Flat Thief Abilities

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.

I think the common thread with venturer, priestess, and thief is “d4 HD and can’t blow stuff up / drop encounter-win spells”. Nobody likes that degree of frailty without getting some serious power back out of the bargain. Venturer would be competitive with bard as a henchman-leader class if they swapped the casting at high levels for more HP, I think, but venturer is also hurt by the fact that they’re very frontloaded ability-wise. This makes them great henchmen, since a first-level henchurer is about as good at the mercantile support stuff as a higher-level PC venturer. If the market-boosting was spread out a little more over levels, this would be less of a problem.

I have yet to see priestess in play except for one time when I played one briefly (one of my players attempted to co-DM one dungeon), and it seemed OK but they’re hurt by levelling more slowly than clerics. You end up with more spells than a cleric of your same XP, but not typically better spells, and you can’t fight for crap…

makes the priestess ideal for heal-botting or for being a plentiful source of spells when it comes time to try and rack up divine power.

That rule is in the Player’s Companion page 92, discussing level lock tradeoffs.

I don’t believe it’s in ACKS Core, so a strict reading of the rules would say that it applies to proficiencies purchased with custom powers but not to proficiencies purchased through level advancement.

whatever the rules as written or intended may be, to me it seems a bad distinction considering most spells don’t work that way. When you learn fireball at level 3 it doesn’t do “1d6 per level since you’ve known fireball”, and one is clearly a lot more powerful.

I haven’t had the chance to read the entire thread yet, but fascinating stuff. Just throwing this into the ring in the meantime:

Reduce all the Thief skill throws by 6. Then introduce a difficulty scale:

0 = easy
2 = moderate
4 = hard
6 = very hard

The above values work just like AC (in fact they’re modeled exactly after the classic armor types). I don’t know exactly what you do with the climbing skill though, since it starts out so low to begin with. Overall, it would help low-level thieves without impacting higher-level ones very much and it give the GM a gauge to give the player a clue as to how hard a given attempt would be.

After reviewing the discussion and the various house-rules linked above, I think I am going to test the following in my next game(s).

Encumbrance and Thievery: Thieves benefit from being light on their feet. If the character’s encumbrance is 5 stones or less, he gains a +2 bonus on throws to hide in shadows and move silently. If the character’s encumbrance is 2 stones or less, the bonus is increased to +4. The bonuses do not apply to hijinks.

Open Locks: Each attempt to pick a lock requires 10 minutes. A thief may try again if he fails to pick a lock. However, if a thief rolls a natural 1 while attempting to pick a lock, he has broken his thieves’ tools.

Remove Traps: Each attempt to disarm a trap requires 10 minutes. A thief may try again if he fails to disarm a trap. However, if a thief rolls a natural 1 while attempting to disarm a trap, he has set off the trap.

Armor oil: Lubricating oil which quiets the creaking and squeaking of leather armor. The encumbrance of oiled armor can be ignored when moving silently for the purposes of the encumbrance and thievery rules. A pint of armor oil will keep a suit of armor oiled for one week. Cost: 2gp.

Cloak, camouflage: A cloak woven with a colored pattern that makes its wearer harder to see. Camouflaged cloaks are available in a variety of colors and patterns for various environments. If the cloak’s camouflage is appropriate to the environment, the cloak adds a +2 bonus to any proficiency throws to hide in shadows, avoid being spotted, and evade in the wilderness. Characters wearing appropriate camouflage cloaks can always hide in shadows or avoid being spotted with a throw of at least 18+. It imposes a -2 penalty if the camouflage is inappropriate to the environment. The bonus and penalty do not apply to hijinks. Cost: 15gp.

Ear Trumpet: A funnel-shaped tube of silver, wood, shell, or horn that, when placed in its wearer’s ear canal, raises the apparent volume of sound. A character using an ear trumpet gains a +2 bonus to proficiency throws to hear noise. The bonus does not apply to hijinks. Cost: 15gp.

Padded Rigging: A series of belts, straps, pads, and harnesses designed to keep items securely fastened and protectively enclosed. A character wearing padded rigging can ignore up to 1 stone worth of equipment for purposes of the encumbrance and thievery rules. Cost: 5gp.

Padded Shoes: A pair of padded shoes with soft heels that grant a +2 bonus to proficiency throws to move silently. Padded shoes are ruined if worn in badlands, hills, mountains, swamps, or woods, or in water. Cost: 15gp.

