Burgling for Dummies

The darkness itself seemed to stir as the man, all but a shadow, scaled the tower and leaped to the rooftop beside it. Pausing, he listened intently to see if anybody had noticed the small noise of his landing. Standing, quiet as a ghost, he felt confident that he was safe and moved on, keeping to the shadows.

While the warrior’s business is chopping up baddies with giant broadswords, and the clerics wield the very power of the gods, and the wizards cast arcane spells of almost infinite might! The thief has a different skill. One that is quieter, but just as powerful as his adventuring peers. Like all of the other classes, a thief can become a specialist, focusing on building specific skills while not exploring others. However, unlike his brothers, he does need support from the DM, while magic is clearly listed and identified in the players handbook, the thief’s skills are open to interpretation. This has led to confusion and improper running of characters, the thief can do more then just unlock doors, and this essay will seek to clarify each thieving skill. Players can use this to get a better grasp on what their characters are capable of, while DM’s can better run the class clearly and know exactly what kind of challenges are suited for the class so that it isn’t ignored.

Pick Pockets

Garrot’s eyes couldn’t help but notice the shiny, gold key hanging from the nobleman’s belt, just begging to be relieved of its blissful owner. With a subtle bump and an apology, it was now in more wanting hands.

The pick pocket ability is not one to be abused. It requires no tools, but it does require observation and distraction. In order to pick a pocket, the thief must first be aware that there is something to take. More often then not, the thief will want to take a specific item, thus he must discover where this item is kept. The thief can do this by simply watching the target, or tricking the target through role-playing.

The ability score that you have written down on your character sheet is a base score. This is the roll that you must make to pick a cloth pocket with no cover and take a small, light object. That is the ideal pocket, however you will very rarely find the ideal pocket, thus it is up to the DM to determine the level of difficulty, and apply a modifier to your roll. Thief Skill modifiers are NOT known to the player, but a thief should be able to judge if the object is easy, normal, or difficult. A single key hanging off of a jailers belt will be easy (+10% modifier) while a heavy set of keys will be more difficult (-5%) A purse of coin located in a secured breast pocket will be much more difficult (-10%) Removing a sword is virtually impossible, but a very skilled thief can accomplish the task (-50%)

The target may need to be distracted, especially if it isn’t hanging loose. The skill roll is ONLY for the actual grab, if the target is suspicious, or isn’t occupied with other things, then he is impossible to rob. This can be done in creative ways, from using an accomplice to keep the target engaged, or waiting until the target is busy and bump into them.

Now, this is where it gets complicated, but trust me. Once you get the hang of it, then it will become second nature. Picking pockets is detectable, to determine if the pull was detected or not requires a bit of math. The standard for detection is based upon characters that are of a higher level then you. For each level, or hit die of the victim, we multiply the hit die by three, thus a 6th level cleric can feel when he is being pick pocketed 18% of the time. THIS number is then subtracted from the 100% which would make it so that any thief who tries to pick this cleric’s pocket would be detected on the roll of 82 or higher. Now the thief could had gotten what they wanted! And successfully made their roll, but even if it was a success and the roll is above an 82, the cleric still felt it, but the object in question is now in the hands of the thief.

If the thief is of a higher level then his intended target, then it becomes a bit easier to pick the pocket, and we subtract the level difference from the clerics ability to detect it. Say an 11th level thief is picking the pocket of our 6th level cleric, the clerics baseline for detecting it is normally 82, but the thief has got 5 levels on him, these are subtracted from the clerics chances (or added, if you prefer, to the thief’s chances of not being noticed) thus if the thief rolls under a 87%, he isn’t detected. Level X three - 100 + level difference if thief is of a higher class then the target= detection number. Read this until you understand it because it will come up again later.

If the thief is pulling the object out of a pocket that is not on the person, he has no chance of being caught unless he rolls a 100%, for instance a fighter who takes off his sword belt before sitting down to eat, and forgets to remove his coin purse first. All the thief has to do is pick it up.

