Thieves Suck

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:

Fighter? Wizard? Either way, you just walked into the wrong bar hombre.

Or maybe this:

I’m Batm… errr… Master of the Night!

Or possibly someone like this:

Queen of Thieves

What D&D gave me were guys like this:

You guys fight that monster just one more round… I promise, I’m totally going to back stab it… just as soon as I figure out what’s up with my freakish rib cage!

And this:

Screw risking my life in some monster filled hole… there’s all this treasure above ground in town, and these fat rich guys just walk around wearing it!

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…

9 thoughts on “Thieves Suck

  1. D. says:

    Yeah, they do have some problems – slightly offset by the insanely fast advancement rate. My solution was to give them something similar to the 2E “put your points where you like” methodology, folded in some of the Thief-Acrobat skills from UA, and allow Backstabs from any direction (with surprise) – I also use skill checks as last resort as opposed to the primary test except for things like “pick locks”.


    • I’m torn. I’m torn between a universal skill system I found in Fight On! (that would have to be heavily edited for ACKS) or just letting thief skills WORK (unless you are rushed/under pressure in which case you roll). No one is playing a thief currently, so it’s not a big deal, but there is a thief hireling.

      • D. says:

        I just realized reading your response that I really tend to use the roll on Thief skills as more of a “how well did they succeed” rather than a success or failure check. So it becomes an opportunity for some flavor text, or a way for me to impart more information to the characters, rather than a roadblock. Yes, if they roll up near 90+ or 95+ it tends to be a failure, but otherwise I tend to favor the players pretty heavily.


      • More and more I’m leaning towards handling it like that, or at the very least, giving huge bonuses to the character for even attempting it. It just boggles me that everyone can do their ‘thing’ at level 1, except thieves!

      • D. says:

        Yeah, it really works pretty well. I want there to be a chance of failure – but the die roll is pretty much a last resort for most things. I think F/R Traps is the biggest exception.


  2. […] I previously mentioned, there are a plethora of ways to ‘fix’ thieves (beyond leaving them out of the game […]

  3. […] I previously mentioned, there are a plethora of ways to ‘fix’ thieves (beyond leaving them out of the game […]

  4. […] I previously mentioned, there are a plethora of ways to ‘fix’ thieves (beyond leaving them out of the game […]

  5. […] I previously mentioned, there are a plethora of ways to ‘fix’ thieves (beyond leaving them out of the game […]

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