Friday, December 12, 2008

Building a Better Thief (Part I)

When people wish to parody the old school community, if they're not making fun of our discussions about dice, they often turn to our discussions about the unsuitability of the thief instead. I suppose that was inevitable, given how bizarre it is to many gamers even to consider kicking the thief from the clubhouse. They likely don't realize that, for a brief time, there was no such thing as a thief, because, as I've said before, every character was a thief. And given that the thief was formally introduced to the world a little over a year after OD&D was released, it's not at all unreasonable to say that the class has been around long enough to be classified as a venerable tradition.

I have a hard time disagreeing with that, since one of my guiding principles, higher even than fidelity to pulp fantasy, is that D&D is always right. By that I mean that, before considering changing, let alone removing, some element of the game that's been around for decades, look carefully at why this element was introduced in the first place and consider just as carefully what a change might do to the gameplay of D&D. Basically, "D&D is always right" is a reminder that, though the game may look haphazardly constructed, there is a logic behind it, a logic that you really have to understand and respect before you can start monkeying around with its internal organs.

As he so often does, Philotomy sums up the case against the thief as follows:
The Thief class is not part of the original three OD&D books, but was added in Supplement I. Weak in combat and casting no spells, the main feature of the class is its special skills like climbing sheer walls, finding and disarming traps, moving without making a sound, hiding in shadows, executing surprise backstabs, et cetera. Over time, I've come to prefer the game without the Thief class (i.e. using only the original three classes). The role the thief usually plays (scout/sneaky-guy) is easily filled by the other classes; everyone can attempt to be stealthy, search for traps, et cetera. Also, without the Thief and his special abilities, these activities are often performed by the player describing how he goes about it, rather than rolling against a skill, which I think is a lot of fun.
I'm largely in agreement with Philotomy's assessments, but I've nevertheless been reading Greyhawk's description of the thief very carefully, as well as the Holmes rules, looking for insights that might help me "rebuild" the thief into something that's simultaneously true to the archetype that many now (rightly) consider a staple of D&D while still taking into account the (valid) criticisms many cite against the thief.

I have noticed a couple of interesting things. First, the OD&D thief, unlike his AD&D descendant, has no ability to find traps. Or rather, he is no better at finding traps than any other character class, who use the standard "rules" for doing so (i.e. player deduction). Now, I did know that this was the case and it makes sense, given that several people, Gary Gygax chief among them, have noted that the thief owes its origin to the desire for a "dungeon bomb specialist" class, who was better at removing traps than other characters. Second, in OD&D -- again, AD&D differs in this regard -- a thief's ability to hear noise uses the same game mechanics as the standard rules describe in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures: a D6 roll. Holmes further explains that "The thief's ability to hear noise at closed doors, secret panels, etc. is rolled on a six-sided die like anyone else, but his ability improves as he advances in experience." (emphasis mine) Indeed, until a thief reaches third level, he is no better at hearing noise than is any other character.

Taken together, these two things might point the way toward making the thief more palatable to me. Some have suggested in the past, Philotomy among them, that it might be best to view a thief's abilities as extraordinary in nature -- being able to climb sheer surfaces rather than ordinary walls, for example (which is exactly how Moldvay does it). Taken this way, the thief's abilities are more akin to a magic-user's spellcasting; they're "powers." While there's nothing wrong with that approach, it doesn't appeal to me, both because I don't think the mechanics for the class, as presented in Supplement I, support it and also because it's the first step on the path to turning the thief into the ridiculous ninja he becomes in the WotC editions.

To rehabilitate the thief in a way that's in keeping with its origins, both in Greyhawk and in pulp fantasy, I would much prefer to treat the abilities of the class more like the combat abilities of the fighting men -- ordinary abilities at which the class excels compared to other classes. The difficulty, though, is finding a way to do that without fostering the inevitable diminishment of the ability of other classes to attempt -- and succeed at -- those same tasks. I'm not yet certain that it's possible to do that, but I am exploring that avenue and will discuss it at greater length in future posts on this topic over the coming days.

