Monday, October 31, 2022

My version of the Thief

OD&D and BX thieves are... pretty bad. Even if you subscribe to the interpretation of their special abilities being quasi-magical, the chance of them actually working is still bafflingly low at low levels. This is my attempt to make the thief into a more playable class (especially at low and mid levels).

Sam Mameli


Prime requisite: DEX  
Hit Dice: d4  
Armour: Leather, no shields 
Weapons: Any
Saving throws as per B/X or whatever retroclone you use.

Back-stab: When attacking an unaware opponent from behind, a thief receives a +4 bonus to hit and doubles any damage dealt. At 5th level and above, damage is tripled instead of doubled.

Scroll Use: A thief of 7th level or higher can cast arcane spells from scrolls. There is a 10% chance of error: the spell does not function as expected and creates an unusual or deleterious effect.

Thieves have a few specialized skills they can attempt to use much like in BX. All of the usual skills (except climbing, which would get nerfed) have been consolidated into a single "Thievery" skill. The red number in brackets next to the Thievery score indicates the probability of something extra happening after using or failing to use certain skills (check the explanations for disarming traps and pickpocketing below). 

Level             Exp          Hit Dice            Climb        Thievery      

    1                  0                1d4                 87               65   [33]

    2               1,200            2d4                 88               70   [28]

    3               2,400            3d4                 89               75   [23]

    4               4,800            4d4                 90               80   [18]

    5               9,600            5d4                 91               85   [13]

    6              20,000           6d4                 92               90    [8]

    7              40,000           7d4                 93               95    [6]

    8              80,000           8d4                 94               96    [5]

    9             160,000          9d4                 95               97    [4]

   10            280,000         10d4                96               98    [3]

* The red number in brackets next to the Thievery score is the chance of springing a trap or getting caught stealing (see below).

Interpretation and explanation of the various thief skills (all of them fall under "Thievery" except for climbing):

Climb nearly sheer surfaces: Only roll for climbs that an adept real-world climber would find challenging. Roll a check for every 100’ climbed. On a failure, the thief falls at the halfway point and suffers fall damage. 

Find and disarm treasure traps: A Thievery roll is required to find a trap and then another to remove it. The find traps roll can only be attempted once, but the disarm roll can be tried multiple times. Every time a thief fails a disarm roll, a subsequent d100 roll must be made to find out if the trap has been accidentally sprung. A trap is sprung if the result of this subsequent roll is equal or less than the red number in brackets next to the corresponding Thievery score. Each attempt to find or disarm a trap takes one turn. 

Hear noise: In a quiet environment (e.g. not in combat), a thief may attempt to listen at a door or to hear the sounds of something (e.g. a wandering monster) approaching. Make a Thievery roll or roll under Wisdom, whichever is higher. Can only be attempted once per turn.

Hide in shadows: Requires the thief to be motionless—attacking or moving while hiding is not possible. While hiding in shadows, thieves use a special breathing technique which slows their heartbeat & lowers their body temperature and thus, if successful, are also undetectable by creatures with infravision. 

Move silently: A thief may attempt to sneak past enemies unnoticed.

* The referee should roll for hide in shadows and move silently on the player’s behalf, if the roll fails, the referee knows that the thief has been noticed and should determine enemies’ actions appropriately.

Open locks: Requires thieves’ tools. A thief can try this skill multiple times per lock, each attempt taking up one turn. 

Pick pockets: A thievery roll must be made to see if the pickpocketing attempt is successful, and then (regardless of the result) a subsequent d100 roll must be made to see if the victim has noticed the attempt. The attempted theft is noticed if the result of this subsequent roll is equal or less than the red number in brackets next to the corresponding Thievery score. If the victim is above 5th level, the thief’s roll is penalised by 5% for every level above 5th. This ability can also be used in shops and markets to steal suitable items.

Read languages: Understanding maps and ancient inscriptions is an important part of tomb robbing. Some thieves study languages and graphology in their free time, others just get lucky and overhear pieces of regional lore and rumors that sometimes end up becoming relevant in their adventures. Thieves can roll Thievery to try to decipher the general meaning of non-magical text in any language (including dead languages and basic codes). If the roll does not succeed, the thief may not try to read that particular text again until they reach a higher level of experience.

A note on non-thieves trying to hide, sneak around and steal stuff:

I am of the opinion that non-thieves should be able to attempt most of the things that thieves can do, but their chance of success should be much lower. For most skills, I would consider giving non-thieves around a 10% chance and only one attempt (in the case of picking locks and disarming traps), and calling for a saving throw of some kind if there's a chance of springing a trap or getting caught stealing. Most importantly, always remember that the thief's abilities are specialized skills and that you should try to call for rolls or checks as seldom as possible. Pickpocketing or sneaking past a sleeping guard, for example, should be relatively easy for most adventurers, regardless of their class, and should at most require a dexterity check if the guard is an exceptionally light sleeper. Only call for Thievery rolls when a character attempts something that a competent thief would find challenging. Wrapping up, here are a few examples of situations where I would say a thief skill is being used:

Hiding in shadows (this one's a bit silly, but just imagine that the black bag at the beginning is a cloak):

Climbing almost sheer surfaces:

Moving silently (relevant part starts at around 4:44):

Knowing many languages (ok, this last one's mostly a joke):

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