Seriously, they do.
But the question is, why?
Ever since Black Dougal died to that poison needle trap in the back of the Red Moldvey Basic D&D book (my first D&D book), I knew that thieves were a pretty crap choice. Hell, if they get killed off in the example of play, then how good could they be?
When I envisioned thieves, I thought of people like this:
Or maybe this:
Or possibly someone like this:
What D&D gave me were guys like this:
Now, in part this disconnect comes from me not realizing how deeply mired Dungeons and Dragons was in the Swords and Sorcery genre, rather than the High Fantasy of Tolkien or the Arthurian Mythos. But I also secretly believe that Gygax just didn’t like the idea of the thief so he made it intentionally suck.
I mean, let’s look at Fighters. They start out in B/X as Veterans. These characters are not farm boys given their father’s swords. No, these people have seen action. So much so that they are potentially twice as touch as a ‘normal human’. Wizards, while limited to a single spell a day can potentially dominate a person for a month, or put a military squad out of action with a Sleep spell. Ok, Clerics get the short end of the stick. They are sub-par warriors at 1st level, though they need less experience so they balance out a bit.
Then, in comes Thieves in Greyhawk. The 1st level Thief has… laughable… chances of success at level 1. Fighters, Wizards, and Clerics have reliable talents. While their combat ability might not be great compared to what it will eventually become, they can still function in their roles. But the thief really can’t. They are relegated to the back of the party, plinking away with their bows and praying to the gods that they never get called on to use their skills in a hot zone.
I’m not the only one who noticed the problem. It get’s noticed and mentioned, all-the-time. All kinds of DMs try all kinds of houserules to help make the class workable, or subsume the thief abilities into the skill sets of every class. Some DMs have gone so far as to let thief skills automatically succeed, which is a radical idea I’m actually considering.
But, ACKS provides some interesting options in the Player’s Companion. So, I’m going to try and play around with that first before I gut the system completely. More on that idea soon…