38 comments:

  1. As you might imagine, I don't at all think that treating the thief's abilities as sepcial abilities akin to spells is the first step in turning him into a Ninja parody.

    From a game point of view, it seems reasonable to me that if there is a spell that allows for automatic trap detection, it is no great stretch to have a class with an ability to do the same on an uncertain basis.

    A lot depends on how "magical" you consider spells to be. If a detect trap spell causes traps to "light up" then that is more problematic than a simple "sixth sense" effect for adapting as an extraordinary ability.

    I think you are needlessly and artificially dividing extraordinary from "better than normal" here. The idea that a thief can hear sounds or climb surfaces that other character classes cannot does not mean that they can climb any surface or hear any sound.

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  2. I, too, dislike the thief character class. The 3 original classes break-down like this:

    1. the guy without any magical powers (aka, fighting-men)

    2. the guy who can cast spells (aka, magic-users)

    3. the guy who can cast a different sort of spells, as well as turn undead (aka, clerics)

    ANY and ALL non-magical thing should be attemptable by ANY and ALL D&D characters. This consideration alone makes thieves superfluous.

    The thief class, logically, leads to an innumerable plethora of other classes:

    a class that excels in horsemanship

    a class that excels in seamanship

    a class that excels in __________

    etc.

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  3. ANY and ALL non-magical thing should be attemptable by ANY and ALL D&D characters. This consideration alone makes thieves superfluous.

    This is to completely misunderstand the role of thieves in D&D, in my opinion. The point is that the thief can do things that other D&D characters ordinarily would not be able to do. That is not the same thing as taking something away from those classes and parcelling them up as "thief abilities".

    The thief class, logically, leads to an innumerable plethora of other classes:

    Perhaps, but the value of that is subjective.

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  4. It seems a little odd to me to worry about a slippery slope in your house rules. It's not like you're going to look up one day and realize that you've turned your OD&D campaign into 3.5.

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  5. You're doing it again James. Twilight Zoning me, that is. I have a half-baked post on this very topic. I posted the following to Mr. Raggi's LotFP blog last night, as a matter of fact:

    It's funny you noticed that Thieves do not actually Detect Traps in Holmes. I noticed that this is the case in Greyhawk as well, and I have been seriously rethinking my stance on the class (I still don't like a lot of the conventions introduced, but Detect Traps is the big turn-off for my sensibilities).

    And I'll echo it here; Detect Traps is the primary reason I get turned off by the class. There are other nit-picks, but that's the biggest no-no for me. It wasn't until recently that I picked up Greyhawk in Cover to Cover fashion and read it again and realized my 1e mind was writing the rules for me again.

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  6. From the original Lake Geneva campaigns, we know of several famous PCs and NPCs: Mordenkainen, Robilar, Yrag, Tenser, Erac and Erac's Cousin, Serten, Riggby, Bigby, Terik, Merlin/Murlynd, etc., etc. None of them were thieves.

    I've often wondered around the whys of this omission, but it seems that the thief wasn't played as frequently: some of that certainly is due to the fact that the thief was published after OD&D, but evenso the lack of a famous thief from Greyhawk stands out. I'm not sufficiently familiar with Blackmoor or Tekumel to know if thieves played a larger role in those campaigns or not. Gygax's Gord character is about as close as we come to a Greyhawk-based thief, but he was a fictional invention as opposed to a PC or NPC in the game.

    Also worth keeping in mind is that dwarves are able to detect many traps/tricks involving stonework, and elves can find the secret doors (4 in 6!!!), so they also make thieves less necessary overall.

    Allan.

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  7. I don't at all think that treating the thief's abilities as sepcial abilities akin to spells is the first step in turning him into a Ninja parody.

