Flat Thief Abilities

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.

I’m going to chime in here with something I posted elsewhere recently in response to the notion that BECMI Thieves suck (which they do, to an extent). I think a significant part of what makes Thieves suck are factors outside the Class abilities. Anyway, on to what I was saying…

Agreed. Just using the B/X progression is the easiest fix. It’s also important to keep in mind what Thief skills are, and aren’t. For example, Move Silently isn’t your chance of quietly getting close to someone (that would be a Surprise roll), it’s the chance of being completely silent. Similarly, a Climb Walls check isn’t for climbing a tree, rope, or sloped rock face, it’s for climbing sheer surfaces. Open Locks is for when you don’t want to bash through a door, or smash open a chest. Find Traps is for the stuff you didn’t or can’t find through player interaction, making it like an extra saving throw. Keeping this in perspective helps ameliorate the pressure on the Thief who is probably only going to make ~20% of their low-level checks. You can also grant bonuses to the chances for some tasks that are particularly easy, but still within the purview of only the Thief.

The other thing that helps a low-level Thief is avoiding catastrophic consequences for routine checks. For some checks this is unavoidable (e.g. Climb Walls), and others have specific stipulations (e.g. Pick Pockets and the victim’s level/chance to notice), but not every failed check should end in disaster (e.g. failing Find Traps doesn’t trigger the trap). Also try to avoid stacking multiple checks into a single operation just because; the worst offender for this, in my experience, is Move Silently and Hide in Shadows to surprise or Backstab someone, leaving a 1st level Thief a 2% total chance of success. That’s just bad DMing, as most circumstances aren’t going to require both (or possibly either; for example, a previously hidden Thief attacking from the rear against an opponent engaged with the rest of the party).

The last important piece of the puzzle is making sure the Thief player understands the capabilities and limitations of their character. Trying to Hide in Shadows to surprise and Backstab an Ogre when scouting alone is a foolish proposition. Climbing a 40’ wall is risking certain death. Choose options that have reasonable chances for success and consequences for failure that you can live with. And, above all, get support from the rest of the party.

Thief abilities are “I win” buttons. Treating them as such puts the low starting chances in perspective.

There we go. And that’s close enough to DC 20 (or DC 25 for truly supernatural/exceptional circumstances in DCC).

Indeed. I’ve seen this same reasoning elsewhere, and it makes complete sense. I’d been doing that so far in some manner or form.

Open Locks/Traps, if the roll is made, opens the lock/trap immediately, no matter what. If the roll is missed, it takes some (random roll) of rounds to fiddle with depending on the complexity of the lock.

I don’t necessarily care if the lock always eventually gets opened; I want the chance for random happenstance to make it have been a bad idea to sit there and wait for the thief to get done.

Movie-drama, as it were.

I’ve been offhandedly considering (if the environment allows for it) to let Hide In Shadows double up as a “save” for gaining another backstab opportunity against an opponent engaged with someone else in melee; somehwat like Swords & Wizardry does. (i.e., a weaker Acrobatics)

I know unified systems have appeal, but what if we remove the “nerf” rather than unify proficiencies/skills’ throw advancement?

Some proficiencies simply require an investment over time to improve, while others improve based on the prowess of the hero (irrespective of when they learn the proficiency).

I love ACKS. But thieves in pretty much all old school D&D-type systems are irritating to me. They really are. Their abilities are so lackluster at low-to-mid levels that players are typically afraid to use them. I’ve been tempted to just give them a high chance of success off-the-bat and then attempt to codify some modifiers for situation or environment for each skill. Then I’d increase that already high chance of success every couple of levels until they had a base 5% chance of failure (before modifiers) by the time they were around name level. Why not? Is a thief that can hide in shadows and move silently reliably right off the bat that much of a powerhouse? They still have a d4 hit die, light armor, and a mediocre attack throw. I don’t mind if they start off with a good shot at getting a x2 backstab in during a combat, or think they can pick a pocket at first level without a 45% chance of alerting their mark. I know it’s anti-old school, but there. I said it. Let the thief be thiefy right off the bat.

Why not give them a flat 75% chance (a throw of 6 or better) at 1st level to succeed at their skills in a favorable environment/situation. Then give them a bonus to succeed if the situation is optimal and a penalty if it is less-than-favorable. A “1” is always a failure and a “20” is always a success. That gets the thief engaged in using their environment or weighing a situation to see how they can make the most out of it. They know it will affect their chances to succeed, which in my opinion is exactly what a thief should be doing - taking it all in to see how to stack the deck in their favor, and making the most out of a situation that they can. Currently a low level thief is reduced to gulping and rolling the dice to see if they get an 18 or better. And climbing walls with some confidence. Otherwise they hide in the back and siphon xp, or no one wants to play one unless you start the game at 5th level. I see a lot of thief henchmen and very few thief PCs, particularly in OSR games with no multiclassing. Ahem. I know there are folks out there that love thieves and love the insane challenge of them and what I’m saying is blasphemy - all I can say is that I read their messages on boards all the time but I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen an enthusiastic, risk-taking, low-level thief in a game unless they were playing a multiclassed thief/something-or-other or were in a 1-shot.

