Friday 8 April 2011

Knocking the Thief on the Head, Again

"Hide in shadows? Find/remove traps? I should cocoa!"

This was partially inspired by the "naked warrior" idea that has been doing the rounds (hat-tip Aeons & Auguries and Mythmere), and partially by Taichara's FF Red Box Hack.

For a while now I've been desirous of killing off the thief in my Labyrinth Lord games. Sure, I like having sneaky, acquisitive reprobates lurking about the place as much as anyone. But having a dedicated sneaky trapspringer just treads on too many toes for my liking. It kind of leaves the demi-humans as walking detection arrays that *ping* potential hazards, but then sit back to let the skinny human with no obvious career skills deal with them.

In my ideal (game)world everyone from the fighter to the wizard to the grotty little halfling would be taking their turn climbing sheer walls, lunging from the shadows and/or trying to unpick that lock as the walls closed in. Sure, characters would still have their own specialities, but there wouldn't be a general attitude of "send in the canary" as soon as the party bumped into a location where Trap come up on the random stocking table.

That said the light-armed, Dex-focused combatant niche in D&D is a flavourful one. I'm sure you can name as many cool fantasy thieves as I can, and - let's be honest - in D&D terms any character played by Errol Flynn or Harrison Ford was a thief.

But (and here we leave the blahblah behind) why not get rid of that jobsworth-ish little "Can't do that. Niche-protection innit squire..." oik and make 'fighting in frilly shirt' a function of the fighter class?

Check out the thief write up from the Labyrinth Lord book:
"...thieves cannot wear armor heavier than leather, and they cannot use shields. They have a need for using diverse weapons, and are able to use any kind."
-- LL, p12
Once you get away from the strict "fighter = knight in shining armour" archetype that actually sounds pretty fighterly to me. Everything from Celtic warriors to Shaolin monks to Zulu warriors can fit into the light-armoured fighter archetype.

Knock off the thief and your 'man who pushes sharp objects into people' can suit up as either:

a) the classic heavily-armoured lumbering tank, or
b) a deft nuisance in light armour with a rapier and a winning smile.

The game maths seems (based on my back-of-an-envelope calculation) to stay roughly in balance if you take certain factors and edge cases into account:

Limit this to "while in light armour" only. Deft fencing moves and opportunistic shankings aren't really possible in 40-60lbs of ironmongery.

Armour Class Disparities
Level 1 str fighter = chainmail, shield, Dex 13 = AC 3
Level 1 dex fighter = leather, Dex 16 = AC 5

Level 10 str fighter = plate +2, shield +3, Dex 13 (+1) = AC -5
Level 10 dex fighter = leather +3, Dex 16 (+2) = AC 2

Note: these raw numbers are exclusive of any wacky gear the character may be packing (like cloaks of [displacement/the mountebank/shadows], rings of invisibility, oils of etherealness, etc.)

So over the course of his adventuring career Captain Tightpants has fallen a bit behind Sir Slashstab in the "Agh! Not the face!" stakes. How about allowing the light-armoured fighter a class-ability bonus to AC?

"I'm Not Wearing Any Pants!"-jutsu
Light armoured fighters gain a non-magical bonus to their AC based on their level. From whence does this bonus derive? Same place as the incidental music, the perfectly tailored costumes and the energy used to power all the wizard's FX. :p

1-3 +1
4-6 +2
7-9 +3
10+ +4

This per-level AC bonus idea was introduced to reduce the likelihood of the lightly-armoured Dex-fighter bogarting all the bracers of armour and cloaks/rings of protection the party might happen across. The implementation was ripped off partly from the BECMI Mystic, partly from the much-maligned 3E Swashbuckler class (which actually works pretty well in Classic D&D).

Mesh with the LotFP-derived thiefless dnd skill rules (2 dots/level (2/level after first if front-loaded demi-human), divided as the player sees fit), or just ability checks, for great simplification justice.

Read language/use scroll? 
Throw those in as another Xin6 skill option if you like. Possibly with a minimum level requirement. If it's good enough for Red Kane and the Grey Mouser...


Semi-New Labyrinth Lord class

(or Barbarian, or Shaolin Monk, or Action Archaeologist, or Warrior Nudist of the Cult of Vallejo, or...)
Requirements: None
Prime Req.: DEX
Hit Dice: 1d8
Weapons: Any
Armour: Leather only, no shield.
Attack: as Fighter
Saves: as Fighter (or Thief, it really makes no odds...)
Advancement: as Fighter

Special Abilities:
  • Backstab (as LL Thief class, requirements as SRD Rogue Sneak Attack ability)
  • AC bonus (+1/3 levels, non-magical)
  • Cleaving Strikes - drop enemy, attack again (as Dave Arneson's house rule)
  • Some sort of acrobatic antics ability. I'm thinking reduced difficulty penalties to Dex checks or something. Something better than this derptastic mess..
I'm not sure whether Cleaving Strikes and Backstab should stack. My sense of good taste say no, but my Ninja Scroll-loving inner munchkin says yes.


Yeah, yeah. Reinventing the wheel again. A simple AC tweak would do all this and more. S+W and Carcosa sit there saying "Oh hi. What kept you?" Etc.

Pic Source
Errol Flynn as Captain Blood (F17/T10/Cl8 my Aunt Fanny!) from Devilish Pictures blog


  1. The Thief is a problem in any BECMI/RC D&D games I run. People want to play a Theif, until they see what they can actually do over the first few levels. What I'm thinking of doing is porting over the AD&D 2e class over pretty much wholesale. Choice in skill development means that you can have first level Thieves who can engage in some thievery, and d6 for HP means that they can do some fighting early on. Okay, so the difference between a presumed level 20 cap and a level 36 cap means that Thieves will be shimmying up walls, vanishing into shadows, etc. like they were magic by the time they're in their teen-levels (like I run campaigns for that long, anyway), but surely that is exactly the point - high-level Thieves should have abilities that are indistinguishable from magic.

  2. ...Okay, so the difference between a presumed level 20 cap and a level 36 cap means that Thieves will be shimmying up walls, vanishing into shadows, etc. like they were magic by the time they're in their teen-levels...

    I'm totally with you on this one. I play a 'soft cap' at level 10 or so game, but IMO by the mid-teen levels even Classic D&D is pretty much a wushu film. The wizard and cleric are throwing around thunderstorms; the fighter is wielding a sword made of fire, riding a dragon and wrestling giants; the poor thief (if retained) needs to do something more than "sneak good". Something like "Sneak so good I can hide behind my own shadow or sneak *through* walls!" isn't out of keeping with what his buddies are capable of...

  3. Down with eliminating the thief and up with Ninja Scroll! That said, this all seems pretty reasonable to me. I tend to beef the thief up a bit for my AD&D games, better fighting ability (1 every 2), access to AC 7 armour types, +1 bonus to AC above and beyond B/X attributes. Most important, I suppose, no set percentages for thieving ability, just an indication by level.


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