Thief Magic

Despite the fact that I am very partial to the LotFP specialist interpretation of the thief archetype, I just had another idea for how to do thieves after reading Matthew James Stanham’s excellent article on thieving abilities. He writes:

Moreover, and as Robert Fisher pointed out to me several years ago by ways of his writings on the subject, thief abilities are not just colourfully named skills, but frequently duplicate spell effects, such as silence, invisibility, knock, find traps, and spider climb. [Link to Robert Fisher’s page updated so that it works.]

Why not just give thieves the ability to cast those spells? They could get one every other level, or perhaps every level, either in a fixed order, or based on player choice. It would probably be better to create a fixed order, both to decrease character creation load and because invisibility at first level might be too powerful (on the other hand, is invisibility really more powerful than charm person or sleep?). Each spell could be used once per day, or maybe the total number of spells per day equal to level or level divided by 2. If you wanted to expand the list of thief spells, other candidates might include some of the illusionist spells and animal friendship (I’m thinking here of Alec from the Nightrunner series, and how he was able to pacify guard dogs by saying “peace, friend hound” in Elvish or something like that).

These abilities could either be conceptualized as an inherent ability to tap into magical power (this would result in a more supernatural thief class) or something closer to the spells of a hedge wizard, which would require the thief to keep a spell book and memorize spells in the same manner as the standard magic-user class. Idea: thief that tattoos his spell book all over his forearms. Further idea: magic-users consider thieves’ guilds to have stolen their secrets, and seek to punish magic-using thieves whenever they get the chance.

There is significant precedence for this approach, both in terms of rules for other classes and in terms of the inspirational literature. The paladin, for example, has the ability to cure disease, as the spell. Thieves gain the ability to cast spells from scrolls. And The Gray Mouser was a wizard’s apprentice before he was an adventuring rogue. Edge from Final Fantasy IV (great picture here), who was able to use ninja magic, also comes to mind.

4 thoughts on “Thief Magic

  1. BlUsKrEEm

    I came up with a simular idea about a year ago. I made a deck of Catburgaluar “feat” cards. Catburagalars could play a number of cards per day equal to half their level rounded up. They could play any number of cards at one time (with in their daily limit,) but they only had one copy of each card, so they could only “Ambush” once a round. Every thief ability had a feat equivalent, but I added some other thiefy abilities (loosen bonds, throw voice, one-more-dagger, etc.)

    I can’t recall if I ever offered the class in game, but it hasn’t been tested yet. I still have the cards made up however just in case.

  2. Brendan

    I think it would be interesting to use a deck of cards for some sort of mechanic within the game, especially if a way could be found to use classic playing cards or a tarot deck. What thief ability might the jack of spades represent, for example?

  3. JD

    I offered the thief with a quater of the MUs ability to cast spells and with a spell list focused mainly on physical spells in my group (first spell on level 4 and so forth). Mainly because I think in a world where the most precious things are protected by magic, a thief without the ability to work with magic is kind of worthless. It works very well so far.

    And I like your idea of a MU/Thief rivalry!

  4. _andris

    So there is no need for a Thief class. Thief are low level magic-users with this limited spell list. Other thiefs just fighting-men, who can’t afford or simply don’t prefer heavy armor, and often attack from behind. And use scrolls, why not? Being a thief is more a background thing than a class.


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