Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How 'Bout that Thief?

As I mentioned a post or two ago, I'm working toward running some online chat one-shots and ultimately toward a come-and-go-as-you please megadungeon, and I'm pretty sure I want to run them with Labyrinth Lord. Partly, the choice is based on nostalgia for my favorite version of the game back in the day (triggered by the pdf release of B/X), partly the choice is based on why it's still my favorite version – if I made a list of things from any rules set that I would tweak, delete, or add, LL (or B/X) has the shortest list.

One of the things I would change (from just about any version of early D&D or clone) is the thief. I like the thief concept a lot, but I don't like how useless they feel to me at early levels. For example, at first level, the thief has a 23% chance to move silently and a 13% chance to hide in shadows – both of which are required to backstab in LL (p. 12), giving the first-level thief less than a 3% chance to even have the opportunity to execute a backstab. That's less than one combat in thirty. Similarly with a 14% chance to find a trap and then again a 14% chance to actually remove it, the first-level thief has less than a 2% chance to find and remove any given trap. I've often felt that the early edition thief, at low levels, is just a weak fighter with poor armor.

On the one hand I think the Delving Deeper approach to the thief is a good one. In DD, the thief  succeeds in thiefly skills on a d6 roll of 3-6, or 67% of the time, irrespective of level. This lets him actually do stuff early in his career. On the other hand, he never gets better at thieving, and I'd like to keep the possibility of the thief actually improving his skills as he advances.

So I've reworked the actual LL "Thief Skills Table" to look like this (click to enlarge):

With this table, that same first-level thief has a 65% chance (similar to DD) each for finding and removing traps, giving a 42% chance of finding and removing any given trap. He's still going to miss that trap – or fail to disarm it – over 50% of the time, but he at least has a fighting chance. It beats the heck out of a 2% chance to find and remove a trap. The same applies to the backstab – the thief will successfully move into position again 42% of the time. While this may seem a bit on the high end for backstabbing opportunities, the thief will still fail to move undetected into back-stabbing position more than 50% of the time. And of course as soon as the thief gets his stab in, against one adversary, the remainder of the enemy will be alerted to his presence, and he'll be stuck alone behind enemy lines – so he will still have to use the skill jucidiously.

I'm going to think about this some more, maybe tweak the numbers (65% may be a hair high for first level), but I do plan to boost the thief's abilities in any event. 

Has anyone else out there tweaked the thief ability rules? If so, how did you do it, and how did it work for you?


  1. I've just started a new campaign and the way I did it was to start off most skills at a 2 in 6 (33%) chance (just like elves being good at finding secret doors), increasing a few levels later to 3 in 6 (50%) and so on, giving the player the option whether to use a d6 or d% roll.

    1. Interesting, nice to know I'm not the only one to want to bump things up a bit.

  2. I've never tweaked the thief, but I like what you've done here.