    It didn't have to be that way, I agree, but I was speaking from a historical standpoint. Classes with extraordinary abilities tended to become more "magical" over time, with the powers of 4e being the ultimate expression of this trend.

    A lot depends on how "magical" you consider spells to be. If a detect trap spell causes traps to "light up" then that is more problematic than a simple "sixth sense" effect for adapting as an extraordinary ability.

    This is a fair point and I actually like the idea of less flashy spells, but I'm not sure that this approach has much warrant over the course of D&D's historical development. At the very least, it's a minority interpretation.

    I think you are needlessly and artificially dividing extraordinary from "better than normal" here. The idea that a thief can hear sounds or climb surfaces that other character classes cannot does not mean that they can climb any surface or hear any sound.

    Actually, I'm agreeing with you that extraordinary need not mean anything more than better than normal. My beef is that, as written and presented over the years, the thief's abilities don't make this clear enough, thereby leading to the "inflation" we've seen over time. What I want to do is find a way, both mechanically and stylistically, to present the thief's abilities in a way that avoids the very dichotomy you mention here.

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  8. The point is that the thief can do things that other D&D characters ordinarily would not be able to do. That is not the same thing as taking something away from those classes and parcelling them up as "thief abilities".

    That's the problem, though. Most of what a thief does isn't in fact all that different from what all D&D characters could do prior to the advent of the thief. I suspect part of the reason why we eventually got a more "magical" version of the thief is because his just being a guy who was better at doing stuff other people could already do wasn't very appealing. So they ramped up his powers and here we are.

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  9. It's not like you're going to look up one day and realize that you've turned your OD&D campaign into 3.5.

    That's true, but part of what I'm trying to do here is chart the course of what I see as wrong with the thief and how it led to where we are today. Certainly I can do what I want in my own campaign and not worry about the possible repercussions, because I maintain control over my campaign. However, my purpose in writing this post is to lay the groundwork for a broader discussion of the class's problems and to consider how those problems might be fixed. That means I have to take the slippery slope issue seriously.

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  10. Here's how I do it.

    I'll set a reasonable chance to accomplish some task. Let's say a player wants his character to sneak by a guard. The guard is competent and aware of his surroundings, but not on anykind of hightened alert. The PC has a good dexterity and isn't wearing armor. I set the chance at 50%. It could be better if the guard were drunk or asleep or worse if the PC was heavily encumbered, had low dexterity, or had already done something to betray his presence to the locals.

    If the player makes the roll, the character sneaks by with no problem. If he fails, he's detected. If he fails *and is a thief*, he gets his normal move silently roll as a second chance at success before being detected.

    The same goes for traps, hearing noise, climbing, etc.

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  11. Grodog wrote: "I'm not sufficiently familiar with Blackmoor or Tekumel to know if thieves played a larger role in those campaigns or not."

    There is no thief class in the Empire of the Petal Throne game. In Prof. Barker's later Tekumel writings, this is explained by saying that thievery is ruthlessly and barbarically stamped out by all of the Five Empires. A D&D-style thief in Tekumel wouldn't last long. He'd find himself on an impaling stake.

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  12. Oh, it seems to be that Gord the Rogue was Gary Gygax's attempt to boost the profile of thieves in Greyhawk. He was one of Gygax's PCs, as well, wasn't he?

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  13. It didn't have to be that way, I agree, but I was speaking from a historical standpoint. Classes with extraordinary abilities tended to become more "magical" over time, with the powers of 4e being the ultimate expression of this trend.

    I think there is a line of distinction to be drawn between the B/AD&D/1e/2e Thief and the D20/3e/4e Rogue, and I don't think it is limited to that class. All the D20 classes have become "more magical" or "powerful" (sometimes, as with the D20/3e fighter, they have accidently become less powerful realtive to other classes) and this is directly related to a change in emphasis on magic. Previously it was a problem of player versus design perception, but with D20 the design execution changed to meet player expectation.

