Thief

Kilgore on March 21st, 2010

Now that we’ve more or less settled (for now at least) on our D12 thief skills, I’m going to post our success rates for non-thieves attempting many of the same tasks. Each of these is a normal x-in-6 chance similar to the standard hear noise check. I’m actually pulling them straight from the d6-based White Box Thievery I posted last spring, though I’m not going to allow non-thief characters to remove traps, only find them.

Here they are, with some modifiers and notes:

Activity Find Traps Pick Pockets Sneak Quietly Climb Walls Hide Hear Noise
Chance for success on 1d6

1

1

1

4

1

1

Find Traps: Dwarves +1, Halflings +1 for snares and traps in woodland settings. This only applies to non-magical traps. A roll of 6 may indicate that the trap has been accidentally sprung.

Pick Pockets: Half-orcs -1. + or – 1 for every three levels the intended victim is above or below the picker’s level. A roll of 6 may indicate that the attempt has been noticed.

Sneak Quietly: Elves and Halflings +1 when in non-metal armor.

Climb Walls: Dwarves -1, Gnomes and Halflings -2. This chance for success applies to walls with sufficient hand- and foot-holds; smooth stone or masonry gives a -2 modifier (at least). A roll of 6 may mean that a fall from near the top has taken place.

Hide: Elves and Halflings +1 in woodlands. Someone already under observation cannot successfully hide.

Hear Noise is the standard ability as described in the rules.

Obviously these all follow, with the exception of climbing walls, the standard 1-in-6 chance that we all know and love. I happen to really like 1-in-6 for difficult tasks, 2-in-6 for hard tasks, 3-in-6 for simple tasks, and 4-in-6 for easy tasks. So x-in-6 is basically the D&D universal task system, and a look around the old rules will show that, with various tweaks here and there, it always has been.

One thing I’m considering is: When a 1-in-6 chance gets a -1 modifier (when a half-orc attempts to pick a pocket, for instance) instead of becoming 0-in-6 the chance for success becomes 1-in-12. It just goes with the “let PCs try anything they want” vibe I go for.

Here is a little more copied from my White Box Thievery rules that will probably be pasted as-is into our growing homebrew Labyrinth Lord rulebook:

Situational bonuses and penalties will, of course, apply as well. An inattentive sentry may give a +2 bonus to characters attempting to sneak past, while a scroll tucked into an inner pocket may give a -1 penalty to a pick pockets attempt. Similarly, the game master may simply rule on certain actions as warranted. A smooth and polished iron tower, for instance, may be declared un-climbable without assistance, while a wall overgrown with vines may not require a climbing roll at all. An attempt to hide in the plain sight of a squad of orcs which have already spotted the PC will certainly fail, but an attempt to hear a loudly snoring giant may always succeed.

Game masters may list common modifiers appropriate for his or her campaign ahead of time, but, whether or not this is done, on-the-fly rulings during play should be expected. These skills, by their very nature, are apt to be used for unusual and unforeseen purposes.

By clearly establishing baseline chances of success for all adventurers, claims that thief skills somehow restrict such activity to thief-specialized characters should be minimized. Everyone will know that their cleric (or fighter or magic-user) can try to pick someone’s pocket or climb a wall, just as everyone already knows that their character can listen for noise or search for a secret door whatever their class.

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Kilgore on March 20th, 2010

For those that are interested, here are the by-the-book Labyrinth Lord thief skills calculated for d12 checks instead of percentile dice. This was made simply by taking the percentage value and multiplying by 12, rounding x.5 up to the next d12 number.

Lvl Locks Traps Pockets Move Climb Hide Hear
1 2 2 3 3 10 2 4
2 3 2 3 3 11 2 4
3 3 2 4 4 11 2 6
4 4 3 4 4 11 3 6
5 4 4 5 5 11 4 6
6 5 5 5 5 11 4 8
7 7 6 6 6 11 6 8
8 8 8 8 8 11 7 8
9 9 9 9 9 11 8 8
10 10 10 10 10 12 9 10
11 11 11 11 11 12 10 10
12 12 11 13 11 12 11 10
13 12 12 14 12 12 12 10
14 12 12 15 12 12 12 10

Dwarf: Locks +1, Traps +1, Climb -1
Elf: Locks -1, Pockets +1, Move+1, Hide +1, Hear +1
Gnome: Locks +1, Traps +1, Move +1, Climb -2, Hide +1
Halfling: Locks +1, Traps +1, Pockets +1, Move +1, Climb -2, Hide +1
Half-Elf: Pockets +1, Hide +1
Half-Orc: Locks +1, Traps +1, Pockets -1, Climb +1

The LL thief table only goes to level 14 despite the game taking classes up to level 20.

