Friday, February 6, 2009

Grognard's Grimoire: The Thief

It's an understatement to say I'm not really keen on the thief. Lately, though, I've been coming round to the notion that my problems with it have more to do with the way the class was presented in Greyhawk than with the concept of the class itself. Likewise, while the thief wasn't one of the original classes, tradition has thrown its weight behind it, since every edition of the game after OD&D (including the contemporaneous Holmes rules) includes a thief as a standard option.

Hoary gaming tradition (obviously) means a lot to me, so I'm offering this take on the thief for use with Swords & Wizardry. I gleefully swiped ideas from both Philotomy and Frank Filz, both of whom offered up some valuable insights into making a more properly old school thief. I'm still not 100% satisfied with this class, but I'd probably permit it in my Dwimmermount campaign if anyone wanted to give it a whirl.

The material in the quote box below is hereby designated Open Game Content via the Open Game License.

The Thief

Hit Die Type: 1d6-1 per level. After reaching 9 hit dice, the thief gains only 1 hit points per level

Armor/Shield Permitted: Leather

Weapons Permitted: Any

Prime Attribute (5% xp bonus) Dexterity 13+

Thief Class Abilities:

Backstab: When attacking from behind, a thief may roll two dice for damage and take the highest result. At fifth level, he may roll three dice and keep the two highest results. At ninth level, he may roll four dice and keep the three highest results.

Establish Gang: At ninth level, a thief may establish a stronghold and attract a number of lesser thieves who will recognize him as their boss and serve him so long as his activities continue to provide them with a steady supply of ill-gotten gains.

Extraordinary Climbing: A thief can climb sheer surfaces without the need for special equipment. His chances of success are 1-17 on 1D20. This chance increases to 1-18 at fifth level and 1-19 at ninth level.

Observant: At first level, a thief detects secret doors and hear noises on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6. This increases to 1-3 at fifth level and 1-4 at ninth level.

Sneaky: Beginning at first level, a thief gains a +1 bonus to surprise when alone or operating with thieves of similar experience. Otherwise, a thief's surprise chance is equal to that of the least sneaky character in the group. This bonus increases to +2 at fifth level, and +3 at ninth level.

Tools of the Trade: When possessed of appropriate tools, a thief can open locks and disable small mechanical traps on a roll of 1-2 on 1D6. This increases to 1-3 at fifth level and 1-4 at ninth level.

Wary: A thief can only be surprised on a roll of 1 on 1D6.

Thief Advancement Table

Level

Experience Points

Hit Dice (d6-1)

Base Hit Bonus

Saving Throw

1

0

1

0

15

2

1250

2

0

14

3

2500

3

1

13

4

5000

4

1

12

5

10000

5

2

11

6

20000

6

2

10

7

40000

7

3

9

8

80000

8

3

8

9

160000

9

4

7

10

280000

9+1 hp

5

6

11

400000

9+1 hp

5

5

12

520000

9+1 hp

6

5

13

640000

9+1 hp

7

5

14

760000

9+1 hp

7

5

15

880000

9+1 hp

8

5

16

1000000

9+1 hp

8

5

17

1120000

9+1 hp

9

5

18

1240000

9+1 hp

10

5

19

1360000

9+1 hp

10

5

20

1480000 (120,000 per level beyond)

9+1 hp (+1 per level beyond)

11

5 (remains at 5)

24 comments:

  1. While certainly not the direction I would take the thief I like it. I think it goes well with S&W and the basic OD&D vibe.

    Mine would be more the direction of the D&D3 rouge with some free form bonuses that the player could assign to different actions along the lines of T&T 7 talents. Then again, unlike your evolution back to OD&D I find myself melding B/X (well, LL actually) with the T&T SR system.

    That said I might just steal this for my upcoming LL game. The only real change needed to the wording would be on backstab which will become "roll damage twice and keep best" and so on.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not really much different from the AD&D thief, is it?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Not really much different from the AD&D thief, is it?

    I was thinking the same thing. Is it just the change in the way the thief abilities are treated that makes this thief more palatable, or is there something else that I'm missing?

    - Formerly known as Zweihander

    ReplyDelete
  4. There are lots of subtle difference, chief among them being that there's no ability to find traps, just remove them and that ability is specified ("small, mechanical"), which I think makes a difference. Likewise, the other abilities -- the ones that remain anyway, since I also merged and eliminated some -- now all function mechanically in ways that are more consonant with OD&D design principles.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The preference for d6 task resolution over percentile roll task resolution more properly called cosmetic than subtle.

    But shouldn't thieves be able to get better at finding traps than the average man?

    ReplyDelete
  6. There is an elegance to the use of d20 and d6 in the place of percentiles that I find attractive.