Rope, Knotted Climbing: A rope of silk or hemp, carefully knotted at arm length intervals to aid in easy climbing. Any character may climb a knotted climbing rope with a proficiency throw of 2+, adjusted by the better of the character’s Strength or Dexterity modifier. Cost: 2gp.

Thieves’ Tools, Superior: Superior thieves’ tools grant a +1 bonus to proficiency throws to open locks and remove traps. If the thief rolls a natural 1 while attempting to pick a lock, the tools may make a saving throw versus Death (at 1/2 thief’s level of experience) to resist breaking. The bonus does not apply to hijinks. Cost: 200gp.

Thieves’ Tools, Masterwork: Masterwork thieves’ tools grant a +2 to proficiency throws to open locks and remove traps. If the thief rolls a natural 1 while attempting to pick a lock, the tools may make a saving throw versus Death (at the thief’s level) to resist breaking. The bonus does not apply to hijinks. Cost: 1,600gp.

Weapon Blackener: A sealing caulk which, when applied to weapons, permanently darkens their material. The encumbrance of blackened weapons can be ignored when hiding in shadows for purposes of the encumbrance and thievery rules. A pint of weapon blackener will suffice for one two-handed weapon, two one-handed weapons, or twenty arrows or quarrels. Cost: 10gp.

First, since these rules don’t alter the throw values for the thief skills, they don’t require any changes to the proficiency or class-build system. They also don’t require adjusting the hijinks mathematics, which would be a complex endeavor.
Second, they reduce the frustration resulting from a single point of failure. A thief can now attempt to pick a lock or remove a trap repeatedly, with only time and the risk of damage to the thief or his tools serve as obstacles to repeated attempts.
Third, they introduce relatively low-cost equipment that offers thieves an improved chance of success in their core tasks - picking locks, removing traps, hiding in shadows, and moving silently. However, the equipment does not stack with common magic items (such as wands of knock, rings of invisibility, ropes of climbing or elven cloaks) so it does not increase late-game power very much.
Fourth, they reward thieves for staying light and nimble and differentiate between thieves laden with shiny weapons, loose coin, and creaky armor, and stealthier types.

Rollo, a 2nd level thief, wears oiled leather armor, padded shoes (+2 to move silently), and a dark grey camouflaged cloak (+2 to hide in shadows); he wields a blackened long sword and blackened dagger; and he carries masterwork thieves’ tools (+2), grappling hook, and 50’ knotted rope in padded rigging. His encumbrance is 4 3/6. Padded rigging reduces this to 3 3/6. For purposes of moving silently, his encumbrance is 1 3/6 (+4 bonus), for purposes of hiding in shadows it is 3 1/6 (+2 bonus).

Open Locks 15+ (30% success instead of 20% - 1.5x and see below)
Find Traps 17+
Remove Traps 15+ (30% success instead of 20% - 1.5x and see below)
Pick Pockets 16+
Move Silently 10+ (55% success instead of 20% - almost 3x)
Hide in Shadows 14+ (35% success instead of 15% - more than 2x)
Climb Walls 6+

At 1 in 6 every 2 turns, a wandering monster typically results every 12 turns. Let’s use 6 and 12 turns as the number of turns a thief can attempt to open a lock or remove a trap. With 6 tries at 30% success, the thief has an 89% chance of success. With 12 tries at 30% success, the thief has a 99% chance of success. (I have disregard the chance of breakage/setting off the trap).

Very solid, and akin to things I have toyed with doing myself for a while. Glad someone else did the heavy lifting. :stuck_out_tongue:

After having used “doing things the safe way takes more time and thus more wandering monster rolls” several times in my own campaign, I like where this is going. The only extra tweak I might propose is that if there’s anyone on the other side of the locked door, they should get the chance to hear noise on a failed lockpick attempt.

Overall though this is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Looking good Alex! I like how you’re handling it. I’m a softie, so I’ll probably try this out and also houserule adding Ability bonuses to thief skills and that should bring their skill chances up to where I want them. Plus the equipment is cool!

I think this is an unintended consequence (I like it but you may not): When they come into play, Lockpicking and Trap Finding proficiencies get a lot more useful using these rules.

I’m amazed at how smart the folks are on the ACKS forums, and how dedicated you are to weighing input mixed with your own design skills to improve the game. I’m typically intimidated to post on some of these threads for fear of dumbing down the conversation. You guys see things to a depth that I rarely can follow. Smart smart smart. Such inspirational reading. :slight_smile: