Flat Thief Abilities

One of the legacies of ACKS is that thief abilities use a per-level throw value while other proficiencies have throw values that are flat and increase by +4 when additional ranks are taken.

The result of this legacy rule is that thief abilities are notoriously unreliable at early levels; and by the time their abilities become reliable, thieves find themselves lackluster in comparison to spellcasters who can cast Find Traps, Knock, and Telekinesis.

In creating the Player’s Companion, I worked out a series of constants representing what the effective value of an ability at a particular level of experience is. This is how the trade-offs for class powers are calculated. For example, a power at 7th level is worth about half a power at 1st level. This same math allowed me to work out the following flat target values for thief skills:

Open Locks 12+
Find and Remove Traps 13+
Pick Pockets 11+
Move Silently 12+
Climb Walls 4+
Hide in Shadows 14+
Hear Noise 10+

As an optional rule, instead of having a variable target value with level, give the thief (or other class) these flat target values when he selects the class power.

A thief who selects the same power again (or spends a proficiency rank) gains +4 on his throw.

I’m contemplating including this as a rule in the “Hero Conqueror King” supplement. As a player, would you choose the traditional ability progression or would you choose the flat values?

Alternatively, what about a system with slightly higher target values and a minor but still credible advancement per level progression?

NOTE: Hijinks would not a second look, I know.

I’ve already had players complain of the unreliableness/riskiness of thieves. I’m not sure I’d want them to get all their effectiveness up-front, so I think I would favor slightly higher target values with more minor advancement.

Definitely an interesting idea, at the very least. My one potential concern with using it is that I like to run high-lethality games, which tends to mean a preponderance of low-level characters, so front-loading abilities is proportionately more beneficial. That said, I’m not convinced that front-loading thief abilities in particular would be game-breakingly powerful.

At the very least, I’ll probably try this out at some point and see how it goes.

Here is one other alternative way to do it.

  1. Thief abilites may be purchased as a bundle of 8 abilities which begin at the following target values: open locks 21+, find traps 18+, remove traps 21+, pick pockets 21+, move silently 21+, hide in shadows 21+, climb walls 12+, hear noise 18+.

  2. At first level, a thief has 22 points he can spend to reduce these target values.

  3. Each level thereafter, the thief gains 8 additional points.

This would allow a first level thief to specialize a bit.

Another option would be to allow the thief to pick one of four or five pre-generated templates at 1st level. For example:

Mechanist: Open Locks 12+, Find Traps 13+, Remove Traps 13+, Pick Pockets 21+, Move Silently 21+, Hide in Shadows 21+, Climb Walls 12+, Hear Noise 18+

Stalker: Open Locks 21+, Find Traps 18+, Remove Traps 21+, Pick Pockets 21+, Move Silently 10+, Hide in Shadows 10+, Climb Walls 12+, Hear Noise 18+

Cat Burglar: Open Locks 16+, Find Traps 18+, Remove Traps 21+, Pick Pockets 21+, Move Silently 16+, Hide in Shadows 16+, Climb Walls 5+, Hear Noise 18+


First method:

Open Locks 12+ (Level 6) +30%
Find and Remove Traps 13+ (Level 6) +25%
Pick Pockets 11+ (Level 6/7) +30%
Move Silently 12+ (Level 6) +30%
Climb Walls 4+ (Level 4-6) +10%
Hide in Shadows 14+ (Level 6) +25%
Hear Noise 10+ (Level 5) +20%

So, in general, you’re starting off with the abilities of a ~6th level standard thief, and you’re getting an extra 25-30% success rate. I’m sure I’m wrong by a point here and there.

By the time a thief gets to 6th level, he’s had the ability to choose 4 proficiencies, plus INT bonus, if any. A proficiency spent on a skill more-or-less equates you to an 8th level standard thief.

Powergamer hat says that’s a hard choice, and I think it’s really one that depends on the game itself, and the DM. A DM that applies bonuses/penalties for lock or trap complexity, for example, would lean towards the standard method. A game where you’re not expecting to go into domain play favors the new method.