    Though its clear what you mean, might I suggest that your table reads for 11th level: Hit Dice 9+2 as in (9+1)+1.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's not a huge departure for the thief, and houseruling the class goes well with old school. Hey man, I'm just glad you've decided to make them available in your games.

    I just rolled up a fighter/thief and bought a plane ticket. See you at the next Dwimmermount session!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The only thing I notice here that might or might not be a drawback is that at fifth and ninth level all kinds of things happen to the thief's success numbers. This makes it easy to track; on the other hand, one might want to stagger these some in order that there's some advancement at levels other than just 5th and 9th. But I also think it works fine as it is.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I must admit, I've also recently improved my attitude towards the thief. I use it in my OD&D game to replace the cleric. Mostly I fold all skills into a d20+level+Dex bonus >= 20 mechanic.

    One of the primary things that changed my previous distaste was this: Realizing that Greyhawk's lack of a "find traps" skill is actually perfect. I give everyone the same chance to find traps (2 in 6). For example, this is exactly the opposite of what Will says above, and it's saved the thief class for me.

    Now there's actually a game-decision to be made about who's up front, searching for traps. Maybe it should be the thief who can disarm them fast; maybe it's the fighter with a lot of HP who could survive a sprung trap; maybe it's the wizard with some arcane means of avoiding them. No longer is the brain-dead "thief up front, standard procedure", basically waiting to die at some point with his low HP.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "For example, this is exactly the opposite of what Will says above, and it's saved the thief class for me."

    I just don't see any logic to it. If the thief is an expert on traps, ought he not be more expert on where a trap of a given type is usually constructed, how it's concealed, etc? Such an expert would naturally be much better at examining an area and asking himself "What traps would I put here and how would I hide them?"

    ReplyDelete
  11. Maybe this isn't really the right forum, but has anyone ever pondered the rationale for XP bonuses related to high ability scores?

    Seems to me, this leads to players obsessing about having higher scores (and leading them to push for rolling systems to get them). I've never personally been a big fan of "ability score inflation".

    Not to mention, I'd argue that it takes more skill to successfully play an average (or below-average) player. Maybe that's where the bonuses should go ... if you're a fighter w/ below-average strength but you still figure out how to win, you get the bonus.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Two comments from me, one off topic and one on.

    @S. S., CFA
    I think the rationale is that fighters who are stronger, thieves who are quicker, etc. get a bonus to represent the profession coming more easily to them. That being said, I'd hardly consider it inflationary. If a cleric with Wisdom 10 and one with Wisdom 14 go on an adventure together and earn 400 xp, the cleric with Wisdom 14 earns 20 xp more.
    Also, in OD&D, obsessing over having a high score doesn't really do much for you, especially when the standard method of rolling is 3d6 straight down. The later editions, where ability scores tend to be inflated due to different generation methods also are the editions that abandon xp bonus for high scores.

    Just my two cp.

    @James:
    I like your "0e thief" quite a bit, and I might steal him to present to my S&W DM. My first D&D was the Rules Cyclopedia, so coming across the notion that there was once a D&D with no thief class was somewhat jarring. I understood the mentality behind people wanting to let anyone look for traps or to negotiate the search verbally, but at the same time I missed the idea of the lightly armored, sneaky rapscallion type character. To me, D&D just doesn't feel right without the thief, and I think your thief bridges the gap nicely. Have you seen Sham's houserules? His Scout class is also a neat way to handle characters who are supposed to be sneakier and keep the trap finding decidedly 0e.
    If someone ends up rolling this in our S&W game, I will let you know how it is received!
    Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I agree with Matt's suggestion that the special abilities might be staggered differently, instead of concentrating the improvements at levels 5 and 9.

    I also think that the backstab ability initially is rather weak. I'd boost it a little bit.

    Nonetheless, an interesting take on the thief.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Very very good - better than I could have hoped for...

    ReplyDelete
  15. I also think that the backstab ability initially is rather weak. I'd boost it a little bit.

    FWIW, my take on the backstab was to start it off with maximum damage. However, note that I'm using universal d6 damage.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I just don't see any logic to it. If the thief is an expert on traps...
    I read it as: the Thief is NOT an expert on traps, he is merely proficient at defeating basically small mechanical devices -- especially locks, but some parts of traps too. He can no more "detect traps" than he can "detect locks".

    ReplyDelete
  17. "he is merely proficient at defeating basically small mechanical devices"

    And if enough of those "small mechanical devices" were concealed traps, he could hardly *avoid* learning what sorts tend to be build into particular strictures and what tricks are used to hide them therein.

    ReplyDelete
  18. FWIW, I think James is trying to keep what a thief can do distinct from what a dwarf can do, hence the references to things that smack (to me) of poison needles, darts, blades, hidden compartments, etc. vs. the covered pit, falling stone block, and other dungeon cooridor/room trap gems from the Grimtooth's series.

