Friday, May 9, 2014

Give the Thief Some Respect.

You see it over and over again "Thieves are too weak", "Thieves ruin the play dynamic","Thieves ruin the way the rules are played"... which all ignore the role thieves have played in history, literature, and legend.

Some Thieves: Ali-Baba, Sinbad, Fafhard, Grey Mouser, Bilbo, The Artful Dodger, Fran├žois Villon, and thousands to grace the pages of The Police Gazette.

The thief has a role defined by reality, history, and legend those that ridicule it's inclusion in RPGs are choosing to ignore a huge swath of our culture.

I saw this this morning "All you need to play a thief is caution, luck, and hit points"...really? So all you need to be a b;blacksmith is a hammer and anvil right? A sword and a suit of mail make you a warrior?  Odd those jobs take years of training, so does being a professional thief. Anyone depending on HP to be a successful thief just isn't doing it right.

"The odds of success are too low" ... really what are the odds of you not getting your hands chopped off when you stick them into demon idol on the 4th level of the howling tower of madness?  "Thief skills change the nature of the game because because anyone should be able to hide, sneak, search for traps..". Yup, anyone can hide, sneak, or search for traps the thief just does it like a pro. D&D has a generic "sneaking" mechanic built into encounter resolution: the surprise check. Sneaking past a guard, slipping out of an ogre's cave unnoticed,... surprise check. If surprise favors you your act works, you are not required to fight if your foe is surprised... they might not have seen you yet. The thief skills in this regard are on top of that making a "meager" 15 or 20 percent a pretty sweet advantage. With caution and reason anyone can detect a trap and possibly disarm a trap which makes the thieves ability to do it quickly with less risk (as expressed by the thieves skills) pretty cool. Just because a thief is good at something or the bonus doesn't look large doesn't mean it's weak. the criticisms of low level effectiveness are silly: first level fighters are pretty unimpressive fighters, MU's have one spell, clerics don't even have a spell at 1st level in many versions of D&D. Likewise detail and enhanced capacity don't exclude other from attempting a task.

"Thieves ruin the party dynamic and unity, they introduce strife." Thieves disrupt a game when played by jerks, just as fighters, clerics, and magic-users played by jerks ruin the game. Anyone grabbing too much DM "camera-time" to the detriment of everyone else is being a jerk.

 "What's a thief doing in a fight anyway?" ... indeed, what's a priest doing in a fight, what's a scholar doing in a fight, what's a knight doing in a fight in the sewers beneath a city... any character in the wrong fight at the wrong time shouldn't be in a fight.

Thieves are real, thieves are a part of our history,literature, and legend. Thieves have a place at the game table.


  1. Since I seemed to have said some of the things that set this off:

    "All you need to play a thief is caution, luck, and hit points" - yeah, I'll stand by that. You have to suck up some pain if you don't have a thief, but you can obviate the need for one sometimes via caution, suck up the effects of missing a trap with HP, and avoid the effects of one with good saving throws. If you have to adventure without a thief, caution, HP, and Saving Throws will get you really far.

    "The odds of success are too low" - yes, they are, in AD&D at least. In most of the OSR clones I've seen. You get something like a 70-80% failure rate on your basic job. It just seems like there is something missing there - you just aren't so good at making the rolls you are brought along to make. I'd personally be happier with a system that gave you a much better base chance of success, and then modified it up and down for the task. I play with a system that does that, and while people can get by without thieves (and they do) they are always better off for having one. One reason is the fact that in general the thief will find a trap, remove a trap, or unlock a door - if it's not especially difficult. My experience of thieves in DnD based systems is that you don't have very good odds of doing your own job. I'm sure if more people ran it the way you describe - that my fighter can talk about how he's picking the lock or disarming the trap but the thief gets some extra margin of success - it would be sweet to get 15-20% on top. But I haven't yet played in a DnD based game where that was true - where I could try to pick the lock but the thief does it better, or I could disarm the trap but the thief does it better. I've played in plenty where you can't succeed at all but the thief can try, and he's got a 20% chance.

    Look, I like thieves. I'm sure they can be run, and I'm sure people can do a good job with them. We played plenty of games with them back in the day. We've played plenty of games without them in Tenkar's game, too. What I was saying was, you can have a party without either a thief or a cleric and still get by pretty well, if you've got something that can make up for the lack. I think that's much less true of the magic-user and fighter.

    Take that as a "war on thieves" comment if you like, but I think it's true.

    1. Peter I don't think it's a war of thieves comment.

  2. A 30% chance of success is the same exact chance as a 2nd level fighter (in AD&D) hitting someone in chain, It's the chance of a 4th level fighter hitting someone in plate.. I don't recall anyone saying fighters were unplayable because of the odds.
    Thieving skills are like having a saving throw on top of a saving throw even if the DM runs a campaign mechanically and only lets folks disarm traps with a die roll. Since when was two saving throws instead of one bad?
    Negotiating success with clever action is more successful than depending on dice rolls and mechanics.

    High HP do not replace clever play.

