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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9 Responses to Thief Hit Dice

    • Kilgore says:

      🙂 I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the thief class, though I’m certainly not a hater. But if they’re going to be in the game and we’ve got to choose whether their hit dice are like that of clerics or like that of magic-users, I’ll go the cleric route.

      Though I must admit the d6 on odd levels and the d4 on even levels does sound sort of cool.

      • Timeshadows says:

        Agreed, but the mathematics of all of these fiddly contortions is rather minuscule in the ultimate evaluation.

        1d4+1 is statistically equal to d6 on average, and could be best simulated with an Averaging Die of wargaming usage.
        –Similarly 1d8 is not much different from 1d6+1, etcetera.

        In days of olde, I did force one player-created class to alternate HD, but found the effects in play to be nothing but a slight novelty.

        One’s Mileage May Vary, 😉

  1. ze bulette says:

    wow, thieves are d4 in LL/B/X? i guess i’ve been “house ruling” with d6 all along and hadn’t noticed! weird. needless to say, totally with you on this one.

    • Kilgore says:

      I make myself re-read the book because almost every time I find some little thing that I’ve been doing “wrong” because of other versions of the game.

      That’s also part of the reason I’ve pretty much decided to go all LL all the time. I don’t want to confuse myself more than I am already. (Sounds tough, but I’m sure I’d manage it somehow. LOL.)

  2. bat says:

    1d4+2 or 1d6 sound fair. If you have a couple of wizards and thieves in your party they will be dropping like flies at low levels. They can’t all try to hide behind each other.

  3. Borsuk says:

    Thieves MUST have 1d6 Hit Dice, for three reasons:

    1) The are a puny class in terms of power. Players must be more willing to play them. Parties must find them useful even if there are not 20 locked doors and 20 traps in a 20-room dungeon. Their chronic lack of power isn’t justified by only 250 XP less than a cleric (who gets more spells in LL) to reach level 2.
    2) Thieves in fantasy are though guys, who fight, not just lazy slackers. They should be inferior to fighters in a frontal battle, but not overly too much. A player who wants to play a bold thief, who bravely battles monsters from time to time, should have a chance to do it.
    3) Their abilites are ridicolous at low levels (the GM is actively encouraged to fudge to get them to do something). In my opinion they should all start at 40% or the like (add DEX% to them at first level, for example) and rolled by the thief to get some excitement. BTW, a pair of boots of elvenkind and move silently is useless, a knock spell and open locks is useless, a find traps spell and…

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