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!)
- 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
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)
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.
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.
- Robert Fisher’s On thief skills in classic D&D
- Philotomy’s Thieves and Thief Skills
- Matthew James Stanham’s Thieving Ability
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.
Great stuff. Despite my own posts about thieves I am currently DM’ing thieves as written in B/X.
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.
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.