, the Thief/Rogue has become more and more like the Assassin, to the point where, under 3e, for example, the class doesn't necessarily have to be good at opening locks or picking pockets but it's inherently good at dealing lots of damage through subterfuge.

So, my plan at present is to treat "thief" as an avocation for other classes and use some version of the Assassin (which I'd dearly love to call a Slayer in homage to Lieber) as the "ninja" archetype class. I think eliminating the Thief might encourage players of other classes to try to be sneakier and I also think that, without the Thief, the temptation to introduce a skill system on top of D&D's class system will be greatly lessened -- a good thing indeed!

81 comments:

  1. I am on the fence about thieves; as long as their abilities are treated as literally "suped up" versions of more mundane actions (which appears to be the AD&D take on things, and which I was first introduced to by one of Robert Fisher's thoughts on the subject), I am fine with the class. Anybody can move stealthily, but only the Thief can mimic the effects of a silence spell; anybody can hide, but only a thief can use the shadows to mimic the effects of an invisibility spell, etcetera...

    There is a good argument for the fighting man and magic user as the only necessary classes in the game (no clerics, no thieves), but I don't particularly mind either.

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  2. Part of the reason behind having a thief class, like having all further classes, is just a love of cool new powers. From that angle it seems fairly innocent.

    But it's true that unlike the magic-user or fighting man, the thief is actually a profession, including e.g. a way of making money--picking pockets, opening locks, etc. Part of the trouble with taking things in this direction (why not have doctors, or merchants too?) is that it limits the imagination that players expend in thinking about their characters. Instead of extremely generic types that we can imagine in any variety of ways we get locked into the mindset that the fighting man is a soldier, the thief is a thief, etc. This has the effect of flattening things out.

    But whether that's inevitable, I'm not sure.

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  3. I totally agree here. I ran an OD&D session last spring at a local con. One of the players, who was very excited about playing, called out at the very start "I call the thief!"

    I explained that there was no thief class; that they had been added in the first supplement. He looked a little downcast.

    "What if I want to be a thief?" he asked?

    "Steal something" I said.

    And it clicked for him. That session was a blast, and that player tried all sorts of crazy things with his character (who did steal some things after all!). I am fairly certain it would never had occured to him to try those things if he had been able to ask "What skill do I roll for this?"

    So keep preachin'! Amen!

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  4. I'm not philosophically opposed to the thief. It's just not the class that D&D needed at the time, and it never really fit into the overall schema of D&D, "Gygaxian" or otherwise. I think mechanically it's the absolute weak point of Gygax's early contributions, and it's just not a good fit. The thing is that there is a totally legitimate desire to fit the Gray Mouser and Cugel and all these thief-y types into the game, and I think the thief skated by on superficial resemblance. While I don't use the thief in my OD&D games, I'd love to incorporate a Gray Mouser class.

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  5. I've never been a fan of the thief. -Just a terrible fighter that can't even do what you'd expect them to do most of the time.

    The thief is a class with a bunch of proficiencies in a game that does not need them.

    Never liked the assassin much either, though.

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  6. James, I may have completely missed this, but in OD&D I thought rules only covered (for non-thieves) listening at doors and spotting concealed/hidden doors. Were there actually rules for finding and disarming traps and moving silently if you are not a thief? I was under the impression this is something you would need to house rule.

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  7. The OD&D Thief was the first "Skill" class - determined by its abilities to perform particular non-magical skills. As the other classes caught up with non-weapon skills, the double damage of the thief came to fore as a defining element of the class, transforming it into the lightly-armored, sometimes invisible striker that inhabits MMORPGs.

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  8. If anything, the Gray Mouser is a multiclassed mage/fighter, I'd say. What classifies him as a "thief" is, as is said above, what he does, not what he is.

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  9. I agree. The comment above telling the player to steal something if they want to be a thief is to the point.

    Additional reasons not to have a thief class:

    Thieving is a mini-game that involves only the DM and the thief player. It makes the game less interesting for others.

    Thieving is also a dangerous mini-game that puts the thief character at increased risk. If there is an increased reward, it tends to poison group dynamics at my table. I don't know how to solve this.

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  10. Thieving is a mini-game that involves only the DM and the thief player. It makes the game less interesting for others.

    YES. The D&D Thief was the gateway drug that lead to PC hackers, shadow-walkers and all those other corrosive specialist professions that stop the game for all but one of the party. I don't think this tendency has ever worked well in play.

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  11. YES. The D&D Thief was the gateway drug that lead to PC hackers, shadow-walkers and all those other corrosive specialist professions that stop the game for all but one of the party. I don't think this tendency has ever worked well in play.,.

    I've never seen it work, myself. Maybe if every PC was a thief? -Thus, it'd be the same thing if everyone wasn't.

