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Monday, June 30, 2014

Is the Thief a Needed Member of the Adventuring Party?


This discussion came up with my once a month (more or less) group this past Friday. We had three fighter types and a cleric / m-u exploring the depths of The Castle of the Mad Archmage. Obviously, they lacked a thief in their number, but as was observed, the lack didn't make much of a difference.

Low level thieves essentially suck at thieving. At third level, they have about a 1 in 4 chance of succeeding with any of their basic thieving skills, which really means they fail 3 out of 4 attempts. How long is a thief going to survive failing 3 out of 4 attempts to disarm traps (let alone failing his 3 out of 4 attempts at finding them in the first place)?

At third level, he can open 1 in 5 locks - which means brute force (and wandering monster checks) will be required 80% of the time. Wouldn't another fighter type or caster be more effective with those wandering monsters than a lightly armored and combat ineffective thief?

Come to think of it, Crypts & Things allows all of the classes to attempt thief type abilities - I'm wondering if such wouldn't work well in a standard OSR game.

Just me thinking out load, as the missing thief really wasn't missed...

46 comments:

  1. Interesting question. On the surface it seems like blasphemy, but if you stop and think do you really need a thief?

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  2. I let non-thieves attempt thief skills (except pick pockets) at their level chances. Thieves get a reroll if they fail (with a minor drawback even if the 2nd roll succeeds). That increases that 25% to 44%. And, as always, traps can be disarmed/negated by good description.

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  3. In the Stonehell game I play in I had a thief that died after a couple of sessions. I replaced him with a Dwarf that I essentially play as a thief. He wears light armour and when it comes to traps he relies on hi excellent saving throws and good hit points to keep him alive. At some point (level 6?7?) a thief will probably make more sense but I can always switch then if the dwarf is killed.

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  4. The first three LLB's have no thief. While I like the option, thieves are not essential. That said, I run a house rule to make thieves a little more appealing. At 1st level you get an additional 50% of points to apply where you will. Forego the advancement table and give the player 25% per level gained to apply as they will.

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    1. I believe that's how 2e handled it. I always liked that method better.

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    2. I like your house rule. I always disliked how low thief numbers were at low levels; this is a nice fix IMO.

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    3. Tom, mine is a dumbed down version of 2E, which gave 60% at 1 and 30% each additional. Mine is slightly less power handed, and seems to work a bit better at the mid levels.

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  5. You don't really need members of any one class. Fighters generally don't fight so much better that they can't be replaced by Clerics. If your campaign has plenty of NPC created potions, wands, and scrolls why bother with PC magic-users or clerics at all?

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  6. We play S&W WB which of course has no Thief.

    Each character gets the following Task Rolls: Climb, Delicate Tasks, Stealth, Hear Noise, Search and Survival. They all start at one pip on a d6, though some races start with a higher value in certain rolls. Then at level 3, 6 and 9 a player can add one pip. This has worked very well for us and we haven't missed the Thief at all, tbh, even the player who usually plays "the thief" prefers it. This works particularly well with WB as ability mods are only ever +1 or -1, and thus you can allow them to modify the pips too depending on the task at hand. :)

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    1. Actually you are playing a house ruled version of S&W WB which has no such explicit skill set in the rulebook. Why not throw in a Use Magic,Heal, and Turn Undead tasks, it would eliminate the need for anything beyond Fighters?

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    2. Erik wrote: "Come to think of it, Crypts & Things allows all of the classes to attempt thief type abilities - I'm wondering if such wouldn't work well in a standard OSR game."

      Hence my answer.....

      Wasn't that the point of Erik's question?

      If you honestly think allowing Clerics, Fighters and Magic Users to attempt mundane tasks is the same as allowing Fighters to accomplish supernatural feats, well...yeh....not much I can logically discuss there.

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    3. Grafting a skill set onto the game isn't all that different from grafting a class with an integrated skill system onto the game.
      Why are the thief skills any more mundane? Hiding in in shadows, moving silently, getting better at hearing noises, climbing walls ... how are those not supernatural skills?
      Why are Fighters mundane skills "protected" by the justification for the need of that class? What only fighters can use swords and bows... that makes no sense anyone should be able to train to use a weapon...
      If using magic, turning undead, and healing are trained skills there is no logical reason to limit them to specific classes.

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    4. Right...so how do you accomplish the task of allowing all classes to attempt Thief like abilities (as per Crypts & Things) without house ruling your OSR system of choice? I'm genuinely confused why you have taken exception to my post when the blogger specifically asks this question.

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    5. Discuit, you don't have to introduce a skill system at all. The game already has a set of scores that defines everyone's common abilities/attributes.

      Adding the element of training and experience in specific tasks begs the question as to why any of the skills of any classes are protected and exclusive to those classes.

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    6. "Hiding in in shadows, moving silently, getting better at hearing noises, climbing walls ... how are those not supernatural skills?"

