Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dungeon Fantasy Thieves - a proposal

There's been a bit of buzz in the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy blogosphere about DF Thieves. Basically, it boils down to a sort of broad-spectrum agreement that they're a little anemic and could use some help to keep up with the other templates. I agree, and I think the point has been made fairly well, so I won't rehash it again.

So what's to be done? +Peter V. Dell'Orto has some good suggestions for template reform, but I don't think they go far enough. However, before I show you mine, I feel it needs a little justification.

One of the methods of accomodating the thief in the OSR (detailed here on pg. 44 - that's a PDF link) is to make it clear that anyone can try to do normal "thiefish" things, but the thief is so good he can do abnormally "thiefish" things. To quote, specifically from the first source:
When I allow Thieves, their class skills are treated as extraordinary capabilities. That is, anyone can hide, but a Thief can hide in shadows. Anyone can move quietly, but a Thief can move silently, without even making a sound. Anyone can climb, but a Thief can climb sheer walls. Et cetera. -Philotomy Jurament

Now, I realize claiming that this is the proper interpretation of a D&D thief is somewhat controversial. So instead I'm taking the dodge of borrowing this interpretation from Swords & Wizardry, a retroclone that, if you don't know about, you simply aren't paying attention to the OSR. (If you aren't, that's fine; not everyone's into it. Though I have to wonder if you came here from Peter's blog.) In Swords & Wizardry, this interpretation of the Thief is explicit.

Without further ado, how to turn the DF 1 Thief template into something more closely resembling the class abilities as explained above:

Drop Perfect Balance as a required advantage. Instead, put it in the list of discretionary advantages, and increase that point limit from 30 to 50 points.

In the discretionary advantages, include these:

  • Chameleon  (Shadows or other areas of at least -3 vision penalty and that are large enough to cover you only, -60%) [2/level, up to 10 levels]
  • Clinging (Vertical surfaces only, -50%) [10] 
  • Detect (Traps, Occasional) (Precise, +100%, Short Range, -10%) [19]
  • Discriminatory Hearing [15]
  • Silence [5/level, up to 10 levels]

Drop Filch, Shadowing, and Smuggling entirely.

Drop Urban Survival to 1 point and make it a background skill, optional
Put another point into Escape and another two into Lockpicking.


All "Thieves'" whatever - Thieves' mail, etc - should allow the use of the Silence and Chameleon standing-still bonus while moving if it covers most of the body and isn't obviated by some other equipment - for example, a thief trying to sneak with soda cans tied to his ankles is going to have a hard time even with Thieves' Boots - but he'd find it easier to get over a nightingaled floor.

Really, the above could use a little more polishing (like removing some dross from the optional advantages - should anyone really be taking Catfall at this point?), but I think this is a good basis for letting thieves reclaim some of their niche. For one, they're much better to send ahead in a dungeon than a Scout. Your thief could easily have effective Stealth 34 while moving with the right advantages - or higher than that, with the right (mundane) equipment. However, he doesn't steal the Scout's schtick, which is both putting lots of arrows in targets and being sneaky out-doors, where the Thief's limitations are apparent, since there aren't a lot of dimly-lit corridors outside.


  1. Two quick comments:

    How do you get from 30 to 50 discretionary points by dropping Perfect Balance? It's 15 points. It gets you to 45.

    Also, I think it's worth letting the Thief take any of the Power-Ups in DF11 right away. Some of them do things similar to what you're proposing. Silence is already on the list, for example.

    1. Perfect Balance [15] + Filch [2] + Shadowing [2] + Smuggling [2] + Urban Survival [2] (it stays on the template, but moves to optional without alloting more points for optional skills) + 30 points already on the template = 53 points, 3 of which are put back into skills.

      I didn't look at DF 11 before writing this (mea culpa), but checking over it now, you're right - the power-ups there often-times touch on things in the same area.

    2. Okay, I see, you were getting those points back later.

      But yeah, things like Silence are on there already, and Nondetection seems more broadly useful than a heavily limited chameleon. Detect (Traps) is interesting, although I'm curious if it's worth 19 points. Per-based Traps will spot most traps you'd detect with Detect (Traps), too, and you'll want a high Per and high Traps anyway. But still, the idea of allowing them immediate access to more cool stuff is a good idea.

      Invisibility Art wouldn't be a bad idea, either - maybe give them a perk as a prereq for it (Unusual Training) or allow sufficient points in Nondetection to allow them to learn it.

    3. I think Detect (Traps) is very useful. Scout players tend to buy up Perception to unreasonable levels, and there are canonical traps (trip wires, etc) that you need to roll Perception based Traps at -9 to detect. 19 points for "no, really, I notice the traps and all the details about it" is pretty cool.

    4. It's also intended to allow them to detect traps I wouldn't normally allow a perception roll to detect unless the player gave me a fairly specific description - things like poison needles in locks, or green slime hanging out just beyond the door, or chests rigged from the inside to explode.

      In short, it gives the Thief's player the privilege of just saying, "I check it for traps."

  2. "Detect (Traps, Occasional) (Precise, +100%, Short Range, -10%) [19]"

    Why should I buy this, and not Danger Sense?

    1. Because you can detect traps that aren't about to go off. Because you can detect traps that are going to be a danger to other people, instead of just yourself. Because you can detect traps that might not set off your Danger Sense. Because this is a voluntary power that you get to roll for whenever you like (so long as you Concentrate) instead of relying on reminding the GM.

  3. You should choose or work up a power source for these. Even if it's a -0% modifier, it is always good to have a context for extraordinary abilities.

    You could go with Psionic, Divine (god of theft), Chi, something custom or even an a la carte list.

    1. Sometimes extraordinary abilities should be mundane. Detect (Traps) is just as reasonable as Danger Sense, and you don't need a PM to take Danger Sense.

      Alternately, thieves already get Nondetection, which is an explicitly non-supernatural ability to avoid supernatural detection.

    2. I'm not saying it's *required*... OK, so maybe the way I wrote it it could be interpreted that way. Sorry Patrick.

      I MEANT that it's *better* if there is a power because "it is always good to have a context for extraordinary abilities." They may very well be entirely non-supernatural, but if it is extraordinary it is good to have an explanation. Even if it's just "Because I'm the Goddamned Batman." ...Actually, that particular power modifier is probably some form of cosmic. How about "I'm so good at [thing that would normally be a skill or stat roll] it acts like an advantage instead."

      Maybe work on the name.