Teachers for your 1d6-thieves: Fencing, Appraisal and Wizardry

This is the second post of a serie on thieving skills for Dungeons & Dragons. The rules are not meant for a specific edition but can be easily used for anything pre-d20.

in my previous post about 1d6 thieves I mentioned the option of making available different teachers to thieves to make available different skills from the ones provided by the manuals.

This not only reinforces my idea of the rogue class as some kind of “skilled guy” but also satisfies my “designer tickle” of making possible for the thief not only to learn the usual skills but also to achieve something more: I was walking in the woods with my lovely s/o and it dawned on me that the skill points thieves get could be spent rtaining for other classes’ skills, and that an amount of skill points could be spent to, say, memorize and cast spells as a second level magic user, or hit better in combat, or get more hit points.

With a clear understanding that this would be a breach of a number of D&D design aims, I risked arrest from the OSR-Ortodoxy police and tried to setup a group equation to… well, develop a model that says “the skill of casting MU skills is equivalent to the skills of wearing plate mail, having +2 hit points per level, having a good hit roll and using all weapons”, solve it and, most important, see if the model works. After a few hours of fiddling with numbers I ditched almost everything.

It’s better not to go there. The experience reinforced my feeling that classes don’t need to be balanced, the real need is to offer good fun to everybody, and classes are a way to offer different mechanics to interact with the system (think of how different is to play MUs and fighters) for people with different “funs”. At least I came out with few ideas for new thieves teachers/skills. I recommend that players spend time looking for teachers and do “favours” to them in order to be accepted as students. Note that first level characters will probably not have money to pay for the teachers; this is intended.

These new skills are not tested yet (as my players have better things to do than playing these weeks) but I reckon that if you’re willing to try this you might as well be able to deal with the consequences someway. :)

Fencing: for every three pips the character gains +1 to hit with a given weapon. The teacher must be a fighter and have a hit roll better than the character considering just class and level for both (plus the weapon mastery bonus for the character). Cost: 1 week per pip and at least 50 gp per trainer level per week.

Appraisal: the character can estimate the value of an object. The precision is given by the margin of the roll: with margin 0 the most significant digit is know, plus one for every point of margin. For example if a character with Evaluate 5 rolls 4 while evaluating a jewel worth 1250gp he will know the two most significant digits (1 + 1 for the margin), so he’ll know “about 1200gp”. Had he rolled a 5 the result would have been “about 1000gp”. Odd objects will have negative modifiers, as well as prices in zones where the character is not used to trading. Cost: I have no clue, but I guess working as an apprentice for a merchant or a fence for a while will be enough.

Wizardry: the character can memorize and cast spells as a wizard of level equal to a fourth of the number of pips. He can memorize spells written in his spellbook provided that while memorizing he succeeds a “Read Languages and Magic Scrolls” check. If a check is failed the spell will be misread and the character can try to memorize another spell in the slot, making misread spells will not be available for the day. To avoid miscasting a spell the character will have to succeed a Wizardry test, with a modifier of -4 for every spell level beyond the first. There’s no automatic access to read magic or any other spell. Cost: 1 month of mentoring and 50gp per pip plus 50 for every existing pips (the first is 50, the second 100, the third 150, the fourth 200, for a total of 500gp to be able to cast level 1 spells, 1300gp more for the second four pips to get a second 1st level spell slot, 2100gp more for 4 more pips and a second level spell slot).

1D6 Thieving

This is the first post of a serie on thieving skills for Dungeons & Dragons. The rules are not meant for a specific edition but can be easily used for anything pre-d20.

This weekend I got to hang out with my cousin Andrea and we went over a number of “rules” we always meant to tweak for our D&D sessions but we never got around to.

Anyway, percentile chances for thieving skills never really satisfied me for a number of reasons:

  • they’re the only percentile rolls players do
  • they start abysmally low (except for climb walls) and grow very slowly
  • other aspects of the system are handled with a d6 roll

I personally find this kind of roll very “clean”: grab the “easy” die and see if you roll a 1, more if you’re “special” (dwarf, elf or thief searching for secret doors for example). Also I really liked AD&D way to increase the skills by allocating 30 points every thief level. So we decided to move them to be d6 based and increased by allocation. The problem with that is that going beyond 5-in-6 is tricky and both puts the mental strain on the GM to set difficulty modifiers and it allows for scarce granularity, especially in the critical 83% to 100% percent. So we opted for some kind of “exploding die” mechanic: say, if you have 8, you actually have (5+3). This means that if you roll the first die and fail you can roll another die and succeed with 3 or less. Really high skills such as 12 are noted as (5+5+2), allowing to roll a third die if thing go bad… but since thieves get 2 pips every level after the first die the incentives to focus that much on a skill are very low (unless it’s climb walls, because failing that really means “you die, chump”). Difficulty is handled by changing the skill level (a wall easy to climb would give +1, bringing a skill of 5 to 5+1, for example).

The last bit has been integrating in the new system things such as the halfling hiding abilities (2-in-6, +3 to skill outside) and pontificating about a broader skill system. I like this so much I’d probably use it even for hit rolls and saving throws but “we wouldn’t be in D&D-land anymore”, or something like that. Anything to keep players from moaning.

Anyway, here’s the writeup:

Each thief spent most of hist time training particular skills, and can allocate 10 points at character generation on the following skills, plus 2 points for every level gained:

  • pick locks
  • find and remove traps
  • climb walls (starts at 3)
  • move silently
  • hide in shadows
  • pick pockets
  • hear noises (starts at 1)
  • find secret doors (starts at 1)
  • read languages
  • backstab (not a normal skill: it increases the normal +2 bonus characters have while attacking from behind. In case the attacker was undetected and the attack hits damage is doubled)

Other unusual skills can be learnt from sources found during the game, such as secretive guilds and forgotten tomes (refer to your DM):

  • appraise
  • use magic items (failure implies a probably disastrous mishap. Scrolls with mage spells have no difficulty modifier, anything else has at least a -5 modifier).
  • use poison (again, failure probably means the thief got poisoned)

To determine if the skill has been used succesfully it is necessary to roll less or equal to the skill with 1d6, with 6 being a failure.

Skill of more than 5 make possible to roll more than 1 die: subsequent rolls subtract 5 from the skill for every die (so the second roll is against skill -5, the third against skill -10 and so on). It’s useful to mark skill levels greater than 5 already split in “rolls”: for example 7 as 5+2 and 11 as 5+5+1.

EDIT: more skills here.