3 LBB Thief

Hokusai Ninja

The thief class was not included in the original Dungeons & Dragons boxed set. The only classes at the beginning were the cleric, fighter, and magic-user. The thief was introduced in the first add-on product, Supplement I: Greyhawk (which, despite its name, is a collection of new game options rather than a setting). (Note regarding the image to the right: the oriental style is not really appropriate for Pahvelorn, but it’s really hard to find a good public domain image that evokes the thief archetype. Submissions welcome!)

Greyhawk also introduced a whole host of rules which will be familiar to players of later D&D (different hit dice for different classes, difference dice for different weapons, more influential ability scores) but which differ rather drastically from the game as presented in the three little brown books. If you play with all the rules changes in Greyhawk, the game begins to resemble proto-AD&D.

I really like the thief though, and want to include it in my otherwise “3 LBB only” setting. It only requires a few minor tweaks to fit in. Most of the following details come from Greyhawk unchanged. The divergences are noted.

  • Combat ranks: as cleric (steps based on 4 levels; 1-4, 5-8, etc)
  • Saving throws: as magic-user
  • Prime requisite: dexterity (bonus or penalty to XP like other classes)
  • Hit dice: as magic-user
  • Strike silently from behind: +4 attack, +1d6 damage per combat rank
  • 3rd level: 80% chance to decipher obscured treasure maps
  • May cast spells from scrolls with a successful save versus magic
  • 10th level: may use scrolls of all but the most powerful spells reliably
  • Name level is “Master Thief” at 11th level
Skills by level: climb sheer surfaces, open locks, remove traps, pickpocket or move silently, hide in shadows, hear noise. As per Greyhawk; just look the values up in the booklet or ask me. The progressions could probably be rationalized (I’ve seen several such approaches on blogs and forums), but my goal here is not streamlining so much as interpretation in the light of the original booklets (though I did make a few minor changes).
With the exception of picking locks and removing traps (see below), thief skills are not unique to thieves. Anyone may attempt to move stealthily or listen at a dungeon door. Thieves, however, are the only class that gets better at these things. Also, in most cases, the abilities function as a saving throw. That is, where a character of another class would fall, a thief gets a climb sheer surfaces chance. Where a character of another class would be noticed, a thief gets a hide in shadows chance.
WEAPONS (Greyhawk page 4):

Thieves can employ magic daggers and magic swords but none of the other magical weaponry.

Thieves may use any mundane weapon in my game. They may use magic daggers and swords to their full potential. Magic weapons other than daggers and swords count as magical for determining if certain creatures (like golems) can be hit at all, but do not grant any mechanical bonus to the thief. For example, an axe +1 would not get a +1 to attack or damage when wielded by a thief, but it would be able to hit monsters that can only be damaged by magic weapons.

ARMOR (Greyhawk page 4):

They can wear only leather armor and cannot employ shields. 

Wearing armor heavier than leather will result in penalties to thief skill rolls. Some skills may not be attempted or are penalized while employing shields (preternatural climbing and striking silently from behind for sure, and others by context).

TRAPS (Greyhawk page 4):

remove small trap devices (such as poisoned needles)

The thief ability to “remove traps” is not an arbitrary trap deactivation skill, but rather a limited skill to disarm small mechanisms.
SCROLLS (Greyhawk page 4):

Thieves of the 10th level and above are able to understand magical writings, so any scroll that falls into their hands can be used by them — excluding spells which are clerical in nature. However, with spells of the 7th level and above there is a 10% chance that the effect will be the reverse of that intended (due to the fact that even Master Thieves do not fully comprehend such great magic). This reverse effect can be known only after the spell is read.

Well, first thing, in the 3 LBBs there are no spells of the 7th level and above (there may be magic more powerful than sixth level spells, but it is not the kind of magic that can be prepared in a spell slot). So, by those rules, the 10% chance of failure would never come into effect. So I have decided to extend the use of spells from scrolls backwards to lower levels, given a successful save versus spells (failure miscasts the spell and consumes the scroll).

The ability to use scrolls (unreliably) at lower levels is the only substantial change I have made to the class. I think it is reasonable because it encourages fun play (“roll to see what fun way the thief is going to screw this spell up!”) and means that players of thieves will be more likely to get some use out of scrolls (since few characters reach name level). I don’t think this “save to cast from scrolls” steps on the magic-user’s toes because it will always be more reliable to give scrolls to magic-users (since they never fail when casting a spell from a scroll). At tenth level, thief scroll use also becomes reliable, though the thief never learns how to scribe scrolls and thus still must still find them or procure them from magic-users. Also, the same societal pressures regarding diabolism and black magic apply to thieves, especially since thieves don’t usually advertise any sorcerous power they may possess. Also, many magic-users will not look kindly on their secrets being stolen.

Though I have tried to stay within the parameters of the class as written in Greyhawk, my interpretations are heavily influenced by the following sources.

You can also check out my previous attempt at a thief class rewrite.

2012 10 30 edit: see also my clarification on thief skill use.

3 thoughts on “3 LBB Thief

  1. Matthew James Stanham

    Looks good. Thief abilities are always a bit tricky, I would probably want to emphasise their relation to to spells and the like. It is worth noting, for example, that thieves, elves and halflings alike are limited to non-metallic armour when trying to improve their surprise chances. Similarly, it is significant that [i]boots of elvenkind[/i] have no armour restriction on their effectiveness.

  2. ClawCarver

    Even though I also currently run thieves as written in B/X, I can never get enough of people’s ingenious alternative takes on the class. This OD&D version is pretty elegant. I completely agree that the idea of mediocre-level thieves trying to cast spells and royally cocking them up (a la Cugel the Clever) is inherently fun, and the save vs. magic mechanic is a simple one. Nice.


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