A slower progression that tops out after another 35% or so (say at the 10th/11th level numbers) would be an easier sell. Actually, if you had them all stop around the 3+ mark, that would match up with the guaranteed Magical Research failure throw.

And building a class that gains a power at a later level would be less of an issue.

Second Method:

126 points to spend over a 14th level career, and taking everything to 1+ costs…145 points. That leaves a 19 point hole, spread over 7 skills means you’ll have…5 at 4+ and 2 at 3+, at 14th?

That’s not bad. I favor this just because I like the occasional point-buy.

Class-build wise, lower Thievery values would just get less points at start and per level?

If the first method included a slower progression, I think I’d like it better. I already apply bonuses/penalties to Open Lock and Traps, just because of the failure rate (I do a sliding time scale, lower roll it takes longer and longer to fiddle with the lock) and I could eliminate a lot of that sort of thing.

If not, then the second method, as I’d rather be bad at things by choice than by fiat. (and the occasional, “Well f*ck, does it look like I climb walls?” sort of interaction) and I like the idea of including those builds in the templates.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but that’s getting pretty close to a skill-point system. Also it would have to be limited to PCs only, or there would be a strong incentive to hire multiple thief henchmen, each with all 22 points dumped into a particular skill. Then again, I suppose that’s a more accurate model of a “heist” where you have several specialists instead of a couple generalists.

Hey, I worked up something similar to this at http://wanderinggamist.blogspot.com/2013/06/acks-thief-variant.html ! I started skills off at 22+ (except Hear Noises, which started at 18+ as for everyone else), and then you got a number of 4-point increases at a rate depending on class Thief Value. I think my way would produce a little less decision paralysis on levelling, but at the expense of granularity in specialization.

In any case, I think the ideas discussed in this thread are marvelous. My players avoided thieves religiously because they were so unreliable; I would like to see that change.

Indeed. I’ve toyed with the idea of building a skill point system for ACKS at some point. But that will have to await another day.

I support anything that enables heist movies, in general.

~ Why can’t we pick our own names?

  • No way, no way. Tried it once, doesn’t work. You got four guys all fighting over who’s gonna be Mr. Dragon, but they don’t know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You’re Mr. Goblin. Be thankful you’re not Mr. Kobold.

I hadn’t read this section before, but it’s quite fascinating! Your thoughts are very much along the same lines as mine. The mathematics you noted to calculate of two advances per level at +4 each works out very closely to my calculated 8 points per level. Going with 22 instead of 21 does have the virtue of matching the typical 4-point spread used in ACKS proficiences. So I salute you!

Both of our systems run into problems when correlating into the class-building system in a way that reflects the ability to do trade-offs by level and so on.

You do suffer significant opportunity cost in number of henchmen, though.

I’d say that flat thief skills do intrigue me a lot: after all, otherwise 1st level thieves are pretty weak, at least without bonuses for easier-than-usual tasks (e.g. simpler-than-usual locks). On the other hand, they do need to improve with level, to allow a 14th level thief to be a true Master Thief. So maybe start higher than in core ACKS, BUT progress more slowly afterwards? Also, don’t fighters start with a passable chance of success in attacks, and then improve every two levels? Why not do the same with thieves? And maybe vary locks/traps by the “AC” needed to beat in order to crack them open?

Another possibility is specialization - i.e. choose between several thief templates at chargen, each starting “high” in certain skills, and normal in others…

Another blog (NOT by myself - I do not wish to take credit on other people’s work!) dealing with thief fixes for ACKS:





That was discussed here, if anyone wants to see what’s already been talked about:


And here’s another conversation about spending skill points:


I like alternatives, and of Alex’s alternatives I like the second alternative best. However, any alternative that doesn’t work with the class construction system and any other class with thieving skills is a nonstarter for me. But I would think the alternatives could be extended beyond the Thief? The system already has both proficiencies with throws that advance with level and with throws that only advance with another proficiency choice.

