Friday, May 7, 2010

Why the thief?

Internet blogs, website message boards, and FRPG fanzines have all been buzzing with some fairly harsh criticism of this venerable class.

The thief, it is said, is simply a bad fit with the rest of the game. Critics claim that making activities like picking pockets and hiding in shadows dedicated thief class abilities creates awkward situations where fighting men, clerics, and magic-users are de facto prohibited (or at least strongly discouraged) from attempting to perform the same feats. My first submission to Fight On!, "The Thief Skill As Saving Throw", was an effort to address just this mechanical dilemma.

That aside, the arguments of the anti-thief camp are quite compelling. It’s the proposed solutions that leave me cold. The most common prescription is either radical re-design of the entire class from the ground up or elimination of the thief class altogether.

What’s the problem with these options?

Well, you see, I like the standard thief. Lots of us do. This is because the class as written presents a unique challenge. A fighter that fails to sneak past an orc sentry can fall back on his considerable martial prowess to save his bacon. The magic-user has even more options due to his repertoire of spells, from the subtle (Charm the orc) to the simplistic (blast him with Magic Missiles). The potent cleric can draw on both brute force and arcane might!

The thief has no fallback options. He gets by with his wits and larcenous expertise or not at all. This unique approach (and challenge, as the thief is arguably the most difficult class to find success with) makes the thief a favorite of many, and it's precisely what I think a lot of the class' critics fail to appreciate. I, for one, am at a loss to explain how eliminating this singular way of confronting (A)D&D's many challenges could possibly benefit the game.



  1. I don't have an issue with the thief, but he should be a fighter subclass

  2. Do you not see my whole point? A fighter (and all subclasses of such) is a most formidable...fighter.

    A thief is not.

  3. I wrote on this topic too.

    The problems with the Thief are two fold.

    One It doesn't play well with the other classes. The lack of clear interaction between the thieves class abilities and the other classes ordinary adventuring tasks like climbing and sneaking is very annoying

    As an example OK, only thieves can pick locks, thats fine. But anyone can be stealthy or climb How do the thief ability work with others doing this. The usual Phitholomy advice just doesn't quite work right. And please don't take away my OSR card for this but I often wish there was a unified task system for Older D&D versions (but not the 3x one, shudder)


    The whiff factor (other than for climbing) is too high in most cases. The thief fails far too often to be much fun.

  4. My problem with the thief is that it's a profession, not an archetype. There *is* a "clever, tricky" archetype, but the thief seems far too specific. Plus, he's got a large list of special abilities, and most of them aren't very good to start with.

    My solution was to make a Trickster replacement class with only two abilities: use misdirection to reroll surprise at any time, and add level as a bonus to actions that use cleverness or subterfuge. I then make almost all the usual thief abilities surprise based. Hit Dice and experience are identical to the Fighter class. The result is a more powerful but easier to use class that fits well with the Fighter.

  5. I've always enjoyed the thief. As player and DM.
    It's important to keep in mind that class abilities are defining not limiting.

  6. Oh, I was supposed to read your post? :D

    In my mind, everyone's a thief, including the Fighter, MU and Cleric. What the heck are they doing graverobbing if they're not thieves? Instead of having a separate thief, let any of the other classes gain thiefly skill abilities, if you want those in the game.

    If you want to create a challenged character, create a fighter with a low Str and high Dex, and play him as a swashbuckling rogue that lives by his wits and speed and sometimes the point of his fencing sword.

    Leave the thieving and other thief abilities to player skill, not dice rolls.

  7. "As an example OK, only thieves can pick locks, thats fine. But anyone can be stealthy or climb How do the thief ability work with others doing this."

    This is what I tackled in Fight On! #6.

    Basically, my method is to use the thief skill as an extra chance to succeed if the first roll fails. So the thief essentially gets two chances at every "thiefly" task and only needs to succeed at one of them.

  8. Interesting idea Will. I don't get Fight On! yet (too many other needs for my meager $$) but I will check that out eventually.

  9. I've always thought the thief fit in fairly well in most groups. It's true that their skillset is quite a bit different than the other classes but by the same time they fill in a very unique technical role that can make life substancially easier. They're tied to the party for perhaps few reasons (wealth, prestige, revenge, whatnot.) Thats really all thats needed to be in a cause though. Also, it's a fabulous adventure hook into another world itself.

    The problem comes from sticking too stoicly to the rulesets. Often the thief is on their own and failing a skill can be very punishing without support. Either they need some second chances of pulling things off, or the GM needs to look at failures as a good storytelling opportunity with the PC being fast on their feet. I prefer a little of the former and a lot of the latter myself.