      I believe the clear assumption is that they are not, although you are free to define it however you like in your fantasy game. To answer your question, it is not necessary to attribute exceptional skill at otherwise mundane tasks to supernatural sources, whereas the supernatural provenance of the powers Clerics and Magic-users is explicit.

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    7. The supernatural is only separate from the mundane in a fantasy RPG when there is something that set them apart. In D&D the only explicit element is the selection of a character class as there is no supernatural spark in place and there is nothing else that separates a Cleric from a Magic-User, a Fighter, or a Thief (aside from a possible ability score requirement that is not applied or consistent across editions and clones) except for selection of character class.

      What is or isn't mundane is pretty nebulous in a game played by the rules that lets a 9th level fighter walk off a cliff and keep on fighting.

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    8. I take your point to a certain extent, but I think you are glossing over the fact that "magic" as a thematic element is very important to most fantasy settings, and it completely loses its meaning if there is nothing "mundane" to compare it to. Nobody pretends that someone within our real world could accomplish what Bruce Wayne does as Batman, but it is still an important theme within the D.C. Universe that he works withing the limitations of being a "mundane" being, in contrast to the likes of Superman or Wonder Woman.

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  7. Oh don't need any of the classes really. Thieves less so than he other three. But thieves are COOL, man. That's why the thief.

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  8. i spent quite a bit of time hotting up thief o make appealing and playable

    biggest change really was to have a single skill or nwp system (as opposed to multiple ones in most editions - class skills, nwp, prior experience, feats etc)all classes get but thieves get most skills and have list of weird almost magical ability - they are the class that represents esoteric skill

    would any any play a wizard if at first lv ha 50% chance cast cantrip and 10% of a first level spell as often as they want?

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    1. Would play a MU with a 50% chance of a cantrip or 10% chance of 1st level spell whenever I wanted.

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  9. Not only are they not necessary, but they often end up making the game less fun. In my personal experience as both a player and a GM, those games where the party lacked a thief were far more interesting when it came to traps and locks and stealth and all the other "thiefy" stuff. The players had a lot of fun trying to puzzle their way past the various traps and other dangers of the dungeon, whereas once we had a thief in the party it became a matter of "roll your skill" and then either getting a face full of acid and moving on.

    Mechanically and thematically they're fine, but I find them to be a fun-killer more than anything else.

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    1. I love playing a thief and find then fun and challenging.

      Fighters on the other and, are dull as hell.

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    2. Well, something I've come to realize, at least for my gaming group, that "the thing in the game you really enjoy? Yeah, DON'T play that class." If you like combat and coming up with neat tactics and crazy battles, don't play a fighter. Fighters default option is "stand there and hit the thing until it stops bothering me." If you like traps and puzzles, don't play a thief, because when confronted with a bizarre and obviously trapped floor, they "use their skills till it stops being a threat." If you like talking with NPC's and figuring out mysteries and what is going on with who, don't play a bard (3rd ed style), cause they can default to rolling skills or casting Charm Person.

      It's one of the reasons I'm starting to get away from classed based games--in my experience, they seem to end up working against what's fun.

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    1. Exactly. They add some archetypes for variety to streamline character creation, or to spur players who are unsure about a new character.

      They are not handcuffs for how all other classes can interact with the world.

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  11. I have some ideas on thieves, Erik, for the B-team to try out. I'll send them to you once I'm done getting them down.

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  12. When you think about it, all dungeon delvers are—in a sense—thieves.

    IIRC from the early days, the thief class was developed as shorthand to things that were commonly happening in dungeon crawls—the urgency to move silently, to disarm traps, etc. Kind of a lazy way to handwave common events.

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  13. Why do people think thieves are more likely to get a face full of acid searching for traps as compared to anyone searching for traps?
    Beyond being the jerk poking his face into traps more often this complaint is without merit.
    If a trap has a 4 in 6 chance of going off the skilled thief has a huge advantage over everyone else. Even with but a 15% detection, that should be a 15% chance of doing so without facing the same chance of being harmed everyone else would face.

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  14. The thief class is fun to play and many players enjoy it.

    That is all the reason needed for its inclusion.

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    1. Also...Eric what does "thinking out load" mean? Is that code for posting from the water closet?

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  15. Loathe the thief class. Always have. I've never found it to add anything enjoyable to play, either as a player or a DM.

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  16. I love the thief! I like the house rules that boost the % chances a bit and let them specialize in a couple of the skills. They are fun, and if played right they bring allot of opportunity for role playing to the table. Can a party survive without one? Sure, but I wouldn't want to!

