Friday, September 2, 2011

The Thief is not guilty, part 3

So, I wanted to post some reviews, and I noticed that a common theme was: "great, except for the idiosyncratic refusal to include the Thief class".  So, heres my final(ish) thoughts on that.

This belief in the neccessoity for exclusion of the thief is puzzling, and it seems to be part of the OSR zeitgeist; the reasons range from the thief not being in the original three books, through them being a self referential class that creates the challeneges it is supposed to deal with, through being responsible for the glut of skills and feats of later editions.  Support or rejection of this idea seems foundational to the whole bubbling stew of the OSR.  So, since the thief excluders are wrong,  guess which side I'm on?

I've discussed (ranted about) these arguments before, expressing my opinion that they are, indeed, quantifiable as the merest hooie*. To sum up:

1. the number of people who started D&D with only the original 3 book set and not greyhawk either at the same time or immediately thereafter is vanishingly small and as such, it doesn;t represent a change of direction with regard to D&D as an RPG.
2. Gary wrote Greyhawk (well, yes with others) and obviously included the thief intentionally in his campaign, and thus the gygaxian vision of D&D; QED for the purists, I think . 
3. Fighters and the attempt to de-vanilla-ize them via weapon proficiencies and skill based subclasses is, in my obviously self inflated opinion, the real cause of the skillsystems and sorcery style of play, not thieves.  Note that GG resisted weapon proficiencies for quite a while as a bad idea that would lead to skill systems.
3. Its soooooooo swords and sorcery. Plus, Bilbo.

So, anything new ?  Well, yes, and here is my core argument.  
The thief is what made D&D more than just a skirmish miniatures game. 

We all know that it began as one -and that now it isn't just one.  A main difference between a skirmish wargame and the ur-RPG is this: Skirmish games  often are at the scale of the one figure = one man, but the player is still a disembodied commander moving pieces around, and all pieces are judged by their resource value in winning the game; an RPG changes the scale to one figure = you, and you alone. Playing a single fighter was still something that one could do in a skirmish game.  Fighters killed other units, Mages were artillery, and clerics were either recovery units or specialized anti -undead killers.
The thief was a big deal because as a class it had no useful place on the battlefield of a skirmish wargame, whatsover.

Really ?  Well, almost none of the thief skillset is useful in a skirmish -playing one is a waste of time.  Scouting is irrelevant on a real sand table, especially given the rules of that time period, and swiping was even less useful. Climbing and sneaking are options, but since one cannot do anything useful, so what ? Reading scrolls ?  Play an apprentice wizard. Possibly they could eliminate commanders and such, but that was really the role of assassins, a type specifically included in the original skirmish model of D&D.

Why then, amidst all the other detail of Greyhawk, most of which could simply be additions to a skirmish game is a useless unit specifically included ?

Because the thief had every utility in the dungeon game,  and the dungeon game created the role playing experience; and also, the thief in many ways defined the nature of the adventurer.  Remember, 1973.  Fantasy models are  not what they are today.  Heroes were sneaks as much as brawlers, often antiheroesm and in many ways, that is what made them a literary character, rather than the subject of a soldierly autobiography.  They solved puzzles, got into tight scrapes and conflicts by themselves; this I see as the real genesis of roleplaying.

So, given that, we see that the thief is the character of the dungeon crawl, and from there the Urban adventure or the indoor raid.  And those are the types of settings that set D&D apart from the skirmish game.  And thus...the father of the RPG, the causus bellum, the missing link -the neccessary part of the final result. 

No thieves =no role playing games. 

So, suck it up*, Grognardia and all you reactionary revisionists* ! Apologise to the thief right now ! Take him to lunch and make it your treat; you may as well, you'll be paying for it either way .

* I say this in the most loving caring  and compassionate manner possible..;)


UWS guy said...

Elves could move invisibly in CHAINMAIL and in 0d&d and the knock spell appears in the LLB's. Hobbits also exist in chainmail predating the 'thief' of greyhawk.

Like the ranger and the paladin the thief is a mismashed archetypes of cudgel, gray mouser (who fritz-lieber described literally as a "fighter-thief") and bilbo.

Perhaps a fighting man subclass that only wears leather armor and has an affinity for using magic items without all the need for the skill system.

Dan said...

I agree. Love the thief class!

Jayson said...

This makes a lot of sense.

And as a Moldvay acolyte, I really don't see how you can't have thieves. They just FEEL right.

DRANCE said...

*slow clap*

Dangerous Brian said...

I'd add in a point 5.

5: Gary himself created and wrote about one the iconic greyhawk characters of all time: Gord the thief.

Rainforest Giant said...

Thieves are combat engineers, scouting, clearing obstacles and setting traps for the enemy. Pickpocket and reading scrolls are more like intelligence gathering.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the things thieves do all exist before the thief class? Other characters did all those things anyhow. That said, I'd like to keep a thief/rogue type character class and remove the cleric, which is so loaded with setting assumptions it's crazy.