    This is a fair point and I actually like the idea of less flashy spells, but I'm not sure that this approach has much warrant over the course of D&D's historical development. At the very least, it's a minority interpretation.

    Possibly. It depends on the instance. The classic non flashy magical items are the elf boots and cloak. Whilst the move silently and hide in shadows thief abilities don't perfectly mimic these, they are very close analogues. Mind, I have always preferred to downplay the "special effects" aspect of D&D magic and long considered that to be the "normal" experience of the game, arrogantly considering anybody who preferred "high magic" to be a "munchkin". Strangely, I think that point of view was largely derived from Dragon magazine. Other abilities, such as pick pockets or open locks, are more of a stretch to perceive as extraordinary.

    Actually, I'm agreeing with you that extraordinary need not mean anything more than better than normal. My beef is that, as written and presented over the years, the thief's abilities don't make this clear enough, thereby leading to the "inflation" we've seen over time. What I want to do is find a way, both mechanically and stylistically, to present the thief's abilities in a way that avoids the very dichotomy you mention here.

    Well, I think this is largely an issue of dungeon design, rather than class design. The problems usually occur when having a thief become mandatory, rather than a helpful trade off. If you have a secret door that can only be detected by elves, then it better not be critical to the success of the adventure! The same should apply to thief abilities.

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  14. I rather like the idea of Thieves. Or at least, I can definitely see a role to be filled by a guy who can fight at least a little and doesn't clank when he walks.

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  15. geoffrey wrote: There is no thief class in the Empire of the Petal Throne game. In Prof. Barker's later Tekumel writings, this is explained by saying that thievery is ruthlessly and barbarically stamped out by all of the Five Empires. A D&D-style thief in Tekumel wouldn't last long. He'd find himself on an impaling stake.

    Great info, thanks!

    Will wrote: Oh, it seems to be that Gord the Rogue was Gary Gygax's attempt to boost the profile of thieves in Greyhawk. He was one of Gygax's PCs, as well, wasn't he?

    No, Gord was purely a literary creation. He interacted in the fiction with several Greyhawk PCs and NPCs, but Gord himself wasn't a part of the active Lake Geneva campaign.

    Allan.

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  16. How odd. I could swear that the afterword in Saga of the Old City mentioned Gord seeing use as a PC. I'll have to check my copy when I get home from work.

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  17. I've recently come around to James' approach. My preferred solution is thus to treat the %s as bonuses to the chance any PC would have at success in the endeavour.

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  18. Someone, but I just can't remember in who and on which forum, suggested that in Od&d, the Dwarf is the Thief, because of his ability to notice architectural details.

    Thieves are mentionned in the 'angry vilagers' rules, as having thieves quarters. And a pickpocket thief is clearly pictured with the famous party of adventurers.

    I was wondering a way to use thief on a Od&d without supplements line. I still think about it for the french clone. It could have a few features:

    - He's a fighting-man type (like a dwarf, an alfling, and like any traditional sword & sorcery thief).

    - He can't use his skills with an armour, but could get a bonus to fight when he got no armour and have the equivalent of a leather armor (like the berserker) [also, very sword & sorcery]

    - He's considered to be invisible in shadows, until he fights [as are halflings in bushes and elves in woods]

    - He can notice secret doors as a elf, architectural details as a dwarf and hear noise as them.

    - Instead becoming a landlord 'baron', he become a 'thieves quarter' baron at lvl 9.

    So, everything needed is allready in Chainmail or in Od&d.

    [snorri]

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  19. Ninjas
    these really became popular in the West some time after D&D's commercial release - I'm tempted to claim that 81-84 slot that seems so pivotal. I honestly don't think anything could have been done to defend an already widespread, popular RPG against them, any more than one could defend against the Arnie-ization (and perhaps later Xena-ization) of the barbarian. OA's approach was probably the most realistic, adding the ninja as a (multi-)class, but I suspect the ninja-ization of the thief and assassin was more or less inevitable: they were the classes standing closest to the ninja's irresistible magnetic field.