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  17. In many system's you have to deal with a d4 for hp's to. One more thing half the time how is back stab a option with the horrible move silently, hide rolls that you don't even know if you succeed (and in all honestly at lev 1-5 might as well assume you just fail!) Some fixes I like/have tried:
    1 D6 hp
    2 Dex x 3-5 extra % points at first level for the player to place wherever they want.
    3 Or as listed above with the D6 mechanic replacing % completely. I really like the specialist class from Lotfp.

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  18. Dwarven Fighter / Thief... problems solved

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  19. Thieves can be a pretty cool component to an adventuring party, but the way D&D handles them sucks. Among the few things 3e did right was to make Thieves more useful. Without adding too many more rules you could:
    A) increase their chances
    B) say they automatically succeed if they are descriptive.
    C) alter some basics -- "backstab" becomes "surprise attack," for example.
    Some people don't like clerics, either. YMMV.

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  20. I replaced the Thief class with one called Artisans, which is a skills specialist. Turned the Thief abilities into skills. With that said, every group in my campaigns need a wide variety of skills and at least one Artisan. They handle both the traditional thief stuff, particularly hear noise type activity, and other skills they choose outside of the usual Thief bailiwick.

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    1. They also have a skill to make sandwiches on fancy bread.

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  21. I've always enjoyed playing Thieves, or running games where the party has a Thief. Thing is, if the Thief skill fails, it shouldn't mean automatic springing of a trap, or automatic detection and targeting by the biggest monster (as is usually the consequence).

    If the Thief's skill roll fails, then the party needs to go into role-play/observation and experimentation mode.

    That said, I now have a desire to run a game with just an "Adventurer" class, where everyone is able to fight, cast spells, and do "thiefy" things. Use the Cleric class, but allow all weapons, up the hit die to d8 (d10 if AD&D base), combine Cleric and M-U spell lists, and tack on the Thief skills.

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  22. I always want the Thief to work. I want my players to want to play a Thief. Thieves to me are the quintessential adventurer. But their low chances of success at the things that they are meant to be good at requires some... thing. One of the problems of Thieves as written is the clause that they may only make one attempt to open a lock per level. That needs doing away with - and I'm sad that it is in ACKS, which is my favourite B/X/BECM derived ruleset. Having Thieves spend *time* in order to succeed means that they become far more useful, but spending time has consequences.which introduces interesting choices. Do you wait another turn while the Thief fumbles with the lock?

    In addition, allowing Thieves to allocate their skill points (ala AD&D 2e or LotFP) means that a first level Thief likely has a level of competency in at least one suite of skills that is the equivalent to his peers of other classes. Finally, if you are playing AD&D 2e, allowing the Thief to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades using the non-weapon proficiency system gives them the feel of experienced 'men-of-the-world', while the other 'professional' classes are good at their job.

    Anyway, I love the idea of thieves, but I''m not sure that any OSR D&D has got them right. AD&D2e is the closest, and LotFP is nifty...

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  23. Thieves have a mobility edge in climb walls which trumps the mobility options of all other classes at low level: climb walls. Its only of no benefit if all your dungeons are two dimensional.

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  24. Elven Thief Magic user - my favorite class combo ever. Even if you play by the "Level limits for non humans" rules still can be 11 mu and unlimited thief. You can play as a MU with some extra hitpoints and better AC - or you can be a thief with access to unlock cantrips, knock spells, unseen servants, invisibility, and a host of other useful thiefly spells - And every once in a while you can sneak up invisibly on someone, maybe even a boss, hasted, with deadly strike on you, and just waste them with a backstab for godawful damage. Course if you don't kill them, you may die in the next round, but thats what makes life interesting - right?

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  25. Rather than get all skills at 1st level but have a shitty chance to succeed, maybe try giving the thief 2 abilities at first level, pick up one new one per level, but give him over 50% to succeed as soon as he gets it.

    I'm doing that with my Pirates game Scoundrel class.

    You could also offer up assassin and bard abilities to take instead of thief stuff. Not the whole package-- no magic perhaps-- but just one or two interesting abilities.

    Relegate backstab, read languages, scroll use, poison use, bardic lore, music buffs to the same status as climb or open a lock. Then just pick and choose at each level.

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  26. Wasn't this topic done to death on Grognardia?

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    1. This topic comes up every couple of months repeatedly. It is almost the cry for attention post of the OSR.

      Ascending vs descending AC is next.

      Followed by variable weapon damage.

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  27. Considering that the first character to live two sessions a row in my old days was a thief, I'd say yes. My sister played her elven thief/MU for a decade and a half.

    As I see it, thieves are there for players who want someone that's not a bulky murderer, cloistered healer or a robed artillery hurler. The thief is that quiet guy who doesn't want to be noticed and likes to look at the treasure first. He is loathed when he's present and missed when he isn't.

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    1. Oh and as for low thief skill values at low level, it's just one of many countless reasons I liked AD&D 2E best of all, where you got an allotment of skill points to distribute each level, which let you make your thief the way you wanted to.

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