    1. I never said high HP replace clever play. Playing cleverly or not is a tangent.

      And a 2nd level fighter gets multiple swipes against a foe, who equally has trouble hitting him back. How many tries do you get at a lock or trap? You're implying two here - one try, and then one try with your thief skills. I'm saying I've yet to play in a game (or run one) using a DnD based system that gave thieves two tries. Or anyone except a thief one try for anything except opening doors. And if they do, what is that roll, mechanically? If you need to add one, fine, I'm all for "everyone gets a roll of X, thieves get that and then a second try with their listed skill rolls" but even so, that's something that isn't baseline written into the system. I've heard that it's implied, but I grew up in a game that already have thieves, and that they had those skills and they were one try.

      And my point, ultimately, is this - if you've got a limited pool of players and you don't have a thief, what do you do? Lacking a hired thief, you depend on clever play, HP, and Saving Throws. Lacking a cleric, you depend on killing undead direction and using healing potions. In both cases, having the thief or the cleric is better. I said that in my comment on Tenkar's post. We're very happy to have a cleric along with our healing potions. We'd be happy with a thief. But there is a way around not having them.

    2. A trap must be discovered, and disarmed... two rolls, if you want to settle for just using rolls to resolve the situation.
      if any player can blunder through traps a thief can blunder through traps and has their thieving skills... how is that not 2 attempts?
      There's really no limit on how many times you can attempt detect a trap or disarm one as long as you are not tripping it that I've ever noted. Picking locks may or may not have a requirement of one try only but you can still get through a locked door by bashing it open, knocking on it and getting the folks on the other side to open it, using a crowbar, or an axe (among other solutions), thieves have a chance of getting through quietly.

      Why is the only solution to undead turning or destroying them? There are other options.

      You can get around having any core class in a campaign. no class is really a must have. You can have all fighters, all magic-users, all thieves or all clerics if a group wanted to do so and play by that limitation. There is a way around the imagined "need" for any class: clever play.

    3. "A trap must be discovered, and disarmed... two rolls, if you want to settle for just using rolls to resolve the situation."

      I'd like to stick to mechanics, yes, because can't everyone at the table use clever play to try to solve things non-mechanically? Arguing the thief skill rolls are low is a mechanical argument, arguing you shouldn't need to roll them is something that equally argues for all classes have a chance.

      One try - AD&D is extremely specific on this. I don't have time to check every other system, although S&W doesn't specify. Being able to try over and over again would be a huge help, because then level buy you speed, not a better one-shot chance. And I didn't mean to suggest blundering as an option, nor did I think you meant "blunder, then try thief skills" was your two tries, either. HP and Saving Throws, clearly, and for when being careful isn't enough, and that applies even if you have thief skills, as you say.

      Undead - why only turn or destroy? Because I didn't list every single possibility. Just two ways you can use to deal with them. I didn't list "wait for natural healing" to replace healing spells or "roll better" to replace Bless, either. Come on, JD. Don't make me spell out every single possible thing you can do in all cases and pounce on me where I don't.

      "There is a way around the imagined "need" for any class: clever play."

      Yes, that's what I was saying the whole time. I just outlined some of the elements that also help to act as replacements when you don't have the skillset you need for the missing class. If you don't agree, please bring a thief to Tenkar's B-Team sessions. I'd like to have one with us, for all of poison needles I expect Bloch put into his dungeon.

  3. I've never bought the argument that "all characters" should have thief skills. Does anybody seriously believe that ALL modern soldiers, clergymen, and scientists can pick locks, pick pockets, and disarm traps? I sure don't - I would say VERY FEW could do it. So why in the world should their pseudo-medieval counterparts have those skills? Fighters have to train with arms, clerics have to study scriptures, and magic-users have to learn spells. They don't have the free time to just "pick up" a lot of irrelevant thieving skills. That's why you NEED someone whose JOB it is to learn those skills - a criminal, or in other words, a thief!

  4. I'll let everyone try thiefly acts but the truth is if not trained sometimes they are simply going to fail.

  5. As i had not had a thief played in 20 years i amended using castles and crusades version - all the best thief books even gord the rogue theives fight - just more swashbuckling than brute force. I have had lots of theives play since then some dislike how ineffective in fights still. Clerics at high level spend more time casting than fighting. Ive had to amend my style a bit to let have more back stab chances as i was very fearful of ability that really isnt as bad as a well armed fighter with multiple attacks especially if you have critical hirs - i agree literary prescent in genre but not sure if bx or adnd did well - as i scrapped xp i had to make more equal to other classes rather than assume they will be 1.5 levels better off

    1. A major use of a thief is avoiding the need for a fight or a fair fight. If a thief is standing there and being observed at the start of a fight that's not good. Thieves should be sttalking up on the opponents flank or rear ready to block retreats, block refinforcements, and bump off unwary sttraggglers. A thief should also load up on whatever ranged weapons they can to make use of dex advantage and because their skills allow thhem to reach firing points others can't.
      I've sen many fights turned by a snipers, darts from the shadows, a commando dropping from the wall over a door, a hand in the darkness slamming a door shut, flaks of oil being thrown into the rear of an enemy force.
      One lf the greatest advantages of a thief at low levels is mobility.

  6. Completely agree.

    As a matter of fact, thieves are about the only original thing in D&D that makes it different from adapted Chainmail rules.

    They show how Gygax and others intended the direction of game mechanics to evolve.