... now with 35% more arrogance!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Examining Archetypes: The Thief

Continuing with a series of practical posts on classes as archetypes, I want to examine the Thief next, and show how I'd split the class into two or three related classes. I consider the standard Thief approach to be the wrong approach, as I've already said many times, but there is an archetypal core that could be reworked into a replacement class. What distinguishes a Thief is not really the criminal skill bundle, but being "the subtle, sneaky guy". As FrDave suggested, the Thief should really be about surprise and alertness -- or more bluntly, surprise and avoiding surprise. I've previously suggested a Trickster replacement with two class abilities, but I'd like to rewrite them now:
  • can use any distraction to reroll surprise at any time;
  • gets a level-based bonus on surprise rolls and rolls to avoid surprise.
This seems to eliminate several standard Thief abilities, but consider this: Hide in Shadows is mainly a way to achieve surprise, as is Move Silently, and Hear Noise is a way to avoid surprise. For cases where Hide in Shadows or Move Silently are used to entirely avoid notice, simply give a hidden or silent Thief -- or any other character -- the option to remain unseen for the duration of surprise. Ordinary characters can only remain undetected for 1 or 2 rounds, but a Thief can remain undetected longer, and can reroll surprise to extend the time period. As for Pick Pockets or Sleight of Hand, these (and Backstab or surprise attack) can be converted to surprise rolls as well: a character who has surprised an opponent can use a free round to swipe or hide an item or strike a vulnerable area for a damage bonus. For theft, there's a chance that victims will notice the theft after surprise is over if the victim is a higher level than the Thief.

What's missing is the Pick Locks and Remove Traps ability, which as skills certainly fit the thief profession, but not the stealthy archetype. Give any character a chance for either, with the right equipment, and a bonus for those with an appropriate background, but reserve extraordinary ability in these areas for the Tinkerer. You will note that the Tinkerer's bonus with machines, devices and traps works the same way mechanically as the Thief's bonus with surprise situations. This is a good model for any kind of "Expert", as Flynn referred to a catch-all category of archetypes: if you want a character with an uncanny talent in some area, use a Thief or Tinkerer class, but replace "surprise" or "mechanical device" with the area of the character's talent:
  • A Charmer gets a bonus on reaction rolls from sentient creatures (use this for Don Juan rather than Romeo, or for an inspiring leader.)
  • A Beast-Friend gets a bonus on reaction rolls from animals.
  • A Daredevil Driver gets a bonus when maneuvering vehicles (bonus to evade, bonus to chase, bonus to avoid accident under dangerous conditions.)
  • An Acrobat gets a bonus when jumping, climbing, balancing, or performing difficult athletic maneuvers.
Each of these is different from an ordinary expert in that they can avoid mishaps or dangers that ordinary characters can't. Anyone can climb, but the Acrobat can perform crazy climbing feats; anyone can learn to drive a car or chariot, perhaps even expertly, but the Daredevil Driver can make a vehicle flip non-dangerously or perform unbelievable jumps. Each of these should have an element of talent that goes beyond what any human being could learn.


  1. In my heavily house-ruled version of S&W Core, I divided the thief skills between a human rogue class and a dwarven "tinkerer" fighter/thief class, in much the same way as you suggest here.

    So far, it's worked well. In explanatory notes to the players, I distinguished the human rogue as focusing on the element of surprise, though neither as eloquently nor as (mechanically) successfully as you have here. Consider this post yoinked and filed in the "inspiration" folder!

  2. I like this as a model for stage magic and causing diversions, btw: if you achieve surprise over a watchful audience then you have successfully misdirected them.

  3. I go the other way on surprise - that is, instead of surprise trumping abilities, abilities set up the situation where each side's stealth is tested against the other's awareness, and there is no "surprise" roll per se. But indeed, the two classic rolls are kind of redundant and it makes sense to rationalize them the easy not hard way.

  4. @LokiSooner, Richard: Thanks! I think there's a lot of ways surprise could be expanded and adapted.

    @Roger: A lot depends on which side of the skill/ability roll divide you feel you belong. I've gone so far over to one side that I think in terms of rolls to determine what happened, rather than whether a character can do something. Thus, I would avoid stealth rolls or "Spot" rolls (poor Spot!) in favor of either automatic success or a surprise/situation roll.