    Born in 75, I never had the original OD&D experience. My first few years consisted of Basic and AD&D. However, I recall Gary's Unearthed Arcana simply tearing our games apart. Anyone have any background on 1e AD&D UA? Was that all Gygax's making? If anything, that was the beginning of the end for our group. After a few cavaliers, thief acrobats and female drow, we gave up and started home-brewing.

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  12. Preach it, brother!

    Somehow, I figured you'd approve :)

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  13. Anybody can move stealthily, but only the Thief can mimic the effects of a silence spell; anybody can hide, but only a thief can use the shadows to mimic the effects of an invisibility spell, etcetera...

    That's one way to make the Thief work and I have some sympathy for it. The problem, of course, is that, even if that's the default presumption about Thief abilities, many players won't take it that way and will quickly leave it to the Thief to do all the sneaky stuff.

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  14. But whether that's inevitable, I'm not sure.

    Probably not literally, no, but I can't recall any game where the mentality didn't eventually take hold.

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  15. While I don't use the thief in my OD&D games, I'd love to incorporate a Gray Mouser class.

    I toyed with a class I called a "Rogue" that was modeled on Mouser. The class was basically a Fighter with the ability to do minor magic and use scrolls and the like.

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  16. Were there actually rules for finding and disarming traps and moving silently if you are not a thief? I was under the impression this is something you would need to house rule.

    There are no explicit rules for finding and removing traps in OD&D, beyond the fact that Dwarves are especially good at finding such things. My point wasn't that there were rules for it so much as the fact that, prior to the appearance of the Thief, looking for and disarming traps was something a member of any class might try.

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  17. As the other classes caught up with non-weapon skills, the double damage of the thief came to fore as a defining element of the class, transforming it into the lightly-armored, sometimes invisible striker that inhabits MMORPGs.

    A very keen observation.

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  18. Anyone have any background on 1e AD&D UA? Was that all Gygax's making?

    UA was, if I'm not mistaken, a book hastily cobbled together from Gary's "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" columns, plus notes he had about what would have become "AD&D Revised" or his version of 2e. Most of the material is genuinely Gygaxian and represents his late 1e thinking, some of which was quite at odds with the earlier work he'd done and indeed an undermining of it. For all of Cook's 2e's faults, it was less destructive of 1e's core concepts than was UA.

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  19. As someone years from being born when D&D was released and who never played at all before the 90s, the game without thieves is just unimaginable to me. My mind won't even go there. The concept of D&D without thieves is like a shade of black that's white.

    Plus, they're my favorite class. :)

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  20. "For all of Cook's 2e's faults, it was less destructive of 1e's core concepts than was UA."

    UA gets a bad rap, I feel. Other than a couple of the races (drow, deep gnomes) and classes (cavalier, barbarian), it's not terrible stuff by any stretch. 75%+ of the book makes a fine addition to any AD&D campaign. I definitely stand by that. I feel UA is in need of a well-deserved reputation rehabilitation by the community much like the one the Fiend Folio recieved.

    What was real crap was non-weapon proficiences and the removal of the "grittier" S&S influences from the game. How you can call those aspects of Cook's work less destructive to Gygaxian D&D than UA is a real stumper.

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  21. I'm a long time hater, as well.

    I agree with Alex Schroeder and richardthinks about the thief.

    My long time problem with the thief was that it could be destructive to the game in terms of actual play at the table. On a concept level, I can see the reasoning.

    Too much spotlight time could be given to the thief player and they have an increased reward mechanism that others don't have.

    Without going straight DM fiat, it was logical that a higher level thief could fleece the people of a large city, and typically they'd have no way to stop it, or even notice until it was too late. To just drop a "rule 0" no on that player, in my mind, goes down a road that is arbitrary and hurts my suspension of disbelief - even as the DM.

    Even if you set aside special sessions with the thief player, they easily became much more wealthy than the others, since there was no need to split that loot.

    Some of these problems actually apply to the 1st ed. Assassin, as well.

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  22. I toyed with a class I called a "Rogue" that was modeled on Mouser. The class was basically a Fighter with the ability to do minor magic and use scrolls and the like.

    Tunnels & Trolls' Rogue Class is based on Mouser and Cugel . . .

    Both magic and weapons may serve them, but they live best by their wits and luck.

    I never really questioned the role of the Thief in D&D (being a child of Moldvay/Cook B/X) until reading Philotomy's musings and the Old School Primer. I'm now firmly in the 'no thief' camp for OD&D/S&W games.

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  23. This prompted me to go find my mini-rant from the halcyon days of 2nd ed. and usenet.

    However, in one way I depart from you James, is that I claim to run heroic campaigns, so maybe it diminishes my objection.

    from "Killing PC Thieves? Why" on r.g.f.d

    "Hey, a thread I have a true passion about! I generally hate my PC thieves, too. I'm just too much of a softie to kill them off. My first method was to let the campaign die, that worked a couple of times, too bad for the rest of the players. Most recently, the thief in question
    went to dual-class so is off studying magic for a year game time. (Yea! out of my hair for about that real time!)

