A Rule for Climbing

I'm not a fan of the mechanic used for OD&D/AD&D thieves' climbing ability: (a) it is unlike the mechanic for any other single ability in the game, (b) it is far too useful at 1st level, (c) it improves too slowly, (d) the modifying rules for slippery surfaces are hard to apply, and (e) it fails to account for other characters' more mundane climbing abilities. Consider instead the following:

Any character has a 2-in-6 chance to climb up a rough surface, adding Dexterity modifier, and -1 for each encumbrance level. This includes surfaces such as: normal rope, old masonry, standard cliff, wooden stockade, bare pole, etc.; otherwise apply one of the following:
  • +2 for natural chimney or ship's rigging.
  • +1 for knotted rope, tree, or rock with many ledges.
  • -1 for well-kept masonry or smooth natural rock.
  • -2 for smooth and slippery stone, or an overhang.
Thieves add +1 to this check (with an additional +1 added every 4 levels). Success indicates ascending the character's Move rate in feet for one round (e.g., MV 12" ascends 12 feet). Failure by more than 2 points indicates falling.

(Note that this is broadly compatible with the probabilities and categories given in the 1E Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, 2E PHB, and 3E PHB, but using the simpler OD&D mechanic on the six-sided die.)


  1. It's clean and elegant, shouldn't take too much effort to apply. Leaves the thief as the king (both through skill and the dex bonus), without taking the other classes out of the loop.

    This is old school. The kind of old school that would have been in a rule book, not the kind of old school that would be a variant article in The Dragon (many of which were overly number-crunchy and unwieldy).

    Verification word: swordopp: An opportunity to use a sword, much like a "photo opp". (Are these things REALLY random?)

  2. The elegance of the 1d6 mechanic is very important for both usability and old-school-aesthetic.
    We spent some time giving the 1d6 treatment to all thieving skills.

  3. (b) it is far too useful at 1st level

    This indicates to me you haven't read or absorbed DMG p19 where Gygax says "This is probably the most abused thief function" and emphasizes the need to check for slipping *every round* during which 6ft or 9ft are reasonable distances covered.

    The stacking of these probabilities via multiplication reveals climbing for 1st level to be well balanced with later levels once you pay attention to distance covered.

    I also think you are over emphasising dexterity unless you want to rename that core statistic "Climing ability".

  4. Ha! I wrote about this yesterday! I must be psychic!

    Summary of my post: I prefer to think of a climbing roll as a chance of bad stuff happening.