Compare these to the higher low level numbers of my game’s thief.

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Kilgore on March 18th, 2010

Further reflection, feedback from readers, and a lot of discussion with my son have led me to make some changes to our D12 thief skill table. What we’ve essentially done is get the 12th level numbers to match up with the 12th level numbers in the source (Labyrinth Lord). I’ve pretty much kept my higher starting rates, though, as I’ve always felt that the numbers were too low.

Locks Traps Pockets Move Climb Hide Hear Read Cast Appraise
1 4 3 4 3 9 3 3 5
2 5 4 5 4 9 3 4 6
3 5 5 5 4 10 4 4 3 6
4 6 5 6 5 10 4 5 4 7
5 6 6 6 5 10 5 5 4 7
6 7 7 7 6 11 5 6 5 3 8
7 7 7 7 7 11 6 6 5 4 9
8 8 8 8 8 12 7 7 6 5 9
9 9 9 9 9 12 8 8 7 6 10
10 10 9 10 10 13 9 9 8 7 10
11 10 10 11 10 13 10 10 9 8 11
12 11 11 12 11 14 11 11 10 9 12


My son sat with me and we worked these over until we were both happy. The numbers are, in most cases, more or less similar to the official LL numbers starting around level 8 or 9.

I also upped the cast spells from scroll numbers some, though we’re ruling that the scroll must first be read (read magic is at read languages -2 rate) to know what it is. Casting from scrolls number is -1 per level of the spell, so a 6th-level thief trying to cast a first-level spell would need to roll a 2 or less on d12.

We also added an “appraise items of value” skill, something we already had but had not put on the table.

In my games, the thief is much more than a lock-picking, trap-finding specialist. He’s a lot more in the vein of the “rogue” of later editions, though his combat skills are not anything like those super-ninja versions. Now that I’ve got the higher-level thief skills back to where they originally were, I’m going to have to revisit the thief advancement numbers in our new XP system. I thought I had all the classes locked down, but this is all still in flux. (I hope to post on our advancement system next week if I can get multi-classing finalized.)

Thanks for the feedback so far and I’ll welcome more.

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Kilgore on March 17th, 2010

UPDATE: We have modified our table to more closely reflect the by-the-book numbers at higher levels.

One of the things we’re doing for our Labyrinth Lord-based homebrew game is to convert the thief skills over to a d12 roll-under mechanic from the standard percentile system. I used a d6-based scheme for my White Box Thievery system, but I prefer d12 here because we’ve got more potential levels to worry about and the finer progression of the d12 allows us to scale up more skills per level.

Currently, we’re increasing four skills per level advance. Also, the starting rates of most skills are better than 1st level by the book, but the progression is slower in most cases, meaning the thief is better in the earlier levels but slowly falls behind.


Pick Locks Find or Remove Traps Pick Pockets Move Silently Climb Walls Hide in Shadows Hear Noise Read Lang Cast Scroll Spells
1 4 3 4 3 9 3 3
2 4 4 5 4 9 3 4
3 5 4 5 4 10 4 4 3
4 5 5 6 5 10 4 5 3
5 6 5 6 5 11 5 5 4
6 6 5 7 6 11 5 6 4 3
7 7 6 7 6 11 6 6 5 3
8 7 6 8 6 12 6 7 5 4
9 8 7 8 7 12 6 7 6 4
10 8 7 9 7 12 7 8 6 5
11 9 8 9 8 12 7 8 7 5
12 9 8 10 8 13 8 8 7 6

In play, we will probably make use of a lot of modifiers depending upon situation. We will also specify the standard chances of non-thief characters (on d6) when attempting these things, though not all of them will be possible for non-thieves.

Magical languages can be read at half the chance (round down) of reading normal languages.

Casting spells from scrolls applies to magic-user and illusionist scrolls and the spell level is deducted from the chance to cast. Failure by rolling triple the target number or greater indicates that the spell has been erased from the scroll, otherwise failure simply means that it did not trigger and can be tried again. Failure by rolling a 12 probably indicates catastrophic and spectacular failure, however.

