Monday, January 16, 2012

B/X - Retooled Thief

I really don’t care for the Thief in B/X, as written.  There are both some fundamental weaknesses and vague rules that make a Thief difficult to play and very challenging to keep alive.  For one thing, the Thief has an awful d4 for hit points.  This make the Thief highly likely to die from the first blow of any kind struck upon him.  Yet, the Thief is expected to “mix it up” a bit and take chances that Magic Users aren’t expected to take. 
And do you know that your 1st level Thief in B/X has a 1% chance of “Finding” and subsequently “Removing” a trap?  Yup, 1%.  The “Find and Remove Traps” ability score is 10% and you need to roll at or under 10% twice in succession to both find and remove the same trap.  So the end result is a 1% chance!  In my opinion, Thief skills are too poor at low levels.  Finally, I don’t feel that backstabbing is well explained in B/X, so I attempt below to improve that.
In summary, my goal is a Thief for B/X that is a little tougher, with slightly better abilities, and is simpler to play.  Let me know how I did!
PS: Your 1st level Thief using my Thief Skill chart now has a robust 6.25% chance of Finding and then Removing a trap instead of 1%!
THIEF
The Thief rolls a d5 for hit points, making him a little tougher than a Magic User in surviving a combat blow.  Additionally, the Thief is an exceptionally lucky class and gains a Luck Point (LP).  The LP can be used once per level to force either a DM reroll or a player reroll for any To Hit, Damage, Saving roll, or Thief Skill roll.  If an LP is used once, it cannot be used again until a level is gained.  Furthermore, the Thief is stuck with the second roll, even if it’s worse than the first.
Thief Skills are now treated similarly to a saving roll, requiring to roll a certain score or higher on a d20 for success.  This will undoubtedly produce more fun at the gaming table, since it’s more satisfying to achieve success from a high roll on the dice! 
Thief Skill Table- Notes:
·    The Thief must roll equal to or higher than the number shown on a d20 for success.
·    DEX bonuses now give the Thief more proficiency at skills, subtracting from the number required for success (e.g., a 1st level Thief with DEX of 16 subtracts 2 from his requirement; thus he will Move Silently on a 14 or higher).  The DEX bonus applies to all skills except Hear Noise.
·    Regardless of Thief level and DEX bonus, a “1” is always a failure.
·    “Position for Backstab” is my attempt to create mechanical rules for if/when the Thief can attempt a backstab.  The listed chance on the table assumes that the Thief’s “Target” is either (a) engaged in melee with someone other than the Thief, (b) engaged in melee with the Thief and one or more additional PCs and is outnumbered, or (c) is otherwise distracted.  Against an opponent not in melee or distracted, impose a penalty of -3.  If a thief succeeds at his roll, he gets to attack with backstab in the same round.  If a thief fails his roll, he is noticed and doesn't get to backstab (but still gets to attack).  Note: if a Thief is currently engaged in 1-on-1 melee with a different foe, he can’t simply sneak off and backstab someone else!  This will open him up to an attack from his current opponent.
Following is the Thief Skill table (also usable by Half-Orcs):
Level
Open Locks
Find or Remove Traps
Pick Pockets
Move Silently
Climb Sheer Surfaces
Hide in Shadows
Hear Noise
Position for Backstab
1
16
16
16
16
6
16
14
16
2
15
15
15
15
6
15
14
15
3
14
14
14
14
5
14
11
14
4
13
13
13
13
5
13
11
13
5
12
12
12
12
4
12
11
12
6
11
11
11
11
4
11
11
11
7
10
10
10
10
3
10
8
10
8
9
9
9
9
3
9
8
9
9
8
8
8
8
2
8
8
8
10
7
7
7
7
2
7
8
7
11
6
6
6
6
2
6
5
6
12
5
5
5
5
2
5
5
5
13
4
4
4
4
2
4
5
4
14
3
3
3
3
2
3
5
3

5 comments:

  1. I always like reading new takes on the thief. Here are a few comments.

    One luck point per level seems too stingy, especially since it is not guaranteed to help. I guess this depends on the particular campaign though. If I was going to use this mechanic, I would probably do one per session.

    I probably wouldn't use a non-standard die for hit dice. Just bump it up to d6. Though I can understand wanting to distinguish your thief from the 3E rogue.

    Interesting idea making backstab an ability. Maybe too abstract for me, but it's unique.

    I would recommend reading Philotomy's article on Thieves & Thief Skills if you have not. I think people now make thieves roll for many actions that would be given assumed success originally, unless there are difficult circumstances. Robert Fisher's On thief skills in classic D&D is also a good read.

    There was a recent thread about using thieves on the OD&D Discussion forums which has some good commentary (including some useful posts by Mike Mornard).

    And my own recent take on the thief, which has some other references that you might be interested in.

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  2. Also, how are you going to handle non-thieves attempting thiefly tasks, such as finding and removing traps? I think that's the problem many people have with thieves: they discourage other classes from trying certain kinds of things.

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  3. Brendan - sorry for the delay in responding. But for some reason I'm having a really hard time navigating around your site (the screen freezes up a lot... maybe it's a Blogger quirk), and I wanted to read your thief proposal. I finally got to read it this morning and it looks very cool. I really like it.

    Regarding the stinginess of the 1 LP per level, I guess I viewed it as a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. So thieves are like cats... 9 lives. To me, a LP can be very useful. If you get eviscerated by the orc's falchion - tell the DM to re-roll it! It could save the thief's life. With that being said, maybe there is a way to make it more powerful since it only happens once per level. Perhaps the rule could be "Use a Luck Point to turn any hit into a miss or any failed save into a successful save." That way, you KNOW it will work. I'd rather do that than grant them more often.

    Regarding the D6 idea: Brendan - I'm looking for some excuse to use the Gamescience D5!! :) I'll keep it at d5 for my houserules, but you're right - it could be a d6 just as easily. The other reason is that I wanted thieves to be not quite as tough as clerics.

    Yeah, the backstab is a bit abstract. I just put it in there to give the thief a more definable skill. I agree with you about making people roll for things nowadays. In our games, we're pretty liberal with allowing thieves to get into backstab position. Typically, no roll is required if I think the circumstances warrant it. But some players like to know their odds.

    I don't need non-thieves doing thief work. Just my own two cents. I don't have Fighters healing wounds or Thieves casting magic missiles. To me, if you don't have a thief you either (a) bash open the treasure chest, or (b) haul it back to town.

    As I said, though, I really like your Thief writeup and I would definitely enjoy playing it. And I think LOTFP has great ideas with the Specialist. Philotomy's ideas around not using the thief class is cool too.

    In a nutshell - lots of good ways to play these suckers. :)

    Thanks for the comments!

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  4. Oh, that's unfortunate to hear that my blog is slow. I know that blogger has been having some issues lately, so perhaps that's the problem. Maybe I should remove some of the widgets to speed things up.

    Thanks for the kind words about my thief!

    I actually kind of like the abstraction behind the "position for backstab" ability, though, like the other thief abilities, I would probably allow them to make the check automatically given well-described rationale. But for "in the thick of battle" chance for extra damage, I like it.

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  5. Brendan - I think it's probably a general Blogger thing. A lot of the blogs have been a bit squirrely lately.

    I like your "in the thick of battle" way of looking at the backstab roll.

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