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):
- 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.