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Obligatory OSR blogger rite of passage: Thinking about thieves’ skills

March 7, 2012

Here’s a thought.

Some people dislike the percentile-based abilities for thieves in B/X. These same people often overlook the fact that one thief ability – Hear Noise – uses a d6 mechanic. The B/X thief gets 2 pips (on 1d6; that is, a 2 in 6 chance) to Hear Noise at 1st level, 3 pips at 3rd, 4 pips at 7th, and 5 pips at 11th. Why not use that progression for all of a thief’s skills? In fact, why not just call the skill Thieving (or Thievery, or Thievage, or whatever) and use that same progression? You’re a 1st-level thief? You have a 2 in 6 chance to do your thing, whatever it is. That’s 33.33%, which means your climbing ability isn’t what it was but everything else is looking a lot better than before. Because that’s another thing some people don’t like about thieves’ abilities in the old games: at low levels, your thief just isn’t very good at doing his thing. This actually never bothered me when I played thieves. I wouldn’t expect to be very good at low levels. If you start off very good, where do you go? 33.33% strikes me as a decent compromise, though. I mean, let’s take a 1st-level fighter doing his thing, i.e., hitting someone with a sword. If that someone is wearing “average” armour (let’s say chain mail, AC 5) then our fighter friend needs to roll 14 to hit him. That’s a 35% chance of doing some damage, which is a pretty close match to our thief’s chance of successful thievage.

Someone must have done this already, no?

Personally, I like the way Jim Raggi applies a neat d6 mechanic to all adventuring abilities in Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing. In my next campaign (which I’m working on intermittently) I think I’ll use a version of that system, whether or not I use the specialist class. I’m thinking that (1) everyone gets 1 pip in each adventuring ability; (2) thieves get 1 bonus pip in each of Climb, Sleight of Hand (B/X’s Pick Pockets), Stealth (Hide in Shadows & Move Silently), and Tinkering (Open Locks & Remove Traps). Then they progress as per Hear Noise, described above, despite the fact that ironically Hear Noise is the one ability that LotFP completely does away with.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2012 3:50 am

    I have seen others discuss this idea and I’ve considered introducing it to my games but haven’t got around to it yet. It is certainly an idea that makes sense and has the added bonus of being both simple and in tune with the game.

  2. March 10, 2012 2:17 am

    Yep, there are some interesting ideas on the interwebs about this, but really, I feel like Mr. Raggi solved this problem so we don’t have too. The LotFP system is so clean, easy and versatile it’s hard to beat. As a bonus, the way languages work in LotFP is unique and really fun in play.

    • March 10, 2012 8:25 am

      Aye, the LotFP system is a thoughtful and clever piece of design. The only gripe I have is that in B/X I (as DM) can say to myself “This NPC is a 7th-level thief” and I know all his abilities. If I say “This NPC is a 7th-level specialist” then I have to spend time deciding where the NPC’s “pips” go if I need to know his ability to hide, for instance. (It could be 1 in 6, or 6 in 6, or anywhere in between.) Of course I can make it up on the spot, but still. Using my 3/7/11 system, I know right away that my 7th-level NPC thief has a 4 in 6 chance to hide.

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