Re-Thinking Thieves: Thief Synergies

The Autarch Patreon has an interesting discussion on thieves and their weaknesses in OSR games. One of the possible solutions was to allow thieves to have "thief skill" synergies. This would mean allowing an extra ability when a thief has a certain combination of thief skills.
Thief has, in the document, 4 thief synergies whereas dwarven delver has 2 and assassin has 1. However, only a few synergies are suggested and its not a massively comprehensive list. So, I figured it might be a good idea to try to crowdsource a more comprehensive list of thief synergy suggestions.
Feel free to add extra lines if you can think of better ones or to switch around the primary and secondary skills.


Four from me from my blog:

I've been thinking on thief synergies (and talking about it on the Discord a lot).

Number of Synergies

One of the problems with the roll out of lots of synergies would be that certain classes (thieves primarily) would be burdened down by endless class features and "too many options" overload (which OSR games tend to avoid, at least from class powers).

The Patreon article (Re-Thinking Thieves) suggests that thieves get 4 synergies, delvers get 2 and assassins get 0. Thieves have a thief skill of 3, delvers have a thief skill of 2, assassins have a thief skill of 1. Freebooters have a thief skill of 2 and get 1 synergy but they trade away a lot of thief skills.

I propose, instead, that every 2.5 thief skills equals 1 synergy (conversion is rounded down, so 2 thief skills is 0 synergies but 3 thief skills is 1 synergy).

This means that thief points to skill and synergy is:

Thief Points Amount of Skills Amount of Synergies
4 (15) (6)
3 10 4
2 5 2
1 3 1
0 0 0

However, any skills that get traded also lose the relevant synergies. So if a 3-point trades away 1 skill then they are down to 3 synergies, if an 2-point trades away 1 skill then they have 1 synergy and if a 1-point trades away a skill then they have no synergies.

Synergies cannot be traded like skills can. The loss of a skill is the same as losing a synergy.

Choice of Synergy

The second conundrum I had was whether people picked synergies like proficiencies or whether they were "baked in" like class powers, because neither seemed to be a great fit for the concept of a revised thief.

The Patreon document indirectly offered a third option: Treat synergies like spells. The thief can, on return to "civilisation" at the end of an adventure, switch the synergies out freely, as long as he has the relevant skills for the synergies. This means that the thief can have 4 synergies at a time of any of the skill combinations, whereas the assassin can only have 1 synergy which has to be a synergy for move silently + hide in shadows, hide in shadows + backstab or backstab + move silently.

Synergies in this case are not only a representation of innate skill but also a thief's general preparedness in recent training and equipment acquisition. A thief with Shadowy Senses has been training his eyes in special dark rooms whereas a thief with Rigging perhaps permanently has pitons tucked into his shoes.

This means that not only does the reduction in synergy amount reduce the choice of synergies but also reduces flexibility. The thief is basically Batman whereas the rest of the thief-like classes are lesser superheroes.

In terms of gameplay, this offers thief-like classes who are interesting to play but are similar to caster types who are reliant on knowing what is coming in order to determine what to use and to take. They reward preparedness but in a positive way.

Synergies Thoughts Part 2: Branding & Obtaining

I've been thinking more on the synergies and how to integrate them into the thief archetype. One of the problems is options overload at 1st level, as well as needing to pre-prepare the synergy list before beginning a game (as I am starting a game in about a week and there's lots of other preparation work to do!).

Thieves synergies should be called "Talents" and these are the tricks of the trade that they have picked up as they have progressed through their 0th level. Like spells, these talents can be obtained, memorised and put into use through training in the form of books or personal training.

As thieves obtain more Talents, they are able to switch them out while spending a week in a safe civilised location (a town or elven fastness) through obtaining of various small pieces of equipment, bodily training and mental preparedness.



Four from me from my blog:


I added the mental skills to your chart:

Oh wow, thanks! I haven't checked the forums much over the Christmas break so nice surprise :) I'm a fan of this synergy idea and a prolific class builder so the charts a good mental tool for me when I'm tinkering away. Wee read your other post that I missed.

In terms of number I obviously went one lower for rank three and just used three. My general reasoning was only six of the skills were really underpowered. But… the article gives 4 at level 3 thief so i wouldn’t have a problem with your table.

The level 4 thief looks a little scary having 6. But then I have never seen a thief 4 build class anywhere… makes me wonder… I may have to examine that… very limited weapons… less attack but then at 10th level you would be 7+ instead of 6+ so maybe not so bad if you plan to be more a hide in the shadows build. Heck it could gain a +1 to melee or ranged bonus using a proficiency and recover the gap… I feel a build coming on…

I agree entirely with the trade off aspect, if you trade away the thief skill you don’t get the synergies. I mentioned in one of my blogs thief’s skills are really at the general proficiency power level. I still haven’t explored the impact of just opening them up as general skills at the start of a game. Would be a fun thing to explore one day.

For choice… when I build the scout class or think about THF 1-2 classes I mentally choose them, and lock them into the class. It’s only at THF 3+ that I think choice should be available. But then if I looked at the bugman dredger I would question if it should have choice… I think it depends on the class build and flavour, so should get locked in at that point. Given THF 1’s popularity for powers in builds giving that more choice seems a bit wrong.

I had not explored the idea of swapping them out like spells like you did, that’s awesome. Did I miss that in the article? I think package builds, like what I mentioned in one of my blog posts would help alleviate the choice shock. I wonder though if it’s like changing your spell repertoire though and should come with a cost, to ‘kit out’ as such. Maybe the packages would have a discount as thief guild would have the necessary tools. Awesome idea though.

The talent idea is also a good sticker shock remover maybe they gain the 4 they need at first level for a recommended build, ie the player chooses stealth thief and gains 4 relevant Talents. Then they gain one ‘slot’ each level that allows them to learn a talent either on their own or through a guild? That’s interesting as it would give them a reason to have a relationship with a guild.

Ok, I have caught up now and my train trip is almost over, some great ideas thanks. I think I had a few more ‘Talents’ written up in my notes and will post them once I clean them up.