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Race as Class: Thief

Chimera’s take on the B/X thief

This is Part 4 of a series to convert Moldvay Basic classes to Chimera. You can find previous instalments via the Race as Class tag, and if you haven’t already read them, it may be helpful to check out the ground rules for conversion. This week’s entry: The B/X thief.

Moldvay Thieves

Moldvay describes thieves as “humans who are trained in the arts of stealing and sneaking.” (B10) They can wear leather armour and use any weapon, and they have a bevy of clandestine abilities: Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Move Silently, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Hide in Shadows, and Hear Noise. Thieves get d4 hit dice and have a back-stab trick that gives a +4 to hit and x2 damage when striking a foe unnoticed (emphasis Moldvay, B10). At higher levels, they can even read magic-user scrolls.


Race as class Thief

As much as I criticised the magic-user last week, I’ll praise the thief. I know there’s a certain amount of dislike for the class, as it represents a departure from the niche roles filled by the OD&D Cleric, Fighting Man, and Magic-user. I’ll even admit not being a fan of percentage-based thief abilities (except for Hear Noise). [1]

But the Moldvay thief is a versatile guy (or gal, noted at right) and gets to do all sorts of useful things in the dungeon with his sneaky, stealing skills. If you’ve played any flavour of D&D, you know the drill: Find a chest? have the thief check for traps, then pick the lock. Hit a wall? have the thief climb it. See a guard in the distance? have the thief sneak up and stab him in the cerebellum.

The only hitch is that thieves have to be careful in a fight. While they fight like clerics, they have  hit points like a magic-user. And, since thieves can wear only leather armour, they don't last long in melee. If the thief is feeling lucky or has brass balls, he can try sneaking up on foes for back-stabbery. Otherwise, best to hang back and lob a few arrows at choice targets (or, more likely, start checking out the loot while the rest of the party is still fighting...cheeky bastards).

Chimera Thief

Thieves are humans best described as jacks-of-all-trades. They know a little about everything, but don’t dominate in any of the “traditional” disciplines of combat, spell-casting, or worship. As a result, they tend toward the less savoury and more clandestine aspects of adventuring, which makes them ideal companions in dangerous dungeons full of traps, tricks, locks, and watchful foes. Provided, of course, that they can be trusted.

Thief (Thf) Advancement Cost [2]
Move Rate: 12”±1d6 0
Wound Limit: 1d4 1
Abilities: Athletics, Chicanery, Observe, Sneak, Tinker [3] 5
Perks: Backstab (see below) 1
Flaws: Restricted Armour (light), Restricted Weapons (medium or smaller) -2
Total AdCost: 5
Special Perks (Sperks)

  • City Ways: Improve ARs in urban environments by level
  • Dodge: Improve Parry by Athletics AR
  • Ear to the Ground: Use Street Smarts (if possessed) to gather 1 rumour per level
  • Escape Artist: Improve ARs related to escaping confinement by level
  • Light Fingers: Double the haul or find a unique item when a Chicanery roll while picking pockets is a Critical Success
  • Monkey Paws: Make a single Athletics roll to climb, regardless of distance scaled; fall only on a Critical Failure
  • Safecracker: Tinker rolls when picking locks made with 2d20; take best result
  • Sixth Sense: Surprised only when a foe's Sneak roll is a Critical Success
  • Sneaky Pete: Increase creeping MR by level (cannot exceed adjusted walking MR)
  • Swashbuckler: Improve Athletics rolls with acrobatics by level
(+1/Sperk chosen)

This is an expanded version of the Burglar Sperk of the same name (CB/7). Backstab combines the act of sneaking up on a victim with a weapon strike. To use it, the thief must be within 1" per level creeping distance of the victim (CB/19) and make a Sneak roll against the foe’s Surprise TN; check results below:

  • Critical Failure: You draw attention to yourself before you can strike, granting your foe an immediate full action to respond (which may include an attack in self-defence)
  • Normal Failure: Foe shifts position at critical moment and foils your attempt, though you remain undetected and may make another attempt next round at a penalty of 0-3 (1d4-1)
  • Normal Success: Attack hits; roll 1 damage die
  • Critical Success: Attack hits; roll 2 damage dice

Final Words

That wraps up the human classes—next week, I start with the demi-human freaks.

One thing: As I made this conversion, the class started to seem more “skill-based” than not, which is either proof of the thief’s versatility or an indication that I haven’t done a very good job. So I leave it to you—any comments or criticisms?

  1. I like the consistent d6 mechanic put forth in Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, by James Edward Raggi IV. It's so elegant and logical that one wonders why it hasn't been done before. Great work, James.
  2. My target AdCost is 5 (1,200XP / 250 = 4.8 = 5).
  3. I left out Wield, which is what I recommend you use to emulate the read scrolls ability found in B/X (but since the thief doesn’t have any Sperks to access power schools, there’s no actual spell-casting ability). I also left out Fight or Shoot, so if the thief wants to mix it up with any chance of success, he has to buy these as non-class Abilities during char-gen.

Works Cited
Moldvay, Tom, ed. Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rulebook. Lake Geneva: TSR Hobbies, Inc. 1981.
Smale, Erin. Chimera Basic. Atlantic Highlands: The Welsh Piper. 2011.

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  1. Greg MacKenzie
    July 27th, 2011 at 11:54 | #1

    I played the role of a thief more than any other character exactly because it is a jack of all trades. I often ask myself what was the thief supposed to emulate? I often wonder. Was it so a person could play Bilbo? Conan, or Jack of Shadows. Please turn your backs while I practice the secrets of my profession… The canny thief is more than a warrior, perhaps as I played them, a thinking warrior. I’d miss the ability of the character to tinker with magic.

