Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why one old fart thinks another bunch of old farts are Wrong about the Thief in OD&D, part 1

Okay, Thieves. For Jeff and James, at the very least.
So, when I first started reading OSR blogs –long before I jumped in, I gradually realized that there was some sort of bias against thieves as part of original D&D. This was absolutely surprising, so I delved and found some reasoning behind this mean awful persecutory bias against the poor humble thief. Which, in case you haven’t realized, Is Wrong, and I say this having played back then. Which pretty much proves my point.
I was tempted to just end the post there, but it did occur to me that some of you very skeptical types may not be convinced by my all too persuasive appeal to my authority, so for you, I’ll continue.
Several arguments against the thief have been put forth, and these I think are the core:
1. It wasn’t in the first LBB(little brown books, Oe D&D) set

2. Something about not being true to the S&S roots of D&D

3. They are self justifying as a class

4. They caused the monstrosity that is the skill system that has been bolted on to D&D, and thus destroyed at least two generations of gamers by not letting them act like adventurers and instead just roll dice and add skill numbers to solve problems. (Yes, I have opinions about the 3/3.5 skill system, did you notice ?)

So, I’ll take these in some kind of order, across several posts. Then I’ll probably finish with a screed about how important the thief is to D&D. By which point, I expect that everyone will be converted to my opinion, right ? Jeff ? James ? Hello?

Okay, first: Thieves weren’t in the original D&D. I note in advance that this is all probably largely a straw man argument, as I really don't see the “wasn’t in LBB” argument being passed around very much and seldom more than casually. However, since this is my Blog, and my lunch hour, I’ll cop the low hanging fruit if I want to…
Yes, they weren’t in the LBB –not showing up until Greyhawk, as we all know. So they fail the Ur-test, which is a test of…..well, purity. Is it the original vision or not. the thief is not doctrinally pure, in other words. NO, I think that this is a bit of an error, and part of that is that it does set the OSR (Old School Revival/Renaissance/whatever) to look like a bit of a purity patrol; please note that I don't agree that OSR=Purity patrol, at all. But, this kind of appeal doesn’t help things. That's a tangent, though, so onward.

I think the argument of inclusion (or not) is meaningless for several reasons. First, GH(Greyhawk) showed up pretty much concurrently with the LBB set for at least 90% of the post 1st print players (me); I got LBB after I had already skimmed thru GH at the local store –and I went back and bought it at the first possible opportunity. (interestingly, BM(Blackmoor) was almost impossible to get for quite a while. I think I finally got a copy after GD&H came out). It fit hand in glove with the LBB rules – I bought LBB because I was a miniature gamer, but I bought GH because of the potential for it to make a minis supplement something more. And that was D&D the RPG.

Also, and I think this is important, I think its pretty clear that EGG always intended these rules to be part of D&D – but they are one of the areas of detail that he and DA differed on; so, the two additional campaign supplements. I’d also note that DA’s campaign specifically had thief types in its BM the Ur-campaign incarnation; that they weren’t included in Blackmoor the supplement is probably more due to avoiding repetition than anything else. I’d also argue (and I’ll do so later at more length), that D&D wasn’t differentiated from a miniatures game before Greyhawk…and the thief.

So, next. Probably the self justification issue and why It Is Wrong; or maybe the S&S angle. Or maybe another Traveller rant. Stay tuned….


Jeff Rients said...

Thanks. Not convinced yet, but thanks for taking the time to spell out your argument.

Doc Grognard said...

But you will be. You willlll beeee.

James Maliszewski said...

Re: Purity

I agree that "not in the LBBs" isn't a universally applicable argument against the inclusion of the thief, BUT I don't at all think it's at all unreasonable for anyone to say "I'm just sticking to the LBBs and damn the rest." That's far from a dogmatic assertion that anything not in the LBBs is "impure" or that anyone who favors the thief (or variable weapon damage or whatever) is engaged in an abominable miscegenation.

I long ago decided that anyone who equated one person's preferences (even strong ones) with a condemnation of other preferences wasn't someone to whom I should pay any heed. Fretting about a handful of blowhards out there claiming that a preference for not including any post-LBB material is dogmatic puritanism seems pointless to me.

That said, I'd love to hear your other arguments.

John Adams said...

Play what you want - the way you want. :)