    Enough about my experiences, a little about my philosophy about rogues. I do see thieves as having a place in the XD&D campaign. However, since
    I like to run high-fantasy/heroic campaigns, there are many thieves that are not appropriate in this genre. I do like to see "dungeon-delving/troubleshooting" thieves; for example the dwarven locksmith is a personal favorite archetype for a rouge that fits in a heroic campaign. I hate to see (the most common, in my experiences) the
    "cutpurse" or the "burglar". Suited more to the city campaign (which I have run) these types are a bane on the heroic campaign. They would rather stay in town and pick the pockets/raid the homes of nobles instead of earn an "honest" living by dungeon dwelling."

    http://groups.google.com/group/rec.games.frp.dnd/msg/6a3a3c487a6c634f

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  24. The concept of D&D without thieves is like a shade of black that's white.

    And yet the game was published without the Thief and Gygax assumed that most Thieves would be NPC "specialists" rather than PCs.

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  25. UA gets a bad rap, I feel. Other than a couple of the races (drow, deep gnomes) and classes (cavalier, barbarian), it's not terrible stuff by any stretch.

    Mechanically, all those things cast a long shadow.

    75%+ of the book makes a fine addition to any AD&D campaign. I definitely stand by that.

    I agree that most of the book's contents is solid, but the new races, new classes, and things like weapon specialization did enough damage to the game that I would gladly give up the new spells and magic items in exchange for their never having been published.

    I feel UA is in need of a well-deserved reputation rehabilitation by the community much like the one the Fiend Folio recieved.

    FWIW, I share Gygax's opinion that the Fiend Folio is an inferior book filled with a lot of dross.

    How you can call those aspects of Cook's work less destructive to Gygaxian D&D than UA is a real stumper.

    Classes like the Cavalier ramped up the power level of D&D considerably, while the Thief-Acrobat expanded on the already problematic Thief abilities paradigm. Weapon specialization contributed to yet more bonus inflation. I could go on.

    I'm no fan of 2e, but, mechanically, its classes and races do represent a scaling back from the leap they made in UA. Believe me, there's lots to hate about 2e as a product line, but the core game mechanics are pretty solid and truer in my opinion to early 1e than was UA, which is just a mess.

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  26. "And yet the game was published without the Thief and Gygax assumed that most Thieves would be NPC 'specialists' rather than PCs."

    But only actually reading through these sources after almost tweo decades of play makes this more random trivia than anything really meaningfully defining of the D&D experience.

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  27. In other words, the first can opener was invented a full fifty years after the first canned foods. This is fascinating trivia, but does it really make me question whether I want to keep my can opener?

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  28. But only actually reading through these sources after almost tweo decades of play makes this more random trivia than anything really meaningfully defining of the D&D experience.

    Well, the whole point of this discussion is to talk about how to get D&D back to its origins, both literary and mechanical. I'm not one to casually eliminate some element of the game's history on a whim. I think, in retrospect, the inclusion of the Thief was a bad move by Gygax and one that laid the groundwork for worse mischief later.

    I don't expect everyone to agree with this assertion. However, I think there's ample evidence to support it as a valid perspective of someone who wants to bring the game back to where it began.

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  29. "However, I think there's ample evidence to support it as a valid perspective of someone who wants to bring the game back to where it began."

    Just so long as you realize that classifying D&D's "beginnings" as strictly including the first set and not even the immediately following supplements like Greyhawk is fairly arbitrary.

    I could just as easily sneer at the first set for not living up to Arneson and Gygax's pre-1974 play. They totally sold out when they published, man. :)

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  30. This is fascinating trivia, but does it really make me question whether I want to keep my can opener?

    Probably not, but then I don't see the analogical equivalence at all.

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  31. Just so long as you realize that classifying D&D's "beginnings" as strictly including the first set and not even the immediately following supplements like Greyhawk is fairly arbitrary.

    It's only arbitrary if I'm excluding the Thief for whimsical reasons; I'm not. Instead, I'm excluding it because my reading of the three LBBs suggests that, as presented in Greyhawk, the Thief doesn't belong. I happily use bits and pieces of Supplements I-IV, but the Thief isn't one of those bits, for reasons I've discussed here and elsewhere.

    It's fine to disagree with my logic here, but there is logic involved. I'm being the exact opposite of arbitrary in my decision.

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  32. That's one way to make the Thief work and I have some sympathy for it. The problem, of course, is that, even if that's the default presumption about Thief abilities, many players won't take it that way and will quickly leave it to the Thief to do all the sneaky stuff.

    Not only is it one way to make the thief work, but it is the way described in AD&D, where "thief skills" are known as "thief functions". Has it been poorly described? Yeah, but that is something that can be resolved.

