Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Low-level B/X-LL Thieves are Ninja Hipsters

The Spawn of Endra sends out this important bulletin:

So we're here playtesting Carter's scenario for the OSRCON game he's running, The Tower of Death*, and I rolled up 2 3rd level PCs, a Thief and a Magic-user. I've been playing a cleric for the last year and a half that we've been gaming, so I took the opportunity to play some new classes that I haven't worked with for ages.

This may not be news to many of you, and forgive me for not having read your post about it from 2009 (but do send a link in the comments), but I found out that low-level thieves are the last folks you want searching for traps. Looking through the tables and randomly opening up the LL rules to "Traps and Trap Detection" (p. 45), I learned that a first level thief is actually worse at finding traps (14% success) than a non-thief (1 on d6; 16.666%), and WAY worse than a dwarf (1-2 on d6; 33.333%). Weird. I thought maybe this is one of those odd miscues in Lab Lord rules, but in fact my Moldvay Basic has it even worse: Thieves go 10%, 15%, 20% for the first three levels where everybody else is d6ing the night away. In Lab Lord the thief only gets as good (almost ... 0.333% short of being as good) as a generic dwarf at LEVEL 5!

As one of our players described the exchange after the thief fails to find the 8th trap in a row that the dwarves detected: "Yeah, well, I just always wanted to be thief growing up. I never said I was GOOD at it, it just seems really cool to be a thief. That's what I'm doing." So B/X essentially encodes into thieving the dynamic of hipster ninja-ism.

Yeah, you know all this lore about shuriken manufacture and funny slippers, and can quote every ninja film and manga, but you couldn't climb over a chain-link fence in real life if you really had to. The skinny jeans make it hard enough, but then how does the ninja hipster approach the fence while maintaining proper ironic distance? The ninja hipster finds itself trapped in a Zeno's Paradox of continually edging closer and closer to the fence, never quite reaching it ... and then the non-ironic Rottweiler bites into his/her ass, tears a chunk out, and irony must be put aside -- if only briefly.

[No, wait. On second thought, here's a ninja slippers referent worth considering: Chanclas de Ninja, by Brownout.]

At any rate, this mechanic deserves a closer look, but it may be another reason to favor Dyson's 2d6 Thievery mechanic (found in the delicious Dyson's Dodecahedron #1) over the percentile approach of B/X-LL. Either way, you've got to make the average thief always do better at detecting traps than other PCs, or at least as good as a dwarf to start off with. Otherwise, why bother with the Thief?

* It lived up to its name, by the way. 3 of 5 PCs were killed pretty quickly. No biggy. We re-rolled and regrouped in old school fashion. Some of this was owed to two players not knowing the "shields will be splintered rule" was in effect.


  1. I dodge around this reality by allowing the Thief to roll his pathetic 14% after he has failed his normal 1 in 6 chance. Thieves, therefore, are better at these things because they get two chances to fail...er...succeed rather than one.

  2. @FrDave: Nice solution!

    @Spawn: Yes, I should have remembered to emphasize Shields Shall Be Splintered!" at the outset. Yet what I found is that I liked the "PC dies -- roll a new one" groove we got into. It felt really old-school. So who knows? I am locked into SSBS! at OSRCon, but may waive it for future convention game outings.

  3. I've always played (since 81 at least) that thief abilities are in addition to the normal abilities of a character.

    So you check for surprise, and if that fails, the thief checks to see if his move silently gave him surprise separately from the party.

    You roll 1d6 to find traps, and then check the thief's percentage after.


  4. @Dyson: Thanks, that's clearly the way to go.

  5. Yes, thanks for both of those approaches FrDave and Dyson, that makes a lot of sense. It still sort of makes me wish it was a single roll rather than an additional d%, though.

  6. That's where LotFP WFRP comes in!

  7. I just redid the thief to use x-in-6 for everything, and I gave him a few points to spend at first level so he can start the game off with a least one or two things he can do with some reliability...

    Damn hipsters. Their first album isn't always better...

  8. Actually that is not quite correct. A thief percentile is lower than 1 in 6, but he is the only one that can detect Magical traps as well as physical ones. It is also doubtful how to rule trap detection of things like poison needle (I rule that non-thieves cannot detect within the 1 in 6).