Pick Pocket is a skill that requires very fast hands, and this roll can apply to other things that require nimble hands, such as slight of hand tricks, making small objects appear to vanish, stacking a deck of cards while shuffling, and dealing a player a pad hand. If he wants to make a larger object appear to vanish, he may need a cloth or another item to cover what he is doing.

The DM should refrain from placing needed items into the pockets of NPCs, the pick pocket skill is extremely unpredictable, and is difficult to accomplish at any level. Item's that have been successfully pilfered should make the game a bit easier, such as finding a skeleton key, or a map of the area that your PCs are going to go to, however it shouldn't ever hinge upon the thief's ability to grab undetected.

Picking pockets is a very risky business. If the talent is abused, then the more you do it, the greater your chances are of being caught. This can lead to lengthy jail sentences or worse!!! If you lose your hand, then your career is over, as it would be if you became known for such things. You can’t pick pocket anybody if they know that you are a thief and are suspicious of you.

Open Locks

Garrot tapped the lock with his finger, eyeing the thing as if it were a fascinating book before finally deciding on the proper gauge of pick. These things can’t be rushed! A lock is like a woman, it is to be wined and dined with patience and grace, simply forcing the thing almost always leads to nothing but heartbreak.

Opening locks requires a tool of some kind, the base roll is for opening a standard lock with a professional thieves pick. Different locks require different levels of finesse, an expensive padlock can impose up to -50%, while a simple latch catch can be defeated easily +10%. Sometimes, you just don’t have the right tool, if you broke your lock pick, or they were taken away from you, you have to improvise. A similar tool only imposes -5%, however if you are really in a jam it could hamper your ability by 60%. Thieves cannot pick magically sealed locks or objects.

Picking the lock is time consuming, taking anywhere from a minute to ten minutes (1d10 rounds) The thief can attempt to pick the lock once for every level of experience he has, if he totally fails, then he cannot open it until he gains a level, then he may try again.

Locks are in 4 different categories: Easy, Normal, Hard, and Masterful. Each of them can break a pick, the break percentage can be picked by the DM, or rolled randomly (1d10 for easy locks, 3d10 for hard locks) Easy locks can break a pick if 90% is rolled, Normal locks above an 80%, and hard locks break picks 30% of the time. If a pick is broken, the lock still may have been picked successfully, and can be opened, however a broken pick is worthless. Alternatively, you can have the tool make a saving throw vs. fall, however picks are delicate tools and gain a + penalty per lock picked.

Lock picks are not sold in hardware stores, they are either constructed by the thieves themselves, or constructed by a professional and purchased through a thieves guild. They can be made of stone or wood, but the best are usually made of metal, preferably steel as it is harder. Some sets are very complex, a leather case holding many different gauges of picks would have greater chances of success then a stick that the thief whittled himself with a knife.

Some locks require more then just the picking skill. A complex combination lock would first require the thief to examine it and try to figure it out (roll to open lock, success means that he understands its inner mechanics), once identified he needs to actually listen to the sounds inside of the lock as he is manipulating it with his hands (roll to detect noise) this may require a listening horn to better hear it, and he must make detect noise rolls for each combination the lock has, if the lock has 3 combinations, and he makes 2 of them but misses the third, then the lock does not open. He must be successful with all of the combinations in order.

Just as all Clerics are a part of a church, the thief should be the member of a guild. Many skills require tools that can only be obtained by guild members, this is also where the thieves go to train between levels, if that is realistic. A thief who is not in a guild CANNOT obtain guild tools, and must always use improvised tools with are substandard and unreliable. Good sets of tools are expensive, however they are effective and eventually pay for themselves.

Find & Remove Trap

Garrot crouched to the floor, studying the odd tiles on the floor. He’d seen things like this before, and they always looked easy, but like most traps, looks are deceiving.

Like locks, some traps are simple to figure out how they operate, while others are deviously complex. A thief must first declare what he is checking for traps, and like wishes, this must be properly worded. If a thief says that he is going to check the wall for traps, he will activate the ones in the floor. A thief can’t just walk into a room and declare that he is checking for traps, it doesn’t work that way. He must be specific, he must state that he is checking the door handle for traps, not just say that he checks the door.