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  33. I'm really reluctant to give up on the thief, but then I started with Holmes so the thief was part of my game from the get go.

    On the other hand, I have always found it problematical.

    I think what I'd be interested in finding something that really worked for me is the following:

    Some way to make the lightly armored character work with D&D's accumulation of equipment and supremacy of AC. This class has to not over shadow the wearing of armor, so it can't be exactly equal to wearing armor. But if it's too weak, that won't work either. One thought I have is to allow a swashbuckler class to be able to stack Bracers of AC with magic leather armor (and make magic leather armor rarer than magic plate, and like AD&D, perhaps never get quite as good). Per the magic shield rules, you could even allow a magic shield bonus to stack (in my game, shields use their bonus instead of magic armor 1/3 of the time). This means the swashbucker could be AC 2 with say +1 to +3, even up to +5 1/3 of the time if using magic shield. That would be a modest penalty in exchange for better movement rate and lower encumbrance. They also get +1 (well -1) AC if Dex 15+. This may not need a new class, just a declaration of how the various magic items work together (but it would be nice to have some way of encouraging such a PC to start off in leather armor...).

    Something that gives halflings more of a reason to be part of the party (dwarves contribute nice abilities, elves are fighter magic users).

    A workable fighting caster class for humans. Some of the rogue proposals are good for this. Trading primacy of spell casting for leather armor and hitting on the fighter table would be viable.

    Frank

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  34. James, I swear that you only bring this up to get my goat. Thus, like a faithful fish, I'll bite.

    You can't blame player stupidity on a class. Yeah a warrior can listen to a door, and wizard can try and figure out a trap. A warhammer is just as good as a key, and murdering is much more effective then picking pockets.

    Can these people do it quietly? No! The true bonus of a thief is that you can possibly do something without having a full scale raid on your hands. It changes a parties options, which is good for any game!

    Don't want to go through the front door? The thief can get everybody up on the tower and you can work your way down. While everybody can climb a mountain, nobody can scale a smooth tower but the thief.

    Any class can take over a game if you let them, it is up to the player to make sure that you don't.

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  35. Ripper,

    Before the existence of the Thief class, every class could in fact do those things quietly and could in fact climb smooth towers. Far from expanding the range of options, I think the Thief limited them, because people soon came to see such activities as the purview of the Thief alone. If they weren't, then what purpose did the Thief serve? That's why I call it a self-justifying class.

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  36. Before the existence of the Thief class, every class could in fact do those things quietly and could in fact climb smooth towers. Far from expanding the range of options, I think the Thief limited them, because people soon came to see such activities as the purview of the Thief alone. If they weren't, then what purpose did the Thief serve? That's why I call it a self-justifying class

    That is one way of looking at it, the other is that there were surfaces in OD&D before the thief that were deemed unclimbable in Gygax's OD&D campaigns. That may not have been true of other people's games, but the creation of a thief class suggests that it was true of Gygax's. So, then the question becomes "how widespread was this?"

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  37. As I understand it, Thieves came about because players in Gary's campaign wanted to hire "specialists" who were better at finding and removing traps than were the average PCs. The other abilities were later additions to this original conception.

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  38. Quite so, but the (natural) result appears to have been a PC class that can actually do things that the other classes cannot (and could not do previously).

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  39. There is another objection to the thief class, but it's predicated on player behaviour, not abstract mechanics, so I know it will annoy some readers here:

    in my (anecdotal) experience, players of thieves very often could not resist stealing from or attacking other PCs. For a long time, I saw thieves being allowed into parties only after a kind of verbal contract phase, which soured the mood for a great many groups. The same thing was liable to happen when (inevitably) someone decided to be Chaotic Evil. It's an opportunity to roleplay. Perhaps that alone justifies its inclusion, but the distorting effect it has on the rest of the game should not be ignored.

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  40. Rolemaster provided some of the disambiguation you are wondering at here. The Rogue was a kind of lightly armed stealthy striker, while the Thief was distinctly an acrobat/robber. Both had the ability to develop minor magic much more effectively than other classes, but it was difficult for them to be good in each other's turf. The thief could sneak but only for stealing stuff; the Rogue could only really pick minor locks and avoid obvious traps.

    Rolemaster's skill system also allows any character to be customised in any way, so it allowed more imagination in the skill use of non-thief classes. Unfortunately, the table-heavy system can kind of kill imagination in practice.

    I like skill-based systems, but I think that they need to ditch the idea of class. Rather, if one is going to use a lot of skills to resolve actions, one should define characters only around their skills, allowing the focus to be chosen by the player at the start and work any way they want. Alternatively, do what Rolemaster did and have so many classes that it's impossible for one class to steal the role of any other. If you only have a small number of classes, then introducing a skill-heavy class will inevitably tread on a lot of toes.

