Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fixing the Basic Thief

I have been running an RC game with a group that I normally play 4e with--to allow the DM time off to prep for our regular game, and to catch up with (cringe) WoW. Being that I cannot leave rules well enough alone, I've been implementing options, alternates, expansions and house rules since the first session--one player even has a Rakasta character (using the mini-class presented in the Rage of the Rakasta solo adventure). Another player went the traditional route and chose the make his character a thief.

Back when I played Basic for the first time in the 90s (yeah, I'm a late-comer), I had not used the thief, so I didn't know what to expect. Now that I'm trying to run a game with the poor class, I am more acutely aware of its deficiencies. It's important to the rest of the campaign that he be able to unlock more than 15% of the doors in a dungeon and disable more than 10% of its traps. The player is getting so frustrated, he's on the verge of quitting the game because the rules are stacked against him.

After completing two dungeons (Zanzer Tem's Dungeon and Castle Mistamere), it has become clear to us that the first-level thief is a generally useless character. Having come near death twice in each dungeon, I have already increased his hit die to a d6. This keeps him alive long enough to showcase his thief abilities. Not like there is much to showcase. Online, I've found two, promising solutions to this second problem.

One, called the d6 Method, can be found here and numerous other places--so many places that it is hard for me to determine its original source. It seems to be a popular favorite. However, while it grants the player the chance to customize his thief, that customization (to me) does not seem to capture the essence of the Basic game.

The other method with promise can be found...somewhere online, but I cannot find it now....The principle is to apply the character's Dexterity modifier to his character level to determine the level of his thief skills. For example, a 2nd-level thief with a 17 Dexterity uses his thief skills as if he were 4th level. Conversely, a low skill will penalize the thief (minimum "skill level" of 1). The other drawbacks here are: 1) how can dexterity help a thief hear noise? 2) players are encouraged to munchkin their Dexterity scores.

I will implement a refined version of this second method in my RC campaign: Skill level will be determined by multiple attributes--
  • Strength for Climb Walls (aka. Climb Sheer Surfaces)

  • Intelligence for Find Traps and Remove Traps (aka. Find and Remove Traps)

  • Wisdom for Hear Noise

  • Dexterity for Hide in Shadows, Move Silently, Pick Pockets (aka. Pickpocket), and Open Locks

Furthermore, only high ability scores (13+) can modify skills this way. A thief's lowest "skill level" will never be lower than thief/character level. I'm also toying with returning thief skill progressions to their B/X roots--including chance-in-6 for hear noise, possibly using the expanded d6 method at higher levels.

With this skill-bonus and the boosted hit die mentioned above, I think our thief will have a better chance keeping up with the rest of the party.

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