Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Everyone Is A Thief

Will Mistretta, over at It's Okay; Gary Sent Us was asking several days ago why there is such a bias in the OSR against the Thief class. I'm not sure that the bias is universal: some OSR types are quite content to include the Thief class in the game, although they all have their preferred fix for what ails the D&D implementation.

My thinking, recently, is to consider every character a Thief. In fact, I might be go a step further and eliminate all of the other classes, and use a Thief class exclusively.

Extreme measures, you say? Absolutely. But what that would do is focus the spotlight, like a laserbeam, on the swords & sorcery heritage of fantasy role-playing, and impose upon the game a far darker and more gritty feel.

WTF you say? How can that possibly work, or be enjoyable, for those that want to play a fighter, cleric, magic-user, or any other non-thief class?

Of course, I don't want to preclude the excitement of swords flashing, spells flying and undead disintegrating. But what I think would be interesting if those abilities were added organically, as players discovered their place in the adventuring party, rather than each having a pre-defined role at the start of the campaign. One character might find religion and obtain clerical powers. Another might find she has an aptitude for reading magic scrolls and casting the magic therefrom. Yet another might find she has the swiftest blade and the greatest tactical mind.

I'm not really advocating a skill system here. My thinking is more along the lines that everyone begins as a Thief, and then some discover their true class at 2nd or 3rd levels. Alternatively, everyone stays a Thief, and the thiefly abilities to read languages, magic and scrolls are applied at earlier levels, allowing the players to cast spells (from scrolls) as Thieves.

Just a thought. It would certainly make magic scrolls more valuable, and would make discovering magic far more mysterious and exciting.


Timeshadows said...

I am eager to see where you take this. :D

Sean Robson said...

Do you remember the rpg, Thieves' Guild, published by Gamelords around 1980? Every character was a thief, as you suggest. I played this quite a bit back in the day and had a great time. You can have lots of fun with an entire group of thieves.

There is lots of potential for adding in specialties to make a 'Mission Impossible' type crew. The melee specialist, the magic specialist, the con-artist, the second-story man, etc.

It will be interesting to hear how this turns out if you decide to pursue it.

5stonegames said...

I've run such games in 2nd edition (though I allowed multi classing) the players take to them like a duck to water.

The are very fun and highly recommended.

Another option would be to slow the pace of advancement and simply use one of the "class construction" systems to add additional abilities to the class as needed.

if you are a combat spec you pay some nay extra XP for d8 HD and better BAB and so on.

Also allowing some kind of scaling defense bonus to level can come in handy too but thats another post

JB said...

Just so long as thieves have D4 hit dice. You know, the way God intended...

; )

rainswept said...

All Thieves games work great, especially if you place extra potions and grant the 10th level ability read magic scrolls (X8) much sooner, even as a base class ability.

I also allow Halflings & Dwarves as PCs by plugging in the full suite of Thief Skills, but bar them from the above scroll-use as a balancing factor.

Akrasia said...

Interestingly, I had a similar idea myself about a year ago, when I was contemplating running a 'Thieves Guild' campaign. Essentially, my idea was that players would automatically receive thief abilities alongside their regular class abilities (i.e., PCs would all effectively be 'multiclassed', but the thief abilities would be 'free'). I had a 'Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser' style game in mind.

In practice, the closest I came to implementing this idea is this:

Aaron E. Steele said...

Timeshadows: Like so many of my half-finished plans ... but I have 4 weeks vacation in July and August so who knows, I may be able to test this out.

Sean: I absolutely do remember Thieves World, but I never got a chance to play it! Sob.

5stone: some excellent suggestions. I just checked out your blog. I love your features on music for D&D. Keep it coming!

JB: d4? Luxury! Why, when we were kids we got a d3 for hit points and a dirty stick to stab our opponents with, and we considered ourselves lucky!

Rainswept: you read my thoughts!

Akrasia: I read your post on backstabbing. It seems familiar, was it also published in your houserules booklet?

Akrasia said...

Yes, APIC, the 'backstab' rule is in the PDF for 'Akratic Wizardry'.

JB said...


On a more serious note, why not give all characters the abilities of a 2nd or 3rd level thief at 1st level, regardless of class. Wouldn't that accomplish your intent?

Actual "thief thieves" would read the 4th level ability line at 1st level.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Interesting thought. My views on the whole Thief campaign thing continue to evolve. I will have to post an update when I work out some of my conflicting purposes.