    A lot depends on how "magical" you consider spells to be.
    I'd go beyond James in answering this with "very:" in other games I'd be tempted to put magic on a continuum like skills and talents - something everyone has some access to, that shades into 'normal' life, but D&D Vancian magic is very explicitly not that.

    The thief class, logically, leads to an innumerable plethora of other classes... a class that excels in horsemanship...
    Yes, it does, and that raises a fundamental point - are there professional skills in D&D? In b/x and 1e the answer was neither yes nor no, and that still strikes me as a big problem. Should you be able to engage hirelings with specialised skills - and if so, why shouldn't PCs have them? The proliferation of classes through the 80s suggests that there were campaigns crying out for a horseman, a seaman, a merchant, a negotiator, a spy. If we turn in the opposite direction and say "all activities beyond fighting and spellcasting are amateur in nature, and everyone can do them," then I start to wonder why fighting is special, or if everyone in the world is really a fighter.

    I think the reason for this tendency is that our real-world experience pleads for professionalisation: the cleric ought to lead to a plethora of classes that are especially or uniquely effective against certain kinds of threats (leading ultimately to a threat/class matching activity somewhere between rock/paper/scissors and Pokemon): I suspect that it doesn't because we don't, deep down, expect different people to have special aptitudes against different monsters. The issue of having races that are specialised also seems inseparable from this discussion, to me: every party had better have a dwarf along, especially if the DM is prone to spatial/disorientation traps, and some people who have infravision for when the lights go out. Somehow the way those racial abilities are framed seems to excuse them, though.

    I suspect the real problem with the thief, though (and with the 4-class party) is that it changes the dynamic of the game: the classes end up being fitted to the standard challenges of the dungeon, like keys fitted to locks, and the result is less roleplaying, more key-fitting and dice-rolling. Which is why my next swords and sorcery game will be nothing but Vikings: if all the players have is axes and round shields, they'll have to think their way through problems.

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  20. Gee, um, I like the thief. Never ran one, but they seem to fit just fine in my game. In my current campaign, a girl is running a fighter/thief- but she is not a thief by lifestyle. She just happens to be a kleptomaniac. And she is doing a good job of hiding it so far (I've got a quiet personal blog going for the campaign if you want to read about her actions). If she were to backstab or climb a sheer wall, that would set off some signals with the group.

    In the past I have ran a long Thieves Guild campaign, and these obvious thief types do tend to fit in there better than with a group of Paladins and Magic User. "Hey, I'm a thief, you're a thief..."

    But true old school would be a thief in a party, that everybody knows is a thief, and are glad to have access to those abilities.

    But to say "thief should not have this and thief should not have that" for whatever logical reasons your are looking at - well, I think you are getting away from what OD&D and AD&D is all about: character abilities and "powers" don't always make sense in the real world.

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  21. I think you are getting away from what OD&D and AD&D is all about: character abilities and "powers" don't always make sense in the real world.

    It's not a question of making sense so much as it is assessing whether the addition of the thief in Supplement I forever changed D&D and whether that change was a positive or a negative one.

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  22. Well - heh heh - I am at work reading while heavily distracted...

    I'd say positive, in that they expanded the world in at least an overall fun way (whatever that means). And without them, what types would fill up those city Thieves guild? Zero level folk? Fighters and M.U. with lots of chest-opening experience in dungeons?

    I'm not sure assassins and monks and some other later classes come anywhere near as positive. Unless it is an "evils" game, you have to work hard to hide being a pyscho killer. And monks, well, I ran them in the past. But that is because I wanted to be a kung-fu badass in a western world. Now that I am older, that just seems too damn Arduin Grimoire.

    Just as an aside James, I think there is no doubt that you need to follow this up with an article on Unearthed Arcana's Thief/Acrobat. They took the common thief and turned him into a Circe De Soliel performer. I'm still scratching my head on that one.

