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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Lure of the Auto-Thief

Timrod, in the brief post about the changing popularity of the Thief among OSR bloggers, asked:
One of the complaints often leveled at the thief is that in old tyme D&D supposedly everyone could do thiefly stuff. My question is, was this explicit--i.e. does it say in the LBBs that every character can attempt to pick a lock or climb walls?--or was it left up to the players to decide if that was something they wanted to try?
I thought at first that it was completely left up to the players to decide to climb walls, pick locks, or perform other thiefly acts, with the GM making a ruling. I didn't remember anything explicit. But I did a quick search of the rules, and turned up a couple things:

In Men & Magic, the dwarven talent for noticing traps underground is not, as in later editions, limited to large stonework traps, like covered pits. It just says "traps". Find Traps, of course, was not originally a Greyhawk Thief function, but was added post-Greyhawk.

In Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, the example of play includes the following:

CAL:   The elf will check out the hollow sound, one of us
       will sort through the refuse, each trunk will be
       opened by one of us, and the remaining two (naming
       exactly who this is) will each guard a door,
       listening to get an advance warning if anything
REF:   Another check on the hollow sound reveals a secret
       door which opens onto a flight of stairs down to
       the south. The refuse is nothing but sticks, bones,
       offal and old clothes. One chest is empty; the
       other had a poison needle on the lock. (Here a
       check to see if the character opening it makes his
       saving throw for poison.) The chest with the poison
       needle is full of copper pieces -- appears to be
       about 2,000 of them.

That mention of poison needles in the lock suggests that it's assumed the characters touched the lock when opening the chest. Which, in turn, suggests the characters can interact with the lock.

Later, in the naval combat rules, it mentions that swimming sailors can climb onto ships. This would be Climb Walls, with no mention of restrictions, or even a die roll.

There's no mention of a die roll for dealing with traps or locks, either, but there is a statement in Men & Magic that Strength aids in "opening traps". So, there's a strong suggestion that any character could certainly try to do any of these things, with a chance of success, or with magic making the effect automatic.

Which makes me wonder if JB wasn't on to something with the idea of thief skills automatically working, at least for mundane traps and locks or a normally climbable surface. Thieves would only have to roll to force open or remove magical locks and traps, climb sheer surfaces without equipment, or surprise an opponent with their stealth/pick pocket abilities.

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