White Box Thief

Concept

For Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day I thought I'd revisit something I'd thought about two years ago. One of my frustration with older versions of D&D is the fact that some classes, like thieves, just aren't very good at what they are supposed to do at low levels. A 1st level cleric is decent at combat and can turn undead. A 1st level thief has limited armor, low hit points, and thief abilities which have very high chances of failure along with some pretty nasty consequences.

What I'd like to do is realize a version of the thief that has a reasonable amount of competence at low levels such that a 1st level thief feels like he or she is contributing to the group. But I don't want it to be so awesome that everyone lines up to take it - 1st level should be scary after all...

I've used Supplement I: Greyhawk as my starting point. I'm using the White Box rules for this, though the concept would not be difficult to transfer to the Complete Edition.


Writeup

The Thief

Thieves contribute to an adventuring party from the shadows. While skilled with weapons, they lack the staying power of fighters and make use of stealth, wits, and discretion. Your character might be a burglar, an expert treasure hunter, an assassin, or a ninja.




Level
Experience
Hit Dice (d6)
BHB
Saving Throw
Thievery
Surprise Attack
1
0
1
+0
14
1 in 6
x2
2
1,500
2
+0
13
1 in 6
x2
3
3,000
2+1
+0
12
2 in 6
x2
4
6,000
3
+1
11
2 in 6
x2
5
12,000
4
+1
10
3 in 6
x3
6
24,000
4+1
+2
9
3 in 6
x3
7
48,000
5
+2
8
4 in 6
x3
8
96,000
6
+3
7
4 in 6
x3
9
192,000
6+1
+4
6
5 in 6
x4
10
384,000
7
+5
5
5 in 6
x4


Thief Class Abilities

Weapon and Armor Restrictions: Thieves are trained to use any melee weapon that can be used one-handed and any missile weapon.,  They can only wear leather armor for protection and cannot use a shield.

Combat: Thieves have the same chances to hit in combat as a cleric of the same level.

Saving Throw: Thieves are good at avoiding danger and correspondingly good saving throws. They gain a +2 bonus in attempts to avoid traps or dodge attacks.

Thievery: A thief's thievery rating is the chance in six of performing various feats of legerdemain and stealth. In good circumstances the character is able to roll his or her thievery roll twice and keep the lesser result. In optimal circumstances the thief is able to roll three times and keep the lowest result. Under normal circumstances only one attempt can be made,. Several typical uses of thievery follow.

Open Locks: By use of special tools a thief can open a locked door, chest, etc. A poorly made lock typically counts as a good circumstance and any lock the thief has picked before counts as an optimal circumstance.

Find Traps: Thieves are always on the alert such that merely being in the presence of a trap that the thief could possibly detect grants a secret check made by the Referee to detect the trap. Specifically searching for a trap typically counts as a good circumstance. In such a case a second roll is permissible, beyond the automatic (and secret) roll made by the Judge. This may optionally be used to find secret doors as well,

Remove Traps: While typically finding a trap allows the thief to avoid triggering it, a thievery roll can be made in an attempt to permanently disable the trap. This is a dangerous proposition, as failure will often trigger the trap and good circumstances for such an operation are unusual.

Listen for Noise Behind Closed Doors: A thief can listen at doors for sounds beyond. Good circumstances include cases where the sounds beyond are abnormally loud.

Move with Great Stealth: Thieves can move silently with a successful thievery roll. This roll may be combined with Hide in Shadows (below) as a single test. If a lone thief (or one ahead of his or her party) succeeds in this his or her foes are automatically surprised. Good circumstances typically include a noisy room or a barefoot thief (a dangerous undertaking in most dungeons for non-halflings). If potential observers are unaware of the thief there still exists the chance of surprise.

Hide in Shadows: A thief can vanish within shadows. While not possible under direct observation, it can often be attempted in the chaos of combat against foes not currently battling the thief. A heavily shadowed room or cloudless night typically cont as good circumstances. If potential observers are unaware of the thief there still exists the chance of surprise.

Filtch Items and Pick Pockets: Thieves can relieve victims of their possessions, steal items from tables, etc without being noticed. This can even be used in combat, though items being held or actively used cannot typically be filtched (though it could, for example, be used to remove a ring during combat), All dice showing as "6" indicate the attempt not only failed but was detected by the victim. A good circumstance would be one in which the victim is heavily distracted such as in a market or during combat.

Surprise Attach: When attacking from surprise (such as during a surprise round or when hidden) a thief gets a +4 bonus to hit and does additional damage (x2 levels 1-4, x3 levels 5-8, etc.). When rolling for damage, roll weapon damage the indicated number of times then add any bonuses for magic or other circumstance.

Climb Sheer Surfaces: A thief can climb a rough surface without even needing a check. This skill is used to climb nearly flat surfaces, overhangs, etc. The conditions of the surface determines whether good or optimal conditions exist.

Decipher Script: A thievery roll can be used to decipher languages and codes. It can also be used to decipher a magical scroll. A deciphered scroll still requires another roll to cast, though this counts as an optimal situation. However, failure burns up the spell on the scroll and may trigger an undesirable backlash.

Establish Guild: At 9th level or higher a thief can establish a hideout. Lower level thieves will serve the master thief as he or she becomes Guild Master.

XP Bonus for Dexterity: Thieves gain an experience bonus from high dexterity.

Non-Human Thieves: Any race can become a thief. Elves and dwarfs are limited to 8th level.

Analysis

Obviously the main addition to the Swords & Wizardry rules  I've made is allowing for a variable number of d6 to be rolled for various thievery attempts. D&D 5th Edition has a similar concept as does Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition. This allows for players to do some role playing to improve their odds of success while not requiring degrees in mechanical engineering to disable traps or needing real-world experience at picking pockets (don't try this at home). I would expect that achieving good circumstances would not be particularly difficult but optimal circumstances would have a much higher bar. For those interested in probabilities, I've generated this table:

Thievery
Standard
Good
Optimal
1 in 6
17%
31%
42%
2 in 6
33%
56%
70%
3 in 6
50%
75%
88%
4 in 6
67%
89%
96%
5 in 6
83%
97%
99%

What I like about this is it provides an easy justification how a thief can succeed in routine thieving tasks but still allow for some difficult challenges.

I broke with tradition in putting a level cap in place for elves and dwarfs - removing it would present no problem. I don't specify multiclassing options - I'm not a huge fan of multiclassing and I like having the elf having a race as class to realize a combination of fighting and magic.

I did up the experience point threshold from what one finds in the Greyhawk rules as I believe this class is a bit superior to what is found there. Thieves will advance at the same rate as a cleric and also uses the same attack bonus. Like the cleric, that involves a somewhat odd curve with attack bonuses increasing at a sharper rate at higher levels.

In White Box, Dexterity modifiers do not automatically apply to Armor Class. My inclination is to use that optional rule such that it does for all characters. It would also be possible to allow thieves and only thieves to make use of that modifier to Armor Class (in such cases I'd suggest not forcing them to apply a penalty if they have a lower than average Dexterity).

Applying to Swords & Wizardry Complete

I'd suggest the easiest way to apply this option to S&W Complete would be to use the thief there as-is but adapt the system of allowing multiple rolls and keeping the lowest roll. With percentile dice this can get a little messy on a physical tabletop (though its easy to do on an electronic one). In such a case I'd fully adapt the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition option - you only roll the ones digit once but roll the tens digit 1-3 times, keeping the lowest of them.

Other Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day Posts

Both this year and back in 2013 I made some posts for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day:

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