    The 4e rogue is absolutely the worst for this. It can do damage like a fighter, area effect damage like a mage, and always seems to get out of the way when the trouble happens. It's way overpowered.

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  41. I like skill-based systems, but I think that they need to ditch the idea of class.

    Yep. I think skill-based systems are best when they don't mix in classes, and I think class-based systems are best when they don't mix in skills.

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  42. Personally, I like the idea of relegating the Thief to a NPC specialist in the same realm as the Sage, Spy, or Alchemist. But I'm not against the adaptation of a more Cugelish or Mouser-like rogue/knave/jack-of-all-trades type, as long as they have trouble with magic swords.

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  43. I'm wondering if we would be having this same discussion about magic-users if magic-users weren't introduced until a few supplements later. If prior to that fighting men could cast spells from scrolls or something of that order. I think James has a valid point, and I see where it is going. Once you introduce skills into a game, you start to say there are tasks which are defined by a skill and cannot be accomplished without that skill. I think the BRP system handled this very well when they made it so that everyone has a certain percentage for a skill as a base. That helps, but then you also have to avoid the mentality that if there is no skill for a given task, in other words that task is not defined in the system, it can't be done.

    To some extent this is all over-intellectualizing the whole matter (which has become far to widespread in RPG fandom over the last several years), IMHO, but these things do happen and has happened to D&D over time.

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  44. This topic obviously pushes a lot of buttons with people.

    In my unreflective gaming days (the first decade), I hated Thieves for no real reason. They just seemed...lame. And the guys I played with who liked them always played them as dicks.

    Now, in my more reflective phase of gaming, I tend to agree with James' thinking. Particularly in that they don't really work from the source material. BUT, the Mouser then sticks out there. How to accommodate him?

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is that the combat rules for D&D are medieval-based. Heavier armour is better; bigger weapons are better (in general). Which is cool, except that the S&S source material isn't medieval-based. Conan and Elric do, sometimes, were plate armour, but not often. Fafrhd and the Mouser? Never.

    The thing is that a lightly-armoured guy in medieval warfare is a peasant pikeman or, at best, an archer. That's not the Mouser either. If you try to accommodate him by, say, letting DEx affect combat like Strength, then you are really mucking with things. Maybe for the better, but still substantive mucking.

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  45. I'll admit to having a soft spot for the Thief.

    I started playing with a group of older players when I was in 5th grade, and I was drawn to the Thief because I simply wasn't sure how to play. As a thief I could hang back from the front lines, I could try to do my own thing sometimes without worrying I wasn't "playing right", and honestly it felt good to be able to do things that other characters couldn't.

    Maybe if the option hadn't been there I would have just played a fighter with much the same personality, I don't know. However I think I am wedded to the idea of some kind of Thief class, even if they were the very thin end of the wedge.

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  46. My favorite class has always been the Thief. That's probably why over the years I have gravitated more and more towards point buy and skill based systems, but, I recognize that those are substantial deviations from D&D's roots.

    In a class based game where anyone could try anything with an attribute role (and maybe a background justification for the skill in a more story based game) the Thief was a class whose shtick was skills. Not Swords, Spells, or Salvation, but skills. There is an implication there that the others do not get skills. The moment the Thief enters the picture it fundamentally changes the game.

    More food for thought as I further develop my BFRPG campaign.

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  47. the Thief was a class whose shtick was skills. Not Swords, Spells, or Salvation, but skills. There is an implication there that the others do not get skills.

    As near as I can tell, thief abilities weren't presented as "skills" until 1989, AD&D 1e describes them as "functions".

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  48. thief abilities weren't presented as "skills" until 1989, AD&D 1e describes them as "functions".

    We knew what that meant, though: programs and institutions have "functions," characters have abilities, or characteristics - tools for manipulating the world. You might ask why the fighting man and magic user lacked "functions."

    OK, that sounds mean, sorry. As a general point of principle, I think if a term is popularly taken to mean X, it means X, even if the original author meant Q. Once popular reception becomes clear and well-known, it's up to the author to re-state, saying: no, Q is something quite different.

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  49. I think skill-based systems are best when they don't mix in classes, and I think class-based systems are best when they don't mix in skills.

    That's my feeling as well. They're largely incompatible approaches to game design and mixing them is going to have negative repercussions down the line.

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  50. Personally, I like the idea of relegating the Thief to a NPC specialist in the same realm as the Sage, Spy, or Alchemist. But I'm not against the adaptation of a more Cugelish or Mouser-like rogue/knave/jack-of-all-trades type, as long as they have trouble with magic swords.

    I agree on both counts. The magic swords issue doesn't mean much to me personally, but I recognize that it does for many. And that's another area where the Thief upset the balance of OD&D.