    My thought is the spell, releases the magic effect, requiring no ability but the scroll itself has a fixed TN, give the scroll a fixed Weild TN equal to the Weild of the person who created it. Of course this has more to do with what you consider magic to be, and how it is used. I think you could easily incorporate the idea of reading from a scroll simply by providing a table:

    Critical Failure: The spell fails spectacularly, something terrible happens…
    Normal Failure: The spell fails, and does something horrible to the reader
    Normal Success: The spell works, well sort of…
    Critical Success: The spell works as intended.

    This would reflect the inability of the Thief to truly weild powers.


  2. deimos3428
    July 27th, 2011 at 14:31 | #2

    @Greg: “what was the thief supposed to emulate?”

    I’m not really sure, but I you made me think. Could it be the original thief have come to be precisely so one could play a skill-based role in a class-based game? A little foreshadowing of the skill-based games of the (then) future, perhaps?

  3. July 27th, 2011 at 14:38 | #3

    “To use it, the thief must be within 1″ per level of the victim”

    Why level of the victim instead of the thief. These would seem to make it easier to sneak up on higher level characters.

  4. July 27th, 2011 at 19:21 | #4

    @Herb : Yeah, that’s poorly worded, but I meant 1″ per level of thief. Thinking on it, that’s not quite right, either. So I updated it to: the thief must be within creeping distance (CB/19).

    Then, to be extra-clever, I added a new Sperk called “Sneaky Pete.” How’s that?

  5. July 27th, 2011 at 19:25 | #5

    @Greg MacKenzie : give the scroll a fixed Weild TN equal to the Weild of the person who created it.

    Or maybe the Wield TN is that of the spell, minus the level of the creator?

    I like your result table–that would work well for any time someone invokes a magic item via Wield (e.g., rings, scrolls, wand, etc.). If you’re just a schlep with Wield, that’s the table you use. If you’re an actual spell-caster, maybe you get to use the result table for powers (CB/12)?

  6. July 27th, 2011 at 19:28 | #6

    @deimos3428 : Could it be the original thief have come to be precisely so one could play a skill-based role in a class-based game?

    Seems like a natural urge. It’s probably hindsight, but I could see wanting to create a thief if B/X didn’t have one. Or would I just have tricked out the halfling to Make-a-Bilbo?

  7. deimos3428
    July 27th, 2011 at 21:14 | #7

    @Erin: If B/X were lacking a thief, I think you (especially you!) would have wanted to make something “miscellaneous”, and that something would most likely consist of a set of skills as the thief class ultimately did. But I’m not so sure the thief class itself was a foregone conclusion. It could have gone any number of ways.

  8. July 27th, 2011 at 21:44 | #8

    @deimos3428 : Yeah, I’m trying to think of what would have motivated me to go that route, and I think it would have been along the lines of having someone in the dungeon good at opening locked chests and doors, sneaking up on monsters, and finding traps. Once you have those, then you’re saying, “Hey, this is a sneaky guy…how about adding pick pockets and hide?”

    Interestingly, Moldvay allows any PC to find a trap at 1-in-6 (dwarfs 2-in-6; B22), which actually makes a 1st-level thief worse at finding traps until achieving 3rd-level. Go figure.

    Anyone know the Elder Secrets of the thief class? Like what LBB supplement did it first show up in?

  9. Greg MacKenzie
    July 28th, 2011 at 10:56 | #9

    Your Lich Lord shall provide the answer…supplement I Greyhawk. That’s when they went from d6 for everything to the different hit dies for each character and variable weapon damage. The MU now had d4 hit points, and may Gygax roast in the pits of Orcus for that one.

    Actually, I “never” understood the hit point system. A life is a life to me, the armor should have been “protective”. Chimera’s armor works better than the old system!

    I’m not sure if you’ll glean much from supplement I with regard to the thief, I’ll take a look myself.


  10. July 28th, 2011 at 18:09 | #10

    Yeah, there’s no explanation of why such a character exists or what they are supposed to be, although the do mention Hobbits and give a bonus if a Hobbit is a thief. Crooked thieves may be hired by the lawful for a lawful purpose…


  11. July 28th, 2011 at 19:45 | #11

    @Greg MacKenzie : The MU now had d4 hit points, and may Gygax roast in the pits of Orcus for that one.

    And a day after his birthday, no less. You’re a spiteful lich!

    Thanks for checking on this. I think my next stop is to peruse old DRAGON mags and see if there’s any exposition (which I’ll share upon discovery). Maybe Strategic Review…Supplement I was what? 1975? What do I know? I only got 40% on the Gygax Quiz.

    Glad to hear you like Chimera armour–we’re of the same mind there. ;)

    UPDATE: Just checked the DRAGON archive – no mention of the genesis of the thief class that I can find. The first mention of “thief” is in DRAGON #1 (June 1976) in a piece titled LANGUAGES or, Could you repeat that in Auld Wormish? about reading languages (which (IIRC) is a thief ability in AD&D, but not B/X). I couldn’t find anything in Strategic Review, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there…anyone have some insight?

  12. deimos3428
    July 28th, 2011 at 23:35 | #12

    The first print of Greyhawk came out in Feb 1975, right after the 2nd printing of the OD&D set. So the thief predates DRAGON by more than a year, and was a very early addition to the game.

    There is no special note in OD&D on the thief’s ability to find traps, only to remove them. It would seem the oddity you mentioned above occurred when they merged it with remove traps in AD&D/Basic, and kept the same percentages.

  13. deimos3428
    July 28th, 2011 at 23:40 | #13

    Some other spotty info here. The thief may not be a Gygaxian invention at all, but something he imported.


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