This has not been used in play yet, so feedback would be particularly welcome at this point.

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Kilgore on September 11th, 2009

I’ve noted before that I grant thieves six-sided hit dice in my Labyrinth Lord game rather than a d4. As I stated, I believe that thieves are generally tougher than magic-users but maybe not as tough as clerics. The problem arises because in LL clerics have d6 hit dice and magic-users have d4. There’s no simple middle ground as there is in AD&D where clerics have d8 hit dice and the d6 splits the difference. As I believe that most thieves are adventurers who have ignored advanced combat techniques for some specialized skills rather than normal men who have learned some technical crafts, I give them d6 hit dice.

Now, I find myself making another house rule to benefit the thief class.

The revised Labyrinth Lord rules have made a number of adjustments to armor. The most significant of these, in my opinion, is shift of leather armor to AC 8 from AC 7. Though maybe not a big deal to other classes, this is a major issue for thieves, who “cannot wear armor heavier than leather” and cannot use shields. Suddenly, every thief wearing leather armor is more than 10% easier to hit, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. High dexterity, magic items, whatever…any thief wearing leather armor (which is about 95% of them in my experience) lost half of their armor protection in combat.

So I’m going to allow thieves to wear studded leather armor. Studded also lost an AC point in the revision, and now grants base AC of 7, the same as pre-revision leather armor. Problem solved.

Honestly, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of the thief class and am not thrilled about constantly tweaking things for them. If their abilities were better at lower levels, I’d probably resist the temptation. But I also don’t want their biggest contribution to be a pick locks or remove traps roll. I see them as adventurers, not specialists.

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Kilgore on July 29th, 2009

As I noted recently in my Labyrinth Lord House Rules, I’ve decided to give thieves a d6 for hit dice rather than the d4 specified by LL and B/X D&D. This doesn’t seem to be an uncommon ruling, though I didn’t arrive at it lightly.

In fact, I didn’t decide one way or the other until my son’s main character, a thief originally generated in Second Edition AD&D but recently ported over to Labyrinth Lord, earned a new level. At that point we needed to know which die he’d roll for additional hit points, and I went with the six-sider.

D4 or not D4?

D4 or not D4?

Over at B/X Blackrazor, JB is working up a “B/X Companion” to take the place of a follow-up to the 1981 sets that was never produced. As B/X has provisions for levels 1 through 14, and I play Labyrinth Lord which goes to level 20, I’ve been keeping an eye on his progress for some good ideas to possibly incorporate into my LL game should any PCs advance to such stupendously high levels.

A recent post, B/X Thieves: Epitome of Heroic Adventurer, talks at length about thieves and the justification for their d4 hit dice. He makes a lot of great points, and I really can’t bring myself to argue too strongly against his position, but I really don’t feel that d4 is appropriate for thieves.

Hit points are an abstract measure of “toughness”, more or less, and thieves, of course, aren’t nearly as tough as fighters. Are they as tough as clerics? Possibly, though you’ll probably get a wide range of answers depending on where each players rates the cleric on the priest — holy warrior scale. I tend to rate clerics closer to holy warriors, myself, and think that maybe they are probably a little tougher than thieves, too. In AD&D, there wasn’t a problem. Fighters had d10 hit dice, clerics d8, and thieves d6. All was right in the world.

In B/X (and Labyrinth Lord), however, there is a problem because fighters have d8 and clerics have d6. I happen to think this is a better scale, for what it’s worth, but it does leave the poor thief needing to share hit dice with either the cleric (which I think probably isn’t right) or the magic-user (which I think certainly and positively isn’t right).

Maybe d5 hit dice for the thief? Or d4+2 at first level and d4 for each level thereafter? How about d6 at odd-numbered levels and d4 at even-numbered levels?

Kilgore's battered Red Six

Kilgore's battered Red Six

I ran through a number of possibilities, including leaving it at d4 because that’s the way it’s written, but finally went with d6. Part of the reason was it’s just plain simple.

