Monday, 19 April 2010

Thiefless D&D

(being some musings on simple universal skills for a D&D world devoid of the Thief class)

There's a school of thought within the OSR that holds that all D&D characters are rogues, and that the introduction of the Thief class was the beginning of the slippery slope to class 'role protection', and ultimately to the detriment of the game. OK, then. Why not gank the thief archetype and divvy up his stuff (notably thiefly skills) up among the remaining classes?

Here are my half-formed thoughts on the matter:

Standard Dungeoneering Skills (retained as is)
Hear Noise1 in 6
Find Traps1(+Int) in 6
Find Secret Doors1(+Int) in 6
Open Doors2(+Str) in 6
Surprise2 in 6

New Universal Skills

Pick Pockets0 in 6
Move Silently0 in 6
Hide in Shadows0 in 6
Pick Locks0 in 6
Remove Traps0 in 6

All characters add +1 in 6 chance to any two of these skills at each level gained.

Above 5 in 6 you have the "5+1, 5+2..." house rule (note: I'm afraid the originator of this escapes me, but the rule basically allowed a 2nd roll at "+n in 6" if the first die came up a 6). Possible skill level maxes out at 5+5 (~97% success rate). There are no sure things in the dungeon...

They keep their special racial rules.
DorfsDetect Slopes/New Construction/etc2 in 6
RatlingsHide in Woodlands5 in 6
ElvesHear and Sniff Secret Door+1 in 6

Why have I bothered with this? Well, it lets your Fafhrd or Grey Mouser types mcgyver things, root through other peoples' pockets and lurk in the shadows all noir-like without the players and DM having to resort to games of "mother may I". Conan and Kull get to sneak up on the villain, rather than blundering about like heavy-footed fools. Gord? He's a fighter type in Elvish Chain who uses Akrasia's weapon schools house rule. ;)

Backstab? Thanks to your newfound ghost-footed 1337 ninja sneaking skills you probably have surprise. Make the first hit count!

Thoughts? Objections? Contempt for my mechanics fetishism in a player-skill game?

(picture credit: Jollyjack)


  1. I think this is good idea, and could help emulation of certain genres. Could it be a slippery slope, though? Might there be other common adventuring skills? I'm not complaining, just musing aloud--er, a-web.

  2. I think this is a good, workable solution. The subject is something I've been working on off and on as I prepare for my upcoming campaign. Trey definitely has a point about other skills. Pretty much anything non-social (I hate the idea of checks for "social skills,") could be folded into this.

  3. Good article.

    I like the idea quite a bit but as I was complaining about the same issue a few days ago I guess great minds run in the same channel.

    For those of us using stuff like Labyrinth Lord though (where a bonus can go to +3) I wonder of a d10 system (based of AD&D 2e) or other system might be better though

  4. @5stonegames - Limiting the Ability Score bonus on Skill checks to 1 or 2, may be a workable solution.

  5. Not bad James. Given the easy compatibility and all I am actually thinking of switching to Swords and Wizardry anyway so the "problem" may resolve itself.

    My published old school stuff (if/when that happens) otoh will be generic anyway as I had planned.

  6. Reminiscent of Lamentations of the Flame Princess WFRP?

  7. I prefer to think that everyone succeeds if it's easy, fails if it's impossible, and has a 50-50 if the result is in question. Want your Fighter to sneak past wearing a bunch of metal armor? Fail. What if he takes off his armor and pack? 3 in 6 buddy. What if the others distract the guard, and the Fighter tries to slip past wearing no armor or pack? Sounds good to me, success.

    That said, Thief has special abilities nobody else has. His Climb Walls check is his chance to somehow pick his way up a brick wall or slimy cliffside or in high wind or carrying a heavy load. His Hide in Shadows lets him stand unnoticed in shadows where other folks would need to stand behind a banner or basket or something. His Move Silently lets him sneak up to a cat and CATSTAB IT, for example. Read Languages lets him decipher treasure maps.

    This is problematic when we look at other classes getting a Hear Noise check, or a chance to detect an invisible (and presumably this works for Hide in Shadows) creature in 1E DMG.

    I think the Thief represents a specialist who doesn't fight as well but has a suite of other cool skills. He fills a niche in dungeoneering that the Fighter / M-U / Cleric combo doesn't. Admittedly you could have your M-U cast Invisibility on the Fighter, and the Cleric could cast Silence on him. The M-U could Spider Climb or Levitate. Looked at that way, there isn't a reason to have other classes because any class skill could just be a M-U or Cleric spell.


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