... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reclaiming Old School Skills

I've been thinking about JB's Thief class that automatically succeeds when using skills. I've said before I like this idea, and I've directed some people to his post recently. I've also been thinking about the occasional other solution of saying that a thief's abilities are uncanny, not just ordinary skills, especially in connection with this quote from the original Thief description in Supplement I: "open locks by picking or foiling magical closures". Why not merge the two? Make thieves able to automatically pick normal locks, remove normal small traps, climb normally climbable walls without equipment, or sneak up on, hide from, or pick the pockets of normal (0-level) people; require a roll for truly unnatural situations or if the target's level is equal or higher than the thief's.

Of course, that raises the question: what do you do with the ability to find traps? Does allowing a thief to automatically find a trap ruin the adventure? I'd say "no", not only because finding traps is not actually listed in Greyhawk, but also because the ability is limited to looking in the proper location. In a way, it brings back the old approach to skills: no skill roll, just actual problem solving.

Player: I search the door for traps.
GM: How?
Player: I look it over from top to bottom, examining the frame, hinges and knob in particular.

This would spot things like: unusual substances on the door knob, trip wires or triggers attached to the bottom or top of the door, modifications to the hinges. It doesn't spot needles in the lock, unless the player then examines the lock. Nor does it find a covered pit on the other side of the door, since it won't even be searchable until the door is opened. Traps are still dangerous, even with a superthief.


  1. I use negotiation for find/remove traps and then bring in the percentile skill check, as a kind of saving throw, when and if they screw up.

  2. The real-life science of boobytraps is not encouraging.

    It is easy to make boobytraps entirely lethal and non-survivable.

    D&D sugar-coats this by pretending that one can check for traps. In real life, often, there is simply no way to check for traps. You can look at the sealed box as much as you like, but there's no way to find the mercury switch rigged to the blasting cap inside.

    REHoward's stories have some very unrealistic traps. Mostly Conan avoids them by a sixth sense - sometimes he gets caught, as he did in Red Nails. Conan never, so far as I can tell, consciously checked for a trap. He either had an intuition or he let someone else go first. In one case, he let a supporting character get killed off, then said, "That which I do not understand, I do not touch with my hand."