Friday, February 21, 2020

A Very Simple Thief House Rule

Thieves. The nasty buggers and their nasty nasty shitty skills in old school D&D. I ranted about this before. But here's a quick fix I actually used in my first ever Labyrinth Lordb campaign in 2014 or so.

Use the percentile skills as given but let the player add the entire score for the relevant ability to each skill. So for example you begin with a Move Silently skill of a paltry 20%. But using this house rule you can add Dexterity to that number. So if your Dex is 15, you're rolling 35% at first level. Still not fantastic, but much better than by the book.

Thief char sheet I drew for Blueholme.
I suggest pairing up the skills like this:

Open Locks - Dex
Remove Traps - Dex or Int
Pick Pockets - Dex
Move Silently - Dex
Climb Sheer Surfaces - Dex or Str
Hide in Shadows - Dex
Hear Noises - add Wis modifier

I also strongly suggest taking Cook/Marsh up on adding these skills to the Thief right from level one. Mentzer didn't include them because he thought they were stupid. Mentzer was wrong. I wanted my ventriloquism.

Climb Ceilings and Overhangs - Dex (as Climb Sheer Surfaces minus 20)
Ventriloquism - Int or Cha (as Move Silently +10)
Distract - Cha (as Move Silently)
Mimicry - Int or Cha (as Climb Sheer Surfaces)

Ventriloquism would work more-or-less like the spell. Distract would cause an enemy to lose initiative or get a -1 on their next attack. Mimicry would fool someone into thinking they were hearing another person or animal.

This is not the first time I've had thoughts about Thieves. Nor will it be the last. As long as the record stands that old school D&D Thieves suck there will be rants about it, not just from me but from everyone every day all the time.

Here I am talking about it in 2015.

And in 2016.

And I revisit the topic in 2019.


  1. I saw a good idea on some dude's blog about thieves: he lets them roll Find Traps as an EXTRA SAVE before an unnoticed trap would trigger. Food for thought

    1. Oh yeah, I've been singing that for years! The thief's skill roll is a test to see if they flawlessly carry out the task (no chance of being heard, etc.). Failing that, they just do a standard d6 check like everyone else (or whatever rule the GM uses for non-thieves).

  2. Would it be better on character sheets to go from 'left to right' or 'top to bottom' (depending on how you draw the boxes), as relates to THAC0? We normally read from left-to-right or from top-to-bottom, so shouldn't the THAC0 (your 0-box) be in the Pole Position (at the starting-left/or starting-top-box) because it's the most important number - instead of starting things with the AC9-box in that position?

    So that means if my THAC0 is a 15 (the first number I would be trying to find on my character sheet), would be entered into the 0-box on the LEFT (or TOP), and the 6 (which hits AC 9), would be on the right or bottom. Normally, I'm probably looking for a "#" that falls closer to my THAC0# than a "#" needed to hit a tree), so it would be better to have my THACO in that 1st Pole-Position at the Left or Top.

    NOTE: I still haven't had my coffee yet, so I'll apologize in advance ...Aliengare

    1. I kinda get what you mean. However, I don't actually use THAC0 myself. I didn't even use it when I was playing 2e. Hell, I honestly did not UNDERSTAND it until recent years.

      I always just had a matrix on my sheet. Why do math when you have a matrix? Make your roll, look at the matrix, "I hit AC 4." DM: "That's a hit!"