    Not sure if that helps at all, but it's what popped into my head :D

    Allan.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I just don't see any logic to it. If the thief is an expert on traps, ought he not be more expert on where a trap of a given type is usually constructed, how it's concealed, etc?

    Not enough to make a worthwhile difference in my games. Two comments: (1) In retrospect I find it more illogical for all other party members to be totally incapable of detecting traps. (2) Even if that weren't the case, game-ability trumps minor in-game logic; if only the thief can detect traps, there is no game-decision to be made about who is up front, and so to me then there's no point in having a thief class at all.

    My current favorite Gygax quote (DMG, p. 9): "This is not to say that where it does not interfere
    with the flow of the gome that the highest degree of realism hasn‘t
    been attempted..."

    To me, thieves having the only access to "finding traps" siginificantly interferes with the flow of the game. In such a case, realism can take a back seat.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Instead of having the ability to "detect traps" from the get-go and thus improving on said ability, perhaps "Detect Traps" should/could be a class ability that isn't available to an alternative thief class until a certain higher level, say 9th or some such.

    -Eric

    ReplyDelete
  21. The thing I find most problematic with the locks and traps abilities of thieves is that they end up becoming a bit of a solution in search of a problem: in a game with no thieves, dungeons would have fewer locked doors, and those with locks would tend to have keys or other means of opening located somewhere in the dungeon. Traps would tend to be of the booby trap variety (covered pits, tripwires, etc.) designed to catch the unwary, but easy to detect and avoid by the cautious, and maybe some elaborate Indiana Jones type contrivances. Things like poisoned needles and tiny mechanical traps (that tend to be more technically complex and delicate than the tech level of the generic, pre-firearms, pre-clockwork, pre-high precision machinery D&D universe would seem to allow) would be a rarity. Add the thief with his special ability to (occasionally) bypass such devices and suddenly there is a need to make these devices more commonplace in order to justify the thief's abilities, but this then raises the problem of what happens when--as is the case most of the time--the thief fails his roll and doesn't disarm the critical lock or trap.

    I don't think the thief needs any special locks or traps abilities in order to be playable and useful. I also don't really like obstacles that are designed so that there is only really one good way around them, or that they require the abilities of a particular class to overcome.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "In retrospect I find it more illogical for all other party members to be totally incapable of detecting traps."

    I've always solved this by giving them less of a chance than a thief.

    ReplyDelete
  23. In summary: backstab weakened; climbing about the same; hear noise takes longer to peak, but spotting secret doors likewise improves; stealth different in treatment, but similar in effect; lockpicking and trap removal boosted at low levels, but in the long run about the same; wariness vs. surprise added; filching items and picking pockets, reading languages and using scrolls removed.

    Special ability to find traps was not part of the original class, and IMO for good reason: that can be left to the players' skill. The same applies to disarming big traps (as opposed to dexterously avoiding the prick of a poisoned needle).

    Languages and scrolls were assets that bugged me a bit, but without the latter the class might seem too weak and specialized in the long run.

    I happen to like d%. Even d20 allows more incremental improvements than d6, which I think would be an asset here.

    What really puzzles me is dumping the only talents directly germane to being a THIEF!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Will: Your thinking that a thief should get the hang of when to expect a trap based on his experience running afoul of them and/or disarming them makes sense, but based on James' general stance, I would suggest that his model assumes that a 1st level thief lacks the experience to make such judgements any better than the other PCs, and that the experience of learning this expertise is developed through player skill, not character skill. Thus, after playing long enough, all the players will recognize danger zones, verbally negotiate the search for traps, and see if there's anything the thief can take care of for them; non-thiefable traps will have to be negotiated through cleverness, of course.

    Dwayanu: I'd argue that there are different kinds of thieving. This kind is more of a burglar or 'expert treasure-hunter,' and is not also a pickpocket. A character with a pickpocketing skill is obviously expected to pick pockets, but in a dungeon environment this mostly means stealing from fellow party members. (Granted, somebody could try the same thing that Bilbo tried with the trolls, but I've never seen it in a dungeoncrawl; i've only seen pickpocket used constructively in city adventures, and that's with pretty loose definition of the term 'constructively.') So i think it's reasonable to leave out pickpocketing as tertiary to the class role, and also as a chunk o' flavor that historically provokes trouble-making behaviors.

    James: I like what you've done here. I'm not convinced it's necessary, but it's pretty cool. I particularly like 'Sneaky,' for the way it ties the flavor into a straightforward mechanics rooted in the existing game-play rather than proposing whole new 'sorts of things to be done.' I've been trying to develop a good old-school approach to Rangers for months, and this feels more useful to my needs than even the Best of Dragon vol I was. Thanks for posting it!

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.