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The robber class for Alien Orifice, with a rather lengthy digression concerning a novel yet demonstrably Gygaxian way to handle climbing checks for thief types

January 21, 2013

So, I’m still tinkering under the bonnet of Alien Orifice. Since my recent acquisition of the OD&D booklets, I am once again thinking of AO in terms of the “original game” – i.e., the LBBs informed by Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox. One thing I especially like about Swords & Wizardry is the single saving throw mechanic. I’m quite content with one fairly arbitrary target number rather than five, or three, or whatever. Hold that thought; I’ll come back to it in a minute.

Anyway, I’ve been working on the character classes for AO, which are (right now) Fighter, Robber and Wizard.

Fighters are fighters. Wizards are magic-users. I’m not getting into the reason for the change of name. Suffice it to say I’m not using level titles either.

Robbers are thieves … sort of. In fact, maybe robbers are closer conceptually to LotFP specialists or Stars Without Number experts. They are most likely to style themselves “troubleshooters” or “technical consultants”; I envisage them as dedicated tomb-robbers, not conmen or pickpockets or common brigands. They replace the cleric class, which has no good reason to exist in the AO campaign setting.* Unlike LotFP and SWN, Alien Orifice doesn’t utilise a skill system as such. Some of the mechanical aspects of the robber class were inspired by reading Jason “Philotomy Jurament” Cone’s musings on thieves in OD&D, but the fetishisation of the 3/7/11 pattern of progression is all mine.

A 4th-level robber, armed with twin pistols and wearing - ahem - light armour.

A 4th-level robber, armed with twin pistols and wearing – ahem – “light” armour.

The Robber

Prime requisite: Dexterity.
Advancement, hit dice, saving throw(s), attack rolls: As cleric.
Armour permitted: Light armour; no shield.
Weapons permitted: Any except two-handed melee weapons.

Mechanical Aptitude: Assuming he or she has appropriate tools, any character can attempt to pick locks or deactivate small mechanical traps. The default chance of success is 1 in 6. A robber’s chance, however, is 2 in 6, rising to 3 in 6 at 3rd level, 4 in 6 at 7th level, and 5 in 6 at 11th level.

Perception: The standard chance for a character to hear distant or muffled sounds, or to locate a secret door, concealed trap, or the like, is 1 in 6. A robber’s chance is 2 in 6, improving at higher levels (as above). Moreover, the robber’s alert senses mean that he or she is only surprised 1/6 of the time.

Surprise: Robbers are light on their feet. A robber alone, or in a party consisting solely of robbers, gains an increased chance to surprise opponents, starting at 3rd level (3 in 6), and improving as the robber gains levels (4 in 6 at 7th, 5 in 6 at 11th).

Decryption: Starting at 3rd level, a robber gains the ability to decipher inscriptions and written documents. He or she can also cast magic spells from scrolls, although there is a risk of failure or worse. [I’m still finalising these rules. They will more than likely draw on my own musings here.]

Saving Throws: Robbers get a +2 bonus to saving throws involving quick reflexes (e.g., some traps, breath weapons, spells affecting a limited area of effect).

Finally – are you still holding that thought about the single saving throw? – we come to climbing.

Climbing: Robbers can climb sheer surfaces without the use of ropes or other equipment. To succeed, a robber must make a saving throw using percentile dice.

Aye, percentile dice. Try as I might, I can’t make a satisfactory climbing rule using d6. Not even Philotomy managed that, so he settled on d20. But I was looking at Supplement I: Greyhawk (wherein the thief class “officially” entered the game) for inspiration, and was struck by the wording therein. Here’s what Gary wrote on page 5:

The ability of a thief to climb is also a function of his level. There is a basic chance of 13% that a 1st level thief will slip and fall in climbing. With each higher level attained by the thief this chance is reduced by 1%, so that a 10th level thief has but a 4% chance of slipping.

That’s right. Unlike in later editions, nowhere in Greyhawk do we get a chart showing the chances for thieves of different levels to succeed at climbing. Instead, what we’re presented with is the chance for a thief to fail, which decreases at a rate of 1% per level. Taking Gary’s words at face value, when your 1st-level thief tries to scale that sheer wall, you roll d% and if you roll 13 or lower, you slip and fall. Conversely, if you roll 14 or higher on your percentile dice, you make it safely up the wall.

Let’s look again at the single saving throw mechanic in Swords & Wizardry. A thief (not in WhiteBox, of course, but in the Core Rules) has a saving throw target number of 15 at 1st level. So does a cleric, and – as I mentioned before – the AO robber steps into the space vacated by the cleric, between the relatively tough fighter and the relatively puny wizard. And how does the saving throw progression work? Why, the target number decreases by one per level! So, under the new climbing rule I outlined above, a 1st-level robber needs to roll 15 or higher on d% to succeed. A roll of 14 or lower is a failure. Likewise, a 10th-level robber needs to roll 6 or higher. The chance of failure is 5%.

As you can see, in practice this is remarkably similar to the system spelled out in Greyhawk. In fact the numbers are 1% out. But, given that Gary Gygax himself altered the thief’s climbing chances in AD&D, I’m not going to fret over a single percentile here or there.

I’m pleased with this idea. It’s simple. It doesn’t require anything extra to be recorded on the character sheet. And I can point to Supplement I for Gygaxian support … sort of. Has it been done before? Probably. There are as many interpretations of thieving abilities as there are old-school bloggers, it seems. Anyway, as ever, comments and criticisms are welcome.

*The spell list for wizards includes cure light wounds and a few other common “cleric” spells.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Alabastor permalink
    January 22, 2013 5:34 pm

    Large title, mostly naked lady. What more could a chap want?

    • January 22, 2013 7:11 pm

      Indeed. Although by old-school roleplaying standards I’d say she’s quite modestly attired.

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