Move silently would be modified by the surface they’re walking on and ambient noise, open locks and find/remove traps by the complexity of the lock/trap and/or the speed at which they attempt to open/find/remove, hear noise modified by obstacles, ambient noise, and the sound itself.

Ultimately, I’d rather hear a PC thief say “Yeah, of course I can open this lock, but it’s going to take some time. Watch my back and look out for trouble.” instead of “I only have a 15% chance to open this lock… where’s the mage and does he have knock?” Let the risky rolls come when the situation demands it and the thief is trying to work their trade in a less-than-optimal situation, like when an ogre with a big club is trying to squish them flat.

Is it actually stated in the book that for the variable proficiencies (like Loremastery), you only benefit from the number of levels that you’ve had the proficiency rather than your total level? Because I totally missed that and have interpreted it the other way around - i.e., that there’s no discrepancy and both of those characters would throw 14+ (18+ at level 1, reduced by 1 per level) for Loremastery at 5th level, regardless of one having taken it at level 1 and the other at level 5.

In principle, using proficiency slots to improve thief abilities sounds good, I agree, but, in practice, I think proficiencies are gained too slowly for that to be a practical solution - as it stands now, a thief only gets four class proficiencies total for his entire lifetime, even if he makes it all the way to level 14. So which four thief skills does he choose to improve? Or does he skip improving them to gain other proficiencies instead?

The system which seems most sensible to me would be to give thieves a certain number of points to use at initial character creation to set their base throws for all their abilities and then get a bonus equal to level (or half level?) on all thief ability throws. This allows for custom specialization (based on how you allocate your initial points) with steady progression (so it’s not completely front-loaded), while avoiding issues with turning into a fiddly skill point system (you don’t allocate points when you level up, just gain another +1 to the throws) or causing problems with custom class creation (you need to scale the starting points based on the number of abilities you have, but, after that, having one thief ability or all of them doesn’t affect how it works).

For me, I don’t mind a Thief class that can only truly master 1 or 2 abilities. With the flat abilities alternative the thief is ahead of the curve for about half of his career, and when he falls behind after level 7 is when what proficiencies he spends determines his specialization.

Maybe your concerns can be mitigated by allowing both General and Class proficiency slots to be used to increase a Thief ability?

I don’t think what you’re saying is blasphemy, and I’ve certainly heard that complaint from my players. Even one who was an assassin, which is ostensibly a multi-classed fighter/thief, was disappointed at how difficult it is to reliably move silently. It doesn’t help that a player just reading the move silently/hide in shadows rolls doesn’t realize that there are also surprise rolls and hear noise throws that amp up their odds.

The more I read this thread, the more I’m convinced thieves need an overhaul. Even with the lower XP threshold, it’s not enough to make people want to be PCs, and in ACKs especially one has to be careful about classes getting divided into “PC worthy” classes and “Henchman” classes coughventurercough coughpriestesscough

No, I don’t think there is a rule like that. Just an unspoken (and uncalculated) assumption on my part.

I, um… we’ve been doing it the opposite way, with scaling profs based solely on current character level. As a result, in our experience flat profs are stronger when taken at low levels, while scaling profs are better taken at the mid- or high-levels when you actually have a shot at succeeding with them. I think even if scaling profs were modified to grow based on levels since taken, I would prefer to ignore such a rule on bookkeeping and easy NPC creation grounds.

I’ll likely pull either the flat values or the better start, slow progressing option for my forthcoming ACKS game. I’m having some difficulty choosing between the two.

I can’t see myself using any kind of point buy. I know a certain type of player would really like it, but the time at level up or character creation is a deal-breaker for me. It’d end up screening other players out of the class.

Thieves being strictly better in a game stuck at low levels is pretty okay with me; they’re challenging enough as is you shouldn’t be breaking anything.

In general I’m in Bobloblah’s camp re thief skills: nigh-mystical, essentially a “second bite at the apple” alongside surprise rolls, figuring out the trap as a player, etc. My one reservation would be the effect of keeping that going alongside the better chances, especially the flat ones. The answer may be its just fine, no different from running for mid level thieves. But I’m not sure if there’s something I’m missing.