The base for the roll is a simple trap that releases poisoned needles or springing blades. Some traps are easier to spot (pit covered with leaves) while others impose serious penalties (elaborate booby traps that are hidden in the dungeon itself) Anybody can detect easy to spot traps, but the penalty for difficult and well hidden traps is always a -50% penalty to the players roll. Finding traps takes 1d10 rounds.

Located traps are simply detected, to understand the trap itself requires an Open Locks check, with the same -50% modifier if the trap is highly complex. At this point, he is not yet touching the trap, he is simply studying it, looking for weaknesses and what not. If the thief fails to understand it, or if he does understand it (or at least thinks that he does), he can choose to attempt a disarm.

Disarms can be done, one of two ways. If a thief doesn’t understand it, or if he judges that the best way to defeat it is to simply set it off, he can throw his dice to see if he can successfully set it off without injuring himself, this could require a tool at the DM’s discretion. The other method is to completely disarm the trap by either breaking it or otherwise finding a method so that it doesn’t go off. Again, the 50% rule still applies for difficult traps, and any roll above a 96% results in the thief setting off the trap and taking the consequences. A thief can attempt to disarm a trap once per hit die, if he still fails to disarm it, then it is to far beyond his skill level and he has to wait until he’s gained a level to try again.

Some traps are impossible to disarm, either because they were designed that way, or because they are required to set off to advance further into the dungeon. Once the thief locates a trap, it is up to the DM to describe what he sees, if he figures it out, then describe how it works. The player must be able to think of a plan to disarm it, simply rolling the dice isn’t good enough.

Thieves cannot detect or disarm magical traps, only mechanical traps.

Many traps have a way for the people who set them to bypass them without setting them off. A thief should be able to detect a bypass method (or what he thinks is a bypass method) during the investigation process, however actually applying and touching the trap requires a Remove Trap roll.

This skill works the other way too. As long as the thief has the proper tools and materials needed, he can build and set a trap with the same methods as he detects and removes them. Using it creatively, he can also spot the integrity of a wall or contraption, for instance he can spot and understand a weakness in the timber supports in a mine, if worse comes to worse he can attack this spot and cause that part to collapse . . . Now this is incredibly dangerous and may effectively seal the adventures inside of the mine with no way to get out, but the thief can still do it.

A note to DMs: when placing traps, pay close attention to logic. If Orks live in the cave, they aren’t going to set some elaborate trap in a part of their home where they go every day, not without a way to disarm it themselves. All traps should also have some kind of hint that they are there, players hate it when they experience death suddenly and without warning. Don’t come right out and say, OH, this area is traped! Maybe the bones of an old victim is laying there, or if something appears too easy and unprotected. It isn’t always what is there that gives hints of a trap, but what isn’t there that matters.

Move Silently

Garrot peeked around the corner and saw the guard just two feet away from him. Quietly pulling out his blackjack, he creped closer and closer to him, closing the gap, minding each step as if his life depended on it; which it did.

Moving silently is required to get close enough to backstab an opponent. It is also used to sneak closer to a target to listen to what they are saying. While hiding, it can be used to change to a different position. Sometimes it is used with other rolls, such as Hiding in Shadows, but it is always rolled separately.

The base for moving silently is walking on stone floor in soft shoes or boots. Moving silently on a carpet is much easier (+50%), and moving through a forest is much harder (-15%). Some tools make this task easier, padded shoes can be purchased from a guild which are expensive, but improves your success rate dramatically. Naturally, wearing hard soled boots worsens you chance, as does anything that you have dangling off of you. All objects that a thief carries should always be secured at all times, blades tied down, no money purses dangling where their contents can jingle while you are walking, no armor clattering around, etc..

