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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Troll Questions: Thieves

Another post on the top ten troll questions.

(5). Should thief be a class?

Probably not, but it's too late. The problem is trying to emphasize that the Thief class is not the thief profession; it's someone who is exceptionally subtle and clever.

The problem is the thief skills and the way they work. Or maybe it's the mental model people have of how tasks are learned and performed. If you learn how to do something, like cook a meal, you don't suddenly forget how. Learning to cook gives you the automatic ability to cook, and improving your skill means improving your speed, quality and efficiency, and your ability to deal with tricky ingredients or unexpected cooking situations.

We don't see skill rolls in pre-Greyhawk OD&D. What we see instead are rolls to see if something goes wrong, regardless of anyone's skill. Or, occasionally, rolls to change the otherwise inescapable, like listening at a door to get some warning about what might be lurking in an otherwise quiet room. These are rolls for things beyond anyone's power to control (without magic.)

What thief skills should do, in my opinion, is:
  1. Reduce the time it takes a thief to do some things anyone could do automatically (thieves should climb ropes faster.)
  2. Improve some things that aren't automatic, or make some of them automatic (Hear Noise improves.)
  3. Allow some actions no untrained person could do (pick locks, including "magical closures", as noted in Greyhawk.)


  1. I think it's a stretch to say this:

    Or, occasionally, rolls to change the otherwise inescapable, like listening at a door to get some warning about what might be lurking in an otherwise quiet room.

    Listening and searching are pretty obviously skills-type rolls, even in the 3 LBBs, not rolls to change the otherwise inescapable.

    1. Searching, except for secret doors, does not involve a roll. Secret doors do not look like a door at all and are thus normally missed on a visual search. Thus, in my mind, the default is for a secret door to remain secret. The roll to find a secret door changes that.

      Similarly, listening for noises in general isn't a skill; if there's a noise, you can hear it. If you listen at a door, that implies that there's no obvious noise to hear; everything is silent. The roll to listen is actually a roll to hear slight sounds that would otherwise not be noticed. It's obviously *not* a skill, for a couple reasons: you can't really control anything about the situation, there's nothing you are actually doing except paying attention, and it's partially dependent on luck (the monster behind the door just happened to make a detectable sound at the moment you place your ear on the door.) So, in my mind, the default is for characters to not know there is something lurking behind the door, and the Hear Noise roll is to see if that changes.

    2. The fact that elves have a greater chance when searching for secret doors than other character types strongly indicates to me that it is a skill. Similarly for listening. I don't see how this could possibly be conceptualized as "changing the otherwise inescapable" (though it's possible I'm misunderstanding what you mean by that).

      Also, the forcing doors by strength seems to be based on the individual in question (most characters have a 2 in 6 chance but "smaller and lighter" characters have a 1 in 6 chance).

    3. Forcing doors obviously isn't a skill, either, for exactly the reason you cite: you get better at it by being bigger, not by training. Similarly, elves have better hearing because of a physiological difference, not a skill. They don't train themselves to hear better. But I've got a post on that I'm working on.

  2. However, I agree with the general thrust of thief skill meaning a reduction in the time necessary for success. This is exactly what happens when non-thieves have a 1 in 6 chance to do something and thieves have a 2 in 6 (or higher) chance to do the same thing, assuming that each attempt takes one turn (and thus "costs" a random encounter check). (The exact numbers are not important and the dynamic will be unchanged even if the probabilities are adjusted within certain rather wide parameters.)

  3. I agree with your conclusions - the way I run thief skills is basically the way they're described at Tao of D&D - but I do think that the thief archetype has a better case to be a class than, say, the Cleric. I think your Three-Role Class System post is the best argument in favor - the thief is an expertise class whose knowledge lies in the realm of the mundane. It just seems to constantly be handled exceptionally poorly.