Yes, part of my reason for seeing what “flat” thief skills would be was to find out how closely the mathematics resembled the typical 11+ you get with a flat proficiency. It would make for much easier conversion to and fro between proficiencies that advance with level and those which don’t.

Essentially there is an asymmetry in the game right now. If you take Magic Engineering at level 1, and Loremastery at level 5, you are nerfed vis a vis someone who tooke Loremastery at Level 1 and Magical Engineering at Level 5. Or any other example of flat base versus variable.

I like the idea of flat values with modifications for using proficiency slots to improve on a Thief ability. I’m not too keen on winding up with a skill point system. For a game based on B/X that seems a bit too much of “micro designing” a character l, but tastes vary.

For proficiencies like Climbing and Eavesdropping would they be changed to grant the flat ability rather than the by level ability?

Should there be a new proficiency called improve Thief Ability that player’s could take? Would this be a class proficiency? Would another possibilty be to make a general proficiency called Thief Ability that grants the flat ability to one ability, and that can be taken again to improve it by +4 each time it is repeated? Just throwing some spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

A downside of having the thief use proficiencies to advance theif abilities is that it may mean he rarely uses proficiencies outside of these increases. Perhaps somewhat related, I thought that the number of starting proficiencies is kind of low. A house rule I’m considering is to have the base starting number of general proficiencies be 4 instead of 1. This number of starting general proficiencies can be modified by the Intelligence bonus OR penalty.

Here is another variant. This has the same mathematical value as the standard thief progression, but it offers better scores upfront with slower progress overtime. It's better for levels 1-5, worse for levels 7+. 

Level Open Locks Find and Remove Traps Pick Pockets* Move Silently Climb Walls Hide in Shadows Hear Noise
1 14 14 13 14 6 14 14
2 14 14 13 13 5 14 13
3 13 13 12 13 5 14 12
4 13 13 12 12 4 16 11
5 12 12 11 12 4 15 10
6 12 12 11 11 4 14 9
7 11 11 10 11 3 12 8
8 11 11 10 10 3 10 7
9 10 10 9 10 3 8 6
10 10 10 9 9 2 6 5
11 9 9 8 9 2 4 4
12 9 9 8 8 2 3 3
13 8 8 7 8 1 2 2
14 8 8 7 7 1 1 1

ALSO, many of the house rules linked above were excellent - thank you of reminding me of them. I will read them closely as I work on ACKS Heroic Fantasy...


Lock/Trap “AC” gets back to the core d20 mechanic, actually - if they’d skipped the skill system entirely and made the progression of skills tied to level.

Take Base Attack Bonus, call it Base Stealth Bonus, Base Device Bonus, etc. etc.

It could probably work in something like ACKS/BX since there’s more of a “cap” on things - you won’t get to the madness of a +34 Device check versus a DC 45 lock, for example.

So Attack Throw, Stealth Throw, Device Throw, Climb Throw, etc.

What’s the highest AC in ACKS? 12-ish for the eldest dragons? Looking at the Magic Item Creation table, things seem to max (by default) at +3? So Plate +3 plus a shield +3 gets you what, AC 13+DEX?

Maybe cap Difficulty Class of objects at 15 or so?

Then you could let proficiencies give you another descending throw value - so Beast Friendship goes from 15+ to 5+, going from a DC 0 for “It’s a kitty!” to DC 15 for “Southeastern tropical crenelated drop bear”

That way probably lies madness, though…actually, wait, that’s true. DCC RPG does that with the mostly-capped Difficulty Classes. The skill progression varies but it goes from around +0-+3 to around +9+15-ish over ten levels.

And a ST (skill throw?) of 5+ equates to d20+15 for a DC20 task.

I believe the theoretical highest AC in ACKS is a paladin with Weapon & Shield Proficiency and Aura of Protection, at DEX 18, equipped with Plate +3, Shield +3, Ring of Protection +3, Cloak of Displacement, for a retarded (1+3+6+3+1+3+3+2+1) AC 23.