Sunday, August 2, 2020

Thief! Stop, Thief!

Sorting old shit leads to finding little lost gems or little lost turds. Here's a lost gemlet I found. I might have posted this on G+. I can't remember.

This is an alternate thief skills method. I have never used it, but I can't imagine it would suck too bad. The big caveat is that I didn't consider classes or races that have great saves. So if you're playing a game where race and class are separate, the smart player will always go for a halfling or dwarf thief to take advantage of this method.

Of course I was thinking of B/X when I wrote this... like I usually am. So with that system, I believe this would work quite nicely.

It looks like I wrote this in June of 2017.


Why not use saving throws to handle Thief skills? It’s a d20 roll, it has a built-in target number, and it scales by level.

There are seven Thief skills. Five of them have percentile ratings that are roughly on the same level, starting as low as 10%. One of them, Climb Sheer Surfaces, has a much higher percentile rating. The last one, Hear Noises, uses a d6. To use the five categories of saving throws for Thief skills we’re going to condense these seven skills into five skills as follows. Yes, we’re basically ignoring the differences in some of these skills in order to have a clean system. I don’t think we’re losing much, to be honest.

Open Locks and Remove Traps
Move Silently and Hide in Shadows
Pick Pockets
Climb Sheer Surfaces
Hear Noise

Now, for my taste, I actually prefer something like the following, which adds some more range to the Thief’s skill set. But your tastes may vary.

Breaking and Entering (Open Locks/Remove Traps)
Stealth (Move Silently/Hide in Shadows/Pick Pockets)
Climbing (Climb Sheer Surfaces)
Awareness (Hear Noise)

On the character sheet next to the five saving throw categories leave some blank lines. Have the player write in the names of her Thief skills next to the categories she wants to link them to. When a skill is used, make the save. Add the ability score modifier that makes the most sense for the skill.

A Thief’s best save is Paralysis, so the player would put the skill she likes best in that category. It is followed, roughly, by Death Ray/Poison, Magic Wands, Spells, and finally Dragon Breath.

Using this method the worst skill begins at 20% and the best skill is 35%. But the character’s ability score bonus, if they have one, can push that up 5 to 15 percent...much better than 10% starting out. Sure, the climbing skill is seriously nerfed but I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. And if you want to preserve it or Hear Noises as they are they simply leave them as they are.

What I like about this idea is it uses an existing system that scales by level, it isn’t too far off track from the original skill levels (but still better), it utilizes the PC’s ability score modifiers, and finally it grants the player the freedom to focus on certain skills over others.


  1. Hmm... I just started an OSE game. We're using race-as-class... perhaps we could give it a shot.

    1. Yeah, that would be super cool! If you do, please maybe reply here or post about it on FB or somewhere. I'm curious how it plays and how the players like it.

  2. So would you allow this for other classes? I also think you’ve come up with a way of handling skills for any class by tying to a saving Throw. Having 5 skills this way gives room to tailor any class by a lot and you’re not straining the system by that much at all.

    1. Sure, if you want to do an "everyone is an adventurer" kind of thing where you just have maybe 3 classes then let everyone have this thief skill system. I think that would model a really fun sword and sorcery vibe.

  3. Hi James, i have translated your post and added some adaptations to Portes, Monstres, Trésors Règles Avancées, the french version of Advanced Labyrinth Lord. I hope that this is not a problem for you.

  4. Excellent idea. Gives the player options, already fits into the system. Improves the class. Good stuff.

    1. I might write it up as an alternate Thief class for an upcoming Black Pudding issue.