Though I don’t see thieves as the ninja-commandos that they have morphed into over time, I also don’t see adventuring thieves as just regular guys with a couple special skills. Sure, they aren’t likely to be terribly skilled in combat compared to the classes that have combat as a major part of their skill set, but neither are they likely to be as weak as magic-users, for whom combat is usually an afterthought. I think the d6 thief, capable of holding his own in a fight against most opponents, at least for a little while, better matches up with the swords and sorcery feel that I go for in my games most often.

In short, if they are to be a separate adventuring class, I think thieves should be more like fighters who have given up advanced combat training and conditioning for skills in sneaking and skulduggery, not like normal men who have picked up some stealthy specialist skills.

I’ve considered making a few weapons restrictions for thieves, who have none in B/X or Labyrinth Lord.

I continue to like the White Box Thief system I came up with to use with original edition games, but I don’t think it’s really right for Labyrinth Lord. Also, all of this might be moot for me once Advanced Edition Characters is published. We’ll see.

Until then, my thieves have d6.

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Here’s an interesting bit from William Dear’s account of his 1979 game of Dungeons & Dragons as related in his 1984 book The Dungeon Master. While investigating the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III from Michigan State University, Dear played a session in order to better understand Egbert, who was a player.

Dear hired a student to DM to run the session. The DM brought another player whose PC was a fighter/thief named “Dan.” Dear himself played a magic-user named “Tor.” Early in the game, the two PCs were beset with beggars and Dan threw a gold piece down the street to draw some of them away.

What happened next was probably not noteworthy at the time but is interesting today.

“Some of the beggars run away and fight over the gold piece,” said the dungeon master. “The rest are still in your way. While this is happening, you hear a commotion coming from down the street. A man carrying a box is being chased by several guards. What do you do now?”

“We duck into the tavern,” said Dan.

“It’s several blocks away,” said the dungeon master.

“I’m interested in the box,” Tor/I said. “I’d like to take it.”

“You’re not a thief, are you?” asked Dan.

“I’m an adventurer. I want to know what’s in the box.”

This simple exchange highlights one of the problems that many have with a dedicated thief class in D&D. A player with a non-thief PC mentions wanting to get hold of an item in someone else’s possession, and another player, who happens to be playing a thief PC, immediately seems to think this is a bit out of line. Obviously, had this game taken place before the introduction of the thief class in Supplement I: Greyhawk, no one would have thought twice about a PC magic-user stepping over the line into “thief territory” because there was no “thief territory.”

I believe that later versions of the game, with more clearly-defined roles for characters (up to and including the controller/defender/leader/striker craziness in 4e) makes this an even easier trap to fall into. Earlier versions and clones of those versions, being much more open because so much less is codified, suffer less because it’s more up to play style than rules.

But remember that this book was published in 1984 and relates a game session that took place in 1979. Obviously, this is well before the contemporary discussions about the thief class began and even before most of the rules bloat took hold. As such, I think it’s a pretty good example that the thinking pointed out by many critics of the thief did, in fact, exist back in the day.

It also shows the proper response to such narrow-mindedness: “I’m an adventurer.”

Say it a dozen times every time you wonder if your character is the right class to try something. If, after reminding yourself that your PC exists to adventure, your idea seems like it just might work? Go for it.

Personally, I’m not really opposed to the thief itself and think there’s a place for thief-type skills in the game. My own solution for original edition gaming is to give all characters ratings for nearly all the actions we’ve come to associate with thieves, and to allow PCs to advance their skill in such activity by adopting thievery as an “add-on” to their class. Check Sneaking & Skulduggery: White Box Thievery out if interested. It’s currently in “2nd draft” status, but I will have a final version out soon.

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Kilgore on May 13th, 2009

The second issue of Knockspell Magazine is available at Lulu.com in both perfect-bound and saddle-stitch editions. See the Swords & Wizardry forum for the exciting table of contents.

Kilgore’s been waiting for this because of the focus on thieves in both Swords & Wizardry rulesets. I want to check out what’s included before making final decisions on my own White Box Thief.

Also available is the S&W Monster Book. Though this was created for the S&W Core rules, I picked one up. Conversion to White Box should be a snap, and I’m sure some of the nasty critters will find their way into my Labyrinth Lord game, as well.

Definitely check out these new offerings, as well as everything else at Mythmere’s store. Lots of good stuff.

(The White Box rules are undergoing corrections, so maybe hold off on those if you can. Hate to say it, but I know I’d be unhappy if I ordered something only to see a new and improved version released the following week.)

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