A player must always declare that they are walking silently, walking silently cuts your movement rate to 1/3 normal. Of course if everybody is aware of your presence, or they can see you, then you are just wasting your time. DM’s are encouraged to silently apply modifiers in their heads, a thief always thinks that he is moving silently when he’s creeping, even if you fail the roll you will continue this action. This roll is rechecked for ever 10 feet, or yards moved, and perhaps more depending on obstacles. If the character stops moving, and wishes to start again he must roll again to see how quiet he is.

A character who suspects that a thief is there and is listening for the silent character, gains a bonus to detecting them as described with rules for picking pockets.

If another sound is present, this could apply a bonus to the thief's roll, if the sound is repeating, like a squeaky bolt on a waterwheel, the thief can detect noise to discover the pattern and use it to mask his steps, in cases like this the thief does not have to reroll for stopping, he does have to make checks for every 10 feet or yards, also if he has to stop in a way that would cause him to lose the pattern, if this is the case he must listen to it again, or make a wisdom check whichever seems most plausible.

Note to players: Keep your dice rolls on the table so that they can be consulted. The PHB states that it is the DM that rolls this, however I feel that anything that deals with a players ability should be rolled by the player themselves. If a player keeps picking up the dice and hiding his rolls from the DM, I would suggest that the DM starts rolling them again to avoid the temptation of fudging dice rolls and cheating.

Hide In Shadows

Garrot inched closer to the guard, blackjack in hand when he heard the squeal of a rat behind him, damn! Quickly thinking, he slipped behind a nearby barrel, holding his breath as he heard the guards armor tinkling as he looked behind him, then saw the man walk right past him, investigating the noise, but soon he returned to his post. Garrot gave him a few minutes to get comfortable and bored before moving again.

Hiding in shadows is extremely misleading, because you are hardly ever hiding in shadows, this is seeking cover or concealment behind objects. It is hiding, and hiding well! While hiding, you are making no large movements, nothing larger then drawing a small weapon, or uncorking a vial of potion. There might be a shadow there, but that really isn’t important. You are hiding in such a way that even creatures with infravision cannot see you. If the DM deems it necessary, he may silently apply a modifier to your ability roll, but even if you fail the check, you still assume that you are hidden. As long as you don’t perform any large action, you will remain hidden, and don’t need to recheck, but leave your roll on the table. If a creature is actively searching for you, the rules that apply for detecting pick pockets applies to this as well, thus the DM may need to consult your roll. Rules for cover and concealment should also apply to the Hide in Shadows check. Thus, a 5th level thief seeks cover behind a barrel that offers him 90% cover, he gains a bonus of 10%, and if he is being looked for by an 8th level guard, normally he’d have to roll under a 76% to remain undetected, however the finder now has a -10% penalty, thus it rose to 86%. However, cover can change to concealment depending on where the finder is standing, the hider may not be concealed anymore if the soldier gets behind him, however a thief can quickly chose a new hiding spot as long as he wasn’t seen. If a thief is seen prior to hiding, then he can’t hide. He needs a few seconds to be unobserved.

A smart thief will plot a getaway, and have a hiding spot waiting for him. That way, if he gets chased by guards, he can turn the corner and quickly hide in the spot where he planed and possibly lose them if he rolls successfully.

In order to hide, there has to be something to hide behind, a dark shadow offers some protection, but can quickly be discovered with a lantern. There are some tools that help the thief improve his score, a dark suit can increase the chances greatly, as can applying weapon black to all of your weapons. Drawing a short sword or dagger can reflect light that gives your position away, weapon black is a coating that removes the shine from your weapons, and is only available to guild members.

Hear Noise

Garrot crawled closer to the fire, just out of its cowering, and fickle light. The two men were whispering to each other, their voices faintly above the cracks and snapping of the campfire, it took some focus, but the fools told him exactly where they hid the nobleman’s corpse, information that could surely be worth a pretty penny!

Hearing a noise requires absolute silence, it isn’t lip-reading, but it does allow the thief to hear sounds that would escape the ears of those who are less sensitive. Modifiers for this is rare, as it either works or it doesn’t. The base for the roll is listening through a thick wooden door. The voices on the other side of the door would be impossible to make sense of, however it will tell the thief that there appears to be someone, or something on the other side.