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  23. Will said: How odd. I could swear that the afterword in Saga of the Old City mentioned Gord seeing use as a PC. I'll have to check my copy when I get home from work.

    Curley Greenleaf was one of Gary's PCs, but not Gord. The definitive Gord resource/referece is Christopher Siren's site @ http://home.comcast.net/~chris.s/gordmain.html

    Allan.

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  24. sorry to harp on this, but the question of how the thief might affect the abilities of other classes seems to be handled rather neatly in GURPS, which divides skills into those that allow for a default /unskilled try (eg: archery - anyone has some chance of successfully shooting a bow) and those that don't (eg: magic, or toxicology): it might be worthwhile to think of thiefly or other specialised skills on this axis.

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  25. I cam late enough to the came (early 80s) that the thief class seems fundamental, although I've always had some issues with it, most of which have been covered.

    today, I conceive of the thief as a kind of "everyman" class. they don't know magic, they haven't dedicated themselves to the (un)holy path, they haven't even had time to learn how to wear chainmail properly. So their skills at first level are more-or-less what anyone can do. (When necessary, I've relied on the 1st level thief skills as a measure of what any character class can do-- modified by armor, dexterity, etc.)

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  26. ...today, I conceive of the thief as a kind of "everyman" class. they don't know magic, they haven't dedicated themselves to the (un)holy path, they haven't even had time to learn how to wear chainmail properly. So their skills at first level are more-or-less what anyone can do...

    Oh man, talk about selling a character class short! So shit, you don't want to wear armor or go to school or pray, so *poof* your a thief!

    Maybe I read too many comics when I got into D&D, but I don't think you become higher than 2nd level in any class unless you are committed to that calling. 10th level fighters, clerics, MU's, whatever are superhero-level badasses. No class is going to hit high level without exceeding the norm from the get-go. "OK, I guess I'll be a thief" is not the recipe for heroic heights. In my world, if you are a excellent thief, fighter, whatever, then you were born to that calling.

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  27. I'd go beyond James in answering this with "very:" in other games I'd be tempted to put magic on a continuum like skills and talents - something everyone has some access to, that shades into 'normal' life, but D&D Vancian magic is very explicitly not that.

    I think you may be misunderstanding my meaning. Certainly D&D has powerful and flashy spells, but it also has subtle ones. Low magic effects are not ruled out by a high magic environment, and thief abilities can certainly fit into that paradigm.

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  28. The thief is an important archetype in the AD&D game. In researching thieves cant, I discovered that not only was it real, but medieval england most definitely had an underworld; thieves, assassins, harlots, et. al. were all very real parts of medieval england. Also, a full frontal assault is not always the best tactic in combat, and in my case I have a great love for deception and subtlety; assassins, thieves, and illusionists are great in that regard, and as such are my favorite classes.

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  29. Fun topic! I think that, regardless of how crappy or not a player thinks the thief's percentages are, they'll play a thief if they want to signify that they're going to be the guy who excels by tricks and schemes, without magic or an "iron cocoon" to back him up, and he's going to prove his worth to the party by that metric, not by being useful in a toe-to-toe fight. It's basically up to the player himself to live up to that, or get his character booted from the party (proactively, or by default -- "Black Leaf died? Oh well, tough break for him") By this light, I could argue that the thief's most important "power" is having the easiest XP table.

    Notwithstanding all that, I've been tooling around with "path-not-taken" thief variants since getting interested in OD&D. Some of the ideas that I think show promise:
    -Thieves open doors as monsters.
    -Thieves get +1 on reaction rolls when practicing deceit -- disguising themselves, misrepresenting their capabilities or making unfulfillable promises.
    -Thieves who have surprise may call for a reaction roll to go unnoticed --
    "hostile" indicated thief is spotted (but still has surprise) ;
    "neutral" indicates thief is unspotted but must either retreat or hide in place if he wishes to remain so. (If he chooses to hide in place -- behind a curtain, in a barrel) -- the DM should work out some percentages for whether the thief gets a later opportunity to slip past, or gets caught, or gets loaded into a wagon and shipped God-knows-where, etc.);
    "friendly" indicates the thief is unnoticed and may infiltrate past the monsters.
    A thief may take this roll even in a party of non-thieves, assuming they surprise. Multiple thieves each roll separately.

