Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reading Room: Thieves by Retro-clone

"Hah! You thought I wasn't a thief, didn't you? Well, these
are leather pants, buddy. So there!"
Similar to my entries for the Fighter and Cleric classes, I'm reading through the retro-clone descriptions of the Thief Class to get some sense of the essence of the character class before building it in HERO System 6th Edition.

Yes, there is an 6th Edition Fantasy Hero book out, and I'll be referring to it as well for the mechanics. However, I'm trying to build something that hearkens back to then essence of the D&D classes -- Fantasy Hero really broadens the definitions and gives more options to allow different types of classes so something may be lost. Anyway, HERO prides itself on allowing folks to build exactly the characters they want -- I'm just trying to figure out what I want from the classes first.

Basic Fantasy RPG says:
Thieves are those who take what they want or need by stealth, disarming traps and picking locks to get to the gold they crave; or “borrowing” money from pockets, beltpouches, etc. right under the nose of the “mark” without the victim ever knowing.

Thieves fight better than Magic-Users but not as well as Fighters. Avoidance of honest work leads Thieves to be less hardy than the other classes, though they do pull ahead of the Magic-Users at higher levels.

They may use any weapon, but may not wear metal armor as it interferes with stealthy activities, nor may they use shields of any sort. Leather armor is acceptable, however.
Clearly, Basic Fantasy RPG doesn't avoid the implications of the character class name and makes the acquisition or procurement of wealth or items as the primary motivator for someone who's entered into the profession of rogue -- THIEF, I mean.

It's interesting that they point out that thieves are better fighters than magic-users, but point out their lack in hit points (even supplying a rationale for it). I hadn't noticed the hit point edge they gain after 9th level, but it's good to know.

The infamous leather armor restriction is there, along with the rationale that it interferes with theiving activities.

Labyrinth Lord says:
Thieves have a range of unique skills associated with their profession that make them very handy companions in adventures. However, thieves can be a bit shady and they sometimes are not as trustworthy as other classes.

A thief will usually belong to a Thieves Guild from the character's local town, where he can seek shelter and information between adventures.

Because of their need of stealth and free movement, thieves cannot wear armor heavier than leather, and they cannot use shields. They have a need for using diverse weapons, and are able to use any kind.

A thief has the ability to backstab. He must catch an opponent unaware of his presence, using move silently and hide in shadows.
A bit more coy about the inherent lack of morality and ethics that come with being a Thief ("You can't trust him! He's wearing leather armor -- he'll rob you blind!"), Labyrinth Lord mentions other classic thief bits: the Guild and the backstab ability.

Swords & Wizardry says:
Note: the Thief is an optional character class that the Referee may choose to allow or forbid, depending on the campaign.

The thief is a figure in the shadows, an expert in stealth and delicate tasks. As a thief, locks, traps, and scouting are your trade; you are the eyes and ears of the adventuring party, the one who handles the perils of the dungeon itself. In many ways, you are a scholar of the world; in the course of your profession you pick up knowledge about languages and even magic.

True, in combat you are not the equal of armored Fighters or Clerics, but they have to rely on your knowledge and specialized skills to get them safely into and out of the dangerous places where treasure is to be found. You are the guide; the scout; and when necessary, the deadly blade that strikes from the shadows without warning.

In your profession, it takes great skill to survive – the life expectancy of most Thieves is very short. However, if you rise to high level, your reputation in the hidden community of tomb robbers and alley skulkers will attract followers to your side, often enough allies to place you in power as a guildmaster of Thieves.


A high-level Thief is a deadly opponent, for such an individual has learned subtlety and survival in the game’s most difficult profession.
All characer classes are, of course, subject to DM approval. Swords & Wizardy, however, goes as far as stating that explicitly, indicating that the class is optional and isn't necessarily meant to be a part of the generally available character classes of the game.

The description of the thief class, however, is clearly pro-thief and one that can reflect a PCs own worldview regarding his chosen profession.

Of special interest is the note that it is the game's most difficult profession -- I hadn't though about it, but I do remember that there were no straight thieves in my AD&D games. All my fellow players multi-classed their thieves, thus leading to the party's clerics, fighters, and mages all trying to see "if that door is really locked".

OSRIC says:
Thieves sneak furtively in the shadowed alleyways of cities, living by their wits. They are often members of the criminal underclass, usually trained by a thieves’ guild in the arts of burglary and stealth. It is not uncommon for a thief to seek out the great rewards that can be gained from the adventuring life, especially when circumstances require lying low for a while.

Most thieves come from the teeming masses of a large city, wherein a thieves’ guild is often the only source of justice and exercises as much power as the city’s legitimate government. Of course, not all thieves are members of a guild. Some are freelancers, evading both the authorities and the guild, living on the edge of the knife. Some are even found working on the side of the law; agents or spies who use their skills in more accepted (though equally shadowy) pursuits.

Sensible adventuring parties will almost always include a thief, for the skills of such a character are invaluable in reaching inaccessible places via climb walls, pick locks, and so on. In addition, dungeons frequently contain traps which must be located and disarmed, and the thief’s cunning and stealth conspire to make him or her very useful in a scouting role.

Thieves in OSRIC are modelled on characters of fiction and legend, particularly characters from the works of Fritz Leiber and Jack Vance. Leiber’s “Lankhmar” series is highly recommended, particularly for its description of the operation of a typical thieves’ guild; but the high-level thief’s ability to read (or misread) magic scrolls is a nod to Vance’s Cugel.
OSRIC's take actually mentions the normal origins of such a character -- from the masses of commoners living in a large city -- and gives examples of variants on the profession different from the stereotypical cutpurse or footpad.

OSRIC also mentions the role of the class outside of combat, and makes allusions to the literary origins (and thus legitimacy) of the class in the game.

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