A thief must first declare that he is listening to noises, this will take a full minute of his time and if he is wearing a helmet, he must first take it off. If too many people are with him, then this task is probably impossible, as it’s hard for even a small party to be perfectly quiet.

A few items can make this skill a bit easier to perform, for instance the listening cone described previously in the section for picking locks, this must be purchased from a guild, and only members have access to them.

Climb Wall

The princess gasped in shock, but the figure was upon her before she could scream, his hard calloused hand upon her face tasted chalky. “Shhhhhh,” the figure whispered into her ear, sending chills of horror or excitement up her spine, she didn’t know which. “My name is Garrot,” he said, “I’m here to rescue you.”
“How did you get up here?” she asked, her voice as faint as his, “The tower is 40 feet high, and the place is swarming with guards?” The man would only smile as he tied a rope to the bed and checked the knot for firmness.

“Come,” he instructed, “Hold onto me tightly, and whatever you do, don’t look down.”

The thief, and the thief only can climb smooth and very smooth surfaces without climbing gear. The base for the roll is climbing a brick tower with no gear. Thus, if you have gear you can improve your success, and the DM should state any modifiers that will be applied to the roll before you attempt to scale it.

Movement is severely limited, and the thief has no way of defending himself from an attack. He must not be weighed down with tons of gear, only lightly encumbered at best. He must roll a new check every 10 feet climbed, a failed check results in a fall, and he takes damage normally.

He CAN carry a rope with him, and allow other characters to use it to climb with, as long as he finds a secure anchor, and, if the DM wants to have fun, makes a proficiency check against his knot tying abilities. Characters following him have to make a strength or a dex check whichever is better, and must also be no more then lightly encumbered, rechecking the strength or dexterity check every ten feet.

Read Languages

Sitting quietly in the cave, Garrot stared into the runes carved into the walls as if they would fleet away at any second . . . He’d seen this before, but where? HIGH ELF!!! This was high elf. Something about a white creature . . . A dragon or worm that guards . . . Something. It guarded something, but what?

Reading languages first requires that the thief be literate in the first place, and have a good understanding of his own written language. The thief picks up odds and ends of information here and there, and with this information he may be able to identify what language that the script is written in, and be able to read at least some of what it says.

How much a thief can translate depends on how skilled he is, if he has a 20% chance of reading languages, and makes his role, then he understands 20% of the message. A DM can judge that the thief has absolutely no knowledge of the language that he is trying to translate, because he has never encountered anything like it before.

To read languages, the thief must declare that they are attempting the feat, and then throw his dice. He can only do this check once! If he fails, then he has to wait until he has gained a level before he’s allowed to try again.

Even if a thief has translated a language before, such as a map with goblin text written on the top, he still has to make a check when encountering the goblin language again because these words are different as is the handwriting and style of the writer. The only exception to the rule is if the text is written in a language that the Thief is proficient in, thus he wouldn’t need to make a check.

A thief must be at least 4th level before he has enough information to work with, thus he can’t build on this skill until he has 4 HD. A thief cannot use this skill to read magical text, nor ancient text, only languages that are currently in use around the realm.

Alternatively, this also allows the thief a chance to decipher code that is written in a language that he is proficient in. The message must be long enough, or he must collect enough samples of it before he has enough to work with, but a successful check would mean that the thief has broken the code and can now read and write it.

Using this skill can take awhile, depending on the thief’s intelligence, subtract an hour from a max of 20hrs, and that will tell you how long that the thief must study a sample before it all clicks in.

Clearly, all of these class skills require more then just better then average dexterity! Intelligence is also a factor when examining traps and locks, as is wisdom! Climbing walls and ledges takes strength and hours of training. As a fighter constantly hones his craft, or a wizard studying ancient scrolls, thieving also takes patience and practice.