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  30. One way I've had fun with those low percentage thief sklls is to give a decent little bonus, maybe 10%, to any one skill they want. That way they can get a pre-history going before the game even begins. + to pick locks? Maybe pops was a locksmith. + to climb walls? Maybe you grew up in the part of town with the big temple that the kids dared each other to climb. You can then perhaps ask them to put -5% on another skill, just to flesh out something they may not be as talented in as other thieves.

    The kleptomaniac fighter/thief in my current game chose +10 in pick pockets to represent how important it is to her that her friends don't find out (in 5 games so far they haven't, and she has done some ballsy steals - but at least one is getting suspicious). She went with the minus in climb walls, because that was the least important for her as far as her mental problem went. She hears about an item in a tower, and it doesn't interest her. But see a shiny object up close, then *snag*

    I think that is pretty interesting, and something I haven't seen in almost 30 years of gaming. A thief who is not a thief by lifestyle, but just has a mental problem that gives her the outlook and skills of a thief. She had a livery stable owner dad, and a bunch of brothers who taught her broadsword and shield, but zero exposure to thief types in the small town. I think the odds are I may deny her a backstab ability, because she is basically a good person, but a bit of a magpie.

    I think another way to deal with wanting to tweak the skills different is to give player a choice of 10% in all the skills, but you are not allowed a find traps, climb walls, and maybe backstab. That would create a bit of a variety with two specialty thief classes (without moving into thief/acrobat territory)who are still basic thieves.

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  31. "OK, I guess I'll be a thief" is not the recipe for heroic heights.

    and this is what I like about the thief class-- an antidote to "HIGH FANTASY OF EPIC PROPORTIONS"

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  32. I rather like the idea that a thief-type of character can do extraordinary things that other characters can't do. Granted, I am of the ninja generation, and have devoted long hours to devising reasons why ninja-like organizations might develop in largely Western fantasy cultures...

    However, I too prefer my players to think like sneaky gits rather than counting on some ability on the page to do it for them. Thus I'm not putting thieves (or ninjas) to us in my current campaign (except perhaps as 'monsters,' or perhaps by making 'burglars' available for hire).

    That said, I'm intrigued by the notion that a character who would otherwise be classified as a 'fighting man' might trade some of that class's advantages in order to be better at other 'dungeoneering' kinds of things that everyone else can do. So, it seems, was Random, who used that notion as the basis of his Thief class reconstruction. "In fact, a Thief doesn't actually perform any tasks that cannot be accomplished by characters of other classes. A Thief's strength is with having much greater chances of success in performing such tasks. Having a good Thief around means more treasure and less accidental death..." as he puts it.

    To support this, he constructed what he calls a 'skill system,' but what I'd describe rather as an index of probabilities for common adventuring shenanigans. You can check it out at http://sites.google.com/site/randomzerostuff/main/skills if you want. The page emphasizes that everyone can attempt these feats, but that characters of certain classes have superior chances of success. Odds (on a d6) are given for for these specialized characters and for everyone else. Also worth noting, these odds do not improve with experience, even for 'skilled' classes.

    Again, to me, it feels less like a complete list of options, and more like an example of common tasks, and suggests to me what sort of probability to set for other tasks, whether the character seems particularly suited to the attempt or not.

    Now, It's been said before that a character who can attempt the same things as everyone else, but is more likely to succeed, isn't very exciting to play, but I suspect that's one reason why the class's experience requirements are so low. You might be the dungeon's equivalent of I.T., but your collecting levels like they were being given away in boxes of Cracker Jacks!