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  51. I'm wondering if we would be having this same discussion about magic-users if magic-users weren't introduced until a few supplements later. If prior to that fighting men could cast spells from scrolls or something of that order.

    I think, if OD&D hadn't included an option for a magic-user class and had instead relegated spell casting to things like scrolls, grimoires, etc., there would have been some rightful objection to the introduction of the class. Other issues aside, it would have changed the tone of OD&D quite considerably, probably even more than the introduction of the Thief did (whose sins are mostly mechanical, not thematic).

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  52. The moment the Thief enters the picture it fundamentally changes the game.

    That's the crux of it. I could live with a Thief class whose abilities whose descriptions and mechanical implementations didn't do violence to the way OD&D worked. So, it might be possible to salvage the Thief as a class, but it'd need a rather significant overhaul. I'm not sure it'd be worth it, given how little the Thief offers in other areas.

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  53. "I'm wondering if we would be having this same discussion about magic-users if magic-users weren't introduced until a few supplements later."

    Exactly. I wonder what would incline one to look down on the thief's functions and nor the special exclusive powers of magic-users and clerics.

    Remember, other games that used percentile rolls and were "skill-based" came later. It doesn't make sense to damn the thief class for the incidental resemblence just because Gygax decided to use a percentile system for their functions instead of, say, the 2d6 or 1d20 roll for cleric turning.

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  54. OK.

    Before the Thief, there were no skills or "functions." Well, one. The Cleric's turning ability.

    The Thief had no mechanical vacuum to fill. In what had been a skill-less game before, Fighters could disarm traps. Magic-users could climb walls. Clerics could hide.

    With the addition of the Thief, and the absense of any real clarification of the notion that the existing classes could still try these things or perform these functions, it seemed as though the Thief was supposed to be the only one who did these things.

    I've played and enjoyed every edition since BX except 4th (haven't played it; no opinion). I've played a Thief every time. I love the class, but it fundementally changed how the game was played. Before Proficiencies and 3.x Skills, this was fine. It sucked for the other classes who now had to multi or dual to do things they always just needed an attribute check for before, but the Thief fulfilled its "function."

    With the introduction of proficiencies or skills it just becomes silly unless you arbitrarily create "class skills" which to me begs the question, why have skills? Just make the "class skills" class functions and do away with the skill system entirely.

    I love skill systems. In spite of ym better judgement I'm trying to make them work in BFRPG, but James and philtomy are correct. The Thief represents a landmark change in game design philosophy in the early days of D&D.

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  55. "Fighters could disarm traps. Magic-users could climb walls. Clerics could hide."

    Fighters could cast spells? Magic-users could wear plate mail?

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  56. "it seemed as though the Thief was supposed to be the only one who did these things."

    It always seemed to me like Gygax was assuming some common sense on the part of his audience here.

    This was always his Achilles' heel, if you ask me. :)

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  57. No, Will, they could not. One of us is not seeing the forest for the trees here... Could be me. The Thief introduced a new mechanical subsystem. The existance of this system implied changes to the way the game was played. The way the game was designed casting spells were a class function. Swinging swords belonged to another class. That was fine.

    Then comes along another class that has a whole set of functions that used to be something everyone could do. Does that make more sense now?

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  58. "It always seemed to me like Gygax was assuming some common sense on the part of his audience here.

    This was always his Achilles' heel, if you ask me. :)"

    bingo :D

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  59. All of which leads me to conclude that it is not the thief class itself that is the problem, but its presentation and the resultant common interpretation of how the its functions relate to the other classes.

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  60. Matthew raises an interesting point that I'm not sure has really been well addressed. The fact that a medieval wargame is a poor fit for the source material.

    I've been longing for a system that modeled the less armored warriors of fantasy without really thinking about where the genre convention really came from. It seems that the genre mashes together a lot of periods. Conan's Hyboria comes across with an ancient feel, yet there are other bits that are medieval (or at least early dark ages) with a good dose of Norse. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser seem to be from a later age in some sense but also seem medieval in other senses.

    I think the thief is a combination of two things. One is providing a character mechanically adept at dealing with the locks and traps in the dungeon (perhaps as people were getting more into the "role playing" and drifting away from pure puzzle solving and mechanical/war-game-like combat resolution) and the idea of a lightly armored fighting type. Yet it really doesn't manage to hit any of characters we see in the source material.

    Frank

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  61. I think it was both. Bad idea for the system as it was then, and then poorly explained on top of that. These days though, I think most players of D&D - myself included - think of the Thief as part of the iconic party.

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  62. (my last post is intended as a reply to Matt)

    And I agree with Frank. In my opinion neither the Thief nor the Cleric really hit the S&S genre very well.

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  63. The magic-user is also a poor fit for the source material also. And the fighter, with the mechanical encouragement to use plate (and the realization that magical armor is only ever plate from what can be inferred from Monsters & Treasure and Greyhawk), isn't a very good match for much of the source material (though it's fine for The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions).

