Thursday, April 23, 2009

REVIEW: Breaking & Entering

In some ways, I'm probably the worst person in the world to review a product like Breaking & Entering: A Toolbox for Thieves. Not only am I generally skeptical of the class even in concept, but I also think its presentation in Supplement I opened a game mechanical Pandora's Box, the consequences of which still plague Dungeons & Dragons over 30 years later. Despite that, I'm actually quite fascinated by the thief class, as well as the attachment so gamers have to it. For all my complaints -- and there are many -- I've come round to accepting the fact that, original though it may not be, there certainly is a place for it in D&D, probably even moreso than the cleric, which feels far more like an interloper class than does the thief.

So, I purchased Breaking & Entering (written by Vincent Frugé and published by Brave Halfling) in the hope it would give me further insight into the appeal of the thief and the ways gamers use the class. Retailing for $6.00 (though currently on sale for half that), what you get is a 28-page PDF for OSRIC that gives the referee new material to inspire "his or her own unique interpretation of the thief class." The product is thus interesting for a couple of reasons, the first of which being that it's aimed specifically at OSRIC, a departure from Brave Halfling's usual association with Labyrinth Lord, although B&E could easily be used with any old school fantasy RPG. Second, the product seems aimed more at referees than at players, being a toolbox of ideas from which one can pick and choose rather than a unified expansion of the traditional thief class. I have to say that I very much approve of this approach.

The product begins by offering up a brief revision and expansion of the thief's climb walls ability, as well as a new sub-system devoted to spying. The spying sub-system is simple and looks easy to use, though I expect it's probably of most use for NPC thieves. Following this, we get several new thief abilities, most of which are clearly inspired by the thief-acrobat specialization from Unearthed Arcana. B&E then moves on to provide two new sub-classes of the thief, beginning with the deep scout, which is basically a good-aligned spy used to infiltrate evil nations and organizations. There's also a new version of the bard, which bears some resemblance to the version presented in another Brave Halfling product but tweaked for use with OSRIC (illusionist and druid spells instead of magic-user ones, for example). Also included is a detailed thieves' guild, complete with map, thief-oriented gods, new equipment, and magic items.

The end result is, I must admit, much less of a toolbox and more of a grab bag. That is, Breaking & Entering has no organizing principle beyond being a collection of rules and ideas pertaining to thieves. There's minimal discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each option presented, instead leaving it to each referee to decide for himself. I don't think that's a bad thing in itself and it's certainly an approach in tune with OSRIC's sensibilities, but it's not one that every referee will like. In addition, some of B&E's content seems a bit lackluster to me, such as the deep scout and the deity write-ups. Given the sale price, I have no cause for complaint, but I do wish the product had felt tighter and less scattershot than it does. A shorter, more focused product might have been more satisfying. There are a number of excellent ideas in B&E but their excellence is obscured somewhat by the presence of what feels like filler text designed to pad out the page count.

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 6 out of 10
Utility:
4 out of 10

Buy This If: You really like thieves and are looking to give them new options
Don't Buy This If: If you're not a fan of thieves or are happy with the standard presentation of the class

13 comments:

  1. *edit* Don't Buy This If: If you're "not" a fan of thieves or are happy with the standard presentation of the class

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  2. The Thiefy-Bard w. Druid and Illusionist spells sounds interesting.

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  3. The cleric an interloper?! Heretic!

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  4. I bought it myself recently too. I am likewise at odds with the thief generally, and yet love the thief-acrobat even with its goofy name... Haven't had a chance to read B&E thoroughly yet, it's on my to-read list. So cheers for the review, keeps it at the forefront of my mind and gives me some points to mull over as I go.

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  5. I've come round to accepting the fact that, original though it may not be, there certainly is a place for it in D&D, probably even moreso than the cleric, which feels far more like an interloper class than does the thief.Yes, this is exactly the most important point of evolution in my thinking about D&D, as well.

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  6. I'm the author of B&E and I thank you for the review. I've been working on a Labyrinth Lord version of the document and I'll certainly keep your comments in mind. Thanks again.

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  7. Lately, I've found opposition to the Thief class quite dogmatic. When you play, the supposed problemas of the class are not so terrible...

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  8. James...

    I find it ironic that you have a problem with thieves and yet you are involved in a company called "Rogue Games"...

    ;-)

    Heh, had to give you that little jab there...

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  9. Lately, I've found opposition to the Thief class quite dogmatic.It's no more dogmatic than opposition to spell points or ascending armor class or changing the level limits on demihuman characters, all of which can be opposed for quite rational reasons, even if, in play, the supposed problems with each are not so great.

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  10. I still maintain that the subsystem for thief abilities is *not* a "skill system" in the same sense as the skill systems that appear in games like GURPS and 3E D&D.

    A true skill system is open to every character created with a given rules set. Simply: In a skill-based game, everybody has access to the skill system.

    By this measure, thief abilities do not constitute a skill system anymore than the specialized mechanics for spellcasting in classic D&D do. The fact that the percentile rolls *superficially* resemble the rolls used in the skills systems of other pioneering early RPGs (Call of Cthulhu, etc) is completely incidental.

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  11. Lately, I've found opposition to the Thief class quite dogmatic.It's no more dogmatic than opposition to spell points or ascending armor class or changing the level limits on demihuman characters, all of which can be opposed for quite rational reasons, even if, in play, the supposed problems with each are not so great.Indeed.

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  12. A true skill system is open to every character created with a given rules set. Simply: In a skill-based game, everybody has access to the skill system.I think that some of us can disagree about that as a definition. It seems neither sufficient nor necessary.

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