Thief Hit Dice

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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