Monday, May 7, 2018

Thief Skills in AD&D (1st and 2nd Edition)

So, given my renewed interest in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition, I've been looking at other sources for rules. My current document of house rules is pretty short at this point - and to be honest, I'd like it to stay that way for as long as possible, especially considering that I still haven't assembled a group of committed players. I might even temporarily remove the helmet rules, at least until I can learn whether the majority of my players would enjoy that level of granularity (and especially since I'm not using encumbrance yet).

But where rules sources are concerned, my primary pool is the variety of "official" 2e products (like the Player's Option books), as well as Justen Brown's excellent 2e retroclone, For Gold & Glory. I'm also drawing a lot from the first edition of AD&D, which has some useful bits that were removed in 2e for no good reason that I can think of. A big example is the random encounter tables; while I can see why they might be culled a bit in view of the trend towards story-gaming in the 1990s, removing them entirely is just asinine. In the past, I've used the encounter tables from B/X, with good results.

One other element of 1e that I like is the automatic skill progression for thieves. Like they did in Greyhawk and Holmes' Basic Set, thieves' specialized skills follow a standard progression, somewhat but not quite regular. (In 1e, this is found on the "Thief Function Table" on page 28 of the Players Handbook.) 2e replaced this with the scores starting at a very small base percentage, and the player assigning a set amount of "points" to the scores based on the character's level; bards function very similarly, just with fewer skills to choose from.

While some players definitely like to customize their characters in this way, it would be nice to have the option to automatically allocate the points, as was done in 1e and earlier. This would be especially valuable for new players, or just people who want to get their character made as fast as possible (i.e., me). I initially just copied the table over from 1e, but looking closer at it I realized something: a 1e thief has 15 more "points" than their 2e counterpart at 1st level!

Here's the table of basic 1st-level thief skills from 1e, before Dexterity and racial modifiers are applied:
  • Pick Pockets: 30%
  • Open Locks: 25%
  • Find/Remove Traps: 20%
  • Move Silently: 15%
  • Hide in Shadows: 10%
  • Detect Noise: 10%
  • Climb Walls: 85%
  • Read Languages: 0%
A thief in 2e only has 60 points to distribute, but using the same base values from 2e and comparing them to the starting skill values in 1e (taking into account that 1e's Read Languages skill is actually 5 points lower than the base value in 2e), there would have been 75 points distributed among these skills. If left as-is, then it would actually be advantageous not to distribute the points yourself!

The obvious solution is to create a new default allocation of points from scratch, possibly using the 1e arrangement as a rough guide.  In my own house rules, the current arrangement at 1st level is as follows:
  • Pick Pockets: 25%
  • Open Locks: 20%
  • Find/Remove Traps: 20%
  • Move Silently: 15%
  • Hide in Shadows: 10%
  • Detect Noise: 15%
  • Climb Walls: 75%
  • Read Languages: 0%
In most cases, each skill is 5% or 10% lower than in 1e, except for Detect Noise (whose base score is already higher than a 1st-level thief in 1e), Read Languages (which can't go lower than 0%), and Find/Remove Traps. The reason for setting the latter at the same value is because Find/Remove Traps is very risky. If a thief fails to pick a lock, the door must be forced open noisily if it is to be penetrated; if they fail to detect a noise, the party may be caught by surprise. But failing to find or disarm a trap can result in the thief getting poisoned.

As always, the exact numbers on this are subject to change, but what I like about it is that even if the player chooses to use the default allocation initially, they can still assign them manually at higher levels - or vice versa. (The increases for higher levels will be in the document.)

One final note: My thoughts on this were somewhat prompted by JB's recent posts here and here. Go read those if you haven't already.

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