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  33. I think that treating the thief's abilities as mundane things other characters might be allowed to do were it not for the need for "niche protection" is the root of the problem.

    In a "skill rating" oriented game such as RuneQuest, that's not a problem. It's a problem in a strictly "class and level" system.

    The thief's role as an expert tradesman is probably one reason it was largely relegated to NPC status in the Greyhawk campaign. The swordsmen and spell-casters obviously spent their apprenticeships learning those arts -- not how to become journeyman butchers, bakers or candlestick makers.

    Locksmithing and the spin-off of removing poisoned needles and their ilk is a matter of training as a specialized mechanic. To "filch items and pick pockets" is a matter beyond ordinary shoplifting, the Artful Dodger's hard-learned art. Apart from listening at doors, the other abilities are likewise qualitatively beyond the capabilities of the untrained. Simply being able to pick up a scalpel does not make one a surgeon!

    As some indication of the difficulty of these feats, look at the poor chances of success given for thieves. You could give even lower chances for others, but to what end? Must fighting men have some vanishingly small chance of casting spells, or is it sufficient to say that they just don't know how?

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  34. It seems to me that a couple of things having been going on since the introduction of the thief that changed his role, and if you want to rebuild the thief you have to address both:

    - Any character should be able to sneak, climb, and so on, in their quest for loot.
    - Simply giving the thief greater powers in this area tends to encourage mini-gaming with just the thief. As with Decking in early Shadowrun, it becomes a case of 'okay, the thief is going to scout out the area for the next ten minutes. Sit tight, we'll get back to you.'

    It's the tension between the two that pushed the thief towards the ninja-style damage dealer as a specialty. My suggestion would be to let him have no inherently greater chance to sneak or hide or find traps, but let him give bonuses to the entire party when present and able to guide them. If a thief is present to tell people how to muffle their armor, ascend the wall, or distract the guards, perhaps everyone in the party gets a bonus to do those things. The lesser fighting ability is made up for by the fact that everyone benefits from his guidance. The fighter can still suggest climbing the outer wall, and the wizard might think of throwing a rock into the bushes to distract the guards, but the thief gives them both advice about how to go about it.

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  35. @Jonathan - That sounds like a recipe for the thief just standing around and giving people bonuses, since the advice won't be a result of in-character actions. It's a reason for having a thief hireling, but not for somebody to play a thief.

    I honestly don't see what's wrong with having the thief go first and tie off a rope if the plan is to scale the wall.

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  36. I treat the thief's climb walls ability as the ability to climb sheer surfaces WITHOUT equipment, as expert climbers can do today. In my campaigns, they are extraordinary climbers.

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  37. About a year ago, I came to the position that Gygax treated the OD&D thief-vs-trap ability exactly backwards: he gave them a "remove" ability and no "find" ability.

    Personally, I think the more sensible thing is to present a "find" ability and no "remove" ability.

    On the one hand, you've now got a specialist with a more flexible version of the cleric "find traps" spell; it reduces unknown traps springing by surprise, and increases player-interaction as they deal with the discoverted traps.

    But on the other hand (having DM'd S1 early this year) I realize that nearly every trap has a specific, can't-miss removal trick (smash down poison button with sword) or impossible-to-remove status (weak ceiling crashes down when door opens).

    There's a very narrow gray area of "snip the wires carefully" type traps, which I've more-or-less expunged from my game. For this I might consider reading the OD&D description very narrowly, where it says "remove SMALL trap devices (such as poisoned needles)".

    But best of all would have been a "find" ability, no skill-based "remove" ability, and let players solve the puzzle of trap-removal as before.

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  38. But best of all would have been a "find" ability, no skill-based "remove" ability, and let players solve the puzzle of trap-removal as before.

    That's an interesting thought ...

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