Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The thief is, however, incompetent

So, what is the problem with the thief ?  Well, simply put, except for climbing, they suck at about everything thiefy. Which meant, under ODD&ADD1, to have any hope of not getting your hand cut off the first time you try to pick a pocket, and get caught, you end up needing to play a non-human thief with an 18 dex.  They do excell at backstabbing, true, but just try and get into position by being bold....or moving.  No, you pretty much have to mail yourself to your intended victim and hope that he is facing the other way when you burst out.  You could climb a wall, and wait for someone to walk below you, I suppose (piercer costume optional), and hope that they aren't looking up, cause with a 10% success chance, you are not going to be hidden; and with 1d6 hit points, you ain't gonna get as second chance.

See, the problem isn't that the thief broke D&D, it's that the thief is broken.  Its a great addition to D&D conceptually, and in keeping with a start small grow tall approach to character development, but it seems like it is the only class that got saddled with a truly untrained first level. Look....the fighter can hit a random peasant 50% of the time, right ?  The Mage can put him to sleep.....the cleric ...well, strictly speaking the cleric can't cast a spell, but he still has a good chance of smashing his head in or, even better, if its an undead peasant, making him run away. The thief ? He can...ummmm....hide from him one time in ten; or alternately, sneak past or pick his pocket one time in five.   He could, to be fair, hear him pretty well.

So, the solution we used back in the day was this: a first level thief started with a base chance equal to 30% +/- 5% per dex point above 14 or below 7.  Then, simply add the greyhawk percentages at each level, incldung the first.  A non-thief could try any of them, but only using one half the base number.  A thief using the wrong armor simply lost all this level bonuses. Done. 

It gave a nimble thief about a 50/50 chance of success for most thiefy things - not great, but way more in line with the other classes, who are moderately pathetic at level 1, as well. 

Nowadays, for the basic thief skills* I use a modified quickNez stat check:
4d6 roll<=dex+level to succeed. 
Works great, and the 4d6 bell curve is a nice change that allows higher level or more nimble thieves less variability than (say) a d20 roll.  I still use 1d4 for HP  - one should be able to clean the slimy little sneak's clock, after all  - possibly what made him turn to theft in the first place....and so the great circle of life continues.

* picklock, disarm trap, pick pocket, sneak, hide.  I exclude climb  as a no fail with the right tools; and search as it makes for lazy players -which I note isn't something a thief does in OD&D anyhow.


Anonymous said...

Looking at the Thief table in Labyrinth Lord, I noticed skills max out (99%) at level 14.

Thinking about how handy it would be to flawlessly sneak, hide and unlock in a game focused on accumulating treasure... I realized thief is just a class that gets off to a slow start, like the MU.

At that point the party is just holding you back. In theory, you could solo whole dungeons, take all the treasure and leave the monsters for the poor fools who come in next...

Anonymous said...

If you look at a 1st level thiefs move silently chance (10%? 15%) and then realize that a fighter in plate armor has a 33% (2 in 6) of surprising an enemy, you quickly come to understand that the thief's skills are on top of the already existing skills, just as an elf with 90% immubity to sleep and charm still gets to roll a saving throw against charm person if the 90% fails, a thief still gets to roll for surprise even if move silently fails (or better yet a successful MS increases surprise to 3-6 and ms+hs increase surprise to 4 in 6.

Likewise, a thief who fails to pick a lock can still smash a chest with a hammer, or kick in a door...it's just that they're loud actions.

A 10% move silently, doesn't mean a 10% chance to move silently, or else the fighter in plate armor is a better sneak.

Dan said...

You won't survive to level 14 to become a super thief unless you're extremely lucky. That's what he's saying. I also believe thieves need heavily reworked to be any kind of useful. I like how LotFP did it.

JDJarvis said...

A player of a low level burglar learns to play mother-may-I very carefully and avoid rolling dice at any cost if they wish to become a mid level thief.

Zzarchov said...

The old thief system always bugged me (again the stupid low %'s). Switching it to a roll based on opponent (like a fighters sword swing as you mentioned) is the best thing I've ever done to make stealth missions fun.

Doc Grognard said...

Yes, indeed, the thief is quite fragile and easily squashable at the lower levels. Kind of like a first level mage, but without the useful spell.....

After about level 5 they come into their own, which, unsurprisingly seems about the low end of most of the classic TSR adventures ("for 4 to six players of 5th to 8th level").

I'm not sure I ever even played one starting at first level. Had a few in the campaign, though. Made balancing danger and etc quite a bit harder than even the normal OD&D first level walking deadmen.

@Zzarchov - I'd be interested to hear more details, if you feel so inclined !

@anonymous (post 2) Not sure I'd agree that the chance to surprise is the same as the chance to sneak past someone, but basically, yes.