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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thinking about Thieves

So I got to thinking about Thieves and how they weren't in OD&D originally. I chatted with my buddy Darryl about it and I talked a little bit with my wife Mona and I got to thinking that the introduction of the Thief class, in whatever supplement it was, started the slippery slope of Skills and Non-Weapon Proficiencies that later proliferated through AD&D in both editions and has made 3rd and, from what I hear, 4th edition a skill based math nightmare that you practically need a computer to assist creation of characters and run combats, it also took the roleplaying and player skill aspect out of the game when people just started rolling search checks to search rooms or bluff checks to BS the guards, but that's another post waiting to happen someday.

The real and biggest problem with the introduction of the Thief class was that as soon as it came along and codified "Thief Skills", suddenly everyone felt like they couldn't do any of those things themselves anymore. So, for however many years before whatever supplement introduced the Thief came out, Fighting Men, Clerics and Magic-Users, Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves all were finding traps and presumably opening locks and climbing walls and hiding in shadows and moving silently when necessary and now, all of a sudden, they lost that ability because it wasn't coded onto their character sheet? It used to be the DM's call, he'd take the situational modifiers into account and make a judgment, now all that changed with the introduction of a new specialist class.

AD&D made the problem worse, first with Weapon Proficiencies; because now everyone had just a couple of weapons they really knew how to use, instead of the broad (or tight) range they used to; then with the mid- 1st edition AD&D introduction of Non-Weapon Proficiencies it got even worse, the Thief skill problem was magnified by orders of magnitude. Sure, I loved the idea when they were introduced in the Oriental Adventures book, and every group I know played with them all through the 2nd edition AD&D era, despite the fact that they were an optional rule. We loved the rules crunchiness of them all. By the end of the 2nd edition era I had adapted the NWP system to my Garnia campaign and had set up NWP packages based on your race and socio-economic background; I like randomness in character generation; by the time of the 3e era I had ported that system over to the newer Skill system too. Sadly, most of those documents are lost, but since I have grown to despise the system anyway I guess it's for the best, but it may have been nice just for the historical value.

Anyway, I kind of meandered away from the point I was making there, so I'll get back to it, as soon as the NWPs (or Skills) were codified into rules and onto character sheets, suddenly no one could do any of those things anymore. Maybe none of the players in your campaign had ever thought to have their Druid or Ranger or just their what ever class character with a woodsy background ever try to find a healing herb in the forest before, but now they never would without herbalism. Try hunting without the Hunting NWP? Preposterous! Fishing without the Fishing NWP? Not going to happen. Suddenly all of these characters that should have been easily able to survive in the woods are going to starve to death if they picked the wrong NWPs when they made their characters, all because the players think they can't do it now because it doesn't say they can on their character sheet, and it all started with the Thief.

Those were just the examples I came up with off the top of my head relating to wilderness adventuring, there are probably thousands of other examples you could come up with based on the NWP/Skill proliferation in AD&D and later D&D systems. But what it all boils down to I guess for me is this- Why can't a Fighter climb a wall? Or a Magic-User pick a lock? Or a Cleric hide in shadows until the Orcs pass? The Fighter might have to lighten his load a bit, drop his shield, maybe even take off his armor, depending on what it is and how hard the climb is, but why can't he do it? The Magic-User is a pretty smart guy, he should be able to figure out how locks work, if he has any reasonably decent Dexterity, say 9+, he ought to have a shot at it with the right materials, like, say, a set of lock picks. Hiding in Shadows is even easier, just get into the dark, try and get low or behind something and don't move or make noise. OK, that may be cheating a bit, because usually when a Thief does it they are trying to maneuver through the darkness to their advantage, but a Cleric should have a chance at that too, but he doesn't for the same reason the Magic-User and the Fighter don't, because the Thief explicitly does.

What's worse is that the Thief is the most contentious player character class, like they were deliberately designed to screw over the rest of the party. There is a certain type of player out there that thrives on playing Thief characters just because he enjoys ruining the fun for the other players and any sense of cooperation between the party members. The skills on his character sheet and the name of his class pretty much tell you that you should play a Thief this way. That's pretty much the way every Thief was played back when I was a teenager and even when I was in my twenties I saw a lot of my peers playing Thieves that way. The attitude didn't change much when the name changed to Rogue either. I don't have much of a problem with intra-party conflict just because one player was a stupid, fun-killing-for-his-own-amusement, chaos monkey these days; but then I observe a pretty strict no gaming with jerks rule nowadays.

Between these issues, and the issue of Ability Score inflation, with the much greater importance of higher ability scores in AD&D than in any version of D&D from OD&D through Cyclopedia, I am giving serious thought to starting my next game as either B/X (LL) or OD&D (S&W White Box). B/X still has the Thief, and both of them have race as class, which I am not sold on, raised as I was on AD&D, but I can always house rule that stuff or check out Labyrinth Lord's AEC.

I also started a second blog. It's a blog specifically dedicated to the development of my Garnia campaign world and currently has two contributors, myself and my longtime Garnia co-developer and friend Darryl. Right now the entire thing is just a long conversation between the two of us asking questions and answering back and forth, but if anyone is really interested in the creative process there, you are seeing something like 75% of all the new stuff right there, the rest has been usually over the phone or via email. Older stuff can be gleaned from blog posts here tagged "Garnia" or from the Obsidian Portal site, or you can just ask me questions if you are curious. Actually comments and questions might be helpful to spur the development process, and if anyone is really interested I am not averse to adding more team members.

Here's what I got in the mail today.

I got them both for a pretty sweet bargain, so it doesn't even really bother me that it doesn't look like Mona will actually be running a Star Wars game for us, and these books are in seriously pristine condition, like they were never even opened and read before.

I also stopped at a Salvation Army Thrift Store and found a pristine copy of "Star Trek - Tales of the Dominion War", which is an anthology edited by Keith R.A. DeCandido, who is probably my favorite Star Trek author; this book is out of print and has been on my Amazon wish list for a while, so finding it there and for the super discount price was awesome, plus it's nice that it helps people out too.