    I did note that The Broken Sword (which I just finished reading a few days ago) does at least provide a basis for the elf as fighter/mage, even providing support for only casting in magic armor (with iron/steel armor blocking magic).

    Frank

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  64. Basic recipe for a more S&S D&D:

    Fighter: As is.

    Thief: As is except d8 hit die and cleric combat and experience charts.

    Cleric: Nonexistant.

    Magic-user: As is except comes in two flavors, black and white, which utilize either the existing combined magic-user and illusionist spells lists or cleric and druid spell lists respectively.

    Black magicians must start out evil or neutral (chaotic or neutral in three-alignment D&D variants)and white ones good or neutral (lawful or neutral in three-alighment D&D variants).

    Black magicians who become good (lawful in three-alignment D&D) and white magicians who become evil (chaotic in three-alignment D&D) can still use their old spells in addition to learning their opposing equivilents, but such use tilts their alignment back toward its original position and may eventually subject them to involuntary alignment change and its attendant penalties.

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  65. The source of the cleric of course has been acknowledged. It arose in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign to deal with a PC vampire.

    So not supported by the S&S source material, but deriving logically from the progression of the game.

    I think it is reasonable to expect the game to diverge some from the source material and elements will be introduced to make a more logical game world.

    The cleric also isn't as problematical to play as the thief. It introduces some healing spells (another note - The Broken Sword hinted at resurrection magic and explicitly showed using magic to speak with the dead). Turning undead may be slightly problematical, but GMs have dealt with that by making some undead much harder to turn and recognizing that skeletons and zombies need to come in hordes or they will be summarily disposed of by the cleric.

    Frank

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  66. Will, one note, the OD&D thief already fights on the cleric table. That actually makes the OD&D thief not quite so bad (though the d4 hit die sucks). AD&D seriously de-powered the thief's combat ability by leaving them at 1/4 levels step up in combat while increasing the cleric to 1/3 and the fighter 1/2.

    Frank

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  67. Good point. I'm basing my assumptions mainly on my preferred games: AD&D and Moldvay Basic/Expert.

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  68. [The Cleric] ... not supported by the S&S source material, but deriving logically from the progression of the game.

    S&S was not the only source material for OD&D.

    There are clearly identifiable influences from a diverse range of sources.

    Look at the list of monsters in "Monsters & Treasure". Many, like the Medusae are Greco-Roman, others like Djinn from Arabian Nights and some owe there place due to the influence of Hollywood - Skeletons (Ray Harryhausen) or Mummies (Boris Karloff).

    Gygax and Arneson looted every source they could get their hands on so there is no single source material that thieves or clerics can or cannot fit into.

    The most obvious source material is European from 600AD to 1400AD. All the weapons and armor in OD&D come from that period. Not surprising as it all evolved out of historical war-gamming.

    Clerics are heavily based on this historical source material.

    In early medieval times powerful priests held large areas of land and played an important part in war and politics. They often went on campaign, not necessarily to fight, but to administer blessings and keep an eye how their money was being spent. Even today, front line fighting units have priests who are deployed with them to provide pastoral care.

    In a magical medieval world it is only natural that this priests would have powers associated with the Christian faith. Between a third and a half of the original cleric spells are miracles linked to Jesus, the saints or old testament figures.

    The Cleric owes more to the source material than any other class except fighter.

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  69. "Gygax and Arneson looted every source they could get their hands on"

    I do believe that is the first rule of DMing. At least it is at my house. :)

    I chuckle whenever I hear a younger gamer use "kitchen sink" as a criticism for a setting. Particularly when their game of choice is d20 derived.

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  70. All of which leads me to conclude that it is not the thief class itself that is the problem, but its presentation and the resultant common interpretation of how the its functions relate to the other classes.

    Possibly. I'd love to see someone come up with a new take on the Thief that addresses these concerns. As I said, I'm not opposed to the Thief as such, but I am adamantly opposed to the effect the introduction of the Thief had on the mechanics of D&D.

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  71. These days though, I think most players of D&D - myself included - think of the Thief as part of the iconic party.

    They do and that's why, my concerns aside, I am reluctant to ditch the Thief as a class. My cardinal principle has always been to accept the organic development of D&D where possible and that includes the Thief. I'm simply uncomfortable for the way the class has been implemented mechanically (and to a lesser extent thematically).

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  72. I think it is reasonable to expect the game to diverge some from the source material and elements will be introduced to make a more logical game world.

    Very much agreed. I'm a huge proponent of emphasizing the pulp fantasy roots of the game, after more than a decade of the official downplaying of them, but D&D has never been "pure" in its inspirations, so I'm not opposed to some additional elements grafted on to the pulp fantasy superstructure of the thing. Indeed, I expect a purely pulp fantasy D&D would very quickly become another game entirely.

