While I am a fan of the B/X D&D Thief, I am not as enamoured with the percentile skill system. In general I dislike percentile systems because the granularity is just too fine. I also tend to prefer die rolls with curved results. Finally, many players of thieves tend to have this idea that a high Dexterity (or Intelligence in some cases) should be beneficial to the thief for more than just XP.
So, inspired in part by the series of B/X Thief posts this week over at B/X Blackrazor, in this article I tackle two alternates to the thiefing system in the Moldvay basic rules (not the Mentzer / BECMI version where skill percentages have been significantly ramped down with the addition of the Companion level set). One uses 1d6 instead of the 1d100, and the other uses 2d6.
1d6 Thief Skills
This system replaces the 1d100 roll with a 1d6 roll. Just roll 1d6 and roll the numbers indicated on the table for success. It also allows, at the highest levels, for a zero chance of failure. If you still want to allow for failure, whenever a 6 is rolled when a 1-6 is required, roll again and if the second roll is a 4+, then the thief has failed. You can really see the massive improvement thieves get just before and after name level in this chart.
This table is a nearly direct switch from the B/X table to the 1d6 method.
Thief Open Find/Remove Pick Move Climb Hide in Hear Level Locks Traps Pockets Silently Walls Shadows Noise 1 1 1 1 1 1-5 1 1-2 2 1 1 1 1 1-5 1 1-2 3 1 1 1-2 1-2 1-5 1 1-3 4 1-2 1 1-2 1-2 1-5 1 1-3 5 1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2 1-5 1 1-3 6 1-3 1-2 1-3 1-3 1-5 1-2 1-3 7 1-3 1-3 1-3 1-3 1-5 1-2 1-4 8 1-4 1-3 1-4 1-4 1-5 1-3 1-4 9 1-4 1-4 1-4 1-4 1-5 1-4 1-4 10 1-5 1-4 1-5 1-5 1-6 1-4 1-4 11 1-5 1-5 1-5 1-5 1-6 1-5 1-5 12 1-6 1-5 1-6 1-6 1-6 1-5 1-5 13 1-6 1-6 1-7 1-6 1-6 1-5 1-5 14 1-6 1-6 1-7 1-6 1-6 1-6 1-5
2d6 Thief Skills
This system replaces all the skills with 2d6 rolls. The benefit of the 2d6 curvature is that a bonus with a very low target number is a huge bonus, but getting a bonus when your target number is above 7 is a minor bonus – this makes it so adding a bonus to the thief’s skills based on his Dex stat will help a low level thief, but not make a high level thief too out of line with the game assumptions. When using this chart, the goal is to roll the number on the chart or higher on 2d6.
Every attempt has been made on this table to make it identical to the thief skill levels from the Moldvay / Cook Expert set. It really emphasizes the advantage of Name level. Because other characters use the hear noise rules (and the oddities of the 2d6 system when looking for an even 50% chance of success), I recommend using the standard hear noise table.
Thief Open Find/Remove Pick Move Climb Hide in Hear Level Locks Traps Pockets Silently Walls Shadows Noise 1 10+ 11+ 10+ 10+ 5+ 11+ 1-2 2 10+ 10+ 9+ 9+ 5+ 10+ 1-2 3 9+ 10+ 9+ 9+ 5+ 10+ 1-3 4 9+ 9+ 9+ 9+ 5+ 10+ 1-3 5 9+ 9+ 8+ 8+ 5+ 9+ 1-3 6 8+ 8+ 8+ 8+ 4+ 9+ 1-3 7 7+ 8+ 7+ 7+ 4+ 8+ 1-4 8 7+ 7+ 7+ 7+ 4+ 7+ 1-4 9 6+ 6+ 6+ 6+ 4+ 7+ 1-4 10 5+ 5+ 5+ 5+ 4+ 6+ 1-4 11 4+ 4+ 4+ 4+ 3+ 5+ 1-5 12 4+ 4+ 3+ 4+ 3+ 4+ 1-5 13 3+ 3+ 2+ 3+ 3+ 4+ 1-5 14 3+ 3+ 1+ 3+ 3+ 3+ 1-5
Ability Score Modifiers
One of the benefits of the 2d6 system is it handles D&D’s ability score modifers better than the percentile charts do. You can add a thief’s Dex bonus to his Open Locks, Pick Pockets, Move Silently and Hide in Shadows rolls, and his Intelligence bonus to Find & Remove traps. Personally, I use the thief’s Dexterity bonus to Initiative instead of his full Dexterity bonus.
House Rules 2d6 Edition
Because of the very slow initial thief progression, the class only really “hits it’s stride” in the mid-high levels, at which point the odds of success increase rapidly at each level. To give starting thieves a bit more of a chance and to spread around the wealth a bit, here are the 2d6 Thief Skill rules I’ve been using for my old B/X Adventures in the New Kingdoms campaign for the past few years.
