Friday, September 27, 2013

Going Old School - Thieves Do It Better

    So last night I was lying in bed listening to music like usual, when suddenly something hit me.  I had read a post a while ago about thief skills.  The post talked about how the thief skills were not something only thieves could do, after all anyone can hide in a closet - but they were things thieves could do in more difficult circumstances, like hiding in the shadows (I would give credit to the author if I could remember who/where).  For some reason that came back and struck a chord, and I started thinking of ways to describe the thief skills in terms of what everyone could do, and then how the thief could do it in a different way.  So I broke out my list of AD&D 2nd Ed thief skills and came up with this:

    Everyone can- climb, by using rope, or a grapnel hook, pitons, and all that stuff
    But the thief can- Free-handed Climb, without any tools or support (though the rougher the surface the easier it is)

    Everyone can- find/remove traps, I like a series of posts I read here, that talks about how all traps should be obvious in terms of the trap being there, the challenge is to figure out how to disable it.  I like that idea, so we'll say that this is an 'everyman' skill.
    But the thief can- Bypass A Trap, what we'll let our thieves do though, is get around the trap without setting it off.  This leaves the trap there (to cover the rear so to speak) and gives no clues that the party passed it.

    Everyone can- hear noise, people talking, the sounds of battle, footstpes coming down the hall, all things that anyone can hear.
    But the thief can- Eavesdrop, hearing something you weren't supposed to hear, like reading lips in a crowded tavern, listening through the walls or door, picking up whispers of noise.

    Everyone can- hide, by using some type of object, like a closet, bed, statue, shrub, and such-like.
    But the thief can- Hide In Plain Sight, naturally the darker it is, the easier it is, but a cleaver thief will shimmy up a wall or otherwise position themselves cleverly.

    Everyone can- move silently, by tip-toeing around, assuming they are not wearing anything that creaks or jangles of course.
    But the thief can- Move Undisturbed, like walking through a child's room and not tripping on something, moving in the dark through a china shop and not knocking anything over.

    Everyone can- bash down a door or force open a chest, if you are strong enough, or don't mind risking damage to the contents of a container, you can open anything.
    But the thief can- Open Without A Key, which means the item can be re-closed, and no traces of passage/use remain.
--as an aside, speaking of locks Telecanter had a great idea for an alternate lock-picking system, latest post here

    Everyone can- pick pockets, with the help of a distraction, like a teammate who drops something to cause heads to turn, or from someone who is sleeping.
    But the thief can- Act Unnoticed, doing something in plain sight without anyone being any the wiser.

    Everyone can- read languages, understanding anything they know (and it's surprising how many languages people know, the D&D world must be full of language tutors :)
    But the thief can- Make Inferences, like watching people and figuring out their emotional states, reading a fragment of something and figuring out what kind of text it is, they can connect the dots when there isn't enough information.

So that covers the basic thief skills, but while I was doing this I though of a few other things that could be considered thief skills along the same lines (though I'm sure any old-schoolers will point out we don't need any more thief skills, the following was just something of an intellectual exercise- not anything I'd actually use in a game):

    Everyone can- disguise themselves, change clothes, rub some dirt on your face, things to make you not look like you.
    But the thief can- Impersonate, a specific race and/or class and/or person (if they've studied the person).

    Everyone can- negotiate, if I give you this then you'll do/give me that, is something most anyone will consider.
    But the thief can- Convince, if all I give are promises and hot air, and you still do something for me, that takes a thief.

    Everyone can- hide their tracks, walking carefully, brushing out footprints, you have to go slower but its pretty easy.
    But the thief can- Lay A False Trail, but to make it look like you went somewhere else is mad skillz.

    Everyone can- communicate, talking, marking things, letting others know what's going on.
    But the thief can- Pass A Secret Message, by communicating in a way that only the target will know something's being said.

    So there are 12 skills that anyone can do, but thieves can do better.  Is this any help whatsoever?  I kinda doubt it, but since the idea kept me awake last night I had to go ahead and write it down.

    Actually, there is something I think useful about this.  Others have commented on how once you introduce skills players have a bad tendency to assume that if they don't have the skill then they can't do the action.  This discourages them from thinking outside the box and trying new things.  Which can be a problem, I've even had it myself from time to time.  Another post, and I can't remember who, said that everything should be a rule.  So everyone can climb at 1/2 their base speed.  Then classes can modify that, so thieves can climb at full speed - and that way you don't need specific skills.  That actually struck me as brilliant, and is something I've taken a look at with my own game I'm designing.  You want to encourage people to try something, to think that they can do anything, that is a core part of what makes pen-and-paper RPGs fun after all. 
    Talysman at 9 and 30 Kingdoms had a great observation in a comment:

There are a number of competing definitions of "new school" vs. "old school" floating around, but perhaps one pair could be "thinks going outside the box is a bonus" vs. "thinks going outside the box is a feature". Or maybe "focuses on the defined abilities and role of the character" vs. "focuses on options outside the defined abilities and role of the character"

    That I think, along with his taking me to task for stereotyping the thief class, was what led to my semi-sleepless night.  Going outside the box is good, and I think its also nice when the rules help layout the box as a toybox to play with in the first place.  So I think having something like this, what everyone can do and what some just do better, is actually a good thing.  So I guess missing some sleep last night was alright after all.

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