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  73. The Cleric owes more to the source material than any other class except fighter.

    It's a tricky thing. The medieval historical element is certainly there and that was clearly due to Gary's love of the period (though he preferred early to late medieval, if I recall). At the same time, the cleric class, in its origins and even in its in-game description, isn't a completely good fit for medieval Christian priests. It's a bit more like a religious knight (as opposed to the paladin, which is a "holy knight," if the distinction makes sense), but its essential character is that of Van Helsing from the Hammer horror films -- a monster (i.e. undead) hunter.

    It's complicated, to be sure, as it is with most things in D&D. That's why I love this mess :)

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  74. It's a bit more like a religious knight (as opposed to the paladin, which is a "holy knight," if the distinction makes sense)

    I think such distinctions need to be carefully evaluated. The paladin as "holy knight" is more of a tale that grew in the telling, in my opinion. Interestingly, the D20/3e description studiously follows the 1e PHB in avoiding such terminology.

    As near as I can tell, the paladin is the perfect secular knight, whilst the cleric occupies a nebulous space between the religious and secular world.

    As noted in the 1e PHB, the cleric only bears a "certain resemblance to religious orders of knighthood of medieval times". Indeed, almost nothing but the space it occupies has any literary, historical, or mythological antecedents.

    The Van Helsing explanation is a good starting point, but the class seems to have moved beyond that almost as soon as conceived.

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  75. I've heard the arguments before that the paladin isn't supposed to be a holy knight, but I've never much bought into it. The class has too many abilities that strike me as "miraculous" for it to represent a merely perfect secular knight in my opinion.

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  76. I've heard the arguments before that the paladin isn't supposed to be a holy knight, but I've never much bought into it. The class has too many abilities that strike me as "miraculous" for it to represent a merely perfect secular knight in my opinion.

    Depends on how you define "holy"; when the paladin commits a chaotic act he needs to seek out a lawful good cleric to confess his sins to, another paladin is not sufficient, but neither need the cleric be a devotee of a particular religion. Certainly, the paladin has some powers that must be divinely sourced, but that doesn't make him "holy", unless we define holy as being defined by having those powers and being able to lose them through misconduct.

    Still, this is a different subject with no absolute answers, so perhaps such discourse is best suited for some other forum.

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  77. From what I understand you don't like generalized skills because they necessarily include implied stakes to the dice roll, which effectively neutralizes the DM judgment in resolving any issue. When I say implied stakes, I mean that the result of the action only depends on the dice roll, the consequences are understood by all at the table, and pre-established before the dice hit the table.

    How, then, do you distinguish Spells from Generalized Skills?

    From my perspective, on the scale of avoiding GM judgment, a spell seems to go even a step further than a generalized skill. They are even more troublesome to the DM judgment rule of what I'm understanding old schoolers enjoy the most, since it avoids the dice all together. The DM has little or no chance to introduce their ad hoc rulings. The challenge to argue the DM in allowing a character to do things has been removed. The player is essentially, at that point, playing by themselves.

    Spells, from my experience, are treated as tools which allow entry by the players, to a new realm of play, where the implied stakes allow them to attempt greater and more amazing things, pushing the GM's judgment to the limits. Soon, players can control almost all the content of imagined play through the use of implied stakes, making the GM less and less important. And this is one of the larger gripes about D&D in general: that at high levels, the game breaks down (probably because the GM can no longer effectively challenge play through judgment and rulings).

    Your thoughts?

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  78. I don't see Thief skills as problematic because they require referee adjudication to resolve, so I'm not quite sure about the analogy with spells. My problem with them is that, as written and as usually played, they're an example of taking away from every character inborn abilities that they all previously possessed and making them the province of a single class. Magic use is explicitly a special ability; it's not presume that everyone has the talent for spellcraft. However, everyone has the ability to find and remove traps, hiding in shadows, or sneaking around. The fact that the Thief is built around these mundane abilities is my problem, not the necessity of referee judgment calls.

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  79. It seems as though, if you just set basic "untrained" thiefy type skills and defined the consequence of those skills, then you could come to love the thief again.

    Just give the thief a bigger chance to succeed.

    Or am I missing something.

    From what I read on your blog (great blog btw) it seems you have a broader issue with skills in general, and much prefer GM judgment. Thieves, not only takes away from other classes (I think you have good argument there), but they also just introduce the new choice by players: the skill. And that opens up the slippery slope of by-passing the GM's fiat, by having implied, pre-described stakes before the dice even hit the table.

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  80. Two quick points:

    1. My problem with skills in D&D is a very specific one. Skills weaken the class system, particularly when you start conflating the idea of class abilities with skills.

    2. I actually don't dislike skill systems in general, provided that they're used in conjunction with a class-less game and the skill descriptions/mechanics are vague enough to leave lots of room for referee judgment calls.

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