Each thief picks one of the standard skills (Open Locks, Find Traps, Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Move Silently or Hide in Shadows) as his favoured skill. Other skills except for Climb Walls and Hear Noise use the “Other Skills” column. Because of the “dead level” at level 5, the thief ability to read languages has been moved there from level 4.
Thief Favoured Other Climb Hear Level Skill Skills Walls Noise 1 10+ 11+ 5+ 1-2 2 10+ 10+ 5+ 1-2 3 9+ 10+ 5+ 1-3 4 9+ 9+ 5+ 1-3 5 9+ 9+ 5+ 1-3 6 8+ 9+ 4+ 1-3 7 8+ 8+ 4+ 1-4 8 7+ 8+ 4+ 1-4 9 6+ 7+ 4+ 1-4 10 5+ 6+ 4+ 1-4 11 4+ 5+ 3+ 1-5 12 4+ 4+ 3+ 1-5 13 3+ 4+ 3+ 1-5 14 2+ 3+ 3+ 1-5
Not bad at all! Though I admit I prefer the ease (and granularity) of D%…plus, I am starting to buy into the theory that players like to roll different kids of dice for different things.
(maybe thief players have a D% fetish? perhaps!)
But what is especially cool is your “house rule” version. While I don’t like over-complication in character creation, I think it is perfectly reasonable to say, ‘pick one skill you’re good at and all the rest have a set #.’ It helps to distinguish between characters of the same class without taking up too much time (assigning points or whatever).
I’ll have to explore this a bit…
The guy playing the thief was pleased with this, particularly the third option’s specialization mechanic. Very nice.
Awesome. When we realized that the individual thief skills had very little difference when switched from % to d6 or 2d6, one player asked if he could just use the same roll for all his skills so instead of having to list a bunch of skills, he could write “Thiefin’, 9+” on his sheet.
I gave him the go-ahead and then we realized there were a lot of levels where he gained absolutely nothing. So the specialization was added.
Which is to say, the guy playing a thief IN MY CURRENT GAME was pleased…shee…
Have you used the d6 version in play yet? I posted something similar a day after you posted this apparently, but I’ve not had a chance to use mine yet, so I don’t know how it works in play.
We used the d6 version briefly, but moved to the 2d6 version within six months or so.
In play, the d6 method produces a very disheartening list of skills for the starting thief. It sucks to look at your sheet and realize you have the minimum possible chance to succeed at anything. At least even with percentiles it felt like you had a better chance. That’s one of the reasons for the switch to 2d6. The other was to have a system where giving the thief a bonus to a roll wouldn’t break the system (the 1d6 system means a +1 to a roll is a huge difference).
Yes, I have wondered about that aspect, as the d6 does seem to make things more difficult for the thief, especially at lower levels, before it levels off and they can do anything at higher levels. I suppose I’ll just have to see it in action for myself, but I really wanted a 1d6 system to work!
Good system–my own thief class for Swords & Wizardry works a bit differently, but this is one I definitely want to try. It’s significantly more involved than the guy I made, but I always try to go for the fewest tables possible. This seems like it would create a more ‘realistic’ feel while making your different skills feel appropriately more or less capable.
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Ricardo Signes (@rjbs) said:
So, I’m super late to the party here, but I like these rules and so does the thief’s player in my B/X group. Today, I did some math to compare the odds, and realized there’s no rule here for the 5% level-based pick pockets modifier. (5% per five levels different in LL, 5% for each level the victim is over 5th).
I’m not sure it would ever come up, but… have you thought about it?
Dyson Logos said:
Generally, make it a +1 / -1 modifier for every… 10% (?) that the game normally calls for.
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Charles Barchuk said:
So, I’m EXTREMELY late to the party here, but I also like these rules. You mentioned the house ruled 2d6 version is the one you personally use the most. I had a few questions about it:
1. What makes it preferred over the standard 2d6 version?
2. Is adding your DEX mod to the roll still recommended?
Charles Barchuk said:
Oh I forgot one more thing: Say a thief has an 18 dex. With a +3 modifier would he essentially never fail any skill by the time he’s level 11?
Hey, I see this post is old but maybe you still have time to discuss. I’m trying to do a similar mod for my own game cause:
Thief Skills bother me. They’re one of the few times percentiles are used in the game. I’d like to change thief skills to ability checks that any player can attempt, but that Thieves get a bonus to based on level. The thief skills match with their appropriate abilities as listed below and at 1st level a thief gets a +1 bonus to all of these ability checks (Climb Walls +4). Thieves gain an additional +1 to all ability checks at every odd level. Thoughts??
Strength Check: Climb Walls/Sheer Surfaces
Dexterity Check: Move Silently, Hide In Shadows, Pickpocket, Remove Trap, Open Locks
Intelligence Check: Use Scrolls/Read Languages
Wisdom Check: Detect Noise, Find Traps
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