Class Trouble I: Thieves

Here's a continuation of my first post, in which I recently acquired a copy of the Original D&D Rules (1974 white box set). In particular I'll look at two troublesome classes.

Thieves -- Thieves (rogues in 3E) don't exist in the original rules; they were added as the 4th primary class in the first Greyhawk supplement. I often have a problem with thieves, which I'll describe in a minute.

When I think about 3E D&D, I'd love to simplify the game in a few broad strokes. The first thing I think about is just slicing off the whole skill system. (Perhaps using a variant simplification from 3E Unearthed Arcana.) When I'm acting as DM making NPCs, the thing that frustrates me and burns the most time is fiddling with individual skill points, max ranks, multiclass per-level class versus cross-class costs, armor penalties, feat bonuses, synergy bonuses, OMG yuck! When I was working on converting the D1-3 series I was finding it took me at least 30 minutes per individual NPC to do all the work, with the biggest chunk going into skill-point fiddling. My understanding is this is always the biggest source of stat-block errors even in WOTC publications, by those who look for such things. The feat system is pretty nice -- a new feat usually seems like a nice significant gift package -- but having the skill system running in parallel drives me nuts; I'd like to get rid of the whole subsystem.

Except that I can't really do that in 3E because of the 4th primary class, the Rogue, whose whole functioning is predicated on making use of lots of skill points for their abilities.

So, looking at the Original D&D publications, I can see that this has always been an oddball situation. With the original books, you had Fighter, Cleric, Magic-user; all three had hit dice, could strike in combat, made saving throws, and the latter could cast spells in binary fashion (you either shot it off or you didn't). With the addition of the Thief in Supplement I: Greyhawk, the designers tinkered up a completely brand new mechanics invention -- a list of skills that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, with a roll-under-percentage success mechanic, failure vastly more likely than not at 1st level, etc. I guess that's an inventive piece of gaming R&D, but the oddball mechanic and skill-usage stuck around as an odd appendage through 1E right to 3E and this very day. You've got this one class whose lifeblood is pumped by the skill system, which for other classes is usually extraneous to their core functioning.

What could have been the alternative in those early days? Perhaps if the Thief skill system were treated more like a Fighter's combat potential, where you rolled a stock d20 to get a particular score (and the scores were the same for that whole list of skill abilities, so you didn't have to track 5-6 different percentages or skill scores). I'm now thinking about that as a modification to an OD&D/AD&D campaign if I ever run one again. Or, just slice away the Thief class itself and depend on the Clerical find traps spell that was in the game since OD&D (but which nowadays gets de-powered so as to not take spotlight time away from Rogue skills!) -- but then that takes away a lot of the class choice (namely, the only unlimited-level class) available to dwarves, elves, and hobbits in the OD&D rules.

Oh yes, more random OD&D stuff in this post -- initially the game had dwarves, elves, and hobbits, but of course the latter were renamed "halflings" to avoid trademark issues with the Tolkein estate. My OD&D set (6th printing) is funny in that they mostly completed that switchover (with easily spottable different-font text pasted in over offending areas), but missed it in a certain number of places.

Also in the OD&D set, every monster or dungeon-based enemy had infravision, but every PC character was specifically lacking infravision and had to use torches or lanterns (including PC dwarves, elves, and hobbits)! Wrap your head around that one, if you're in the habit of criticizing minor discrepancies in current rulesets. With the Greyhawk supplement that was modified to give all demihumans equal infravision, etc.

Also: Every magic sword in OD&D was automatically intelligent. With just about the same list of abilities and statistics that was used in 1E, 2E, 3E, and still today. Wow!

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