The DM should lay out special scenarios as he lays out spells and scrolls for wizards, and powerful weapons for fighters. If you ignore your thief players and give them nothing special to do, then you are doing them, and your game a great disservice. The game doesn’t necessarily need to be completely focused around them alone, but I’ve played under a few DM’s that all but ignored me, essentially using my character as a walking key. Unlike all of the other characters, role-playing opportunities with the thieving class must be tailored into the game. Give him an opportunity to sneak up on an enemy or two, let him do some scouting here and there, give to him MORE to do then just tossing a short sword at monsters for a hand full of gold, the thief relies on his stealth more then his strength. HAVE FUN WITH IT!


Noumenon said...

Man, according to the sidebar this is your favorite class, yet it seems like it's hard for the thief to do anything. First, opportunities for pick pocketing are rare, then, when you do get your chance to shine, there's a million things that make it harder. Making your pick break 20% of the time is kind of like making the fighter's weapon break 20% of the time.

And finally, all of these skills are "solo" -- you can't bring any of your friends along to pick pockets, move silently, or help with the locks. So that kind of separates the thief player from the party.

RipperX said...

Hey, noumenon.

For this article I wanted to focus on worst-case-scenarios, from reading around the bloggers, and talking with people, this seems to be the most misunderstood mechanic with DMs, especially with regards to traps.

Traps take awhile to invent, and many DM's aren't happy that a thief can just wonder in and defeat it with a couple rolls of the dice. I wanted to show that you COULD slow a parties progress down by inventing a crafty trap, and still allow the characters to explore it.

In regards to lock picks, these are supposed to be expendable, like wands and staffs that have a limited amount of charges. You buy or make these things in the amount that you think that you'll need. There are ways around it, a DM can create a magic item, such as a Platinum Pick Set which could be nonbreakable.

The thief is probably the easiest class to run a one-on-one adventure with, but it is up to the Thief to find ways of playing the character during an adventure.

There are two ways to enter a dungeon, quietly, or loudly. Once the entrance is in sight, smart adventurers should send the thief up ahead, this need not be role-played, just have the thief make one roll for moving silently, and one roll for hiding in shadows, then the DM describes what the thief saw to the party, describing how the entrance is guarded so that they can plan a quiet assault.

I knew that this article was weak when I posted it, I just couldn't spot it on my own. Thanks for pointing this stuff out! And I totally agree with you, the class play shouldn't be so hard that it's impossible most of the time, either. Challenge the thief from time to time, but without punishments.

BTW: just one more note. I didn't invent that detecting the PP attempt, that one is in the PHB. I'm not all that thrilled with it, but just haven't ever done anything about it. I think that it is needed, just so NPC thieves can't run off with PC items all the time, but they could use some stronger house rules, perhaps I see another post in the future ;)

Sham aka Dave said...

I think it's an excellent post, Ripper. I have a little secret. I love Thieves as well. I just can't come up with a home brewed version of the class that I like for my OD&D setting.

As you know, what I DON'T like are rules that remove critical thinking, logic and role-playing from the game.

If everyone took the approach that you do with the Gygaxian Thief class, I'd probably be more apt to make use of such a class.

As it stands now, I subscribe to the three-pronged OD&D crown of FM-MU-C. I allow anyone to attempt 'thiefly tasks', but no one runs around detecting and disabling traps with simple rolls of the dice. I see that you don't handle the class that way, either. That's a good thing in my book.



PS-My favorite class takes more heat than yours. I love Clerics, but many of my fellow OD&D Grognards see Clerics as an expendable class, and make efforts to remove them from their own home brew campaigns. I think you've inspired me to make a post about Clerics.

RipperX said...

My very first character was a cleric, you can play them lazy, like any class, or you can play a cleric! I am such an annoying role-player too, as healing hasn't always been a sphere that I chose to have access to.

I think that one of the coolest books put out was the Forgotten Realms Adventure, it had all of the gods tallied for the use of developing clerics who worshiped them. I never DMed in Forgotten Realms, but I definitely bought that book, just to get that chapter so that I had a templet on designing my own religions.

My favorite book on gods is the old Deities and Demigods, though to be honest, it isn't very helpful when developing clerics, but it is still superior to 2e legends & lore, a terrible book!

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